It’s Friday the 13th. I am heading to China. Guangzhou precisely. It is not a very lucky day to travel, but this begins a 3 week trip to a attend an international trade show in China. While my heritage is Chinese, I am an American and don’t speak the language. Fortunately, my brother who has been living in Asia for the past 25 years is joining me. He will serve as my guide and translator to the Canton Fair.
Why am I going to the Canton Fair? For a couple of reasons. 1) As an aspiring inventor, I want to establish some connections and relationships with various manufacturers from injection molding to electronics makers. 2) I want to see what the world is buying. 3) I want to get some ideas on new potential products to make.
About the Canton fair
The Canton fair is huge. Some numbers from the spring show.
- 1.18 million square meters of exhibition space.
- 60,219 booths.
- 24,718 exhibitors
- 196,490 buyers
The Caton fair is so massive that it covers three weeks. Each week, or phase, focuses on a specific industry or trade.
For Phase 1
- Electronics & Household Electrical Appliances
- Lighting Equipment
- Vehicles & Spare Parts
- Hardware & Tools
- Building Materials
- Chemical Products
- International Pavilion
- Consumer Goods
- Home Decorations
- Textiles & Garments
- Office Supplies, Cases & Bags, and Recreation Products
- Medicines, Medical Devices and Health Products
There are quite a range of products so I hope to find something that matches products that I want to make and sell.
General Canton Fair Logistics
Traveling abroad is no small undertaking, so I broke down what I needed into the following categories sorted by priority.
- Canton Fair Invitation and Pre-Badge Application
Getting a passport has the most lead time so start this first. According to the State Department website, it could take 4-6 weeks or 2-3 weeks if expedited. Fees vary, but a new passport will cost you at least $165. I renewed my passport by mail, so it was only $140.
A couple of tips:
- I took my own picture to save the money. Apparently my white background wasn’t white enough, so I had to use Lightroom to make it pure white. A quick internet search will show you how to do this. There are also apps you can use that will help make a white background from your camera phone.
- At the same time I had my kids renew their passports. You have to do this in person. Look for an place that is NOT the post office. Luckily there was a local library that offered this service. Check your options and make this experiences as painless as possible.
Oddly, you need to book your airfare before getting a visa. While departure places will vary for everyone, we are all ultimately heading toward Guangzhou. There were a couple of options I was looking at to save money.
Airfare prices were definitely higher around the time of the Canton Fair. Flying into Hong Kong at the time was only 600 dollars round trip from Dulles. From Hong Kong, it is a 2-4 hour train or bus ride from 12 to 40 dollars, so if you are short on cash and can navigate China, this could be a viable money saving option. When I looked at the time timing however, I would have arrived too late at night catch any major public transportation. In the end, I found a flight from Dulles to Bejing to Guangzhou for 800. Booked!
Looking for accommodations I had the following requirements in mind
- Easy access to the Canton Fair
- Internet access
- A washer/dryer
- A place to cook
- Relatively cheap and clean
I used Orbitz, Agoda, and AirBnb to search for places. Using Orbitz, I found the typical Western style hotels. As usual, the Canton Fair jacked up the rates on all these locations. The cheapest hotel room I found was 100 dollars a night, which isn’t too bad, but since I was staying for 3 weeks, I wanted to find with longer term accommodations. Agoda is an Orbitz Chinese equivalent. They listed hotels that were definitely cheaper in price range 40-100 a night, but I was still missing out on point #3 and 4.
AirBnB turned out some great finds. Not really knowing where to look, the map of the Canton Fair showed a metro line that ran East/West. So I looked for residential places along that route. I ended up finding quite a few finds along Lujiang and Kecun metro stops. I settled for one for 45 a night with great reviews. Done! Except a few days later I get a text saying she had to cancel my stay. Apparently the police stopped by her residence and said that long term rentals weren’t allowed . . . Hmmm. This raised a few flags. Were all AirBnb’s illegals? Would I get kicked out of the next one? I decided to risk it and found another AirBnB apartment. No cancelation after the first 4 days. Yeah!
Arriving into Guangzhou after midnight, I looked into staying at a local hotel near the airport. Checking into an AirBnB that late is not very considerate or doable. I booked a cheap 21 USD hotel on Agoda.
If you are really desperate on cash, there are some hostels in Kecun that are 16 USD a night.
Canton Fair Invitation and Pre-Badge Application
The next step on this list is getting the Canton Fair invitation. You will need the invitation to get a Chinese visa (assuming you don’t already have one). Using the BEST tool wasn’t the most intuitive thing in the world, but I somehow figured it out. I honestly cannot remember what I did to fill out the application as I had to try a couple of different permutations to get a letter. The process took a couple of days, so it’s hard for me to say if I was just waiting for them to approve my application or I entered some incorrect information.
Getting the Pre-Badge was equally as confusing. In the end I ended up getting both approved. Good luck. If I figured it out, you will too! I will have to go back and actually document how to work this process.
Making sure that you 1) have a valid passport, 2) booked your airfare, 3) reserved your accommodations, and 4) received your invitation letter to the Canton Fair, you are ready to proceed to getting a visa.
Getting a Chinese visa can be tedious if you fill it out yourself. You could opt for one on the visa services for a hundred dollars or more, but since I live close to DC, I chose to visit the Chinese visa office on Wisconsin Ave. The Chinese Consulate website is very confusing. A couple of tips.
- I applied for a business type F visa. It’s not the tourists type L.
- Make sure to apply for a 10 year visa. It’s not listed as an option so type “10 year visa” in the duration section.
- Type out the form. Handwritten copies are not accepted.
- You will need your invitation letter, so make sure you that step before you apply for your visa.
- Make sure your photos follow their specifications. It is not the same as the US specifications. The dimensions need to be 33 x 48 mm with more specifics on the size of the face.
And if you go in person be sure to bring the following documents. I noted what they did not use.
- Visa application with glued picture
- Copy of passport page
- Copy of Chinese visa if applicable
- Social security card –they did not use.
- Copy of social security card –they did not use
- Copy of drivers license
- Canton Invitation Letter
- Employer letter on business purpose –they did not use
- Hotel accommodation and travel itinerary.
Looking at the Yelp reviews, you needed to come prepared or expect a painful experience. It wasn’t all that bad as all my papers were in order.
I hadn’t really looked into this, but with the metro stops printed all around city, I figure we would use mass transit most of the time. In the end, I am sure my brother and I will wing how to travel around the city.
I don’t speak Chinese. Fortunately, my brother does and he agreed to attend the fair with me. Yeah-personal translator! If you don’t have a personal translator, there are ones you can find online.
Currency in China is RMB. From my previous travels, I simply used my credit card to withdraw cash as that is typically the cheapest way to convert money. I called in my credit card company and informed them I was going. Done!
China lives behind the Great Firewall. So if you plan on using any common apps like Google or Facebook, you will need to get a VPN. After much searching and asking, I finally went with a standard name in VPN. ExpressVPN. I’ll let you know how well it works, but here’s a referral link where we both get 30 days for free.
Last thoughts on the Canton Fair
Three weeks is a long time to spend on any endeavour, especially when it involves traveling to far distant lands. Let’s hope my brother and I learn something and that we can bring some of that knowledge back to the States.