How To Get the China E-Channel as a Foreigner (Yes, even Americans!)

Michael MicheliniBlog, Lifestyle, Travel18 Comments

Looking to cross the China border like a VIP? Then you need the China e-channel!

One of the biggest headaches for us as “cross border” business people, specifically those crossing the China and Hong Kong border on a regular basis, is the border! Here at Global From Asia we have an extensive guide covering Hong Kong border crossings and have met even more people in our shoes.

We have gotten tons of comments and emails from readers and friends to optimize this border crossing, and today we are sharing some new tips – getting the China E-Channel. Thanks to Cameron Walker who gave us the tip, as well as some others who gave hints on the comments section of our Hong Kong border crossing post.

Now let’s dig into getting this puppy!

Related: Looking to travel around all of Asia like a VIP? Check our guide on getting an APEC card.

First, What Is the E-Channel?

For those who have crossed the border here a few times have noticed about half the border are these pods people are walking through. It’s a way to “skip” talking to a customs official and place your ID card or passport on the scanner, the door opens, and you then go inside the “pod”. In the pod they take your fingerprint and scan your face. Once they see this matches you on the file, the door to enter (or leave) China is complete.

No stamps, no talking to a customs official, and normally no line or a very fast moving line.

There is an e-channel on each side of the border, the Hong Kong side and the Mainland China side.

Today’s guide is for getting the Chinese side e-channel.

Applying For The E-Channel

So, sounds pretty slick right? A couple weeks I started hearing rumors this was open to foreigners now but no one I knew got it yet. So, being the cross border guinea pig that I seem to have become, time to test it.

I travel across borders at night normally, so the first couple times I crossed it was closed.

Hours To Apply

At Shenzhen Bay border, as well as at Huanggang border, they told me the hours to apply are between 8am and 6pm. And don’t get there at 5:45pm either, they wouldn’t let me apply when I arrived at that time because they said each application takes 10 minutes and there is a queue ahead of me already.

Finding Where To Apply

So you apply at the border, on the China side. At Shenzhen Bay it is on the departure side (Leaving China) floor, which is floor 2. BEFORE you leave China, inside of the building. I would put photos here, but they don’t allow photos or videos (or even phone calls) inside the customs building.

At Futian Checkpoint, its on the 3rd floor at the end of the hall (just follow the China echannel registry signs)

But you’re looking for an application office for the e-channel. They have decent signs, and if you ask a customs official before going into the line, they will point you to it.

Note for Foreigner Passports on E-Channel Information and Acquisition

If you want the read it direct from the sign in the e-channel registry (I had to bargain with a couple officials in order to let them snag me the photo!)

Chinglish included, enjoy!

Requirements for Applying

Once I was at the application area, don’t expect to speak English to them! I practiced my Chinese – and couldn’t make a call to Wendy to translate for me – as they don’t allow phone calls inside. So either bring a Chinese translator / friend, or have decent Chinese skills to get by.

When I said I wanted to apply – it seems like this really is a new policy, as they kind of all looked at me like it wasn’t possible. But I insisted a bit and after talking to a few people there they did say foreigners can now apply (this is August 2016, and the policy must have just came out).

Once they accepted that foreigners can even apply, they then checked my passport. This is what they were looking for

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    IC Chip inside.

    New passports have the chips inside, you can’t see them, but they are in the cover of the passport. My USA passport has it, and at first they couldn’t feel it, but later found it.

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    Have a longer term visa.

    This is something I’ll have to ask my friends on business visas – but I have a residence permit. Mine is renewing in 4 months, so they deemed that enough time for me to apply. If you try to get it with a business visa and it works (or doesn’t), please let me know so I can update this post.

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    Certain passport holders

    It worked for me with a US passport. But there were others there applying who weren’t allowed to go through the process because of their passports. I tried to sneak a peek at their passport but couldn’t see.

Once they confirm that, they let me into the application room.

What Information They Take When Processing The Application

Once I was allowed to apply, I went into the room. About 5 stations with a chair, a camera, fingerprint pad, and a customs official. I sat down and gave them my passport. I thought I would also need to show them my work permit but they didn’t need it.

After filling out some information for me, they printed out a form. I just had to sign it – no need to enter any data (it was already there).

Once signing the paper, they took my photo. Then I had to get both my right and left thumb scanned in.

It was pretty fast, and then they said I was all set. They said tomorrow it would be updated.

Using The E-Channel Perk

Ok, so here’s where I got confused. I believe I understand Chinese enough – they said tomorrow I can come back and it’s OK.

Wouldn’t I get a card?

Nope, you will not get any kind of card or receipt or slip of paper. Its on your passport now.

So they showed me how to use it (after a lot of broken Chinese language efforts talking to them).

Simply go to the China e-channel to an open teller machine. Scan you passport – placing the photo page on the scanner. Then the door will open and you walk in. After you’re inside, use your thumbs to scan in, and then it will take your photo / scan your face. Once the process is done, the door exiting (or entering) China will open and you are in.

Viola! You are now in the VIP express lane to enter and exit Mainland China.

E-Channel FAQ

Already getting questions sent to me privately- My buddy Chris Moore asks the following

Have you used it yet?

Yes, I have used the e-channel. Though only one time since blogging this (as I wanted to get you this information as soon as possible). But I am sure it will keep working (of course unless some policy changes).

Did e-channel cost any money?

No, free! As far as writing this post, anyway.

How long did the whole process take?

(clarification on the question) Meaning form you entered Shenzhen Bay port to when you left–and were you able to go into the Shenzhen Bay customs apply then go back into Shenzhen or did you have to cross the border into Hong Kong then come back?

Answer: I applied while I was already in China. I didn’t exit China (as I didn’t have a need to go to Hong Kong). They told me it would take 1 day (I applied on a Saturday, they said Sunday it would work).

You don’t need a card / don’t need to go back to that station, it will just automatically work at the e-channel line terminal when you go there next. This was hard for me to believe, and that is why the customs official had to take me there myself the first time and show me!

New Visa? Re-Activating Your E-Channel

Something I have just learned – when you renew your Chinese visa, your e-channel is de-activated. Not exactly sure the reasoning, but when I got my US passport back with another 1 year residence visa, I took my trip over to Hong Kong. Excited to skip lines in the foreigner area, I went to the e-channel.

Scanning my passport, it popped up an error. Maybe the kiosk isn’t working, hopped over to another “pod”. Still got the same error. Called over a customs official and he was confused as well. A few Hong Kong travelers tried to explain to me e-channel isn’t for foreigners and I need to go to the foreigner line. Trying to explain myself to them that it has worked for me for months, I finally realized it must be something to do with getting a new visa.

I talked to the official and she said yes, now that I have a new visa, I need to update my e-channel. It was late at night, so the e-channel office was closed (closes at 6pm) – so I had to go to the APEC line (APEC rocks – here’s how to get yours).

New Visa – Need Re-Apply

So I just went during business hours to the e-channel registry – and yes, if you get a new China visa, you need to re-apply to the e-channel. It is like I didn’t have it – I told them I already had it before, but I needed to take a new photo, new fingerprints, and wait another business day for it to activate – same as if I applied for the first time.

Would Love To Hear Your Experiences and Tips

So what makes this blog much more helpful to me (and others) is your comments below. Please let us know if this process worked for you. I did this in the end of August 2016 and who knows what will change with the policy.

I’d love to know what passports you have, and what visas you have to get it (or get rejected) so that we can all figure out the rules and make life crossing this border more effective and helpful.

If you want to read some other popular border crossing guides, as mentioned earlier in the post, we have the Hong Kong border crossing post as well as the APEC card application process.

To your success in international business, and border crossing!

Positive Feedback From New EChannel Readers

We are collecting great emails and feedback from readers – please keep them coming!

Thanks your e-channel post for China saved me many pages in my passport. Just got it done today at Shenzhen Bay. Thanks for the write up.Ambert