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

Michael MicheliniBlog, Lifestyle, Travel44 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.

Related: Just want a normal visa to enter Mainland China? Here’s our free guide on getting a visa for your passport to enter Mainland China with various options.

In a Rush? Download as a PDF Guide Book

You may be in a rush (who isn’t), or with limited internet and want to have a PDF on your computer / mobile phone while you are applying for this Echannel access. Helpful to show them at the border, download yours now!

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Clarification on IC Chip in Passport

We have received a question from a reader in South Africa:

I have a South African passport with a chip. It is on the picture page and not the cover. Can I do e-channel registration?Cross border traveler

In our experience this should work.

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.

Get on the inside!

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!

Email From A Blog Reader

Hi, i was wondering if you could give me some advises on how to get the e-Channel access. I will be living in Shenzhen with a tourist visa (multiple entries) and commute to HK for work. Can I get the the e-channel access ? Also, would you have any advises on the taxation regime ? Thank you
Antonino

Hi Antonino,

If you’re on a tourist visa then you will not be able to get the eChannel. You need a work permit.

Tax regime? If you’re on a tourist visa in China, you should not be earning any income here, so you should be filing taxes where you a re a resident.

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.

Basically You Are a “China Foreigner”

I have had friends nickname it as such. A China e-channel is for foreigners in China who have “been here a while” and have the proper documentation to work and reside in Mainland China. Maybe we can start this trend “China foreigner” as there are more and more people (myself included) calling China their long term home. So this is a perk for those of us who have filed the proper long term documentation to remain in China.

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!

Question From Reader on EChannel

can my colleague with 12-months multi entry business visa apply for e-channel?Olga
Unfortunately you need a work permit to get issued a China side eChannel.

Sean Had a Good Experience at Futian Checkpoint

I’m in Sean Weisbrot’s Wechat group for Expats in Shenzhen – and today (Sept 5, 2017) he filed for China eChannel for the first time. He reported he did it at the Futian Checkpoint – even though most in his group said to do it from Huanggang border. He said it was a short line, a photo, fingerprints – and tomorrow (they said in 24 hours) he will be good to go.

Seems that border is OK – but also because he did it in the middle of the afternoon and not during rush hour full of commuters. thanks Sean!

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

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[…] is VIP treatment – so I wrote the blog post over the weekend, you can check it out at http://www.globalfromasia.com/chinaechannel and learn how to apply for one […]

The Hater
Guest
The Hater

The article linked to below from the Shenzhen Daily suggests that this policy began on August 26, 2016. It also suggests the eligibility requirements are as follows:

“Foreigners who hold six-month residence permits can use e-lanes at checkpoints when they leave the mainland.”

However, I would be interested to see if anyone has first hand experiences of trying to apply with a multiple entry business or tourist visa.

http://www.szdaily.com/content/2016-08/22/content_13759769.htm

Cameron W
Guest
Cameron W

Here’s a tip. Like you said they use thumbprint and facial recognition. If you are tall, you end up standing there like an idiot in the pod until you notice that it is taking a picture of your neck and you have to adjust the angle of the camera with your hand in order to capture your face. All the prompts are in Chinese telling you that your fingerprint has passed but not your photo so you need to really pay attention. its different than the HK side, which only does the fingerprint. I got it in less than 3… Read more »

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[…] have a guide about how to get the China e-channel here. Basically you need a work permit in China to get […]

Clement
Guest
Clement

As of today, 2016 October 16th, the system at Huanggang checkpoint can’t read most of the French passports so applications can’t go through. They told me to “come back later…” after they upgrade their system. They couldn’t tell me when they will upgrade the system.

The officer told me that actually only a very limited number of French passports can be processed. Would be nice to get feedbacks from fellow French passport holders to know when the situation improves.

Alain Terieur
Guest
Alain Terieur

Hi! I just applied at Beijing airport with a French passport. Very smooth process, no issue.

JT
Guest
JT

Me an U.S. Passport holder with 10yrs China tourist visa till 2026 ,I got denied because I don’t live or work in China. I do work for an big U.S. airlines and show my work badge id still denied.

Joseph
Guest
Joseph

I just tried over the weekend at Shenzhen Bay. I have a 10 year Business visa with 60 day stays in a USA passport. The worker said that I needed something like a “long term residence” permit in China. It seems that this e-channel is only meant to target foreigners living in China, not those of us who travel in and out frequently.

Farz
Guest
Farz

I’ve been using the e-channel since the launch and it’s fantastic…when it works. I’ve had 100% success when coming into the airport at both T3 and T2 in Beijing but it’s hit and miss when leaving the airport.

Recently, a security agent told me that only Air China flights are registered for e-channel. This coincides with when the e-channel has worked so I believe he’s correct. Does anyone have any additional insight? Thanks in advance.

Cameron Walker
Guest
Cameron Walker

I have used in in Shenzhen at a bunch of crossings with no issues. But when I have traveled to Guangzhou on the train from Hong Kong and Zhongshan on the ferry from Hong Kong, both times it didn’t work. Seems that mine at least is only local to Shenzhen crossings.

SRK
Guest
SRK

I had this issue as well. I was travelling domestical to Beijing first and already had all my tickets (T2, first CS then KLM). When departing At Beijing Airport the tickets need to have a special barcode which is only issued from ticket machines at Beijing airport. All Airlines work. The only thing is when you are travelling back to China the airline needs to register its passengers. Until now on only one intl. flight from EU to CN, Air China were the ones who conveniently forgot…

TJ Weber
Guest

Thanks for this info. An update today when I obtained my residence permit (Q1 visa holder) I was able to register immediately and there was no queue so the whole process took less than 5 minutes. I was not crossing the border today, but the officer who took my fingerprints said i could cross 5 minutes later. I was tempted to test it out but I’m too busy today to walk across. Best time to do the registration is probably mid week afternoon but not after the lunch break when staff levels might be half. She also said the Residence… Read more »

TJ Weber
Guest

Another note (yet to be verified) my friend who is a US citizen and passport holder with right to abode in Hong Kong has registered using his HKID card and US passport. But the registration process is different. He still needs some entry-exit documents and a page in his passport but it’s not a Residence Permit that Q and Z visa holders can obtain. When I find out more I will post/update.

Paul P
Guest
Paul P

Love this page and would like to share my tip! I carry a British Passport/ permanent HKID/ ABTC /3 year China visa however was unable to register for the e-Channel as I did not hold a resident visa. However I was notified by a kind customs official when I was crossing at Huanggang that I could apply for ‘extra pages’ to my passport. The next time I went through I went to the information counter and asked for extra pages and they provided me with a form to fill in. They took the completed form, passport and HKID card away… Read more »

charlie
Guest
charlie

Hi Paul – thanks for the information, its very useful. i will ask next time i go though the Huanggang border. Where is the information office to apply? in the same building as you the china customs and immigration? the office to the left of the passport control? thanks

Paul P
Guest
Paul P

Hi Charlie – Yes, you can ask at the central information counter to the left of passport control for Foreigners. All you need is a relatively long term visa and a HKID. Good luck!!

SZ frequentFlyer
Guest
SZ frequentFlyer

Hi, very useful post. I tried to apply when it was first available in August last year at Futian, and at the time they told me they couldn’t scan my passport or read the Chip inside. I hold a turkish passport. But after hearing successful attempts from other turkish friends I tried again at Futian in December. And it worked!! Officer who handled my application told me they can’t read Most passports, and as she was saying I shouldn’t get my hopes high, it just worked. She said I was lucky! 🙂 My visa will be renewed very soon, and… Read more »

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[…] mike on How To Get the China E-Channel as a Foreigner (Yes, even Americans!) […]

Neill Lee
Guest
Neill Lee

Is the e-channel registry on Saturdays?
Just renewed my Residency Permit, but was too late to re-register just now (Friday) but it still worked. Want to go tomorrow (Saturday) to re-register to ensure that it is usable on Monday when I go to work. Thanks in advance for your help.

Neill Lee
Guest
Neill Lee

Update:
My old Residency Permit (RP) expires on 7th September in under a month’s time and I now have a new one for 1 year. Just went to renew my e-channel registration. It appears that if you re-register your e-channel registration before your old RP expires, they just extend it without going through the entire registration process with fingerprints etc. Again.

Cameron Walker
Guest
Cameron Walker

I just renewed mine this morning. Got a new visa about a month ago. I didn’t have to fill anything out or re-do fingerprints. Just sat there for 5 minutes while the lady worked on the computer. 5 minutes later could cross the border

BerndR
Guest
BerndR

Just crossed the border to HK and tried to apply for e-channel but could not as I don’t have a Mainland China resident visa, “just” the HK one (not permanent residency, though). Anyway … it was 8pm and the e-channel application office at the Louhu Checkpoint is still open and does not look as if it would close anytime soon. The office is to the right before the customs booths on the “Manual” “Foreigner” floor.

Nate Fleming
Guest

Just found this info… great stuff!

One question I haven’t seen asked – what about families? I’m here with my wife and three kids. Can we all take advantage of the e-channel?

Cheers!

Jack
Guest
Jack

Just tried this with a US passport, their systems couldn’t read the chip in my passport. Lady said some people’s passports just don’t work. Going till a different port to try because i go back and forth often and it just wastes pages in the passport.

Matt
Guest
Matt

I successfully applied today at Shenzhen Bay border (no queue and the officer was efficient, so it was done in 5 minutes). There was a notice though that currently you can only apply successfully, if you have previously used the new fingerprint scanning machines at least twice when entering China. (I think they were implemented in the beginning of this year.)

Linroy
Guest
Linroy

Will E-Channel work at the international airports, Pudong for example? All of the talk seems to be about border crossing at HK. I have a work permit in Shanghai (US citizen). For years I have had Global Entry for the US and the past 5 years, before moving to China, I had Smart Entry in South Korea. Love not waiting in long immigration lines. It was always rather funny in Korea since I was always the only foreigner in the auto immigration line. Would love to have the same ability in China now. One more question, my wife is not… Read more »

Frequent Traveler
Guest
Frequent Traveler

@linroy, yes it works at airport arrivals as well.

For departures, it’s a hit and miss. Boarding pass name must match your passport. I have first and middle names and airlines always print them without space, so I can’t use for Shanghai departures. It works in Beijing though as they have a different system 🙂

Doesn’t matter which country the user is from :

All you need is China resident visa, not a tourist one, and e-passport ( passport with a chip inside the cover).

sam
Guest
sam

with no stamp in passport on e channel. How to register in hotels (they always need to see stamp)