Online research can be very effective! You’ll need a vendor who is open to English-speaking customers and comfortable working with them. These vendors invest in their websites and -- surprisingly -- email outreach. If you get a cold email from a vendor in China, it’s worth investigating. If they have enough resources to staff English-speaking cold outreach, they are likely to be a larger shop.
You can also find overseas vendors at trade shows like CES. (Consumer Electronics Show). There are also specialty trade shows overseas specifically for establishing vendor relationships.
One of the most successful methods of discovering new suppliers is word of mouth, so try to use your local network to find entrepreneurs who have made things with overseas vendors before!
It’s a good idea to send test pieces to new vendors to gauge their quality, speed, price and especially communication skills.
The most important thing to know is that vendor relationships are two-way. Be good to your vendors! It needs to be a good deal for them as well or they will seek better clients.
It will be difficult to organize supplier visits without a pre-existing relationship or ongoing project that you are actively working to produce. There are some companies that specialize in factory tours for overseas visitors, but I can’t personally vouch for them.
The most important thing to know before you plan a trip to Shenzhen is that you will probably need a travel visa to enter China. Plan ahead! Getting the visa isn’t too difficult, but it can take weeks and cost a few hundred dollars. Don’t leave it until the last minute! If you are visiting a specific factory, you can request a letter of invitation that will make the process easier.
It’s easy to find a direct flight to Shenzhen. We chose to fly into Hong Kong because we had business there also. It can also be nice to spend a day in Hong Kong to acclimate to the new time zone. From Hong Kong, you can take the metro to Shenzhen (Lo Wu station), intercity train (at Hung Hom station) or the new bullet train (Hong Kong West Kowloon Station).
Compared to the US/Canada crossing and other overseas crossings I’ve made, China’s crossing was intimidating and had a lot of steps (forms, checks, and inspections).
My colleague Phil (Canadian-born of Chinese descent) was subject to more scrutiny than I was (white Canadian). My colleague Senzeni (black from Zimbabwe) is often stopped.
One of the things that many North American travellers overlook in their planning is the fact that China is a city without Google (due to the firewall). This means no Google search, maps, apps, or translate. Facebook and Instagram are also blocked.
Before you leave, download a VPN service to your phone and laptop, but know that because VPN slows down the connection, it’s still not recommended to count on those services and on signal being reliable where you’re travelleing. (Especially if it includes factories that may be outside of the city core).
Download (or print!) any demonstration materials or datasheets you want to share. Also download an exchange app (XE), an offline map, WeChat and any other apps you may need there.
Bring CASH - especially if you’re planning to spend any time outside the city core. Shenzhen is largely “cashless” but AliPay and WePay are difficult to set up without a Chinese bank account. When we visted in 2018, foreign credit cards were not commonly accepted, especially in taxis or smaller restaurants. (Hotels that cater to foreigners seem ok).
Bring your destination address printed in Chinese with a phone number. Navigation (especially to small factories) is not intuitive, even for local drivers. They will often need to phone the destination to get last-mile directions.
We benefitted greatly from the services of a local translator. Jasmine Wei jasmine.wei21 @ yahoo . com LinkedIn| Wechat/ WhatsApp:+ 86 137 8838 0590 Most vendors that work with foreign customers have excellent English, however English is not common outside the Futian core. Getting to the factories, planning travel, and navigating restaurant menus would have been difficult without a local Mandarin-speaker.
If you are used to eating “authentic” Chinese food in the West (especially with regards to spice-level) you won’t have any issues eating in Shenzhen. Finding Western food is at times challenging outside the city core, but fast food is commonly available.
Western-style toilets are common in hotels, malls, and the city core. If you are travelling out to the factories, expect an encounter with a squat toilet (and don’t panic). If this is new to you, there are many guide videos online. Bring your own tissues and hand sanitizer.
I didn’t feel unsafe in Shenzhen. I felt more wary for security/surveillance than I did for crime. Use your common sense and you should be fine.
In the summer, Shenzhen is very humid and warm! Wear comfortable shoes and expect to sweat a lot. (I ended up buying a handkerchief for my brow). Dress modestly (covered shoulders and bust) but “business casual” seems more than sufficient. For masculine types, shorts and a polo shirt will be suitable. Drink more water than you think you need.
Youtube: Naomi Wu (SexyCyborg), SerpentZA, Strange Parts (“How I made my own iPhone”)
Books: “The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen” by Bunnie Huang