- Shenzhen is in the Pearl River Delta of Guangdong province (the old Canton region), just north of Hong Kong across the Sham Chun River (aka the Shenzhen River). Thirty years ago, Shenzhen was a little fishing village and border town with some 300,000 people. Today, it has an ever-growing population of 15 million.
- Shenzhen is mainland China’s southern financial center, and is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.
- Because Shenzhen is a Special Economic Zone, it has been granted provincial-level economic administration status and is allowed to practice market capitalism with a relaxing of the rules and regulations that exist outside the zone.
There are a total of 17 ports, the most of any city in mainland China. The turnover rate of containers in Shenzhen’s ports is the fourth highest in the world.
- Shenzhen is a multilingual city. Cantonese is the original language of the area, but Mandarin (the lingua franca of China) has become dominant over the last 30 years. There are also a number of local indigenous languages that are still spoken, mainly by senior citizens.
- Shenzhen’s climate is humid, subtropical with mild winters. Frost is rare.
Shenzhen is an industrial town. People come from all over China to work there, and bring their regional cuisines with them, so the city is an amazing opportunity to sample the country’s diverse foods.
- Postal code: 518000
- Area code: 755
- Time zone: China Standard (UTC +8)
- The currency is the yuan renminbi (abbrev: RMB), called the “people’s money.”
- When opening a bank account, don’t say “open” — the concept is meaningless. Say “new” account.
TIP: Trust, relationship, and communication are everything in China. Find suppliers, manufacturers, and support services that you like and stick with them. Once trust is built, these business associates will work with you, be flexible on pricing, give you samples, and more.
TIP: Smile. A lot. And be kind and respectful. It will carry you far in China.
TIP: Don’t buy and prep your own food. It’s easier and cheaper to just eat out.
TIP: Quality, schedule, price: pick two.
—Liam Casey, CEO of PCH
TIP: Since Huaqiangbei is right there, you don’t have to rely on your manufacturer for parts; go to the market and see for yourself if you can get better prices.
TIP: Create a chart with your bill of materials, listing each component with the price from Digi-Key (or another U.S. supplier), the manufacturer-direct price, and the upper limit of what you expect to pay in the market. Frequently, in Huaqiangbei, you’ll only end up paying a tenth of your limit.
TIP: Negotiate in the marketplace using a calculator. You can use it to convert RMB to dollars (divide by 8), but also to communicate price or desired quantities.
TIP: To climb over the Great Firewall of China, get a subscription to a VPN (virtual private network).
TIP: Fapiao are like Chinese receipts on steroids. Part contract, invoice, tax receipt, and even scratch-off lotto card, they are important to Chinese citizens. Sometimes offering to give your fapiao back will get you a discount (dazhe) on food and other goods.
TIP: Don’t stay at Western hotels. Look for apartment hotels. They are cheap, convenient, and cleaner than a hostel.
TIP: Read Gareth Branwyn’s “Innovated in China: A Maker’s Guide to Shenzhen.”
More Resources for the Shenzhen-Bound
There are many services, programs, and resources available to makers who want to gain a foothold in Shenzhen. Here are a few key examples:
Our friends at Haxlr8r run a 111-day accelerator program for startups looking to take their hardware projects to market. Some fine companies have come through this program, including Blinkinlabs, Nomiku, Spark, and Makeblock.
The open-source hardware company Dangerous Prototypes runs 3- to 5-day boot camps in Shenzhen to get maker pros quickly up to speed. The next camp will be June 16–18, leading up to Maker Faire Shenzhen. To view one of these camps in action, search “Hacker Camp Shenzhen” on YouTube.
Seeed is a service provider assisting makers in bringing products to market. They provide prototyping and in-house engineering services, maker-friendly supply chain, and a marketplace for maker-made goods. They also have an excellent Shenzhen Map for Makers that you can download here.
An engineering service bureau in Shenzhen, Factory for All provides part sourcing, PCB manufacturing and assembly, kit assembly, laser cutting, and engineering services.