Huaqiangbei in Shenzhen, China

Huaqiangbei in Shenzhen, China

Huaqiangbei (pronounced hoo-wah-chang-bay) is a place for makers of electronics, robotics, and anything tech-related. This prototyper’s paradise within Shenzhen was the primary reason for my visit to China in November 2017.

Why Shenzhen?

Imagine an IKEA-sized store filled with electronics instead of furniture. Not just cell phones and laptops, but the parts we use to build our digital devices: solid state components, ICs, circuit boards, and all the tools needed for assembly and repair. Double the size of the store in your mind. And then fill a neighborhood with buildings just like it. That’s Huaqiangbei.

Shenzhen in One Hour

Wired Magazine published a 1-hour video about Shenzhen and Huaqiangbei in July 2016.

Huaqiangbei in Shenzhen, China

Key points from the video:

Globalization is Good

Another reason why Shenzhen is so exciting: Globalization is good. Opportunities in tech are too large for one nation to play a monopoly role.

The Wired video tells you what to expect once you get to Shenzhen. This post will tell you how to prepare for the trip, along with a few gotchas that I encountered along the way.

Passports and Visas

US citizens need a passport and a visa to visit mainland China. As of this writing, it’s possible to visit Shenzhen for up to six days without a visa, but a visa is needed if you want to go outside the city. A service like Travisa can get you a ten-year multiple entry visa for less than $200, and they’ll manage the application process for you.

Flights and Hotels

Priceline has consistently given me great deals on flights and hotels all over the world. I used Priceline for my Shenzhen flights and hotels. They delivered well.

Mandarin for English Speakers

Google Translate in Shenzhen, China

If you already speak Mandarin, you will navigate well in Shenzhen. I am not fluent in Mandarin, so I relied on a few crutches:

Astute readers will note that Google’s tools are blocked by the Great Firewall. You will need a VPN to use them.

Bonus: Visit Hong Kong

If you make it to Shenzhen, consider a bonus trip to Hong Kong as well. The two cities are only a short train ride apart, like riding from Midtown Manhattan to Brooklyn. US citizens can travel to Hong Kong without a visa, but you’ll still need to go through customs.

If you visit Hong Kong, be sure to buy an Octapus card when you arrive. The Octopus card can be puchased at any train station. You can pay for almost anything via Octopus including public transporation and Starbucks coffee.

Some people might recommend WeChat for payments in China and Hong Kong. In my experience, WeChat works fine for text communications, but for payments it’s a pain in the neck. The VPayFast service offers help for non-Chinese citizens who want to use WeChat, but the service did not work for me. Maybe I’m spoiled by the seamless convenience of M-Pesa in Kenya.


If you are enthusiastic about open source hardware, IoT, or related areas, you will enjoy Shenzhen. Ping me when you go. Maybe we can collaborate on something!