UPDATED: Travelling from the UK to Mainland China via Hong Kong

Travelling UK- HK- mainland China route (update 29th August 2022) AMENDED 01 OCTOBER 2022

As a British national, it was inevitable that I would be travelling back and forth between the UK and China at some point. It was also a much-dreaded eventuality that we would have to navigate the arduous processes in place for China to maintain its ‘Zero Covid Policy’. It was a challenge, to say the least. However, with careful planning and organisation, it is possible to make the trip indeed possible. As a result, travelling to China has gone from “virtually impossible” to “possible but particularly arduous”. 

Our route taken was via Hong Kong. We chose Hong Kong because it has better flight stability than China (they have dropped their flight route suspension policy). The flights are also much cheaper and less restrictive than travelling directly to mainland China.

Since 26th September, the Hong Kong government has revised its requirements for overseas travellers. Throughout this blog, we have highlighted the fundamental changes and Hong Kong’s current requirements from Pre-boarding to Quarantine. The images below outline the current procedure.

Here are our tips for navigating the restrictions:


The first and arguably most important step is understanding the policies in place. Before the “0 +3” policy outlined above, there was a “3 +4” policy in place for all travelling internationally: 

  • 3 days in designated quarantine hotels 
  • After obtaining a negative test result on the morning of day 3, travellers must relocate home or to a non-designated hotel for 4 days of medical surveillance. 

It is essential to note the arrival date counts as day 0.

We needed a Designated Quarantine Hotel booking confirmation to board our flight to Hong Kong. Without this booking confirmation, we would not have been able to go to Hong Kong. However, As of 26th September, travellers arriving from overseas do not have to quarantine at a designated quarantine hotel. Instead, there are three days of self-medical surveillance, which inbound passengers can complete at home or in their own pre-booked accommodation.


As mentioned earlier, booking flights and travelling to Hong Kong is much easier than booking to mainland China. You can also do transfers without consequences, provided your test result is valid within 48 hours – so don’t opt for too big a transfer! We chose to fly with Finnair, with a 1 hr transfer to Helsinki. These flights were quite a lot cheaper than travelling directly with Cathay pacific. Another good option is Qatar Airways. Since our trip, Hong Kong has dropped a restriction on aircrew having to quarantine on arrival, which has triggered the reopening of more airlines flying to Hong Kong, like British Airways. Therefore flights should be more and more available.


Before the amendments to Hong KoKong’sntry requirements, we needed to ensure we had the following ahead of our departure: 

  • Obtained the necessary vaccines. Without a vaccine, entry into Hong Kong was prohibited.

Whilst international travellers must still be vaccinated, HK residents and children under 11 can board the plane regardless. Unvaccinated individuals just won’t receive a vaccine pass.

  • A negative covid test that is no more than 48 hours old.

Instead of a PCR, Travellers departing for Hong Kong can take a negative rapid antigen 24 hours before departure.

  • Providence for your departure from Hong Kong. The government only permits Chinese nationals 7 days of residence.

Some carriers like Cathay Pacific will not require this, as they know that many Chinese travellers must arrive in Hong Kong before bidding for a Shenzhen hotel room/Zhuhai bus ticket. However, some airlines, like Finnair, will revert to standard procedure, asking for a return ticket. You can either try to explain to them or book a cheap ticket to Thailand from Hong Kong as a backup. (We explained to them when we arrived in Helsinki, so did not have to buy another ticket).


To streamline your journey through border control, we recommend printing off your documents. The paper documents we needed were: 

  • Booking Confirmation for your Quarantine hotel in Hong Kong
  • Covid-19 test report 
  • Vaccination Certificate
  • A Hong Kong phone number so we could receive our PCR test at the airport. (If you don’t have a Hong Kong number, you can buy a virtual one online – you only need it to receive SMS.)

Whilst you still need these things (minus the hotel confirmation), we recommend submitting the Hong Kong Health & Quarantine Information Declaration. This declaration will confirm your rapid test result and vaccination record and can help to speed up your journey through the airport if you complete it in advance. The system will then generate a green Health Declaration QR code. You will need to present this green Health Declaration QR code at check-in for verification by airlines for boarding and at border control. The QR code is valid for 24 hours.

The airport process took 2-3 hours, as we had to go through testing and receive our Quarantine notice. When we left the airport, there were two transport options: we could take the hotel quarantine shuttle buses, which went via various quarantine hotels or take a special quarantine taxi. We took a taxi because we were exhausted from travelling, and it only cost us $380 HKD to get to our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The Hong Kong government have since revised this process. When landing in Hong Kong, travellers can complete a one-stop registration by scanning their Health Declaration QR code at the specimen collection stations. According to the government website, this station is located on the arrival level of Terminal 1. Arrivals can then undergo PCR testing on the spot. This will significantly cut down the queue and wait times. You do not need to wait at the airport for your results; if you test negative, the LeaveHomeSafe contact tracing app will issue you an amber QR code.


3 days hotel quarantine

Please note that hotel quarantine is no longer required as of 26th September. For more information on Hong KoKong’sost-arrival protocol, scroll down.

As hotel quarantining was mandatory at our time of travel, we booked the Holiday Inn Golden Mile, which was in the middle of the range – it wasn’t too expensive, but the room was quite big. The food was rubbish, but the food is rubbish in all the quarantine hotels, even the 5-star hotels. Thankfully, you could order takeaway food online, which staff will send to your hotel door, and you could also order gym equipment from the hotel.

For the first three days, you had to self-test every day and upload your results to the health system. After that, there was a mandatory four-day medical surveillance. 

  • To upload your self-test result and book your covid test, you must go to the Medical Surveillance System (eCMSS) website. 
  • You cannot leave your room, as you may be prosecuted for breaking the law.

4 days of Health Monitoring

According to the revised travel laws in Hong Kong, arrivals must undergo three days of self-medical surveillance, which you can complete at home or in pre-booked accommodation. During this period, arrivals must take a daily Rapid Antigen Test. On the second day of medical surveillance, you will have to take a PCR-based nucleic acid test (after obtaining your daily negative lateral flow result). If you consistently test negative for all three days, your amber code restrictions will end at 9 a.m. on Day 3. You can read more on what an amber code means below.

A certificate for not leaving our room for three days in Hong Kong!

During this time, you will have to download the app: Leavehomesafe app. Once you have input all your information, the code will be yellow. This means you can go on public transport, to shopping malls and office buildings. But you cannot enter catering venues, such as cafes, bars and restaurants. In the hotel you are staying at, you will be unable to have breakfast outside your room. You can enter catering venues to order a takeaway but cannot dine in.

A city on the water
Description automatically generated with low confidence

We were able to get out and about with a yellow code in Hong Kong but were not able to sit in restaurants or bars


The next leg of our journey involved travelling from Hong Kong to Mainland China. 

There are 3 options for travel:

  • Fly from HK airport to the mainland – flights are very few, expensive and usually booked weeks/months in advance.
  • Bus to Zhuhai – You can purchase tickets seven days in advance, and they go on sale every Tuesday at 8pm. The tickets are also very difficult to book due to capacity and the high volume of applicants. Many people use an agent, but if you choose this approach, prepare to pay few thousand RMB for a bus ticket!
  • Walk across the border at Shenzhen Bay.

We walked across the border at Shenzhen Bay. This method has the most vacancies but also the most people applying for slots. Below are the steps that one needs to go through.

  1. Book your quarantine hotel room in Shenzhen through the government website

To do this, you need to register. If you are travelling with family, you must add their information to your account as 同行人 (travel partner). Completing this step will ensure you can stay together during the quarantine. The system works as a random lottery; you can apply up to seven days before travelling. Applications are open between 9:00- 18:00, and the results are posted at 20:00. There are only 2000 slots available per day, so keep attempting until the system accepts your application.

We were lucky to get our slot on the 3rd attempt, but it usually takes about 6 or 7 attempts. N.B., you can leave Hong Kong during your 4 days of medical observation.

  1. Preparing to cross the border

To successfully cross the border, you need: 

  • A negative PCR test report from no more than 48 hours prior – N.B. You must print this report in colour.
  • A PCR test booking confirmation at Shenzhen Bay. You can book both of these tests on the Community Test website

You will also need a series of codes. Officials will check your first code upon arrival. You need to prepare three codes; green/ black/ blue, and we recommend using coloured paper documents. 

  • Green code: Shenzhen Slot (quarantine hotel room) booking confirmation. The hotel will issue this on the day. 
  • Black code: the code for China Customs 
  • Blue code: which you can obtain here 


Travelling across the border: HK- Shenzhen Bay

  • 7:00am 

Leaving the hotel, we booked a taxi in advance. Driving from Yau Ma Tei to Shenzhen Bay takes at least 40 mins in the morning. 

  • 7:40am 

Arrived at Shenzhen Bay with the PCR test booking confirmation (we booked at 8:00am) and 48 hours test report. The staff let us in, and we waited in the queue to get the test. 

  • 8:00am- 9:20am 

We queued to register for the test, and once we had finished (it is pretty painful, by the way- like scratching your brain!), we received a call-pick-up electric ring bell. 

Our notification pendant was issued to let us know our results are out
Waiting outside the border crossing for our test result to come through.

We waited outside of the gate for almost 1 hour. Finally, the bell started to ring, we went to hand it back, and the staff gave us a green paper bracelet. With this, we went into customs. 

  • 9:20am -11:30am

Officials at the immigration desk stopped us as we were leaving Hong Kong due to the uncertainty of the quarantine policy change. In HK, the ‘3+4’’ policy was not started until 12th  August, but we arrived on 11th August. In the end, we had to wait in the customs office for more than one hour whilst they double-checked with the health bureau that we had completed our quarantine. 

Once the officers confirmed this, they brought us to go straight to the entrance of the Shenzhen section. We showed the codes to pass, and then there is another PCR test on ShShenzhen’side. 

After the PCR test, there is no need to wait for the result, we went straight to the mainland China immigration. The queue was not long, so it took us 30 mins. 

11:30 – 14:30

Having passed the immigration, we arrived on the Shenzhen side. You will receive the stickers with the name of the chosen district, and then you just have to wait for your bus to go. There are 2 districts in Shenzhen that people mentioned with better quarantine hotels:

  • Nanshan district – you will be able to select the hotel levels at the customs and therefore have the choice to pay more to get a better environment.
  • Guangming District- remote from the city centre with more spacious and newer hotel rooms. N.B. Almost all of the Shenzhen quarantine hotels do not accept food delivery. 

Also, you won’t be able to choose the hotel, but you can get into the district you prefer by filling in your address within the district you would like to go to when registering the black code (the code for China Customs). You can input another hotel address within the same district.

We chose to go to the Guangming district, and our queue was much smaller than in the Nanshan district. We waited about 20 mins, and the staff told us to go on the bus. 

14:30 – 17:00

It was a long journey and quite nerve-wracking, as you don’t know which hotel they have chosen for you until you arrive there! There are always some bad hotels you don’t want to be chosen for you. Finally, we arrived at the hotel. Luckily, it was one of the better ones in the district. The price was 580 rmb for two people, including three daily meals. You can receive 3 deliveries during the seven days to buy necessities. 

7 days Quarantine

And so our wait began. During this time, I just focused on getting a lot of work done and practised my Chinese by watching Chinese sitcoms with my wife! It is essential to do some exercise, so we found the Chinese version of Joe Wicks and got cracking. A couple of good books won’t go amiss, either.

Quarantine hotel in Shenzhen, Guangming District
Spacious bathroom in the Shenzhen Quarantine hotel!

We stocked up on goodies from M&S in Hong Kong. What is particularly important is buying some ground coffee and a french press – don’t expect any coffee from the hotel!

Stocking up on Goodies from M&S in Hong Kong is advisable!

The hotel food was ok – standard Cantonese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food was better than Hong Kong’s because you cannot get food delivered in Shenzhen.

The typical meal in Shenzhen quarantine hotel

Every morning at 9am Nurses clad in hazmat suits will ring the bell on your door for a Covid test or a temperature check. Again it’s important to stress: you cannot leave your room for any reason.

Welcome to the SZ hotel!

After 7 days: 3 days of health monitoring

If you have a residential address in China, you must ask your building management before travelling home for the final 3 days of quarantine. We opted to do our final 3 days in Changsha with our family, and the building management accepted. N.B, not all building communities will allow you back, so you may have to do the final 3 days in the quarantine hotel!

As we were leaving the hotel, we had to hand over a load of documentation regarding quarantine and health declaration before officials escorted us to the train station. At the train station entrance, officials placed us in a separate queue from everyone else and had to wear a face shield and a mask. However, once we were inside the station, no one followed us – so when we took them off and went to Starbucks!

Final 3 days quarantine at home.

These final 3 three days will vary massively depending on where you live. In tier 1 cities, it is likely to be very strict. You cannot leave your home, and Covid personnel will come to take a test at your door. However, it is pretty relaxed in other cities (like Changsha), and we just had a yellow code. This meant travelling to the hospital twice in 3 days to take Covid tests, but could freely walk outside (similar to Hong Kong).

And that’s all, folks!

You are now in China and subject to the same rules as everyone else (which can be challenging!) The domestic restrictions could change as China grapples with the highly infectious Omicron variant. You can follow us on Linkedin to receive our weekly China Covid updates and how it impacts domestic travel.

Are you planning a return to China? Get in touch here for more travel advice.

Useful Links

Before boarding for Hong Kong:

  1. Book QT hotel in HK  –  https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/pdf/designated-hotel-list-v8_en.pdf  We recommend refreshing this page for booking status and possible openings https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/eng/designated-hotel-booking-status.html (Do not enter dates you wish to travel. Skip this step and click on each hotel’s link and calendar). You can also contact each hotel directly to find available rooms.  Follow the news and HK government website for daily updates, as more hotels may be added to this cycle later https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/eng/inbound-travel.html 
  2. Vaccination certificate – List of recognized vaccines by HK https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/pdf/list_of_recognised_covid19_vaccines.pdf 
  3. Health Declaration Form HK: https://hdf.chp.gov.hk/dhehd/?lang=en-us  The code you receive will be PINK. In the section for your residency address in HK, write the address of your QH (random room and floor number) and fill out the section for the actual QH address. This is in case you haven’t looked at the other hotels for your stay after the 3 days of quarantine. The best way to do this is to fill it in on the day of your flight, once you get the boarding pass and not 3 days in advance. You will also need to enter your seat numbers. 
  4. Download the LeaveHomeSafe app – The quarantine order with the QR code and vaccination record will be issued on paper when you arrive at HKIA ( HK International Airport ). You can scan the documents using the Leave Home Safe app and digitally get the QR code. You will need to follow up on your code status during the first 7-10 days in HK. You will also need it to scan public venue codes on entry doors or when you go to Community Testing Centre for PCR testing after the quarantine. When you check in to the DQH, you can ask the medical staff to help you with the app. It is an easy 1-minute process, but they can assist you if you have any issues.

    When arriving in Hong Kong:
  1. Shenzhen Bay slot booking – When you get to your QHotel, register  RIGHT AWAY for a Shenzhen bay slot:  https://hk.sz.gov.cn/userPage/login. Currently, only the system only allocates 2000 slots per day. The system doesn’t work anymore as a first come, first served, but it acts as a random lottery! The lottery is published at 20:00 every night for the same-day application. This means you can book a day/days when you wish to cross the border for up to 7 days in advance. Since you will be in the QH for the next 7 days, you will only be able to check for slots after your 7th day. So keep trying every day for another next day after your quarantine. You must add each member to your account during registration if you plan to travel with your family. Once you apply for the first lottery, you won’t be able to add members to your account. You cannot make an account for each member to better your chances, as the system tracks everyone by passport info input. 
  2. Zhuhai bus ticket booking – another way to get from HK to Mainland is via Zhuhai Macao bridge. The bus rides were reduced to 3 buses daily due to covid spread in Zhuhai as of 18th July 2022, but a NEW UPDATE IS COMING FROM 01.08.2022 that there is an increase of 10 buses daily again. Info and schedule can be found on the ticket site under the bus direction options, or add them at WECHAT: hzmbus. No need for a slot reservation but need to secure the bus ticket at https://www.hzmbus.com/passenger_service.html?id=67 . After registering, you will be able to try and purchase a ticket. Tickets go on sale every Tuesday at 20:00 on a first come, first served and are valid for 7 days, a week after (not the same week when you’re trying to buy the ticket ). TRY TO BOOK THIS DURING THE QUARANTINE STAY. It is preferable to find an agent to book the tickets for around 95hkd but count on the agent’s fee of around 2000-4000rmb. The limit for the luggage is 10kg (free of charge), but you can purchase extra luggage at the counter when you collect your ticket collection for your bus ride. Around 50-65hkd ( 8euros ) for each piece of luggage. News to follow on updates: site above, https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/192108/Online-booking-system-for-NAT-at-Shenzhen-Bay-Port-set-to-roll-out-this-week:-Govt or https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/eng/index.html#Useful_Information , https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong 

    After HK quarantine:
  1. PCR TESTING – at one of CTC ( community testing centres ): https://www.communitytest.gov.hk/en/info/  (240HKD public, 880HKD private). You can make an appointment online, but walk-ins are also available. You must remember to check in at the centre for travelling. You will not need to show proof of ticket/slot/visa, but you must BRING YOUR PASSPORT. If you test between 8.30 – 13.30, the test result will arrive at 20.30. If you test between 14.30 – 18.30, the test will be available the next day at 8.30. YOU MUST PROVIDE A LOCAL NUMBER. You can give a friend’s number or purchase a SIM card at any 7/11 store for around 50hkd ( 7 euros ). The text will contain the link and password to open your test result pdf to print it out ( 2 pages ). If you can’t get the local number, you can come back the next day to the same CTC to print out your test results. CTC centres work 7 days a week.  
  2. There are 2 PCR tests for flight trips. You will have to take one of the tests 48h before travelling, and you will need to take the 2nd PCR at HKIA on the morning of your flight. The 2nd test is free, but you must book it in advance via https://projectscreen.co/en/predeparture-china. You can call them and make the reservation via phone if you need it at the last minute, but testing slots go fast, so book in advance. Make sure you arrive 6-8h before your flight to test at the airport. Once you have tested and shown officials your itinerary for exiting HK, personnel will direct you to the Prenetics lab for PCR testing. The results are ready in 2h, and if negative, staff will issue you your boarding pass. If you are flying out on the day you leave your HK quarantine, you can do the first test within 48h and the free test at the Prenetics lab at HKIA. Some airlines don’t require 48h PCR, only the one on the day of the flight so check with your airline or agent about the PCR requirement.

    Exiting HK:
  1. Full-fill exit/entry Declaration Form for China: https://health.customsapp.com/healthweb/home/pages/healthDeclare/declare.html  Border is open 9:00 – 20:00, but the latest arrival time must be before 18:00 to finish with all checkpoints by 20:00 on the other side (in China) 
  2. As of 14th July 2022 – MAKE AN APPOINTMENT FOR NAT AT SZ BAY BORDER (nucleic acid test) as there is no more first come, first seated system to prevent overcrowding at the border. Only those who secured the SZ bay crossing slot ( a quota at the Shenzhen Health Station/quarantine ) can make this test appointment free of charge. If you have not booked an appointment and only have a crossing slot, border control WILL NOT PERMIT travelling across the border into China! You must input your full name, identification document number ( passport ) and reservation number of the Shenzhen quarantine hotel (booking appointment number from your slot lottery draw on the slot app ) when booking online. Anyone travelling can reserve time slots for NAT in the coming seven days through the booking site  https://www.communitytest.gov.hk/en/info. Those who choose to go to the CTC for self-paid testing can make an appointment at the CTC for self-paid testing 24h before the trip and free special rapid NAT at the Shenzhen Bay Port through the reservation system. Passengers should arrive at the Shenzhen Bay Port early according to the reserved time slot and MUST PRESENT THE SMS message or screenshot of the webpage confirming the reservation to the staff present before conducting the special NAT.

Other Links

  1. https://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking-news/section/4/192108/Online-booking-system-for-NAT-at-Shenzhen-Bay-Port-set-to-roll-out-this-week:-Govt or
  2.  https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/eng/index.html#Useful_Information ,
  3. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong

Benjamin King

CEO, Kinyu

Need More On-The-Ground Tips & Resources?

Join our monthly digest for an overview of our blogs on Supply Chains, China HR policies, and managing Asia supply chain operations remotely.

By submitting my information, I agree to Kinyu's Privacy Policy.

Benjamin King

CEO, Kinyu

Need More On-The-Ground Tips & Resources?

Join our monthly digest for an overview of our blogs on Supply Chains, China HR policies, and managing Asia supply chain operations remotely.

By submitting my information, I agree to Kinyu's Privacy Policy.