How to take the high-speed rail from Hong Kong to mainland China

After a six-year delay, the first high-speed rail services commenced from the new Hong Kong West Kowloon Station to mainland China on 23 September 2018.  This represents a fantastic and efficient new opportunity for travellers to get between Hong Kong and mainland China, with direct services connecting West Kowloon to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, as well as to Beijing, Shanghai and other mainland destinations. Travellers can also connect to anywhere in the China high speed rail network, or beyond to the trans-Siberian rail network from Beijing.

Compared to previously available options such as the East Rail Line to the border, the “slow train” to various cities such as Guangzhou and Shanghai, cross-border busses, and flights, the high-speed rail represents both excellent time efficiency and value for money.  As it’s quite a new option, there’s relatively little information available on the best ways to complete your journey, so we’ve prepared this guide to help you out!

Key points you need to know!

  • Decide where to go: The high-speed rail runs over 100 services a day to Shenzhen and Guangzhou, as well as one direct service each day to Beijing and Shanghai. The most modern trains are the Hong Kong MTR-run Vibrant Express trains, which can be found easily by searching for trains that only have Second Class and First Class (no business class).
  • Buy your tickets: If your first high-speed rail journey departs from West Kowloon station, you can buy tickets online up to a month in advance of your journey at: Both outbound and return tickets must be collected from the ticket collection booth at West Kowloon station.  You can also buy tickets from the station directly (though availability may be limited at peak times), or through reputable online agents.
  • Get a visa: You need a valid visa to China pre-arranged before you arrive at the station. There is no facility for “144 hour visa free transit”, “visa on arrival” or any other arrangements at this stage.
  • Get some cash: Once you pass through Chinese immigration, you need Chinese Renminbi (not Hong Kong dollars) for transactions. Don’t assume there will be ATMs or exchange facilities at your destination station, so have enough Renminbi (as a guide, at least 100) to get from the station to your hotel and/or a bank.
  • Cross the border in downtown Hong Kong: You will go through both Hong Kong and mainland China immigration and customs processes before you get on the train. Once you arrive at your mainland destination, you’re already in mainland China for immigration purposes so you arrive just the same as you would on a domestic trip.
    • This means that once you cross the “border” within the West Kowloon station, you’re in mainland China. 
  • Stock up: As of February 2019, there are no shops, restaurants, or food and drink outlets (aside from drinking water) from when you cross the “border” until you arrive at your destination in mainland China.  While this may change in the future (there are spaces for businesses to open at some point), for now there are plenty of food and drink outlets before you go through security on the Hong Kong side, so make sure you’re stocked up before you go through.
  • Enjoy the view: One of the best free views of the Hong Kong skyline can be seen from the new Sky Corridor, which can be reached by taking a lift from the station concourse to the roof.

A step-by-step guide

1. Travel to Hong Kong West Kowloon station.  This can be reached either by taking a taxi/ride share service, or by taking the MTR subway.  West Kowloon station is directly connected to Austin station on the West Rail Line, and it is a somewhat longer (though very well-signposted) walk from Kowloon station on the Tung Chung line. 

Austin station can be reached by travelling to Tsim Sha Tsui station, transferring to East Tsim Sha Tsui station (a 5 to 10 minute walk), and taking the West Rail Line one stop to Austin.  Kowloon station can be reached directly from Hong Kong/Central station. From Austin station, take Exit C for Hong Kong West Kowloon station.

2. Follow the signs to “Ticketing Concourse/Departures”.

3. Once you reach the ticket counters, approach the “Ticket purchase – today’s trains” counters (if you have not pre-purchased your tickets), or the “Ticket collection” counters (if you have pre-booked your tickets online).  Have your passport and ticket reservation details (if applicable) ready to provide to the ticketing officers.

4. Collect your tickets and ensure all details (departure and arrival times and locations, travel class, name and passport number) are correct.

5. Once you have stocked up on all the food and drinks you’ll need for the journey, follow the “Departures” signs to commence departure proceedings.  As you’ll be going through security as well as Hong Kong and Chinese immigration and customs formalities, allow at least one hour before your train departs.  Note: As of February 2019, there are no food and drink facilities beyond this point.

6. Provide your passport and ticket to the officers at the departure gate and then use your ticket to go through the automated gates.

7. Go through security checks with your bags, then follow the “Departures” signs to an escalator (or lift for accessibility needs passengers and those with large bags), which will take you down from level B1 to level B3.

8. After entering the “Cross-boundary restricted area”, you will go through Hong Kong departure immigration formalities, then cross the “border” between the “Hong Kong port area” and the “Mainland port area”. You will then go through mainland Chinese immigration and customs formalities.

9. You will now enter the departure concourse.  You can relax in the main concourse, or if you are travelling in First Class or Business Class, you can utilise the “Business Lounge” on level B2, which provides tea, water and comfortable seats but is rather sparse.

10. Board your train 15 minutes before the departure time.  The announcement for boarding will be broadcasted in English, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, and will be displayed on boards throughout the station. Boarding closes five minutes before departure.

11. Find your seat and enjoy your ride. You’ll be whisked away to Shenzhen North Station in as little as 15 minutes, and Guangzhou South station in as little as 45 minutes!

First Class front cabin

First Class main cabin

Second Class

Returning to Hong Kong

Returning from mainland China is a somewhat more straightforward affair. Providing you already have your ticket, arrive at your departing station at least 30 minutes before the departure time so that you can clear security and find your gate. 

Once again, the train will generally board around 15 minutes before departure and close around 5 minutes before departure. The train will whisk you back to Hong Kong West Kowloon station, after which you will clear both mainland Chinese and Hong Kong immigration and customs formalities. 

The arrivals concourse on level B2 has ATMs, exchange facilities and well-signposted directions to take a taxi or train to your next destination.  It also has check-in facilities for Hong Kong International Airport, and you can easily walk through covered overpasses to Kowloon Station, from where you can take the Airport Express train to the airport.

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