Shenzhen, a classic border town, full of shopping, prostitutes, and taxi scams. It’s no “Venice of the East,” but I wouldn’t turn up my nose at a tasty inexpensive meal followed by a foot massage and a chance to use my rusty Mandarin.
Only a few MTR stops away, I can almost see Shenzhen from my house and I’m always breathing its major contribution to the Pearl River Delta: air pollution. But I can’t get there. At least I can’t get there without first applying for and paying (dearly) for a proper visa.
The reason is because I’m an American.
British, Irish, Dutch, other EU-types, Australians, Kiwis, and even Canadians, can get a quick visa at the border to visit Shenzhen. But China is “eye for an eye” about visa and other political issues, so they make it harder and much more expensive for Americans. To be fair, they also stick it to people from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Cameroon, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Yes, in terms of Chinese visa-policy America is lumped with Somalia, a government-less country run by war lords.
The only saving bit of Schadenfreude is that they stick it to the Brits in terms of costs. British citizens must pay RMB 469 (USD 74) while the other lucky day-trippers pay a mere RMB 168 (USD 27).
I see you Shenzhen and I am coming, but tit for tat bureaucracy calls first.
(More information: Actual details on Shenzhen border visas available here and here. Please note that getting information from an official Chinese government website on this topic is inexplicably impossible. So check these sites for updates or talk to a Hong Kong-based travel agent in the know.)
Update (9/2013): I have heard a rumor that Americans can now also get visas at the Shenzhen border. But please check with a knowledgable, local travel agent before giving it a go as these things are always, always changing!