The Canton Fair is a Chinese tradition that began in the 1950s. It's the largest trade fair in the world, with representatives, shops, businesses, and visitors from over 200 countries worldwide. It takes place over a few weeks, giving visitors a chance to see what the Chinese marketplace has to offer and form meaningful connections with potential business partners.
The fair is especially beneficial for Amazon sellers as an opportunity to find contacts and suppliers for various industries. Regardless of what kind of product(s) you sell through Amazon, the Canton Fair is sure to have an abundance of it.
Whether you're new to the fair or have been for the past few years, this article covers eleven of the best ways to prepare for your Canton Fair trip.
Probably the most important thing to remember for your trip to the Canton Fair is to bring your Chinese visa! Without it, your Canton Fair expedition is going to be much shorter than you probably hoped.
If you don't already have your Chinese visa, you can apply for one before leaving at your country's Chinese embassy or consulate. For individuals in countries without a Chinese representative, you can make a connecting flight before visiting China to a country that does have one.
Or, if you are flying into Hong Kong, you can apply for it in person there at the Visa Section of the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Hong Kong P.R.C. As you show up with your passport, filled-in visa application form, and cash for the application fee, you should be good to go!
The Canton Fair Buyer's Badge is the only way to officially be admitted into the fair. After your Chinese visa, it's the second most important thing you're going to bring with you - so don't forget it!
Luckily, getting a Canton Fair badge isn't too difficult. You can only get the physical badge in person at the Canton Fair Registration offices, but you can pre-register online to speed up the process (highly recommended).
To pre-register online, visit this website and follow the registration process. Once finished, you'll wait for your application to be approved. When you get approved, you can print out your pre-application receipt, which you'll bring to the Canton Fair Registration offices and exchange it for a physical badge.
To register in person, you'll need to visit the Canton Fair registration offices and bring your passport, business card, 100RMB for service fees, and a photo of yourself for identification. If you don't have a photo on you when you arrive, you can have your picture taken by the office for 50RMB.
Despite the digital age we currently live in, business cards are still the bread and butter of the Canton Fair. At every stand and shop you walk by, you'll see pamphlets, flyers, and business cards that are free to take.
These papers are how you're going to remember this trip and the different vendors you connected with, so taking them and keeping them organized is a must. But, just as much as you want to be taking business cards, you want to be leaving them!
Just like you're going to be using these business cards to keep track of every shop you speak with, they're going to be using them to keep track of you. If possible, print off about a hundred or so before leaving so you can make sure to keep in touch with everyone you connect with at the fair.
If you're one of the many people flying into China with little experience of the culture, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the available transportation options before you arrive. Otherwise, you risk standing on a street corner with limited internet access, trying to figure out how to order an Uber.
And speaking of Uber, you won't even be able to use their service in China. Uber left China earlier this year and sold its Chinese infrastructure to competitor Didi Rider, a Chinese ride-sharing service. Didi Rider is a great alternative to Uber or Lyft if you're already comfortable with ride-sharing apps.
For a more traditional transportation solution, you can use the Guangzhou subway system. This subway system should be able to get you wherever you need to go, so long as you can find a way to navigate it as a foreigner.
First time Canton Fair-goers might not realize that the fair not only happens twice a year (once in the Spring and Fall) but also has three phases during each event. The three phases of the fair break up the types of products being displayed and occur in five-day stretches.
Phase 1 of this year's Fall Canton Fair starts on October 15th and ends on October 19th. It's known as the Automotive and Parts, Hardware, and Tools portion of the fair. Here, you can find the following types of products:
Phase 1 is the biggest portion of the Canton Fair, and it's where buyers will find the best of China's high-tech offerings. If you're looking for industrial, electrical, or mechanical vendors, this is the best time to attend the fair. It's also the busiest time, so be prepared for large crowds and long waits.
Phase 2 of the Canton fair takes place from October 23rd to October 27th and primarily covers consumer goods. This encompasses a broad range of products, like:
Phase 3 is the final part of the Canton Fair, taking place from October 31st to November 4th. This portion of the fair is primarily centered around fashion, food, and health:
Aside from being a bit of a catch-all, Phase 3 also includes the International Pavilion portion of the Canton Fair. This is the newest addition to the fair, having been added in 2007 as a way to incorporate international imports into the fair. It's worth a look if you happen to be attending during the Third Phase.
Though there are plenty of WiFi options in China, just like there are most places these days, you're going to be sharing that WiFi with massive crowds, made even larger by the events of the fair. For most, your SIM card is going to be the most reliable connectivity option you have at your disposal.
You might not need to get a Chinese SIM card to stay connected during your Canton Fair trip; plenty of providers have international connectivity solutions for travel just like this. Not all providers offer this, though, and not all will have reliable connectivity in the Guangzhou area.
To ensure you stay connected, it's not a bad idea to arrange to get a Chinese-based SIM card specifically for this trip. You can find temporary SIM cards there that allow you to only pay for the data used rather than creating a set-in-stone contract like traditional connectivity. This will make it easier to find transportation, register for your badge, and enjoy all of the other benefits that come with internet access.
WeChat is China's most popular version of a social media and messaging app. It's comparable to apps like WhatsApp, Facebook/Facebook Messenger, or Skype. Outside of China, using these apps is as easy as downloading them from the App Store. In China, however, accessing these apps can be close to impossible.
Not only will you have a hard time using/downloading these apps during your stay in China, but you'll also find that very few (if any) Chinese citizens use other social media apps. Just like you use Facebook and LinkedIn to make business connections, you'll need to use WeChat if you want to keep up with the contacts you make at the Canton Fair.
The app works just like any other social media app, so downloading WeChat and setting up an account shouldn't be too difficult. Once you've got it out of the way, you'll have a much easier time building connections during the fair.
If you do need to use apps like Facebook or you’re on Gmail, invest in a VPN before you go. Without it, you won’t be able to use a variety of sites that are banned in China. Luckily, a VPN costs just a few dollars for a month long subscription.
Finding and paying for a hotel for the Canton Fair is going to be one of the most challenging aspects of attending the fair, after getting all of your paperwork in order. While hotel prices near the complex are reasonable during the rest of the year, prices shoot up to $300+ a night during the fair.
Not to mention that reservations are going to be extremely limited as people from all over the world are trying to attend the event. Make sure to use a map beforehand and find a hotel that is close to the event, but maybe not so close that you're competing with people from over 200 countries for a bed.
Luckily, the Canton Fair doesn't have too strict of attire, so business-casual and casual will get the job done. We recommend bringing comfortable clothes, as you're going to spend the majority of your time walking around in a large crowd; wearing a suit might look professional, but it's going to get pretty stuffy after the first couple of hours.
Dressing comfortably is especially true when it comes to shoes! The Canton Fair is physically huge, taking up over 1.1 million square meters, and is filled with over 60,000 shop stands. Definitely not a day for breaking in a new pair of dress shoes.
Bringing a backpack to the fair each day is also recommended, emptied completely before you arrive. This will give you a place to put papers, pamphlets, product samples, and anything else you come across during your time at the fair. Grabbing a backpack with wheels (resembling a small suitcase) is best since it'll make carrying it around all day less of a burden.
Speaking of over 60,000 shop stands, how do you even begin to decide what you're going to visit? By starting to decide now! Rather than wait until you are surrounded by thousands of products and individuals all vying for your attention, create a list of specific shops and products you want to see before you arrive.
This will give you a blueprint for how your trip is going to be structured and prevent you from wandering aimlessly the entire time, only to arrive back home wondering what happened. And if you finish your list early, you can explore the rest of the fair and surrounding area at your leisure.
The beauty of massive events like the Canton Fair is that they attract nearby fairs and events like moths to a flame. After you've seen everything you wanted to at the fair and feel like you've had your fill, you can start venturing just outside of the fair to see the other events happening nearby.
Many of these events will welcome guests attending the Canton Fair, while others may require you to sign up beforehand. If you've downloaded the WeChat app, you can use this to stay in the know on what's going on outside of the fair. You can also speak to other fair-goers/business representatives about adjacent events.
The Canton fair is an amazing resource to find new suppliers and scope out products. Using your time wisely and being prepared with a plan will help you maximize your time there. We find it to be such a useful experience that we try to go every year, and so far, we’ve been able to make incredible deals and new connections on each visit. Watch the videos from our last visit here: