Fall 2018 Canton Fair Guide!

Are you going to the Fall 2018 Canton Fair but don’t know what to expect? Check out our insider guide so that you can master the Canton Fair

The Canton fair in Guangzhou, held every spring and fall, is the largest trade fair in the world. . This is easily one of the best places to find and connect with potential suppliers and add to your list of contacts. That being said, it can be absolutely overwhelming, especially your first time. The fair features over 60,000 booths, and hundreds of thousand buyers from literally every corner of the earth making about 30 Billion USD worth of deals.  

This fall there will be three phases held between October 15 through November 4th.

  • Phase One: Oct. 15-19, focuses on electronics.
  • Phase two, Oct 23-27, is consumer goods and gifts.
  • Phase three, Oct. 31-Nov. 4, is basically everything else.  

In addition, Global Sources will have a trade show between phases in Hong Kong, which is more Western-centric and less chaotic. I try to do both when I’m there. Here are some considerations you’ll want to make prior to attending the fair.

Do have a game plan. Figure out the categories of products that you want to buy in advance, where they are located and when they are exhibiting. The Canton Fair website has a map with vendor information.

Don’t forget that you need a Visa to Visit China.  China requires a Visa for entry for almost every country. In order to get a visa, you must apply for one through a Chinese consular office. This process can take weeks, however, there is a shortcut: Fly to Hong Kong and apply for a Visa at the Chinese Consular office, which can be done in about 4 days or just 2 if you put in a rush order. IN Hong Kong you can apply for an ‘L’ tourist Visa which will grant you 3 months in the country.   

Do understand the location and how to get around. The Fair is an hour by Taxi from the Guangzhou airport and about two hours from Hong Kong. If you’re flying in the Guangzhou be aware of fake taxis and fake airport workers who will steer you to fake taxis. They are very convincing if you don’t know what to look for. Make sure that you ALWAYS use the meter. Also, DiDi is the most dominant car sharing (aka UBEr) service in China. The app even has an English version, that accepts foreign credit cards and has a messaging feature, with translations, in the app so you can talk with your driver. You can also take the Metro from the airport, as the public transportation in Guangzhou (and really all of China) is significantly better than the US. This fall, the brand new express train that connects Hong Kong to Guangzhou should be up and running and will reduce travel time to an hour. The metro in Quanzhou is world class and you can get a MetroCard at any 7-11.

Do set up WeChat, QQ, and Whatsapp in advance. These are the two main messaging apps that they use. WeChat is by far the most dominant social media platform in China. Also, join some WeChat groups for the canton fair, it’s a good way to meet both vendors and visitors while there. On the last day, most vendors are packing up. QQ is basically an email service but is great for handling large files, such as the large uncompressed .pdf and .doc brochures that every stand has.

Don’t hire a translator.  At the entrances, there will be several college-age bilingual Chinese offering to translate for you and be your guide. At the Canton fair the lingua franca is English and every booth will have someone there that speaks English. Nonetheless, some people still want a translator or may feel more comfortable with a guide. If you do choose to get one, Always negotiate the price in advance and expect to pay between 200-400 Yuan a day. If you’re going for multiple days, I would just go on my own the first day and get a feel for the fair before hiring one. Be cautious of translators who are overly insistent on guiding you to specific vendors, as those vendors give kickbacks. Remember you’re paying them so you should be leading. I personally have never used a translator at the Canton fair but have used them for smaller trade shows in 2nd and 3rd tier cities.

Don’t expect anyone outside the fair to speak English.  While some Chinese do speak English, it’s better to assume they don’t and be prepared. Download Google Translate and go to offline languages and download both Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese. Guangzhou, formerly called Canton, is the heart of Cantonese culture which is very distinct from Mandarin. The fair attracts vendors from all over China, and those from outside Guangdong province will speak Mandarin.

Don’t use the guides who offer to guide you for free or try to be extra friendly, as they are likely paid by sketchy vendors and NEVER under any circumstance go to a tea house.

Do take a selfie with the vendor and their business card. This is a great way to keep track of who you meet. And when you follow up with a vendor after the fair you can attach the picture so that they have a basic idea of who you are. China is a selfie culture–just roll with it. Also, make sure that you do bring your own business cards but put a secondary email address on it. You will get so many follow up emails, some legitimate but many will be spam.

Don’t get lost! Get a business card from your hotel with the address in Chinese and a map on it to show taxi drivers etc. There will almost always be a stack of them at the front desk. I usually stay at the Royal Garden Hotel, which is a 4 star and cost about 75 bucks a night. There is a Westin, Langham, and Shangri-la connected to the exhibition center if you want to stay right there but they’re also pricier. It’s also worth noting that the Westin has clean modern restrooms and better food than in the exhibition center. I would recommend booking a hotel well in advance.

Don’t plan to buy at the fair. I use it as a way to build new contacts and learn about various industries and products. I do go in with the intention to buy later, so If they do have something I want, I follow up with them later and start the process then. It’s important for me to research a potential supplier, to make sure they are legitimate and qualified before I contact them again and start the purchasing process.  

Don’t forget that the booth name is not always the same as the factory. There are tons of trading companies that are posing as manufacturers at the fair. Do you due diligence afterward to determine their legitimacy, Check out this guide if you want some advice on how to determine if a company is legitimate or not.

Do wear good walking shoes. You will be on your feet all day. The dress is business casual, I wear running shoes, jeans, and a polo and fit in fine.

Do download a VPN before you get to China. Google, Facebook, and several other services are blocked. Google maps and translate do allow you to download and use offline. Be sure to do this before you arrive in China!  

Don’t try to squeeze too much into a tiny window. Budget some extra time to see Guangzhou and Hong Kong. If you’ve never been to China, you really need to budget some extra time for sightseeing, Guangzhou is one of the oldest cities in China, and the start of the Silk Road. Check out the Canton Tower, visit some ancient temples, and eat all the Dim Sum you can handle. nearby Hong Kong is one of the world's most incredible cities, although very expensive.

I plan to be at the fair in October this year on behalf of Cosmo Sourcing. Feel free to contact me if you want to meet up.

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Cosmo has been helping Source products from China, Vietnam and more for years.  If you’re interested in hiring a sourcing company feel free to Contact Cosmo for all your sourcing needs at Info@cosmosourcing.com or visit our Product request page. Even if you do not need any sourcing service feel free to reach out to us and we will answer any sourcing questions that you may have. Thanks for reading! 

James KennemerComment