The Guide to Attending the Canton Fair Trade Show in China (COVID Updated)October 10, 2021 in Blog, China & Culture, Chinese Importing, Finding Suppliers, Product Sourcing
The Canton Fair is the mecca for importers, and every year over 180,000 buyers make the pilgrimage to Guangzhou to source products from over 60,000 Suppliers. The Canton Fair happens twice a year and happens over nearly 2 weeks.
Can You Attend the Canton Fair During COVID?
Unfortunately, the short answer to whether a foreigner can currently attend the Canton Fair (as of November 2021) is effectively no. China has a strict “zero COVID” policy mean visas are extremely difficult to get and even if you do get one, you’ll be required to isolate in a hotel for multiple weeks (yes, even if you’re vaccinated). With that being said, the fair is continuing to be hosted for those already in China, but it has been condensed from three phases to one.
Things may change for the Spring session of the fair (although it seems unlikely at this point) and continue reading on to prepare yourself for when the Canton and China does open up again.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Canton Fair, it is the largest trade show in China and has been taking place for over 50 years. For the first time visitor of trade shows in China, the Canton Fair is the best introduction. It has something for almost everyone, no matter your industry, and it is very Western-friendly.
Related Reading: Hong Kong Mega Show Guide
Related Podcast: Episode 97: Asia Trip Review – Global Sources Summit, Canton Fair, and a Visit to our Philippines Team
- Overview of the Canton Fair
- Canton Fair Dates & Best Phases
- Who Should (and Shouldn’t) Go to the Canton Fair
- When to Go to the Canton Fair
- How to Get to the Canton Fair and Where to Stay
- How to Get a Chinese Visa
- How Long to Visit the Show?
- What to Wear & Bring to the Canton Fair
- At the Show: Pricing, MOQs, Samples, and Communication
Overview of the Canton Fair
The Canton Fair is held twice a year in April and October and has been going on for over 50 years. It’s really hard to get your head around how big the Canton Fair complex is. Imagine the largest convention that you’ve ever been to in your life and then multiply it by three. It’s big.
Here is a picture of the Canton Fair Complex taken from our hotel room, which was 2 blocks away and 42 stories up. Look at how small the people are in the picture for reference!
The show is generally open from 9:30 am – 6:00 pm each day, but check the website as some of the days have slightly different hours.
Canton Fair Dates & Phases
The Canton Fair is normally spread over three phases over the course of two weeks. However, since COVID it has been condensed into one phase.
Canton Fair Dates Spring 2022
Phase 1/2/3 (all phases open concurrently): April 23-27, 2020: Automotive and Parts, Hardware & Tools (Phase 1)/Consumer goods, Gifts, Home Decorations (Phase 2)/Office Supplies, Sporting & Outdoors(Phase 3)
If and when the Canton Fair transitions back to multiple phases, it is very important to pick the correct phase for you. For now, everything is held in one phase so you don’t need to worry about this. However, phase 2 tends to be the phase that most readers of this website go to as it focuses on consumer goods. However, the best phase for you will really depend on what you’re looking for (I actually normally visit Phase 1 for automotive parts).
The different sections of the Canton Fair are listed below:
- Electronics & Household Appliances
- Lighting Equipment
- Vehicles and Spare Parts
- Hardware & Tools
- Building Materials
- Chemical Products
- Energy Resources
- International Pavillion
- Consumer Goods
- Home Decorations
- Textile & Garments
- Office Supplies, Cases & Bags & Recreational Products
- Medicines, Medical Devices & Health Products
- International Pavillion
Who Should and Shouldn’t Visit the Canton Fair
Who should go:
- You should go if you have been finding Suppliers via Alibaba and want to make the next leap
- You should go if you have current Suppliers who will be exhibiting at the fair (makes it easy to meet and a greet with multiple Suppliers)
- You should go if you’re a first time business visitor to China (the Canton Fair is very Western friendly)
- You should go if you’re importing mass-market consumer commodities
Who Shouldn’t Go
- You shouldn’t go if you’ve visited China before and your industry has better industry-specific trade shows (i.e. if you’re importing fishing products and there are Fishing and Hunting trade show in China)
- You shouldn’t go if you have a short amount of time in China and your first priorities are in far away provinces and cities (i.e. Beijing, Shanghai, etc.)
The Canton Fair is the absolute ideal starting point for people who have done a few imports through sites like Alibaba and want to make the next leap in their business.
Why is visiting trade shows in China so valuable?
- Visiting trade shows will help you find Suppliers not advertising on the internet (and thereby eliminating a good percentage of your competition).
- You can meet your Suppliers in person which builds rapport and shows you’re a serious buyer (ever have an email ignored by an Alibaba Supplier? This almost never happens when you email someone you meet at the Canton Fair).
The Canton Fair has something for everyone. However, if you’re in a very specialized niche like medical supplies or fishing, a Chinese trade show specific to that niche will have more selection. Check out ChinaExhibition.com for a list of most trade shows in China.
The Canton Fair waters are also warm for Western buyers taking a dip into the world of China for the first time.
Around Canton Fair time hordes of university students eager to practice their English surround airports and metro lines to help Western visitors. Hong Kong is still a much easier introduction to China but the Canton Fair is about as easy as it gets when it comes to travel in Mainland China.
Related Reading: How to Import from China Quickly, Safely and Cheaply (Mega Guide)
When to Go to the Canton Fair
Both the Spring and Fall session of the Canton Fair are nearly identical. The Spring session is ideal for finding products for Christmas. The Fall session is ideal for finding products for the next calendar year.
In terms of weather, October and April are very similar. Comfortably warm but not suffocating. Always humid – expect to shower multiple times per day.
Don’t make the mistake I made the first time and plan to go to the wrong phase of the show, so read the description of the phases very carefully (or post in the comments below what products you’re looking for and we’ll help you decide what phase to go to).
How to Get to the Canton Fair and Where to Stay
The fair is in Guangzhou, one of the three main cities of China (the other two being Shanghai and Beijing). It’s located very near to Hong Kong. With the new high-speed rail it is less than 1 hour from Kowloon (central Hong Kong) to Guangzhou.
Checkout ChinaTravelGuide.com for full train schedules (this website will be absolutely invaluable for you for China train travel).
Remember, Hong Kong is essentially a separate country with different visa regulations and customs formalities. The biggest implication is to ensure you have a multiple entry visa for China, which most Westerners now receive with 10-year visas BUT make sure you have one. Most Westerners will not need a visa to visit Hong Kong.
Xingang Dong Station and Pazhou Station on Line 8 are the nearest metro stations to the fair.
It’s possible to commute back and forth between Hong Kong and Guangzhou every day but not recommended as it makes for a lot of commuting time, especially when dealing with customs.
Guangzhou is a city with over 10 million people and there’s no shortage of rooms in the city, even for last-minute travelers. The best value rooms in the most popular hotels will sell out though so you’re best to book 3 or 4 weeks in advance if you can.
There are only a few hotels close to the actual Canton Fair complex. Expect to pay well over $300 per night (and often well over $500).
The poorly drawn red line is the footprint of the Canton Fair Complex. The Canton Fair complex is 0.6 x 0.8 miles. It’s BIG.
The 3 blue boxes are the hotels in the area. The blue box directly below the fair complex is the Westin Pazhou. Rooms are expensive as well as food and drinks. The buffet is about $70USD per person for dinner. A cup of tea is about $9USD. They can charge these crazy prices because there isn’t much else around. Their internet is free and normally uncensored – a big bonus.
The next blue box, directly to the east of the Westin is the Hee Fun Apartment hotel. It’s reasonably priced, and most importantly they have a washer and dryer which is great if you’re travelling light.
The top right square is the Shangri-La Hotel, It’s actually pretty hard to get from the south side of the complex area to the north side because the road that cuts through it doesn’t have any walkways across.
There are some restaurants in the underground below Pazhou Station, but besides that, there isn’t much to do or eat in this area.
If you don’t stay at one of the pricy local hotels then pick a hotel near a Metro ideally near Metro Line 8 where the fair is located.
How to Get a Chinese Visa
You don’t need to go to the Chinese Consulate in person. You can hire a visa service to do this for you (often very cheaply).
Citizens of most countries require a visa to enter Mainland China (citizens of most Western countries do not need a visa to enter Hong Kong, however). In order to obtain a VISA, you need to either visit the closest Chinese Consulate to where you live or use a visa agency (i.e. a travel agent). Chinese travel agents are a great way to easily get Chinese visas.
Keep in mind that it takes a couple of weeks to actually get the VISA, so don’t wait until the last second to apply, otherwise, you will have to pay rush fees. China issues most visas as ten years visas now meaning you’ll never have to worry about it again for a long time. You should officially get a business visa which requires an invitation form (easy and free) from the Canton Fair. Non-officially, many people simply visit on a tourist visa.
Here is a TIP: You can apply for a multi-entry business VISA that is good for 10 years. If you use an agency, you have a much higher chance of getting this type of VISA.
TIP: If your VISA outlasts the expiration of your passport, the VISA is still valid. You just need to travel with both passports when going to China.
You should register for the fair beforehand, although you do not need to. If you choose to register at the fair it will cost you 100 RMB (about $20USD). You should register beforehand simply to save the $20 it costs to register at the show.
Keep your badge as you can re-use this badge for future sessions of the show.
Like all Chinese websites, the registration website is terrible. Someone will actually review and approve your badge (check your spam folder). Once approved you will still have to pick up your actual badge at the show. In years after, they will send you a badge during each phase via postal mail for at least a year.
If you don’t pre-register for whatever reason, don’t stress out – just do it at the show and pay the $20 or so in fees.
If you register beforehand, make sure you bring a passport photo and a paper copy of your badge registration. If you forget (like the thousands of other people) you can do it at the show, although be prepared to pay another $5 for the photos and wait in line.
You can get your badge at the show the day before a particular phase opens. If you’re in town and close by to the fair, you can avoid all the lines and get your badge then. Otherwise, the show staff is fairly efficient at dispensing badges but expect to wait 20-30 minutes (your pre-approval for a badge saves you 100RMB, not time).
Getting Ready for the Show
To have the most successful buying experience at the show, you should do a lot of work beforehand. Here are some tips:
- Determine what products you’re looking for beforehand (don’t go there hoping to find products)
- Research potential Suppliers beforehand using the Canton Fair website
Like any trade show, you should be doing hours of research beforehand on the Suppliers and vendors who will be there. The Canton Fair website isn’t great unfortunately and you’ll have to rely on the Canton Fair’s crappy search functionality which also isn’t great. I always like to generate a list of 20-30 Suppliers beforehand (along with their booth numbers) that I plan to visit.
Before you attend the show, determine what types of products you are looking for. Do not go to the show to blindly look for products.
Research your products well beforehand including doing competitor research on Amazon. Prepare a list of questions to ask suppliers about your desired products. Good questions to ask suppliers include:
- What are the exact specifications of this product (hopefully you know the important specifications)
- Can I make it in xyz color/size and if so, how much does it cost?
- What are the package dimensions? How many items per box?
- Where is the Supplier based? Who are their main customers? What is a typical order trial order size for them?
How Long Should You Visit the Canton Fair?
Most people want two days during each phase they intend to visit. You do not need the full the five days of each phase.
During the first day of the show, talk to as many suppliers as possible and generate a short list of suppliers you want to follow up with the next day. On day two, follow up with these suppliers that you’re really interested in and ask some more in-depth questions including about pricing.
There’s a lot of value in using the Canton Fair as a common meeting ground for current and potential Suppliers. Aside from arranging breakfasts/dinners with current and potential Suppliers, many Suppliers rent hotel rooms that are mini showrooms where the real business is discussed. Allow for an extra day or two of meetings in Guangzhou.
How to Dress and Bring to the Canton Fair
What to bring with you to the show:
- Comfortable shoes and breathable clothing
- A rolly bag or backpack to carry all of the materials you’ll accumulate
- A LOT of business cards (ideally with an email address you don’t mind getting spammed to death)
- Your badge and/or registration approval
- A full charged cell phone for photo purposes, ideally with backup power supply
Dress comfortably for the show. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking (including through Metro stations, in queues, and around the show) and Guangzhou is incredibly humid so wearing dress shoes and a suit isn’t exactly practical. Dress in a pair of nice slacks/shorts and a nice polo.
During the show, you’re going to accumulate a ton of material and catalogues from Suppliers. If you’re there during the first few hours of a particular phase, Suppliers may even give you rather large gifts (i.e. tea sets). Bring a large backpack or, preferably, a rolly bag to carry everything in.
Bring a ton of business cards but make sure you have a secondary email address on them unless you don’t care about having your email put onto a million Chinese mailing lists.
You’re going to be taking a ton of pictures of products and booths so make sure your phone is fully charged. Better, bring a backup power supply as finding power outlets is difficult.
At the Show: Pricing, MOQs, Samples, and Communication
Prices in China are much more fixed than they were previously. Expect some negotiation but the days of suppliers arbitrarily doubling prices for foreigners is over.
At the fair, some suppliers are hesitant to give out price lists for fear of competitors getting their hands on them. Many will ask you to email after the show. This is normal.
MOQs are the much bigger negotiation point. Suppliers at the Canton Fair seem to always quote very large MOQs. There is often more negotiation on MOQs than on prices. Ask suppliers if they accept smaller trial orders.
Very few Suppliers are going to give out any free samples unless you visit their factory. The exception is in the last couple of hours on the final day of the show when Suppliers are packing up when many will be happy to give you their samples.
Many readers ask if they need an interpreter for the show. You can book an interpreter at the show (or beforehand) for around 500-800RMB or ($100-150US). However, 80-90% of the booths will have someone who can speak very reasonable English. If they don’t have someone at the show who can speak reasonable English, how are you going to communicate with them after the show and/or when something goes wrong with your order?
Photos from the Canton Fair
What Other Events Are Going On?
Coronavirus Update: Most of the events below have been impacted and/or cancelled due to COVID.
FBA4U Meetup: This free networking event for importers is hosted by our good friend Chris Davey.
Global Sources Summit: This Amazon focus conference happens in Hong Kong next to the Global Sources trade show
Hong Kong Mega Show: A good show for housewares/gifts/etc… Only happens in the fall. Check out our guide here.
For anyone importing from China, you should at some point in your life visit the Canton Fair. Giving a sense of the scale of the fair through a blog post can’t begin to do it justice. It’s truly huge. It will open your eyes to the scale of Chinese manufacturing and possibilities you had never even considered before.
Have you visited the Canton Fair before? Or are you planning to go to one of the upcoming sessions? If so, share your experiences below or any questions you may have.
Dave Bryant has been importing from China for over 10 years and has started numerous product brands. He sold his multi-million dollar ecommerce business in 2016 and create another 7-figure business within 18 months. He’s also a former Amazon warehouse employee of one week.