Aug 24, 2018 05:39 PM

Cross-Border Commuters Worry Shenzhen Becoming as Expensive as Hong Kong

A commuter walks on an overpass in East Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong on June 14, 2017. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin
A commuter walks on an overpass in East Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong on June 14, 2017. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin

At a quarter past 6 every morning, Hu Yuan gets dressed and leaves home on his electric bike, heading to Shenzhen’s Bay Area, where he boards a bus that crosses the border into Hong Kong. He arrives at his office in the city’s central business district two hours later.

The 20-something Hu, an employee with the Hong Kong operation of a Chinese bank, spends another two hours each evening on the trip back to his home in Shenzhen.

The long commute between Shenzhen and Hong Kong is a hassle, but is offset by the reward of seeing his fiance every day, he said. “Nothing holds me back as long as I can see my family every day.”

Hu is among a growing number of mainlanders who have found a job in the former British colony while they maintain a home on the Chinese mainland, in the southern city of Shenzhen. In most cases, they do so in order to save money and to see their families every day.

But as Shenzhen is charging ahead in social and economic development amid greater integration between the southern province of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, living costs in the city are also catching up, leaving many with a growing uncertainty about which place they should call home.

Hu went to study in Hong Kong in 2011 and found a job shortly after he graduated from college. He said that he preferred to work in Hong Kong because he grew more competitive over the years, which matters in the financial sector, he said. In addition, employees in Hong Kong are generally more professional.

The long commute, however, leaves him with little time to socialize with his friends and colleagues, most of whom live in Hong Kong.

Xin Yuan, another mainland-born worker in Hong Kong, relocated to Shenzhen in August 2016 because, as she said, she was fed up with cramped living conditions and outrageously high rents.

Xin, an editor with a Hong Kong media company, paid HK$5,000 ($637) in rent, an equivalent of about one-third of her salary, for a 5-square-meter (54 square feet) room in a Hong Kong apartment she shared with up to five other people.

Now, living in a more spacious flat in Shenzhen for roughly the same amount, Xin said she is now more content with her life in Shenzhen, not to mention the convenience associated with e-commerce and e-payment services prevalent on the mainland.

The downside is that the daily commute between the two cities costs her four hours a day, but she said she has learned to make most of it by reading a book or browsing social media sites for information valuable to her work, she said.

The number of border crossings into or out of Hong Kong grew by 2.6% in the first half of 2018 to 122 million, or 675,600 each day, statistics from the Shenzhen General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection. Over 315,000 mainlanders enter Hong Kong at least once a week, according to a survey by Hong Kong’s Planning Department between Nov. 25 and Dec. 8, 2015.

Many commuters like Hu Yuan said they are increasingly falling in love with Shenzhen due to its vitality, dynamic innovative industries and inclusiveness. However, their love affair with the city has been accompanied by a sense of unease amid soaring living costs, particularly skyrocketing housing prices in the city.

“I used to look down upon Shenzhen [as someone who has a job in Hong Kong], but now, I feel I no longer fit in with what Shenzhen has become,” Hu said.


Xin Yuan, an editor with a Hong Kong media company, takes a break after attending a book expo at the Hong Kong Exhibition Center on July 19. Xin, who comes from the eastern province of Jiangxi, has been studying and working in Hong Kong since 2010. She moved in with her parents in Shenzhen in 2016 because the room she used to rent in Hong Kong was so humid and stuffy that she had to buy a new quilt every year. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


Sean, a tech engineer originally from China’s central Hunan province, commutes from his office inside the Hong Kong Science Park to his home in Shenzhen’s Luohu district. Sean, who spends about two hours traveling to and from Hong Kong every day, said that he doesn't mind the commute as he feels both places are increasingly becoming one. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


Liu Tianxia, an employee with a Hong Kong-based public relations firm, gets ready for work at the Shenzhen flat she shares with her boyfriend on July 19 before she goes to work in her office near Hong Kong’s Happy Valley. She said she doesn’t mind the commute because Hong Kong has showered her with opportunities since she came to the city in 2015. “My career has advanced more over the past three years than it had in the previous five or 10 years,” she said. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


Tim, a native of Shandong province, travels back to his home in Shenzhen after clocking off work on June 28, a journey that takes two hours. Tim, who came to Hong Kong in 2011 as a student, now works as a clerk at a Hong Kong bank. He wouldn’t call Shenzhen or Hong Kong home because both places are like a “battlefield” for the young. House prices in the two cities are beyond his imagination and his desire to pay, even if he had the money, he said. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin


Nancy, a journalist with a Hong Kong media outlet, rushes to a Hong Kong metro station after work on July 20 to get back to her home in Shenzhen’s Luohu district. Nancy, originally from southwestern province of Yunnan, came to Hong Kong in 2010 as a student and bought a home in Shenzhen with her husband in 2015. She spends about four hours commuting between Hong Kong and Shenzhen each day. Photo: Liang Yingfei/Caixin

Contact reporter Li Rongde (

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