Importing Your Belongings Into China

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Beijing, China

As the economy of China continues to grow, the employment opportunities for foreign expats have only expanded. Perhaps your company has offered you the chance to transfer, or maybe you’ve received a promotion that requires moving into the country. Or, you may simply be taking a position with a new employer instead – and are wondering about the paperwork and duties involved when relocating to China long term.

The process is an intricate and somewhat demanding one – with Chinese customs requiring a host of specific documentation and compliance with its regulations. If you fail to adhere to these mandates, your belongings could face long delays, added fees or even be denied entry altogether. To help you avoid this type of unpleasant scenario, here is an overview of the relevant information that you’ll need to learn.

Duties For Your Household Belongings

A Daunting Process
Customs procedures, regulations, documentation requirements and fees (like import duties and taxes) can be complex – and they’re also subject to change. China has more complicated requirements than many other countries, so you will need professional help to navigate the customs clearance process. This usually takes the form of an experienced international transport company, or you may hire a third-party agent to help you through customs instead.

Keep in mind that not only are the national customs requirements liable to change from time to time, they can also vary from city to city. This means that depending upon the point or port of entry into China, your shipment could be subject to different clearance requirements.

Import Duties
Turning to the question of import duties incurred by your shipment of personal household belongings, unfortunately it isn’t entirely clear. One trusted source states unequivocally that all shipments of household goods will have import duty levied upon them (unless they’re protected under diplomatic status) (1).

Other sources aren’t as definite, saying instead that as part of the application for your Residence Permit, you can request preferential treatment of your shipment and that it be given duty exemption (2). However, this may just apply if your Residence Permit is only good for less than the required 12 months (3). This source goes on to say, that if you’re entering China long term but don’t have a Residence Permit – duty exemption is not possible in this case (4). Also, if you’ve imported any shipments in the past, then your current shipment(s) are not eligible for duty and tax exemption (5).

Import Limits
For every Residence Permit, you are limited to just one shipment over the water and one shipment via air. Be aware that you’ll usually pay a full 30% more import duty on air shipments, if you can’t obtain duty exemption. Also, if duty exemption is possible in your case, it will only apply to your first shipment. Your second shipment (whether by air or sea), will not receive duty relief and you’ll pay the full rate.

In addition, if you’ll be using both of your allotted shipments – then your customs declaration must include both on the same document. You’ll also need to apply for the Import Permit together, if you’ll be bringing both shipments in through Beijing (6).

Regulations For Your Household Belongings

Summer Palace, China
According to, Chinese import regulations are extensive, and the following list may not be exhaustive. It’s strongly recommended that you speak directly with Chinese customs and your moving company – to ensure that your shipment is in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations.

Your Presence Is Required During Clearance
Even though you should be working with an experienced agent to help you through customs – you’re required to be present yourself during the clearance of your shipment. In fact, you must enter the country in advance of your shipment’s arrival, as there is a good deal of paperwork you must apply for and obtain beforehand.

As a case in point, you must complete a personal registration as owner of the belongings within your shipment. You also must have your employer’s registration approved in advance of your shipment’s arrival (7).

Shipment Inspection
Chinese customs has the full authority to inspect your shipment(s) at their discretion. At the present time, all shipments are submitted to a full inspection by X-ray. In addition, 20 – 30% of your goods will be hand-inspected by customs agents during the clearance process. During inspection, customs will carefully compare the actual goods on your shipment with the inventory and packing list you’ve provided.

If they find discrepancies, this will cause very serious issues – including severe delays in processing, penalties for non-compliance and even the destruction or denial of entry for your shipment. Therefore, it’s imperative that these documents match each other and the goods on your shipment, in order to avoid problems.

Your packing list and inventory must also perfectly match your Permit. It should also match your Baggage Declaration – though this document isn’t necessary in every point or port of entry (8).

Permitted Timeframe
When importing your household belongings, you must make all the necessary shipping arrangements, a minimum of six months prior to the expiration date on your Residence Permit.

High-Value Goods and Antiques
If your shipment contains high-value goods and it will be entering through Beijing – it’s required that these items be declared to customs. In addition, you must provide documentation of their monetary value, and this usually takes the form of a purchase invoice or receipt. For customs purposes, a high-value item is defined for foreigners as anything over about $730 (or RMB 5,000).

Antiques also merit special handling when completing your paperwork, and customs advises that you take pictures of every antique on your shipment (9).

Clearing Times
While the time it takes for your shipment to clear customs will vary, there are general ranges which you can expect. Air shipments process much faster in most instances, with a typical time being just 3 – 5 business days. Shipments over the water are typically far slower, with a clearance time between 10 – 15 business days to be expected.

These ranges assume that you have all of your paperwork in place and submitted to customs, by the time your shipment arrives. The total weight of your shipment may impact the time it takes to clear customs as well.

Treatment of Wood Packaging
Often some of your goods will be crated in wood packaging, or this may be included to stabilize your shipment and prevent damage due to shifting during transit. If your shipment contains any such wood packaging – it’s required to be treated in compliance with ISPM-15 guidelines and stamped to inform customs of this fact. Heat treatment of the wood packaging is also a permitted option (10).

Other Clearance Regulations
According to one reputable source, if you don’t have a Work Permit good for a minimum of 12 months and a valid Residence Permit – your shipment will not be authorized to enter China. It will be held by customs, and they will charge you demurrage (a charge levied by a shipping company, when your shipment cannot be unloaded in the agreed upon timeframe) and/or storage fees by customs.

Yet, this same source also states that your shipment will be charged duty, if you’ll be staying in China long term without a Residence Permit. It also goes on to say, that if you have a Work Permit which is good for less than one year – no duty exemption is possible. This implies that your shipment will be granted entry into the country, even without fulfilling the stipulations of having a Residence Permit and a 12 month Work Permit covered above (11).

Therefore, because the clearance regulations aren’t clear in this instance (and even seem to conflict) – it’s best that you speak with Chinese customs to learn the requirements for your particular shipment.

Alcohol Importation
Whether duty exemption is possible on your shipment is debatable, but it appears that certain items will be charged import duty regardless. On the list of excepted items is alcohol, which carries with it an inordinate import duty – one that simply won’t be worth the cost in most cases.

Recommendations For Air Shipments
Though they don’t appear to be expressly forbidden, reputable sources advise that you avoid packing toiletries, makeup, food, health products and alcohol in your air shipment. While the reason is not specified, it’s sensible to assume that these will either cause processing delays, the allowable quantities may be limited or duties might be assessed on these items (12). Contact Chinese customs to learn more, if you will be shipping your goods via air.

Documents For Your Household Belongings

The Palace Museum, China

You must present the proper documentation to customs, in order for your shipment to be granted entry. Both your passport and authorization letter are needed, along with your Work Permit (or Visa) that’s good for at least 12 months. If it’s for a duration less than this time, then you’ll have to include a letter of explanation – which should also ask that you be given duty exemption.

Required Paperwork
A Residence Permit is also required, and if your Work Permit isn’t for a multiple year timeframe – then your Residence Permit must be submitted on the same day that your Work Permit is received. You’ll also need an Employment Certification, issued by the office (from the address registered with the Chinese government) or the Chinese host organization.

This should state that you’ll be acting as a Foreign Expert or as an employee of the Foreign Resident Office for the company, and customs would rather that this be written in Chinese (13). A Foreign Expert Certificate could or will be required, if you’ll be acting in this capacity for your employer within the country (14).

Import Permit and More
You may also need an Identity Card, and an Application for Customs Sealed Letter in triplicate (though the purpose of this document isn’t disclosed) (15).

A valid Import Permit (for personal effects) is also required. This must specify every belonging you’re planning to bring into China, in the six months after the application is approved. This requirement applies even if the items will be coming in your second shipment. This catalog of goods you plan to import should also be written in Chinese.

Shanghai Import Permit Restrictions
Keep in mind that your application for an Import Permit for the port of Shanghai, will only be approved if both your Residence Permit and Work Permit have at least 366 days (one year and one day) left before they expire. If you can’t provide this, no Import Permit will be issued – but you are allowed to import a Less-than-Container-Load (LCL) shipment without it (provided it is 5 cubic meters gross or less) (16).

Inventory and Declaration
Chinese customs requires that you submit an Arrival Customs Declaration. You’ll fill this out when you reach your point or port of entry into the country. A comprehensive inventory must also be presented, and no general descriptions (such as the common terms “packed by owner” or “miscellaneous”) or lumping many items together into a categorical statement (such as “items from the linen closet”) are permitted.

This inventory should note all electrical goods and provide their size, serial number and model. It can be written in either Chinese or English, and the inventory must match your Customs Permit precisely. Failure to provide detailed descriptions of every item in your shipment, will result in serious consequences – such as extra import duties, fines, demurrage or storage fees and more in-depth inspections by customs (17).

Customs Permit and More
Required to be approved before your goods arrive in their point or port of entry, you must apply for and obtain a Customs Permit. There must be no discrepancies between your Customs Permit and your inventory of goods – otherwise you’ll have many additional difficulties, costs and delays.

Your Original Bill of Lading or Air Waybill are also needed, along with an Arrival Notice (for ocean shipments). You may also need to submit a Certificate of Origin, and a signed and notarized Appointment Letter (from the Representative Office in your country of origin) is necessary documentation.

Finally, a Health Certificate is required. This verifies that you’ve had the required medical screenings and bloodwork – and that you’re free of any communicable diseases like AIDS (18).

Duties For Your Vehicle

Ba Da Ling Shui Guan Chang Cheng, Beijing, China

Importing a vehicle into China is an entirely different process, in terms of the duties and paperwork requirements you’ll encounter. While many reputable sources don’t specify the amount of import tax and duty you’ll pay, none mention exemption being a possible option for non-diplomats. In fact, many recommend strongly that you do not import your vehicle – and rather purchase one after entering China instead (19).

This is good advice, as according to another source – you’ll be charged up to 200% import duty for your vehicle. The exact taxes and restrictions applied to your shipment, vary according to both the size and class of vehicle you’ll be importing (20).

Documents For Your Vehicle

Import Restrictions
If you still want to proceed, according to leading international vehicle shipping company A1 Auto Transport – there are restrictions on the types of vehicles which can be imported. You’re only permitted to import left-hand drive vehicles, and cars cannot have been manufactured more than 20 years ago. In addition, used vehicles are only allowed if they’re for your personal use. Diesel, fully electric and hybrid cars are all permitted as well, but you may struggle to locate parts for these vehicles in the country (21).

You must show customs your purchase invoice or receipt (the original, not a copy) and a log book that lists the engine and chassis number. You’ll also have to provide the make, model, vehicle class or style (compact, SUV and so on) and the vehicle identification number (or VIN) (22). You’ll need to submit a written application to the customs office in your chosen point or port of entry into China. An Import Cargo Declaration is also needed, along with any additional documentation that can demonstrate the monetary value and age of the vehicle (23).

A valid Import Permit – that’s been issued by customs before importation of your vehicle into the country – is also required. You must also provided the vehicle’s Registration and Title, issued in the country of origin (24).

Additional Regulations
You’re only permitted to import a vehicle, if you’re employed by either a foreign company or joint-venture (which is only partially owned by Chinese interests) (25). You may also be able to import a vehicle, if you’re a legal resident of the country (26). If your automobile was made before January 1st in 2005 – then it must have mechanical and environmental inspections performed. It also must adhere to Euro IV technical standards, in order to be acceptable for importation into China (27).


Found on Atlast Int’l “Importing Personal Property Into China” page.
Found on Atlast Int’l “Importing Personal Property Into China” page.
Found on Atlast Int’l “Importing Personal Property Into China” page.
Found on Atlast Int’l “Importing Personal Property Into China” page.

According to
without a Residence Permit, a truly long-term stay within China does not seem to be possible. If you’re entering the country under either a Tourist or Business Visa, then 90 days is listed as the maximum time currently offered.
Found on Atlast Int’l “Importing Personal Property Into China” page.
Found on Moverscom “Customs Regulations – China” page.
Found on Atlast Int’l “Importing Personal Property Into China” page.
Moverscom “Customs Regulations – China” page.
Atlast Int’l “Importing Personal Property Into China” page.
Atlast Int’l “Importing Personal Property Into China” page.
Moverscom “Customs Regulations – China” page.
Found on Moverscom “Customs Regulations – China” page.
Found on Atlast Int’l “Importing Personal Property Into China” page.

Jennifer Bennet

Jennifer Bennet

Jennifer Bennet is a hard worker who loves to write. She enjoys cooking, baking and enjoying all that food at the beach with her dogs.


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