Customs regulations and required documents
Personal effects import regulations
Carry your passport with you at all times; a photocopy is not regarded as valid ID. Police carry out random checks, especially during periods of heightened security and major sporting or political events. Failure to produce your ID can lead to a fine or detention. If you renew your passport while you’re in China, you must register your new passport with the authorities promptly or face a fine.
Certain behaviour may be deemed sensitive and attract greater scrutiny from the authorities, including photography near sensitive sites, engaging with political groups or charities, and making statements deemed politically sensitive. China’s authorities have under certain circumstances detained foreigners citing ‘endangering national security’. National Security is interpreted broadly and you may be detained without having intended to break the law. There is also a risk of arbitrary detention, including of British nationals.
There are restrictions on certain religious activities, including preaching and distributing religious materials. The Falun Gong movement is banned in China.
Gambling is illegal in mainland China.
Chinese laws and procedures relating to the arrest and detention of suspects of crime are different from in the UK. If you’re suspected of a crime, the Chinese authorities have the power to prevent you from leaving China (by withholding your passport or applying a travel ban) or to detain you for up to 37 days without charge. Travel bans may also be imposed on individuals involved in commercial or private disputes. If you’re detained on grounds of national security, which is interpreted more broadly than in the UK, you may be detained for up to 6 months before formal arrest and may be denied legal representation before charges are brought.
There are extremely severe penalties for drugs offences in China, including the death penalty. The Chinese authorities undertake random drug testing on foreign nationals including on entry to the country. If you test positive, the Chinese authorities can prosecute you regardless of where or when you consumed drugs. Police raids on homes also occur; if drugs are found in your property, penalties can be extremely severe.
There have been increasing incidences of police raids on nightclubs and bars. When such raids take place, patrons will be subject to on the spot drug testing and immigration checks. This may involve being kept at the location, or a secondary location, for several hours whilst hair and urine samples are taken and passport and visa checks conducted. Testing positive to drugs, or being found in breach of your visa conditions, can lead to heavy fines, detention and deportation.
China doesn’t recognise dual nationality. If you enter China on a Chinese passport or identity card, the British Embassy may not be able to offer you help. If you were born in China to a Chinese national parent you will be considered by the Chinese authorities to have Chinese nationality, and may be treated as a Chinese citizen, even if you used a British passport to enter China. If you have formally renounced Chinese citizenship, you should carry clear evidence that you have done so.
The Chinese authorities maintain controls on internet access. Some services, including Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are permanently blocked. Other websites may be blocked from time to time.
China’s cyber security laws are changing and online products and services (eg VPNs) need to be licensed by the Chinese government. More information is available on the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology website (in Mandarin only). Make sure you stay informed and follow Chinese law.
Although homosexuality is not prohibited by law, public attitudes are less tolerant than in the UK and public displays of affection may attract negative attention. There’s no provision under Chinese legislation guaranteeing freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation
IAM Note: Customs regulations may differ between cities. It is important to contact agent for specific information prior to importation.
Cats and dogs:
The following pets are exempt from isolation and quarantine and may enter China (People’s Rep.) through any port after passing on-site quarantine:
Baggage is cleared at the first airport of entry in China (People’s Rep.).
Exempt: baggage of passengers in transit via Beijing (PEK) or Chongqing (CKG), if it is labeled to a destination outside of China, and the onward flight is within 24 hours.
Currency Import regulations:
Local currency (Chinese Ren Min Bi-CNY): max. CNY 20,000.- in cash.
Foreign currencies: Amounts exceeding USD 5,000.- in cash must be declared.
Currency Export regulations:
Local currency (Chinese Ren Min Bi-CNY): max. CNY 20,000.- in cash.
Foreign currencies: Amounts exceeding USD 5,000.- in cash must be declared.
Save yourself time, stress and money by choosing World Baggage Network.
No airport tax is levied on passengers upon embarkation at the airport.
Personal attacks, including sexual assaults, are rare but they do occur, including through drinks being spiked. You should take reasonable precautions – do not leave drinks unattended and avoid accepting drinks from strangers. Women, travelling alone or with female friends, could be at greater risk – see our advice for women travelling abroad.
Serious crime against foreigners is relatively rare, but incidents do occur and less serious crime is not unusual. You should take care of your belongings at major tourist sites and other busy places, particularly where foreigners gather. If your passport is lost or stolen, you will need to go to the nearest police station or Public Security Bureau and get a report of the incident.
Avoid travelling in unmarked or unmetered taxis, as there have been incidents of sexual assault and robbery against foreigners. In marked taxis, make sure someone knows where you are and try to take a note of the taxi’s number.
Disputes over taxi fares can occur and quickly escalate. Insist on paying the metered fare and ask for a receipt; this has the taxi number on it.
Do not hike alone in isolated areas, including on the Great Wall. If you do, always leave your itinerary, mobile number and expected time of return at your hotel or with a third party.
There is a risk of attack from armed criminals in remote areas. The areas bordering on Siberia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Laos and Burma are poorly policed. In Yunnan Province, drug smuggling and other crimes are increasing.
Beware of scams in popular tourist areas. A common example is the ‘tea tasting’ scam or ‘massage’ scam. You may be invited to visit a bar, to participate in tea tasting or for a massage, but then face demands for an exorbitant fee. This can be followed by threats or actual violence, and credit card fraud.
Check QR code stickers on rental bicycles carefully before using them. There have been cases of the legitimate barcode being replaced with a false code, which redirects money to a different account.
Before entering into a contract in China you should take legal advice, both in the United Kingdom and in China. Contracts entered into in the United Kingdom are not always enforced by Chinese courts.
If you’re involved in or connected to a business and/or civil dispute, the Chinese authorities may prohibit you from leaving China until the matter is resolved. This is known as a travel ban. For more detailed advice on business risks and commercial disputes, see our guide on commercial disputes in China.
Incidents of British nationals being detained against their will to extort money or intimidate them have occurred. It is rare for violence to be used, but the threat of violence is a recurring theme. You should report any threats of violence to the Chinese police.
Tibet and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
You can only travel to the TAR on an organised tour and you must get a permit first, through a specialised travel agent in China. Chinese authorities sometimes stop issuing these without notice, and also restrict travel to Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures in neighbouring Provinces, even if you have a permit. You should check with tour operators or travel agents and monitor this travel advice and other media for information.
Once in Tibet you should avoid demonstrations and other large public gatherings. Ongoing political and ethnic tensions can lead to unrest and protest, sometimes violent. Security measures will be tight and unauthorised gatherings may be dispersed by force. Do not film or photograph any such activities or outbreaks of violence. Local authorities will react negatively if you’re found carrying letters or packages from Tibetan nationals to be posted in other countries.
Photography in Buddhist monasteries needs permission and carries a fee.
You should be aware that the ability of the British Embassy Beijing and British Consulates in China to provide consular support in the Tibet Autonomous Region is limited.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
The security situation in Xinjiang remains fragile, and conditions locally can deteriorate rapidly at short notice. There have been instances of violent unrest in Xinjiang, causing deaths. There have been allegations of the use of lethal force to disperse protests. The risk of terrorism is higher in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region than in other regions of China. See Terrorism
Be alert to the possibility of being caught up in any unexpected demonstrations or outbreaks of violence. The Chinese authorities will increase the security presence in the area and tend to react quickly and harshly to these incidents. The Chinese authorities may restrict travel to some areas of Xinjiang, particularly during religious festivals and after violent attacks.
There have been widespread reports of arbitrary arrests and extra-judicial detention in Xinjiang, mainly affecting the local population, particularly Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. You may be at increased risk if you’re of Uyghur descent and/or have lived previously in Xinjiang; or if you appear to be Muslim.
You should expect airport-style security measures, including passport and security checks, at entrances to public places such as shopping centres, markets and parks. You may need to inform the security forces of your phone number, have your photograph taken, or be questioned as to the nature of your travel.
Carry your passport at all times, avoid all protests and large crowds, be vigilant and monitor media reports. Do not photograph or film protests, large crowds, security officials or installations, or anything of a military nature.
You should be aware that the ability of the British Embassy Beijing and British Consulates in China to provide consular support in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is limited.
Fire protection standards in Chinese accommodation are not always the same as in the UK. Check fire precautions including access to fire exits. Make sure your accommodation has a working fire alarm and regularly check that the fire exits aren’t blocked.
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Make sure your accommodation has a working carbon monoxide alarm. There have been incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning and death due to incorrectly installed gas equipment. The ‘Be Alarmed’ campaign gives practical advice on how to stay safe, and lists the symptoms to look out for.
There are significant travel restrictions in China due to the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus. See Coronavirus
You need a Chinese driving licence to drive in China. You must also have valid insurance.
Accidents are common in China due to the poor quality of roads, high volumes of traffic and generally low driving standards, so you should drive with caution. If you’re involved in a serious traffic accident, call the police. Do not move your vehicle until they arrive but make sure you and your passengers are in a safe place. In cases where there are injuries, you may be held liable for medical costs. You will also be held liable if you run over a pedestrian.
There are harsh penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol, even at very low levels.
Mariners should avoid the disputed territory between China and other countries in the East China Sea. There have also been incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the area. See the Regional Co-operation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia Information Sharing website for further information.
You should be aware that there are significant travel restrictions in China due to the ongoing outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Train services are operating at reduced levels and train stations are conducting temperature checks of incoming passengers.
You will need to produce your passport to buy a ticket and again to board the train.
Trans-Mongolian express trains (Beijing-Moscow via Ulaanbaatar) are noted for smuggling. Search your compartment and secure the cabin door before departure.
Petty theft from overnight trains is common.
China is a one-party state. Though China is very open to foreign visitors, you should be aware of political and cultural sensitivities in conversation with Chinese people.
Territorial disputes between China and neighbouring countries have caused high regional tension. There have been a number of anti-Japanese and anti-Korean demonstrations in several cities across China. These protests have generally taken place outside diplomatic missions, but some have targeted other Japanese and Korean interests.
Avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings. The Chinese authorities enforce public order strictly and you may face arrest, detention and/or deportation. Foreign journalists have been intimidated, assaulted or detained for trying to report demonstrations. You may also risk becoming a target yourself when general anti-foreign sentiment runs high. Keep yourself informed of developments and follow the advice of the local authorities. During periods of tension, some news reporting, access to text-messaging, the internet and to international telephone lines may be blocked.
You will need a valid visa to enter China. The Chinese Visa Application Centres in London and Belfast are closed until further notice. The Application centres in Manchester and Edinburgh will be closed from 27 December until further notice.
The Chinese authorities have suspended all direct flights from the UK. This measure will be subject to review but no date has been announced. Restrictions on travel to China from other countries, and the necessary requirements, may be different. British nationals travelling to China from a third country should follow the directions on the website of the local Chinese Embassy or consulate for requirements from that country.
On 4 November the Chinese Embassy in the UK announced the temporary suspension of entry into China by non-Chinese nationals in the UK holding Chinese visas or residence permits. Entry by holders of diplomatic, service, courtesy or C visas would not be affected. Foreign nationals visiting China for emergencies can still apply for visas at Chinese Embassies or Consulates and entry by non-Chinese nationals in the UK with visas issued after 3 November 2020 will not be affected.
If you’re issued a visa to travel from the UK to China in these circumstances you will need to submit a Health Declaration Form to your nearest Chinese Embassy or Consulate in the UK before you travel, who will need to certify your form and return it to you via email. The Chinese Embassy announcement of 4 November stated the Chinese Embassy and Consulates have suspended issuing Certified Health Declaration forms for non-Chinese nationals in the UK holding visas or residence permits. More details, including the process for submitting forms for those still eligible, can be found on the Chinese Embassy website.
In order to receive a Health Declaration Form from the Chinese Embassy you must provide evidence of negative nucleic acid and IgM antibody tests for COVID-19 taken no more than 48 hours before you travel.
Reports of both your nucleic acid (COVID-19) and IgM (antibody) tests must come from the same service provider. This does not mean the provider must carry out both tests, but that the provider must guarantee both test reports. You should not use the NHS testing service to get a test in order to facilitate your travel to another country. You should arrange to take a private test.
A limited number of international flights from other countries are flying into Beijing. Other international passenger flights to Beijing continue to be diverted to 16 designated airports in Chengdu, Changsha, Hefei, Lanzhou, Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Taiyuan, Hohhot, Jinan, Qingdao, Nanjing, Shenyang, Dalian, Zhengzhou, Xi’an and Wuhan. A small number of international flights are also operating direct between European cities and Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao.
All overseas passenger arrivals are subject to health checks on arrival (likely involving nucleic acid or swab tests). Those failing health checks may be sent to a designated hospital for treatment.
Health regulations surrounding passengers arriving from overseas are continuously changing. You should contact the Chinese Embassy before you travel if you have any questions regarding these entry requirements, quarantine rules or the requirements for individual cities.
Following health checks on arrival, you will then need to enter quarantine for at least 14 days. At some points of entry children 14 and over will be required to quarantine alone irrespective of whether they test positive or negative for COVID.
You will be separated from your child if one of you tests positive for coronavirus. If this happens to you, you can call +86 (0)10 8529 6600 for 24/7 urgent consular assistance. Non-residents may be charged for their care. For further information on healthcare in China, please see the Coronavirus section
Quarantine is usually spent at either a centralised government hotel (with costs covered by the traveller) or your home. Quarantine requirements can change at short notice and may differ from province to province.
Follow-up swab tests are likely to take place during your quarantine period. Family members of someone who tests positive, or those who have been in close contact, will need to go into a government quarantine hospital.
For all quarantine arrangements in China:
Failure to comply with the quarantine conditions or testing put in place, or any attempts to deliberately conceal health conditions can result in being sentenced to up to three years in prison. This applies to both Chinese and foreign nationals.
British nationals normally need a visa to enter mainland China, including Hainan Island, but not Hong Kong or Macao.
All visa applicants aged between 14 and 70 inclusive need to make their visa application in person at a Visa Application Centre. As part of the application process, biometric data (scanned fingerprints) has to be provided.
Biometric data may be checked/collected by the immigration authorities when entering China to register your entry to the country.
If you’re transiting China, visa waivers are available in certain places. Visitors transiting through Shanghai can apply online for a 144 hour visa exemption via the Shanghai General Station of Immigration Inspection. In other visa waiver transit locations, applications must be made in person on arrival. More information is available on the Visa Application Service Centre website.
The British Embassy in Beijing has received reports of a recent increase in cases where entry to China under the visa waiver on arrival scheme has been refused, which may be linked to previous travel history. You should note that entry to China under a visa waiver is not guaranteed – Chinese border officials have the right to refuse entry without warning or explanation. You should contact the Chinese Embassy or the China Visa Application Service Centre before your proposed trip for further information. If you’re unsure about your eligibility for a visa waiver, you’re advised to apply for a visa before travelling.
If you visit Hong Kong from the mainland of China and wish to return to the mainland, you’ll need a visa that allows you to make a second entry into China.
It is your responsibility to check your visa details carefully. Do not overstay your visa or work illegally. The authorities conduct regular checks and you may be fined, detained or deported (or all three).
If you remain in China longer than 6 months, you may need to get a Residence Permit.
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months when you enter China.
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from China. You may need to show a police report indicating how you lost your full passport.
If your ETD has been issued in China, you will need an exit visa from the Public Security Bureau before you can leave. This process can take up to 7 working days.
You must register your place of residence with the local Public Security Bureau within 24 hours of arrival. Chinese authorities enforce this requirement with regular spot-checks of foreigners’ documentation. If you’re staying in a hotel, they will do this for you as part of the check-in process.
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
You can only work in China if you have a Z visa – tourist and business visit visas do not allow you to do so. You must also hold a valid work permit. The local police regularly carry out checks on companies/schools. Violation of Chinese immigration laws can result in severe penalties, including imprisonment, fines, deportation, a travel ban preventing you from leaving China, and an exclusion order, which prevents you from returning.
Before you leave the UK you should contact the Chinese Embassy to check visa requirements. When submitting your visa application, and when you receive your work permit, check that the details are correct, including the location you’ll be working in. If they’re not, you can be detained.
If you intend to change employer once you’re in China, you should check with the Chinese authorities whether a new visa and work permit is needed before doing so.
Teaching in China can be a rewarding experience, but before you travel it’s important that you research thoroughly the school or university that is hiring you and are confident that they are following the law. There have been many incidents of teachers being detained and/or deported for working on the wrong visas. It is your responsibility to check you’re working on the correct visa.