Customs regulations for your trip to China

Last modified: July 31, 2023
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Customs Regulations

ID

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.

Activities

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.

Criminal proceedings

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.

Drugs

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.

Dual nationality

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.

Cyber

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.

LGBT

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

Used Household Goods and Personal Effects

Documents Required

  • Original passport with residence permit (valid at least 12 months)
  • Original work permit (valid at least 12 months)
  • Packing inventory list in English or Chinese (diplomat list must be signed and itemized)
  • Ocean bill of lading (OBL) / telex release / air waybill (AWB)
  • Arrival notice (sea shipments)
  • List of electronic items
  • Baggage declaration form, if applicable (2 copies, matching identically)
  • Alcohol / wine list
  • Original passport with diplomatic visa (diplomats)
  • Consulate officer certificate (diplomats)
  • Import permit (consulate or embassy must apply for diplomats)
  • Diplomatic card (diplomats)
  • Pro-forma invoice (diplomats)

Specific Information

  • All non-diplomatic household goods shipments are subject to import duties.
  • There are no duties on diplomatic shipments.
  • The import of personal effects must be arranged at least 6 months before the expiration of the residence permit.
  • The import of any luxury or high-value items into Beijing must be declared to Customs and the owner of the goods must have documented proof of value (i.e. receipt):
    • For foreigners any item over the value of RMB 5,000 (approximately US $730).
    • For returning citizens any item lower than RMB 1,000 (approximately US $146).
  • The import permit takes approximately 2-3 working days to process and is valid for 30 days after issuance.
  • The baggage declaration form is required by some cities only.
    • Contact agent for more information.
  • Customs clearance for returning citizens takes approximately 10-12 business days.
  • Chinese passport holders should contact the agent for restrictions on import shipments.
  • It is recommended that each antique included in the shipment is photographed.
  • Diplomatic shipments are exempt from inspection, duties, and taxes.
  • If the owner of the goods has both, sea and air shipments, an import permit application for both shipments must be completed at the same time.
    • If the owner of the goods imports an additional shipment (air or sea), all items in the shipment are subject to tax and duty.
  • All electrical items must be clearly indicated on the inventory including; model, serial number and size.
  • Only one sea and one air shipment are allowed per residence permit.
  • Sea shipments take approximately 10-15 working days to clear Customs.
  • Air shipments take approximately 3-5 working days to clear Customs.
    • If gross weight is over 300 kg, it may take approximately 10-15 working days to clear Customs in some cities, e.g. Shanghai.
  • Estimates are based on completed documentation available at the time of shipment arrival and for Customs clearance.
  • Duty rates for air shipments are usually 30% higher than sea shipments.
  • An official Customs duty receipt will be issued and provided to the owner of the goods upon delivery.
  • Import duties for alcoholic beverages are extremely high and beverages are not recommended for inclusion in the shipment.
  • It is recommended that food items, alcohol, cosmetics, health products, and toiletries are not included in air shipments to China.
  • Business / tourist visas are issued for a maximum duration of stay for 30, 60, or 90 days as determined by the Chinese consulate overseas.
  • Wood packaging material imported into China must be heat treated or fumigated with methyl bromide and properly marked according to ISPM-15 standards.
  • If a shipper has previously imported a shipment into China, their new shipment will be subject to full customs duty.
  • As of August 1, 2018, China accepts electronic documents from customs clearance.

IAM Note:  Customs regulations may differ between cities.  It is important to contact agent for specific information prior to importation.

Dutiable Items

  • CDs, VCDs, DVDs, LDs, and videotapes may total no more than 100 items to import duty free; items are subject to inspection and will be returned approximately 4 weeks after clearance is completed.
    • More than 20 pieces is dutiable for returning citizens.
    • These items are subject to a Customs inspection of approximately 2-3 weeks.
  • Personal computers with encryption capabilities require an approval of installed software prior to importation.
    • Personal computers with simple password software, such as Microsoft products, contained in the household goods and personal effects shipment are generally acceptable.
  • Antiques should be registered to avoid issues upon re-export in the future due to the strict regulations on Chinese Customs regarding the export of antiques.
  • Milk powder and manufactured meat cannot be included in air shipments.
  • Electrical appliances (duties of 20%)
  • Books (a letter of explanation must be included and detail where the books were purchased, the total number, the book titles, and value of each, the subject matter etc., e.g., work, study.  More than 10 books are dutiable (returning citizens).
  • Food products must be dry goods, original canned or vacuum packed, in sealed packaging only.
    • One small carton of food items may be included in air shipments and 2-3 small cartons for sea shipments.
    • Food products are subject to duties of approximately 10% of the declared value.
    • Customs reserves the right to levy higher duties and taxes on quantities deemed commercial.
  • Duty rates apply to the items listed as follows:
Golf clubs30%
Furniture15%
Lamps

Prohibited Items

  • Firearms and ammunition
  • Drugs
  • Perishable food items (items containing the essence or extract from eggs are subject to confiscation or destruction)
  • Pornographic materials
  • Politically subversive materials
  • Medicines and other items from epidemic stricken areas
  • POE / AOE Chengdu: billiard and pool tables
  • Fax / photocopy machines
  • Grand and baby grand pianos (contact agent for specific information)
  • Alcohol (Beijing)

Miscellaneous (Pets, Motors, and others.)

Motor Vehicles

Documents Required

  • Original purchase invoice / log book with chassis and engine number
  • Details of the vehicle including brand name and style (e.g., sedan, SUV, color, vehicle identification number (VIN) number, etc.
  • Import permit (diplomats)

Specific Information

  • Only left-hand drive vehicles with no conversion can be imported.
  • Only persons with diplomatic card / working for a joint venture / a wholly-owned foreign company can import motor vehicles.
  • Automobiles manufactured prior to January 1, 2005, must comply with Euro IV standards and undergo environmental and mechanical inspections.
  • The import of motor vehicles, including automobiles, is not recommended for non-diplomatic shipments.

Pets

Documents Required 

  • Vaccination record
  • Veterinary health certificate

Cats and dogs:

  • may be imported either as passenger’s checked baggage, in the cabin or as cargo.
    Only one pet per passenger is allowed;
  • shall be under 30-day isolation and quarantine and can enter only via the airports of Beijing (PEK), Guangzhou (CAN), Shanghai Hongqiao (SHA), Shanghai Pudong (PVG) and Urumqi (URC). For exemptions see items 1., 2. and 3. below;
  • must have a microchip according to the international standards of ISO 11784 and 11785.

The following pets are exempt from isolation and quarantine and may enter China (People’s Rep.) through any port after passing on-site quarantine:

  • pets arriving from Australia, Cyprus, Fiji, French Polynesia, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland (Rep.), Jamaica, Japan, Liechtenstein, Macao, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, USA (Guam and Hawaii only) and holding valid quarantine certificates and vaccination certificates issued by the competent authorities of the exporting country;
  • pets arriving from any other country and holding:
    – valid quarantine certificates and vaccination certificates issued by the competent authorities of the exporting country;
    – rabies antibody test showing a blood titre result of at least 0.5 IU/ml carried out in an approved laboratory;
  • guide dogs, hearing dogs and rescue dogs and holding valid quarantine certificates, vaccination certificates and relevant professional training certificates.

Specific Information 

  • Animals are subject 30 days quarantine upon arrival.
  • Animals are subject to examination by an inspector at the owner of the goods’ residence in China within 30 days following arrival.
  • A small fee is required for the examination of pets by an inspector.

Prohibited: birds.

Baggage Clearance regulations:

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

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.

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