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Chinese Customs Regulations

Sorting out your visa and residence permit is not all there is to moving to China. Before packing up your bags and heading off, you should read up on current Chinese customs regulations. After all, not everything may be imported and getting household items shipped is another hurdle altogether.
Even stricter Chinese Customs regulations and duty-free limits apply to postal packages.

When you’re preparing to move abroad, regardless of the destination, figuring out what to take and what to leave behind is always a challenge. However, apart from sheer convenience and personal preferences, expats should not forget to take Chinese customs regulations into account. We’ve summed up some of the main points you should keep in mind.

Cash and Currencies

You can import or export both Chinese Renminbi (CNY) and foreign currencies. However, for the former, 20,000 CNY is the limit. For foreign currencies, on the other hand, there are no quantitative restrictions.

You have to declare your money to the Chinese customs authorities if the amount exceeds 5,000 USD or its equivalent in foreign currencies, though. Note that this also includes money in the form of traveler’s checks and letters of credit.

Importing Duty-Free

Any personal items that non-Chinese residents bring with them must be valued 2,000 CNY or less, otherwise they will be taxed. For Chinese residents, the limit is 5,000 CNY. Exceptions to this rule do exist, though, for example, for long-term non-residents who are importing household items.

For your own personal use or as a gift, you can also bring up to 1.5 liters of alcoholic beverages (with an alcohol content of 12% or more), as well as:

  • up to 400 cigarettes, or
  • 100 cigars, or
  • 500 g tobacco.

Any drinks or tobacco products that exceed these limits will have to be declared to the Chinese customs officials and paid duty for.

Duty-Free Limits for Mail Packages

If your relatives back home plan on sending you something during your time in China, make sure they are also aware of Chinese customs regulations: the maximum allowed value of a shipment is 1,000 CNY, with only 500 CNY duty-free. For packages from or to Macao and Hong Kong, these limits are 800 CNY and 400 CNY, respectively.

Bringing Household Goods and Personal Items

When it comes to bringing more than just your carry-on luggage, long-term non-residents (i.e. expats who are allowed to stay in China for at least one year) have to apply in writing for importing their personal belongings. They can do so either personally or by giving their relocation service provider the necessary authorization. Note, however, that you may file your application for approval by the Chinese customs office only once you have gotten your long-term residence certification.

You may only import personal effects for your own use duty-free. A car counts as such only if you qualify as so-called resident personnel. All other expats — if allowed to import a vehicle at all — have to pay taxes, prompting many to purchase a vehicle in China or stick to other means of transportation instead.

Furthermore, note that importing your household goods and personal items is only duty-free when you apply with the Chinese customs authority for the first time. Even then some goods may be taxed. Your HR department or international shipping agent should be able to provide you with more information on this topic.

Food Products

In terms of food, Chinese customs regulations prohibit the import of fruits, nightshade vegetables (such as potatoes or peppers), animal products, and other foodstuff that could spread diseases among the local plants and livestock or be harmful to humans. Processed and packaged food, however, usually poses no problem at all, provided the quantities are obviously intended for personal consumption only.

Bringing Medication to China

In terms of drugs, the golden rule of reasonable quantities for personal use applies once more. However, keep in mind that Chinese customs regulations prohibit the import of psychotropic substances and addictive drugs, such as morphine, heroin, opium, and marihuana.

Furthermore, make sure to take along your doctor’s prescription (including a Chinese translation) for any medication you may have to take along. When in doubt regarding any medicine you would like to import for personal use, including over-the-counter meds, declaring it to a Chinese customs officer on entry is one way of being better safe than sorry.

Cats and Dogs

If you travel with a pet as a private person, as opposed to commercially importing animals, different importation rules will apply for you. For example, only one pet per adult Z visa passport holder may be brought along. You can find more information on moving to China with a pet in our corresponding article.

Restricted and Prohibited Items

In addition to the import restrictions mentioned so far, you are generally not allowed to import any of the following items according to Chinese customs regulations:

  • deadly poisons
  • explosives and arms of any kind
  • counterfeit currencies
  • material which is detrimental to the interests of China
  • items from an epidemic stricken area that might facilitate the spread of disease

While not necessarily all forbidden, you also have to declare any of the following. They will then be dealt with according to relevant regulations:

  • commercial goods, samples, advertisements
  • human tissues, blood, and blood products
  • radio receivers and transmitters, or other communication security equipment
  • animal and plants (particularly endangered ones) or products thereof
  • unaccompanied baggage

For a comprehensive list of prohibited goods, please refer to the website of the General Administration of Customs.

Exporting from China

When leaving China, e.g. to visit relatives back home, make sure to declare any items worth 5,000 CNY or more that you are taking with you, especially if you are planning on bringing them back again. Typical examples are (video) cameras, tablets, laptops, etc. Declaring these to Chinese customs when you leave the country will enable you to bring them back without a hassle. Similarly, any precious metals (e.g. gold and silver), commercial goods, and money (valued more than 20,000 CNY or foreign currency worth 5,000 USD or more) have to be declared.

Furthermore, keep in mind that any articles that are prohibited from importation by Chinese customs regulations (e.g. material which is detrimental to the interest of China) cannot be exported, either. You are also not allowed to take a number of other prohibited goods out of the country, including any rare or endangered plants or animals. The same applies for valuable relics that are prohibited from exportation.

If you are unsure about whether any of your items might fall into one of these categories, make sure to declare them or better yet, get in touch with the Chinese customs administration before your move!


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