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Foreign Assignees are permitted to import their personal effect into China if they have a valid Work Permit and Residence Permit. Selected items in the shipment will be dutiable at values determined by Chinese Customs
However since 1995 when selective duty was introduced Chinese customs have reduced duty levies on personal effects shipments; modified the rules and regulations on what can be imported as well as what documents are required and how shipments are customs cleared. But like most bureaucratic regulations in China there always seems to be a ‘clause B' which contradicts the regulations - importing household goods is no exception.

Foreign Assignees can import 1 air shipment and 1 sea shipment of personal effects into China, if they hold a current Work Permit and Residence Visa with a validity of 12 months or more. It is important that the documents must be valid for 12 months or more, because if the validity is shorter then Customs will not allow assignees to import personal effects.

A Foreign Assignee will normally be issued with his/her Work Permit and Residence Visa between 4 to 8 weeks after initial application. The time taken is normally dependent upon his/her company and how competent the HR department is. Some professions, like Lawyer and Journalist, may take longer as these are restricted professions and so there are several other bureaus that need to be consulted before the Work Permit can be issued.

Once the Work Permit and Residence Permit are issued an Import Permit can be applied. Assignees will need to provide Original Passport with Residence Visa (12 months validity) Work Permit (12 months validity) sign on the Import Permit application, which needs also to be stamped (chopped) by the Assignee’s company and sign several other local customs forms. Also required is Ocean Bill of Lading and/or Air way Bill Delivery Order and packing list

The processing time varies. Sea shipments, regardless of size will take between 8 to 10 working days for full processing and be available for delivery. Air shipments will take between 8 -18 working days. However, the original documents can be returned after the first 3 working days of the process.

During the Customs Clearance process the shipment(s) will be inspected and import duty calculated.


All inbound shipments will be inspected A daunting task when one thinks of the number of cartons in a 40 foot container shipment, but in order to facilitate the inspection, China Customs will us an airport style scanner to screen most cartons. Cartons too big or furniture pieces that cannot fit the machine will be visually inspected to make sure the contents of the packaging' match the description on the packing list. Customs will schedule the inspections according to their schedule

IMPORT DUTY Duty is levied on selected items only, though as we will see later, full duty can be imposed in special circumstances Customs will assess the value of the dutiable items; even though the Import Permit application will contain the lowest permissible values for the items, China Customs levy 20% duty on TVs, HiFi equipment, computers and certain computer equipment, electronic audio visual equipment and10% duty on furniture and lamps based on the applied permit value, their assessed value and the age of the items.

Items such as wine and alcohol will incur disproportionate duty based on 50% of assessed values. For instance a US$20 bottle of wine can be either dutiable at US$7.40 or US$14.80, if greater than 11.9% alcohol volume. Spirits and hard liquor will be 50% of higher assessed values.

Unless absolutely necessary and the assignee’s company will pay the high duty we recommend not including alcohol in the shipment.

Some items are restricted in quantify, Only 2 sets of golf clubs per shipment with additional sets dutiable; 300 CDs and 200 DVDs allowed, additional amounts dutiable; Grand Piano is restricted unless proof that assignee or family member is a concert pianist.


Foreign Assignees are allowed to import 1 air and 1 sea shipment however the import permit for both shipments needs to be applied at the same time and only after the shipments have arrived. This obviously makes processing difficult. Normally an air shipment is send much early than the sea shipment, and more probably arrives even before the sea shipment has left the warehouse! But if an import Permit is applied for each shipment separately, then the later shipment will be completely dutiable! So the question about whether to import an air shipment ahead of tne sea shipment becomes almost academic.

However to get around this situation China Customs will allow a Foreign Assignee to import a small air shipment of less than 200 kg on passport copy only. We call this Priority Clearance, The customs only allow this method if the client has a business visa ‘L’ or tourist visa ‘F’ only If the client has gone through the visa process and been issued with a Residence Visa ‘Z’ then we would need to apply for the Import Permit.


For this method of clearance some restrictions apply. Absolutely NO food and only 100 discs and 50 books allowed. Usual air shipments okay, though it is recommended to send a copy of the packing list before shipping to make sure no problems with clearance.

There are also some specific duty rules for this method of clearance. Customs allow 20 Discs duty free with duty on each additional disc at US$1.35; 10 books duty free with each additional book dutiable at 45 cents. Golf clubs are dutiable at US$ 35.30 per club with golf balls dutiable at US$ 1. 35 each ball Tennis racquets dutiable at US$14.75 each. Acoustic guitars dutiable at US$ 29.50 and keyboard dutiable at between US$ 11.80 to US$ 45.00. Duty on other sports items and musical instruments on application. Electrical items are dutiable as normal

The above information pertains to the Shanghai Customs House, but even though ALL customs houses in China use the same rule book, each interprets the rules differently. So it comes as no surprise, that differences exist between the rules practiced Beijing and Shanghai Customs Houses

Beijing Customs Clearance Differences
It is possible to custom clear a Foreign Assignee's shipment if the assignee has a Residence Visa 11 month or less; however a special dispensation letter issued by the assignees comply would also be required, along will the normal documents for customs clearance. Please note that in this case ALL items in the shipment would be dutiable.

For air shipments routed to APOE Beijing the same customs procedure in Shanghai apply, though ‘Priority Clearance’ is not available. But air shipment should be routed to airport Tianjin if possible, where clearance can be done on passport copy regardless of visa status. There is no limit in weight for such air shipments, though we would advise it prudent to check with our office for shipments over 500 kg gross. Again normal duty on selected items as if cleared with Import Permit.

Alcohol: Beijing does not allow alcohol to be imported in household goods shipments. Any alcohol found in a shipment will be confiscated.

As more Chinese passport holders return from extended stays and work abroad with shipments, it should be noted that limitations apply.

In Shanghai, returning Chinese can only import a maximum of 6 CBM of personal effects but the shipment cannot contain any furniture. Customs Clearance can be processed using just the passport and duties levied would be the same as for a ‘Priority Clearance’ air shipment.

In Beijing there is no limit to the size of the shipment a Chinese National' can import, the only proviso is that the returnee has to have been out of the country continuously for more than 12 months. Clearance again is processed using just tne passport; though in this instance the returnee’s Chinese ID is also required. Duty is the same as that for a Foreign Assignee, though books and discs are dutiable as in a ‘Priority Clearance ‘air shipment.

Note that for both cities, returning Chinese Nationals holding a 'Work Permit' or 'Green Card' from the host country will be treated as a Foreign Assignee by the Customs House and therefore, customs clearance will be processed as such.

EXPAT MOVERS cannot take responsbility for the contents of this page. As customs regulations may vary from time to time.