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International Relocation for Expats in China

Submitted: October 2013

As exciting as the prospect of moving to China is, when it comes to the actual move, there are few who look with excitement at packing boxes, dealing with immigration authorities and completing seemingly endless forms. It can indeed be wearisome dealing with bureaucracy in two countries and trying to arrange everything on time, but it does not have to be! The key is to familiarise yourself with the requirements and start planning well in advance. In this respect, our Expat Briefing articles on China offer a good starting point. 

Relocation companies

It is a good idea to opt for a relocation company to assist with your move.  Most of these companies are more than just mere shipment companies. While they do organise the move of your personal and household belongings, they also offer guidance on administrative procedures during and after relocation and assist with immigration issues and housing searches. However, the array of offered services and the applicable prices vary greatly from company to company, therefore it is crucial to do thorough research before committing to one. In this respect, online reviews and expat forums are a valuable resource!

Examples of companies offering relocation services for expats moving to China include:

Moving your belongings

If, however, you are planning your relocation on your own, you will have to decide how to best move your items to China. Most airline companies will only allow one or two pieces of personal luggage. Sending items via post or express delivery services such as DHL or UPS is only recommendable for lesser quantities. For larger quantities it is best to choose one of the specialised shipment companies and opt for a good insurance.

In addition to the relocation companies mentioned above, which also organise shipments, you might want to consider the following specialised shipment companies:

Expats that have obtained a long-term visa for China and will be staying in China for over a year, may bring their personal belongings and household effects to China. For this purpose, you will have to request an import permit from the Customs authorities prior to relocation. To obtain a permit, you will need to present a copy of your passport, a copy of your visa and/or work permit, and a full inventory of the items to be shipped. This documentation will have to be accompanied by the completed form on Importation of Goods into China, which can be obtained from the Customs authority of China. 

Items should be shipped to China in one shipment and arrive to China after your own arrival. All shipments are x-rayed. Many are also subject to manual searches, therefore make sure to familiarise yourself with items banned from importation. Note also that you will normally only be permitted to take one of each electronic appliances, e.g. one television, one radio, etc.

Whether your items will be subject to customs duties and to what extent, will depend on the type of items, on the airport/ border control where you enter the country, and partly on the mood of the particular customs officer as in many cases regulations are quite ambiguous and subject to interpretation.

For detailed information on importing household items to China see the guidelines prepared by Atlas International and Guanzhou International Airport, and visit the website of the Chinese Customs authority.

On how to relocate to China with pets see Relocation with Families and Pets for Expats in China.

Importing your vehicle

If you are considering taking your vehicle along to China, think twice! Not only does it involve tons of paperwork, your vehicle might also be subject to high import duties. Hence, it is often easier - and cheaper - to sell your car back home and buy a car in China.

If you do still decide to take your vehicle along, there are a number of legal requirements to bear in mind. First of all, you will only be allowed to bring one car to China. Diesel cars and cars made for left-hand side traffic are banned from importation altogether. Furthermore, your car will have to conforms with the environmental and safety standards set by the Chinese Ministry of Transport.

You will also have to inform Customs of your intention to import a vehicle prior to leaving the country. For this purpose, contact the Chinese Customs authority or the Chinese Embassy in your respective country to assist with the procedure. To obtain an import permit for vehicles, you will have to submit proof of vehicle ownership, a copy of the original purchase invoice and a copy of insurance papers.

Once your car enters China, you will have to pay import duties, sales tax and VAT. The exact amount depends on the car type and car age, but note that import duties can be as high as 200% of the value of the car.

For further guidelines on car importation see the Customs and Border Control website. To read more on driving in China in general see Driving and Public Transport for Expats.



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If you are considering moving to China or are soon to depart, you can find helpful information and advice in the Expat Briefing dedicated Chinese section including; details of immigration and visas, Chinese forums, Chinese event listings and service providers in China.


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