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How to Relocate Your Household & Pets to China

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  • David Thyne

    At the first Shanghai Get-Together I met several American expats. I am very grateful that they shared their experience with me.

All the paperwork and bureaucracy can leave potential expats wondering how to relocate toChinaand make it a home. Our relocation guide aims to help you by walking you through the essential steps to prepare for your move, customs and imports, as well as what does it take to relocate to China with your pet.

Another one of your steps along the relocation process is taking care of health. All expats moving to China will need to be vaccinated for DPT, polio, MMR, and hepatitis A. You’ll find a list of additional vaccinations to consider as well as everyday health tips to handle air pollution in this article.

Make sure you double check the customs restrictions before packing and keep in mind that you’ll need to apply in writing to import your personal belongings.

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Moving and Shipping Household Goods

Once you have familiarized yourself with the customs laws of China, you will feel more confident about how you should move your household items and belongings there.

How to Import Goods into China

The first thing to keep in mind, is that 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, when going through customs, or by giving their relocation service provider the necessary authorization. Note, however, that you can only file your application for approval by the Chinese customs office once you have gotten your long-term residence certification.

You may only import a few personal effects for your own use duty-free. A car counts as such only if you qualify as 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 international shipping agent should be able to provide you with more information on this topic.

Rules on Importing 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.

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

Do You Have to Pay Duty or Not?

Usually, any personal items that non-Chinese residents bring with them must be valued 2,000 CNY or less otherwise, they will be taxed 20%. For Chinese residents, the limit is 5,000 CNY. However, exceptions to this rule do exist. Long-term non-residents who are importing household items and applying for customs clearance for the first time are exempt from paying duty. That is why it is important to import all of the highly valued items with your first shipment to the country.

Still, no matter whether it is your first or the tenth time entering China, you will not avoid paying duty for these taxable goods:

  • Motor Vehicles
  • TVs
  • VCRs and Video Players
  • Video/Photo Cameras
  • Sound Equipment
  • Radio Paging Systems
  • Telephones and Program-Controlled Telephone Exchanges
  • Microcomputers and Peripherals
  • Electronic Calculators
  • Facsimile Printers
  • Word-processors and Typewriters
  • Illuminating Devices
  • Refrigerators
  • Washing Machines
  • Air-Conditioners
  • Furniture
  • Food 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 you will have to pay duty.

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.

Can You Bring Food Products to China?

In terms of food, Chinese customs regulations prohibit the import of fruits, nightshade vegetables (such as potatoes or peppers), animal products, and other foodstuffs 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, so make sure that the medication you are using is legal in the country.

Furthermore, take along your doctor’s prescription (including a Chinese translation) for any medication you have to bring with you. Keep the medicine in its original packaging and when in doubt, declaring it to a Chinese customs officer upon entry is one way of being better safe than sorry.

Since you’ll probably run out of medication while you are in China, make a list of the generic names and active ingredients for all your meds. This will help you to get a new prescription and avoid potential confusion if the same medication is sold under a different brand name in China.

What Not To Pack When Moving to China

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 the 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.

How to Ship Your Household Items to China

Once you have gone through all the rules imposed by Chinese customs, you should be able to prepare all of your belongings for shipment. As you do so, make an itemized list of all your belongings –– it will make it easier for you to keep track of your goods. Prioritize: Some things (e.g.: electronics, season-appropriate clothing, etc.) will be more essential to you than others once you land, and those belongings should travel along with you.

After it’s all packed up, weigh your cargo and note it down –– it will come in handy once you start estimating the price of your shipment. Another thing that factors into the price is how you wish to ship the items. The choice is usually between air, land, or sea travel. Air is usually the fastest and the priciest way to get your household goods to your new home, while sea can be cheaper and slower –– one should be prepared to wait for the cargo for a month or even two.

If you are not sure how to go about shipping your goods to another country or it’s proving to be a hassle, don’t hesitate to contact relocation professionals.

Exporting from China

When leaving China temporarily, 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 just in case.

Home Good Storage

Two types of storage – short and long term– are usually on the minds of expats-to-be that are moving homes.

If you are wondering where to put that load of furniture that will be useless in your new, fully equipped home, long-term storage can be an option for you.

Storage space can also be useful in case you want to have all of your household goods available to you once you get to China. If you know you are going to move a few months in advance, you can pack up your items and ship them before you even get there. That way you will avoid the wait and might minimize the shipment costs as your cargo won’t be as urgent. In this case, short-term storage should be more appropriate.

When looking into storage space, note the size of the goods you wish to leave behind or ship as it will be the prime factor when it comes to pricing.

You usually also have an option between self-operated or fully serviced storage. If you opt for self-storage, you will be the one taking care of packing and delivering your goods to the storage place of your choosing. Fully serviced option frees you of worries like these but could be a little pricier.

Vaccinations and Health Requirements for China

The vaccinations required for China include DPT (diphtheria, pertussis/whooping cough, and tetanus), polio, and MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella/German measles). Sometimes, while it’s not a part of China’s vaccination requirements for immigration, doctors recommend a flu shot and immunization for chickenpox as well.

What other vaccinations you may need when going to China:

  • hepatitis A and B
  • rabies
  • typhoid fever
  • Japanese encephalitis

This is also a good opportunity to get a thorough medical check-up before you leave. Depending on your visa category, you may need to meet specific health requirements for immigrating to China and have to provide a health certificate anyway.

What are the Common Health Risks in China?

Dengue fever only occurs in some provinces, especially Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, and Yunnan. Malaria is mostly limited to rural areas of Anhui, Hainan, Henan, Hubei, Guizhou, Jiangsu, and Yunnan.

You can prevent dengue fever and malaria by protecting yourself from mosquito bites. Wear long-sleeved tops, long trousers or maxi-skirts, and socks during the day, and sleep under a mosquito net at night. Insect repellents that contain either DEET or eucalyptus oil are considered especially effective. Apply them to all exposed body parts.


According to the World Health Organization’s estimates, about 0.1% of China’s population is infected with HIV/AIDS. Since China is still far from a full-blown epidemic, HIV/AIDS should not pose any major risk for the average expat. However, expats should make sure that their health insurance policy covers access to high-profile private facilities in urban centers. Check with your doctor or dentist if they use sterilized equipment, and offer to pay for new syringes or needles, if necessary.

SARS and Avian Flu

While SARS is no longer much of a risk, various strains of avian influenza are still common diseases in China and can potentially be dangerous. However, there hasn’t been any large-scale outbreak recently, so it shouldn’t be difficult to protect yourself. Avoid all contact with poultry (e.g. at farmers’ markets), and only eat chicken, duck, or eggs after cooking them thoroughly. Don’t forget to wash your hands after food preparation.

Hand, Food, and Mouth Disease

For younger children, hand, foot and mouth disease (HMFD) is a widespread health risk. It normally causes a mild fever and the characteristic rash on some body parts. HFMD is a viral disease that goes away on its own. Only in the rare event of complications will you need to call a doctor. Proper hand hygiene and keeping your children home from school for a couple of days often help to prevent an infection.


Schistosomiasis, also known as “snail fever”, is a parasitic disease spread by worms living in infected freshwater. These parasites infest the urinary or gastrointestinal tract and cause chronic illnesses. It can, however, be easily avoided by not bathing in any ponds, lakes, or rivers.

Air Pollution in China

Most urban dwellers are affected by air pollution. The air quality in metropolitan regions is rather bad. What is just a nuisance for most people, though, can become a danger for children, the elderly, and patients with cardiac or respiratory diseases, allergies or skin conditions. Even healthy adults should wear air masks on bad days, exercise indoors, and install air filters in their homes. To find out about the current of air quality index in China, check out World’s air pollution website.

Connect with like-minded expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.

Moving with Pets

When moving to China with pets, first of all, keep in mind that foreigners holding an employment visa can only bring one pet per adult into China. Therefore, you must be able to prove that you are your pet’s owner. This means that your name must be included on all health documents of your pet. If you have more than one pet per adult, it is considered a commercial import and different rules apply.

Requirements to Bring Your Pet into China

To take your pet to China with you, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • Official certificate proving that your pet has recently been vaccinated
  • The official document from your current country of residence, allowing the export of your pet outside of the country
  • Health certificate from a veterinarian in your current country of residence, attesting to your pet’s health
  • Copy of your passport
  • Photograph of your pet

Pet microchip is not mandatory in China; however, it is still highly recommended.

If your pet is traveling unaccompanied in cargo, you will have to secure an import permit through a sponsor or someone acting on your behalf.

Note that if you decide to move from one Chinese city to another by plane, you need to abide by certain exit requirements of the city’s municipal government. Also, keep in mind that some dog breeds, especially bigger ones, might be banned in the area you are moving to.

Pet Relocation to China: Quarantine

Upon your pet’s arrival in China, it will be placed in quarantine for seven days if you are coming from a rabies-free or rabies-controlled country. If that is not the case, an additional 23 days of quarantine will be necessary.

Because of the mandatory quarantine, it is highly advised to vaccinate your pet against kennel cough (Bordetella) two weeks prior to your arrival. Also, keep in mind that Chinese customs does not recognize vaccinations that have been administered later than one year ago.  Therefore, make sure your pet is vaccinated against rabies between 30 days and 12 months prior to your move. Other mandatory vaccinations include:

  • For dogs: coronavirus, parvovirus, and canine distemper
  • For cats: peritonitis and feline distemper

Another important note is that once you decide to leave the country, bringing your pet back from China can become a headache. Some countries restrict import from China, especially when it comes to animals. So, if you do not plan on staying in China for an extended period of time, you might need to consider other options.

Can You Bring Other Pets into China?

If your pet is neither a cat or a dog (bird, fish, reptile, amphibian, or other), they are not subject to rabies vaccinations or other widely known requirements. In this case, it is very important to contact relevant authorities or other professionals to inquire about your options.

Pay extra attention to the rules when moving to China with a pet, and if the process proves to be too complicated, don’t hesitate to contact specialists.

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