Trafficking Goods: Customs Restrictions in China

Trafficking Goods: Customs Restrictions in China


Customs in China are well-known to be meticulous about goods entering and leaving the country. Corresponding paperwork with respect to taxes, tariffs and certifications should be prepared neatly to avoid any troubles. Furthermore, also the China customs restrictions for banned items should be adhered.

Article Highlights

  • For goods exported to China, the Chinese Compulsory Certification is usually mandatory.
  • Despite that Hong Kong and Macau belong to China different customs regulations apply.
  • China’s restrictions regarding drugs and cash money are similar to most countries.

Every country suffers from some sort of black market and trafficking. Some countries are rife with illegal drugs like cocaine, black market cigarettes, and even weapons. Other countries like Australia have strict regulations on food items brought into the country largely because foreign insects can wreak havoc on their delicate ecosystem.

Many countries are particularly lax in their customs when it comes to items leaving the country. For example, it may be easy to take counterfeit products out of China, but once they are at the customs of another country, incredibly difficult to get past that stage.

This problem is an international one, and while the country of China also has issues in this regard, they are not alone in tackling it.

China Customs Restrictions: Tackling Trafficking

The main way countries try to reduce and mitigate the risks of trafficking is through the customs situated at all major transport routes and borders. They do this by outright banning what can and cannot be brought into the country, and through the threat of fines and imprisonment to act as a deterrent to potential traffickers.

Usually extensive searches are carried out before a person is allowed into the country. This generally includes the x-ray of all baggage, use of drug sniffer dogs and inspection of all mail. While this is effective in some regard, it is still impossible to catch all illegal goods brought. Often the process devolves into detecting as much as possible, knowing it is unrealistic to catch everything.


China customs restrictions apply to every border.
China’s border to Vietnam.


Furthermore, in terms of the trade industry, all shipping containers and packages will be checked by checked customs. This includes x-rays, physical inspections as well as documentation checks to ensure everything is correct and taxes/tariffs are paid. China customs restrictions are known to be quite rigorous in ensuring the compliance of goods and their documents entering the country.

Most importantly, they check whether their regulations about tariffs and non-tariff measure are adhered to and paid for. Furthermore, national certification standards–such as the CCC mark (China Compulsory Certification) for a variety of non-food consumer products and CFDA (China Food and Drug Administration) for food products–have to be declared before goods are cleared from customs. Missing documents or a misstatement regarding the compliance of goods may easily result in custom authorities in China send them back or may even hold and destroy them.

China’s Issue with “In-Country” Trafficking

While China suffers the same issues as other countries in regard to drug smuggling and other illicit materials, another trafficking problem that is not as well-known is the trafficking of regular goods. This is done to avoid various taxes and other import duties, and often seeks to address growing consumption for luxury products in mainland China.

On certain luxury goods, for example make-up but also high quality imported food items, the duties applied against them can be as high as 50%, which has a noticeable price effect. However, due to the status of the Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of Hong Kong and Macau (which are considered to be part of China but can independently make their own laws and regulations with respect to taxation), there is easy access to high end products at much lower prices.

This market gap has been filled by people called purchasing agents who go to Hong Kong or Macau and buy high-demand luxury goods in mass quantities then smuggle the goods into the country without paying the duties. Many people are doing this activity without transgressing the law by complying with the custom limits regarding those goods; however, others do not.

Taxation is but one reason for the prosperous illicit drug smuggling: food safety is another. Until stricter China customs restrictions were imposed in March 2013, many Mainland Chinese residents bought baby formula in Hong Kong and Macau because of several baby formula related scandals.

Relevant Customs Laws

If you are entering China, you should be aware of certain prohibited items prior to traveling. Certain items are allowed to be brought in, but depending on certain rules they may need to be declared and accompanying documentation provided or for applicable taxes to be paid.

The following list of banned items should not be brought into the country under any circumstances by China customs restrictions:

  • Weapons, guns, ammunition and any explosive.
  • Radio transmitters
  • More than 20,000 yuan RMB in cash
  • Banned media, this includes films, photographs, videotapes, manuscripts or any other media that is detrimental and against Chinas politics, culture, ethnics and economy.
  • Illegal drugs
  • Plants, animals or any products borne with bacteria, germs or insects


Breaking China customs restrictions may also lead to the arrest of foreigners.
Foreigners arrested in China for drug smuggling are often not extradited.


If any of the above are brought into the country, Chinese customs agents will enforce all relevant regulation which could consist of a fine or even jail time.

The following relates to products which are allowed to be brought into the country, but may be restricted in quantity or have to be declared by China customs restrictions:

  • Up to 1.5L of 12%+ alcohol, 400 cigarettes, 500g rolling tobacco, or 100 cigars. If this limit is exceeded the passenger will be subject to taxes assuming all excess is deemed to be personal.
  • If a passenger is carrying over 20,000 yuan or over $5,000 worth of foreign currencies these must be declared and will be processed by customs in line with regulations.