Exporting from China and Importing to the US: A Guide

China is a major manufacturing hub and also a great potential market for exporting goods.

If you’re thinking about exporting from China to the US, familiarizing yourself with the rules and regulations can help avoid snags and keep your goods moving smoothly.

We’ve pulled together everything you need to know about China export and US import regulations and procedures. We’ll discuss:

Exporting goods from China

A flourishing business ecosystem, robust logistics network, efficient supply chain management, and currency regulation practices all make exporting from China relatively manageable for – and very attractive to – global shippers.

Here’s an overview of the latest trends in exporting from China.

China exports in 2022

After a trade slowdown triggered by COVID-19 shutdowns, China has recovered, with exports expected to grow by double digits in 2022.

Here are some key highlights of China’s exports in 2022:

  • In June 2022, China’s total export value reached $331.3 billion
  • China’s exports rose by 17.9% month over month by the first half of 2022
  • Export growth figures for June 2022 exceeded the market forecast by 49%
  • The US, Hong Kong, and Japan were among the top export destinations

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China export license

An export license is a government document that authorizes a supplier to export certain goods and commodities from China. Hazardous or prohibited goods require special export licenses.

Getting a China export license

Suppliers in China are generally responsible for providing the export license for your goods. Check with your supplier to ensure they will provide one.

What if your supplier doesn’t provide an export license?

Some small suppliers do not provide an export license – which allows them to avoid bureaucracy and extra costs. If this is the case, your freight forwarder will need to arrange one, which means an additional cost to you.

According to Freightos data, 10% of freight charges added after booking result from missing export licenses.

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Procedures and documentation for exporting from China

To ensure smooth exporting from China, you’ll need some specific documentation, as well as providers that can handle all the details.

What expertise does your forwarder need to move your goods out of China?

When exporting from China, choose an experienced supplier that can provide the documents relevant to your commodity, and is familiar with any restrictions. Without this first step, your freight forwarder will face difficulties moving your goods; with it, your export will move much more smoothly.

Choose a freight forwarder for your export with expertise in shipping on the routes from China that you need, as well as China-specific procedures, documentation, and export restrictions. Your freight forwarder can let you know if any documentation is missing and help you file everything on time.

You’ll also need a customs broker to handle the customs clearance process on your behalf. Most forwarders provide customs brokerage as an add-on to their services.

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Documents needed for exporting goods from China

Here are the documents shippers typically need to export from China:

how to export

  • Export license
  • Commercial invoice
  • Packing list
  • Certificate of origin
  • Bill of exchange
  • Insurance certificate
  • Purchase order or letter of credit
  • Customs bond
  • Customs entry documents
  • Certificates from partner government agencies in case of special goods such as food items, cosmetics, or electronics

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China export restrictions

China has an export control law (EC Law) that restricts the export of certain types of goods and commodities. These mainly include nuclear products, military goods, and dual-use items.

Trade control measures take several forms, from increased taxes to extra duties levied on such products. Here’s more information on restrictions on exports from China to the US.

To avoid delays and penalties, work with trusted forwarders with experience navigating Chinese export processes.

Products banned from export from China

China’s Export Prohibited and Restricted Technology Catalog prohibits the export of 33 technologies from the country without a government license. Some of the key technologies included in the list include:

  • Telemetry coding and encryption software or hardware
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Cryptography and security tech
  • Advanced defense tech

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Now, let’s switch coasts – what do you need to know about getting your goods into the US? Read on.

china exports

How to import from China

The US imported $540 billion worth of goods from China in 2021, with $223 billion worth of imported goods between January to May 2022.

Here’s what you need to know to import from China.

US import taxes, duties, and tariffs on goods from China

Clearing customs – and paying customs duties – is a crucial aspect of importing goods from China to the US.

The taxes and duties levied on your imported goods mainly depend on two factors:

  • Country of import (in this case, China)
  • HS code of the product. This code classifies your goods, letting the US authorities know what kind of product you are importing, and how much duty you owe.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agencies calculate duties when goods arrive in the US. The calculation is a percentage of the amount you paid for your goods.

To estimate how much you will owe in customs duties on your imports from China, look up the HS code of the product, and check to see if your goods are subject to tariffs.

Learn more about customs here.

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China import tariff rates 2022

Tariff rates are subject to several factors, including supply chain fluctuations, global events, and regulations issued by different countries.

In 2018, the Trump administration announced new tariffs of a hefty 25% tax on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports. Stages two and three in the following year covered an additional $200 billion worth of imports. The US government had planned to impose an additional stage four tariff in 2019, but then reached an agreement with China to postpone the tariffs indefinitely. Under the Biden administration, trade tensions have eased somewhat; however, section 301 tariffs remain intact.

Check with your forwarder to see if your goods are subject to tariffs.

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Documents needed for import to the US

In order to import from China to the US, work with your forwarder to make sure you have all the correct documentation. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Importer Security Filing (ISF)
  • Bill of lading
  • Commercial invoicedocuments for importing
  • Packing list
  • Certificate of origin
  • Delivery form
  • Customs bond
  • Insurance
  • Partner government agency certificates (if applicable)
  • Arrival notice, among others.

In most cases, your providers handle these documents and you will probably never hear about them. If you are asked for any documents, check with your freight forwarder to see what you need and who should provide it.

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Top products to import from China to the US

Electrical components, transport equipment, and technology goods are some of the most imported products from China. Here are the top 5 products imported from China to the US:

Products Import from China to the US Value Year
Electrical, electronic equipment $135.12B 2021
Machinery, nuclear reactors, boilers $115.64B 2021
Toys, games, sports requisites $40.42B 2021
Furniture, lighting signs, prefabricated buildings $31.45B 2021
Plastics $27.05B 2021

Other profitable goods to import from China also include:

  • Masks and PPEs
  • Mobile phone accessories and components
  • Wireless devices
  • Plastic items such as containers and toys
  • Agricultural products like fertilizers
  • Cosmetic products such as face masks and rollers
  • Auto parts
  • Clothing and footwear
  • Home decor products such as lamps and lighting

Before importing from China to the US, always check for restricted or prohibited items to avoid any hassles during shipping.

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Products restricted from import from China to the US

If you’re planning to import goods from China, check that your items are not prohibited or need additional compliance and documents.

Some items subject to particular compliances are:

  • Arms, ammunition, and all kinds of explosive items
  • Disease-infested flora or fauna
  • Illicit drugs
  • Food items (raw or prepared)
  • Wildlife and fishes
  • Dog and cat fur
  • Other items that are harmful to the interests of the nation

This applies to both export regulations in China and import regulations in the US, and in much of the developed world.

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Freight incoterms for China

When exporting or importing from China, choose the incoterm that works best for your shipment. Incoterms can affect charges, so discuss the different options with your supplier to explore what makes the most sense for you.

Here are some commonly used incoterms:

  • Free On Board (FOB)

Used only for ocean freight, this incoterm means all the responsibilities and liabilities of the supplier end once the goods board the vessel. It’s a good choice if you want more control over the shipping process and freight cost.

  • EXW (ExWorks)

This means responsibility for the goods transfers to the buyer right from the warehouse, long before vessel loading. That is, the buyer takes charge of end-to-end transportation of the goods. This option is more suitable and less risky for more experienced shippers.

  • FCA (Free Carrier)

With FCA, the buyer assumes responsibility for the goods once the supplier has packed and transported the goods to an agreed-upon location, usually a port. In this case, the buyer gets control of the goods earlier than when using FOB.

  • Others

Some other lesser-used incoterms include DDP (Delivered Duty Paid), CIF (Cost, insurance, Freight), DAP (Delivered At Place), CIP (Carriage and Insurance), and CFR (Carriage and Freight).

 

Export procedures in China can be a little tricky to navigate. Opt for experienced freight forwarders and logistics partners to make it efficient and hassle-free.

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