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Living Abroad in China

Shipping Options When Moving to China

2006 © Stuart & Barbara Strother, from Moon Living Abroad in China, 1st Edition. Used by permission of Stuart & Barbara Strother, and Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.

If you are only going to be in China on a short-term basis, you may be able to fit what you need to bring within the confines of your airline luggage allotment. If not, assess the extra weight and do a comparison between your airline’s cost for excess baggage weight and the cost of mailing the extra items to your address in China.

If, however, you are moving to China on a long-term commitment, you may be looking at moving your entire household. We strongly recommend that you keep it as light as possible, planning on buying new stuff in China (which is cheap) rather than paying to have everything shipped over (which is expensive and a big hassle). You’ll pay steep customs fees on some things, such as furniture and other “luxury” items. On the other hand, going light will give you reason to do more shopping while you are there. Hunting for antique furniture bargains is a favorite pastime for many expats.

There are some tricks to getting your stuff to China without having to pay expensive shipping. For example, we invited a good friend to travel with us during our move and used his extra luggage space for more of our stuff. If you know friends or family will come visit you when you are overseas, you can leave boxes or suitcases packed and ready for them to bring along as part of their luggage if they are willing to do so. This trick also works in reverse, a great way to get some stuff home and save on shipping when you leave the country.

Shipping and Relocation Companies

If you need to ship much more than the airlines, or the local post office, can take, there are many relocation and shipping companies that can handle the job. Typically they will pack all of your belongings, get them ready for the high seas, and see them off at the port, then deliver them to your new home and unpack them. Household shipment from middle America to the Middle Kingdom will put you out around $6,000 for a two-bedroom apartment up to $9,000 for a four-bedroom home, varying greatly based on the size of your shipment, extra services, and your specific destination.

You can save some money if you pack the boxes yourself, though often this job is best left to the professionals. You’ll want to contact several companies that specialize in international relocation to get quotes. You have your choice of using western-based companies that will subcontract the work when your shipment arrives in China, or a China-based company that will subcontract the initial packing and loading work. While some people prefer the comfort of working with someone who is from their own country, others prefer to trust the Chinese professionals who really know the complex customs laws and processes. There are also a few major companies, such as Crown Relocations, that have offices and staff in both locations.

You should plan on three months for your oceangoing shipping process from start to finish. Airfreight can be used for those items that you will want immediately. Standard airfreight will arrive in 7 to 14 days; express shipments will get the most crucial items to you in two to five days. You’ll pay dearly for these options, especially express, so use them wisely.


Make sure you are fastidious about all the documents you must fill out with your shipment; otherwise you may be fined steep fees and/or your belongings may be impounded for several months while the problems are sorted out. Your international moving company will provide you with a whole folder full of forms and will let you know what other documents you will need that are specific to your situation.

Getting your stuff into the country is only half the battle; you’ll need to get it all back out again (unless your move is permanent, of course). You’ll need to hang on to all those original customs forms. The process for exporting your household goods out of China is about as complicated as importing them into China, and you’ll have to prove you brought this stuff with you or you’ll owe duty. Other paperwork to hold onto includes receipts for antique furniture purchased in China and verification that the antique is less than 150 years old (and therefore legal to export), as well as all receipts for significant purchases made while living in China.

More from Living Abroad in China
 Making the Move
 Visas and Residence
 Moving with Children
 Moving with Pets
 What to Take
 Welcome to China
 Prime Locations
 Working in China
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