Comprehensive Guide to Exporting from China: Documentation, Regulations, and Key Steps

Comprehensive Guide to Exporting from China: Documentation, Regulations, and Key Steps

Navigating the complexities of international trade is crucial, whether you’re a newcomer or an experienced business owner. With the burgeoning sector of global commerce, understanding the intricacies of export can significantly enhance your business’s capacity to engage with international markets.

Comprehensive Guide to Exporting from China: Documentation, Regulations, and Key Steps

What Is an Exporter?

An exporter is an entity—either an individual or a company—that sells goods or services beyond their own country’s borders. This term not only applies to international transactions but also to trading within different regions of the same country.

How To Become an Exporter?

Becoming an exporter requires several key steps:

  • Registration: You must have a tax ID and be a registered business entity.
  • Customs Brokerage: Engaging with a customs brokerage firm that specializes in international trade is advisable to navigate through the complexities of exporting.
  • Licensing and Registration: Apply for the necessary licenses and register with relevant local government bodies.
  • VAT Registration: Ensure you have a valid VAT registration in your jurisdiction.

How to Become an Exporter in China

Embarking on the journey of exporting from China can be a lucrative venture given the right guidance and adherence to regulatory requirements. Here is a detailed guide on how to navigate the process, complete with necessary references and citations to ensure you have reliable and authoritative information.

1. Business Registration

Before you can start exporting from China, you must register your business. According to the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, obtaining a tax identification number (TIN) and registering your business entity are mandatory steps. This process legitimizes your business operations within China and is essential for any form of commercial activity. (Ministry of Commerce, PRC)

2. Engage a Customs Brokerage Firm

The complexities of international trade, especially the intricacies of customs regulations, necessitate expert assistance. The General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China recommends working with licensed customs brokers. These professionals can help navigate the export process, ensuring compliance with all regulations and smoothing the path for customs clearance. (General Administration of Customs, PRC)

3. Obtain Necessary Licenses

Depending on what products you plan to export, specific licenses may be required. The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade offers resources and guidance on obtaining these licenses. It’s crucial to apply for the right licenses to avoid legal issues and ensure smooth operation. (China Council for the Promotion of International Trade)

4. VAT Registration

All exporters in China must register for Value Added Tax (VAT). According to the State Administration of Taxation, VAT registration is critical as it relates to the taxes imposed on the goods and services exported from China. Proper registration enables businesses to manage tax liabilities effectively and reclaim any VAT that has been paid on exported goods. (State Administration of Taxation, PRC)

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How to Start Working with a Freight Forwarder in China?

Before partnering with a freight forwarder in China, it’s essential to grasp their critical role in the export and import process. Freight forwarders in China specialize in navigating complex logistics, customs regulations, and documentation. They ensure compliance with all relevant shipping and customs laws, which is crucial for smooth international transactions.


Freight forwarders in China work closely with shipping companies, ensuring that your goods are delivered on time and in perfect condition. When selecting a freight forwarder in China, look for one with extensive experience in your industry and a proven track record of successful shipments.


Dealing with customs can be intricate and time-consuming. Collaborating with a knowledgeable freight forwarder in China can save you considerable time and effort. They have the authority to manage export and import transactions at customs, offering comprehensive services from securing necessary export licensing and approvals to coordinating shipping logistics and handling customs declarations.


To initiate your relationship with a freight forwarder in China, you must provide them with all required export documentation for your goods or services, along with detailed insights into your export process.


If you’re new to exporting, you may wonder what the process entails. Let’s dive into a practical step-by-step guide to exporting with the help of a freight forwarder in China.


    Exporting Guide in 7 steps 

    Exporting is a detailed and multifaceted process that requires meticulous planning and execution. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the stages involved to ensure a smooth and compliant international trade operation:

    7-Step Exporting Guide

    Step 1: The Offer and Negotiation Stage

    The process begins when you make an initial offer to a potential international buyer. This stage typically involves detailed discussions facilitated by export brokers or at international trade fairs. You’ll need to present your products or services, negotiate terms, and potentially draft a provisional agreement or proforma invoice that outlines the specifics of the goods, pricing, and the terms of sale.


    Selecting the right Incoterms (International Commercial Terms) is crucial as they define the responsibilities of sellers and buyers for the delivery of goods under sales contracts. They determine who is responsible for paying for and managing the shipment, insurance, documentation, customs clearance, and other logistical activities. Common terms include EXW (Ex Works), FOB (Free On Board), CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight), and DDP (Delivered Duty Paid).

    Payment Terms

    Clearly define the payment terms to avoid any confusion or disputes. This might include choosing between advance payment, letters of credit, direct bank transfers, or open account transactions. Specify the currency, payment schedule, and any interest on late payments to ensure transparency.

    Bank Details

    Provide accurate and complete banking details to facilitate swift payment transactions. This information should include the bank name, branch, address, SWIFT/BIC codes, and your account number. Ensuring these details are correct is vital for avoiding payment delays.

    Step2 : Production, Procurement, and Preparation for Shipment

    Coordinate with your production team and suppliers to ensure that all materials and products are ready in time for shipment. This stage involves scheduling production runs, managing inventory, and preparing the necessary packaging to meet the importing country’s standards and regulations.

    Step3 : Shipment and Exit Customs Clearance

    When exporting goods, the responsibility for shipments can vary based on the agreed Incoterms. For example, under FOB (Free On Board) terms, the buyer takes on the shipping responsibilities, while the exporter handles transportation from their premises to the port. It’s essential for the importer to coordinate with the exporter to ensure seamless internal transport on the scheduled shipping date.


    In the case of Exworks terms, the buyer is responsible for customs procedures in the exporter’s country, though the exporter often handles these tasks and includes the costs in the final invoice. For C Group Incoterms, the exporter is tasked with delivering the goods to a destination in the buyer’s country. Under D Group Incoterms, such as DDP (Delivered Duty Paid), the exporter covers all costs, including customs fees and local taxes in the buyer’s country.

    Step4 : Necessary Documents for Exporters

    Exporting goods requires meticulous document preparation to ensure the process runs smoothly and the goods reach their destination safely:

    • Commercial Invoice: Lists all transaction details between buyer and seller.
    • Packing List (Weight List): Details the contents and weight of each package.
    • Certificate of Origin: Certifies the country in which the goods were produced.
    • Bill of Lading, Airwaybill, or CMR: Essential for transporting goods via sea, air, or land.
    • Insurance Document: Provides coverage information for the transported goods.
    • Import License: Required in certain countries for the import of goods.
    • Quality, Test, or Inspection Certificates: Ensure the goods meet the required standards.

    Each document, from the Bill of Lading prepared for sea or air shipments to the CMR for road transport, must be accurately filled out and checked by the exporter. It is critical to include comprehensive details like the product name, HS code, quantity, and shipping information to prevent any issues during transport.

    Step 5 : Shipment and Customs Clearance

    Properly organizing the shipment and customs clearance processes is critical for ensuring the smooth transit of goods across international borders. This involves selecting the appropriate mode of transport and managing meticulous documentation and regulatory compliance. Here’s how to handle each transport mode:

    Sea Shipments

    • Bill of Lading: This is a crucial document prepared by the shipper that acts as a receipt for the goods shipped. It is necessary for loading the goods and must be presented for the goods to be released at the destination port.
    • Documentation: After loading, the exporter must send the Bill of Lading along with an English invoice, packing list, and proof of origin to the buyer via international courier services.
    • Customs and Tax Exemptions: In the recipient’s country, documents like movement certificates are required for the recipient to benefit from tax exemptions. Additional documents such as quality certificates, surveillance certificates, and technical specifications may be requested by the buyer.

    Air Shipments

    • Air Waybill (AWB): Similar to the Bill of Lading, the AWB is the air cargo’s transport document. It serves as an agreement between the shipper and the carrier and is required for the release of goods at their destination.
    • Speed and Documentation: Air shipments are faster than sea shipments and require precise documentation to ensure quick customs clearance.
    • Handling of Goods: Typically used for time-sensitive, perishable, or high-value items that require quicker delivery and careful handling.

    International Land Shipments (Road and Rail)

    • CMR Document: For road shipments, the CMR (Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road) document is essential. It details the goods being transported and serves as proof of the contract between the shipper and the carrier.
    • Legal Record: Unlike the Bill of Lading, the CMR is not a title document but serves as a legal record that accompanies the driver and vehicle, verifying that the goods have been transported and delivered as per the agreement.
    • Flexibility and Accessibility: Road transport offers flexibility and direct access to remote areas, making it ideal for door-to-door delivery.

    Step 6 : Managing Customs Clearance

    • Compliance: Ensure all shipments meet international and local regulatory requirements to avoid delays, fines, or seizure of goods.
    • Documentation: Accurate and complete documentation is key. This includes ensuring all required licenses, permits, and certificates are in order for smooth customs processing.
    • Coordination with Freight Forwarders: Work with experienced logistics providers who understand the complexities of customs procedures and can facilitate efficient clearance.


    By carefully managing each of these steps, you can ensure that your export operations are successful and compliant with international trade regulations. Each phase requires attention to detail and an understanding of the logistical and regulatory complexities involved in moving goods across international borders.

    Final Step : Finalizing the Export Process

    The successful completion of the export process not only involves delivering the goods but also ensuring that all contractual terms are met, and all necessary documents are correctly processed and received by the buyer. It’s crucial to maintain thorough records and follow up to ensure the buyer receives the shipment as expected and that payment is processed according to the agreed terms.

    Exporting demands a robust understanding of documentation, adherence to international regulations, and effective strategic planning. This guide aims to equip you with the knowledge to navigate the complexities of the export process, ensuring your venture into international markets is as smooth and profitable as possible. By meticulously managing each step of this guide, you can build a reliable and efficient export operation that complies with international trade laws and meets the demands of global business.


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