COVID-19: We are operating business as normal and stand ready to assist with your verification needs.

Safer, Better Business in China

Opinions, knowledge and resources from China Checkup's expert contributors

China Foreign Trade

China Foreign Trade, Customs Registration & Export License

by Matt Slater 27 May 2014

The requirements and vocabulary regarding China foreign trade documentation can be more than a little confusing. This is because in many cases Chinese companies exporting products require three different types of documentation – Foreign Trade Registration, China Customs Registration and an Export License – and unfortunately many people mix these terms up or use them interchangeably.

Simply put, a Chinese organisation must have China foreign trade registration in order to directly engage in foreign trade. This registration lasts several years and is one document. Then, if they want to do customs declaration by themselves instead of customs brokers, they are required to obtain customs registration. For certain categories of goods, each import / export consignment also requires an individual import / export license.

China Foreign Trade Registration

The first step a Chinese company needs to go through is to get registered for foreign trade. Here's the introduction of a China Foreign Trade Registration Certificate. This is done through the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) and is required for all China foreign trade operations regardless of product category.

To get the MOFCOM registration, the Chinese company has to simultaneously obtain or demonstrate various registrations and approvals from customs, inspections, quarantine, foreign exchange and tax authorities. They have a thirty day time-frame to complete this in.

Holding China foreign trade registration status also requires that the company has a valid, registered business licence. If they lose their business license or fail to renew it, their foreign trade status is automatically revoked as well.


Verify a Chinese Certificate?

China Foreign Trade Registration Certificate

Chinese Certificate Verification
Cost: $99 USD
Turnaround: 1 working day


China foreign trade status only applies to one company, and they are forbidden to attempt to resell or lease it to others. This doesn’t include trade companies, of course, who trade goods under their own name. What’s more important is that no company can attempt to charge for any foreign trade registration or set up, so any such claims or excuses from trading partners should be viewed with suspicion.

Once a company has China foreign trade registration, they’ll have a "Registered Import and Export Enterprise Code" which is tied to their business license registration number. This code will be specified on their China Foreign Trade Registration Certificate which looks like this:

China Customs Registration

Once a company has attained China foreign trade registration their next step is to get registered with China Customs through their local customs branch.

In practice, not all Chinese foreign trade companies have this registration because many smaller business companies use brokers to assist with the import and export process.

Once a company has been registered with customs they will get a classification and receive a China Customs Registration Certificate which looks like this:

Import / Export License

Once a company has obtained the above registrations, it will also need to obtain an individual import or export license for each consignment of goods it wishes to trade.

China’s Ministry of Commerce has a classification system which determines the type of license required. There are three categories: Permitted goods, Restricted goods and Prohibited goods

Permitted Goods

The least restricted category of goods are ‘permitted goods’. This category is described as ‘automatically licensed’, which means that a license is required but it will be granted automatically on application. The automatic license is valid for six months, and may have up to six batches of goods on it.

Restricted Goods

After permitted goods, the next category is ‘restricted goods’. These may be imported / exported, but are controlled by either license approval or yearly quotas.

The categories requiring licenses are used (i.e. second-hand) mechanical and electrical goods, and substances that deplete the o-zone layer. These may be imported and exported, but only with the proper approval. This approval lasts for one year.

Various crops and natural raw materials fall under trade quotas. Note that the quota can be exceeded; staying within the quota simply results in a lower tariff. Companies wishing to engage in trade of products categories with quotas must apply for the allocation of quota between October 15 and October 30 each year.

Prohibited Goods

Products falling under the category of prohibited goods are absolutely banned and can never be traded by Chinese companies. There are several catalogs of such goods which are issued by various authorities including MOFCOM. In general, prohibited goods are things like dangerous waste products and toxic chemicals.

Matt Slater
Matt Slater


Hi there, I'm Matt, the Founder & CEO of China Checkup. Originally from the UK, I am now based in Brisbane, Australia.

Frustrated by the scarcity of concise, high-quality and timely information about Chinese companies, I setup China Checkup whilst living in Shanghai in 2013.

My team are proud that China Checkup's company verification reports have now helped thousands of clients from all corners of the world to do business in China more safely.


View These Related Articles

Make These 4 Checks Before Sending a China T/T Payment
Make These 4 Checks Before Sending a China T/T Payment
One of the most common ways to pay a Chinese supplier is to make a China T/T Payment, but it is not a method that comes without risk. We regularly see cases where Chinese suppliers request payments to individual accounts
Continue Reading
List of Countries with Freight Trains from China
List of Countries with Freight Trains from China
In recent years freight trains from China have been capturing newspaper headlines by arriving in more and more countries. Perhaps there is no more striking example of this then when the first China to Spain cargo train r
Continue Reading
China Phone Codes - An Introduction
China Phone Codes - An Introduction
With multiple international codes, hundreds of area codes and numbers of different lengths, making sense of China phone codes can be challenging. Determining if a Chinese phone number is a mobile or a landline, and knowi
Continue Reading

Also in Safer, Better Business in China

Chinese Economic Reform - Timeline of Key Events
Chinese Economic Reform - Timeline of Key Events

by Matt Slater 30 January 2020

Launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, the decades long process of Chinese economic reform has transformed China beyond recognition.

This article highlights some of the most significant events during this period in the form of a year by year timeline.

Continue Reading

China Business Podcasts
The Top 10 China Business Podcasts

by Matt Slater 09 January 2020

Listening to China business podcasts can be a great way to get insights on the Chinese market, pick up new knowledge and get fresh perspectives.

The great news is that there is actually a lot of great podcasts out there on this topic - and in this article I have chosen my current top ten.

These podcasts cover business in China from a range of angles - including tech startups, importing/sourcing, economics and more - so if you are interested in learning more about China business you are sure to find quality material here.

Continue Reading

List of 100+ Informative China News Websites
List of 100+ Informative China News Websites

by Matt Slater 31 October 2019

This article identifies over one hundred of the most informative English-language China news websites. 

By regularly sharing news from China on our social media channels we have identified many good sources and thought it would be a good idea to share these with you, our readers.

So if you are looking for websites with news on China, look no further than this long list we have compiled.

Continue Reading