Suggestion: Watch the 10 minutes video tutorial before reading this article
Before you start exporting to China, you must know whether you need to apply for an import license.
Without an import license, you face the risk of not passing the customs clearance, which can be both time-consuming and costly. Even if applications for import licenses can be done fairly quickly, you should know in advance what an import license is and how to get one.
In this article, I explain all the relevant details you have to know about import licenses in China.
- What is an import license?
- Which authority handles applications for import licenses in China?
- What is an automatic import license?
- What products need import licenses?
- When should I apply for an automatic import license?
- What information should be included on the automatic import license?
- China Import License Application
What is an import license?
Import licenses also referred to as non-automatic import licenses, are used to keep control of imported products and the import quotas.
The license is used as a non-tariff barrier and for countries that simply wants to protect the local economy and producers, restricting the amount of products that are imported.
Worth mentioning is that there’s a limited amount of import licenses and your Chinese importer has one prior to exportation.
Which authority handles applications for import licenses in China?
You should apply for your import license to MOFCOM (the Ministry of Commerce).
The authority is responsible for issuing new regulations related to foreign direct investments, exports, imports, and trade.
Keep in mind that your importer should manage the application to receive an import license. As such, be sure to discuss with your partner beforehand to confirm what’s needed.
The form should also be signed and stamped by a legal representative upon submission. Besides, you should include your organization code certificate along with the application.
When you’ve managed this part of the process, it’s time to bring a stamped copy of your business license to China’s Department of Commerce.
What is an automatic import license?
Most products are treated as ‘permitted goods’ and only need an automatic import license.
So what’s the difference between a non-automatic import license and an automatic import license?
While non-automatic import licenses are used to control the import quotas (volumes) of products, for example, an automatic import license is rather used as a tool for trade statistics.
Still, some products that only require an automatic import license are monitored (like poultry) and therefore need additional licensing.
Once you’ve managed to get an automatic import license, you’ll have no restrictions to the number of import licenses you can receive, you just need to apply for it continuously.
Each automatic import license can be used for a time period of 6 months, and normally for imports of one batch.
Sometimes, one license can be used for imports of several batches, and you’ll also be able to receive several import licenses, each time you apply for an automatic import license.
What products need import licenses?
Products imported to China are divided into 4 different categories:
- Permitted goods
- Permitted goods that need to be monitored
- Restricted goods
- Prohibited goods
Let’s have a look at each category and what license is required for each one of them.
Some products fall under the category of permitted goods and only need an automatic import license.
Products that fall under this category include, for example:
- Meat products (beef and pork)
- Clothing and Textiles
However, even if most products only need an automatic import license, some might be subject to monitoring and therefore need additional licensing.
These can be:
- Vegetable oils
- Electrical and mechanical products
Contact your importer to confirm what license applies to your specific products.
Products covered under this category have import limitations due to quotas set by the government, hence a non-automatic license is required prior to importation.
Products that are considered restricted include:
- Electronic or mechanical products that have been used
- Substances that squander the ozone layer
- Food, fibre, and animal feed products that have some health risk
Goods that fall under the category ‘prohibited products’ cannot be imported into China.
Some products under this category include:
- Arms, ammunition and explosives
- Counterfeit currencies
- Lethal poisons
- Animals, food or plants coming from disease-stricken areas
When should I apply for an automatic import license?
You can apply for the automatic import license before the customs clearance. It normally takes up to 2 weeks before the application is processed and approved.
Adding some extra time can be a wise choice to make sure that your products can pass the customs clearance timely.
What information should be included on the automatic import license?
Normally, the following information is included in the import license. Be sure to confirm with your importer and MOFCOM what exact information is needed as regulations are updated frequently.
- Importer’s company name and company number
- Consignee in China
- Automatic import license number
- Automatic import license expiry date
- Terms of trade
- Terms of foreign exchange
- Place of clearance
- Country/region of exportation
- Country/region of origin
- Use of goods
- Description of goods and product code of goods
- Specification, unit, quantity, unit price
- Supplementary details
- Issuing authority stamp (the stamp include the text “automatic import license” in Chinese and the city of issuance)
China Import License Application
If you want to apply for a Chinese import license, you can visit MOFCOM’s website and download the automatic import license application form.
Generally, the importer helps with this part of the process and is responsible to fill out the form.
Should I or the Chinese importer apply for an import license?
As mentioned, normally your Chinese importer should send the application to MOFCOM. They will review and approve the application thereafter. With that said, you have to support the importer where needed.
Keep in mind that there are agents that can assist with the application as well. These companies generally provide end-to-end solutions and help with customs registrations, to find a suitable bonded warehouse, and more.
How much does it cost for an automatic license?
It doesn’t cost anything and you can apply for an automatic import license for free. This is beneficial, of course, as this part of the process won’t incur any costs.
Below I have included some commonly asked questions and our replies. If you have any other concerns or questions, feel free to write a comment below or send us an email.
Do I need an export license to ship to China?
It depends. Most products don’t need import licenses and some only need automatic import licenses. With that said, restricted goods need non-automatic import licenses.
For how long is an automatic license valid?
Automatic import licenses are valid for 6 months each. Each license should be used for one batch of products. However, exporters can also receive import licenses in multiples and one license can sometimes be used for as many as sixth batches.
Non-automatic licenses, on the other hand, are generally valid for one year.
Which authorities issue the lists of products that need import licenses?
AQSIQ, GAC, and MOFCOM issue a catalog annually that lists the products which need import licenses.
If you plan to export products to China, you sometimes need to apply for an automatic import license.
Compared to a non-automatic import license, which is required for a few product categories, most products fall under the category “permitted goods”, and therefore only need an automatic import license.
Worth mentioning is that non-automatic import licenses are used to restrict import quotas, while automatic import licenses are merely used for trade statistics.
Your Chinese importer should apply for the automatic import license, this can be done for free and it normally takes up to 2 weeks for MOFCOM (the Ministry of Commerce) to review and approve the application.