Cultural & Business Guide

Letters from China


Under normal circumstances, the Chinese post services are quite reliable. China Post is a state-owned postal service company that is widely used across the country. There are alternative couriers, like FedEx, UPS, DHL, TNT, providing more special services such as a greater variety of priority options, better tracking services, and next day delivery methods.

One basic rule is to avoid irregular couriers in China for your shipments since you might lose your packages altogether and of course the service fee as well.

Mailing letters in China

Sending letters from one Chinese location to another or from other countries into China, writing a postal address in Chinese is an ability you need to master and it is not an easy task. Using Chinese characters to write the address will ensure the fastest and most accurate delivery by Chinese postal service. If it is impossible for you to write in Chinese characters, then besides writing the address in English, you need to at least be able to write correctly in pinyin.

In the majority of western countries, addresses are written starting with the receiver first and the location following, starting with the greatest detail of the location, followed by increasingly larger units until the country. In China it is the reverse, namely the address is written in the opposite order compared to western countries (country first, then down to the smallest location unit, ending with until the receiver of the letter).

In addition, the address itself is often split into two lines in Chinese. You can make your personal choice on where to actually do it, but doing that after the name of the city is a common practice.

Normally western languages do not indicate the type of location, while in Chinese the type of location is normally specified. For example, in English, you just need to write the name of the city, but in Chinese, you need to write shi after the name of the city. Moreover, blocks of apartments in China often do not have names but only a number. For roads, buildings, residences, etc., you need to use hao to indicate the number of them, so do put hao after the number.

It is proper to include the title of the person you are writing to when you write a Chinese postal address. You can write the title in brackets after the recipient’s name. Depending on the situation you can use the job title or a generic title like MR. or MS. In addition, after the title, you need to write shou receive or qi open to indicate to whom the letter is addressed (it is helpful to leave your personal phone number of the Chinese recipient).

The postcode is the most essential part of the postal address. For Chinese mail, you need to write the code in the top left corner of the envelope (if you are not sure about the postcode, double check it with a Chinese post office. Remember that if the postcode is correct the letter or package may still arrive at the final destination even if the postal address has some minor errors. When you send a letter from another country into China, it is very important to indicate where the letter goes to: mainland China, Hong Kong or Macao, so preface the postcode with PRC or Hong Kong or Macao. If it goes to Hong Kong, it is sufficient to write the postal address in English.

Send a parcel abroad using China Post

China Post as part of the Express Mail Service Cooperative (EMS) is the cheapest way to mail things within and out of the country.

Before you pay a visit to a local Chinese post office, you had better speak a little bit of Chinese or at least have all the information written in Chinese characters. Remember that Chinese post offices normally can be quite crowded, so it would be better to be an early bird to avoid queues.

When you send an outbound international mail from China, you need to give your contact information in China, so write your home or business address in Chinese characters. Sending a letter or a package overseas, use either China postal service or China Express Service. You can find their rates at the China Post Website in the section Rates. They are based on weight, dimension, and transportation means. Prepare cash for payment, especially in the post office in a small neighborhood, as normally credit cards are not accepted.

It is better to type the postal address on a piece of paper, since before encrypting the address in the computer, the postal worker will hand a copy of the address on a template (be patient since the Chinese is not used to write Latin characters). Certainly, copying from a typed script is much easier than from one’s handwriting. A great hint is that if it is not possible for you to write in Chinese, at least write the country name in both English and Chinese, this will help the postal staff place your mail in the right direction.

In China, if you do not show the contents of the package you want to send, the postal staff will refuse your shipment. Therefore, if you plan to ship goods in your own packaging, do not close the package before the mandatory inspection at the post office, or you can simply bring the goods with you to the post office, which you can place in a package box purchased from the post after the office check.

When you send something internationally, rather than waiting in line in the post office to get the customs form on your own, you would better tell the boxing assistant to which country your package is direct to, he or she can get the right bilingual customs form for you according to the final destination of yours. Moreover, you might need to fill out two of the custom forms.

Customs clearance of an international parcel in Chinese customs office

In China, when you receive an international parcel, you need to go to the local customs office for customs clearance of the parcel.

To receive personal items from an international parcel you should fill the “inbound and outbound personal items declaration”. There are some variations in the declaration forms, normally KJ1 forms are mainly for duty-free and without commercial value documents or receipts. KJ2 form is for duty-free goods, samples and advertising materials with value less than 400 RMB or duty and tax under 50 RMB. The KJ3 form is instead needed for dutiable samples and advertising materials. Out of the three simplified cases mentioned above, a formal entry shipment form is required (Class D shipment)1 and individual declaration form or individual customs invoice are needed in order to clear customs procedures.

In other words, clearing customs procedures depends on the value and the nature of goods, and when importing or shipping goods, documents, samples and advertising materials you need to be careful, especially if you decide to enjoy the simplified procedures using forms like KJ1, KJ2, and KJ3.

As a rule, declare clearly and specifically the item name in English, declare value accurately in the currency mentioned in the invoice. Proforma invoices or commercial invoices are documents required for customs declaration, and you need to write the consignor’s and consignee’s name on these invoices, together with their telephone numbers, company names and addresses. Material description requires the name of the item, its quantity, value and place of origin.

When you prepare Chinese customs declaration on a commercial or proforma invoice, and waybill or declaration form, make sure you do not declare contents of the package as something else. Do declare the contents in accordance with Chinese regulation requirements (the contents’ name, quantity, value and place of origin). A major declaration issue in China is that people like to undervalue contents, declare items as zero value or gift, sample, or for personal use, in other words as items have no commercial value. Moreover, if you declare your items properly, it will make everything much simpler in China.

In conclusion, mailing a letter, sending a parcel and doing customs clearance process in China all have their own set of rules, so do your best to acquire such abilities once you arrive to your host country, since they are indispensable for your daily life and business there!


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Project 2014-1-PL01-KA200-003591