Import/export guide: China

If you’re a people person with an interest in China, an import/export business could be for you.


Do you speak Mandarin or another Chinese dialect? Do you have connections in Shenzhen? Maybe you simply love Chinese culture. In the import/export industry, you can use your own interests to help match product manufacturers with markets. If Chinese businesses want to export their goods, you help them find buyers. If they’re looking for specific merchandise, you help them find sellers.

With dedication and this guide, you can become a part of the estimated $72 billion in goods and services traded between Canada and China.

Types of import/export businesses

Although there’s a bit of variation, import/export businesses usually fall into three main categories.

Export management company

If a company in China wants to export electronic equipment, for example, an export management company (EMC) would be the one to help. An EMC takes care of all the finer details involved with shipping goods overseas. This could include hiring distributors, creating marketing materials and preparing shipping logistics.

Export trading company

An export trading company (ETC) finds out what foreign buyers want and then locates domestic companies that can export the goods.

Import/export merchant (or free agent)

Import/export merchants buy merchandise from a manufacturer, foreign or domestic, then resell it around the world. They’ll generally have no specialty in an industry. It’s often a high-risk, high-reward scenario.

How to find your target market

Once you’ve decided on what type of import/export business you’re interested in, it’s time to figure out your target market.

By focusing in, you can focus your attention on a market you can serve best. Think about:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What parts of the world are you targeting?
  • What types of goods will you offer?

Take the time to be as thorough as you can with your market research, as it’ll pay off in the long run.

Your customer

Your target customer will be someone who wants to trade globally. They’ll either want to sell goods overseas or buy goods from international sources.

Beyond that, you can choose any type of customer you wish. Maybe you’ll cater to companies that sell China’s number one export, electronics. Or perhaps your interest lies more in medical equipment.

As soon as you identify a need, you’ll be able to target a group of companies as customers.

China’s top 10 exports

  1. Computers
  2. Broadcasting equipment
  3. Telephones
  4. Integrated circuits
  5. Office machine parts
  6. Electrical transformers
  7. Semiconductor devices
  8. Vehicle parts
  9. Light fixtures
  10. Furniture

Source: The Observatory of Economic Complexity, 2016


Permits and licences

In Canada


Before importing machinery into Canada, you will need to obtain a Business Number (BN) issued by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) for an import/export account. This account is free of charge and can usually be obtained in a matter of minutes.

Many goods are subject to the requirements of other government departments and agencies and may require permits, certificates, and/or inspection. You might like to authorize a Licensed Customs Broker to act as your agent to help determine your tariffs and make sure that you have the appropriate documentation for your imports.


To export goods from Canada, you’ll need to have a business number with an import-export account. You may also need to complete a Canadian certificate of origin and apply for an export permit to get your goods across the border.

Your next step is to figure out the appropriate tariffs for your goods (according to the Harmonized System (HS codes) or the Canadian Tariff Classification Number) and report your exports to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). If you don’t follow the proper steps to export goods, you may incur stiff penalties from CBSA.

In China

For many years, the Chinese government limited the number of companies able to import goods into the country. Since China’s acceptance to the WTO, you need only register with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

Contact a professional to learn more about registration, tariffs and special trade zones that could affect your business.

What risks are there?

Unpredictable shipping logistics

Getting your goods to their destination safely and efficiently is your number one priority. You’ll be responsible for making sure the product leaves the local port and arrives on time, as well as damage to the cargo. Staying organized and partnering with a well-known freight forwarder can help with this.

Not doing enough market research

It’s a good idea to thoroughly research a market before entering into this business, though even that may not be enough.

Consider hiring an expert who understands your specific market. This is important, as you’ll need to sell products that resonate in countries you’re unfamiliar with.

Running into problems at the border

Customs rules vary from country to country. Expect to encounter many different regulations while transporting goods. To avoid drowning in a swamp of border regulations, hire experts in customs law and trade compliance.

International billing and payments

Your new business will require you to make and receive international payments, which means you’ll be working with multiple currencies.

You can safely and affordably manage your business payments, with lower fees and stronger exchange rates, by comparing the services of a money transfer specialist. Check out our calculator below to see what fees and exchange rates a range of providers are offering.
How to send money to China

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Services Description Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received
XE International Money Transfers
Same day
Online, Phone, Bank Account to Bank Account
Send money in more than 60 currencies. Fee-free international money transfers with a global brand.
OFX International Money Transfers
USD 150
1 day
Online, Phone, Agent
Exclusive offer: Discounted exchange rates for your first and ongoing transactions. $0 transfer fee.
A higher exchange rate applies to non-finder customers. Send money in 45 currencies.
Global Reach International Money Transfers
GBP 3,000
1 day
Online, Phone, Bank Account to Bank Account
Global Reach will match any competitor's exchange rates. Conditions apply.

Get no fees for both business and personal transfers when you send your money overseas with Global Reach.
Remitly International Money Transfers
1 - 2 days
Online, Bank Account to Bank Account, Cash Transfer
Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
WorldRemit International Money Transfers
Within an hour
Online, Bank Account to Bank Account, Cash Transfer
Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Conditions apply.
An online money transfer service with cash pick-up, bank account to bank account and airtime transfers available.
TransferWise International Money Transfers
1 - 2 days
Make online transfers with transparent exchange rates, low fees and low minimum amounts.
CurrencyTransfer International Money Transfers
GBP 5,000
1 - 2 days
Online, Phone, Bank Account to Bank Account, International Money Order
Aimed at larger transfers, CurrencyTransfer is an online marketplace that lets you shop around for the best exchange rate.
The ‘Rate’ and ‘Amount Received’ displayed are indicative rates that have been supplied by each brand or gathered by Finder.

Exchange rates are volatile and change often. As a result, the exchange rate listed on Finder may vary to the actual exchange rate quoted for the brand. Please confirm the actual exchange rate and mention “Finder” before you commit to a brand.

Compare up to 4 providers

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