A Guide to UPU (Universal Postal Union) route to China via Cross-border E-commerce

The UPU service has been widely used by brick-and-mortar department stores and E-commerce around the world for the past 8-10 years. It's a viable route to China as well.

by Azoya

Cross-border logistics routing to China is quite complex, yet is clearly vital to any company that wishes to expand its global reach. Industry players have four main options for sending product across the Chinese border: bonded import, BC commercial clearance, UPU import and of course, the general import. This article unpacks and explains the UPU international logistics route for delivering online orders to the Chinese consumer. 

What is UPU?

The Express Mail Service (Post NL, Spanish Post, etc.) used by global retailers to ship orders to Chinese customers is based on the UPU (Universal Post Union) agreements among mainstream national posts in different countries. This agreement is recognized globally and is an enhanced EMS services over the conventional Post.

The UPU EMS service is by nature a Person-to-Person services. For example, a man living in UK decided to send a lovely Jelly Cat doll to his grand-daughter living in Shenzhen, China. He can easily purchase the Jelly Cat doll and send it through Royal Mail or Chinese EMS services within the framework of UPU EMS in between United Kingdom and China.

Brick-and-mortar departments stores and e-commerce retailers around the world, have, for 10 years, widely chosen the UPU service as a value-added shipping service to their customers.

The UPU service greatly improves the customer experience compared with the traditional bulk import (under different regulation class) as a conventional approach for over a hundred years.

However, the parcel policy of UPU varies between countries, categories and service carriers, and it affect parcel weight, taxation, time and many other factors.

What are the duty levels for UPU?

Under the “personal article” declaration category (the so-called “ CN23” declaration form + customers personal ID info), each customer parcel will be declared by UPU EMS carriers (e.g. Post NL, Spanish Post, etc. to China). It should follow Chinese Customs general regulations as follows (sections):

The No.15 Announcement of China Customs in 2012 and the latest China Customs Adjustment on the 24th Mar 2016 on regular cases the personal duty charges level are as following over the declared parcel value.

UPU Postal Delivery Tax Rate

Tax Rate Applicable   Categories
15% Metal products, food and beverage, telephones and   other small electronic devices, furniture, recording devices and digital   storage, ear phones, computer and parts, books, magazines, prints, education   materials, game, stationery, toys
30% Footwear,   non-luxury watches & clocks & parts, diamond jewelries, personal   care, skin care, hair care, deodorant, cleansing products, textile, clothes,   textile accessories, home textile, leather made clothes & accessories,   bags, suitcases, luggage, electrical appliances & parts, camera   (non-digital), camera accessories, art collections, sports products & equipment,   bicycles & parts
60% Alcohol and alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, luxury   watches, luxury jewelries (pearl, non-diamond gems), perfumes, toilet water,   cosmetics (lip, eye, face, foundation, nails, powder, injected), golf and   acessories

For postal route, customers should pay a postal tax for their products. There are 3 levels of postal tax, 15%, 30% and 60%. The 15% postal tax applies to food, beverage, stationery, toys and electronics. The 30% postal tax applies to toiletries, sports, non-luxury skincare products, kitchenware, household appliances, textile, and most categories. The 60% postal tax applies to cosmetics products (such as eyes, lips and foundation make-up, etc) perfumes, luxury watches, jewelries, golf products. If applicable tax is under 50 RMB, then the postal tax is exempt for the customers.

What are the restrictions?

The categories falling into the enclosed list are NOT allowed of shipping in the UPU EMS approach to China (or if otherwise specified by China Customs).

The declared value of a personal parcel shall not be over 2,000 RMB (roughly $285 USD as per the current exchange rate) in all, including if with multiple items, otherwise China Customs can reject it.

The declared items can only be used for personal use, and shall NOT be applied for any resell purposes. Each parcel demands a customer’s personal info, including declaration ID name, shipment address, etc.

If there is only one item in the parcel, there is no cap (e.g. a CHANEL bag could worth USD $3000) as it still can be deemed as intended for personal use purpose

If there are multiple items in one customer parcel at a declaration, the total value of the parcel shall not be over 2,000 RMB (roughly USD $285) otherwise China Customs can reject the parcel

If there are multiple items in one parcel and they are the same item and the total declared value less than 2,000 RMB (roughly USD $285), the maximum quantity shall not be over 6 pieces as a rule of thumb (proposed “rule of thumb” based on EMS experiences)

What will happen if these requirements are not met?

China Customs check parcels randomly, and they follow regulations and practices to inspect the content of the parcels. Generally, the customs will release the parcel if it follow the regulations of postal parcels without duty to be charged (e.g. if the calculated duty amount is less than 50 RMB). They will, however, issue a personal duty ticket with specific amount duty payable by the recipient in his/her nearest Post office, if the the duty payable exceeds 50 RMB. For parcels that did not met the requirements, they will reject the parcel and send it back to the origin country. 

Related Reading

A peak into China's Cross-border E-commerce beyond 2017


Customers Come First 2018

The ‘Customers Come First 2018’ report from AzoyaLab covers essential data about the Chinese cross-border shoppers - where they from, when they shop, how they make cross-border purchase