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10 things to know when starting a business in China

Setting up a business in China is an enticing but complex endeavor for many foreign investors. The are several important things to know when starting a business in China, from the incorporation process to the legal, regulatory, and cultural nuances. It is important to understand the intricate details involved in running a successful operation in the world’s second biggest economy. 


There are various critical aspects that foreign professionals should consider before making key decisions, including a comprehensive understanding of the market and proactive planning.  


In the last few years, the Chinese government has implemented pro-business policies for both domestic and international companies, looking to boost their economy and attract foreign investment.  


  1. Understanding Foreign Investor Challenges  


Understanding the challenges that a foreign investor my face when venturing into the Chinese market is important to avoid risks and minimize difficulties.  

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The incorporation process in China can be unfamiliar and uniquely intricate, leading to confusion regarding timelines and necessary documentation. Many times, there is a lack of transparency from service providers making decisions on their behalf, hindering a clear understanding of critical considerations.  


Transparency and active participation are two crucial aspects in the process of setting up a business in China. Investors need to comprehend their business operations, have a clear vision for the future, and actively participate in decision-making processes.  


China has a complex regulatory environment that may be difficult for foreign businesses to

navigate. Regulations vary across industries and regions, requiring a comprehensive understanding of local laws.  


  1. Choosing the right business incorporation 


In China, there are several options to incorporate a company, depending on the type of business: 


  • A Wholly-owned Foreign Enterprise (WFOE) 

  • A Contractual or Cooperative Joint Venture (CJV) 

  • An Equity Joint Venture (EJV) 

  • A Representative Office (RO) 

  • A Foreign Invested Partnership Enterprise (FIPE) 

  1. Demystifying the Incorporation Process  


Breaking down the incorporation process is a good first step. From establishment registration to post-registration activities, the timeframe can vary depending on factors such as document reviews, courier services, and decision-making speed.  


Post-registration requirements, including obtaining additional licenses for specific industries, can require additional time and documentation. The incorporation process in China is complex and it can take several months.   


Accuracy with the scope and definition of your business is critical for success. It must also align with local laws and regulations. Identifying the target market and competition is another essential component. 



  1. Document Requirements and Decision-Making  


An extensive list of apostilled legal documents is required, highlighting the government's intent to gain comprehensive knowledge of shareholders and corporate management. Documents must be signed in Chinese, but it is highly recommended to sign bilingual documents in Chinese and English, using a specific black ink pen.  


To set up a business in China, foreign investors typically need to follow these steps:  

  1. Lease Contract Negotiation  For companies establishing a presence in China, a valid legal address is essential for registration.  

  2. Information and Document Preparation When incorporating your business, crucial decisions need to be made regarding your Chinese and English business names, business scope, name representation on stamps, and other relevant matters.  

  3. Online Application with the AMR Initiating the registration process with all key information decided upon by the shareholders will be submitted to the Administration for Market Regulation (AMR). 

  4. Document Preparation for the AMR In preparation for the physical submission to the AMR, the following documents need to be drafted: articles of association, appointment letters for key positions, completing AMR application forms, and more. 

  5. Company Registration at the AMR An incorporation agent in China will then submit the original documents to the AMR, and will retrieve the necessary business licenses on your behalf. 

  6. Post-Registration Procedures Following registration, the essential post-registration tasks such as arranging for stamp carving, facilitating tax registration, and applying for any required special licenses must follow. Additionally, the import or export-related procedures must be applied for should the company be importing to China and exporting from China. 

  7. Bank Account Opening and Capital Contribution At this point basic and capital bank accounts can be opened and capital can then be contributed for start-up operations.  

   5. Deciphering Key Decisions: Structure, Finance, People, and Location  


Foreign investors must consider four key decisions: structure, finance, people, and location. Analyzing the right business entity, budgeting capital investments, appointing key personnel, and choosing the business location is essential. It is recommended to develop plans for the present, five years, and ten years ahead, allowing for strategic business scaling.  


Investors should evaluate the significance of financial management and the potential benefits of outsourcing finance-related functions. Startups may consider outsourcing due to cost-effectiveness and expertise, to be able to focus on core business operations. This approach could be beneficial for navigating the intricate financial landscape in China.  


   6. Location Analysis and Tax Implications  


Choosing a registered office address and analyzing its implications on business operations and tax regulations in different districts within Chinese cities is an integral part of the process.  Another critical consideration is the legal and tax consequences of office relocation and the tax incentives offered by different locations within the country.  


Factors such as the proximity to target markets and distribution channels, access to a skilled workforce and resources, and favorable government policies affecting business operations are key to decision making.  

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Location is a crucial factor when starting a business. This aspect could impact the success, budget, and longevity of the company. China is a large country, with a diverse population. Choosing the right location is critical to attract consumers, find suppliers and develop business relationships. 

There are preferential taxes for foreign companies depending on the nature of the business and the geographical location. This can impact on the cost structure and budget of the company.  

The country offers a few Free Trade Zones, which have become popular among foreign companies. In these areas, companies can

operate under beneficial regulations, particularly preferential customs handling and import without paying duties.   


Investors must consider the significance of Chinese company names in relation to brand image, trademark registration, and domain registration. The link between company names, trademarks, and online presence highlights the importance of strategic naming decisions aligned with long-term branding strategies.  


  7. Banking Considerations  


Selecting the right bank, considering long-term services rather than incorporation processes is essential. It is important to interview multiple banks to assess service capabilities and long-term suitability. Comprehensive evaluations are necessary before making banking decisions.  


  8. Employer Responsibilities 


Understanding the local labor laws is critical and will help you avoid potential disputes with employees. Drafting the wrong contract can cost a company a lot of money.  


Navigating the Chinese Labor laws and regulations can be complicated. Different cities have different regulations, and it is important to be well informed and updated. Companies need to be aware of mandatory benefits and employee welfare. 


  9. Protection of Intellectual Property 


It is crucial to protect intellectual property rights in China. This will help a company safeguard trademarks, copyrights, and patents. Registering intellectual property as soon as possible with the correct authorities will help protect products and services from potential infringement. 


  10. A Holistic Blueprint for Business Success  


In summary, to establish a business in China it is necessary to have a comprehensive blueprint. The intricate steps, crucial decision-making considerations, and the complex regulatory landscape are important factors to evaluate.   


Setting up a business is a multifaceted process with numerous challenges and considerations. Foreign investors should conduct thorough research, seek professional advice, and stay informed about evolving regulations to ensure a successful entry into this dynamic market. With strategic planning and adherence to local regulations, businesses can tap into China's immense market potential and contribute to their global success. 


Woodburn Accountants & Advisors is one of China’s most trusted business setup advisory firms.

Woodburn Accountants & Advisors is specialized in inbound investment to China and Hong Kong. We focus on eliminating the complexities of corporate services and compliance administration. We help clients with services ranging from trademark registration and company incorporation to the full outsourcing solution for accounting, tax, and human resource services. Our advisory services can be tailor-made based on the companies’ objectives, goals and needs which vary depending on the stage they are at on their journey.


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Schedule a 30-mins complimentary, no-obligation call to see how Woodburn can help you. Book a call with our Head of Business Advisory - Kristina Koehler-Coluccia.

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