I have books on my Kindle with content that would probably make them ask more questions. It is nothing illegal or even questionable in most countries, but it would lead them to ask questions I don't want asked. I have similar content on my smartphone.

Also, do they check normal pen and paper notebooks? Like do they flip through them and read them?

I'll be carrying them on and traveling on a tourist visa if that makes any difference.

Edit: I don't know if it makes a difference, but I'm flying into one airport in China then getting a connecting flight to another domestic airport.

  • 1
    I've only been in transit there twice, and they didn't check anything, just confiscated my power brick :(
    – Mark Mayo
    Jan 24, 2015 at 6:34
  • 1
    @MarkMayo like a portable battery?
    – uncovery
    Jan 24, 2015 at 11:57
  • 1
    Yeah, like this
    – Mark Mayo
    Jan 24, 2015 at 12:01
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    @MarkMayo why did they take that? I'm going to bring one in my carry on.
    – ThatGuy77
    Jan 24, 2015 at 15:46
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    At Beijing airpoirt, after clearing customs, I had to press one out of 3 buttons to grade the customs officer (smiling, neutral, sad face icons). I guess after too many sad faces, they get a hardship posting in Iner- Mongolia :) For the record, the officer was polite and just as disinterested as in most Western countries that I visited. Jan 24, 2015 at 20:05

5 Answers 5


No, they won't. Unless they have specific reasons (such as a tip-off) that you are trying to smuggle illegal materials (porn, propaganda etc for distribution in China), they will not care about this. They primarily focus is on security-relevant issues and items for which you need to pay duty.

I never in my life had anyone check documents, laptop, cellphone or laptop contents in a routine check, anywhere in the world.

Of course, if you make trouble at the border and they take you in, they might check everything they can.

  • 3
    Last sentence is a gold! :>
    – trejder
    Jan 24, 2015 at 16:51
  • 2
    Never say never, you can watch Canadian border agents search through people's cell phones (they love photos), among other things (documents, papers), even have that tv show (to advertise, or scare people, or something). It's not entirely clear if that kind of searching happens routinely (looks more frequent at land borders, especially once they're out of a vehicle), or only at "secondary," but it appears to happen often.
    – Xen2050
    Jan 26, 2015 at 11:22
  • Well, the "never" related to the past, not the future :)
    – uncovery
    Feb 2, 2015 at 5:27

I crossed into China last year overland, it was a small border crossing and the border guards had a lot of time and took their time to look through things.

There were a bunch of people crossing with me and in no case did the guards look at the content/data of Laptops, tablets or e-readers.

What they did however is spending some time at looking at photos on pretty much every digital camera. I had crossed several other borders before and had placed a dummy memory card with just a few photos in my camera. With other cameras they spend several minutes at looking at photos. Not that they were really looking for something, they were just curious.

I didn't have any paper notebooks, but I didn't see them looking through any of those in other people's luggage.

Of course turning on a camera and looking at photos is much easier than starting up a laptop and asking for a password.

  • 6
    I had a similar experience at an overland border a few years ago, but slightly more thorough. They booted up every computer, did find *.jpg, browsed all images, did same for every memory card / hard drive. They also tried to confiscate our Lonely Planet guidebook because the map in it showed Taiwan as a separate country. But they were specifically looking for guidebooks then checking the maps, they didn't seem interested in other books. The land borders are much stricter than the major airports: probably partly boredom / novelty. Jan 25, 2015 at 10:12
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    Also, land borders are often in remote regions, where the government asserts its power with a heavy hand. Regulations are different, and the search for subversive materials is their main goal.
    – user67108
    May 26, 2018 at 3:48

I've only been through customs at Shanghai and they've never looked at any of my electronics. I've always been carrying a laptop, in recent years I've always been carrying a DSLR (although the memory cards have always been basically empty--I copy the pictures off soon after I take them. This has nothing to do with customs) and a Kindle.


Each year there are ~ 55 million inbound international tourists visiting China, the US has 66 million. Source: World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)

It's neither feasible nor necessary for the government customs authorities to examine your books and electronic devices unless you act really suspiciously.

I'm not saying that it's impossible for them to do that, it's just highly unlikely especially if you arrive at big airports like Beijing or Shanghai. And there's no customs check before domestic flights, you still need to pass security screening though, but the content of your books isn't their concern.

  • 1
    It is totally feasible for China, as anyone who has visited will tell you.
    – Mike Riess
    Jan 25, 2015 at 21:34
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    @MikeRiess I think the question is "how likely do I get checked in such things? not do they ever check thing like that?". Anyone who has visited more than a few times or lived in china will tell you that is not likely.
    – imadcat
    Jan 26, 2015 at 1:41
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    Not what I was saying. The statement I was responding to was "It's neither feasible nor necessary for the government customs authorities to examine your books and electronic devices unless you act really suspiciously." Doing this would be well within the feasibility range of labor-happy China.
    – Mike Riess
    Jan 27, 2015 at 3:47

The answer is probably not - but I would think of ways you can minimize your risk.

Each time I enter Shanghai Pudong the border agent checks my visa, doesn't say anything, and lets me through. Then there doesn't seem to be a customs check at all typically (there's sort of an area that looks like you'd set up a queue there, but it's just unattended and I walk out the "nothing to declare" doorway).

I've also entered through Shanghai HongQiao and there was your typical X-Ray machine that you see at subways and at the train station - nothing anywhere near as thorough as the TSA. People barely stop walking to use these machines.

I imagine it could happen. If you can remove those Kindle books from your list temporarily, maybe that's a good idea.

Note that I didn't check bags. One wheeled bag, one backpack.

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