I will be flying to Chongquing (CKG) through Beijing (PEK) with a Chinese friend to visit his home. I am American and speak practically no Chinese. Will I have any trouble going through customs in Beijing (due to language barriers)?

In particular, will I be able to speak to customs agents in English, or will my friend be allowed to help with translation?

  • 1
    Do you mean Customs (people who check and tax incoming goods), or do you actually mean immigration (people who check if you are allowed in to the country)
    – CMaster
    Oct 7 '16 at 12:51
  • 2
    I entered/exited the country on several occasions in Beijing (PEK) airport, as well as Macau and Hong Kong. I don't speak any Chinese and never encountered problems.
    – DiscoFever
    Oct 7 '16 at 12:58
  • @CMaster, I am referring to whoever will be checking my passport/visa at the border.
    – Ben
    Oct 7 '16 at 13:18
  • 1
    @Ben that's immigration then, not customs. (Customs concerns goods, not people)
    – CMaster
    Oct 7 '16 at 14:05
  • I just found a similar question, FYI.
    – Blaszard
    Oct 8 '16 at 0:02

I (and friends) went through Chinese immigration (where they check your visa/passport) and customs (where they check whether you have stuff to declare) a handful of times and my experience is:

They are aware of potential language barriers and prepared to handle those.

In practice that means you encounter a pretty efficient operation where the officials either speak enough English to communicate with you or direct you with signs to where you should go (i.e. "wait here in line" or "place your luggage on this belt for the customs x-ray"). I would not be worried about this part of the journey and especially Beijing airport is used to accommodate international travelers. It helps to be prepared and have the details of your onward flight ready and of your accommodation.

You might also take interest in the gist of the discussion here:
Should I address customs/immigration in their language when I can?


It's unlikely that you would encounter problems solely due to a language barrier. In my (limited) experience, border officials in China (at major international airports) speak English well enough to do their job with English-only passengers. Also, since you already need to get a Chinese visa for your trip, the hard work has mostly been done. Your interaction with the border official will probably not be more than nod, check photograph, check visa, stamp, done.

  • Customs, not immigration.
    – Jan
    Oct 6 '16 at 23:31
  • @Jan: Feel free to provide another answer if you think I've misinterpreted the question being asked here. Oct 6 '16 at 23:33
  • I probably would if I had any idea on customs officers in China … But unless they’re the same as immigration officers, this doesn’t really answer. (And if they are, the answer should state that.)
    – Jan
    Oct 6 '16 at 23:35
  • in China immigration is handled by local police departments. customs handle the border crossing and the entrance/departure of the country Oct 6 '16 at 23:36
  • 6
    The average traveler doesn't know the difference between "customs" and "immigration" and tends to use the terms interchangeably. I would guess the OP is simply referring to the entire process of entering China as a visitor.
    – user13044
    Oct 7 '16 at 7:15

Although I have never entered Beijing, I got through PEK several times as a transit. In my experience you can just use English and it has no problems at all.

PEK is one of the largest international airports in the world and I'm sure that if you exclude passangers from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, at least 80% people that are going to get through the immigration or customs don't speak Chinese.

In fact I don't believe there exists an international airport that doesn't have enough officers who speak English.

However, be assured that sometimes they have slightly awkward accents (from American standards).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.