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How to Start a Business in China: A Guide

Start a Business in China


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How to Start a Business in China
  • Step 1: Market Research and Planning
  • Step 2: Choose Your Location
  • Step 3: Choose a Business Structure
  • Step 4: Company Registration Process
Key Takeaways

China offers a vast customer base and steady economic growth, making it attractive for international businesses.

Its market entry options include Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises (WFOE), Joint Ventures (JV), and Representative Offices (RO), each with unique benefits and considerations.

Understanding Chinese laws, regulations, and market dynamics is crucial for successful business operations.

When registering a business, follow a structured process, including securing a business name, obtaining licenses, and registering with tax authorities.

China offers immense potential for international companies looking to expand.

With the world's largest population, China provides a vast customer base for any product or service.

The Chinese economy has experienced steady growth for decades, making it a stable and promising market for foreign companies.

This growth positions China as a key player in the global market, attracting businesses of all sizes from around the world.

As a global leader in manufacturing, China has a skilled workforce and well-developed infrastructure, ideal for efficient production.

The Chinese government supports foreign investment through tax breaks, subsidies, and other incentives, making market entry easier.

Home to the world's largest e-commerce market, China presents a unique opportunity to tap into the growing trend of online sales.

Let’s explore these factors and the exciting opportunities China offers businesses of all sizes.

Step 1: Market Research and Planning

China is a large and active market full of opportunities.

To make your business work, thorough research and careful planning are necessary to handle its challenges and increase your chances of success.

Market Research

  • Research the Chinese Market: Conduct thorough research on the Chinese market. Identify your target audience's demographics, consumer behavior, preferences, and buying habits. Tailor your product or service to meet their specific needs and desires.
  • Understand the Competition: With China's rapid economic growth, it's crucial to study your competitors thoroughly. Study your competitors to understand their strengths and weaknesses, products and services, and market positioning. Use this information to differentiate your brand and identify market gaps.
  • Learn Chinese Laws and Regulations: Familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations that affect your business in China. This includes business registration, intellectual property rights, labor laws, and tax regulations. Understanding these laws is crucial for compliance and avoiding legal issues, especially for foreign investors navigating a new legal system.


  • Develop a Business Plan: Create a comprehensive business plan that outlines your business model, products, or services and what makes them unique. Detail your value proposition and how it addresses the needs and preferences of the Chinese market.
  • Set Long-term Goals: Define clear, achievable long-term goals for your business. These should include market expansion targets, revenue goals, and other key performance indicators (KPIs) that will measure your success.
  • Financial Strategy: Outline a financial strategy that details how you will fund your business, manage expenses, and generate revenue. This should include a pricing strategy, sales forecasts, and an analysis of potential risks and how you plan to mitigate them.
  • Marketing and Sales Plan: Create a marketing and sales plan to reach your target audience and convert them into loyal customers. Utilize popular digital marketing channels in China, explore partnerships with local companies, and establish effective distribution channels.
  • Operational Plan: Describe how your business will operate on a day-to-day basis. This includes supply chain management, production processes, staffing, and quality control measures.
  • Entry Strategy: Decide on the best market entry strategy for your business. Options include establishing a Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE), forming a joint venture with a local partner, or opening a representative office. Choose the option that aligns best with your goals and resources.

Other Things to Consider

Succeeding in a new market requires more than just a robust business model, and there are several things to consider for long-term success.

First, learn about Chinese cultural norms and business etiquette. Understanding communication styles, greetings, and negotiation tactics will help build trust with Chinese partners and customers.

Adapt your product, service, and marketing materials to meet Chinese consumer preferences. Tailor your messaging to the local language, consider design aesthetics that appeal to Chinese sensibilities, and use popular social media platforms.

Partner with established local companies to gain market insights, navigate regulations, and build brand recognition.

Leverage China's large e-commerce market by choosing the right platforms for your products, building partnerships with online retailers, and ensuring efficient logistics for seamless product delivery to customers.

Align your strategy with the latest market trends, such as the growing popularity of live-streaming e-commerce and social media commerce, to maximize your reach and engagement with Chinese consumers.

businesses set up in china

Step 2: Choose Your Location

Choosing the right location in China is an important step for establishing a thriving business.

It's wise to conduct site visits to shortlisted locations to get a firsthand feel for the environment, infrastructure, and overall vibe.

Read further to help you make informed decisions.

Define Your Business Blueprint

Identify your industry (technology, manufacturing, service, etc.). This understanding shapes your talent pool requirements and relevant regulations.

For instance, a tech startup would prioritize areas with a strong tech university scene, while a manufacturer might seek proximity to raw materials or transportation hubs.

Target Market

Pinpoint your customer base.

Proximity to your target market or suppliers can significantly reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Analyze your distribution channels and consider locations that offer easy access to your customers.


Carefully assess your financial resources.

Factor in the cost of living, office space rental rates, labor costs, and potential government incentives.

Established cities may boast a larger talent pool and better infrastructure, but these advantages often come with a higher price tag.

Developing cities, on the other hand, might offer lower operational costs but could have a smaller talent pool or limited infrastructure.

Business Location Options

China's large territory has many different locations, each with its own benefits and things to consider.

General Locations

Established cities boast a large and skilled talent pool, excellent infrastructure, and a mature business ecosystem, making them attractive to businesses targeting the established middle class.

However, be prepared for fierce competition for talent and office space, alongside potentially higher overall operational costs.

Meanwhile, developing cities offer a lower cost of living and doing business, potentially relaxed regulations, and new infrastructure.

The talent pool might be smaller, but these cities are actively investing in attracting skilled workforces.

Free Trade Zones

Free Trade Zones (FTZs) within China offer tax breaks, streamlined customs procedures, access to supply chains, and other benefits to attract foreign businesses.

They can be particularly attractive for businesses involved in import/export activities.

However, FTZs can be highly competitive, and some may have limitations on the types of goods or services allowed.

Economic Development Zones

Economic Development Zones (EDZs) in China are designated areas offering tax incentives, relaxed regulations, and other perks to attract foreign investment in specific industries. These zones are beneficial for businesses aiming to lower costs, streamline operations, and access specialized resources or infrastructure. However, thorough research into each EDZ is essential to confirm how its benefits and requirements align with your business objectives.

Key Considerations for Evaluation

Make a detailed assessment considering important factors that will directly affect how your business operates and its long-term success.


Investigate the availability of skilled workers who align with your business needs.

Look for areas with universities or training programs that produce graduates in your required fields.

Don't forget to factor in competition for talent when choosing a location.


Assess your transportation needs. Prioritize proximity to highways, airports, or ports depending on whether you need to be close to customers, suppliers, or international shipping routes.

Government Incentives

Research tax breaks, subsidies, or other incentives offered by various regions in China.

These incentives can vary depending on the industry and location and can significantly reduce your operational costs, particularly during the initial growth stages.

Apart from tax breaks and subsidies, some regions in China may offer consumption tax exemptions for specific industries or products.

These exemptions can effectively lower your tax liabilities and enhance your profitability.

Cost of Living

Look beyond headline costs like office space rentals.

Consider employee wages, housing costs, and overall living expenses, as these factors can impact your overall business costs and your ability to attract and retain talent.

Quality of Life

While a bustling metropolis might offer a vibrant atmosphere and a large talent pool, it could also have higher pollution levels and a more stressful lifestyle.

Consider the overall quality of life for yourself and your employees, including factors like access to amenities, safety, and recreation.


Carefully research the local regulations in your chosen location.

Ensure they are not overly stringent or impose excessive paperwork requirements that could hinder your business operations.

Step 3: Choose a Business Structure

When choosing how to legally operate your business in China, you have several options to consider, each with its own advantages and drawbacks depending on your desired level of control and the nature of your business.

Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise (WFOE)

One option is to establish a WFOE.

You retain full control over business decisions and profits, which is advantageous if you have a strong brand identity or established business model.

Take note that setting up a WFOE can be complex and time-consuming. Some industries may have restrictions on foreign ownership, complicating the approval process.

Joint Venture (JV)

Another option is to form a JV.

Partnering with a Chinese company provides insights into the local market, assistance with navigating regulations, and access to new opportunities and networks.

The downside is that you will share control and profits with your Chinese partner, necessitating careful selection to ensure compatibility and trust. Clear roles and responsibilities are crucial to avoid potential conflicts.

Also, some industries in China might have restrictions on foreign ownership, potentially pushing foreign companies towards Joint Ventures with local Chinese companies.

Representative Office (RO)

Alternatively, you could choose to open an RO, which is ideal for testing the Chinese market, promoting your brand, and building relationships.

Setting up an RO is simpler and quicker compared to other structures. Still, ROs cannot directly generate revenue in China and are limited to acting as a liaison office, unable to conduct activities like sales or hiring staff directly.

china company registration process

Step 4: Company Registration Process

Registering your business in China can initially appear complex, but following these steps will guide you through the process smoothly.

Secure Business Name

First, choose a business name that complies with China's naming rules and is unique.

You can verify name availability through the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) website.

Business License Application

Once your name is approved, proceed to apply for a business license. This involves submitting required documents to the SAMR, such as your company charter, articles of association, and proof of your registered address.

Depending on your industry and chosen location, you might need to meet a Minimum Registered Capital (MRC) requirement during your business license application.

The MRC is the minimum amount of money a foreign company needs to invest in its WFOE.

China offers a streamlined "5 in 1" business license process for convenience.

Company Seal

Next, obtain a company seal, typically made of stone.

Traditionally, a company seal was used on official documents.

While not always mandatory anymore, some companies may still choose to have one.

Business Bank Account

With your business license and company seal secured, open a business bank account in China to manage your financial transactions effectively.

Tax Registration

Lastly, complete your registration with the tax bureau to ensure compliance with Chinese tax regulations. Consulting with a tax professional can help.

Start Your Business in China Today

China is a big and exciting market for businesses of any size. However, dealing with the rules and details of setting up there can be challenging.

This is where Air Corporate comes in. We make it easy to register your company remotely, so you don't have to be in China. We also help with all aspects of running your company in China, making sure everything goes smoothly and follows the rules.


Vivian Au

For many years, I worked at big accounting and company secretary firms in Hong Kong. I started Air Corporate to make the life of entrepreneurs and SMEs easy.

Vivian Au


Are you ready to start your China business?

Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises (WFOE) account for more than 75% of foreign companies registered in China. A few things to consider before you start


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