International Mail Driving Me Crazy

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    Up until a couple of years ago mail arriving from the UK, US, Australia etc. use to arrive at my home in Chengdu in about 2 to 3 weeks, even with the occasional rerouting via Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but then it all came to a crashing halt.

    Since then I have checked with our local sorting office in Tonzalin and they confirm that there is nothing wrong with the address but, since there was no Chinese track and trace registration number, couldn’t trace the problem. I have consulted Chinese nationals and have tweaked the address to include a contact name and telephone number. Still nothing.

    I have tested the address by posting a letter locally and it arrives within 24 hours. I can post a letter locally, leave our apartment number off the address and we get a phone call from the Tonzalin sorting office asking for clarification. I can despatch a courier such as UPS and it arrives in about 3 days from the UK. I have tried the UK Royal Mail ‘track and trace’ but that only proves that they get as far as Shanghai. But regular air and surface mail – letters, credit cards, packets and parcels simply disappear so your help would be much appreciated.

    So what I would greatly appreciate are samples of addresses (even if the road numbers are changed to maintain your anonymity) which consistently work in Chengdu because this issue has now reached the point where my bank is insisting on proof of residence after having sent me a letter that I did not respond to because I didn’t get it. Needless to say they have suspended the account until I can resolve the issue.

    Many thanks.



    Tips & tricks:

    I receive mail/packages all the time, at first was like pulling teeth but once the cavities get filled it got easier.

    Postal services like USPS & others worldwide have agreements (i.e sending items via regular postal means and/or upgrading from standard rate/first class). With the standard service your items will be transported not only by snail mail but without an international tracking number. Upgrade this service (i.e global express, priority mail…) and you will receive tracking number which the local mail services here adhere to since they are provided a tracking number in their system. Note: upgrading comes with a fee

    For documents like letters, financial statements, credit cards usually have hiccups especially credit cards which the customs officials will shred. Here’s the trick: mail vis FEDEX UPS and issue resolved. Trick number 2 is ensure items section depicts on the label financial documents or documents for credit cards to avoid shredding.

    Purchase items through the Global Shipping Partner Program participants, this greatly reduces headaches and the items come much cheaper and faster & guaranteed since many nations acknowledge this program since they became partnered.

    Another trick is to use vendors like that of Mr Medical (whom walmart uses alot) whom understand the business and items arrive fast & direct & hassle free. Order an item from them to experience this and make note of their shipping labels, completed to perfection that prevents errors. Note: shipping is a little more but I get my items as fast as 3 days.

    Downside: Going outside other than the above mentioned your mailed items will hit one of the incoming ports that mail arrives into. From there it has to pass through customs, should it be confusing to the agent(s) it get’s side aside, discarded and less likely returned to sender. …

    Not going through the above or someone else that can complete the customs forms properly not only causes delay but item kickbacks. Many times this category of items will arrive but it’s painful (i.e. via FED-EX or UPS). The FED-EX customs agent receives an electronic notification that your mail/package has arrived at their working port. That agent will then send you documents to complete & return (this is all happening even before your package leaves the departing location). Documents you will be providing include copy of passport, copy of VISA entrance stamp, FED-EX documents like personal effects letter, and sometimes other docs). Be aware even though you may be using FED -EX , all agents from different port locations use non-standardized forms (I believe they make it up at their designated location just because it works. Each location does their own thing because it works for them (i.e. FED-EX customs agent & China customs agent).

    When sending I ensure English mailing address is on top and translated version is below with local phone number and email.

    Above is just a few tips, as there are more depending what’s being shipped (i.e. large package, crate & etc)…

    Lately though it seems like Customs Agents are more likely to charge a small duty fee versus in the past the personal effects letter got me an exemption.


    Thanks for the reply. An interesting and informative post which will be useful in trying to get my bank and Visa etc to understand the issue and hopefully allow me to use a correspondence address in the UK without being harassed to prove my identity every 5 minutes because my home address will not match the address on my bank statements etc.

    Firstly the main despatch point is the UK which rules out the US postal system. The second issue is that it involves banks and banks are not known for using couriers, registered post and they are certainly not capable of addressing and despatching mail addressed in Mandarin Script because their computer systems prohibit it. Bulk mailing systems have there own set of rules and no exceptions.

    What I need is a clear example of the use of an address that will work with ordinary air mail or surface mail. I have refined my address in Chengdu from it’s original Pinyin format (with the aid of Chinese friends) into a version which works if it is posted in Chengdu, even if there is a mistake in the address, and it arrives the next day because the Chinese sorting Office will ring and ask for clarification if they cannot deliver a letter (and they do ring the name and telephone number that is now included in my Pinyin address).

    However, we arranged for a letter to be despatched from Beijing to me in Chengdu that was addressed in Pinyin 5 days ago. OK it is holiday week but it hasn’t arrived yet and it doesn’t involve Chinese Customs offices. Meanwhile it has been 4 weeks since an airmail letter (which doesn’t require customs clearance either) was despatched from the UK and that hasn’t arrived yet either. Even if there was a tax liability on a piece of paper with “Test” written on it did have a tax liability they could have rung the name and telephone number that is now included in my address as happened in the good old days when international air and surface mail used to work in China

    My next step is to use International Track and Signed for so that we can trace it on the internet and the registration number will allow the Chengdu Post Office here in Chengdu to trace it’s location and hopefully find out what hoops I have to jump through to make the Chinese Postal service work for me. I am not optimistic.


    Reference the first paragraph I have been there as well initially but after contacting my financial institutions they now have no issue using FED-EX which has worked out to being a lifesaver.


    You may want to check into obtaining an electronic mail box service and then use that mailing address as your base and things will be fine. I use to have the issue of every 2nd ATM withdraw my financial institutions would lock me out. Now my financial institutions have placed a note into their electronic systems that i’m overseas which avoids creating red flags thus preventing lock-outs.


    Like I said previously, I just use my english version of mailing address with translated portion below and no issues. A key note, I have had several items with solely the english mailing address and they arrived.

    You may want to try to take your address to any of those delivery places (i.e. YC express, YTO & the many others) and see if they can make out your address/location.


    I have now confirmed the following:

    In a number of tests I established that it was possible to send a surface mail posted in Chengdu to my address in Chengdu even though it was addressed in Pinyin. However, the post office failed to deliver an identical letter that was dispatched from Beijing so obviously bottlenecks exist within China.

    An attempt to dispatch a registered letter in Beijing that was addressed in Pinyin was refused and they would only accept an address written in Chinese Mandarin so there is obviously a resistance to the use of Pinyin in China.

    Attempts to send standard airmail letters addressed in Pinyin to my address from the USA and the UK both failed as international letters and parcels haven’t arrived for over 3 years unless sent by courier but they used to arrive before that.

    An attempt to send an “International Signed” (R) Airmail letter with the address written in Pinyin worked this week and the letter arrived in Chengdu within 7 days.  International Signed mail does not get tracked or signed for and you cannot trace it within China but the Chinese sorting office in Chengdu were kind enough to ring me and tell me that the letter would be delivered in a matter of hours. The cost of posting the letter in the UK was £6.35

    My bank in the UK does not allow for dispatch of letters unless they are at standard airmail rates. They will, however, allow me to use a mailing address in the UK although I shudder to think of what issues that is going to generate.

    The other method that works for an address written in Pinyin is to use a reputable courier service although it can cost over £50.00

    It might be possible to successfully mail at standard rates to China if the address is written in both Pinyin (or English) with a translation of the address into Mandarin written either underneath or above. But I have yet to test this. However, UK computers are unlikely to have Mandarin fonts installed and accurate translation from Pinyin/English into Mandarin script requires a user fluency that is not available when using online translation services. I follows that the ability to save an address written in Mandarin to a graphics file can come in useful either that or get the camera out.

    When addressing a letter in/to China great importance is placed on the post code and the contact name & number. Within China the Address is typically written in Mandarin script and in reverse order to the Western layout. Return addresses may prove to be useful if written on the back of a letter. Mail of little to no obvious commercial value (letter/credit cards) does not appear to be treated with the same respect as a parcel which may arrive in defiance of all the above but I have personally not been blessed with the arrival of international standard rate parcels addressed in Pinyin in about 3 years.

    Apart from testing a Pinyin plus Mandarin addressed letter sent at standard rates, my next test will be to establish if ‘Verified By Visa’ will accept the UK post code of the mailing address in the UK because at the moment they insist that I need a UK post code despite the fact that my home address is on file as China. Of course, having a credit card issued to a UK address and living in China will probably get me blocked on PayPal but that is for another day.



    Chris ZiichChris Ziich

    Any mail that I have sent to me from the US to China has both addresses: Chinese Characters and English/pinyin combo.

    I believe that the only parts of the English address actually used outside of China are the country and zip code. Once they see “PR China” and 610000 for Chengdu, I don’t think they actually care about the street address which can be in pinyin or English translation (RenMin South Road or RenMinNanLu).

    Once it reaches China, local logistics start using the Chinese address.
    Of course also include your phone number, while also indicating it’s your number with 电话:########### though this does not necessarily mean you will receive a call. This is how I’ve done it for years and have even been able to receive postcards from the US.


    Chris has posted all of the important info here, but just to second his comments, always include Chinese and a working telephone number with a package sent from abroad to China. In case something goes wrong with the package they will call the number, and if no one answers, the package is likely to go missing or be lost.

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