Over the past three years, I’ve had a chance to travel all across China, fly my drone and publish awesome drone videos. I’ve learned a lot about what I can and can’t do with my drone in China and (not surprisingly) I receive a lot of questions from people about drones such as: Can I bring my drone into China? What are the drone regulations in China?
This can be quite confusing at times and what’s worse, sometimes the “regulations” and “reality” don’t always match up. For that reason, I’d like to share with you the updated Chinese drone regulations as of 2019 and some stories of my experience flying a drone in China.
You can watch the video below or scroll down to read up on the drone regulations.
Drone Regulations in China | UPDATED 2019
To start, let’s look at the official drone regulations that China has issued through the CAAC, the Chinese equivalent to the FAA or EASA. In China, you are permitted to fly a drone under the following restrictions:
- Maximum Altitude: 120m (~400ft); anything higher requires a commercial license from the CAAC. Most drones, including those from the popular DJI brand, automatically set the 120m max altitude and will warn you if you try to manually adjust the max altitude settings.
- Maximum Distance: Like many countries, China requires a VLOS or “Visual Line of Sight” with your drone. In other words, you technically need to fly with your drone in sight. In reality, now that the size of drones keeps getting smaller and the max distance keeps getting longer, VLOS is hard to achieve even on the clearest of days. Still, you are expected to know where your drone is at all times.
- Maximum Weight: For drones that weigh more than 250 grams (~.55lbs), China now requires real-name drone registration (more on that below). Any drone weighing more than 7kg (~15lbs) requires a license from the CAAC. Just as a reference, even DJI’s Spark – the smallest drone they make – weighs over 250 grams. So really, China is saying that everybody needs to register their drone. (more on registering your drone below)
- No-Fly Zones: All drones are subject to China’s NFZs or “No Fly Zones”. These zones include the area around airports, military installations and specified cities such as Beijing and in sensitive areas like Xinjiang or Tibet. DJI drones are programmed not to take off in these NFZs (although there are hacks to bypass this) but for many other drone brands you will need to check the No Fly Zone map in China to determine if drone flight is permitted near your destination. It is possible to obtain permission to fly in an NFZ through the CAAC.
- Commercial Flights: All drones flown for commercial purposes are supposed to have a license through the CAAC. More on that below.
- Insurance: According to China drone regulations, drone operators are obligated to cover their liability for third parties on the ground through insurance.
How to Register Your Drone in China
As mentioned above, any drone over 250 grams (~.55 lbs.) is required to be registered through the CAAC. For those of you who know anything about drones, this weight requirement covers almost all of the best drones for travelers (the exception being the new Mavic Mini).
What this means is that to legally fly your drone, you will need to register it once you arrive in China.
It’s not a difficult process, but it does require two important things: 1) an understanding of the Chinese language and 2) a Chinese phone number. For this reason, unless you have a contact in China with a Chinese phone number, it is quite difficult to register your drone before you arrive in China. Otherwise, before you leave for China, you’ll either need to use a Chinese SIM card you bought to put in your unlocked phone or you’ll need to rent a China phone.
Online Drone Registration Process – Step-by-Step Guide
- Open a CAAC Account: Go to the CAAC website and register as a user. This will require you to supply a Chinese phone number where a code will be texted for confirmation. The registration page looks like this:
Click the “register” button on the right
Fill out the application form.
- Register Your Drone with the CAAC: Once you have opened a user account with the CAAC, you’ll need to add your drone to the inventory. This will require you to find the serial number for your specific drone.
When it comes to drone name brands, the list on the CAAC website is super-long but of course the most popular is DJI. It’s a challenge to find, so I recommend copying and pasting these characters into your browser search (深圳市大疆创新科技有限公司). Those are the characters that you’ll want to look for when you register your DJI drone.
- Get the QR Code: Once your drone has been placed into your virtual “inventory”, a QR code will be emailed to you that you’re required to print and stick on your drone for identification purposes. This is your proof of registration. If you for some reason didn’t get an email, you can click here to request another email:
Registering for China’s Commercial Drone License
For those who are looking to use a drone in China for commercial purposes, China requires a commercial drone license. Although this sounds simple enough – and truthfully China has simplified the process from what it once was – it’s still very hard for the average foreign company.
According to new regulations that went into effect on June 1, 2018, there are a few things that you’ll need to have in order to apply for a commercial license to fly in China:
- A legal business entity in China whose legal representative is a Chinese citizen.
- This legal entity must already own at least one drone that has already been registered with CAAC using the process described above.
- Liability insurance must have already been purchased to cover usage of the drone.
- The drone operator must be certified through a training process recognized by the Chinese government.
If it isn’t already apparent to you, unless you plan to set up a company in China, it’s often best to contract drone work to a local company when you want to film commercially in China.
Tips for Flying a Drone in China – My Experience
I can tell you from experience that even if you’ve done everything right and registered your drone with the CAAC, that doesn’t guarantee that all will go well for you when trying to fly your drone in China. I’ve run into a number of small problems along the way, but hopefully you can learn from my experience to avoid them.
- Boarding a Plane with a Drone: It is legal for you to take your drone on airplanes, trains and buses in China. The only restriction that I have found is that you are not allowed to put the batteries in your check-in bag. If you check your drone, you must make sure that you put all your batteries in your carry-on bag.
- Don’t Fly Near/Around Police and Military: Obviously you can’t fly around military bases but even flying around police checkpoints or police sub-stations can be risky. Try to avoid it if at all possible.
- Don’t Draw Attention: China is still very wary of foreigners, especially if you’re flying outside the city. It’s not uncommon for people to be extremely suspicious of me when I take my drone out here in China and many times they will take it upon themselves to tell me that I’m not allowed to fly my drone there…even if I technically am allowed to fly my drone there. The best thing you can do in these cases is to try to move away to an inconspicuous place to begin flying your drone. Don’t draw attention to yourself and you’re less likely to find trouble.
Conclusion | Flying your Drone in China
So in conclusion, you can see that it’s quite easy to legally bring your drone and fly it in China. As long as you make sure that the drone has been registered through the CAAC website and you don’t fly in the No Fly Zones, you’ll be fine.
Mind you, once you’ve shot all the footage you want and transferred it to your computer, you’re still going to need a VPN in order to upload the video to YouTube.
Have you been able to fly your drone in China? What was your experience? Please leave a comment with your stories and links to your best China drone video!