China Cross Border Data Transfer Guide

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china cross border data transfer

In today’s business landscape, China cross-border data transfer has emerged as an essential topic for businesses worldwide. This guide delves deep into the details of data transfer, highlighting the significance of personal information protection, standard contracts, and security assessments.

As businesses navigate the complex data protection laws in China, understanding the nuances of cross-border data transfer becomes paramount. Join us as we unravel the essential aspects of this subject, ensuring your business remains compliant and informed.

Key Takeaways

  • Navigating China’s cross-border data transfer rules is essential for businesses, ensuring they respect personal information and follow the right steps, much like sending a special package safely to its destination.
  • The personal information protection law created a strict approach to data transfer to ensure national security, maintain control over its information, and protect against unwanted surveillance.
  • Just as understanding the rules of a game is crucial, businesses must familiarize themselves with key terms like CII, CIIO, and security assessment to successfully navigate China’s data landscape.

Understanding What a Cross-Border Data Transfer is

A cross-border data is when personal information or other important data moves between different countries. It’s not just about sending an email from the United States to mainland China. There are many countries that have data transfer laws, like Brazil, with its LGPD data transfer protocols – it isn’t just China.

Cross-border data transfers refer to businesses sharing, storing, or accessing data that crosses international borders. Why is this important? Well, different countries have different rules about data protection, like the GDPR in Europe. When businesses transfer data across borders, they need to make sure they’re following all these rules.

This ensures you’re respecting the rights of people whose personal information is being moved around.

5 Things To Worry About If You’re Located in China

If you live in China, there are several concerns regarding cross-border data transfers due to the country’s strict data protection laws and regulations. The key points to consider include:

  1. Data Localization Requirements: China’s Cybersecurity Law requires that personal information and important data collected and generated by critical information infrastructure operators be stored within China’s borders. This means that transferring such data outside of China can be challenging and requires specific approval or compliance with certain conditions.
  2. Cross-Border Data Transfer Restrictions: China’s regulations impose restrictions on cross-border data transfers, particularly regarding personal information. Companies must conduct a security assessment before transferring personal information out of China, and such transfers are subject to regulatory scrutiny.
  3. Data Security and Privacy Concerns: Given the importance China places on data security and privacy, individuals should be concerned about the protection of their personal information when it is transferred internationally. Ensuring that the receiving party has adequate data protection measures in place is crucial.
  4. Regulatory Compliance: Compliance with China’s data protection laws, including obtaining necessary approvals or conducting security assessments, is essential to avoid penalties and legal issues.
  5. Risk of Data Breaches and Misuse: Cross-border data transfers can increase the risk of data breaches or misuse, especially if the data is transferred to jurisdictions with less stringent data protection regulations.

Example of a Cross Border Data Transfer

Let’s say a business in mainland China partners with a business in the United States. The Chinese business wants to share its consumer data with the American business. This sharing is a cross-border data transfer. But why would a business want to do this? There are many reasons.

Perhaps the Chinese business is using a data storage solution based in the US. Whatever the reason, businesses must ensure they’re doing these transfers correctly and safely.

Essential Definitions to Know

When you’re doing business in China, especially if it involves sharing or moving data, there are several important terms and concepts you need to be familiar with.

To navigate this compliance framework smoothly and ensure you’re following the rules, it’s crucial to understand some key terms.

So, let’s dive in and break down some of these words and ideas to get a clearer picture of what they mean and why they matter:

CII (Critical Information Infrastructure)

Think of CII as the important information on a system that a country needs to run smoothly. This includes things like power grids, communication networks, and transport systems. For example, the systems that keep trains running on time are a type of CII.

CIIO (Critical Information Infrastructure Operator)

CIIOs are the managers of important digital systems in a country. They’re the groups or businesses that have the big job of making sure these systems run smoothly and safely. Imagine a business that’s in charge of the phone and internet lines for a whole city in China. That business is a CIIO.

They make sure everyone can call, text, and use the internet without problems. So, when you think of CIIOs, think of the helpers who keep our digital world working right.

Personal Information

This is data or information about a person that can tell you who they are, also referred to as PI. It’s things like names, phone numbers, or addresses. If a shop asks for your email to send you offers, they’re collecting personal information.

Sensitive Personal Information

Sensitive personal information (SPI) is like the secret details about you that you wouldn’t want just anyone to know. It’s the kind of information that feels very private and personal. Think about the times you’ve been to a doctor and shared how you’re feeling or when you opened a bank account and provided all your financial details.

Those are examples of sensitive personal information. It’s super important to keep this information safe because it’s all about you and your personal life.

Important Data

Important data is special information that a country wants to keep safe. If someone were to take or misuse this data, it could cause big problems for the country. Imagine if someone knew all the secrets about where a country’s energy comes from or the exact spots where its army bases are located.

That’s why this data is called “important” – because it’s crucial to keep it protected and not let it get into the wrong hands.

Security Assessment

Imagine you have a special letter with important information, and you want to make sure it gets to your friend safely. Before you send it, you’ll check if it’s in a sturdy envelope and if the address is correct.

That’s kind of what businesses in China do with their data. Before they send any data to another country, they do a “security assessment” and often a data transfer impact assessment to ensure thoroughness.

It’s their way of checking that the data is safe and will reach the right place without any problems. Just like you’d double-check your letter, they double-check their data. It’s all about making sure everything is safe and sound!

Standard Contract

When two businesses share data, they sign a contract. This contract has rules about how to keep the data safe. In China, there’s a special contract for this called a standard contract. It’s like a promise between two businesses to keep data safe.

How to Do a China Cross Border Data Transfer

Here are the steps businesses must take to ensure they follow all the rules China has in place when doing a cross border data transfer.

Pre-transfer Requirements

Before sending any data, businesses need to do some homework. They need to get consent from the people whose data they’re sending. It’s like asking your friend if it’s okay to lend their toy to someone else. Businesses must also check why they’re sending the data and ensure it’s for a good reason.

Next, you must carry out a Personal Information Protection Impact Assessment. This should analyze several things, including legitimacy, purpose, scope, security risks, and more.

Determine if the Data is Important or Personal

Businesses figure out what kind of data they have. Is it “important” data, like secrets about a country’s resources? Or is it “personal” data, like someone’s name and birthday? It’s like sorting toys into two boxes: one for special toys and one for regular toys

Important Data Transfer Requirements

If the data is “important,” businesses have to be extra careful. They need to make sure it’s super safe and won’t get lost or stolen. They also need to conduct a mandatory special security assessment in all cases when important data is transferred.

Personal Data Transfer Requirements

If the data is “personal,” businesses still need to be careful, but the steps are a bit different. They need to make sure the person knows their data is being sent and agrees to it. They also need to use safe methods to send it, like using a trusted delivery service.

A standard contact will be necessary for small-scale data transfers below the export of 100k PI or 10k SPI.

special security assessment will be necessary for any large amount of personal information above 100k PI or 10k SPI being transferred.

Why is China’s Cross-Border Data Transfer So Strict?

Imagine you have a box of special toys that you only share with certain friends. You’re careful because you want to make sure the toys are safe and won’t get lost or broken. China feels the same way about its data. Just like you protect your toys, China wants to protect its information when sharing it with other countries.

Let’s explore why China is so careful about this.

National Security

One big reason is national security. Just like you might have a secret handshake with your best friend, countries have secrets, too. These secrets help keep the country safe. If this information were to get into the wrong hands, it could be harmful. So, China wants to make sure its data doesn’t accidentally reveal any of its secrets.

Control Over Information

China also wants to have control over its information. Think about it like this: if you lend a toy to a friend, you want to know when you’ll get it back, right? Similarly, China wants to know where its data is going and what will happen to it. They want to make sure it’s used in the right way and doesn’t get misused.

Protection Against Surveillance

China wants to protect its data from being watched or spied on. Imagine if someone was always peeking over your shoulder when you played with your toys. That wouldn’t be fun, right? In the same way, China wants to make sure no one is secretly watching or collecting its data without permission. They want their data to stay private and safe.


Imagine you’ve just finished a big puzzle. You’ve placed the last piece, and now you’re looking at the whole picture, feeling proud. That’s how you might feel after understanding China’s data transfer rules and exploring various compliance solutions. But what’s the next step? Just like you might wonder which puzzle to tackle next, businesses might wonder how to navigate these rules in real life.

Captain Compliance, experts in corporate compliance, are like your puzzle buddy, offering top-notch compliance services, ready to help. We understand that the world of business data can be tricky, and that’s why many businesses choose to outsource compliance to experts like us.

We are here to guide you, offer data compliance solutions, answer your questions, and make sure you’re on the right track. Whether you’re just starting or looking to improve your compliance, we’re with you every step of the way. So, reach out to us so we can ensure your data journey is smooth and successful!


What is the main purpose of China’s cross-border data transfer regulations?

China’s cross-border data transfer regulations aim to protect personal information, ensure national security, and maintain control over its data. The rules ensure that data moving across borders is handled with care and respect for individual privacy.

Want to understand more about China’s data protection motives? Explore our deep dive into data regulation principles!

What penalties might businesses face for non-compliance with China’s data transfer rules?

Businesses can face hefty fines of up to 50 million Yuan ($6.8 million), or 5% of the yearly revenue of the previous year, restrictions on data activities, and even legal consequences for not adhering to China’s data transfer regulations.

Concerned about compliance? Reach out to our team for a detailed risk assessment.

How does China’s approach to data transfer differ from other countries?

China has a particularly strict approach, emphasizing national security and control over information. While many countries have data protection regulations, China’s emphasis on national interests and surveillance protection sets it apart.

Compare and contrast global data regulations with our article on GDPR vs LGPD

How can businesses ensure they’re compliant with China’s data transfer regulations?

Businesses should familiarize themselves with key terms, conduct regular security assessments, and seek guidance from experts in Chinese data regulations to ensure compliance.

Need more information? Check out our comprehensive guides here!

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