Why buying a 'Chinese' or 'Shanzai' tablet is likely *NOT* illegal


Jun 26, 2011
I saw the sticky article, and it had so much misleading information that I felt that i had to post a response. If you buy a Shanzhai tablet and it arrives at your door in the US, it is almost certainly *NOT* illegal.

There are difficult issues with doing business with someone overseas, and the buyer does need to beware. However, "how not to get ripped off" is a totally separate issue from the issue of whether or not the devices are legal to import, and the article had so much misinformation on this issue, that it needs to be rewritten.

First of all a note about the import process. Every mail package that enters the United States gets inspected by customs. If customs believes that the contents is illegal, they will block the import. If customs needs to issue a customs duty, then they will block the shipment until you pay the fee and then release the shipment. The consequence is that if you get the package, then it means that some customs inspector has approved the package.

see Internet Purchases - CBP.gov

i.e. if you get the package, it means that someone in customs and border protection believes that the package is *legal* and you don't have to worry about it. Now if you want to see that CBP does check, try sending a package of oranges to and see what happens.

Now to address specific pieces of misinformation....

* More often then not, the products have not been approved by local authorities for safety or compliance to standards such as with the FCC, particularly products with integrated wireless components. Importing these products is illegal.

Under 47 CFR 2,1204(a)(7) importing less than three radio devices for personal use is not subject to restrictions. If you plan to import many phones for resale, customs *will* block your shipment if you don't have the right FCC paperwork, but getting that to work isn't extremely painful.

Also, it's unlikely that an Shanzhai Android tablet will give off bad radio emissions. Remember that they are made from the same components as your branded Android tablets.

* You are responsible for paying for any customs charges. Sellers operate on the principle of being able to avoid custom taxes to gain a larger profit margin for themselves while being able to sell at a lower price. This practice of tax evasion is smuggling, and is thereby illegal. Your shipment may be seized.

If customs, thinks that there is a duty owed then they will block the shipment and ask you to pay the customs duty before releasing the package. However, this happens to be irrelevant for Android tablets, because the customs duty into the US for Android tables, cell phones, and other computer equipment is precisely *ZERO*.

See http://www.usitc.gov/publications/docs/tata/hts/bychapter/1100c84.pdf

* Sellers often promote cloned goods which are in clear violation of copyright and trademark laws.

It should be obvious if someone is breaking copyright and trademark laws. If you buy an Android tablet with an Apple logo on it, then customs will seize the shipment, but that's not the situation with most shanzhai tablets that don't try to advertise themselves as branded products.

  • Almost all products are in clear violation of the GPL, making them illegal for sale. The GPL stipulates that source code must be provided for any products distributed based on software licensed by the GPL, or the products are not supposed to be sold.
GPL says that you can provide source code with a link to the source code. The Android software that is GPL'ed contained such an offer.

* Shanzhai offers minimum compensation to factory workers, and you are contributing to this culture of labor exploitation. But at the same time, this is how some people manage to make a living.

The center of Shanzhai is Shenzhen which has some pretty strict labor laws which are in fact enforced.

What Are the Major Aspects of Chinese Labor Law? | University of Iowa Center for International Finance and Development

In any case, Shanzhai phones are manufactured by largely the same people and the same factories that make your Iphone, so if you are unconvinced about labor standards in Shenzhen, you should be wary of buying *ANY* tablet.

* Products may not be manufactured with any respect for environmental sustainability
, such as complying by RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive) or equivalent policies that have become the law in developed nations, aimed to reduce hazardous materials in electronic products.

The problem with this argument is that Shanzhai are chip assemblers and the "nasty parts" of high technology manufacturing happen when the chips are manufactured. If you think that this is a big problem (and I don't think that it is), then there is no reason to single out Shanzhai manufacturers.


May 8, 2011
Finally something that is making sense here. If it is illegal then it will be stopped, if not you are good to go. I ordered an eken m009s that came with a big ol slip saying that "this package was subjected to a customs search", obviously I have it right here.


Jun 28, 2011
Thanks for posting this. I'm a newbie and just saw that sticky note. What a bunch of drivel it is. THIS post should be the sticky.


Aug 4, 2012
So your package was opened and inspected but you still got it. Did you have to pay duty or import tax on it. That is my concern. I don't care if the inspect the package, but don't want to buy if I am gonna be hit with a tax or duty when it gets here.