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Staying With Friends In China: You Have 24 Hours Or You Are On The Lam.

Posted in Legal News

AmCham-China Daily (whom I am happy to plug because they gave me two pretty cool t-shirts) just did a post, not so grippingly entitled, “Advisory to foreign employees from chamber member company.” The advisory is on the need for foreigners to register with the police within 24 hours of their arrival in China, if they are not staying in a hotel. I think this requirement has always been in place, but we (and others) are getting reports that the police are beginning to strictly enforce this rule now. As someone who once spent far too many hours in an ice cold police station in remotest Russia for having failed to do this, my best advice is that registration is worth it.

  • xueling

    We made our first-ever guest registration visit in early March when my mother visited from the US. She had actually read the arrival card fine print requiring registration and asked the immigration officer who stamped her passport if she needed to do that, and he said, “Yes, you must.” I rolled my eyes when she told me this. She badgered me to take her – “He said within 24 hours!!” – even when I said not to worry, nobody actually does it, and that the police in our suburban Beijing PSB wouldn’t have the first clue about how to actually perform the procedure. (What can I say, she’s a law-and-order Republican).
    The cluelessness of our PSB held true. When we walked in with passport and ticket, they fumbled around, paged through manuals, had half a dozen people trying to figure out exactly how to help Mom comply with the regs. Much head scratching, embarrassed smiling and shoulder-shrugging on their side of the counter as they puzzled their way through while we impatiently kept asking how much longer it would take. Note: we live in the foreigner-ville area near the airport but obviously people have NOT been complying with this reg up til now for their houseguests.
    Fast forward to July, when we just registered another homestaying friend. This time, the process was brisk and official. Our local friends in blue had obviously been trained on the procedures since March and were taking them seriously. When we left, we got surprisingly stern admonitions to adhere to the law in the future – (hey, don’t we get credit for actually doing it?)
    The one unforseen wrinkle that sent us back home was the requirement that the management office of our compound provide a chopped letter attesting that our guest was in fact staying there (like a circular proof – proof she’s staying with us so she can get proof she’s staying with us). The good news was that the police said our guest didn’t have to return with the letter; our ayi could bring it. Ayi had to make THREE round trips, PSB to office and back, to get the wording of the letter satisfactory for the PSB, but bottom line is now we know precisely what the requirements are and will be able to handle this smoothly when our 14 other guests trickle in starting on July 30.
    The police even said that in the future, our ayi could bring our guests’ passport, plane ticket along with our passports, proof of residence, and a letter from the office – we and the guests didn’t even need to appear (consistent with the way hotels do it, I guess). Since the PSB is a five minute bike ride from our house, we’ll probably try that next time, but be ready to head over there in person anyway.
    They’ve come house to house twice since March checking our passports and visas, so I’m happy to do this to make sure our guests are here legally and safely.

  • http://bokane.org Brendan

    The law has indeed always been on the books, but they’ve started checking registrations in the past few months. It used to be that if caught on this (as I was once, while attempting to extend a visa), one could just shrug and smile and get away with it; now, the coppers apparently really are fining people.
    I’ll echo the line about registration being worth it: it takes hardly any time at all, the officers are usually pretty friendly and occasionally cute and female, and at the end of it you’re street-legal.

  • http://www.ag-anwaltspraxis.ch Anwalt für Arbeitsrecht

    I think this post is right on “target”. :)

  • http://www.ctsi-global.com robertb

    They are getting strict. If you are already residing here under a multi-entry visa or 居留许可 and you travel out of China, you must register with the police within 24 hours of your return. Doesn’t matter if you had previously registered with them for the address where you’re staying.
    The police noticed from my passport I had travelled to Singapore a few weeks ago, but hadn’t visited the police station upon my return. I told them I hadn’t changed my address, that I was still living in the same place. They told me it doesn’t matter. Whenever a foreigner enters the country, even if you’re already residing here and have registered with them, if you leave and re-enter, you must register your re-entry within 24 hours.

  • James G

    Registering within 24 hours of arrival is one thing, but the police coming to your hotel room, making surprise checks on you, thats something entirely different.
    Thats what is happening in Shanghai now.

  • Handan

    I have an account from much earlier, May or April 2004. My boyfriend and I just got through the gate of the residential compound off Wudaokou when we were stopped by a guy in a car. Turned out he’s the ranking officer in charge of foreigner residence registration in this neighborhood. He spoke fluent English, and upon finding out the nationality of my boyfriend, spoke some German as well.
    We of course hadn’t registered with the neighbourhood police station. I don’t even remember if we were aware of the rule. Maybe vaguely. Either way, we pretended that we weren’t. He took us to the PS in his car. It was not a police car, so either he showed his badge to get me in or I wasn’t as weary of hoax as I’m now. After a few enquiries and running home to get passport and residence paper for photocopying and learning the officer’s foreign education background a bit, we got off without paying the fine that we were told to be due. Five hundred or so. The whole thing took quite a while, but was surprisingly not annoying at all.
    When the pen of the officer froze for a second over the Fine slot, and then he said, “I won’t fine you this time because you didn’t know the rule. But now you do, right?” I got the distinct feeling that this part was prescripted to impress the rule upon us. It was certainly not about money.
    I suspect that a fine of some hundreds kuai (btw, who knows the exact figure?) is only the visible part of the consequence of noncompliance. If you get caught unregistered, your name could well end up on a watchlist of higher alert level, ha.

  • Alex

    Registration is interesting. For example, were I to travel to Shanghai on a night train, stay with the host for the daytime, and return on the same night train would I need to re-register?
    If I were to fly in, stay with a friend overnight and fly back the next day is this different from the above?
    Or if I was to venture into HK for a day visit and return in the evening. Need to re-register? Yes couldbe justified, but since a residence registration was opened for a period of time based on my rental agreement should it not be based on that signed residence contract?
    How about registered in Shenzhen and needing to visit a factory in Guangzhou for a day or two?
    But at least I don’t have to go through the 外地人 Hukou hassle…

  • Dan

    Well, let’s at least hope that it just takes a few minutes now. Last time I registered at a local PSB in a part of Beijing where I didn’t see ANY other foreigner on the street in the three weeks I stayed there, it took a whole working day (!) as the local PSB was totally clueless on what to do.
    My chinese friend who accompanied me went crazy.

  • Anon

    I am a foreigner living in Beijing. I have leased an apartment and registered with the PSB. I wanted to know if I have to register with the PSB if I stay overnight at a friend’s house. If I have guests in my apartment (who are all registered with the PSB for their own apartments) and the clock ticks past midnight will everybody have to be registered with the PSB for my apartment? Could my landlord, me and my guests be fined?

  • robertb

    Evil grannies. If you’re in a residential area, in a regular apartment or house, more likely than not the people coming to check your passport and visa are from the local neighborhood committee (居委会). If you’re in a compound with a lot of other foreigners, they shouldn’t be too intrusive (or not), but if you’re the only laowai in your area, they will definitely pay you multiple visits. The first visit will be to collect your information and report to the local police station. Subsequent visits may just be for satisfying curiosity and supplying gossip for the community.

  • jriglo

    @ Alex
    I agree with you; I will be back from the US on the 14Th; I have lived in the same complex for the last five years I have never checked in with the police since I’ve been there. I also travel a great deal through out Guangdong for short periods; two to three days at a time.
    During my travels I also stay with friends, it just not feasible to check in every time with the police when you travel or stay with someone or when they stay with you. I’ll take my chances and hope for the best; knock on wood. Watch I’ll probably get busted when I get back. This is China folks.

  • Charles Liu

    Honestly not one time have I ever registered with local police in China. That’s going in and out of HK, SZ, Zhuhai, sometimes Zhengzhou.
    No hassles whatsoever.

  • tyler

    I live in Shanghai, and since I arrived in early April, I have made my trip to the police station within 24 hours everyone of the half a dozen or so times I have left and came back. In the last month, the operation has changed from pink carbon copied forms to a computerized entry system. Now, I fill out my info on one sheet, give them a copy of my passport, visa, and lease, and they enter my info into the computer. Then they give me a printout, one copy for me, and one copy I sign for them after verifying the info.
    I had a friend who moved to a new apartment a few weeks back, and he was late in registering. The officer processing his paper work told him the standard fine was ¥500, but because it was his first time he would reduce it to ¥100. This made me wonder if he could have did a little 讨价还价 to get it even cheaper.

  • http://huoleifeng.blogspot.com chengb02

    @Alex (and others)
    You are mistaken, you are only supposed to reregister if you leave China and then come back, what you are referring to is leaving Beijing, NOT CHINA, which doesn’t require you to reregister.
    The process couldn’t be easier and it just makes sense to go and take care of it.
    That said, there is an extremely interesting question that I’ve dealt with recently trying to help clients with HK/Shenzhen. We have clients who live in Shenzhen, but regularly (1-3 times a week) travel to HK. I don’t believe there is an exception for Shenzhen, so technically, the law says they must reregister every time, but that would require running to the police station almost non-stop.
    The stricter enforcement only seems to have focused on Beijing (and to a lesser extent Shanghai) and hopefully things will go back to (more or less) normal after the Olympics, we’ll see…

  • Alain

    It goes with the times.
    I lived one every 2 months in Shanghai since 2004. I had never registered once before.
    However, by mid april this year, when the visa rules started to be tightened (note that the visa rules also were already in place for over 10 years or more), I decided that I should go register.
    Went there for the first time on July 8 (I live In Huangpu area in Shanghai). 10 mn the first time, but the police officer asked not just the rent contract, but also the copy of the house deed from my landlord…Got fax the next day and brought back the required doc…
    All in all: just 15 mn hassle…and I sleep quiet…
    Read some comments and testimonials here
    http://www.shanghaiexpat.com/MDForum-viewforum-f-21.phtml
    Fine is usually 500 rmb, and discretionary…but someone reported a case of 5000 rmb…
    The fine is not the worst thing: beware of doing any kindof “work” consulting or similar with a F or L visa…Rhat could throw youout of China..and even get banned

  • justaguy

    Every police station has their own idea of what is required, and their own level of urgency about registration. The internet was down for the first three days that I showed up to the station by my house in Beijing, and was told to come back each time. When I brought up the fact that I had to register within 24 hours (this being some 4 days after I moved in) I was told not to worry about it. When I did move in, they assumed I couldn’t speak Chinese because I’m white and the only two things said to me were “Hello” and “Finished” in English.
    My friend crashed at my place on his way through Beijing. We showed up to register him a day late, and they said that we needed a copy of my landlords id card, and since he was leaving in a couple of days we didn’t really have to bother about coming back. “You can come back if you really want to, but don’t worry about it.”
    My roommate came from the States and went to register. He’s Chinese American and they gave him the third degree – saying that the letter the landlord wrote (which was word for word the same as the one she wrote for me) was insufficient and asking him questions about his intentions in Beijing. They finally called a superior who told them that everything was in order.
    He says he’s generally harassed by low level government officials, so it might just be his general contempt for authority shining through.
    So, when you do go to register a) Bring photcopies of the lease, your passport, your visa and your landlord’s ID. b) bring your landlords phone number c) be prepared to make more than one trip. d) ask them what the requirements are for re-registering when you change your visa, leave the country, etc.

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  • muldoon

    I was made redundant from my job in HK in June 2008. My girlfriend has a place in Shenzhen so I moved over there to keep my costs down while I figured out what I would do. I have a 12 month bussiness visa that lets me stay in China for 30 days each visit. I never bothered with the 24hrs registration requirement. After about 3 weeks I had a visit from some offical looking guy but because he did not speak English he did not stick around (especially once he saw I had a temp HK ID card). 7 months later (March 2009) We had another knock at the door (I suspect the guy simply asked the security guard if any foreigners were living in our building) as I did not see him knock any other doors. Because my Chinese girlfriend was in he was able to ask some questions. She said he asked a lot of personnal questions. Finally he said I must register. So we went to register. It was quite simple. But this is where I have a different version of what happens if I leave China. I need to leave China every 30days, so I go back to HK to pick my mail and get a new stamp in my passport. Nobody ever asks why I keep coming and going, especially once they see a few stamps and old visas in my passport. When we asked the police if I need to re-register with 24hrs of coming back to Shenzhen they said no. We made very sure that they understood the question. They said that once I had been registered I was ok until my 1 year China Visa expired. After this I could just renew the visa and register again. But It seems that I dont need to go back to the police station every 30days. As we know China is a big place and quite often different areas apply the rules in a different way.

  • Bryce

    Hello,
    I just got to China and came in with a 60 day L visa because my passport expires soon, but I am getting a new passport next week and then will leave china and get a new visa. I just recently signed a one year lease for an apartment in Shanghai, so when I move there tomorrow I believe I must register with the police. Do you believe my Visa will make them unhappy or cause a problem? Because that it is 60 days and I signed a lease for one year.
    Thanks
    -Bryce