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Is it possible to buy land in China?


Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas/CC-BY-SA-3.0

China is a vast land, full of beautiful areas that may seem like a good place to settle down and live a life of solitude, working the soil that you own. Well don’t get your hopes up… 


Ownership and land usage rights

The People’s Republic of China practices socialist public ownership of all land – that means the land belongs to entire population of China, with the state council managing that ownership on behalf of the people. Consequently, no person, body or organization has the right to buy, sell or transfer ownership of land. Instead, they can pay land usage rights for an agreed-upon, but limited, period.

These land usage rights can be legally transferred, traded, rented, given, exchanged, inherited, pledged or invested as though the land were owned by the occupier, but the true ownership of the land remains in the control of the government. 

As regulated in Chinese property law, foreigners, legal person of foreign capital enterprises, or sino-foreign joint venture organizations are entitled to the same rights as Chinese citizens or enterprises concerning property ownership and management. That means that foreigners can pay to obtain the right to use a piece of land, and build houses or non-residential buildings on that land, just like Chinese citizens. 

If nobody currently has the rights to use an area of land, an application must be submitted to the local Bureau of Land and Resources – though consultation with lawyers or real estate agents first is often a good idea.


Terms of land use rights

Land rights have maximum terms depending on how the land will be used:

  • For residential purposes, the maximum term is 70 years;
  • For industrial use, it’s 50 years;
  • For educational, scientific, cultural, public health and sports purposes, it’s 50 years;
  • For commercial, tourism or entertainment purposes, it’s 40 years;
  • For mixed-use or other purposes, it’s 50 years.

Land being used for residential purposes will automatically renew after each term ends; people who have legal rights to this land do not need to apply to the government for a renewal permit. Those with other land use rights must, prior to the end of the term, apply to the Bureau of Land and Resources of the local government for renewal terms. Of course, they can always just let the government take back rights to the land if they don’t want to renew!

Withdrawal of land usage rights

Normally the government does not withdraw land usage rights mid-term. However, it reserves the right to do so on special occasions, such as the land being planned for infrastructure use or other public projects. In instances such as these, the government has the right to withdraw the land usage rights and give compensation to the current “owner” based on the size of the land and the property built on it. 


Transference of rights, or change of land usage

If the land use right is to be transferred, traded or changed, the “owner” must notify the Bureau of Land and Resources to record for the change. 

If the land is to be used for a different purpose to the one it was originally leased for, of if it has been pledged to foreign financing entities, companies or other economic bodies, an application must also be logged with the Bureau of Land and Resources.

Of course, this explanation is very simplified – there are many more details that must be dealt with in order to obtain and manage land usage rights. If you’re planning to acquire the use of land in China, it is strongly recommended that you consult a lawyer or real estate agency for guidance.


Bureau of Land and Resources offices


Beijing Municipal Bureau of Land and Resources, 2 Hepingli Beijie, Dongcheng district 


Contact: 010-6440-9669, website

Hours: Mon-Fri, 9 am-12 noon, 2 pm-5 pm



Shanghai Bureau of Land and Resources, 99 Beijingxi Lu


Contact: 021-6319-3188, website

Hours: Mon-Fri, 9 am-11:30 am, 1 pm-5 pm



Guangzhou Bureau of Land and Resource and Housing property, 193 Haoxian Lu, Yuexiu District


Contact: 020-8333-6546, website

Hours: Mon-Fri, 8 am-11:30 am, 1:30 pm-5 pm



Urban planning, Land and Resources Commission of Shenzhen Municipality, Guihua Building, 8009 Hongli Xi Lu, Futian district


Contact: 0755-2227-7118, website

Hours: Mon-Fri, 8 am-11:30 am, 2 pm-5:30 pm


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