Registering with the Chinese police and getting a Registration Form of Temporary Residence
Unfortunately, all foreigners are required to register at their local PSB (Public Security Bureau – essentially the police station) within 24 hours of arriving. This applies whether you are here as a tourist, a student or even (in some areas) as a worker with a residency permit. It may seem invasive, imposing, bureaucratic or simply a bore to do, and arguably it is – but it’s also very important, and not doing it could cost you, so we recommend you register as soon as you can.
It’s also necessary in order to obtain a Registration Form of Temporary Residence, which police may ask to see during routine checks and is required for a number of official buerecratic functions.
It will also be needed if you lose your passport - for this reason, it’s also a good idea to keep a photocopy of your Registration Form of Temporary Residence (and passport) in your home, in case of emergencies
Your school, organization, landlord or building manager may help with registration, and if you are staying at a hotel it should be done for you automatically. But many people are left to do it themselves. Thankfully, while it’s easier if you speak Chinese or have a native speaker to help you out, it shouldn’t be too complex.
If you’re staying at a hotel
If you are staying at a hotel, the staff should register your details with the PSB automatically when you arrive, but ask them when you check in just in case.
Not all hotels in China are open to foreigners, though – some are for Chinese nationals only (非涉外旅馆). This varies enormously from area to area; all hotels in Beijing have been open to foreigners since 2006, for example, whereas Henan Province has a number of restricted hotels.
Of course, if you book ahead of time, the staff should notify you as to whether or not you can stay there (if you have a Chinese name on your passport, you might want to make your nationality explicit when booking, just to be sure).
If you’re registering yourself
At the PSB, there may be a desk marked clearly for foreigners registering (though they may use the word “alien” to indicate your otherness). In areas where there foreigners are a rarity, you’ll likely just wait to be seen at a regular desk. All you should need to do is present your documents (see list below) and the police will complete a form for you to sign.
In some cases, the police may be more demanding. They may ask you to bring your landlord: If so, this may be because of a particular issue they wish to discuss with the landlord (which may be unrelated to you). You won’t really have any choice but to try to comply with them.
Required documents for first registration
While regional requirements vary, you must always bring along the following paperwork:
- Valid passport containing current visa.
- Photocopy of passport picture and visa pages.
- A signed copy of your rental agreement/proof of housing (if registering your own place) or your friend’s Registration Form of Temporary Residence (if you’re staying at theirs).
- Alien Employment Permit book (if you have one).
You may need to download, print and fill in this registration form, then bring it with you to the station when you register, though it does not apply in all cities. If you’re unsure then you might as well do it anyway to avoid the hassle.
Your landlord/property manager/friend may also be required to come along to complete the process the first time around.
If you’re staying at a friend’s place, the police may also ask for a “chopped” (stamped) letter from your friend’s management company.
Once that’s done, you’ll be issued a Registration Form of Temporary Residence – usually a flimsy bit of paper with your information printed on it - which is valid for the length of your current visa; alternatively they may give you a receipt while your application is processed – you should be able to use that to pass spot checks until they give you the read deal. And remember: once you have your Registration Form of Temporary Residence, don’t lose it or you’ll have to go back and get it all over again!
Weihai offers online registration for foreigners.
Registering later than 24 hours
Under Article 76 of the relevant law, failure to register in time can lead to a fine of not more than 2,000 yuan and/or a stern telling off from the responsible officer.
At least, that’s what the law says. In practice, it can go either way depending on how relaxed your specific PSB is, and whether the officers in charge feel like flexing their muscles that particular day. Anecdotal evidence suggests that instances of police bothering to pick up on late registrations are relatively rare – and more likely to occur outside major cities – but there have been instances of fines or verbal reprimands being applied. You may also find unscrupulous police attempting to apply ‘fines’ of more than 2,000 yuan, but such instances are rare.
Still, it’s always best to register as soon as possible, just in case.
If your phone number is registered with the PSB (if you have residency permit, for example) you may get reminder phone calls or text messages in Chinese if you are late to register.
There are occasional crackdowns on foreigners working and living illegally in China. During these periods, police may carry out spot-checks on foreigners, often paying particular attention to workplaces (English-language schools, in particular) or residential areas where there are high concentrations of foreigners. Police may even knock at your door asking to inspect your documents.
It’s a good idea to carry at least a copy of your passport photo page, visa, and Registration Form of Temporary Residence with you at all times when sensitivities are higher. If you’re registered and all your papers are in order (ie. your passport and visa haven’t expired, and you’re not working without a work visa), you’ll have absolutely no problem. If you haven’t registered, prepare to pay a fine.
Returning to China
If you leave China and return, you will most likely receive a slip in your passport reminding you to renew your registration, using the same method as above. If you have your previous Registration Form of Temporary Residence and are a resident in China (eg. through a Work Visa), it may move quicker this time (you probably also won’t need to bring your contract or bother your landlord either – but of course, there are no guarantees).
Some areas, such as Fujian province and the city of Guangzhou, do not require foreigners with residence permits to check every time they return – however, such rules are always subject to change, so do check before you make a decision as to whether to register your return to the country.
Changing address as a foreign resident
Foreign residents must re-register every time they change address, following the guide further up, to get a new Registration Form of Temporary Residence.
When extending your visa
The law is unclear as to whether you need to re-register if you get an extension on your visa, but it’s always best to play it safe and go through the procedure again – especially as the exit date of your original visa will be on your first Registration Form of Temporary Residence.
- Do I still need a Work Visa if I’m working in China for a short time (a “short work stay”)?
- What happens to my visa and residence permit if I get fired or leave my job in China?
- I have to replace my passport but my Chinese mainland residency permit or visa is still active. What do I do?
- How do I get a Hong Kong Residence Visa?