Foreign nationals in China must register their temporary residence with the public security bureau (PSB). Further, registration is a prerequisite to filing with the PSB Exit-Entry Division an application for a new visa, stay certificate, or residence permit. Here’s a FAQ:
Q1: What does the Exit-Entry Administration Law require?
“Article 39. Where foreigners stay in hotels in China, the hotels shall register their accommodation (住宿登记) in accordance with the regulations on the public security administration of the hotel industry, and submit foreigners’ accommodation registration information to the public security organs in the places where the hotels are located.”
“For foreigners who reside or stay in dwelling places (住所) other than hotels, they or the persons who accommodate them shall, within 24 hours after the foreigners’ arrival (入住) at that dwelling place, go through the registration formalities with the public security organs in the places of residence….”
Q2: What are the penalties for failure to register?
“Article 76. Under any of the following circumstances, a warning shall be given, and a fine of not more than RMB 2,000 yuan may also be imposed: ….”
“(6) Persons concerned fail to go through registration formalities in accordance with the provisions in the second paragraph of Article 39 of this Law.”
Q3: What are the procedures for registering if you’re staying at a hotel?
The hotel will register you. When you check in, the hotel is supposed to copy your passport and then file your registration online with the public security bureau within 24 hours, according to the Measures for Safety in the Hotel Industry.
In Beijing, foreigners can stay at any hotel. Rules restricting them to just certain hotels were cancelled in 2006. But some localities–such as Henan Province and Lhasa–do still have hotels not open to foreigners (非涉外旅馆). The country’s largest budget hotel chain, Jinjiang Inns, notes on their website if a hotel is off-limits for foreigners (for example, here).
In Guangdong Province, a hotel must notify the public security bureau when a guest’s passport or visa expires. (Interim Provisions of Guandgong Province on Administration of and Services to Aliens, art. 14).
Q4: What are the procedures for registering if you’re staying some place other than a hotel?
You or the person whose home you are staying at should register with the local police station (派出所) within 24 hours of the time you arrive at that home.
There is a standard “Registration Form of Temporary Residence for Visitors,” which may be downloaded from the Ministry of Public Security’s website, but it’s not used by the PSB in all cities.
You’ll need to present your original passport and copies of the ID page, visa (or residence permit or stay certificate), and PRC entry stamp. If your current passport is not the one you used to enter China, then also bring the old passport and copies of the relevant pages.
If you’re staying in your own home, present the lease or deed. If you’re staying at another person’s home, present the host’s hukou (户口簿). If the hukou doesn’t list the address where you’re staying, the host may be required to present a lease or deed as well. Bring copies of these documents for the police to keep for their files. Don’t be surprised if the host at an AirBNB or an illegally rented apartment doesn’t cooperate.
Be prepared for some local variation in procedures. For example:
In Beijing, you may be required to present a letter from the neighborhood where you live or from your apartment complex’s management company (物业).
If you’re staying at the hospital in Beijing, you’ll need the hospital’s residence registration certificate issued to you.
Weihai and Shenzhen allow registration online.
You may be asked to present your previous Registration Form of Temporary Residence (临时住宿登记表).
Some places will allow a third party to register on your behalf.
If you’re in an area generally closed to foreigners, you may need to show a travel certificate (旅行证) authorizing your presence.
You may be required to submit 1 or 2 photos.
Q5: What evidence of registration will be provided to you when you register?
When you register at the local police station, you will be given a Registration Form of Temporary Residence (临时住宿登记表). The form looks different for each city–here are examples from Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenyang.
If you are staying at a hotel, you should ask for the Registration Form of Temporary Residence at the time you check in. Here’s an example from Shanghai. Note the hotel’s stamp, check in date, and check out date:
Q6: If your application to the PSB for a new visa, stay certificate, or residence permit is pending, can you use the acceptance receipt to register?
If you’ve applied to the public security bureau’s exit-entry division for a new visa, stay certificate, or residence permit, you should–at least in theory–be able to use the acceptance receipt for your pending application to register your temporary residence.
Q7: Does a foreign national need to re-register each time she returns from a trip to another city or country?
The answer is different for a person with a visa versus a person with a residence permit.
A person with a visa should register after each move to a new place within China (hotel, apartment, etc.) and each time she returns to a place from abroad.
In contrast, for persons holding a valid, unexpired residence permit, the answer is not so clear:
At the national level, instructions written by the Ministry of Public Security prior to enactment of the Exit and Entry Administration Law (and not updated since) say yes, re-registration is required. Draft regulations implementing the new law said that “a foreign national possessing a residence permit that indicates his or her place of residence need not re-register that accommodation” upon returning from another place. But that provision was deleted from the final regulations, so it’s not authoritative.
So check your local rules. For example, the PSB in Fujian province and Guangzhou says a person with a residence permit returning to their previously registered China address need not re-register.
Q8: Does a person who has just obtained an extension of his or her visa, stay certificate, or residence permit need to re-register?
The Exit-Entry Administration Law is silent on this, but the best practice is to re-register. Some local governments (e.g., Fujian Provinceand Fengtai District in Beijing) explicitly require it. Besides, when you’ll go to extend your visa, stay certificate, or residence permit again, you’ll need a current Registration Form of Temporary Residence at that time.
Q9: How do you register when you’re camping or staying in a recreational vehicle?
Unclear. According to former rules which have been repealed, both the foreign national lodging in “movable living facilities” and the person who provides the site where the foreign national is staying must register.