Bad China Week 1 – The Devil That Is Police Registration in China

Find the official Nanjing flyer for foreigners at the end of this post (you know, if you want to skip the bla.)

We all have them. Bad China Days, as they have come to be known among my circle of expat friends. They are those days when the culture shock you thought you had already beaten just hits you in the face and all those things you find difficult to accept about your host country come crashing down on you. A little while ago, I did not just experience a Bad China Day, I went through a Bad China Week. Strike that, it was a Terrible China Week. Polices station China


It started out with the visa. That nasty little sticker in my passport that allows me to stay here. It was recently up for renewal and so my poor colleague had to start doing visa runs from one bureaucratic office to the next. One afternoon she abruptly storms into our office and tells me in an agitated manner that something is wrong with my police registration. Police registration is one of those nuisances that being a foreigner anywhere entails. The police always want to know where you are, so they know where to find you in case they need to drag you out of the country. In China, once you arrive in your abode, you have to register within 24 hours (unless you are staying in a hotel, they do it for you, or you are merely staying in the first location for up to three days before moving on).

There is a lot of confusion about police registration mainly because it is rarely checked and often the police officers don’t even care if you show up to register a couple of months late. When it does become an issue is when you are looking to extend your visa.

Now, my colleague has run to the police office to register me many, many times and she is very conscientious with these things, which is good considering a breach can result in a fine of up to 2 000 RMB. However, the rules are incredibly unclear, so unclear in fact that seemingly even the police officers themselves don’t seem to be aware of the exact regulations.

Some people say that in China one needs to re-register with the police every single time one returns to the country from abroad (that includes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan). Others state that if you do not change address, there is no need to register when you return. As it turns out, both of these are true. The first time I left the country on my work visa and came back, my work colleague went to the police station to re-register me only to be turned away with the reply “Since she is still at the address you have registered her with, this is not necessary.” However, there is a but. Of course there is.

In my visa and work permit my address at the time was in downtown Nanjing, but I had since moved house to a flat west of the river, so the address was different from the one attached to my visa and work permit. My colleague had, once I had moved, informed the local police station of my new address and they issued a new Temporary Residence document stating the up-to-date details. However, the address in the visa remains the one entered upon application. From my ensuing discussion with the police I gather that this address cannot be changed until you reapply for an extension of the visa once it is about to run out.

Therefore, if you move away from the initial address registered in your visa, you do indeed have to re-register EVERY TIME you return from abroad. There I was at the police station trying to explain to this police officer that my colleague had tried to do so and been turned away by the police, so how could this be our fault, as we tried to do it by the book. She classified this as a “miscommunication”. If you want to call the fact that clearly the police officers have no clue of their own rules a miscommunication, I guess…

Since I was a first time offender, I luckily only got a write-up and a warning that next time I would have to pay a fine. According to the officer, this would not impact my visa application negatively, the jury is still out on that. The problem is, as a German, I sometimes feel that we have a heightened sense of justice. Fairness and justice seem incredibly important to us, and in Germany, if one feels treated in an unfair manner, I have found many of us tend to argue until we are blue in the face. This might not help the situation at all but I have the same urge, in light of a perceived injustice I just can’t shut my gob. After all, if one tries to do everything by the book and then still gets f****d over because officials don’t even know their own rules, how is one supposed to let it just go? Luckily, this woman was fairly tolerant and didn’t fine me just because I was getting on her nerves with my complaints.

This experience however really started off my Bad China Week as I felt treated unfairly and completely powerless in the face of a random justice system with rules that are not being clearly communicated at all. The police woman even stated “I have had many cases like yours, this happens a lot, which is why I am only giving you a write-up.” You’d think that the penny would drop that they are not being transparent about the regulations.

She even handed me a flyer with all the details, making me wonder why I had never before seen this flyer. Would it not make sense to hand it to every foreigner who crosses the border to make sure the information is received rather than hiding it away at the police office and giving it to those of us who have already breached the regulations?

The only positive takeout from this is now I know the exact rules and I can go out and pass them on to others, in the hope that they do not have to go through the experience of being dragged to a Chinese police office. Though it was very clean. I was impressed. Also, now I am officially a lawbreaker. Once the anger at the injustice passes, I will probably feel cool.

If you would like to know all the things you should be doing, here is the flyer made by Nanjing government for foreign nationals in China:

police registration visa china bureaucracy

information visa police registration buraucracy nanjing

11 thoughts on “Bad China Week 1 – The Devil That Is Police Registration in China”

  1. Thanks for that.
    It makes an interesting read especially the ‘law and order’ section.
    Your post doesn’t mention the circumstances of your re-entry, just the fact that you got pulled up.


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