Registering at a Private Address
Note that this is only relevant to those who will stay in private apartments or houses in China and not in hotels.
All visitors to China need to register with the police in each city where they stay for more than 24 hours. You have 72 hours to register in rural areas. If you are staying at a hotel, hostel or guesthouse then registration is taken care of for you at check-in. You only need to worry about registering if you are staying at a private apartment or house.
To register you will need to go the local police station with the following documents:
1. Your passport (with Chinese visa)
2. A copy of your landlord’s ID card.
3. A copy of your lease (if applicable).
If you are renting an apartment long-term, ideally your landlord should go with you the first time you register. On subsequent occasions, the police station should already have your lease and the landlord’s ID card on file so you will only need your passport (though you might want to have the other documents just in case).
If you need to register short-term visitors at an apartment you are renting, it will generally be enough to show the police your own registration form and your guest’s passport.
Be aware that you might also need to show proof that you have indeed registered within 24 hours. For example, if you stayed five days in Shanghai then went to stay at a friend’s apartment in Beijing, it would be a good idea to keep your boarding pass, train ticket, or accommodation receipt from Shanghai to account for your first five days in China (ie. to prove that you haven’t been staying at your friend’s apartment for five days without registering).
Registration is generally quite straightforward – it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes or so. Police usually won’t speak much English, but sometimes areas that have a lot of foreign residents have English-speaking police. You will be given a “Registration Form of Temporary Residence” which you should carry with you at all times.
Although it’s rare to have your documents checked on the streets in China, it does happen occasionally, almost exclusively around residential areas in Beijing and Shanghai that are popular with foreigners. The fine for not registering is anywhere between ¥50 and ¥500 per day. So it’s definitely worth the small hassle to register.
The Law Regarding Registration
The law that pertains to registration is outlined in Chapter IV of the Rules for the Implementation of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Control of the Entry and Exit of Aliens. It says:
Article 29 Aliens who stay at such enterprises or institutions as guest houses, hotels, inns, hostels, and schools, or at government departments, public organizations and other Chinese institutions shall produce their valid passports or residence permits, and fill in the temporary lodging form. If they accommodate in an area not open to aliens, they shall also produce their travel certificates.
Article 30 In the event that an alien accommodates at the house of a Chinese resident, if the house is located in a city or a town, the host or the alien himself shall, within 24 hours of the lodger’s arrival submit a report to the local public security organ together with the lodger’s passport and other certificates and the host’s residence booklet, and fill in the temporary lodging registration form; if the host’s house is located in the countryside, the report shall be submitted to the local police station or to the household registration office within 72 hours.
Article 31 In the event that an alien accommodates at a resident foreign institution in China or at the house of another alien living in China, the host institution, the host or the lodger himself shall, within 24hours of the lodger’s arrival submit a report to the local public security organ together with the lodger’s passport or residence permit, and fill in the temporary lodging registration form.