Found the perfect apartment? Check! Signed lease? Check! Established how you were going to pay your rent and your bills? Check! 

It looks like you’re done with your house-hunting. You’re done dealing with anything else, right? Nope! The housing battle isn’t over yet! 

There is still one more task you need to do before starting your life in your new apartment. You can’t avoid it unless you want to get fined or in trouble. 

Photo by author circa 2016

It’s time to take a trip to the police station. 

According to Chinese law, when you move to a new apartment, you need to go to the police station within twenty-four hours of moving in. You need to go back to the police station if you ever leave the country for vacation, then come back. 

It might be the closest police station, but that doesn’t mean it’s the place you need to go.

Every district has an assigned police station. My housing agent took me with him to register in my first apartment, so I knew where to go. 

In my second apartment, the landlady told me she didn’t need to come with me. I thought I had to go to the nearest police station, but they told me they didn’t register people. The people there helped me figure out where to go, and I made it on time. 

If you’re unsure where to go, don’t be afraid to ask your agent or landlord. They will know where to go. Sometimes, they’ll need to go with you to register. 

Don’t forget to go every time you leave the country.

If you’re working in China, you’re likely on a multi-entry visa. These visas let you come in and out of the country whenever you want. And you’re going to want to leave the country on significant holidays like Spring Festival and Golden Week. 

But one of the things people don’t tell you right away is that every time you come back after going abroad, you need to register with the police. 

One year, I went to Paris, but I didn’t go to the police station after returning. The police noticed, and they gave me a warning form. I didn’t get a new form until after I renewed my lease. 

If I didn’t renew my registration form again, I don’t know what would’ve happened. I think I would’ve been fined at most. I’m glad I never found out what could’ve happened. 

The takeaway

Let’s recap everything in the final step of living in China. 

  • No matter what someone tells you, you need to register at your local police station every time you move into a new apartment complex. No excuses. 
  • Just because one police station is close to your apartment complex, it doesn’t mean it’s the place you need to register. 
  • You need to register with the police again when you come back from traveling abroad.

After your business with the police station, you’ve established yourself! Registration itself doesn’t take long. I don’t think I stayed longer than ten minutes every time I went to the police station. 

This form is your protection. When you get it, you’ll want to make a copy for your work too. 

Sometimes, government officials and police will come to companies with foreigners to check their paperwork. You’ll save your boss a headache handing them a copy. 

The registry form is final proof that you’re in the country legally. Always have this form on you when you’re out on the street, just like your passport. And enjoy your new life in China! 



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Keara Hopkins