As a foreigner, unless you’re staying at a hotel, you need to register your temporary residence within 24 hours of arriving in Shanghai. This does not only apply to Shanghai of course, but I’m specifically mentioning Shanghai because this is where I live. It applies to all places in China, naturally, with the difference being that in rural areas the time is extended to 48 hours.
In the beginning, I was quite diligent in doing this. However, being here in China on a multiple-entry visa valid for 90 days per entry, it means I have to do it every time I leave the country and return. This got to become quite tiresome. So, when I moved into a new place in an unfamiliar area, I just stopped registering my temporary residence. I didn’t know where the local police station was, it was less than a month before I had to leave China again, and the whole exercise anyway seemed rather pointless for someone in my situation.
However, if you need to apply for a new visa in-country, change it, extend it, or apply for a permanent residence permit – just about anything related to amending the terms of your legal stay – having an up-to-date temporary residence registration is a prerequisite. Failure to register your temporary residence may result in either a warning or a fine of up to RMB 2 000. Even if, like me, you do not see the immediate need for this, you risk the chance of being stopped and asked where you live and then subsequently get checked up on. It’s a statistical improbability in a place the size of Shanghai, but I do know of someone this actually happened to.
There is an excellent article on temporary residence registration right here, so I’m not going to go into any more detail as to what is involved. Instead, I want to move on to the next part of my story and my brush with the most ridiculous case of bureaucracy I’ve ever had to deal with.
I’m in the process of legally registering my own company here in Shanghai. My application for a business licence is still being processed, but once I get it I’ll have to apply for my work visa. Like I already said, it will require me to have registered my temporary residence. So, when I came back to China this time, I knew I had to make a point of finding the local police station and going through the formalities.
Now, the building I live in has 32 floors. Other than the ground floor and a small gym, the rest of it is just about all made up of residential units. However, the police informed me that they couldn’t register my temporary residence at this address because the building “is not for living”. Even more bizarre, this was supposedly possible up until September last year, but then “they changed it”.
The public security bureau (PSB) eventually agreed to register my temporary residence on their computer system – for an address I was told this couldn’t be done for. They even printed out the usual Registration Form of Temporary Residence one would normally get as proof, which I then had to sign but couldn’t keep. Huh?! Makes absolutely no sense at all. I ended up having to pay a company just short of RMB 1 000 to offer me a bit of a “workaround”.
So, if you’re going to sign a rental agreement for what appears to be a regular home in every way, it’s best to make sure that it’s actually “for living” lest you discover otherwise at the time of trying to register your temporary residence. This is China after all, and the opportunities to be amazed are seemingly unlimited.