Browsing "Preparation"

Getting a Temporary Residence Permit in China

In China, all foreigners are required by law to register for a temporary residence permit. The correct document name is “Registration Form of Temporary Residence”.

The law requires foreigners (referred to as “aliens”) apply for a temporary residence permit within 24 hours of entering mainland Chinaor moving residences within China. This is 72 hours if you are staying in the countryside). Although the offices are open only during business hours (Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, with a two hour lunch break), so they probably take that into account if you land early on Saturday morning.

The penalty of not applying for a temporary residence permit, and it is later uncovered, is a fine up to RMB 5000, possible revokacation of your existing visa. It can also hamper when applying for future visas, be it tourist, or work visas.

Staying in a hotel

When staying in a hotel, especially one catering for foreign tourists, this is normally done by the hotel on your behalf when you check in. The hotel concierge will ask for your passport and record your details.

If you plan on revisiting China again, it is worth checking that the hotel is doing the temporary residence permit in your behalf. Hotels for Chinese residents may not do this, so do ask.

If your hotel does not do the temporary residence permit on your behalf then you will need to do it yourself. So follow along with the process for staying with family and friends.

Staying with friends/family

If you are staying with a friend or family, then you have to do the application yourself. This is done at the local police station that covers the area you are staying. Your host should know which police station that is. In Futian, Shenzhen, our local police station has a specific office dealing with residencies.

As I understand it some local police stations don’t offer temporary residence permits. If you find yourself in that particular situation, then you need to find the Exit-Entry Administration Department office in your current or nearest city.

For Futian District in Shenzhen the address is:

Exit-Entry Administration Department of Futian Public Security Sub-Bureau
Building No. 105,
Jindi Industrial Zone,
Fuqiang Road,
Futian District
Tel: 0755-82918708

And for Shenzhen:

Exit-Entry Administration Division of Shenzhen Public Security Bureau
4016 Jiefang Road,
Louhu District,

You need the following:

  • Your passport, along with photocopies of your passport’s:
    • Photo / information page
    • Page containing the valid / unexpired Chinese visa you are currently using
    • Page containing the most recent entry stamp into China — you will need to find somewhere in China to make a copy of this
  • Two passport-type photos of you. For current Chinese travel visa applications they require colour photos, so to be on the safe side, provide two colour ones here too.
  • The current rental agreement (and a photocopy) of the place you are staying (your host should have this, in their capacity of either renting the premises or being the landlord). I recommend checking with your host that this won’t be a problem; some accommodation in China is provided without paying the 10% tax, and so the landlord may be reluctant to provide necessary details that suggest unpaid taxes. If you are staying in a hotel, then I guess the hotel address and contact details, along with photocopied proof you are staying there would be sensible.
  • A contact phone number, which can be used if authorities need to check any security-related matters. It is practical to use your host’s phone number if you don’t speak the Chinese.
  • Take your host along too. They need to bring their hukou (or in Shenzhen their residence card is an accepted alternative). Also they can help answer any questions/clarifications. Various districts do things slightly differently, including asking a few additional questions.

In our local office the above details are entered and printed out on a document that looks like this:

Chinese Registration Form of Temporary Residence for Guangdong

Some local offices may ask for additional information. So make sure you do have time to go in to find out, and quickly get any remaining information and revisit the office. The official guidelines stipulate more information, if you decide to err on the side of caution and completedness.

The overall process should take under an hour.

When in China foreigners must have their passport with them at all times (correspondingly Chinese citizens should have their Chinese Id with them). Foreigners can use their temporary residence permit instead of their passport, with a few exceptions.

Losing your temporary residence permit

The Futian District in Shenzhen website suggests that if you lose your temporary residence permit you should report it to the nearest police station and get a “Receipt of Case Reporting” in order to renew your visa and passport. And this is to be done at the Shenzhen Exit-Entry Administration Division in Louhu.

Finding my way around Shenzhen

HTC Locations App view of Futian, Shenzhen

Shenzhen doesn’t have a London-like A-Z that I could find. And since it’s a relatively new city growing in leaps and bound, maps are very quickly going to be out-of-date, inaccurate, or missing useful travelling information (e.g. Metro stops). So I looked out for a few alternatives.

Static digital maps

At the most primitive, the day before I flew out, I went to Google Maps, full-screen on my 27″ iMac, and took multiple screengrabs of the Google Maps’ view of Shenzhen, and copied them to my netbook and my Nexus 7. That way.

I also took screenshots of chachaba’s 3D map of Shenzhen. In a city of uniquely architected skyscrapers, it’s going to be a useful navigation cue if the signs are unreadable to me.

So worse case, I have a digital static map offline if nothing else worked.

Offline Google Maps

The Android Google Maps app offers saving maps offline, so I saved an offline copy of a map that covered all of Shenzhen I was likely to visit. It’s a 28Mb download. I saved offline copies on my Nexus S phone, and my Nexus 7 tablet. The phone download refused to complete, so it was unusable.

The tablet proved the right device for an offline Google Maps. The offline capability did work on this device, so I had a static map I could pan, scroll and zoom through. But the finding my current location didn’t work for me, it kept insisting it needed a data connection.

So this is an improvement on the digital static map offline, but not by much.

Offline maps

I bought a second-hand phone off eBay a few weeks ago, it’s an HTC Desire Z. I bought it with the idea of getting a Chinese sim card during my stay, and one with a data plan, so I could use it with Google Maps. From serpentza’s video on buying and topping up sim cards he was using this phone, with Google Maps using a China Unicom sim card. So I aimed to replicate that. I know the Desire Z is an old phone, but with a flip-out keyboard it’s an interesting device, and I’d feel safer carrying around a second hand phone than say, and iPhone 4.

Now, I didn’t get to the point of buying a sim card – I needed someone to help me with that. But, I discovered something unexpected. HTC have their own map application called Locations. It’s not available on the Android App Store. This application is awesome.

Locations allows you to download high-quality maps of a list of cities and areas. I downloaded maps for UK, Hong Kong, and Guangdong province (where Shenzhen is). These maps are big, about 280Mb for Guangdong. Locations offers a 2D and 2.5D “driving” map perspectives. It works offline. It works with GPS on the phone (without a data-plan or sim card), so you can get the phone to show you a 2.5D map of where you are right now. The second very useful feature is a compass, and the map rotates as you turn around. So you see the map as you see the road in front of you. It works quite well while driving too, so what you already have in a TomTom or Garmin device. That’s what Locations brings when offline.

The combination of an offline map that works with GPS and rotates based on a compass is a killer set of features for the geek traveller. It’s what made me exploring Shenzhen possible. So everyday, I took both my phones with me, my Nexus 7 to take pictures, and the HTC Desire Z for navigating.

I’ve accidentally uncovered a gem in the HTC Desire Z – well I guess any current HTC phone has these features. But it’s the HTC-specific app, Locations, that melds everything together into a very capable and handy tool for me.

GPS and China

Although there are a few little gotchas with GPS positioning in China. There are mutterings online that GPS location services are out by about 40-100 meters in China. I don’t know if this is the case.

Every once in a while the app suggested I was located several miles out in the South China Sea. It was only when I was at the Futian Checkpoint yesterday I figured out what the problem was. The Guangdong map ends right at the Shenzhen/Hong Kong border, everything outside of Guangdong is blue, like the South China Sea. At Futian Port, the phone kept flipping to the Hong Kong map. So there is some resolution inaccuracy in GPS signals. And it gets very noticeable when you are at the edge of a map. Perhaps if HTC could extend their Guangdong map a little distance outside of Guangdongs’ borders it would mitigate this problem slightly.

I thought skyscrapers may present a problem, and sometimes the GPS would tell me I was a block or two further away from where I knew I was. These little niggles happen, but overall I found it got my location right a lot more than it got it wrong. But I took care to be in an open area, not too close to skyscrapers. You know, just be logical.

Data plans

I didn’t get to a working data plan. With the usefulness of the HTC Desire Z plus the Locations app I really didn’t need it.

So being an introvert, and the need to know where I am, I had sufficient options to allow that. Certainly, not needing to ask for directions avoids the language barrier and the introvert barrier. Left to my own devices, and my devices succeeded. But, only because of HTC’s Location app on an HTC device with working GPS, compass, and enabled offline maps of Shenzhen. Travelling has improved considerably since the days of fold-up maps, and visiting a newly created city means the symmetry of design is pretty consistent, so there were no real surprises to worry about. Me and my GPS. Thanks HTC!

Jan 27, 2013 - China, Preparation    No Comments

Electric plugs for China


Electricity is different as you travel the world, and China is no exception. However, it’s not as bad as it seems. China’s electricity setup is similar to Australia’s. They have the same 3 pin plug configuration, and 250V supply.

Also, China seems to have adopted the European 2-pin configuration, so buildings seems to be equipped with both.

With the UK having a 240V power supply it raises the question of whether you need a transformer. Well, the advice on the Web suggests that you don’t need a transformer, since there tends to be a distinct variance in actual voltage delivered to homes. And electric components are built to handle a variance of up to 6% up and 10% down. So that means an electrical device built for the UK market of 240V should be able to cope with 250V since it is only a 4% difference.

In my regular trips to South Africa (which has a different 3-pin plug configuration) I settled on the idea of taking a multi-adaptor (offering 4 UK plug sockets), and by attaching the adaptor to a UK-to-South African plug adaptor gave me enough plugs for my UK devices and only using one adaptor.

Pretty neat. But, I found a better way for my China trip, an actual 3-plug UK socket using a Chinese/Australian plug. This is idea for travellers with multiple electic devices that need regular charging (e.g. laptop, tablet, smart phone).

I found a merchant on Amazon called Traveldapter who specialise in these traveller-friendly multi-adaptors. Ideal for my gadget-laden colleagues who make regular trips to the US, and Japan, for example.

But note, these are not transformers. You still need to acquire a transformer if you want to bridge the gap between the US-style 110V system and the UK-style 240V. So you do need to check each of your electrical devices to see that they can support both voltages. Devices with external bricks sometimes can handle both voltage levels. Electronic gadgets that plug directly in without going through a brick definitely need a transformer.

This is one useful gadget to have.


Jan 23, 2013 - China, Preparation    No Comments

Applying for a Chinese tourist visa


Update August 2013: The visa application process has changed slightly this year. There are two important bits: They only accept colour passport photos now, and you need to make photocopies of your passport and any previous Chinese visas. As always, the staff at the application office are very professional and considerate.

Getting a tourist visa for visiting China is done through the China Visa Application Service Center. This centre is an intermediary between you and the Chinese Embassy. Only people dealing with higher-level visas, like special or diplomatic visas go directly to the Chinese Embassy.

London has a China Visa Application centre adjacent to the Chinese Embassy at 12 Old Jewry Street, London, EC2R 8DU. This is within walking distance of Bank underground station, and Cannon Street national railway station.

The process of getting a tourist visa is:

  1. Fill in an application using their online application form.
  2. Book an appointment to submit your application form plus supporting documentation (including your passport).
  3. Return 3 working days later to pick up your passport containing the Visa, and make payment.

1. Filling in the online application

This is the preferred route, and it is fairly straightforward. It asks you for personal details, current employment details, emergency contact people, and summary details of your major family (in my case, mother and father). You also need to provide details of the purpose of your visit, the contact details of where you are staying, and proof of that. And details of any people you are meeting in China.

Also, you need to detail any other foreign trips you made over the last 12 months, and the purpose of those trips. This section also asks questions about whether you’ve been to any infectious areas (like known malaria areas)

Proving that you are actually traveling to China can be done in one of two ways. The first way is confirmation of both flights and hotels that cover your stay. The second way is providing an invitation from either a China-based organisation or person to you to visit China.

So you need to make a choice whether you want to take a risk in booking flights and hotels without a visa, in most cases these costs are non-refundable and non-changeable. In typical cases this is not a problem, but you do need to be aware that your visa application can be denied for reasonable reasons.

Along with your application form you also need:

  • Proof of flight bookings and hotel bookings that cover your stay in China
  • A recent passport photo

After you have completed the online form, you can download it as a PDF and print it out. At this point you can book an appointment at the center to submit your application. However, you won’t be able to book a next-day appointment, but you can get one for the day after that. You chose half-hour slots starting from 9:00 in the morning through to 5:00 in the afternoon.

2. Appointment to submit application

When you walk into the Application center you ask for submitting an application for a visa and you get a ticket with a number and asked to wait in the seating area on the ground floor. It operates as a ticketing system, so you wait for your number to be called, and then proceed to the counter assigned to you.

It is worth getting there earlier than your booked slot. Although the earliest slot starts at 9:00, arriving just after 08:30 means you are near the top of the ticketting system and likely to be assigned a counter just after their 9am start.

The process is actually very smooth. You hand over the application form, supporting documentation, your passport photo and your passport. A clerk checks through your application form and adds some notes. You also have to sign an agreement that you will pay for the application when you pick up your passport, and that the Chinese Embassy can reject your application for any basis they consider reasonable. When she is satisfied with your application you get a confirmation note which details when you can come back to pick up your passport. This is typically 3 working days later.

The whole process takes about 10 minutes. The staff are very professional, efficient and friendly. Note that they do keep your passport, because the visa is added to your passport. So make sure you have a full blank page free for it.

3. Picking up your passport

You return to the Visa Application Centre on the date specified on the confirmation note.  But returning a day later wasn’t a problem.

This time when you return, with your confirmation note, you mention you are picking up your passport. You are then issued with a ticket (but on a different queue to the application process), and directed downstairs to the basement.

This collection process is a two-step process. So your number gets called twice.

The first call is to make payment for the Visa application process. For a tourist visa this costs £66 (£30 to the Chinese Embassy. It’s a good idea if you can pay the exact amount, since they run out of pound coins rather quickly. After payment you are given a receipt and asked to return to the seating area

The second call is to collect your passport. You are asked to confirm this is indeed your passport. And then given an explanation of the visa details itself, this should match what you’ve requested in your application.

The collection process is very quick. I spent less than 5 minutes on the payment counter, and I sat down for about a minute to collect my passport. I was in and out of the Visa Application centre in about 20 minutes. Most of that was waiting for my ticket to be called the first time. Neither days was busy, but I was there before 9:30 on both days.