How We Got a 144 Hour Visa Free Transit in China

  • February 20, 2019

the cost of a 10 year Chinese visa is $140 USD per person.

after skimming one or two articles about the 144 hour visa free transit in China, we booked flights + Airbnb and pushed it out of our minds -- our future selves would "figure it out."

one week before the trip we had a rude awakening.

Hideko researched the rules for visa free entry and discovered there was much more to it than we first expected.

this article helped us understand the guidelines:

  1. you must depart China to a separate country from the one you arrived from

  2. your departing and arriving flights must not have any layovers within mainland China

  3. you cannot travel across provinces within China. for instance, if you arrive in Shanghai, you will not be allowed to visit Beijing during your 144 hours

  4. you must show printed airline tickets to the next destination with seat assignments and a departure time within 144 hours

what these guides don't explicitly mention is you are also supposed to register your temporary residence with the local police within 24 hours of landing. this is not commonly discussed because most tourists stay in hotels, and hotel staff take care of these requirements for you.

You are breaking the law if you fail to register your temporary residence with the local police within 24 hours.

we needed to learn how to register for the 144 hour visa while staying in an Airbnb, not a hotel.

many visitors brush the registration process aside as unnecessary and "take their chances." why spend precious hours of your already short trip at the police station?

yet, there are recently more incidents of tourists turned away at the arrival gate in the Chinese airport.

this unfortunate TechCrunch reporter wrote about his denied entry in November of 2017. he flew into Hongqiao and was detained at the arrivals gate. he had failed to register his temporary residence with officials during previous visits to China.

he was forced to leave on the next flight out.

it appears the Chinese government is cracking down on visitors who don't follow their rules. we don't want to be blacklisted from China (even if the chances are rare). we decided to follow the policy.

here are the steps we took to get a temporary residence permit in China while staying in an Airbnb.

Prepare documentation

as we learned online, police stations vary in how strict they are with paperwork. here is the range of documentation foreigners are asked to provide:

  1. printed copies of your passport

  2. your passport

  3. your host's hukou, ie. household registration papers

  4. copy of your host's Chinese ID

  5. your host's property's deed or lease papers

  6. the rental contract between you and your host

  7. flight details showing you will be leaving China within 144 hours (to a separate location from which you came into the country)

  8. passport-style profile pictures

many Airbnbs are rented out illegally in China, and Airbnb is currently in a gray area for China. in 2018 Airbnb made a public statement that they will "submit guest details to Chinese authorities," whatever that means.

while this statement implies Airbnb will take care of temporary residence registration as a hotel would, several foreigners have still run into issues at airport security for failing to register properly with the local police.

We’re committed to doing all we can to keep our hosts and guests informed about our work in China and we recently updated our hosts about our requirements under the law. The information we collect is similar to information hotels in China have collected for decades.


we're unsure how this Airbnb statement translates in practice. if it means Airbnb gathers guest information through hosts, it is not enforced since our host did not ask us for any identifying information.

in fact, when we asked our Airbnb host for advice she told us a printed copy of our Airbnb confirmation would suffice. we asked if she would be willing to give us a copy of her hukou or ID, but she didn't respond to that request.

before our trip we gathered the documentation we had available:

  1. printed copies of passports

  2. passports

  3. our Airbnb receipt which showed the Airbnb's address and number of nights

  4. flight details showing you will be leaving China within 144 hours (to a separate location from which you came into the country)

  5. passport-style profile pictures

Immigration At The Airport

after landing in Pudong Airport, immigration asked for only 3 items: (1) our passports, (2) Airbnb confirmation, and (3) our flight tickets onward from China. the security officer reminded us to stay within the Shanghai region and then let us pass.

step one accomplished!

Look up your district's police station

China provinces are divided into administrative districts. Shanghai has 16 of them.

administrative districts in Shanghai

you need to look up the district where your Airbnb is located. you will be shooed away if you try to register at other districts' local police stations.

Visiting the Police Station

North The Bund Police Station For Temporary Residence Permit

once we set our bags down in the Airbnb we immediately turned on our VPN's and Googled the nearest police station within our administrative district. on my phone, i screenshot a picture of a sample registration permit (from Google) and our inquiry in Chinese (from Google Translate).

Google Translate temporary residence at police station China Sample temporary residence certificate China

no one at the station spoke a lick of English.

they also had never heard of a temporary registration permit. luckily, they understood our combination of Google Translate and miming and gave us an address for another police station. we quickly learned that not all local police stations are equipped to handle the residence permit.

Police Stations Are All Different

we had more luck at our next stop: Public Safety Bureau at the Bund The North.

once we arrived, an officer greeted us and asked what we needed. he seemed puzzled when we showed him our "we need a temporary residence permit" Google Translate and sample permit screenshots.

nonetheless, he helped us enter our information into a self-service kiosk. we took a number for the queue and sat down.

15 minutes later, our number was called and we were fortunately paired with an English-speaking police officer. she also knew about the registration permit!

she asked for 3 items: (1) a printed copy of our passports, (2) our passports, (3) and rental contract (our Airbnb receipt was fine). she then asked us to fill out a form asking for very basic information: ID, address while in China, purpose for trip, etc.

that was it. the officer printed out our temporary residence certificate, stamped it, and handed it over:

Temporary residence permit in China

and there you have it.

not as much drama as we expected. we're glad we registered properly and won't be blacklisted from China. at least, not for this.

we can't say for sure whether you'll have the same painless experience registering your temporary residence at the local police station. again, police stations seem to vary in the documentation they will ask for.

but what we do know is that polite behavior, smiles and some semblance of preparation (don't show up empty handed and expect them to give you a pass) go a long way.

we created a Foursquare profile for this police station, in case you happen to stay in the Hongkou district:

North The Bund police station Foursquare

China's 144 hour free visa registration process can be confusing and stressful.

as mentioned before, we referenced Google many times to translate, look up police stations, and screenshot images of sample residence permits.

our final word of advice: if you rely on Google like we do, make sure to install a good VPN (we chose ExpressVPN) before you get to China. many of the VPN provider websites are blocked in China so it is very difficult to get a VPN installed while you are there.

if you're willing to roll the dice with authorities you can visit China, visa-free. good luck!