Setting up a Representative Office in China

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By Eunice Ku

Oct. 25 – When a foreign company decides to try and sell to the Chinese market, there are several options – working through an agency or distributor, or registering a representative office (RO). Whereas an agent or distributor may have limited loyalty or little interest in end-user satisfaction, an RO is an effective way for foreign investors to get a feel for the  Chinese market while demonstrating commitment to the market. It is the easiest type of foreign investment structure to set up and, unlike the wholly foreign-owned enterprise, has no registered capital requirements.

The defining characteristic of an RO is its limited business scope – an RO is generally forbidden from engaging in any profit-seeking activities, and can only legally engage in:

  • Market research, display and publicity activities that relate to company product or services; and
  • Contact activities that relate to company product sales or service provision and domestic procurement and investment.


While an RO is relatively easy to establish and maintain, they are fairly limited in terms of operational scope since they cannot actually issue invoices (i.e., fapiao, the basis for obtaining tax deductions in China) or sign contracts.

An RO has no legal personality, meaning it does not possess the capacity for civil rights and conduct, cannot independently assume civil liability, and is limited in its hiring ability. Chinese staff working for an RO, although not limited in number, must be employed through a human resources agency that will sign a contract with the RO on the one hand and with the Chinese staff on the other in order to ensure social security and housing fund contributions are paid on a regular basis. No more than four foreign employees can be hired per RO. Foreign staff working for ROs should have an employment relationship with the parent company abroad, and any disputes should be settled under the laws of that country.

From 2010 on, companies that intend to register a RO must be at least two years old. According to the revised “Administrative Regulation on the Registration of Permanent Representative Organizations of Foreign Enterprises” which came into effect in July, 2013,  the registration certificate for an RO is valid as long as its foreign parent company legally exists.

ROs are required to submit an annual report between March 1 and June 30 every year providing information on the legal status and standing information of the foreign enterprise, ongoing business activities of the RO, and payment balance audited by their accounting agencies. The registration authorities will issue fines if the RO fails to provide such reports on time or if it provides false information.

ROs are usually taxed on gross expenses with the overall tax burden around 11.75 percent of total monthly expenses; however, these rates may be increased by the relevant tax bureau according to the industry. If the chief representative is a foreign national, whether they stay in China or not, they shall be subject to individual tax based on the income derived from the RO.


Selling-to-China-thmbPortions of this article came from the October 2013 issue of China Briefing Magazine, titled “Selling to China.” In this issue of China Briefing Magazine, we demystify some complexities of conducting business in China by introducing the main certification requirements for importing goods into the country; the basics of setting up a representative office; as well as the structure and culture of State-owned enterprise in China. Finally, we also summarize some of the export incentives available in several key Western countries.

Dezan Shira & Associates is a specialist foreign direct investment practice, providing corporate establishment, business advisory, tax advisory and compliance, accounting, payroll, due diligence and financial review services to multinationals investing in emerging Asia. Since its establishment in 1992, the firm has grown into one of Asia’s most versatile full-service consultancies with operational offices across China, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Vietnam as well as liaison offices in Italy and the United States.

For further details or to contact the firm, please email, visit, or download the company brochure.

You can stay up to date with the latest business and investment trends across Asia by subscribing to Asia Briefing’s complimentary update service featuring news, commentary, guides, and multimedia resources.

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8 thoughts on “Setting up a Representative Office in China

    Errick says:

    Can Representative office issue export invoices to it’s parent company?

    For example, A garment manufacturer sets up an RO in china and wants to source buttons and cloth from china, The RO in china chooses the quality etc and finalizes the deal with three different Chinese factory. Now can the RO consolidate the goods (from 3 factories) and issue export invoice and clear the export customs requirements and export the goods to parent co?

    No. RO may not issue invoices.

    Maslina Abd Malek says:

    Which is the government agency/body that is handling the RO’s matters in China (Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzheng)?

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Maslina,

    The local Administration of Industry and Commerce (AIC) is the relevant bureau for establishing an RO. However, different matters such as taxation and personnel are administered by the relevant bodies.

    Wan Yeen says:

    Hi, when RO hire a foreign rep, should the foreign rep also sign a labor contract with RO? Since the foreign rep will need to also pay taxes, social benefits etc.

    China Briefing says:

    Hello Wan Yeen,

    An RO cannot sign a labor contract with a representative. Instead, the overseas company must sign the labor contract. This contract signed between the representative and the overseas company can be used to apply for a visa and deal with social insurance issues.

    For more information, please contact our HR specialists:

    Dariusz Puś says:

    I try to start an RO establishing procedure in Taizhou Zhejiang area and need to get any contact where to start at? I need some office telephone numbers or/and persons in charge etc. Can You help me in such very first step?

    China Briefing says:

    Hi Dariusz,

    Thank you for your inquiry. A member of our service team will be in contact with you shortly. For any more questions, please contact us at

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