2024 Guidelines for Foreigners to Live and Work in China

Posted by Written by Giulia Interesse Reading Time: 9 minutes

The updated 2024 guidelines for foreign businesspersons living and working in China, released by the country’s Ministry of Commerce, outline essential procedures and considerations covering accommodations, visas, work permits, and emergency protocols.

On January 25, 2024, China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) released the latest version of the Guidelines for Foreign Businessmen to Live and Work in China (hereinafter referred to as the “guidelines”).

The document is divided into four main sections, labeled as:

  • Things to pay attention to;
  • Daily living services;
  • Services for stay and living in China; and
  • Social services.

Each segment serves a specific purpose, aiming to highlight key considerations for foreign businesspersons residing in China. These cover essential aspects, such as the registration protocols for temporary accommodation, the validity duration of visas, stay permits, and work licenses, as well as the processes for acquiring and utilizing communication cards, bank cards, mobile payment options, foreign currency exchanges, transportation means, accommodation facilities, and other vital services.

Furthermore, the guidelines elucidate the regulatory framework governing foreign businessperson’s responsibilities concerning social security premiums and individual income tax obligations.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of the guidelines, delving into their significance and implications for foreign businesspersons in China.

Overview of the 2024 guidelines

Things to pay attention to

Temporary accommodation registration

Upon arrival in China, prompt registration for temporary accommodation is required.

If staying in a hotel, registration can be facilitated by the hotel staff upon presentation of a valid passport or international travel documents.

For other accommodations, within urban areas, registration must be completed within 24 hours at the local police station; within rural areas, it should be done within 72 hours.

Visa and residence permit

Vigilance regarding visa and residence permit validity is crucial:

  • Within 30 days of entry, visa holders planning to work or reside in China must convert their visa to a residence permit.
  • Extensions require application 7 days prior to the permit’s expiration, with requisite documentation submitted to the local public security bureau’s exit-entry administration department.
  • Holders must notify the exit-entry administration department within 10 days of any passport or residence document changes.

Work permits

Compliance with work permit regulations stands as a cornerstone for foreign businesspersons seeking to establish themselves in China’s dynamic business landscape. According to the guidelines:

  • Holders of a Z-visa must adhere to the specified stay period indicated on the visa.
  • Those exceeding a 90-day stay must apply for a “Foreigner’s Work Permit” within 30 days of entry, obtainable from the local foreigner’s work management department.
  • Renewal applications must be submitted 30 days before permit expiration.

Noteworthy considerations and emergencies

In addition to the core considerations for living and working in China, several other essential guidelines demand attention to ensure a smooth experience:

  • Adherence to Chinese laws and regulations is mandatory across all spheres, including engagement on social media platforms.
  • Compliance with regulations governing pet ownership, encompassing dogs and cats, is expected to uphold local norms and standards.
  • Photography of military facilities is strictly prohibited to maintain national security and safeguard sensitive areas.

In the event of emergencies, immediate action is crucial:

  • Dial 110 for personal or property-related harm.
  • Dial 119 in the event of a fire emergency.
  • Dial 120 for medical emergencies.
  • Report a lost passport promptly to the local police station to mitigate potential complications.

Daily living services

In this section, the guidelines introduce crucial procedures for accessing essential services in China, as illustrated in the table below:

Daily Living Services
Service Procedure Notes
Applying for a mobile number/SIM card


  • Bring passport or Foreign Permanent Resident Identity Card to service centers of China Telecom, China Mobile, China Unicom, or China Radio and Television.
  • Apply for a mobile SIM card and activate mobile communication services.
Different carriers offer various packages tailored to customer needs.


Mainland-Hong Kong Joint Funding Scheme (MHKJFS)



  • Bring passport or Foreign Permanent Resident Identity Card, work permit, and domestic mobile number to commercial bank branches.
  • Fill out the account opening application form.
  • Promptly validate or modify your PIN at an ATM.



  • Specific requirements may vary, it is always best to verify with the bank manager.
  • Download the corresponding bank’s online banking app during card application.
  • Safeguard your bank card to prevent loss or unauthorized use.
  • If lost, promptly report to the respective bank for card blocking.
Activating mobile payment


  • Download and install WeChat or Alipay app on your mobile phone.
  • Follow app instructions to register and input foreign or domestic mobile number and other required information.
  • Link app to international bank cards bearing Mastercard, Visa, JCB, Diners Club, Discover logos, or domestic bank cards with UnionPay logo.
  • During payment, open the app, scan the merchant’s QR code, or display your payment QR code to the merchant.
  • Authorization from the foreign card issuer is required to link international bank cards with Alipay or WeChat. Some issuers may reject linkage requests due to system limitations.
  • For payments using Alipay or WeChat with linked international bank cards, transactions under RMB 200 (US$63.03) incur no additional fees; transactions above that require a 3 percent service fee.
  • Alipay and WeChat set an annual transaction limit of RMB 65,000 (US$9,140) and a single transaction limit of RMB 6,500 (US$914.21).
  • Users of e-wallets like AlipayHK, mPay, Kakao Pay, etc., can directly use these wallets for QR code payments in mainland China.

Foreign currency exchange to Chinese Yuan (RMB) cash

Individuals entering China from abroad may exchange Chinese Yuan (RMB) cash in relevant countries or regions beforehand and carry it upon entry. The maximum amount of RMB cash each person can carry upon entry and exit is RMB 20,000 (US$2,812.95)

Upon arrival, individuals can exchange foreign currency for RMB cash at commercial bank counters, foreign exchange institutions, or self-service exchange machines located at international airports, land border checkpoints, ports, and other entry points.

Alternatively, individuals can use ATMs with overseas bank cards to withdraw RMB cash.

Means of transportation and stays

Navigating transportation systems in a foreign country can be daunting, especially for newcomers. In this section, the guidelines outline the step-by-step processes for utilizing different transportation options in China, including trains, planes, subways, buses, ride-hailing services, and car rentals.

Transportation Services
Transportation Procedure Notes


  • Ticket purchase: Use valid identification such as Foreign Permanent Resident Identity Card, foreign passport, foreign entry and exit permit, seafarer’s card, visa documents issued by Chinese public security organs, lost passport certificates, or temporary international travel documents issued by foreign embassies or consulates in China with valid Chinese visas or stay permits.
  • 12306 Website, App, or Ticket Hotline:  Use Foreign Permanent Resident Identity Card or foreign passport.
  • Ticket Machines: Use Foreign Permanent Resident Identity Card.

For ticket change and refund:

  • Ticket changes: Process through 12306 website, app, or ticket counters at railway stations.
  • Ticket refunds: Process through 12306 website, app, or ticket counters at railway stations. Cancellation fees may apply based on the cancellation time.   

Identity verification is required for ticket purchase to ensure transportation safety and orderliness.

Ticket payment options may vary depending on the station. – Fees may apply for ticket changes or cancellations, subject to regulations of the railway company.




  • Ticket purchase: Use official airline apps or websites to book tickets. Payment options include Alipay, WeChat Pay, or UnionPay bank cards.
  • Airport counters:  Pay with cash, WeChat Pay, Alipay, or bank cards, subject to airline policies.

Changes and refunds can be processed through ticket platforms or airport counters, with applicable fees determined by airline regulations.

Fees may apply for ticket changes or cancellations, subject to airline policies.


  • Ticket purchase:  Buy single-use cards or apply for rechargeable cards at subway stations.  Payment options include cash, WeChat Pay, or Alipay
  • Alipay app: Verify identity and obtain QR code for subway access.
Ride-hailing Can use Alipay or WeChat apps to schedule rides
Car rental
  • Rental options: Rent from international airport or city rental outlets. Use car rental apps or search for “car rental mini-programs” on Alipay or WeChat.
  • Requirements: Bring passport, valid residence permit (or Foreign Permanent Resident Identity Card), valid Chinese driver’s license, and international/domestic credit cards.
Applicants for Chinese driver’s licenses need to submit passport, foreign driver’s license, Chinese translation, and recent photo at the Public Security Traffic Management Service Hall.


Agreements for driver’s license recognition and exchange exist between China and France, Serbia, Belgium, and the UAE, permitting direct driving

Foreign travelers can make hotel reservations online using the Ctrip International version Trip.com APP or by contacting hotels via phone. It’s important to note that some hotels may have limitations and might not be able to accommodate foreign guests, so it’s advisable to inquire in advance about their policies regarding foreign guests.

Upon check-in at the hotel, guests are required to provide valid identification such as a passport or a foreigner’s permanent residence permit at the front desk.

Payment methods at the hotel include cash (RMB), credit/debit cards, Alipay, and WeChat Pay. For card payments, it’s recommended to inquire in advance whether international bank cards like Mastercard or Visa are accepted. Some hotels also support payment methods such as Apple Pay and PayPal, but it’s best to inquire about these options before making a payment.

Services for stay and living in China

Extending visa validity

Foreign nationals holding visas can extend their stay if their original purpose of entry remains unresolved or for other legitimate reasons, without changing the visa type. Required documents for visa extension include:

  • Valid passport or international travel documents;
  • Completed Foreigner Visa Application Form with one recent passport-sized color photo against a white background;
  • Relevant proof documents related to the application reasons; and
  • Other necessary procedures and proof documents.

For specific requirements regarding visa extension, visit the Foreigner Visa Extension, Issuance, Replacement Approval Service Guide on the National Immigration Administration website.

Applying for a residence permit

Foreign nationals in China for non-diplomatic or official purposes must apply for residence permits within the country. Application for issuance, extension, replacement, and re-issuance of residence permits should be made at local public security exit-entry administration departments. Applicants must personally handle relevant procedures at the public security exit-entry administration department. Individuals meeting specific criteria may authorize others to apply on their behalf.

Required documents for residence permit application include:

  • Valid passport or international travel documents;
  • Completed Foreigner Visa Application Form with one recent passport-sized color photo against a white background;
  • Relevant proof documents related to the application reasons; and
  • Other necessary procedures and proof documents.

Social services

Applying for a work permit

Foreigners applying for a work permit need the following documents:

  • Complete the “Foreigner’s Work Permit Application Form”;
  • Proof of work qualifications;
  • Additional certification (for countries that have joined the “Cancellation of Authentication of Foreign Public Documents” convention) or the highest degree (academic qualification) certificate certified by the Chinese embassy or consulate abroad, or related approval documents, professional qualification certificate;
  • Certificate of no criminal record;
  • Medical certificate;
  • Employment contract or appointment certificate (including inter-company dispatch letter);
  • Applicant’s passport or international travel document;
  • Recent front-facing, bareheaded photo of the applicant taken within the last 6 months;
  • Relevant proof of accompanying family members; and
  • Other relevant documents.

The application is submitted online by the employing unit, and foreign workers’ service windows in various regions handle the process.

Applying for social insurance

Foreigners working in China should participate in social insurance according to the “Social Insurance Law of the People’s Republic of China” and the “Interim Measures for Foreigners Employed in China to Participate in Social Insurance.”

The social insurance covers the following three categories of foreign individuals in China:

  • Holders of a valid “Foreigner’s Work Permit” and foreign residence documents, as well as foreign permanent residence permit holders;
  • Individuals who have signed labor contracts with Chinese employers and receive salaries from them, or those dispatched to work in China by foreign companies and receive salaries from Chinese employers; and
  • Individuals within the employment age range (men under 60 years old, women under 55 years old).

Newly insured individuals working in China start paying contributions from the month of employment. The payment base and rate for insured foreigners are based on the standards for Chinese nationals.

According to information on the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security website, China has signed social security agreements with countries including:

  • Germany;
  • South Korea;
  • Denmark;
  • Canada;
  • Finland;
  • Switzerland;
  • the Netherlands;
  • France;
  • Spain;
  • Japan;
  • Serbia; and
  • Luxembourg.

Nationals of countries with such agreements are exempt from paying certain insurance obligations according to the agreements. More information is available on the website of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

Individual Income Tax (IIT)

Individual Income Tax is imposed on all individuals, including Chinese and foreign nationals, residing in or deriving income from China.

The comprehensive income is subject to three to 45 percent of progressive rates on the whole.

The employer is responsible for accurately calculating and withholding IIT on employment income, including but not limited to wages and salaries, bonuses, stock options, and allowances, before paying a net amount to its employee.

About the Chinese tax residence status:

  • Resident status: Foreigners with a residence in China or who have resided in China for a cumulative total of 183 days in a tax year are considered Chinese tax residents.
  • Non-resident status: Foreigners who do not have a residence in China or who have not resided in China for a cumulative total of 183 days in a tax year are considered non-residents.

Chinese tax residents must declare and settle their comprehensive income within the period from March 1st to June 30th of the following year.

Individuals meeting specific conditions may be exempt from the settlement, such as meeting exemption criteria, prepaid tax equals payable amount, or eligible for refund but not applying.

Taxpayers can handle tax affairs at local government service halls, tax service halls, or through the Personal Income Tax APP or the Individual Electronic Tax Bureau webpage.

Moreover, China has Double Taxation Avoidance (DTA) agreements covering 114 countries (regions). Eligible foreigners can independently determine whether they meet the conditions for enjoying treaty benefits and apply them during declarations. Tax withholding agents can make declarations on behalf of foreigners eligible for treaty benefits. Relevant documents should be kept for future reference.

For details on the agreements, please refer to the tax treaty section of the State Administration of Taxation website.


The guidelines provided by China’s MOFCOM serve as a crucial resource for foreign businesspersons navigating life and work in China.

About Us

China Briefing is written and produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. The practice assists foreign investors into China and has done so since 1992 through offices in Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. Please contact the firm for assistance in China at china@dezshira.com.

Dezan Shira & Associates also has offices in Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, United States, Germany, Italy, India, and Dubai (UAE). We also have partner firms assisting foreign investors in The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh.