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I have now heard a couple of times from different sources that in some parts of China you can't just stay wherever you feel like as a tourist.

I hitchhiked from the Lao border to the Mongolian border and never encountered such a problem. If I didn't know of a hostel or guesthouse I would just find a cheap hotel for around 50-70 yuan. It was generally pretty easy.

But I've met other travellers and also either been told or read online that in some areas you can't do this because only certain more expensive places have a licence or permission from the government to allow foreign travellers to stay.

  • I thought I once heard that this was a problem in the provinces with political unrest, such as Xinjiang province in Western China.

  • But then I thought I heard about it in areas near the big cities like Beijing or Shanghai.

One of these stories was from a Latvian guy in the same hostel as me in Xi'an about six weeks ago. I thought he was talking about the Beijing area after he finished the Trans Mongolian train trip, but I'm longer sure.

So is this something I should know about before heading west or east? In which parts of China is this the case?

If it's simple, just answer with the list of places. If it's more complicated, answer with a link to a resource with the actual situation.

Just to be clear, I'm not asking about places with general travel restrictions, such as needing a permit to visit Tibet, I'm just asking about where I can stay in any old hotel vs. where I can only stay in "approved" hotels.

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I've got a month to travel around China and I'm actually considering both Urumqi and Weihai ... – hippietrail Jan 1 '14 at 6:28
I've never been rejected at a hotel or hostel in China - nor had it suggested that I could not stay when I enquired in advance. I've stayed in a hotel and a hostel in Urumqi with no difference in procedures to anywhere else. I've stayed in a lowish cost hotel near the centre of Beijing with no problems. In all cases as in every other country I've visited as a foreigner, presenting my passport was required. | During peiods of unrest in Xinjiang you may possibly have trouble entering Urumqi - but usually not a problem. I'm told in Tibet your behaviour is tightly controlled (no photos of ... – Russell McMahon Jan 2 '14 at 12:14
... controversial things, signs of unrest or the occasional immolation [ :-( ]. I have NEVER had any indication that I have been monitored, followed, controlled etc anywhere in China in about 15 visits (I have been to Urumqi but not Tibet ). [In Beijing I have had to show my passport to use internet cafe PCs] – Russell McMahon Jan 2 '14 at 12:14
@RussellMcMahon: Pretty similar to my experiences so far. So where are this stories, blog posts, articles, coming from? \-: – hippietrail Jan 2 '14 at 12:20
Keep travelling in China and let us know when you find them - if they let you leave :-). In many Chinese cities I've seen "street people" sleeping without apparent concern beside footpaths or on ledges at ground level on buildings etc. It occurred to me that if one was well enclosed (as some are) that you could pass for a local in such situations. You may need to dream-talk only in chinese :-) . – Russell McMahon Jan 4 '14 at 7:09

Some of it comes down to the hotel chain.

For example Hanting 汉庭 at most can accept foreigners. Sometimes if they do, they have some weird policy about no free breakfast or something. However some can not 接待外宾 receive foreign guests.

如家 Home Inn, is hit or miss in mainland cities. Some take you, some don't. Best to call ahead of time and ask in Chinese 能不能接待外宾? néng bù néng jiēdài wàibīn?

The final one is JinJiangInn 锦江之星 and they pretty much always are able to accommodate foreign guests.

Because foreign guests in some cities are so few, it may not be worth it for the hotel chain (or branch) to do all this paperwork and register with the local police to be accredited to accept foreigners just for the 4 foreigners who roll in each year.

Best are the YHA hostels, they have a great app and a booklet if you are into that kinda thing. Get the membership card if you are a frequent backpackers or suitcaser. However, be on the lookout for the 'sham' YHA hostels (with an orangeish YHA looking logo) because we know everything in China can be '山寨' copycatted.

Usually rooms run 150 RMB plus per night for a standard double

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Really? 150 sounds expensive. I have pretty basic standards and usually paid between 30 and 50 RMB and only once paid about 100 RMB one year ago. I did also stay at about half a dozen YHA hostels, usually when I'd been in non tourist areas for a while with nobody to talk English to (-: – hippietrail Jan 30 '15 at 12:24
Prices vary city to city and season to season. Referring to 2 queen beds, private bathroom, probably a TV, that kind of thing. – Alex Quan Jan 30 '15 at 23:44

There are several wards in China that you won't be able to visit unless you've been invited by the government, Lushunkou is one example. Typically they are neighborhoods, towns, cities, etc. where they have military installations, or other sensitive regions. In these areas you won't be able to stay in a hotel, which might not be confirmed until they check with the police.

They're the equivalent of those military family neighborhoods you would find in the west — where they have giant signs saying you can be pulled over for inspection at any time.

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Yes this question is not about restricted areas. Just about regular areas where the cheap local hotels don't allow foreigners to stay. – hippietrail Jan 2 '14 at 2:04
@hippietrail Those are the areas I'm referring too. There's nothing physically stopping your from being in the area, but you wouldn't be able to stay in hotels around military/sensitive government installations. – Stephen P. Jan 3 '14 at 0:28

There is no state level law that to regulate the foreigners to stay in special hotels.

According to §39 Foreigners Entry and Exit Management Law of PRC, the hotels must register the foreign guests according to "regulations which are applied" and report the registration to local police authority.

The "regulations which are applied" could be made by any local authorities. Thus different cities have different regulations. Commonly, foreigners need to stay in a shè-wài hotel.

Peking and Shanghai local government officially cancelled the regulation, which means foreigners can stay in any hotels or hostels in Peking and Shanghai.

If you travel to other places, either to ask the hotel in advance or book a shè-wài hotel.

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I was initially told I could not stay at the Wuzhishan Yatai Resort in Hainan, just over a month ago. This is a VERY nice mountain resort, and part of a big chain. My Chinese gf booked the hotel online, but when we showed up at the gate they tried to turn us away when they saw my white face. We heard later that there is a missile base nearby, and about a year ago a British tourist was lost for a few days in the woods. When he was found there was some concern he was a spy, embassies were involved, etc. So after that they started booking only mainland Chinese. We were also told that they look the other way when Koreans or Japanese show up.

We had driven five hours, the last two over half-finished, sometimes unpaved, dangerous mountain roads. When I heard this I started using English vocabulary most Chinese know but seldom hear. They eventually let me stay after I signed a paper stating that I would not wander around the grounds, except in the company of a hotel employee. It seems like a ridiculous prohibition to me. It really is a fabulous resort. We paid about 300 yuan per night. I am sure in the US it would be $300 to $400. Once we got in, we enjoyed every minute, except that the hotel employee turned us back before reaching the summit because he was running out of time. I am also sure that the CIA and the NSA know everything about the base. I am also sure that they have spies with PRC passports. Would forbidding foreigners from staying in hotels in Los Alamos make us any safer? Of course not. But this is politics and "policy", which means that rational arguments rarely come into play.

I still need to find a way to get to the top of Wuzhishan, mostly because they told me "no".

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There are to my information no special provinces where you do not need to be registered as a foreigner to stay overnight, or cannot stay at all. Every hotel has to register you with the police so you can stay there. The question is if they have that system.

So the question is a hotel-by-hotel one, not a question which region you stay in.

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Hmm the Latvian traveller I met in my hostel in Xi'an had definitely not been to Tibet. My question is not about travel restrictions generally or about staying in people's home, just about where you can stay in any old hotel vs where you can stay only in hotels approved for foreigners. Let me go back and check the wording of my question ... – hippietrail Jan 1 '14 at 10:32
@hippietrail amended the answer. – uncovery Jan 1 '14 at 15:11
Hmm it still doesn't feel right though when I read the stories I linked. I always gave my passport and got registered, even when they spoke no English in very untourity places. Yet these reports say people tried many hotels with each one rejecting them until they were forced to stay at an expensive hotel. \-: – hippietrail Jan 1 '14 at 15:13
@hippietrail what gives you the impression that this is a by-province issue? – uncovery Jan 1 '14 at 15:17
recollections of what I hear or read, but as I wasn't sure I also ask "or areas". It seems that some people find at least whole streets or parts of towns or cities where hotels won't let them stay. It's looking more and more like another "welcome to china" thing! (-: – hippietrail Jan 1 '14 at 15:24

One such area is Shilin Town in the Shilin Yi Autonomous County just east of Kunming in Yunnan where the stone forest tourist attraction is located.

I turned up there a few months ago while hitchhiking out of Kunming thinking I would have plenty of time to find a cheap hotel in a place that size before it got dark.

I went to five or six places and all said I couldn't stay, some not until asking for my ID card and seeing I only had a passport. Then I met a Chinese guy who took me to another half dozen places and did the talking for me, even going to fancier places outside my price range.

It turns out only one hotel, part of the conference centre, is allowed to have foreigner stay, and it was several times my budget.

We couldn't discern the exact reason it wasn't allowed but it seemed to be that it was an official rule that if broken would likely involve imprisonment for the hotel person! This is why people didn't want to bend the rule in this area even though I'd been in other areas where people occasionally bent the rules even to the extent of not wanting to see my passport.

Sadly I forget some of the details and don't have a way to contact the local guy who helped me. I ended up staying in his spare room, which is very rare in China.

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