Can I legally use a GNSS device in China?

According to Hvistendal (2013), Science:

Since at least 2007, it has been effectively illegal for foreigners to operate a GPS device in China. International brands of cameras with GPS capabilities have been rigged to avoid displaying coordinates if the user is in China, says Stefan Geens, an analyst in Stockholm who studies networked digital maps and geospatial imagery.

On Quora, different answers contradict each other, but at least one confirms the GPS-enabled camera rigging.

I usually carry a handheld Garmin GNSS device around, which includes the ability to receive GPS signals. I have offline Openstreetmap data downloaded on the device. If I do so in China, will I risk getting this device confiscated upon entry, or arrested for illegally using GPS? I suspect that if GPS devices are illegal, then that also applies to GLONASS and Galileo (unless GPS is banned for being American...). Does it?


1 Answer 1


This may well be one of those 'laws' or rules that is ultimately unenforceable. There are so many mobile phones entering China daily in tourists' pockets, all of which are able to use GPS. I imagine most tourists open up Google Maps (or at least try to), and the more prepared might use OpenStreetMaps (I have several friends who have used it there).

Ultimately it might come down to whether or not you interact with police, show your device, use it a lot, or blind luck, and whether they know the rule, enforce the rule, or even care.

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