For some countries to apply for a visa you must provide proof of:

  • Travelling to and/or from the country, sometimes the document even specifies flight ticket.
  • Accommodation booked, sometimes just the first night is necessary.

Now when you intend to travel independently by crossing the border by land when you get there by whichever means makes sense at the time, and staying first at whichever city or town you reach - the advice given on many forums, and also here on travel.SE is to just book some transportation and accommodation that you will cancel later.

But can this ever lead to problems? Is the information you provided for your visa application binding in any way?

In the case that this is too hard to answer in the general case, an answer specifically for China is also acceptable.

So far this question has two speculative answers based on guessing what might happen. What I am looking for is more solid information, such as actual laws on this topic from any country, notices or warnings posted at embassies or travel advisories, news reports, blog postings, or forum postings of anybody's personal story where this did turn out to be a real factor. Or if it happened to you yourself! Getting an answer by calling or visiting a consulate or immigration office might also work, but might cause suspicion if you do it while actually applying for a visa.

  • Do you want to know how they can find out that you are not planning to stick with the plan at the moment when you are entering the country or do you want to know what would happen if they find out, for example when you are leaving the country again? – uncovery Oct 24 '13 at 2:42
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    It's not a real answer but many laws, in this domain and others, are designed to give legal cover in border cases or provide law enforcement with leverage. The process is often somethings like this: You make yourself undesirable in some way or the police wants something from you, it finds you guilty of something unrelated (including violating some condition of your visa) and then threatens/arrests/jails/deports you as applicable. If someone complains (including foreign governments), they can always point to the law. – Relaxed Oct 24 '13 at 9:34
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    The fact that the law is on the books does not mean you will automatically run into problems or that anybody is actively looking for people that violate it. This might explain why these requirements exist in the first place even if many people never get in trouble for trying to go around them. – Relaxed Oct 24 '13 at 9:35
  • Also booking a (cancellable) flight and hotel is a minor annoyance when you have a bank account, a credit card and some means but it can be a real hurdle for poorer travelers. – Relaxed Oct 24 '13 at 9:42
  • @uncovery: I want to know what might happen if they find out. Or what might happen if something unrelated comes up and they then check this stuff, perhaps when applying for a visa extension or leaving after overstaying or other things I haven't even thought of... – hippietrail Oct 25 '13 at 1:49

In China, the EEB (Exit-Entry Bureau) branch of the PSB (Public Security Bureau) works together with local police to keep track of foreigners in the country. When you stay in a hotel, the hotel is required to forward your passport details to the local police. If you stay in a private residence, you are required to register yourself in the household register at the nearest police station.

When your visa expires, the EEB will contact the police where you last registered, and the police will attempt to track you down. At first this is a phone call to your hosts (hotel/owner of the residence), and they will be satisfied at that point if you confirm that you have applied for an extension to your visa (assuming that's what you have actually done, because they will check). Beyond that, I suppose they might come door knocking but I wouldn't want it to get that far.

As I understand it, the purpose of foreigner registration is so that the police can find you whenever they want to. If your travel plans change, all you need to do is update your registration. If you're staying in another hotel, no specific action is required (other than the hotel taking your passport details, which they are required to do). If you're staying privately, update your own registration. As long as you leave before your visa expires, you won't have any trouble with passport control upon leaving the country.

(The above is based on personal experience.)

  • I actually hitchhiked without any real plans right through the country, stayed at least one night not registered in a hotel, left on the last night of my visa, and nobody said anything. I'm going back for my second entry in about a month after they've had time to rummage through my records (-: – hippietrail Dec 3 '13 at 8:54
  • As Greg notes, they only attempt to track you down if your visa expires before you leave, and yours did not. – lambshaanxy Dec 3 '13 at 16:15
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    Agreed. At least half the time that we have gone to China we have ended up visiting a city that was not on our visa application and that doesn't even count the fact that the application doesn't even ask about subsequent trips on a multi-entry visa. It's never been an issue. – Loren Pechtel Dec 5 '13 at 0:00
  • I have visited China 15 times (~=?) in the last 6 years. I have an APEC card (business travel card - NOT member of A') which gives visa exemption so, while my entry is noted at the border, they have no fore-knowledge of my arrival or of where I am going. Every hotel and hostel records passport details but I've never gained the impression that anyone there is in the slightest bit interested officially in where I am or what I do on any given day. [This may be a false impression on my part :-) ]. So, while they could track me on a day to day basis, and may do so, nothing I do needs preapproval. – Russell McMahon Jan 14 '14 at 9:22

As a minimum, I am pretty sure that, if found out, you might have trouble getting a visa for the country again next time.

As a next step, if they decide you never intended to stick with the schedule as announced, they could deport you right away.

Depending on the legislation of the country, they could fine/jail you for lying to the respective authority.

All the visa issues are not an exact science unfortunately. In the end, you might land in jail or being deported by one customs officer, and left alone by another with exactly the same situation.

When deviating from your original schedule, the question is more often how well you can explain your situation to the authorities than what you actually did. There is so much personal judgement in the situation that it's really hard to predict what might happen. Of course, there are legal limits in every country as to what they could do to you in an extreme case, but we all know how some countries use the arrest of foreign citizens as a political tool by accusing them of spying (admittedly rather places like Iran and N.Korea).

One of the biggest issues is not if you stayed in one hotel after claiming you would stay in another. The biggest issue is if you are suspected to lie to cover up something else that you did wrong. If you go to a country, change your schedule and leave on time, you are most likely good. If the officer has reason to believe that something fishy is going on from your un-announced travel pattern, they can use that to ask more direct questions about your purpose of stay. And people who plan to overstay their visa or to work illegally are more likely to fail to stick to their travel schedule.

In the end, there is however always the risk that a customs officer makes a judgment and has you temporarily jailed and then deported if they think that you are suspicious enough to not be in their country.

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    I'm sorry, but that sounds like a lot of speculation. The key is if found out -- how, exactly, would the customs officer (at Immigration, right?) find out you're not going to city X or staying at hotel Y if you're still at the airport? Frankly, I think it's pretty unlikely that they'd even have access to the itinerary you scribbled on your visa application, since those details are not recorded in the visa itself! – lambshaanxy Oct 24 '13 at 2:10
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    @jpatokal sorry, but I do not read the question above as "how would they find out at immigration" but I read this much rather as "if they find out later, what could happen". Also I am not so sure if the probability of someone finding it out makes a real difference to the question asked. Maybe we should ask above to clarify – uncovery Oct 24 '13 at 2:41
  • Well, they're asking "could you actually get in trouble". If it's virtually impossible for somebody to find out, then no, you can't actually get in trouble. – lambshaanxy Oct 24 '13 at 3:19
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    Ok, your argument makes sense, but I would say "Nobody will ever find out" is just as much speculation as "what would happen in case" :) – uncovery Oct 24 '13 at 6:36

No one checks for what you put in the visa application. The size of the work force they will need is ridiculous. It is just a pure bureaucracy.

I guess that if you are a Tibetan rights activist and they know about you they might check you out a little bit more.

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