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When I am on a short visit to China, I stay with family and have to visit the nearest police station to register my presence. At the police station I provide my passport and write the address I'm staying at. They then give me a document (I don't know what it's called) with some information about me and my residence on it.

Now, I have read that foreigners need to carry their passport at all times with them when in China. But that's risky when I could leave it in a safe at my residence. Is the form that I get from the police station an alternative form of identification?

Also, 'free' museums and art galleries often require identification to enter; will I always need my passport or can I use the alternative identification given to me by the police?

If I don't have my passport with me and need it, what would be the outcome if I was stopped by someone in authority? My mother-in-law is paranoid that it will be stolen or get lost and is reluctant to give it back to me if my wife passes it to her.

Please note, I'm not talking about needing to travel anywhere outside of the city I'm staying in; I know the passport is necessary for flights or rail travel, registering in hotels, etc.

  • I have stayed with family before, most recently a year ago, in China. I have never had to register with the police... that's interesting. – Michael Aug 8 '17 at 23:04
  • @MichaelC.: Well, they don't do anything to force you to, but you are still required to register. – Greg Hewgill Aug 8 '17 at 23:05
  • I think it's just for identification purposes. Like how in the US usually people have some form of ID on them (usually a driver's license). A tourist couldn't get a temp ID in the US, so I'd imagine OP couldn't get a temp on in China. – Michael Aug 8 '17 at 23:07
  • I also think it's worth any answer addressing the possible repercussions of not having the passport on you when asked by the authorities (both legal possibilities and most likely actual outcomes). – James Hill Aug 9 '17 at 17:34
  • @MichaelC.: Actually, the policewomen at the station I register at are surprised I bother but agree that it is potentially best as it might one day save me from some hassle. Local police in different places may of course have other opinions about the importance of registering. – James Hill Aug 9 '17 at 17:40
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Yes, according to Exit and Entry Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China:

Article 38 Foreigners having reached the age of 16 who stay or reside in China shall carry with them their passports or other international travel documents, or foreigners’ stay or residence permits, and accept the inspection of public security organs.

I don't believe that the receipt you get from the local police for your registration is actually a "permit" according to the above article.

  • Do you know what the 'other international travel documents' or 'foreigners' say permits'? I'm making an assumption that there are 2 types of permits: 'stay' permits and 'residence' permits; but they may both refer to the same thing. – James Hill Aug 9 '17 at 17:30
  • I've decided to accept this question as it answers my question correctly regarding the letter of the law. I think there is still some room for questioning whether it is practically necessary; there is no information on what the repercussions (if any) of not carrying it are, and whether in practise it is acceptable to carry a photocopy. I suspect that would be best answered by another question however and nobody could give a firm answer that would apply in every circumstance, only guidance from experience. – James Hill Oct 23 '17 at 23:33
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That's a decision where you have to weigh probability and severity of outcome for two different scenarios.

I always leave mine in the hotel safe and never had a problem. For me, the pain+probability of a lost/stolen passport far outweighs pain+probability of being caught without one at random incident.

Your personal mileage may vary.

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