144 Days Outside the Law

I recently took a look at my passport and discovered that my student visa was expired. Long expired. It had expired on September 15th, 2006.

As you can imagine, I kind of freaked out a little at first. My wife is here. My home is here. My job is here. What if they bust in and drag me away, kicking and screaming, for my egregious visa overstay? Seemed plausible.

I was kinda pissed at East China Normal University. They handle my visa. They never even mentioned anything about visa renewal to me. I talked to them, and they claimed they had called me and/or e-mailed me about it (they did neither), and that if I really never heard from them, then maybe I somehow slipped through the cracks when they switched from the old system to the new networked system. I suspect me being one of the few foreign grad students played a factor as well. Anyway, all this was kind of irrelevant, because at the end of the day, I alone am responsible for making sure I have a valid visa. It’s right there in my passport. I may be busy, but I must watch that expiration date.

So how was it resolved? The school wrote a letter for me saying I was a great student and to please be lenient when fining me. They gave me the form with signature and seal that I needed for the new study visa. They also told me that I was facing a maximum fine of 5000 RMB. (That’s about US$644.)

To get my new visa, I also had to go to the local police station and get my “temporary residence permit” form, since I’ve moved since my last visa. I used to dread going to the police station to get this paperwork done, but I now have a different attitude about it. This is mainly because the Changning District Police Station seems to never want to fine foreigners for not reporting in within 24 hours of moving (like they’re required to do by law). They clearly have the power to fine us, but in Changning District, they never seem to fine me. Last time I registered six months late, and they just gave me a mild warning. (They could have fined me by the day!) This time I wasn’t worried when I filled out the form and indicated that I had actually moved about 10 days before. Not only did I not get fined, the officer actually changed the date I wrote so that I would look better on paper for when I went to get my visa taken care of. Awesome! Changning District Police, I salute you!

Now here’s the deal with the visa. According to the rules, you get fined 500 RMB for every day you are in China without a visa. This amount, however, maxes out at 5000 RMB. In my case, this is extremely fortunate, because it meant I faced a 5000 RMB fine rather than a 72,000 RMB fine (almost $10,000).

When I arrived at the visa place in Pudong, I was actually optimistic about getting the fine reduced. I had a glowing letter of recommendation, I had never overstayed a visa before, and I felt I could possibly turn on the charm. The visa officer was a kindly old grandfatherly type. He carefully listened to everything about me getting married, never being late on a visa, being very fond of China, working on my Masters, blah blah blah, and then informed me that I was getting the maximum fine of 5000 RMB.

5000 RMB is not that bad, really though. I was 144 days late. Since 500 RMB per day adds up to 5000 RMB after only 10 days, it’s almost as if I got 134 free days! And not just any 134 days, but 134 crazy days of life outside the law! Living on the illegal edge! Or, you could say I got a bargain fine at only 35 RMB per day. (That’s a huge savings over 500 RMB per day!)

Anyway, the point of this post is keep others from freaking out. When you seriously overstay your visa as I have, they don’t kick you out, they don’t get mad. They just make you pay 5000 RMB.

The whole thing ended up being pretty long and drawn out. I had to wait in numerous lines, have various documents and receipts photocopied, actually leave the building to pay the fine through Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (I guess this is a good thing because it keeps officials from pocketing fine money), and fill out several forms. And I got a surprise at the end. Rather than being issued a student visa good for another year, I was issued a student visa good for another two months. This is because my passport expires in April 2007, so my visa can’t go beyond that date.

So now I have to go pick up my passport next week along with my new two month visa, go to the U.S. Consulate for a new passport, then come back and do the whole visa extension dance again. Lovely.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I got fined 1500 for staying over a couple of weeks. This all took place at PuDong airport. They checked my passport, found my visa was expired, I explained I was going to HK to renew my visa, took me to the little police station at the airport, sat around for 30 minutes while they wrote me up, and then I paid 1500RMB in cash. Considering like you said if it was 500 per day, I got off easy for being late 14 days.

    So yeah, overstaying your visa is really no problem. And those 2 weeks were pretty wild and crazy.

  2. can you work off-campus when you’re on student visa?As a student in the States, you can’t even be a duck on a street….how sad it is….

  3. At least they don’t go overboard in Shanghai, that is. I would imagine there are certain locales in China where if a foreigner overstayed his visa the local authorities would go overboard and the foreigner could be in for a lot of trouble.

  4. John, I can empathize with you. About 2 years agoa I was 90 days overdue… My wife and I just read your post together ( I had to translate it for her. By the way how do you say “huge savings” other than henpianyi?)
    It was actually, my second “offense”, as I had encounter a snafu with Baosteel in 2002 which resulted in a no-fine situation.

    I was scared shitless in Liaoning in 2004, as the first cop told me I would have to leave the country…. Then, the airport ticket agent would not give me a ticket back to Shanghai (where I hope to use my guanxi) because my visa was expired. I bs’d her into letting buy a ticket by telling her that I was sent back to my port of entry(proved by showing my Pudong Airpoert entry stamp). One I got to Shanghai I spent 3 days fervently searching gooogle for the search terms “china extradite” and “foreigner extradited china”. Luckily only the DVD King came up in the search. Based upon that I presumed the chances of getting out were 1 in a google.

    Long story short, I paid my 5k at the bank, and they kept my passport to issue me a 1 day visa. Next day went back down to Wusong road, got my passport, and flew to Shenzhen. Made it to the border at 10:00 pm…


  5. A friend of mine overstayed her (tourist) visa by 4 months. Her 5000 fine was discounted to something like 2000 or 3000 (I forget), but she had to write some kind of self-criticism.

  6. On/off topic – I overstayed a Thai visa by a few days and had to pay about $15 at the airport before flying home. Anyone else think that the Asians just don’t take the visa thing as seriously as the West does – likely rightfully so.

    Incidentally, I – after two years here – just got a legit visa.

  7. but she had to write some kind of self-criticism.

    Really? Was Chairman Mao there, watching over her shoulder? How long ago was this?

  8. DalianDragon Says: February 8, 2007 at 9:05 am

    Wow! Sounds like “someone” needs to work on a little thing the Chinese call “guan xi”.

    It starts like this….

    Step 1: Call up a few people and get yourself written about in ANY small, local newspaper or something small on TV. When they put you in the newspaper or on TV, they almost ALWAYS identify you as a student of whatever University you’re attending. Then aquire copies of said media and …… BAM! Instant “guan xi” with the school… because you’ve given them FREE ADVERTISING.

    Step 2: Contact ALL of your Chinese friends (especially those with businesses) and start “networking” your way into the local government. Do some “favors” for local officials (like teaching their child English for a few hours or something simple).

    Step 3: Know who to pay off! Seriously. You can skip the 5,000 fine if you know who to give the “hong bao” with 1,000 RMB in it to.

    Step 4: When in trouble, call in favors. Seriously, call EVERYONE you know. If you know enough people, there’ll DEFINITELY be someone who can help you.

  9. marco,

    Ummm, no, I “can’t” work.

  10. DalianDragon,

    I’m afraid small-town tricks don’t always apply in Shanghai. The old “dazzling them with your white skin” trick doesn’t even work here.

    Guanxi works everywhere in China, but good guanxi does not come as cheap in Shanghai.

  11. Just curious: Would you be able to go to school on a work visa?

  12. Eh, I’m just not sympathetic. It’s understandable to be a week or two late, but not realizing your visa has expired for 5 months is just negligent. I’m sure you’re a fine guy, but you seem to be 99% at fault here. So, you gotta face the music.

  13. Michael,

    Believe me, no one is clearer who’s at fault here than I am. I am exactly 5000 RMB clearer on this issue than you, in fact.

  14. Auch! Thats a lot of money.

  15. John, sounds like Shanghai is a little easier than Hangzhou.

    A certain person of my acquaintance (I would never say he was a friend, cos he’s a nasty f&*#^er), had 4 cops rock up at his place and dragged him (dunno if he was kicking or screaming though, cos he’s built like a brick shithouse) down to the main PSB station, and told hime he was going to be deported.

    Anyways, he had given his passport to his boss a month before his visa ran out to get all the details done, but it turned out that they never did anything about it….supposedly they thought that because they were a Hangzhou government owned company they wouldn’t need to bother with doing a visa for him.

    I can’t quite remember what happened in the end, except that the company was fined a lot of money, and he had everything sorted. Oh, and his boss was apparently almost fired because he tried to call in his guanxi to get the fine removed.

  16. Having a Chinese spouse doesn’t give you status to stay in the country??? Dude, China sucks!

  17. Mark in Dunan Says: February 8, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    In Japan overstays are punished harshly:


    I just assumed China would be worse!

  18. John,
    Are you mixing up the visa concept with your status?
    As a Chinese student in US, our student visa expires after we use it at the entry port. But what really keep us legal is the i-94 form on passport which states our status and duration. Are you talking about your expired student status?

  19. No country could ever be as xenophobic as Japan, my god!

  20. Whew! In a perfect world, you would take that receipt of 5000RMB to the school who took care of the VISA and have them credit or reimburse you.

  21. Student visa holders in US are not supposed to work but check out the Nepali staff they got down the street from my university. Not a one have work permits I would bet. As long as they stay out of trouble, they won’t have any problems I would bet.

  22. Hi John, found your blog from your Chinese font download page. The sample words you’re using cracked me up.
    Just want to say thank you for maintaining the page. It’s truly helpful.

    Sorry about being off the topic here. Hope you get your status sorted out and not to worry about it. All the best!

  23. Wilson,

    Even in a perfect world you’d have to first prove it’s the school’s fault. And perfect worlds exist in neither China nor the States.

  24. @Ling,

    There is no I-94 for foreigners in China. The visa itself lists the status and duration. While in China, I was given a work visa with zero entries.

  25. Thanks, Gin. That was helpful. Ahem.

  26. What a coincidence. My passport was good until April 2007 as well. I think you got of lucky. Just 5000RMB was very lenient.

  27. u’re so lucky…

    do u know “三非人员”? it’s just like illegal immigrants. some of them were sent back to their home countries.

    anyway i think u can get a 1-year visa as ur wife is a chinese citizen.

  28. Hmm., That is an egregious mistake you made., But apparently you already have enough people coming down hard on you for that already. Here is a suggestion, in addition to your mainpage where you have “John has lived in China for 6.5 years.”, Maybe you should have a counter to say.., John have to get his visa renewed in xxx number of days. 🙂

  29. Just glad you’re not getting deported. That would have been terrible.

  30. So this gets me thinking… how many of us have passports expiring in 2007?

    Given the 10 year limit, and that many of us would have got passports at 18 (assuming things like an international focus when ‘younger’), it would be interesting to see how many of the readers of Sinosplice (maybe with web related babies) are in the same tight age group.

    As for the visa. In Dalian (where I’m based) you’d be in trouble for overstaying. You’d be in trouble for working on a student or investment visa – over 2006 I knew of a few folks who ran into almighty storms. I get the impression that in Shanghai the norm is for an F visa rather than a Z visa, so I guess things are different in the South, but student ones are OK too?

    ‘Guanxi’ goes some way, but in my experience it seems that the people that use the term the most actually have the least.

  31. John, reading your blog for months and rating him as one of the best foreign blogs about China, I am really surprised to see you writing about visa issue.

    After living 6.5 years in China, as mentioned in the header of this page, and being unable to open your passport and check your expiration date of your visa, it just seems 太过分 to me.

    One, you are foreigner in China, and no matter the time you lived there, how good is your Chinese, or if you have a Chinese companion or not, you have to comply with local regulations. No question about that.

    Two, you must be responsible of what is stuck in your passport, especially your last visa and its expiration date. It’s too easy to blame your school/employer for not warning you. Organization is not the most famous Chinese quality, so you’d better take care of your visa by yourself with help from locals, not letting them to do it for you. (Warning : in this sentence, I am not criticizing China or Chinese people in any way, just praising the DIY)

    Three, you are working with a student visa ? Have you never questionned the fact that it would become a problem ? Come on…

    Personnaly it took me a long time to understand all of this. Being a French citizen having studied and graduated from Chinese university and working various jobs after, I didn’t think visa would ever be an issue. Now as a local employer, hiring Chinese people and experiencing reverse problems to send my Chinese colleagues in my homeland or other occidental countries such as the States or Canada, I think China is not that strict about immigration. And compared with US or French immigration laws, we can not complain about Chinese ones, just comply with them.

    Seeing you as a long-time self-financing living foreigner in China, I consider you as a knowledgeable source of information about this country. Tell me if I’m wrong, but this article is far to be your best one, and may easily think of you as one these foreign-asshole-expats whose behaviour makes us sick. But we all know you are not.

    So, keep up the good work, this article won’t stop me to read your blog anyway 😉

  32. Frank,

    I could try to present myself as “perfect” on my blog, but I prefer not to. I am human. I make mistakes. If that makes me more of an asshole in your mind, there’s nothing I can do about that.

    I brought up the whole idea of the school having responsibility because (1) schools I have studied at before have always taken responsibility for handling (and, yes, renewing) my visas, and (2) the schools claim’s at notifying me indicate that the school itself feels that it had some sort of responsibility. If it didn’t, it should have just replied, “that was your responsibility.”

    It would have been nice if the school had reminded me, but I know that in the end it was my responsibility. If you think this post was a bid for sympathy, you missed the point. The point was to let other people out there who might have made a similar mistake that (at least in Shanghai) it’s not such a big deal, it’s just a little expensive.

    This is the first time I’ve ever overstayed a visa anywhere. I did it with flair. I have to say, though… you learn a whole lot more about a country by breaking its rules than by following them!

  33. John

    I totally agree with you, we learn a lot more about China by breaking some rules there (I’ve also done it numerous times). However, we have to admit that as foreigner, breaking rules in China (especially immigration ones) may be incomparably easier, cheaper and safer than breaking rules in States, Japan (cf link below) or France.

    Most people knows that, and some ill-intentionned may play with that. My main point is that I feel embarassed when I read that it seems not that important to break some rules here, as some people would be encouraged to do so. The Chinese immigration system may be easy to cope with, talking casually about it is maybe not the best way to share experience of it. Some part of your article may lead readers to think so.

    Eventually, in my previous comment I used some harsh words. I want to make clear that it was not, in any way, targeted to you, but to some people not representative of foreigners living in China. My sole reason to comment was to discuss with you about your article, but certainly not to insult you. Your blog is really worth reading and I wouldn’t dare to comment it just to criticize you.

  34. I think Frank’s harsh words were much more 过分 than John’s visa gaffe. Visa rules change across both time and space in China, you never really know what you need even after you call up the visa office. I’ve paid the RMB 5000 fine before (but didn’t have the 内脏 to write about it on my weblog like John did) and have spent lots of time researching and re-researching the rules only to find that they have changed time and time again without announcement.

    Separate residence permits? Foreign expert certificates? Things of the recent past–or not, depending on where in China you live. What long-term visas can Americans get in Hong Kong? Do the PSB really come around to your house to check your visa once a year? All questions that you will hear debated or puzzled over on BBSs and mailing lists discussing life in China for foreigners.

    So cut him some slack and give him some credit. I betcha that some poor sod out there will remember to be a bit more vigilant next time his student visa runs out, thanks to this post.

  35. I was ten days over once. The very same grandfatherly guy that you went to John, wagged his finger at me, told me not to do it again, and let me off without a fine. Two days later picked up my two week extension and flew down to Hong Kong. I like how if you break the law in China they force you to take a vacation in one of the greatest cities on the planet. Needless to say however, I am extremely on top of my visa expiration date as to do it once can be a simple mistake, to do it twice is risking your future in this funny little country.

  36. I’m curious as to why you don’t get a residence permit/visa instead of continuting to renew your student visa? Are you still a student? It’s neither here nor there of course if it lets you stay but I mention it only because I got a 1-year residence visa my first month here. I’m told renewing it is easy as well.

  37. Me and my family got a work visa and the company that I worked for did not understand the process nor did I completely and the neglected to find out.
    I thought I had a 12 month Visa, but to my suprise when I went to renew my familys Visas before the 12 months was up I was told that I was an overstayer and that my Visa was only for one month yet on the visa it has no dates. I was shocked I did not know what I was going to do.
    Then they told me that I was going to have to pay a 500 per day fine I was really freaking.
    That is 315 days x 500 157500RMB x five family members that equals 787,500 RMB Wow!
    Any way I ended up papying 5000RMB per member total of 25000 better than 787,500.
    Now my problem is that I can only get a one month Visa and this causes me issues as I my kids go to school here and it interupts there schooling.
    Any help on this would be apperrciated.

  38. Lewis LIM Says: March 14, 2007 at 2:25 am

    I just can not figure out why you lovely guys didn’t consult your Embassy before all these misfortune happened ?

  39. Lewis LIM Says: March 14, 2007 at 3:13 am


    华师大在这起事故当中确实负有不可推卸的责任。 他们应该向你道歉,并且主动为罚款买单。

  40. Hello guys!

    I was invited in 2005 to teach in China with a 00 entry z visa. When my contract expired I moved to another school in North China where they had my Z visa converted to an F visa for 3 months and extended it for another 3 months before it expires. its quiet a long story anyway I stayed there for 6 months.

    Now a company offered me a job but when we went to the police station to have my F visa extended. To my surprise the police officers said I overstayed but I cannot find anything wrong with my passport. Anyway the company was able to get me a 6 months extension. What worries me now is that, what if I will fly back home and the officers in the airport find out that I overstayed as those police officers claimed? pls give your feedback about this.

  41. Simon – you was had. That one month visa you had at the beginning of your work contract goes with a residence permit, which they should also give to you. The residence permit is valid for one year, and when you go to renew your visa you have to hand it back in. There was no reason to fine you there.
    If your spouse is Chinese, you and your children can get family visas valid for a year at a time (I think, rules vary for different nationalities – I’m British, I hear Americans have it harder). If you’re all foreign citizens, then I don’t really know, but I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to get longer term travel or business visas in Hong Kong, even if your employer isn’t being helpful.

  42. Hi, I overstayed my visa for 5 days, because my original visa became invalid when I made a day-trip to Macau.

    They caught me at the ferry crossing from Zhuhai to Hong Kong airport. I had to cancel the flight, go to the police office, write a self confession that I had violated Chinese immigration laws and wouldn’t do so again, pay 2500 RMB yesterday, as well as apply for a new visa, which cost another 160 RMB + 35 RMB for new photographs + another 100 RMB for driving around with the taxi + 500 RMB for a new flight schedule (10 days later) + around 3000 RMB in living costs until then. The authorities still have my passport, they say they have to handle the visa application which will last a week.

    So overstaying 5 days cost me approximately 6000 RMB.

    Another question: Do you think this will mean that I might have difficulties obtaining a new China visa in the future?

  43. i dunno if my visa expires on the 1st or 2nd october.the visa says 30 ‘after’ entry so does that include the day i arrived or not? and if not how much will i be fined for staying a day over the visa expiration?my flight leaves on the 2nd at 7am so technically i have stayed 7 hours over the expiration….

  44. i overstayed i guess for more than a year..i really want to go back home…but im still scared…i dont know what to do…how much is my fine? i am going to jail? i admit i was so stupid for ignoring my visa! sutpid stupid

  45. Partini Says: July 13, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    I overstayed my visa for 3/4 year now! And just like Mae, I am so scared of what will happen when I go to the Police with it.. Anyone who has experience with overstayed visas in Nanjing/ or Jiangsu Province?

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