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Are foreigners allowed to stay in any hotel in China?

Discover whether foreigners are allowed to stay in any hotel in China. Learn about the legal requirements and common challenges faced by foreign travelers.

China is an incredible country to travel to, but I never hide the fact that there are many challenges, especially when visiting some of the remotest places. I wrote about some of them in my Travel Guide to China, but today, I want to discuss a particularly heated topic among many foreigners living in China: is it true that some hotels can legally refuse foreigners?

Challenges Faced by Foreigners in Chinese Hotels

This is something that most people living in China have faced at least once, and now that the country seems to be more open to foreign tourists, I guess it will be experienced by some overseas travelers too. The excuse these hotels use is that they don’t have a “special license” to accommodate foreigners in China. This happens most of the time in very cheap hotels.

To keep this article short and straight to the point, I’ll immediately say this is a lie and show you why. Whether this lie is deliberate or stems from ignorance is a different topic, and I’ve seen both things.

But the thing is that sometimes there is no point arguing with people who don’t want to offer a service. So, this article aims to provide information about the technicalities of the matter rather than encourage you to discuss it with the hotel staff.

Legal Framework for Foreign Guests in China

These are some of the most relevant laws in China:

Public Security Management Law for the Hotel Industry (旅馆业治安管理办法), revised on March 29, 2022:

  • Article 6: Hotel guests must be registered. When registering a hotel guest, their identity documents should be checked, and they should be truthfully registered according to the content. When receiving foreign guests, their accommodation registration form should also be submitted to the local public security organ within 24 hours.

China Tourism Hotel Industry Specifications (中国旅游饭店行业规范):

  • Article 7: When a guest checks in to a hotel, they shall—according to relevant national regulations—present valid ID and register truthfully.
  • Article 8: Hotels have the right to refuse a guest under the following circumstances: 
    • (1) The guest is carrying dangerous or explosive goods which threaten the safety of the hotel;
    • (2) The guest is engaging in illegal activities;
    • (3) The guest is negatively affecting the image of the hotel (i.e. has animals with them);
    • (4) The guest has no ability to pay or has a record of evading payment; 
    • (5) The hotel is full;
    • (6) There are other law based rules or regulations preventing the hotel from accepting the guest.

Penalties for Administration of Public Security (中华人民共和国治安管理处罚法):

  • Article 56: If hotel staff fail to register the name, type and number of a guest’s ID, or knowingly allows guests to bring dangerous substances into the hotel without stopping them, they shall have a fine of not less than 200 yuan but not more than 500 yuan imposed upon them.

PRC State Council Order #575 Decision of the State Council on Amending the Implementation of the People’s Republic of China Law on the Administration, Entry and Exit of Foreigners (中华人民共和国国务院令第575号《国务院关于修改〈中华人民共和国外国人入境出境管理法实施细则〉的决定》):

  • Article 29: When a foreigner resides at a hotel, restaurant, inn, guesthouse, school, the office of a private enterprise or at a state owned organ or collective institution, the foreigner shall present a valid passport or residence permit and fill in the Temporary Accommodation Registration Form. If the foreigner is in a Closed Area, they must also present the accommodation with a Travel Permit.

People’s Republic of China Exit and Entry Management Law (中华人民共和国出境入境管理法):

  • Article 39: When foreigners reside in a hotel within Chinese territory, the hotel shall—in accordance with the public security provisions relevant to the hotel industry handle their accommodation registration and the submission of this registration information to local public security organs.

These laws are often the main reasons why some hotels refuse foreigners. Many people in China, especially those working in cheaper hotels, have never seen a passport and have no idea how to find basic info such as country of origin or passport number. They are afraid to enter the wrong details in the registration form and then get fined by the local police (it does happen). So they prefer the easier way out and say: we don’t accept foreigners.

Another source of misunderstanding is that up until 2002, a special license was actually needed to host foreigners.

This has been confirmed multiple times by local police officers and tourism bureaus. Just as a reference, this is the reply from the Wenshan City Department of Culture and Tourism (in Yunnan):

According to Article 29 of the “Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Administration of the Entry and Exit of Foreigners”, foreigners staying in hotels, restaurants, inns, guesthouses, schools, and other enterprises, institutions, or organizations, groups, and other Chinese institutions should present a valid passport or residence permit and fill out a temporary accommodation registration form. Staying in non-open areas also requires showing a travel permit. (Suggestion: Since 2002, the Tourism Bureau has abolished the requirement for foreign-related hotels, and any hotel can accommodate foreign nationals. Related procedures can also be handled through travel agencies with entry and exit qualifications.)

As you can see, the answer is quite clear: no special license or permit is needed to host foreigners in China.

There is an argument to be made about some platforms, like Trip.com and its Chinese version Ctrip, having a small label on each hotel stating if it accepts foreigners or not. The reason is that according to the law, any business in China can refuse to offer a service without providing a specific reason. This applies to both foreigners and Chinese people. However, no law allows them to do so because they need a special license to host foreigners.

What can you do?

As a foreigner, finding hotel accommodations in China can sometimes be challenging due to misunderstandings and inconsistent practices. What can you do if you are not allowed to stay in a hotel?

  • Involving the police can often lead to a resolution, allowing you to stay at the hotel as initially planned, but it is not worth it most of the time. It can be a lengthy process and stressful, especially if there are language barriers or the police officers are unfamiliar with the specific regulations concerning foreigners (this does happen often).
  • Leaving the Hotel and finding another accommodation is the best option most of the time. Remember that if you book your stay with Trip.com (as I always recommend), you can contact their customer care chat (24/7), and they’ll rebook your hotel immediately. They even often upgrade your hotel for free.

This situation might not be that common, and hopefully, you’ll never encounter it, but it felt right to write about it and provide some legal info to avoid any confusion and misunderstandings.

Interestingly, even the government officially confirmed what I just wrote about. Here’s the link to the government website.

Don’t forget to check my quick FAQ Travel Guide to China.

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