The Foreigners Guide to Work/Hire Legally in China (Tianjin)

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A walk through the basics of legally working in China as a foreigner.

Recently, media reports more and more cases of foreigners caught in an illegal situation. While some situations may be obvious, like working in China without a visa, some cases are triggering concern, like people with a working permit and resident permit getting caught for illegal employment. 

By “foreigners working in China” we refer to foreign individuals who are working and making revenue while residing in the Chinese territory. Disregarding the fact that their income is borne by Chinese or Foreign individuals or companies.

- This article is not valid for Taiwanese and Hong-Kong citizens.

- That article is not valid for foreigners holding Chinese permanent resident permit (green cards).

- For people doing an internship in China please refer to this article.


1. Definition and regulations    

    a. Understanding the work permit

    b. Understanding the labor contract

    c. Understanding the Work Visa (Z)

    d. Understanding the Resident Permit

    e. Social security and taxes

2. Working status check-up guide

    a. Checklist for the work permit

    b. Checklist for the resident permit

3. Illegal situation guide

    a. What could happen if you work illegally in China?

    b. What to do if you discover you are working illegally?

    c. What to do if you are caught working illegally?

    d. Fines and consequences

4. Tianjin administrations address book (direct link)


-The Foreigners Guide to Work/Hire Legally in China (Tianjin )

-Work Permit Explained, Application Process in China (Tianjin)

-Work Permit, Resident Permit Renewal and Change (Tianjin)

-Work Permit, Change of Employer or City (Tianjin)

-Internship In China (Tianjin)

-Foreign Auto-Entrepreneurship and Freelancer in China (Tianjin)

-Beichaka, police registration, residency registration

-How to Calculate and Withhold IIT for Your Employees in China (external link)

-Social Security Law for Foreigners in China (external link)

-How to get your Pension Payments back when leaving China (external link)

——> Knowledge database

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1 Definitions and regulations


Understanding the work permit

A work permit in China is a legal document allowing an individual (employee) to do a specific job, in a specific company (employer or work-unit). Specific and detailed conditions of the employment shall be specified (salary, address, duration, position, tasks...). in a labor contract.

The labor contract is registered by the SAFEA during working permit application and updated during renewal, alteration, or modification processes.  

Unfortunately, people can get led to misunderstand the meaning of “work permit”, while some foreign country may deliver a "resident permit for free employment in the country” it is not the case in China: The Chinese work permit does not give you the right to be freely employed in China.

Even with a work permit and a resident permit, working outside the scope of your work permit or at a different address (even in the same city), or working for another company is illegal employment.

These rules state illegal working as: part-time work, side-jobs, self-employed jobs, as well as dispatched or outsourced work (employers are not allowed to dispatch workers in different working place and/or working positions without changing/altering/updating their work permit) 

Work permit application

Please read our complete article: Work Permit Explained, Application Process in China (Tianjin)

Work permit change

Change in employment or employee situation (work unit, work unit address, position, salary, employee passport number, name, type of passport) shall be registered with SAFEA online.

If you change your passport your work permit must be updated within 10 days.

SAFEA may have tolerated in the past parent companies doing internal dispatch of foreign workers into filial companies (分公司). It is not tolerated anymore and filial have to apply for a work permit for the dispatched worker with the SAFEA.

Please read our complete article on the subject:

Work Permit, Resident Permit Renewal and Change (Tianjin)

Work Permit, Change of Employer or City (Tianjin)


Understanding the labor contract

The only valid labor contract is the one that is deposited at the labor bureau during work permit application, renewal, alteration or modification processes.

It is in Chinese (a foreign language may be added but the Chinese version will prevail), it has to be stamped by the employer, signed by the employee and dated. 

It is mandatory that it contains at least: name of the employment unit (employer), address of the work position, work position, work title, work description, as well as complete employee name, passport number, working time, salary.

The contract registered at SAFEA is the only valid contract between the employee and the employer. 

Any other labor contract that the individual may sign with any other employment units (employer) has no legal value and are illegal.

In the case of labor dispatch, the dispatching unit may ask the employee to sign a new contract with the receiving unit, these contracts are illegal and not binding.

Only contracts registered by SAFEA are legal and will update/amend/change your work permit information.

Any change to your labor contract, employer information or personal information shall be updated into the SAFEA information system in order to update your work permit. 


-Work Permit, Resident Permit Renewal and Change (Tianjin)

-Work Permit, Change of Employer or City (Tianjin)


Understanding the work visa (Z).

The 30-day Work Visa (Z) is a visa to enter into China for work purposes. It gives the bearer 30 days to get his/her work permit finalized and it should be converted into a resident permit. It is a mandatory step in the application process to work legally in China.

Work visas are almost always delivered in the home country of the applicant by the Chinese embassy.


Understanding the resident permit.

The worker's resident permit for China is an official document in the bearer’s passport allowing that person to enter and leave the country freely while working in China. 


It will cover the period of time consistent with the length of your work permit. But may be longer or shorter according to very specific conditions (longer for company legal representative or top management, and shorter in case of doubt from the authority about your projects in China for example)


A resident permit for working will replace the work visa (Z) or talent visa (R) or an older resident permit. The resident permit shall bear the mentions 工作 or 就业 in the purpose of residence section for working legally in China.

A resident permit for work "alone" (without a valid work permit) does not allow the bearer to work legally in China.

Resident permit of other categories (family, study…) does not allow the bearer to work in China.

If you change your passport, your resident permit must be updated within 10 days.


Taxes and social security

Taxes and social security shall be paid according to the amount specified into your labor contract registered with SAFEA during the working permit application, renewal, alteration or modification processes.

Some cities or free trade zones may have special treatment regarding foreigners social security.

Some foreign countries have a bilateral arrangement with China regarding the Social Security exemption. 

Read More

-How to Calculate and Withhold IIT for Your Employees in China (external link)

-Social Security Law for Foreigners in China (external link)

-How to get your Pension Payments back when leaving China (external link)

2 Working status check-up guide


□ I have a valid resident permit with “work, 就业,工作” written in purpose of residence in my passport. 

□ I have a work permit, I scanned the QR code and all information is consistent with my actual job.

□My taxes and social security are paid by my employer.



Resident permit checklist

Having a valid resident permit, with the purpose of residence marked as work, 就业 or 工作.

The resident permit has been delivered by the local entry-exit administration of public security bureau and not printed in some office (that unfortunately happened)


Work permit checklist

An employee can scan the QR code on their work permit in order to check their situation.

The QR code shall bring them to a page with an address beginning with  

The work permit isn't expired and all of the personal information is valid

All of the work information is consistent with the actual work situation: company name (工作单位), address (工作单位地址), work post (工作岗位) and work position (工作职位)

While the employer is not required by law to hand you your work permit, an employer that denies access to a copy/photo of your work permit may be a bad sign regarding your real legal status.


Taxes and social security

Your employer should give you your Chinese tax number and taxes slip.

Your employer registers you at the local social security (they may not have done the plastic card which is fine).

3 Illegal situation guide


What are the risks to work illegally in China?

A: in case of dispute with an employer, you won’t have any right to any claim. You won’t be able to turn yourself to the competent authorities, the labor bureau or SAFEA. You could be considered as an illegal working foreigner and could get a fine and deported. Your employer may get fined as well, but if they have some experience in that domain, they should be able to deal with it (they could argue for example they didn’t know you went to work here that day, that you were on holiday break, or just have the financial capacity to absorb the fine).

B: even if there is no dispute with an employer, you won’t be protected from denunciation, unhappy customers, random checks at your workplace. If you get caught working without the relevant work permit (matching job, address, and company) you could be fined and deported.

C: You may have difficulties to find a new job. If you find the job of your dream and a new employer is willing to legally hire you, your actual employer shall give you a letter of resignation and a cancellation letter of your working permit in order for the new employer to apply for the new work permit. In some case, the old employer may refuse and will try to ask for money or give you no other choice than go back home or stay with them. You won’t be able to ask for mediation from the labor bureau or SAFEA because you were working illegally in China.


What to do if you discover you are working illegally?

Try to regulate your situation as soon as possible. Try to find a new employer and get a transfer of your working permit. Stay calm and polite. Try to understand (as hard as it can be), that they may see you like property, and are not willing to transfer you without being compensated for their loss. If your new employer really wants you, it is better to have them discuss and resolve the situation.

Do not forget that your employer shall fully cooperate in order to get the situation regulated


What to do if you are caught working illegally?

Unfortunately, not much, it is the end of your China adventures. Always stay calm, polite, explain yourself in your best Chinese, never deny facts or be aggressive. Apologize and try your best to get a light sentence.


Fines and consequences

Fines and consequences According to the Exit and Entry Administration Law of the People's Republic of China, Article 79 and 80.

1. A fine between 5,000 RMB and 20,000 RMB; at the discretion of the officers.
2. A detention period of 5-15 days in serious cases in addition to the fine
3. Deported and ordered to leave China, with a 2 to 10 years interdiction to apply for any sort of visa to come back.

The illegal employer will be fined from 10 000 to 100 000 RMB and the illegal income they have made will be confiscated.

This article has been sponsored and written by Tianjin Link. With more than 15 years of experience, Tianjin Link is a Sino-French consultancy joint venture leader in providing business solutions for foreign enterprises.

You can contact them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Or by wechat: ptshilei

Incorporation - Taxes - Payroll - Accounting - Visa - Import/Export


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