What Happens if I was Caught Working Illegally in China?

Working Illegally in China? Don’t break China’s visa laws. This seems obvious but we hear plenty of stories of people doing this anyway and ending up with big fines and a spot on the visa blacklist.

Don't break china's Visa law
Don’t break china’s Visa law

Illegal Situations

If you intend to work in China, you must apply for a work permit from the proper authorities. All of the following constitute working illegally in China:

  1. Working in China without a work permit.
  2. Working in China after your work permit has expired.
  3. Providing fake information to obtain a work permit and/or work visa (for example, you are employed by company A, while getting your work permit under company B)
  4. Overseas students working full time or beyond what their university’s or college’s study programs allow, or doing any business while studying at school.
  5. A Foreign spouse holding a Q visa but working in China.


For those working illegally in China, there may be more serious consequences:

  1. A penalty between 5,000 RMB and 20,000 RMB; the exact amount is at the discretion of the police.
  2.  In severe cases, foreigners may be put in jail for 5-15 days as well as having to pay a fine.
  3. They may also be deported or ordered to leave China.

The punishment will be decided based on how serious the violation is and whether it is intentional or unintentional. However, the law doesn’t specify what circumstances are considered serious and intentional, and how to measure them, so ultimately this is based on the judgment of the police.

A company caught illegally employing a foreigner will be fined between 10,000 RMB and 100,000RMB, and any illegal income they have made will be confiscated.

What to do?

What to do if you are caught working illegally: 

  • Try to be polite and explain your reasons for breaking the law to the best of your ability. 
  • Be contrite and apologetic and try to persuade the authorities to give you a lighter punishment. 
  • Do not be rude, argumentative or aggressive, as this will only make things worse for you. 
  • The police can decide what to do with you, and that means they can be easier or harder depending on whether or not they like you.

It is possible that the police will be sympathetic to your situation and will allow you to leave without paying a fine or going to jail, but you should prepare yourself for the worst. You may end up spending 5-15 days in a local jail, pay a fine, and afterward you may face deportation back to your own country.


Working illegally can leave you with a bad record with Public Security Bureau, China Customs and the Chinese Embassy; this record may affect you whenever you apply for a visa in the future.

Worse yet, if you are ordered to leave you may be banned from working in China for up to two years. If you are deported, the law states that you will be blacklisted and not be able to return to China for 5-10 years.

To avoid any punishment or a bad record, it is necessary to apply work permit if you intend to work and stay in China. With the recent implementation of new company and visa laws, it is not as difficult as you may think to get a work permit and even to register your own company in China.

A person’s status as self-employment by their own company is becoming more common for foreigners. Much of this is due to relaxed requirements for minimum registered capital, faster process time, and lower administrative fees associated with both visas and business registration.

If you have more questions about China labor/employment laws, welcome to contact me.