With the recent slew of arrests of Canadians and Americans and English teachers (we are getting 1-2 emails from arrested English teachers every week), our China lawyers have been getting many emails from clients and readers asking whether they should go to China and what they should do to avoid getting arrested when there.
I personally am never quite sure how to answer clients who ask this question. I cannot tell them “just go and don’t worry” because even though the odds of their having a problem are exceedingly low, the last thing I want to do is have someone get arrested and then blame me for not having “told them so.” So I usually just suggest they balance their need to go to China against the risks. How though do you calculate the risks?
There is no one way to calculate the risk of getting arrested in China, but the following are what can change that calculus one way or the other.
1. Going to China on a U.S. or a Canada passport increases your risk.
2. If you have a China WFOE that has not paid all its taxes or is otherwise not in full compliance with China’s laws or has announced it will be closing down or laying off employees, your risks are higher.
3. If you should have a WFOE in China but you don’t have a WFOE in China, see Doing Business in China Without a WFOE: Will the Defendant Please Rise as to why your risks are higher.
4. If you go to China on the wrong visa or you overstay your visa, your risks will increase. The English teachers who write us are from all over the world but what they all have in common is an employer that did not properly hire them. Two years ago, we never heard of English teachers getting arrested for this, but we hear about this all the time now, even though the bad actors are the Chinese employers. Fortunately, these teachers are being jailed for only 1-4 weeks and then they are allowed to leave China.
5. Do not do anything illegal while you are in China. Do not buy or consume illegal drugs, including cannabis. Do not get into a fight, even if provoked. When your taxi driver or your bartender or anyone else tries to rip you off, pay the overcharge and move on.
The risks are really low, but it does pay to be careful.