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Criminal Defense for Foreigners in China: Procedures and Key Points from Experienced China Lawyer

This article is intended to give foreigners in China basic information on how the Chinese criminal law system functions. It is not a substitute for legal advice, which can only be provided by a Chinese lawyer qualified to practice in Chinese law firms.

According to Chinese Criminal Law, if you break the law, you are subject to the judicial system of China. Being a foreigner or not knowing the local laws is not an excuse.The criminal law systems are significantly different among different countries.This can increase the stress and practical problems arising from arrest and imprisonment in China.



For example, please note that in China:

Detainees can only meet with their lawyers and, in the case of foreign nationals, consular officials; they cannot normally speak to family members or friends during detention.


Following final sentencing, prisoners can only be visited by family members, not friends. After the official arrest, the law allows for an investigation and prosecution review period of up to 13.5 months before formal charges must be laid.


Arrest and Detention


Chinese criminal law is applicable to both citizens of China and foreigners who commit crimes within the territory of China.

The police can detain suspects for up to 37 days before the prosecutor approves the arrest. Specifically, after you are detained, the police will file, normally within three days, an arrest request for the prosecutor’s review and approval. Under special circumstances the filing time can be extended by one to four days. If, however, you are suspected of committing crimes in multiple places, being a repeat offender or being part of a gang, Chinese law provides for up to 37 days’ detention before official arrest.

After an official arrest, you may be detained for up to 13.5 months before formal charges are laid and the case is transferred to the court.

If you are detained, you will usually be taken to a detention facility and your passport will be confiscated by the police. Please inform your Consula