Why I Paid More Than 500RMB Tax on My 500RMB Raise

Word of the Week: fā piào

Getting a receipt in China is not as simple as you might think because, like so many words, there is no one single translation for “receipt”.

There is one type of receipt called a shōu jù 收据 which is purely for your own reference. If you’re like me and never bother to check the rows and rows of barely legible Chinese characters on your supermarket shōu jù then you can basically wipe your arse with a shōu jù because that’s all it’s worth. In fact, due to the lack of paper in Chinese public toilets I have actually on occasion found myself fishing around in my wallet for some old shōu jù for exactly that purpose. But that’s another story.

The other type of receipt is called a fā piào 发票 and this is the one you really need to care about. That’s because, unlike shōu jù, a fā piào is a legally valid receipt that can be used for tax purposes.

fā piào often need to be requested separately. For example, if you buy something at the supermarket you won’t be given a fā piào at the checkout, you’ll just be given a shōu jù and you will usually have to go to a completely different counter somewhere else to get a valid fā piào.

wǒ xiǎng kāi fā piào 我想开发票 (I want to get a fā piào)

If you’re just stocking up on cheese from the import section of Carrefour then that’s not a problem, but if you’re buying something like a new TV then I suggest you make sure you get a fā piào just to be safe. And if you’re buying things for work, such as office supplies, then you will need a fā piào to claim expenses.

发票样品an example of a fa piao. Since they often contain personal information I’m not stupid enough to post my own fa piao online.

Another interesting thing about fā piào is the fact that Chinese people often refer to it as an “invoice”. This once caused a problem for me when I was claiming expenses for work and was told I needed to give an “invoice”. After giving the finance department an invoice I was told “this isn’t an invoice, it’s just a document form the company listing the things that you ordered.”

What they meant was a fā piào but because there isn’t really a word for fā piào in English they just said “invoice” and thought I’d understand it to mean “a legally valid tax receipt that has been stamped by the correct authorities and can be used by the finance department for expense claims.” Because that’s a bit of a mouthful most expats in China will just say fā piào when speaking English. You can even choose to say it with or without Chinese tones.

Most employers in China will offer a housing allowance (bǔ tiē 补贴) and for this you will need to have a fā piào, otherwise you’ll be charged tax on your bǔ tiē. One of my previous employers once increased my bǔ tiē by 500RMB but I was unable to provide a fā piào for it so I thought I would just pay the tax on that extra 500RMB.

That turned out to be a bad idea because the 500RMB increase must have tipped me over to another tax bracket and I ended up paying well over 500RMB in tax on my 500RMB raise. The moral of this story is that you should always get a fā piào and if you’re renting an apartment make it clear to your landlord or letting agent that you need a fā piào.