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Illustration: Xia Qing/GT

After nihao (hello) and xiexie (thank you), another word that every foreigner who lives and works in China must learn is fapiao (invoice/receipt).

Some countries around the world run on trust, some on mistrust, some on tips and others on petty corruption.

China runs on fapiao.

From your favorite local restaurant and the barber down the street to your cab driver, consumers are urged to get a fapiao whenever possible.

In China, all business transactions are required by law to be recorded on an official receipt - the fapiao.

Actually, fapiao are more than just ordinary receipts. They are also a way for the government to monitor the amount of tax paid on any given transaction.

Businesses are required to purchase the relevant fapiao for their industry in the amount they will need over the year ahead. The overall cost of the receipts is equivalent to the tax that would be paid on sales. So, they are effectively paying tax in advance on their future sales.

One of the first things my colleagues told me during my early days in Beijing was to always ask for a fapiao from the taxi driver.

I did not realize the importance of these invoices till I left a few things in a cab and had no way to retrieve them.

Recently, I left my sunglasses in a cab. Someone contacted them using the information on the fapiao I received, and it was found.

I have seen people selling illegal invoices around the railway stations and other popular places in Beijing.

A manager once invited all of us for lunch. He had a dream that something good would happen if he spends money on that day. But after paying, he asked for an invoice and gave it to his assistant to claim reimbursement from the company. I wonder if something good did happen to him.

My previous employers asked for a rent invoice for reimbursement. But my Chinese landlord refused to give one to avoid paying tax. My housing agency told me they could arrange a fake receipt, but I needed to pay an extra few hundred yuan.

I am told the responsibility for obtaining a fapiao lies with the consumer. If you don't ask for one, it will not be given. Also, be clear and specify whether you want a personal or company invoice and what title you wish to have printed on it.

 Some small restaurants often refuse to give me an invoice with the common excuse that their printer is not working.

But others will courier it to you at a later date.

The restaurant invoice also doubles as a kind of lottery ticket. There is a special box on it that you scratch off to win money, which the restaurant should give back to you then and there.

I have never been lucky enough to win one. But foreigners new to China should understand the fapiao system whether they are here for business or work. Who knows, maybe one day they might get lucky.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.