We examined migration in China using the 2005 inter-census population survey, in which migrants were registered at both their place of original (hukou) residence and at their destination. We find evidence that the estimated number of internal migrants in China is extremely sensitive to the enumeration method. We estimate that the traditional destination-based survey method fails to account for more than a third of migrants found using comparable origin-based methods. The ‘missing’ migrants are disproportionately young, male, and holders of rural hukou. We find that origin-based methods are more effective at capturing migrants who travel short distances for short periods, whereas destination-based methods are more effective when entire households have migrated and no remaining family members are located at the hukou location. We conclude with a set of policy recommendations for the design of population surveys in countries with large migrant populations.