Teach English in China legally – a how to guide

So you want to teach English in China legally. Or are you considering alternatives?

In this article “Teach English in China legally” we cover how to teach English in China legally and the consequences of not teaching English in China legally.

If you get your work visa the proper way, you will have a great and trouble free time teaching English in China.

Reference information for this article is taken from: the US Embassy in Beijing, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the USA, the South China Morning Post, the China Daily Mail, China Scam Patrol, TEFL dot Net and Open Salon.


China has been attracting English teachers over the last few years. The jobs are relatively well paid and usually include accommodation.

As with all things, a good situation does not always attract the best people so the Chinese government recently tightened up the requirements for working and teaching English in China legally.

In the first six months of 2014, over 1,600 foreign English teachers were deported from China because they did not have a Z Visa.

One great myth that is common to many so called “advice” pages is that you can go to China using any old visa and then convert it to a Z Visa after you arrive in China.

This is totally untrue. You must get a Z Visa before you travel.

The Z Visa work visa for China

The most important thing to do is get the proper work visa for China, the Z Visa.

Due to unfortunate incidents involving foreign nationals in China, the Z Visa requirements were tightened up to include a criminal background check issued by an authorised police authority in the applicant’s country.

Z Visa applicants should have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and two or more years of work experience. The work experience does not have to be in education. It can be in any sector that the prospective employer deems acceptable. There is no directive for TESOL/TEFL certificates but as your employer will be an authorised school, it is more than likely that they will want a good quality certificate.

The Z Visa application must also contain a job offer from an authorised school in China and Chinese government approval certificates. NOT ALL LANGUAGE SCHOOLS ARE AUTHORISED TO RECRUIT FOREIGN ENGLISH TEACHERS.

If a school interests you but fails to give you the following Chinese government documents you need to submit along with your Z Visa application form:

  1. a visa notification,
  2. a work permit for foreigners,
  3. and a foreign expert’s license,


If anyone tells you you can get a visa other than the Z Visa and then convert to a Z Visa when you arrive in China, it is a scam.

The school must get the official documents for you. The visa notification is issued by the Authorized Chinese Unit, the Work Permit for Foreigners is issued by the Chinese Labour Ministry and the Foreign Expert’s License is issued by the Chinese Foreign Expert Bureau.

The Z Visa application process and requirements are well documented on the internet. The application process takes up to four days to complete after you submit all the required documents and pay the application fee.

I want a Z Visa, I do not have the prerequisites, should I lie when I apply?

This is a matter of personal choice. Failing to tell the truth about personal circumstances, submitting fake certificates, falsifying work experience, etc. is lying. If you are not truthful when you apply, pray that you do not get caught out.

If you submit false information, will you get caught? Who knows. However, if you are caught, your Z Visa will be revoked and you will instantly become illegal and face the consequences.

Can I teach English in China legally on other visas?

No, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they are lying. Read more about trying teach teach English in China without a Z Visa.

Some unscrupulous schools and agencies in China prey on unsuspecting English teachers. They will convince you to go and work using a visa that is not a Z Visa and then make threats about reporting you to immigration if any problems arise.

If I am caught teaching English in China illegally, what will happen?

According to local sources, deportations of foreign nationals teaching English in China illegally are increasing rapidly.

The consequences after you are caught are (in order):

  1. You will be detained/imprisoned.
  2. A fine is calculated based on how many days you have been teaching illegally and you are ordered to pay.
  3. You will be kept in detainment/imprisonment until you pay the fine.
  4. You will be told to write an official letter of apology to the Chinese people and government.
  5. You will be deported at your own cost.

After you pay the fine, you will be released and deported. If you write the apology letter, you may apply for a Z Visa after 90 days outside China. Whether or not it is granted is another story. If you do not write the letter, you will be banned from re-entering China for a minimum of three years.

The US Embassy in Beijing has a page with a lot of details about teaching English in China and the possible consequences of getting caught teaching illegally.

The text is written for US citizens, but the consequences described apply to all foreign nationals in China. Just substitute American/s with your nationality.

Some Americans run into serious legal problems with the Chinese government because either they work in China on tourist or other non-Z visas or they accept part-time employment or private classes without obtaining the proper permission. Violation of Chinese laws can result in severe penalties including imprisonment, fines of up to 500 RMB a day for overstaying a visa, or deportation. It is the employee’s responsibility to understand local laws and obey them.

When in China, Americans are subject to Chinese law, regardless of your American citizenship. Rights as a U.S. resident do not carry over to other countries; disputes are resolved through the local legal system.

Get a Z Visa and avoid all these headaches.

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