What visa do you need to teach English in China?

Are you interested in teaching English in China but feel confused about visas? There are quite a few different types for visiting, living, and working in China, and it’s crucial English teachers get the correct visa in order to work legally in the country.

China boasts the biggest TEFL market in the world and demand can often outstrip supply. This means that even inexperienced teachers can secure good wages and benefits, making it a great destination for newly-qualified EFL teachers to get out there and start teaching for the first time! But with money to be made in this industry, you don’t have to look hard to come across those who are willing to cut corners.

In this article, we’re going to cover what visa you need to TEFL in China as well as employers and recruiters that hire teachers illegally on wrong visas.

What visa do you need to teach English in China?

There are two types of visa that will permit you to teach English in China. These are the Z visa and X visa.

The Z visa 

The Z visa is the visa most English teachers in China will be on. This is the only visa that allows you to teach English full-time.

To be eligible for the Z visa you will need:

  • A bachelors degree (in any subject)
  • A passport from the UK, USA, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa
  • A 120-hour TEFL certificate or two years’ teaching experience
  • To be between 18-60 (men), 18-55 (women)
  • A clean criminal background check

The X visa

The X visa is a student visa, for those who are studying in China part-time or full-time. This is the visa you’ll be on if you do an internship programme in China, which is the only legal way to teach English in China without a degree.

Internship programmes can be a good introduction to teaching and will usually include accommodation. But you’ll only be able to teach part-time, your wages will usually be low, and programmes typically can’t last more than 6 months due to visa restrictions. If you’re looking for full-time opportunities then take a look at our post about where you can teach English without a degree.

Can you convert an X visa to a Z visa?

You can’t go out on a student visa and convert it to a Z visa. In order to get the Z visa you must meet all the criteria and you also need to apply for it from outside China. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a degree there’s simply no way to get the Z visa required for teaching English full-time.

Teaching English illegally in China

Some people choose to risk it and teach English illegally in China, others do it unwittingly. With such a high demand for EFL teachers, you will find recruiters and employers that will hire teachers without the correct paperwork.

We strongly advise against teaching illegally in China for a number of reasons. Firstly, it puts you in a very vulnerable position. If you’re working illegally in a country you have no rights, which means employers can exploit you and there’s very little you can do about it. Secondly, in recent years China has really been cracking down on illegal workers, so if you get caught you can find yourself with a hefty fine and expect to be immediately deported. You may also be banned from entering the country again.

TEFL scams do exist, and it’s important to familiarise yourself with the tell-tale signs. Getting a job offer in a country where you don’t meet the visa requirements can be the sign of a scam. See our post about how to avoid TEFL scams and bad employers to learn more.

A recruiter/employer says it’s fine to work on a different visa – is it?

If a recruiter or employer is telling you it’s fine to work on a visa other than a Z visa then this will be illegal. Remember, the X visa is only for internship programmes.

Recruiters and employers trying to get teachers over illegally will usually tell you that it’s fine to work on a tourist visa (L visa) or a business visa (M visa). They might tell you that you can convert to a Z visa when you arrive in the country. None of this is true. You can’t teach on a tourist visa or M visa, nor can you convert one to the correct visa after you arrive. It’s important to be aware that there are unscrupulous employers and recruiters out there that will insist this is all above board when it isn’t.

Pushy recruiters

Recruiters work on commission – for every teacher they recruit for an employer they’ll earn a fee. This means they can sometimes be pushy, but don’t let a recruiter rush you into making big decisions or convince you something is legal when it isn’t.

Teaching English in China as a non-native speaker

Regulations concerning non-native teachers seem to change regularly in China. It can be possible to secure a Z-visa as a non-native speaker in China depending on the province and employer. As a non-native speaker you’re more likely to find work in a Tier 2 or Tier 3 city, and you’ll be in with a better shot of securing a job if you gained your degree in an English-speaking country.  

Remember that you must have a Z visa to teach legally, whether you’re a native speaker or not. If a recruiter tells you that non-native speakers require a different visa, such as the M visa, this is not correct and you would be working illegally.

Want to learn more about teaching English in China? Check out our China Country Guide!

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