tefl in china

TEFL in China: Do you really need a degree?

A demand for EFL teachers that is off the scale, enticing salaries and benefit packages, and the opportunity to experience a culture completely different from your own – it’s no wonder so many are drawn to teaching English in China!

Many TEFL Org graduates have gone on to teach English in China and a question we’re frequently asked is if a degree is needed in order to TEFL there. The answer we always give is simple: yes.

With the exception of short internship programmes and voluntary schemes, there sadly isn’t a “but” to our answer. EFL teachers working in China must be on a Z-visa and in order to get a Z-visa you need a degree – there’s no way round it.

It’s possible – in fact, it’s easy – to find work teaching in China illegally on an incorrect visa. In this blog post we explain why we strongly advise against this.

It’s important to us that our students go on to find jobs in which they’re happy and fulfilled. TEFL is an incredible and often life-changing experience and we want that to be the case for every single one of our students.

It’s why we do our best to thoroughly check every employer posting over on our TEFL Jobs Centre, which we give all our students life-time access to. We also provide a free CV checking service and we’re always here to answer and advise before, during, and after you qualify. We’re here to help you make informed decisions based on all the facts, so keep reading to find out everything you need to know about working legally as an EFL teacher in China.

tefl china


The Z-visa

The only visa teachers in full-time, salaried positions can work on is the Z-visa. There are various other visas, such as business and tourist visas but if you’re teaching English you must have a Z-visa.

To obtain a Z-visa native English speakers need:

  • A passport from the UK, USA, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa
  • A BA degree in any subject
  • TEFL certificate or 2 years teaching experience
  • A clean criminal record
  • To be under 55 years old

And non-native speakers need:

  • A BA degree in any subject from a university in the UK, USA, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa
  • TEFL certificate or 2 years teaching experience
  • A clean criminal record
  • To be under 55 years old

When it comes to visas there is no negotiating, either you meet the requirements or you don’t!

teaching english in china


“But a school/recruiter said I don’t need a degree”

If an employer or recruiter tells you that you don’t need a Z-visa for a full-time salaried teaching position (or you can switch to one later) you need to understand that there are no circumstances in which this is legal.

There are 300 million English Language Learners in China, meaning the demand for EFL teachers is massive. It’s true that some employers and recruiters are willing to risk employing teachers on incorrect visas in order to meet this demand.

It also means that there are extremely dodgy recruiters and scammers actively exploiting the situation, which can – and does – lead to monetary and/or identity theft, as well as teachers being deliberately misled about the legality of their visa and finding themselves in an extremely vulnerable position in a foreign country.

Remember, recruiters are paid for placing teachers into schools, which is why some can be very pushy and will tell you everything you want to hear – not what you need to hear. If you ever feel uncomfortable during a recruitment process our advice is that it’s usually best to trust your instincts and walk away. For more advice about avoiding TEFL scams and bad employers make sure to read our guide.

Ultimately, teachers working illegally are in a position that is very easily exploited by employers, so you have to ask yourself is it worth it?

teaching in china


What does it mean to teach illegally in China?

Teachers working on illegal visas will more than likely be on reduced salaries. They are also vulnerable to exploitation from employers and recruiters. Working illegally means you have no rights and this can lead to all sorts of sticky situations such as late – or no – wages, unreasonable demands, and a very different job than the one you thought you signed up for.

The consequences of getting caught working illegally in China are serious and can include a fine, detainment, deportation and even a permanent re-entry ban.

As reported in EL Gazette, a group of 51 South Africans recruited to teach in China on student visas were arrested in March 2018. Their passports were confiscated and they were essentially placed under house arrest until December, when they were finally able to return home.

Another South African teacher, who was imprisoned, had been lured to the country by a recruiter on the false promise that it was fine to arrive on a tourist visa and later upgrade to a Z-visa – a common tactic used by dodgy recruiters.

China is only getting stricter about illegal workers. You may have a friend who taught there without a degree a few years ago who claims the chances of getting caught are low, but things are changing and we frequently hear reports of teachers being deported, fined, and imprisoned for working illegally. It can and does happen.

china tefl


Is there any way to teach legally in China without a degree?

There are internship and volunteering opportunities that are perfectly legal but if you’re looking for a full-time, salaried teaching position then you’re out of luck.

Internships and voluntary schemes are usually either low-paid or unpaid and flight and visa costs are unlikely to be covered. They also won’t allow you to stay in the country for a long period – 6 months is typically how long these schemes run for.

Our advice

If you don’t have a degree then we can’t in good conscience advise you to work illegally.

It’s very concerning for us to see the idea of working illegally in China promoted or encouraged in any way. The last thing we want is for any of our students to find themselves in a situation where they’re being exploited or put at risk.

Know the facts and make an informed decision. Teaching English abroad should be a fulfilling and exciting experience! Not one filled with constant stress about getting caught by the authorities or being mistreated by your employer.

You might not be able to teach English in China but there are opportunities to teach English without a degree in other countries such as Cambodia, much of South America, Europe (if you’re an EU citizen), and online. Remember, we’re always here to help you out so if you have any questions about where you can work without a degree just get in touch!

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