How to Become an English Teacher in China

China is home to hundreds of millions of English learners, with a massive economy and a competitive education system. Let’s explore how TEFL teachers get a piece of the action, and what you’ll need to land a job.

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With a massive and continually growing TEFL industry, China has become a go-to for English teachers from around the globe. With a population of over 1.4 billion, you can bet that there are plenty of English learners from the Red Dragon - an estimated 400 million, in fact. 

The allure of teaching English in China is obvious. Whether you teach English in China in a Tier 1 city like Beijing or Shanghai, or find a teaching job in more rural climes, the Red Dragon has so much to offer. From its rich, intense and incredible history to its modern infrastructure, sport and economy, there’s something for everyone, wherever you land. In terms of TEFL teaching, the best opportunities don’t just lie in the biggest cities: try the likes of Guangzhou, Ningbo, Chengdu, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Dalian, Nanjing and Yangzhou for a teaching job you won't ever forget.

China is packed with English teaching companies, as well as a robust education system, which includes elite international schools, where talented pupils work towards applying to elite universities like Oxford and Cambridge. In terms of public education, Chinese schools are unbelievably competitive; hardly a surprise, given China’s enormous economy and population size. Having English proficiency on your side means a great deal; its status as the lingua franca of business means that even some English ability can mean pay rises, promotions and general upward mobility.

That’s mutually beneficial. As English learners in China hope to climb the career ladder, so do English teachers, who can find all sorts of work. We’ve mentioned the education system, which also includes top-tier Chinese universities. English teaching centres, though, represent their own kinds of opportunities, especially in terms of salary

Let’s explore what you need to teach English in China.

What are the requirements to teach English in China?

So, what will you need to get a job teaching English in China? English teachers need a bachelor’s degree - in any discipline - and a TEFL certification of at least 120 hours to gain a Z Visa and Foreign Expert certificate. Teaching experience isn’t always necessary for English teaching jobs, though it will help with certain applications.

Let’s break down what you’ll need to get a teaching opportunity in China.

University degree

To gain a Z Visa, which allows citizens from across the world to live and work in China, a bachelor’s degree in any subject is a must. Again, that’s in any subject, the degree alone is proof of your ability to conduct research and meet academic targets.

Certainly, a degree in English language or English literature might be handy in some circumstances, particularly for employers within the higher education sector. Equally, some ESL teaching jobs might require a master’s degree for certain positions, such as Chinese international schools, or universities. To get into China and start your TEFL adventure, though, a Bachelor’s is the main requirement.

There are some exceptions. If you’re eligible for a teach English internship, you might be able to work in the Chinese school system on a student visa or X visa. In terms of finding full-time work, though, only a degree will do.

TEFL certification 

As ever, TEFL certification is an absolute must to teach English in China, and to teach English abroad in general. The industry standard is 120 hours of TEFL training, and you’ll need to have a TEFL certificate from a reputable course provider in order to land any teaching jobs. Make sure the TEFL certification provider you use has substantial accreditation, a well-established reputation for excellence, self-paced study, tutor support from experienced TEFL teachers and good reviews online.

Taking a Groupon course won’t do you any favours when it comes to teaching jobs. You’ll need to provide a certificate that means something, as evidence of a thorough TEFL study. If you want to bolster your qualifications, an advanced TEFL course might be a particularly good idea; especially if you’re keen to carve a teaching niche for yourself in a lucrative market like China.

Clean background check 

Having no criminal convictions on your record is a prerequisite for living and working in China as a TEFL teacher. How do you prove it, though?

Before you arrive in China, you should either use a local government service, or a third-party service which uses data from government sources. In the UK, this is called Disclosure. In Ireland, you’ll need a Police Certificate from a local Garda office. In the US, you can easily obtain a Criminal History Check from either local law enforcement, the state, or from the FBI. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have their own centralised service, as do New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and most other countries.

Once you have obtained this, get it notarised in your local country and then authenticated by the nearest Chinese embassy. It’s a lot of paperwork, but it’s a crucial part of the process if you want to teach English in China.

Age restrictions 

The maximum age to teach English in China is 55. Unfortunately, this does rule out the option of retiring and teaching English in China. There isn’t a minimum age as such, but as covered, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. It’s unlikely (although not impossible) to attain all the qualifications you need to teach English in China while still in your teens.

Health check & drug test 

China has some of the harshest drug sentences in the world, so it’s extremely important to remain drug-free while you’re there, but also beforehand. A drug test is part of the visa process, and includes samples from your hair. Chinese authorities can detain anyone for testing positive, regardless of where any drugs were consumed

You’ll also be subject to a general health test as part of the visa application. Most GPs and physicians will be able to do this for you locally, and provide the requisite certification. Visas might not be issued if a teacher is struggling with mental illness or an infectious disease, or other long-term health conditions including pulmonary tuberculosis. A note of caution: China doesn’t have the same accessibility legislation as other countries, and so it can be difficult for people with mobility impairments to work in large schools.

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What visa do you need to become an English teacher in China?

Full-time ESL teachers need a Z visa and a Foreign Expert certificate to land teaching jobs. The Z visa will allow you to stay in China and work for 30 days, after which time you’ll need a Temporary Residence Permit, which lasts for anywhere between 90 days and 5 years. This will need to be sorted with your employer, and documents including proof of employment.

It’s possible to teach English in China with an X visa. There are two types of X visa, handily titled X1 and X2, and are both forms of student visa. X1 provides coverage for over 180 days, and X2 for less than 180 days. If you’re on a teaching internship or are spending a sabbatical in China through a university, you can apply for these kinds of visas.

However, for lasting, full-time work teaching English in China, the Z visa is the one you’ll need. Give yourself plenty of time to apply, as the amount of documentation required is considerable, and you’ll need to wait for the return of certain documents, including a drug test, a medical check and proof of employment.

Types of TEFL jobs in China and their requirements

So, what kinds of teaching jobs are available to ESL teachers, and what’s needed to ensure an interview? The Chinese education system is formidable, from kindergarten level all the way through to higher education - and beyond. English teaching centres in China are prevalent in big cities, with the aim of improving English proficiency in adults. 

Let’s take a look at what’s available, and how you can land a great job teaching English in China.


Chinese parents are, in the main, very keen for their children to have a second language as early as possible. In fact, due largely to the pressure being placed on children, private tutoring was banned in China for those attending school

English lessons are only compulsory in Chinese schools from the age of 9, but you can expect to find a teaching job as a TEFL teacher even at kindergarten age. In terms of requirements, you’ll just need the basics for attaining a visa, though additional qualification in teaching young learners will certainly put you at an advantage.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. What qualifications do you need to teach English in China?

    To teach English abroad in China, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree - in any subject - as well as a high-quality TEFL certificate with at least 120 hours of training, from an accredited and reputable provider. Teaching experience can be useful, but in a lot of cases, isn't a prerequisite.

  • Q. Can I teach English in China without a degree?

    No, you can’t teach English in China full-time without a degree; you’ll need a bachelor’s - in any subject - to attain a Z visa. However, you can teach in China on a temporary basis, through a teaching programme, on a X visa, but this is temporary.

  • Q. Are English teachers in demand in China?

    Yes, English teachers are in huge demand in China. There are an estimated 400 million English learners in China, to differing degrees of proficiency, and English is a highly-prized skill, especially in business.

  • Q. Is it hard to get a teaching job in China?

    As long as you have qualifications and can get a Z visa to work in China, you won’t have any trouble finding a teaching job across the education sector, from kindergartens to universities.