The Complete Guide: Relocating to China

Teaching English in China provides huge opportunities to see another side of life, to earn a great wage, and to develop on a personal level. By taking the employment, visa, and training right steps, the move overseas can be easily manageable.

In this guide, we’ll detail exactly how to safely and responsibly move to China.

These are the 5 steps you’ll need to complete:

China is a country which runs on bureaucracy – there are million rubber stamps in every government office, and if you’re hoping to teach there, you’ll need to get the right ones. Follow these steps and you’ll be fine.

1. Check the visa requirements

The first step is to check if you meet, or have the ability to meet, the visa requirements in China. It can be difficult to find a position in China if you don’t meet these requirements, as employers can face stiff fines if they’re caught hiring teachers without the correct paperwork.

It is possible to get teaching work in China without the correct visa. Due to the high demand for teachers, some schools will still be happy to hire teachers without the appropriate visa, although we wouldn’t recommend it.

Chinese Z visa requirements:

To legally teach English in China, you’ll need to have a type of work visa known as the “Z visa”. This is a work visa in China, and be issued for a huge range of potential work positions.

If you’re teaching English in China, your Z visa should be for this specific purpose. To get this visa for the purpose of teaching English you’ll need to meet the following requirements:

Native English Speakers

China classifies people from certain English-speaking countries as ‘native speakers’ and sets lower visa requirements for these people:

  • A passport from the US/CAN/UK/IRE/AUS/NZ/SA
  • A recognized TEFL certificate OR two years of verifiable teaching experience
  • A bachelor’s degree (any subject)
  • A clean criminal record (certain minor prosecutions may be acceptable)
  • 18-55 years of age
Non-native English Speakers

If you don’t have a passport from one of the mentioned countries, you’ll be considered a ‘non-native speaker’ and will have higher requirements for a visa:

  • A passport from any other country
  • A recognized TEFL certificate OR two years of verifiable teaching experience
  • A bachelor’s degree from the UK/US/IRE/CAN/AUS/NZ/SA (any subject)
  • A clean criminal record (certain minor prosecutions may be acceptable)
  • 18-55 years of age

If you meet these conditions, then you should be able to legally get a visa for the purpose of teaching English in China. Ensuring this beforehand can help to save time, costs and problems further down the line.

Don’t worry – there’s still lots of options available!

If you don’t meet the requirements (aside from the TEFL certificate) then it can be a challenge to secure a teaching job in China – though not impossible.

Many people find work in China with schools which arrange work visas for slightly different positions than teaching English – for example, “Educational advisor”, “Administrative assistant”, etc.

While this might be a good plan B, it is a bit of a grey area. It works out well for many non-native speakers or those lacking a suitable degree. However, it can lead to issues, as schools which bend the rules like this might not be so trustworthy when it comes to fulfilling their contractual promises. You would be also risking potential deportation if you can’t convince immigration officials that you’re working for the school in a non-teaching capacity.

Alternative destinations:

As an alternative, you could consider teaching in another country such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Argentina, Peru, Mexico. These countries have different requirements and can be much more accessible. We have to guides which can help if you’re either a non-native speaker or if you have no degree.

For more information, you could also use the Visa-Scout tool to easily find which countries you could teach in. Simply enter your qualifications and you’ll be given a list of countries where you could legally teach English.

2. Get your TEFL certificate

The next step is to ensure that you have suitable training to actually perform the job at hand.

To teach English in China, you’re required to have either 2+ years of verifiable teaching experience, or a recognized teaching certificate. The most common training is through a TEFL course. With a TEFL course you’ll learn all the essential skills and techniques needed to teach English and manage a classroom.

What length of TEFL course should you get?

There are several different lengths of TEFL course which you may see available. For visa applications in China you’ll need a 120-hour TEFL course – this is the internationally recognized length, and anything shorter cannot be used.

Get your TEFL certificate online:

At Let’s TEFL we provide an accredited 120-hour TEFL course which can be completed entirely online, and provides all the training needed to start teaching. The certificate provided upon successful completion of the course is recognized in China, and can be used towards your visa and job applications.

It also comes with live tutor support, free worldwide certificate shipping, and additional guidance for passing interviews.

Note: If you’re heading to Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Heilongjiang province, Jiangsu province, you’ll need to get your TEFL certificate notarized. We’ll cover this in more detail below, but it’s important to be aware that in order to get a TEFL certificate notarized it will usually need to be a professional certificate – not a home-printed copy.

Accreditation is a way of ensuring that a TEFL course delivers a promised level of training. When enrolling in a course which has gained accreditation from a respected accreditation body, especially one which maintains yearly checks on course providers, you can rest assured that you’re getting a course which meets industry expectations.

Our course accreditation:

At Let’s TEFL, our 120-hour TEFL course has been accredited by the World TEFL Accrediting Commission (WTEFLAC).

WTEFLAC is an internationally respected organization which awards their seal of accreditation to worthy TEFL course providers. Our course materials, learning and examination methods, tutor experience, business registration details, and code of conduct have all been thoroughly inspected to ensure we provide a truly reputable course.

You may see a range of different length TEFL courses advertised online.

The standard length for a TEFL course includes 120-hours of study. This doesn’t mean that you’ll actually spend 120-hours studying the course materials, but the amount of instruction and depth of assessment would generally meet this level of training.

Length requirements for China:

You’ll need a minimum of a 120-hour TEFL course for China. 60/80/100-hour courses are not suitable for visa applications in China, and aren’t widely recognized in other countries either. At Let’s TEFL we refuse to make varying lengths of our TEFL course for a simple reason – cutting down the course only serves as a disadvantage to teachers, and limits where they can use their training.

When it comes to training for English language teachers, there are a few different course types you may have heard of.

TEFL/TESOL courses

TEFL and TESOL are essentially different terms for the same type of course and qualification.

TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language
TESOL/TESL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Employers and visa agencies make no differentiation between the two. So long as they fall under a 120-hour length course, and have suitable accreditation, they can be used to work in China.

CELTA courses

CELTA is a more in-depth course which generally requires a period of observed teaching in a classroom environment. The can provide a very thorough insight into teaching, although they often cost much more than a TEFL course. Many teachers start with a TEFL course, and then after a year of teaching, they may decide to invest in a CELTA course if they wish to pursue a deeper career in teaching.

For teaching in China, either a TEFL/TESOL or CELTA can be used towards your visa application.

In certain regions of China they’ll require you to notarize your TEFL certificate before submitting it for your visa application. These regions include: Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Heilongjiang, and Jiangsu.

But what is notarization?

Notarization is way of reducing fraud with documents and certificates, and ensuring their authenticity. Having documents notarized usually involves taking them to a government-registered agent known as a Notary Public, who will witness the documents and approve their authenticity with a stamp or seal.

3. Apply for jobs

Now that you have the appropriate training, it’s time to get hired. This is where you need to exercise caution. We can’t stress enough how many people fall prey to scams, bad schools or face other easily avoidable problems.

How to find jobs in China?

There are numerous ways to find teaching jobs in China. Here’s a few of the most popular:

Recruitment websites

There are plenty of websites which let schools and recruiters post their vacancies, and some even allow you to upload a copy of your resume and let recruiters do the searching. Two such websites include JimmyESL and ESL Jobs Lounge.

You do however need to be careful. Anybody can post a job advert, regardless of whether they actually work for a school or not.

There are lots of fake job adverts, or independent recruiters who will try to place you to any school which pays them a high-enough commission fee – even if they have never visited the school themselves to check its suitability. We have some tips below for spotting some of the red flags when browsing job adverts.

Applying with schools

It’s also possible to find schools yourselves and directly apply with them.

Chain schools: There are numerous large chain schools in each province of China. It’s possible to search online and find their website to directly apply through.

Public schools/universities: Similarly, you can also find certain public schools or universities and reach out to them directly.

Public schools might not always have the resources to handle such applications themselves (a fluent English speaker, and knowledge of arranging visas for foreigners). So unless you’re experienced with the visa process, and can speak some Chinese, we would recommend considering a reputable chain school for your first placement, as they’re more likely to have the resources to help you.

Recruitment agencies

You can also find certain agencies who handle the hiring for a range of schools. These can be good at negotiating good salaries and perks, but in some cases have a reputation for exaggerating the school in question, or understating the workload once you arrive in China.

It’s true that these agencies do charge the schools a fee for providing this service, but this fee is usually something which schools factor into their general hiring costs, and sometimes it can even benefit you as a teacher.

Job placement services

Another option can be to go through a job placement service, provided by your TEFL course provider, or a similar company. While agencies are often run by Chinese companies, this type of job placement service will usually be overseen by a western team, who can better understand your needs.

At Let’s TEFL we work closely with a range of schools across China, personally visiting them if needed.

What do we recommend?

We recommend most first-time teachers to go through a reputable job placement service or a legally accountable recruitment agency.

This is because it can difficult to directly apply to schools, and they don’t always have the time and language skills to personally guide you through the full process. An average school might hire 1-5 teachers per year, but they might not keep on top of the latest visa application processes for each individual country.

Recruitment agencies spend their entire day doing exactly this. Yes, they do charge the schools a fee for their service, but, a good recruitment agency or job placement service will add an extra degree of accountability – ensuring that you get the documents prepared correctly, as to avoid risking their reputation and school partnerships.

Similarly, a job placement service from a publicly visible company will generally be more accountable, as they’ll be risking their hard-earned reputation if they don’t look out for you.

How to spot scams:

The high wages and incredible experiences found in China have made it one of the most popular teaching destinations to emerge over the past 10 years. Unfortunately, there are also some problems due to its huge popularity.

Recruiters: There are plenty of responsible, honest recruiters in China who have built up strong relations with their networks of schools, and carefully match suitable candidates to each position. However, there are also a lot of recruiters who are either less responsible, or are outright scammers.

It’s common to hear stories of recruiters promising huge salary packages and perks at great schools, only to find upon arrival that work permits aren’t processed, salary packages aren’t as described, and the schools may be in completely different cities than advertised. It’s also common to hear of recruiters promising similar packages and then requesting a recruitment fee from the teachers – and disappearing shortly afterward.

Schools: Just as with recruiters, there are good schools and bad schools. Certain schools may have a reputation for burning through teachers, paying late, demanding excessive overtime, or other issues.

It can be difficult to tell a good school from a bad one. If you have a personal recommendation from someone you know, then that can help. Otherwise, you should look for a company that has some accountability.

Recruiter red flags:

When it comes to spotting a good recruiter, you should always consider what accountability they have.

  • Are they recruiting on their own, or representing an established and legally registered company?
  • Are they using a personal .gmail .qq .hotmail email address, or one from a real school/recruitment company?
  • What could you do if they deleted their email/Facebook/phone number after you arrived in China?
  • Are they promising to arrange a visa after you arrive in China, instead of before?
  • Have they said that meeting visa requirements isn’t important?
  • Are they asking for a recruitment fee from you?

Exercising caution here can save a lot of time and expense in the long run.

Job placements in China:

Another option is to get placed in a trusted partner school after completing your TEFL course. At Let’s TEFL we provide a full job placement service for destinations including China. We work exclusively with select partner schools spanning the North and South of China, and ranging from kindergartens to public schools and universities.

With our premium partners, you can rest assured that you’re in good hands, and will get guidance through this entire process:

4. Get your visa

After securing a job you’ll need to get your paperwork in order before flying to China. Negotiating this by yourself can seem a little overwhelming, but with the right preparation, it’s not too bad.

1. Get your documents approved:

Before starting any of this process you’ll need to first prepare several documents and have them approved for use with your work permit and visa applications.

Start by getting the originals of the following documents:

  • Degree certificate
  • Police check
  • TEFL certificate

Copies of these documents can’t be used for your visa application – so be sure to get the originals, or order new copies if you no longer have the original documents at hand.

Z Visa Documents

To apply for your Z visa, you’ll need to send to following documents to your local Chinese embassy:

  • Application form
  • Passport
  • TEFL certificate OR proof of two years of teaching experience
  • Degree certificate
  • Criminal record check
  • Employment contract & notification letter

After getting these documents together there are a few common steps which you’ll need to do no matter which country you’re from:

  • Notarization: Notarization is a way of checking that certain documents are legitimate, and is usually performed by a solicitor/lawyer or court official.
  • Regional Legalization:  After notarization, you’ll usually need to get them ‘legalized’ – this is similar to notarization, but extends their authentication for use overseas. This is usually performed by a government body.
  • Chinese Legalization: This final step then permits your documents to be used within China as part of your visa process, and is performed by a Chinese embassy or consulate.

For the exact process in your country, check out the guides below:

If you have a US passport you’ll need to follow this process:

  • 1. FBI criminal record check: For most schools and provinces you’ll need to get an FBI record check to confirm that you have a clean criminal record. It’s best to start this process early as it can take up to 2 months. You can find information about the process here: a state-level check can be accepted instead of an FBI check. This can be faster and easier to acquire, but you should ask your school which they need beforehand.
  • 2. Notarization: Take your degree (and TEFL certificate if you’re heading to Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Heilongjiang, or Jiangsu.) to be notarized by a local Notary Public:
  • 3. Authentication: Get your documents authenticated by your local Secretary of State. You can find instructions for your state by visiting their website and browsing to the authentication/apostille section.
  • 4. Chinese Legalisation: After receiving your documents, you’ll need to fill out the G1 Authentication Application Form, and submit them in person along with your documents to the Chinese embassy or consulate nearest to you.

As it can be difficult for many people to complete the final stage, there are some services which you can use to do this part, or the whole process for you. You’ll post your original documents to them with recorded mail, and then they’ll take care of steps 2, 3 and 4 for you, before posting the documents back to you.

Here are two such services which you can consider: &

If you have a British passprort you’ll need to follow this process:

  • 1. Police check: Get your ACRO police record check online here:
  • 2. Notarization: Take your degree, police check (and TEFL certificate if you’re heading to Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Heilongjiang, or Jiangsu.) to be notarized by a local Notary Public:
  • 3. UK Legalisation: Post all three documents to the UK Legalisation Office:
  • 4. Chinese Legalisation: After receiving your documents, submit them for Chinese legalisation in person to the Chinese embassy in London. You can choose a 3 or 4 day service, and then collect your documents again in person.

As it can be difficult for people outside of London to complete the final stage, there are some services which you can use to do this part, or the whole process for you. You’ll post your original documents to them with recorded mail, and then they’ll take care of steps 2, 3 and 4 for you, before posting the documents back to you.

Here are two such services which you can consider:

If you have a Canadian passport you’ll need to follow this process:

  • 1. Criminal Record Check: Go to your local police station and a request a Criminal Record Check. This will involve taking your ID, and getting copies of your fingerprints taken.Here’s some more info on the process:
  • 2. Notarization: Take your degree and Criminal Record Check (and a notarized TEFL certificate if you’re heading to Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Heilongjiang, or Jiangsu.) to a local notary public.
  • 3. Canadian Authentication/Legalization: Get your notarized documents authenticated (legalized) by the Global Affairs Canada office. This can be done in person or by mail: We recommend calling them first, as you will often need to ensure that you have your documents authenticated in the same jurisdiction as where they were notarized.
  • 4. Chinese Legalisation: Finally, submit your legalized documents for further Chinese legalization in person to the Chinese embassy or consulate in your region.More info: Vancouver / Toronto / Calgary / Montreal / Ottawa

If you have an Irish passport you’ll need to follow this process:

If you’re not able to visit the embassy in Dublin, there are some services which you can use to do this for you. You’ll post your original documents to them with recorded mail, and then they’ll take care of steps 2, 3 and 4 for you, before posting the documents back to you.

Here are two services which can provide the document authentication service for people with Irish and UK passports:

If you have an Australian passport you’ll need to follow this process:

  • 1. National Police Check: Get your National Police Check online or via the post, from the Australian Federal Police: We recommend first calling to ask whether they will need your fingerprints or not, as this could save time and money if you can avoid this step.
  • 2. Notarization: Take your degree and National Police Certificate  (and TEFL certificate if you’re heading to Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Heilongjiang, or Jiangsu.) to be notarized by a local Notary Public:
  • 3. Australian Legalisation: Get your degree and National Police Certificate legalised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT):
  • 4. Chinese Legalisation: Finally, submit your notarized and legalized documents for further Chinese legalization in person at the Chinese Embassy or Consulate.Note: You’ll need to take them to the embassy/consulate in the region where the documents were first notarized.

If you have a South African passport you’ll need to follow this process:

  • 1. Police Certificate: Apply for your Police Clearance Check (PCC) at your local police station. As part of this, you’ll need to take your ID/passport, and have a copy of your fingerprints taken by police on a SAPS 91 (a) form, which then will be sent off with your PCC request.Here’s some more info on the process:
  • 2. DHET certification: Take your degree (and a notarized TEFL certificate if you’re heading to Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Heilongjiang, or Jiangsu.) to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).
  • 3. DIRCO Legalization: Take your DHET-certified degree, and your Police Clearance Check to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) for legalization.More info on this process here:
  • 4. Chinese Legalisation: Finally, submit your legalized documents for further Chinese legalization in person to the Chinese embassy or consulate in South Africa: we recommend calling them before visiting.

After you’ve completed this process you’ll have fully-approved documents which can be used with your visa application – but note, getting to this stage doesn’t grant you access to China just yet. You’ll still need to get your notification letter and work visa.

2. Get your Notification Letter:

The notification letter is a document you will need from China when you apply for your Z visa. It’s used to show that a legitimate school has signed a contract and intends to hire you. Its official name is the ‘Notification Letter Of Foreigner’s Work Permit’, though it’s often referred to as simply a notification or invitation letter.

To get your notification letter you will need to prepare the following documents:

  • Passport
  • Degree Certificate (legalized)
  • Police record check (legalized)
  • 120-hour TEFL certificate (legalized if heading to certain provinces)
  • Passport photo

The school which hires you will take scanned copies of these documents and complete an application at their local Foreign Expert’s Office (FEO). This requires them to translate your documents into Chinese, submit an online application, and then complete a face-to-face application on your behalf. After which, they’ll be able to receive a notification letter for you to use with your visa application.

Note: increasingly, schools are being required to submit actual copies of the documents (not just scanned copies) meaning you might have to ship your original documents to China. You should check with your school to see what they’ll need, as this can vary from each province.

Sometimes, your school will also apply for your Foreign Experts Certificate (SAFEA), this can help you to skip a later stage once you arrive in China, but it isn’t a problem if you don’t receive one at this point in time.

3. Apply for your Z Visa:

Next, you’ll need to get the required visa needed to enter China for the purpose of work. This is known as the Z visa.

To get your visa you’ll need to complete the application form here, and submit to your local Chinese Embassy or Consulate, along with your passport and other required documents. In some regions you’ll need to drop it off in person (or have an agent do so) and in other regions you’ll be able to use a postal service to apply for your visa.

Note: In some countries, the Chinese government is now trialing taking fingerprints as part of the visa application process. We’d recommend calling your local consulate/embassy, and checking if you’ll need to do this or not.

When you get your visa back, you’ll be all set and can start looking at your flights!

5. Fly to China!

With your training, job, and visa all sorted it’s time for things to get exciting – booking your flights.

Booking flights

There are a number of comparison sites which you can use to find the best ticket prices.

A popular option is Sky Scanner, however – as an insider tip, it’s also worth finding the best 2-3 ticket prices for the times and dates which you’re looking to purchase, and then go direct to the airline’s websites and check again. Recently, many airlines have started to offer additional deals, or better prices if you purchase directly through their website.

Landing in China (woo!)

If you’ve received one of our placements at Let’s TEFL you’ll be greeted at the airport by someone from your school, and they’ll welcome you to China, take you to your accommodation and help you get settled.

If you found your job in another way, you might get an airport welcome, or you might need to find your way to your way to the school yourself.

Don’t worry if you aren’t greeted at the airport. It might be a little overwhelming to get straight off the plane and make your way to the school, especially if it’s late at night. We usually recommend having a hostel booked near to the airport, so that you can easily take a taxi to the hotel, and then the next day head off to your school at a convenient time of day.

Work & resident permits

Take a deep breath in, and out… there’s some more paperwork which you’ll need to tackle when you arrive.

Thankfully your school will usually guide you through these stages, but here’s what it will include:

1. Initial Police Registration

You’ll need to let the police in your area know that you’re there.

Within 24 hours of arriving, you’ll need to take your passport to your nearest police station and register your presence in the country. Most schools should take you there on the way to your accommodation or after dropping off your bags.

2. Work Permit

This document gives you the legal permission to earn money in China.

Within 15 days of arriving, you will need to get your Foreigner’s Work Permit. In most situations, your school should do this for you. They’ll take your passport to their State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) office and get the permit arranged without needing you to do anything.

3. Resident permit

This gives you the permission to stay in China for the duration of your contract.

You’ll need to take your passport, work permit, and letter of employment from your school, and go to your nearest Public Security Bureau Exist & Entry Administration Service Center, and apply for a Residence Permit. Your school will be able to advise you on this process, and may send a helper to guide you through the application.

4. Resident Police Registration

Finally, you’ll need to let the police in your area know that you’re now staying as a resident

Just like with the first time, you’ll need to go back to your local police station with your passport and your new residence permit.

After you’ve done this you’ll be all set!

You’ll have your job, accommodation, visa, work permits, and residence permits, and will be ready to really settle into your new life in China. We’ve been through this as teachers ourselves, and know from personal experience that the rewards are certainly worth it.

Ready for the challenge?

Get your TEFL certificate with job placement service: