Teach English in China – What you Need to Know

Visas and Law information

We decided to add this page to our site because it can be difficult to navigate this issue.

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that there’s so much misinformation out there which is wrong. Unfortunately, at the moment so many organizations save money and cut corners by using incorrect visas or even failing to register their school at all.

But now you’ve found this page, you can relax. There’s almost never a time when we’re not in the middle of processing one of our teachers’ visas and our visa team has experts in this area of Chinese law. We know what we’re doing, so even if you’re not teaching English in China at Premier English but doing so elsewhere, reading this is still worth your time.

This page is divided into two sections, visa FAQs and top visa tips. If you would like to see the whole visa process outlined step-by-step, click here.

Top Visa Tips

  1. Ask your prospective employer for copies of their licenses. They should be able to provide you with:
    – School licence
    – Licence to employ foreign experts
  2. Ask your prospective employer to go through the visa process with you, even if you know it yourself. This way you can assess whether you feel they are familiar with this process. If your interviewer isn’t the individual responsible for this, ask to speak to the person who is before you sign a contract.
  3. Do plenty of research into the legalization process for your higher-education certificate(s) and police record/criminal record check in your own country. In my experience, this is the biggest cause for delays in the visa process, and every country has slightly different procedures.

Visa FAQs

These are questions which I hear a lot from other foreigners around China, no matter which city I’m in.

The simple answer is a Z visa, but to just state this is somewhat misleading. A Z visa is only valid for 30 days after arrival in China. After this, your school must help you obtain your Foreign Expert’s Permit (a.k.a. work permit), which is, in turn, used to obtain a residency permit which is just another name for a long-term visa (usually 1 year) and essentially replaces the Z visa. A reputable school like Premier English will know exactly what to do once you’re in China and handle it for you.

However, the most common misconception is that a visa which allows you to work in China allows you to work as a teacher in China. This is not true. There are different kinds of Z visas and work permits, and a trick which was used by many shady schools in China in the past in order to cut corners is to register a company (not a school) and apply for ‘managerial’ Z visas for their teachers. It is not legal to teach on these visas as they require far less stringent checks on both the organization and the individual than the proper teaching Z visa. The authorities are now becoming very strict on organizations that operate like this and it’s not worth the risk, so it is important to choose a reputable school like Premier English.

I’m afraid not. This is illegal and, although it’s not straightforward for them, your old employer has the ability to cancel your visa even without your passport. This can see you stuck in China without a valid visa, and you may not even know until you get into trouble. My advice, don’t take the risk and either obtain a new visa or negotiate with your old employer to have your visa transferred. Although it’s very difficult to enforce, according to the law it’s not even legal for a teacher to take on private students outside of the school.

No. This is a good example of a gray area in Chinese law which has now become starkly black and white. Whilst in the past it was loosely enforced, employers which act as agents in this way are now being stripped of licenses and, in turn, their teachers stripped of visas and deported.

Make sure you know the distinction between this kind of agent and a recruitment agent, which is perfectly legal. A recruitment agent takes a fee from the school for finding a teacher, but the teacher then signs the employment contract with, is paid by, and managed by the school itself.

Again, I’m afraid not. There are lots of checks in place around foreigners teaching in China. There are checks on the teacher including criminal background checks and educational attainment. Just as importantly, there checks on the school too. If you’re working on a student visa you are attempting to sidestep all of these checks which are put in place for very good reasons.

Yes, this can be done without leaving China and the process is actually quite straightforward. Usually the foreign experts’ department of the city where you are moving to will require that the type of work you were doing for your previous employer be similar to the work you are going to do with your new employer. So if you are teaching English in China in both new and old jobs it can be done. You need your old employer to cooperate and there is a significant amount of paperwork for them to do on your behalf, so you will need to negotiate with them about the best way of doing this. Remember, if you’re on your old employer’s visa they have the legal responsibility to cancel your visa once you have left their employ if you have not arranged for it to be transferred!

If you have a valid work permit and residency permit, yes. You will need the cooperation of your employer.

No, perhaps with the very rare exception of those holding an R visa for ‘highly talented individuals’ depending on local policies.

OK, so this isn’t really a question that people ask, but it’s one that they should! Once your new employer has received your legalized documents, they will need to apply at the local Foreign Experts Department for an invitation letter. During the application for this letter, your employer will need to state which city you are going to apply for your visa in. This means that you cannot decide to take a holiday somewhere else and apply for your visa in another city. You should also make sure that your legal status in the country you are applying in allows to to make the application there, since some Chinese embassies restrict applications only to those who are nationals of the country where the embassy is located and those with residency status in that country, i.e. not tourists.

Once we have received a teacher’s legalized documents it usually takes two to three weeks to have the invitation letter issued by the Qingdao Foreign Experts Department, and then it takes about a week for the teacher to apply for and receive the visa in their own country, so let’s say 3 to 5 weeks. However, depending on which country you’re from (and how organized you are) it can take from between just over a week to 6 weeks to obtain the legalized documents necessary in order for your employer to begin the application process in China. My advice, if you’re looking to get a job teaching English in China, is to get your documents sorted in advance. Not only will this speed up the visa process, but also make you much more appealing to potential employers

This is a big question, with no exact answer. This is in part because the local Foreign Experts Department where your employer is located considers the reputation and standards of the school where you are looking to work just as much as the background of the candidate themselves. A school whose teachers have a great reputation, built over many years such as us will find it much easier to obtain the documentation than a new school, a school with a negative teaching record or one with a bad record of looking after its foreign teachers. So choosing the right place to go is paramount. Moreover, each local jurisdiction has slightly different requirements.


The ‘must have’ requirements to teach English in China are as follows:

– A legalized police record/criminal record check

– A legalized copy of a higher education certificate (usually BA or higher)

Extra requirements can be (although sometimes not all, or even none are required)

– 2 years experience

– Teaching qualification

The short answer is no. You can obtain your teaching work visa without a degree in teaching or relevant teaching qualification. Moreover, be wary because some recruitment companies or placement schemes require candidates to complete qualifications as a way of making money from them, when in fact they add little or no value. However, many jurisdictions will ask for these, often in place of experience, and some schools will only accept candidates with these qualifications. If you’re not sure, ask your prospective employer, but don’t be fooled into spending lots of money upfront to obtain a qualification which may carry little or no weight.