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Updated: Nov 17, 2020

You've just accepted your fantastic job offer to teach English in China. Woohoo! You, my friend, are in for a treat. Deciding to teach English in China was the best life decision I've ever personally made. China is an amazing place to travel, live abroad, all while learning and growing in unimaginable ways. Before you are ready to jet, you will need to make sure you've fulfilled all the necessary procedures and paperwork required to secure your visa. All these essential documents are crucial in ensuring a legal working Visa in China, referred to as the Z-Visa. The Z-Visa grants you permission from the Chinese government to legally work and reside in China via a proper work permit. The process can be tedious. However, as long as you closely follow all the required steps and check all the necessary boxes, the process can be extremely efficient and relatively quick. As always, we are here for you. Here's everything you need to get ready to teach ESL in China. Let's do this!

I'd first like to preface this by saying rules and regulations are continually changing in China. So, always speak with your recruiting advisor to confirm you are up to date with the exact rules when you are beginning your start prepping your documents to obtain a work permit and visa process. 


The first thing you need is a bachelor's degree, at the minimum. If you've earned higher than a bachelor's, well, that's even better! However, at the minimum, you must have obtained a bachelor's degree to be considered for ESL positions in China. On a positive note, your bachelor's degree can be in any subject if your degree is education-related, fantastic. On the contrary, if you studied a completely unrelated subject to teaching, it's completely okay. Countless candidates are first-time teachers when applying to ESL schools. If you've earned a master's degree, that will come in handy as well. Many schools offer a higher salary to candidates with high-level degrees, especially if their degree is education-related.


Next, you must obtain some teaching certification. One of the most common certifications is the 120 Hour TEFL certification. This certification can be obtained entirely online. Getting a teaching license is the highest level among the teaching certification options. A teaching license will take more time and money to secure. If you want to get the process going right away, a TEFL certification is the way to go. You can find excellent TEFL programs online and go through the entire certification process entirely online, too.

Rob S, a teacher at Houhai English, tells me about his experience obtaining a TEFL certification. "It was a pretty straightforward process. We just went through the steps and processes without too much confusion. Getting a TEFL was a wonderful learning experience. It was great to see the concepts surrounding ESL teaching and what would be expected of us laid out and clear language. So, I benefited from the process. We found a TEFL class through the recruiting company we were working with, and they guaranteed us it would cover all the necessary materials."


You must obtain a criminal background check, and it must be clean. That means absolutely no marks associated with police charges. Every country and state is different in detail on how to obtain the Criminal Background check. In the USA, you can go to other mailroom type places to receive the document. 

"Getting a police clearance in South-Africa can be very difficult. First of all, you need two identification documents (I.D. card, driver's license, or passport). Make copies of the two of the documents mentioned above and go to your local police station to make an appointment with the police clearance department. You are likely to wait around one or two hours in line to get your appointment. Make sure you are there before lunchtime (before 13:00). You will be asked to do a fingerprint scan (takes about 25 minutes) and provide a reason in writing why you want a police clearance. You can always state it's for, Immigration purposes. Make sure to take money in cash as you will be asked to pay for the background check at the police station in cash and then wait six to eight weeks for the actual physical document to be processed." Says Nelis Janse van Rensburg a teacher currently working for Houhai English


There are a few documents all candidates must notarize and authenticate. The documents include your diploma, teaching certification, and criminal background check. You can notarize and certify copies of both your diploma and teaching certification. However, you must notarize/authentic the original Criminal background check.

In Los Angeles, we were able to call a private notary to come to our home and notarize all our documents. Next, we went downtown to the office of the Secretary of State. There, we were able to get all our documents authenticated. The whole process took an hour or two. We were surprised it was so quick. 

Different countries have their regulations. I spoke with Nelis again about his authentication process in South Africa:

"You will have to make an appointment with a notarial and document legislation attorney to get your documents notarized.

After making your appointment, you will be asked why you need to authenticate your documents and which country you will go to. 

Fortunately, this process can all be done by phone call or by email. You will then have to courier the original documents to the attorney; they will then take these documents and make sure they are authenticated and notarized for the specific country. 

Your attorney will then send you scanned copies of the authenticated documents for verification before they are couriered back to you. This process takes around three to five working days."


You'll need to make an adjusted CV, which covers the period from high school to the present day. Yes, that is correct. You'll need to list your experience from high school to the present day in chronological order. If, by any chance, there was a period you didn't work or go to school, feel free to write where you were or what you did during that period.


Your passport is one of your golden tickets to be accepted for a position in China. Your passport must be valid for at least six months. So, if your passport expiration date is coming up, it's a good idea to renew now. Due to Chinese visa regulations surrounding teaching ESL, your passport must have been issued from a Native English speaking country such as the U.S, Canada, South Africa, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. To be on the safe side, make a handful of copies because you'll need them from time to time during the entire process of getting to China and once you're here.


Make sure to get your photo taken at a passport photo processing center. Passport photo sizing and positions have stringent guidelines. To avoid getting the wrong image, get this professionally done instead of a DIY. It's a good idea to get several copies of your passport photo printed because they will come in handy. It's also essential to obtain digital copies of your passport photo. Ask the passport processing center to send your photo to your email electronically. If that's not possible, you can make copies yourself, but make sure they are very high quality.


Before COVID- 19, the applicant had the option of getting the health check done in their country of origin or China. Now, you are required to get a health check in your home city first. You will need to get a general health check from an official doctor or hospital. The health check must be filled in and stamped by your doctor.


It's good to have your overseas address and phone number easily accessible at all times. You will need this information during different periods of your visa process. I like to have a secure file on my phone with all of this information handy and ready to go whenever needed.


Once you've followed all the necessary steps above, you will need to mail all documents to your school in China. Make sure to triple check your school's address. You must send all the originals of your documents, along with copies. In the manila envelope, you will place:

  1. Notarized and authenticated copies of your diploma and TEFL/ teaching license

  2. Original consular certified criminal background check

  3. Copy of your passport

  4. Passport-sized profile photos

  5. Original Health Check form filled and stamped by the hospital or doctor's office

  6. CV

Once your school receives your envelope, the school's process to obtain your work permit invitation that you will use to apply for a Z visa will take 2-3 weeks in China.

*make sure to make extra copies of all the documents listed above because you will need to submit them to the consulate/ embassy near you!


Once your school completes the visa process in China, they will need to also apply for a P.U. Letter. Due to COVID-19, all new applicants must obtain a P.U. letter. A PU letter is an invitation letter processed between the school and the local government. The PU letter takes about two to three weeks to be issued. 


Once your school has successfully processed your work permit, and your P.U. Letter is confirmed, you are ready to apply for your Z- Visa! Oh, no! You've sent everything to the school? Don't worry. We made copies!

Okay. Let's get organized. Get a handy folder together with the documents below:

  1. P.U. Letter

  2. Copy of your Health Check

  3. Copies of all the documents Notarized/ Authenticated

  4. Copy of your diploma

  5. Copy of teaching certification

  6. Copy of the criminal background check

  7. Original Passport

  8. Clear passport copy

  9. Passport-sized photos

  10. CV with a timeline from high school to present day

  11. Z-Visa application form filled out (you can usually find this on the Chinese embassy/ consulate website)

Depending on the country you live in, you may need an appointment. Check with your local embassy or consulate for more details.


Within three to four days, you will receive your Z-visa in your passport. Congratulations! That's the final step. You can now officially work in China. Did I mention you're in for a treat?


Have you booked your flight yet? It's best to check with the school when it's the best day to fly out. You can always do this when they start applying for your work permit or even before that. 


Next, you must take a nucleic acid test in your home country. The nucleic acid test must be administered within 48hours before your departure, with a negative result. So, plan your departing flight with the test in mind.


Wow! You've finally made it! Don't worry, this big city will feel like home soon enough. Once you arrive in China, you must go into 14 days of quarantine at a designated location. Be prepared. Use this time to the fullest! Perhaps you can take it by studying some Chinese. That might come in handy. Once you've successfully gone through your 14-day quarantine, you will need to self isolate at a location of your choice for seven days.

Well, that's it, folks. We hope all this information makes the Visa process seamless for you. There will be some times of frustration, but we know you'll get through it. Once you've accomplished all the necessary steps, you will have achieved an incredible feat. So, feel proud and get psyched to live and teach abroad in China!

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