Am I Working Legally In China?

This sounds like a pretty simple question. However, due to the stringent work permit requirements in China, many employers go around the laws in a number of ways. You may feel like you are legally working, but you are in fact, not. So be careful and double check your documents because you are going to be the one who gets in the most trouble.

When you work illegally in China, three things can happen:

  1. Fine: you and/or your “employer” will be fined a certain amount.
  2. Detention: you and/or your “employer” with be detained.
  3. Deportation: you will be deported under serious cases.

Illegal work in China is very common and many foreigners actually don’t even know they are working illegally in China. There are four common ways that we have seen people work illegally in China.

1. What Visa Do you Have?

The only visa you can legally work for someone is a Z visa. The Z visa turns into a work permit. Usually (not always), you receive a card that you can keep in your wallet along with your work permit. Outside of updating your visa where your employer keeps your passport and sends it to the proper authorities, you should always have your passport with you. This is easy to check: just make sure you apply for a Z visa when in your home country and make sure that is in fact what you got when you picked up your passport. In your passport, the sticker should have a category that says visa type and that will say Z. Once your employer converts the Z visa to a Work Permit within a month of arriving in China, the new sticker in your visa should say 工作 (work). Some people believe that working under a Chinese business visa (China F visa or China M visa) is legal. It is not. Those visas are meant for short term visitors to China wanting to learn about China, do business, or give a presentation or something like that. Particularly if you are a teacher, you cannot be a freelance teacher in China. You are only allowed to work for one business, your visa will be a Z visa, and your stay in China will be linked to that business/school and that business/school only. No exceptions for foreign teachers in China.

2. Are you working in the same city as your work permit states?

Another way that schools or companies get around the strict work permit requirements is by going to a state with more lenient requirements. Although there is a national immigration policy, each state implements it slightly differently. So, check your work permit and make sure that the location matches your city. Our teachers, for example, all have a location of 保定 (Baoding), where they work. If it states something different than your location, you are probably working illegally and I would speak to my boss about the inconsistency.

3. What Company is tied to your work permit?

This is a little more difficult to check. However, you can see this by looking at which company sent you the official, government-sanctioned invitation letter. Does it match the company name where you are going to work every day? Does it match the company that is paying you? You are only directly allowed to work for that company. You are not allowed to be loaned out to another company. So, if it doesn’t match, you are working illegally in China. This happens often as it is very difficult to qualify to hire foreigners in China, so many people use a consulting company that finds foreign teachers for them. The employee is technically a consultant for the company and is loaned out as a teacher to a small training school who doesn’t qualify for the proper paperwork. This is probably the most dangerous position to be in and you are likely getting a percentage of your salary deducted and going strait to the consulting company. If this happens to you, my best advice would be to leave China immediately and report the company once you are safely out of the country.

4. What job are you doing? Is it the same as your contract and your work permit?

This is similar to what is mentioned above. Most Chinese work permits just state that your purpose is 工作 (work), however, because there are so many teachers in China, if you are a teacher, it should say 教师 (teacher). One way to check if you are doing the work the government thinks you are doing is to look at your contract. Is it between a school (学校 or 培训学校) and a teacher? Another way to check is to see your employer’s business license, which is a document that is regularly checked and it should be easily presented when asked for. The business license will be in Chinese, however, you can use a document translator to double check that one of the business purposes listed on the license should match what you are doing for the business.

5. Are your documents legitimate?

If you don’t have a four-year university degree, you are working illegally in China. There is no way around that. If you didn’t present a degree to your employer and you have a Z visa, your employer created a fake diploma for you. Another common problem is if you don’t have two years of relevant work experience and you still got a Z visa, that means that your employer likely made up some experience for you. This is, first of all, completely illegal. Secondly, if you are planning on changing employers, they will not know what forged documents your previous employer used and will upload different documents. When that happens, they will catch the error and you will be blacklisted from ever teaching in China or working in China again (and maybe even ever getting a Chinese visa again).

When coming to work in China, particularly to teach in China, make sure to double check all of your documents and work with your employer to make sure you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. Even if you unknowingly are working illegally, the authorities will not take that into account. These tips above are definitely suggested to be done before you even accept a position or get to China. Good luck!

What is the difference between TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA?

Many people thinking about teaching abroad or teaching English in China quickly find the value in getting a TEFL. Once you start researching, you find that there are a lot of different certificates. Here we’ll go through them all and tell you what the difference is and what the best certificate is to teach English in China.

First of all, it is not a requirement to get a teaching certificate or a TEFL to teach in China. However, you may want it for a couple of reasons:

  1. If you don’t have two years of relevant teaching experience, you will need a teaching certificate or TEFL to offset this.
  2. To increase your chances of getting a better paying job.
  3. To improve your academic knowledge of teaching strategies for basic language learners.

That being said, let’s go through the different certificates:

  1. Teaching licence or teaching certificate: this is obviously the best option to get. This is usually a one-year in-class program provided by a university. You will be the most prepared to teach, however, it doesn’t always focus on individuals with basic language skills.
  2. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language): this is by far the most common certificate. It’s not linked to any accredited body and the term is usually used to talk about all ESL/EFL teaching certificates. You can do this course online or in person, over three months or over a weekend. It’s a great introduction to teaching ESL students and the certificate we see most often with our teachers.
  3. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages): This is more commonly used outside of the United states, but is just another name for a TEFL certificate.
  4. TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language): this is similar to a TEFL, however it focuses on students who are already in an English speaking country and learning English for the first time. So the teaching strategies are a bit different, but it is still a commonly accepted diploma abroad.
  5. CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults): This certificate is a TEFL released by the University of Cambridge. The University of Cambridge is one of the top organisations leading the way in terms of English language learning and testing. We prefer candidates with a CELTA certificate.

A big difference between these certificates is the provider. When finding an organisation, make sure to check for the following:

  1. The organisation is accredited and recognised by as many other organisations as possible.
  2. They offer a certificate of at least 120 hours.
  3. They have a mix of theory and practice.
  4. Their teachers are experienced and have the appropriate credentials.
  5. There is an opportunity to lesson plan.
  6. There is a practicum (teaching in a classroom).
  7. The organisation has a job bank to help you find a job in your desired location.

Other than those requirements to teach English in China, look at your situation and see what is most beneficial and feasible for you.

How to get a Chinese Z Visa

A Z visa is the visa that you need to enter China to work. Once you have the Z visa, you (your employer) must convert that to a work permit within 30 days. No other visa can convert to a work permit. Once you have the work permit, you can legally work in China and you can also travel in and out of China as you wish for the length of your visa. This is quite a complicated process with a lot of misinformation circling online.

Every single time we hire a new teacher, the conversation eventually ends up like this:

ECC: So you need to provide us with a scanned copy of all of these documents and the proof of notarisation and authentication.

Applicant: That seems like a lot of paperwork. I read online that all you need is a letter of invitation. Why don’t you just send me that?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just writing up an invitation letter. But, we’re here to help! Here we will explain in detail the whole process.

So here’s the process:

  1. You find a legitimate employer. You have looked at their business licence and it shows that they, in fact, are allowed to do the business that you will be doing (i.e, teaching English) and are legally allowed to employ foreigners. The business licence will be in Chinese, but please, use a document/image translator and double check. I cannot understate the importance of this step. Any legitimate business will proudly send their business license to you without hesitation.
  2. You have an interview. Here, the employer will primarily be evaluating your interpersonal skills, your presentation skills, and your accent. These three items are essential for being a good teacher in China.
  3. The employer accepts your application and you start the visa process.
  4. You gather your documents: university diploma, teaching license/certificate, police certificate. Make 2 photocopies of everything. These documents may take a long time to gather, please be prepared. More info here.
  5. You notarise a copy of your documents with a notary or lawyer.
  6. You authenticate your documents with your government. The authentication process basically means your government accepts that the notary you use is legitimate and therefore the copy is legitimate.
  7. You authenticate your authenticated documents with the Chinese embassy. The Chinese embassy reviews the notarised and authenticated documents and they, in turn, put their own authentication sticker on the document.
  8. You send a scanned copy of your documents to the employer:
    1. Passport (information page)
    2. Passport photo
    3. Diploma (and all authenticated pages)
    4. Teaching license/certificate (and all authenticated pages)
    5. Reference letters from previous experience
    6. Criminal record check (and all authenticated pages)
  9. Your documents will be translated by your employer and uploaded to the immigration system in China. In about 3 business days, Chinese immigration will create an official invitation letter tied to that employer. Your employer will send you a copy of that invitation letter.
  10. You make an appointment at the Chinese visa processing office and for your appointment, you bring your passport, your passport photos, all of your documents, a copy of all of your documents (always bring photocopies of each document page), a copy of that official invitation letter, and a completed visa application form (the visa application form is fairly simple, but will require information about your employer such as address and legal representative as well as your future address in China).
  11. You receive your Z Visa. Wait a minute, it’s only 1-time entry and valid for only 30 days??? Normal. Your Z visa is your first acceptance and your entry to China.
  12. You fly to China and start getting settled. Bring your documents. Always bring your documents and photocopies of documents.
  13. You go to the medical centre to complete your medical check. Your employer receives your clear medical check in the mail within 5 business days.
  14. Your employer will take you and all of your paperwork to the main immigration office that governs your location (it may be quite a drive depending on your location). You will submit your passport to the immigration office. 
  15. The immigration office will approve your application and you will receive your work permit (which actually works as your visa and is also a sticker in your passport just like a visa). This is valid for either 6 months or 1 year depending on the office you use. I have absolutely never heard of a case that someone’s work permit has been rejected after being approved for their Z visa, but I guess anything is possible.
  16. You will go to the HR ministry office that will provide you with your ID card that shows you are a legal worker in China.

The process seems daunting at this point, but your employer will help you at every step of the process. If you are planning on being an English teacher in China, the timeframe, ideally, would look like this:

  • March-May: job search
  • May-June: Z visa process
  • July: arranging for the big move and final goodbyes
  • August: travel to China, start training and complete work permit
  • September: school starts!

If you have any other questions, please let us know in the comments and we’ll get back to you.

What You Need to Teach in China

So, you want to teach English in China. That’s great news! China is truly a land of opportunity for those who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and work hard.

In this blog post, we’ll tell you what you need in order teach in China. Particularly, which documents you need to qualify for a Chinese Z Visa (and a Chinese work permit).

What do I need to teach in China?

What are the qualifications needed to teach in China?

What documents do I need to teach in China?

In order to teach in China, you will need the following qualifications (there are no exceptions to this):

  1. Citizenship in a country whose main language is English. The big 7 that China recognises are: USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa. Right now, China recognises just these 7 countries, however, there are a few more small countries that qualify but are not advertised by the Chinese government (for example Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, etc.). This is of course, for English (the most in-demand language teaching subject for foreign teachers). Other languages will have other country requirements.
  2. Completed a four-year university degree from a recognised university and have the diploma in your hands. This document must be notarised and authenticated.
  3. At least 2 years of relevant work experience. These two years of work experience cannot be done concurrently with your degree. China does not recognise work experience completed while in school (even if you were in school part-time and working full-time). These two years of relevant experience can be replaced with a teaching certificate (either a teaching license from your country or any version of a TEFL course above 120 hours) as long as your degree is in English or in the subject and language you are going to be teaching. For example, if you will be teaching chemistry in English, your degree must have been completed at an English speaking university and the degree must be in chemistry.
  4. A clear criminal record check from the national register that uses fingerprints. A local criminal check will not do. This document must also be notarised and authenticated.
  5. A clear medical check. This is actually done when you arrive in China, but is important in order to qualify for your work permit. They will give you a whirlwind assessment of everything including vision, blood, x-ray, ultrasound, etc. They are mainly checking for highly contagious diseases like HIV and tuberculosis but also look for things like schizophrenia. The medical issues that disqualify you for a visa are not clearly outlined.
  6. A positive attitude. You need to be prepared to go to a completely different country all alone. It will be up to you to make the best of the situation. If you are not ready to do something like this, don’t put your family and your new employer through this process.

If you have all 6 of these items, you are in great shape to find a job in China. Some of these documents take a while to acquire, so expect this process to last about 2 months. For a regular August/September start date, I would start preparing these documents by May.