How do I get a release letter in China?

by | Mar 7, 2017

Learn When You Need a Release Letter and How to Get One

No matter if you’re returning home after your contract or merely switching jobs, having a release letter from your previous employer is invaluable.  It’s best to think of this little piece of paper as one of the i’s you need to dot in order to move on, whether that’s getting a new job or transferring your visa.

Usually, release letters in China are given without issue, but if you’re breaking your contract early or have rubbed your school the wrong way, it might prove more difficult than you anticipated.


What is a release letter?

A letter of release is a document written and issued by the school for which you’ve been working.  The contents of the letter should state that you have been legally working in China and are still on good terms with the school.  In addition, the letter should also mention that you’re in good standing with the law and are eligible to continue working and living in China.  

Per Chinese law, schools are required to give you a release letter upon exiting.  However, as we mentioned earlier, some employers may withhold the letter and make the transition a bit more difficult.


When do I need a release letter?

There really is no wrong time to get a release letter as it’s necessary when changing jobs and has proven helpful if you are thinking about returning in the future.  The information it provides can help you in the following situations:

  • If you’re switching jobs mid-contract
  • If you’re changing jobs after completing a contract
  • If you’re looking to change your visa from one type to another (for example, if you want to get a tourist visa after your contract so you travel a bit)
  • If you’re leaving the country completely

Again, schools are legally required to give you the release letter.  If you’re leaving the school to teach or work elsewhere, the letter will allow your next employer to renew your work and residency permits.  

China’s laws are very strict, and ensuring you stay within the laws and abide by all work and residency permit policies will ensure your safety and freedom to work and travel the country.

What if my employer won’t give me a release letter?

There are plenty of horror stories out there related to schools withholding release letters either out of spite or confusion.  While it’s easy to understand why a school would be mad about you breaking a contract or wanting to work elsewhere, they really have no excuse if you abide by your contract when it comes to parting ways.

However, if they still refuse to play ball, there are a few things you can do to let them know they are in the wrong:

  • Schedule a meeting with school administrators and come prepared.  This means printing out the applicable parts of the law and your contract to let them know they are obligated to provide the letter.
  • Contact State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) and file a complaint.  SAFEA has offices in various cities spread throughout the country and most of the time even the threat of getting them involved is enough to get the process started.
  • Ask your new job to get involved.  If you’re moving jobs then it’s in your new employer’s best interest to help you out, simply explain the situation and see what they can do.


When in Doubt, Know the Law

Familiarize yourself with policies regarding work and residency permits at the China Embassy website.  This guide is a comprehensive list of requirements and procedures regarding foreign work permits in China.

Though the task may seem daunting, knowing when you’re in the right will help you avoid any conflicts and headache in the leaving process.


  1. hello, i have been working for a school in China. i told them i want to leave and work elsewhere, i will have fulfilled my contract with them and not breach it either. but they are being difficult with me and asked me to pay a significant amount of money. i told them this is against the law and even had legal advice too. and i had meeting with the school last week and shown them the employment articles in law. i have found out today that a lot of schools are starting to do this in this order to keep the teachers they threaten them with money. i just want to leave on good terms, i dont know what to do next.

    • Hi Andrea – what do they say the money is for? If you already have a new job or school the first thing Id do is ask them to come to your aid – oftentimes they know what to say on your behalf. If that doesn’t work then Id contact SAFEA and file a complaint as explained in the article – or, just tell your school you are going to do that if they don’t comply.

      Good luck, please let us know how it works out!

  2. What is the law here for release letters? Does anyone know? When do they have to give you one? Is it one month before it expires…etc?

    • As you probably already know, the laws can be a bit ‘fluid’ depending on your city and there are plenty of employers who don’t like to follow them. Id suggest contacting SAFEA (start here and ask them for current rules based on your location – FYI it will be easier if you are legal and on a Z visa.

  3. How does one find contact details for Safe? There are no email addresses, phone numbers, or physical addresses available on their web site.

  4. Hi,

    Here I thought that this release letter was the most important document, but it seems that the cancellation Paperwork is just as important!

    Here’s my story..

    Can anybody explain to me how the cancellation process works. I’d like my cancellation Paperwork on my last day with my release letter….my HR claims they can only start the cancellation process the day after my contract(which will then take 15 days to get), but I will apparently for sure get the release letter….then I hear of this online cancellation process which takes about 4-5 days…I’m finishing my contract and obviously got a better job…
    Who or where can I go to?eg. A government department/SAFEA

    My last day/contract expiration day/date is 23 November, residency expires 27 November and I’m scheduled to start the 28 November 2018.

    My current school knows this, in the past 2-3 months, a total of 7 Teachers has left and no one re-signed. This is a training center (franchise)… Jiangsu province… I’m moving to another city in the same province.

    What proof can I obtain to show them that they can cancel the FEC before the time?…all these timelines and documents are frustratingly confusing…

    Can my current school cancel my FEC before my last day?where and how?? They claim I’ll be illegal… other people say it can be done.. I feel the current school just wants me to make Hong Kong runs, giving out money on flights, accommodation..etc, as if to get us back for some dumb ass close minded reason.

    Please help!

    Here’s my wechat : Fabian 180285


    I finish next week Friday!yay!

    • Hi Fabian – the two schools (your old and new) should be working together on this and I would highly recommend leaning on your new employer to get things done. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if cancellation is necessary, you should be transferring everything to the new school and there is a defined process for that where you don’t have to go to HK.

      My advice would be to (1) contact your new school and explain what’s happening – it’s in their best interest to make it as easy as possible for you so that you can start work. If they are clueless, (2) contact your SAFEA branch (see for the Jiangsu location) and find out your options – you might need a Chinese speaker for this and Id suggest one that isn’t your current school.

      Good luck!

  5. I am working for a school in China, but I’m employed by an agency. Do I need to get the release letter from the agency or the school?

    • You need to get the letter from whichever company is linked with your visa – in this case, it sounds like it’d be the agency if you are employed with them but it should be stated in your contract.

  6. Hi,
    In 2016 I worked for a school in Xi’an for 6mths and left because they didn’t pay according to the contract. My contract and visa have both expired. Do I still need a release letter, the employment agent is saying I do?

    • To the best of our knowledge, you only need a release letter if you’re still under contract and are changing jobs. If your last job was in 2016 and you’re trying to return to China then the process should work as if you were applying for a job for the first time, ie no release letter needed.

      • Thank you Quincy. That’s what I though but the employment agent is saying I need one.

  7. Dear Quincy

    Thanks for all the great replies. I see the thread is fairly decent and so are some of the comments. I left China in 2016 and never received a release letter. My employer also refuses to give one as as some of the above people they were not paying me.

    As I understand you, I may now reapply for a new work visa without the need for a release letter? I would like to make certain so as to move forward with my interviews etc with the new school

    • Hi Keith – thanks for the kind words. Yes, to the best of my knowledge, a release letter is only needed when moving from job to job when your visa and work permit are still valid. If you left in 2016 you will likely just apply as normal and have to redo all the paperwork, but I would definitely confirm with the school as each city and province often have different requirements.

      • Sorry to bother Quincy. In addition to my case, I would be coming back to teach music and not English. Does this further help my situation?

        • Hi Keith – the process is tied to the type of visa you have, not the job, so you will likely still need to reapply if your permits are expired.

  8. Hello ,
    I have been working for one year in China. I spent 12 months , before three months I warned my boss that I will no longer renew the contract with his school … he wouldn’t like to let me go , he kept trying to convince me but I wouldn’t like because the salary is very low… so I told him I want to try somewhere . As I started preparing myself to get back to my country I asked him to give the release paper , but he refused … now what is the solution?

    • Hi Jilan – sorry you’re going through this! As far as we know, your employer is obligated to provide the release letter and if they refuse I’d suggest contacting SAFEA ( and asking for the next steps. You can also ask your new employer (if you have one) for help as they might have more luck with cooperation.

  9. Hi everyone

    I would really appreciate your help.

    I recently left my teaching job and broke my contract (midnight flit). I’m not proud of it, but my employer was extremely bad). My former employer would like to employ me again, but the last school won’t issue any paperwork unless I pay them a huge amount of money. Reading above it seems like I just need wait until the contract I didn’t complete naturally expires and then I can apply from scratch in my home country (z visa etc.) without the need of the release letter. Can anyone confirm if that is correct? It would be a real weight off my mind.

    • Hi Phil – this one is tricky as you broke your contract. First – did your contract outline a penalty for breaking it – if so, what? Second, Id reach out to your former employer and see if they can help – Im not sure if you need to wait until your contract is technically over or not, but they can likely talk to your bad employer more easily than you can.

      • Hi Quincy

        Thanks for the advice. There is a penalty clause in the contract. Will that make a legal difference? I’ve been reading lots of information that states they are not enforcable.

        Thanks 🙂

        • I have no idea about the legalities but my thought was that if you have a penalty clause you can offer to pay it (assuming it’s reasonable) and hope that remedies the situation. However, Id still get your former employer involved as it’s in their best interested to get you working ASAP and they might be able to work some magic.

          • Thanks for the sensible advice. The penalty is ¥25000 hahaha

          • Wow, that’s steep!

  10. Hello. I signed a contract with a university. They emailed me the notification letter but I did request the visa because I knew that the university was a fraud with the contract with workers. So,although I signed the contract, I never got the visa and I never worked in China. Must I get a release letter? Can I have difficulties if I want to work with other school? Kind regards

    • If you never got a visa then I do not think you need a release letter and it’s unlikely you’ll have any difficulties working with other schools.

  11. The SAFEA is useless. None of the ones I have contacted speak English – I don’t understand how they deal with foreigners but not know English. And they don’t even respond to emails. If you are lucky, all you get is an automated response.

    • It can definitely be difficult – do you have a Chinese friend that can help you?


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