What Are the Requirements to Teach in China?

If you’ve spent even a little time looking for jobs in China, you’ve likely already realized there is a wide variety of teaching English in China requirements.  No, this is not a mistake and is the product of a system that is both hard to understand and changes on a school, city, and even province level.


What You Need to Know

  • On a national level, the requirements to teach English in China are overseen by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, or SAFEA.  This state body sets the recommended requirements for all foreign workers looking to work in China.
  • On a local level, each province is free to enforce and interpret these requirements as they see fit, something that leads to some cities being more lenient than others when it comes to allowing foreigners to work.
  • In order to work legally in China you need a Z Visa, and the primary goal of these requirements is to ensure that you are eligible.


The Basic Requirements

As of 2016, there are 3 primary and common requirements to teach in China:

  • A Bachelor’s Degree
  • Two Years Work Experience
  • Native English Speaker

Please note that these are what SAFEA recommends, and there is no reason to be alarmed if you don’t meet one of them.  Also, meeting these requirements does not ensure you will be able to get your dream job right off the bat, different employers are free to impose their own requirements (more on this below) and it’s not uncommon for the best jobs to be just as strict as those back home.


What They Mean

Bachelor’s Degree

The Chinese government wants to ensure that the teachers who are educating their youth have gone to school as well.  With this goal in mind, they prefer teachers have at least a bachelor’s degree, though the subject does not matter.  In the US this is generally referred to as a 4-year degree whereas in the UK it only takes 3 years.


Two Years Work Experience

China prefers their teachers have a bit of work experience under their belt before jumping into a classroom.  However, there are plenty of schools and recruiters, including powerhouse EF, that accept less or are willing to trade experience for a teaching certificate.


Native English Speaker

In our experience, this is the most enforced of all the requirements, but not for the reasons you’d think.  It’s usually the schools that insist their teachers be native English speakers due to the fact that the students and their parents demand it.  If you’re a good teacher then the work experience might not matter so much, but if you can’t speak fluent English or have a thick accent, you will find it harder to get a job.

It is not, however, impossible, and if you fall into this category we don’t suggest giving up hope – there are plenty of good (and bad) teachers in China that can’t claim English as their native language.


Other Requirements

As we mentioned above, there are often other requirements imposed at the school level for their incoming teachers.  They are generally a result of the immediate area in which the school is located and not city– or province- wide.  For example, if a school is competing for students with another school that employs native English teachers with verified teaching experience, you can bet they will want to hire teachers that are at least comparably qualified.


TEFL Certificate

This is a certificate that qualifies a person to teach English as a second language and is often accepted in lieu of the needed two years work experience.  While it’s always a good idea to get some form of training, these certificates (also known as ESL, TESOL, CETLA, DELTA) have the added benefit of removing the need to work for two years after graduation before you can apply.


Teaching Experience in Your Home Country

While this isn’t’ common to see for new teachers, those of you applying to university teaching jobs or test prep like IELTS should expect this to be a normal requirement.



Unfortunately, there are still schools that prefer one sex, race, or gender over another.  But before you go bemoaning what an injustice this is and vowing to teach in another country, I hope you’ll take solace in knowing that is becoming less common and is usually to appease the parents.  China is a big place and there are still some cities and neighborhoods where they think a teacher has to fit a certain profile.  If you believe you are getting turned down because of the color of your skin or sex, please don’t get too down and trust that there are plenty of welcoming schools out there.


Too Good to Be True?

While many of these requirements are subject to interpretation, be weary of a job that has little to no requirements or says they can hire you no matter what.  The reason many of these requirements exist is to ensure you are eligible for a legal Z working visa and any school or recruiter that seems too good to be true may be expecting you to work illegally.


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