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.

Need a TEFL?  We recommend Internal TEFL Academy – take $50 off your course with this link!


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.


  1. Where can I obtain the TEFL certificate?

    • We’re big fans of International TEFL Academy courses – you can take $50 off and get more details with this link – good luck!

  2. I’m a veteran World Language teacher in the US–does the teaching experience have to be in English in order to circumvent the TEFL certificate requirement?

  3. I work as a trades lecturer in Australia for the last 7 years teaching apprentices .I don’t have a degree but have a Cert IV in training and assessment would that qualify for anything.

    • Hi Jamie – unfortunately, this would not count for much in China – they are getting pretty strict on requiring degrees in order to get a legal teaching job (and visa).

  4. Do you know of any provinces which allow teachers to work after age 60?

    • Hi Kay – we don’t know of any, sorry. I believe the retirement age of 60 is country-wide so it likely doesn’t vary by province.

  5. Hey – where is this information from? I can’t find information on Chinese embassy websites about needing a degree to get a Z visa.

    • Hi Jennifer – I can’t speak for the embassy website but every legitimate job we’ve seen requires a bachelor’s to get a legal Z visa.

  6. Is Z type visa enough to teach or must it be of a certain category? I am a non-native speaker who has a bachelor and master degree, 120 hrs TEFL certificate and a bit of teaching experience. Can I teach legally in China?

    • Hi Maya – unfortunately, it’s going to be difficult without a passport from a native-speaking country. What are your degrees in?

  7. Hi, I have B.A., M.A., and a Ph.D. in English language and literature. My Ph.D. is from New Zealand, but I am a non-native speaker and my B.A. and M.A. are from non-English speaking countries. Do I qualify to teach in China?

    • Unless your passport is from an English speaking country you are going to have a hard time, though you can still reach out to some jobs to see what they think given your credentials.

  8. Hello i am An Egyptian who has 2 years of experience in teaching but i am not carrying a TEFL certificate . and i am a LAW GRADUATE . I reached an agency and they told me they will apply for me a Lawyer visa then i will work as an English teacher is this possible ??

    • Hi Amr – I don’t think there is a “lawyer” visa – to teach legally you need a Z visa that is tied to your school. If they cannot provide that then I would extremely hesitant.

  9. I have three years of experience teaching in China with a Bachelor’s Degree in English.
    I do not have a TEFL. I would like to continue teaching in a different school.
    Is it required by the Chinese government now to have a TEFL in order to teach? Some schools request it, and some do not.
    Also, are online TEFL certificates accepted? If not, where could I find an institution which offers TEFL courses in specific provinces (or cities)?
    Thanks much for any help! Happy New Year

    • Hi Richard – the best of my knowledge China does not require a TEFL certificate yet. Yes, some schools may require it and even some cities or provinces may ask for it, but I don’t think it’s a national requirement in order to get a work permit. If you need one then your best option is to ask the schools which they prefer – many will have no issue with an online certificate but others will want some in-class observation, completely depends on the school. If you’re looking for in-person courses I believe ittt still has some options within China.


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