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.

Sex/Race/Gender

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 wary 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.

48 Comments

  1. Where can I obtain the TEFL certificate?

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

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
      • Hi, I’m from Namibia (country that borders South Africa’s north) and recently began looking for exciting opportunities outside the country and I am very interested in teaching in Asia in general. I have 3 years teaching experience with children aged 3-10 and have an honours degree in accounting.

        Reply
        • Sorry, I forgot to ask the question.. Would it be possible for me to teach in China (or other Asian countries) being from Namibia.. With teaching experience and a qualification and potentially a TEFL qualification?

          Reply
          • It will be difficult as you’re not a “native speaker” as defined by your passport. However, if you have experience + TEFL you will likely find something, but it might not be the best job.

  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.

    Reply
    • 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).

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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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?

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

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • Hey! I am a non-native speaker from Spain, which a Bachelor’s in Education and two years of experience working as a primary school teacher in London. I am moving to China in September, because I found a school willing to hire me and sort out my Visa. I can pass you their email. You won’t be able to working in Beijing or Shangai, but you can work in a smaller city like Xuzhou. If you are interested my email is rebeca0092@hotmail.com
      My facebook is rebeca agoiz tabuenca… I don’t use it much, but you can’t see I am a normal girl XD

      Reply
  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 ??

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  10. HI I HAVE A ETDP-SETA NQF LEVEL 4 IN EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT,I ALSO HAVE EXPERIENCE TEACHING, I AM WORKING ON OBTAINING THE TEFL CERTIFICATE WOULD I BE ABLE TO TEACH IN CHINA?

    Reply
    • You’ll likely need a 4-year degree to get a proper Z visa – is the NQF 4 comparable? If not, it’s going to be difficult.

      Reply
  11. Does the two years of teaching experience need to be consecutive/full time?

    Reply
    • Hi Leah – no, I don’t believe so.

      Reply
  12. Does the 2 years work experience need to be post-graduate work? I graduate with my bachelors in a year and have been working for the last 5 years in various places. Will that work experience count toward the requirement?

    Reply
    • Hi Maddie – according to this interview it does need to be post graduate work, but it doesnt apply to every city.

      Reply
  13. Hi there, I am South African and fulfill the basic requirements to teach in China, however I am still waiting for my police clearance certificate to come through. Will I be unable to interview for specific jobs until I have received this? Your advice is appreciated.

    Reply
    • Hi Laura – interviews shouldn’t be an issue (unless they require the cert up front) but you might not be able to move forward with the visa process until you have it.

      Reply
  14. Hello, I am Zimbabwean with a degree from South Africa which is considered to be a Native country. I do not have a TEFL certificate. Will i be able to get a job in China?

    Reply
    • You will probably find something but it might not be the best job and they may try to get you to come on a non-Z visa. The biggest issue you face is that your passport is not from one of the core English countries (US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand).

      Reply
  15. Hi, I’m a native speaker(from the UK) with 2 years teaching experience in Vietnam. I also a bachelors and a TESOL. However, my bachelors isn’t related to teaching. Will this make it difficult to obtain the Z Visa?

    Also, can you tell me if schools hire all year round or are there specific hiring periods. For example before the school year starts in September?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hey Matt – the focus of your degree doesn’t matter and you look to check all the other boxes so you should be good to go. Regarding hiring, there are lots of schools in China that hire year round but the majority of them aim for an Aug or Jan/Feb start to coincide with the new terms. So, you should be able to get a job anytime, but you’ll have more selection if you’d like to start during those periods.

      Reply
  16. Hi, I am from South Africa and have tesol certificate and currently studying 4 year degree to become a teacher. Im also a mountain guide and used to work with at school camps. I have a wife and 3 kids, she will be home schooling all kids. Do I stand a chance to find work in China that can support us all (we happy with frugal lifestyle for the first few yers to get the experience)

    Reply
    • Hi Martin – yes, it’s possible to live frugally in China but a salary split 4 ways can still be a bit thin – make sure to aim higher than the 10k-15k jobs that are heavily advertised and pursue something that is 20k+ – if you have a teaching degree it should be possible.

      Reply
  17. Hi, I am presently undertaking my TEFL training, I have M.A. & M.Sc and over 4 years professional working experience relating to my degrees albeit not in teaching, will this affect my ability to obtain a Z visa for teaching in China?

    Reply
    • No, you should be fine – China doesn’t require a degree in education (or teaching experience).

      Reply
      • Okay, now im officially confused more than ever. I searched all over the internet and different sources give me different output. This one looks somewhat modern so please, oh please, answer this question once and for all.

        Im non-native, looking for a job in china. I hold my clear background, bachelor degree, all legalized at china’s embassy. I also carry tesol/tefl certificate. Do i have any chance to get this ethereal z visa+work permit? I mean without being scammed?

        Best i got by now is “come, come here any visa, we do you work visa heare, we promise” :/

        Reply
        • Hi Greg – first, do not go to China on anything but a Z visa if you intend on working – it is a huge risk and most schools that promise that are less than desirable anyway. Second, yes, it’s possible to get a legal Z visa + permit, but it won’t be easy. Id recommend contacting as many recruiters & schools as possible and casting a wide search net – some will tell you no, others will tell you to come on a tourist visa, but a few will likely be able to process a legit visa (don’t ask me how as almost everywhere insists applicants have passports from native speaking countries). Third, realize that visa and immigration laws in China are fluid and confusing – they often vary from province to province and even city to city so don’t get discouraged if you hear a bunch of no’s – just keep searching.

          Reply
  18. Hello sir,
    I have a bachelor and Master oboth in English. Although I have graduated from Iran, (a non native English speaking country)
    With more than 15-year teaching experience, would you help to how to apply for English teaching?
    Best Regards

    Reply
    • Hi Mohammad – your best option is to start contacting schools and recruiters directly – you can find some who are hiring now on our China jobs page.

      Reply
  19. I have a TEFL certificate and I’ve been teaching for 3 years as a English translator. I do not have a degree but I am from South Africa and my first language is English. Would that be possibly acceptable

    Reply
    • Hi Candice – yes it’s possible. You can start by browsing our China job board and contacting schools and recruiters directly – many of them advertise jobs for non-degree holders.

      Reply
  20. Do CELTA Certificates have to be notarized for teaching in beijing?

    Reply
    • Hi Amy – I believe all teaching certificates need to be notarized and then authenticated by the Chinese government in order to be deemed legitimate.

      Reply
  21. I have recently retutned to England after teaching English in China for 11 years.
    The reason that I returned was that the last school I went to work for invited me, promising to arrange my RP / Visa etc. but
    although I did not teach whilst waiting for the documents to be issued, I just sat in my room for 3 weeks….I was forced to leave China.
    My advice is to ensure EVERYTHING is in order BEFORE you travel to work in China.
    Be 100% sure the school are able to apply, on your behalf, for the documents required.
    Also, it really does depend where you are going to work, the “laws” vary in each village, town, city and Province.

    Reply
    • Hi Mark – sorry to hear that – what did the school say? Did they give a reason why they couldn’t deliver on their promise?

      Reply

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