To work legally in China, regardless of your chosen profession, you need a Z Visa. While there are plenty of schools and recruiters out there reassuring job seekers that it’s ok to teach on a business (M) or tourist (L) visa, doing so is illegal and extremely risky.
Even if you ignore the threat of fines and detention, there is no shortage of horror stories out there about teachers getting caught and deported. Our advice is to be smart, do your homework, and insist on a Z visa from your employer.
Only registered schools are authorized to provide Z visas to their teachers, so if you are speaking with a school that either says they can’t or is giving you excuses, be very wary. After all, if they can’t even guarantee your legal employment, how can they be trusted to live up to the rest of the contract?
Overview of a Chinese Z Visa
The Z visa is the stepping stone to legally working in China. It’s valid for 30 days upon entry to China. Once you have your Z Visa, you will need to register at the local police station, obtain a Work Certificate and finally, be granted a Residence Permit. Once you have your Residence Permit in your hand, you can officially stay and work in China.
Doesn’t sound too bad, right?!
To obtain this work visa from China, you will first need to be offered a job. This will entitle you to a Work Permit, which you need to apply for the Z visa. The Work Permit itself should be arranged by your employer/school in China, who will be licensed to employ foreigners. Like we mentioned above, if your employer isn’t offering a Z visa, they may not be an authorized registered school. It’s worth looking elsewhere to teach if this is the case.
What Are the Requirements for a Z Visa?
To be eligible for a Z visa, you will need to meet the requirements to teach English which are set out by your school in China. While these requirements may differ from school to school, they tend to revolve around three main components:
- A Bachelor’s Degree in any subject
- Two Years Work Experience or TEFL certificate (ideally 120 hours)
- Native English Speaker
- Criminal background check
Applicants are also subject to the same retirement ages as Chinese workers: 60 for men and 55 for women. While these ages are still being revised, it will be more difficult to get a visa if you are older than that. We go into more detail on the requirements teachers need to teach in China here.
Z Visa Timeline
Getting the Z visa itself is not a lengthy process and it normally only takes 3-7 business days for your application to be processed.
However, the length of the whole process, which starts from getting the necessary documents notarized all the way to actually getting your residence permit, depends on several variables and could end up taking a couple of months.
Here’s how long each individual step to becoming a Chinese resident usually takes:
- Getting your documents notarized – around 3-4 weeks (it might be less depending on the service you choose to get it done)
- Getting you Work Permit – it takes up to 30 business days for your permit to be processed
- Getting your Z visa – 3-7 business days
- Finally getting your Residence Permit – approximately 10-15 days
China Work Visa Process Summary
Despite what you may have heard, the visa process for those looking to teach in China is usually pretty straight forward. If we break it down, there are six steps you need to take. Two before you leave for China, the rest within 30 days of arriving there. While this may seem like a lot, rest assured that your school should be doing all the heavy lifting on your behalf. They will tell you what you need to do and assist you with it, guiding you through the process.
Where to Begin
Before you can depart for your new life in China, there are two important boxes to tick. Number one, obtain a Work Permit. Number two, get the Z visa. This then allows you to enter China.
Step One – Work Permit
The first step of the visa process is getting your Work Permit. For this to happen, you will need to have been offered a job. Your employer will ask you to send them a pretty large number of documents so that they can arrange the Work Permit on your behalf.
This is the longest list of documents that you will need to submit throughout the process, so once this step is completed, the rest of the steps are somewhat easier!
These may vary between schools, but typically expect to send the following:
- Scanned Copy of your Passport – a full two-page scan of the information and signature pages. Your passport must have at least one year of validity left
- Resume/CV – this should clearly state your education and working background
- Scanned Document Copies of the following:
- Bachelor’s degree certificate
- Bachelor’s degree transcripts
- TEFL certificate
- Photos – these must meet certain criteria regarding size and content and have been taken in the last 6 months.
- Medical Forms
- Physical Examination form
- Reference letter (if applicable)
- Social Security Number (if from the US)
- Background Check – this non-criminal background check (CBC) must be valid within 6 months of applying for your Work Permit. How to obtain one and get it authenticated will vary between countries:
There are currently two options for having your diploma authenticated:
Paper Authentication in your home county
A three- to four-step process that varies according to country but will normally include the following: notarized copy of the original diploma, authentication at the state level, authentication at a Chinese Embassy/Consulate, translation into Chinese.
Online Authentication in China
Your Diploma can also be authenticated via on online, one-step process with the Chinese Ministry of Education in Beijing. Applicants only need to submit a colour scan of their highest diploma. An authentication document will be issued within 10-15 working days and can be sent directly to your future employer in China.
If you need help navigating the authentication application process we recommend ShortcutZ-China.
Once these documents have been sent over to your employer, they will organize to get your Work Permit processed. Be patient here, as generally it can anywhere up to 30 business days for the permit to be processed. Once it has been approved, you will be sent your Work Permit. You will then need this permit to apply for your Z visa.
Step Two – Z Visa application
One down, five to go! Up next is the Z visa. This requires much less documentation. First, complete the Chinese Working Visa Application Form online, then print it out, gather up the following documents and head to the Chinese Embassy/Consulate in your home country:
- Completed visa application form
- Work Permit
- Passport photo
The Z visa should take around 3 – 7 days to process, but it can take longer. If you’ve got this far, you shouldn’t have the visa rejected. You’ll be notified once it has been processed so you can go collect it.
Alternatively, if you don’t live near a Chinese Embassy/Consulate in your home country, then it is also quite common (and safe) to use an agency. For a fee, agencies apply for visas on your behalf and handle everything from submitting the paperwork to picking up the final result and mailing it back to you. I have used VisaHQ in the past with no issues but a simple Google search will yield plenty of options if you’d like to use an agency.
Another option for those already in Asia is applying for your Visa in Hong Kong. Reports vary on this option and it doesn’t seem to always work for applicants, but still, if you are already in China or Hong Kong it’s worth a shot to prevent either having to return to your country or pay for an agency. Make sure to ask your school if this is an option before deciding on it!
Z Visa Fees
The fee for the Z visa is the same as for other types of Chinese visas. Some schools may help with costs, but typically expect to pay the following for a single-entry Z visa:
|US Citizens||Canadian Citizens||UK Citizens||Australian Citizens|
|USD 140||CAD 142||GBP 151||AUD 109.5|
However you go about this step, once you have your Z visa in your passport you are ready to head off to China and start your ESL adventure!
Congratulations! You’ve made it to China. You now have 30 days to turn your Z Visa into a residency permit (the Visa only gets you into China, the residency permit ensures you can stay). As your Z visa is single-entry, you will not be able to leave China until you get your residency permit, but after that, you are free to exit and enter as often as you like.
Only four more steps to go before you are officially a Chinese resident! Plus, your school should continue to assist you through these next stages, so no need to worry.
Step Three – Registration
The first thing you must do upon landing in China, apart from grabbing some delicious noodles, is register at the local police station where you’ll be staying. This needs to be done within 24 hours of your arrival, so our advice is to get it done ASAP. It’s a pretty straightforward step – just take yourself and the following documents down to your local police station:
- Housing contract
- A copy of your Landlord’s ID and their contact number
Step Four – Medical Check
It is highly likely that you will be required to take part in an in-country medical check within 30 days of your arrival in China. It should be organized by your employer and they should accompany you to the hospital. It’s a pretty simple procedure and is nothing to worry about. You will need to bring the following documents with you to the medical check:
- Photocopies of passport material pages (picture and information page, visa page, and entry stamp page)
- 5 passport-style photos (your employer may organize for these to be taken)
- Medical check fee, approx 400RMB – in some cases your employer will pay
The follow-up Health Certificate can take a couple of working days to process and all being well, your employer should register this with the authorities.
Step Five – Work Certificate
You’re almost there! Next up is the Work Certificate, which you will need to apply for your Residence Permit. Your employer should assist you with this. Expect to submit the following documents:
- One photo
- Medical Check (if applicable)
- Police Registration form (from your arrival in China)
Generally, the Work Certificate will take around 5 days to process but may take longer.
Step Six – Residency Permit
The end is now in sight as you finally complete the last step of the visa journey. Again, your employer should assist you with this.
To apply for your Residence Permit, you must appear in person at your local Public Security Bureau (PBS). Remember, you need to have applied for this Residency Permit within 30 days of your arrival in China. This is important.
Bring yourself and the following to the PBS:
- Passport (this will be kept by the PBS for the processing period)
- Work Certificate
- Police Registration form
- Medical check
- Resident Permit application forms
- One photo
Expect the processing time of the Residence Permit to be approx 10 – 15 days, depending on the city you’re applying in. You don’t need the Residence Permit in your hand before your 30 days is up, but you need to have applied for it.
As soon as you have that Residence Permit in your hands, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Go and get yourself a glass of baijiu and soak up the feeling of officially being a resident of China. This permit allows you to legally teach in China, move around the country and travel in and out of the country as you like. China is now your oyster. Enjoy!
How long does the process take?
As we mentioned above, the entire process, from getting your documents notarized to actually getting your Chinese residence permit can take anything between 1 and 3 months.
Although there isn’t much you can do about how quickly your application is processed or how fast your documents are delivered to you, you can help speed up the process by making sure all the paperwork is filled out correctly and there are no missing documents.
Can I change my visa from something else to Z if I’m already in China?
Changing your current visa to a Z visa while in China is technically possible, however, there are several accounts of people who have had no other choice but either go back to their home country and apply from there or fly to Hong Kong and apply for their Z visa through an agency.
At the end of the day, whether you can change to a Z visa while in mainland China or not will depend on your nationality as well as the province and city you’re living in. The safest thing you can do is to check with your local Immigration Department of Public Security Bureau to find out what the best (and legal) way to proceed is.
Can you transfer your visa if you’re changing jobs?
Switching jobs in China can be a pretty delicate matter but, if handled correctly, it can be done.
The trickiest part in the process will probably be getting your old employer to sign a release letter. This step is crucial – in fact, in China, work permits are tied directly to the company that issued them, meaning if you want to work for a new company, you’ll need your old permit to be revoked so you can apply for a new one. However, some schools may be a bit reluctant to help you with this step so arm yourself with patience and get ready to insist.
Once you’ve obtained your letter, the process will basically be the same as when you first arrived in China – so you’ll first need to apply for another work permit with the new school and then get registered again to get your new residence permit.
The whole process might take a few weeks or even a month depending on how quick the new school is in getting you all the documents you need, so there’s a chance during this transition period you’ll have to switch to an L (tourist visa) temporarily, just until you get a new Z visa.
What if I don’t meet one of the requirements?
Some candidates might get discouraged when looking at the list of requirements – maybe they’re not a native speaker or they don’t have two years experience and they are tempted to throw in the towel thinking they don’t stand a chance of teaching in China.
However, there are schools and provinces that aren’t as strict and that are willing to find a way to sponsor the right candidate even if they don’t meet all of the requirements. So, though it’s true that it might take you a little longer to find work and that the jobs you’ll be offered probably won’t probably in first-tier cities, with some work and a bit of perseverance on your part, you can still find companies willing to take you on.
The best thing you can do is inquire directly with the school you would like to work for and see what are the minimum requirements for them to sponsor you.
What if a company offers me a non-Z visa?
Working in China on anything but a Z visa is a big no-no. There are several schools out there preying on less-qualified or non-native teachers that will assure you you can work on a student or tourist visa or that promise they will have your permit changed to a Z visa at a later date. As good as it may sound, you should be very wary of these schools and convince yourself of the fact that the risks you’d be running by working illegally in China just aren’t worth it since, if caught, you might end up getting deported or even fined.