The Z Visa Process for Teachers in China
Despite what you may have heard, the visa process for those looking to teach in China is usually pretty straight forward. There are minimal forms involved and your school should really be doing all the heavy lifting on your behalf.
Do You Need a Visa to Teach in China?
Everyone, no matter if they’re coming to teach, visit family, or just to see the sights needs a visa in China. While this guide will focus on the process needed to get a work visa, there are multiple types of Visas for China and Lonely Planet has a great write up on some of the other options.
What Kind of Visa do You Need?
To work legally in China, regardless of 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 the risks are real.
Even if you ignore the threats 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 if you meet the requirements.
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 weary. After all, if they can’t even guarantee you legal employment, how can they be trusted to live up to the rest of the contract?
What Are the Requirements for a Z Visa?
We go into more detail on the requirements teachers need in order to teach in China here, but they revolve around three main components:
- A Bachelor’s Degree
- Two Years Work Experience
- Native English Speaker
In addition, 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.
What Do I Need to Apply?
Assuming you received a job offer (if you’re still looking make sure to check out our China job board) and your school is authorized to hire foreigners, the paperwork needed to apply for a Chinese work Visa can be broken down into two parts: the forms that you’ll need to send to your school and what they will send you in return to be used in your application.
Most schools will ask for the following:
- Scanned copy of your passport
- Scanned copy of your diploma
- Scanned copy of your teaching certificate if applicable
- Other proof of work history if applicable
Upon receiving all of that they will go to the government office in China and apply for both an invitation letter and Foreign Expert Certificate on your behalf. This step can take anywhere from 1-4 weeks, so be patient.
After they receive the invitation letter and certificate, they will mail it to you, usually via UPS or DHL. When it arrives, you’ll need to package it with a few other things before submitting your application:
- Passport with at least 6 months validity remaining
- Completed Z Visa Application (download here) – Note: these forms are updated often, please check to make sure you have the current version before applying!
- Passport Photos – you’ll need a few of these over the next month so it’s best to get about 10 made at once.
- Fee – the price for a Visa varies depending on your citizenship but a breakdown can be found here.
What about a Background and Health Check?
As of 2016, health checks are no longer required for Visas but can be administered by officers once you arrive in China if they deem it necessary (this is rare). Some provinces/cities also require a health check done in-country in order to process your residency permit, but this is far from standard so it’s best to check with your school.
Similar to health checks, background checks are only required by some provinces/cities and come in two forms:
- A background check from your home country
- A background check from where you lived last, including China
As background checks can take a long time to acquire, it’s best to ask your school if you will need one as early in the process as possible.
Where Can You Apply for Your Visa?
Now that you have all the paperwork in order, you need to actually apply for your Visa. The easiest place to do this is in your home country at the Chinese Embassy or Consulate. If you don’t live near one 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!
What Is the Z Visa Application Process?
If you are applying at your local Chinese Embassy or Consulate then you will simply submit your forms in person and come back and pick up your passport at the specified date. Typical processing time is 4-5 days but you can pay for rush service.
If you are using an agency then you will mail everything to them and they will keep you informed via email when it has been submitted, approved, and put in the mail back to you.
What Is the Process Once You Arrive in China?
Upon your arrival in China you will have 24 hours to register at your nearest police station and 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).
Your school should help you with both of these and some may even take your passport and do it for you. 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.