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.

Required Forms

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.


  1. Hello, if someone resides in china with an x1 visa (student)
    1. Can he apply for or change to z visa while still schooling?
    2. If the person already has an x visa, can the person secure legitimate working documents to work and school at the same time?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Evnie – to be honest, Im not sure about either of these but 2 things stand out: (1) You need to have 2yr of work experience to qualify for a Z visa – Im unsure of what school you’ll be attending in China but it’s worth mentioning in case you’re only completing your bachelors. (2) There is a clear process for transferring Z visas between employers which makes me think it may be possible to move from an X to a Z if you qualify. My advice is to contact employers or visa agencies to check on this as they should have a better understanding – good luck!

      • How do I prove that I have 2 year experience ?

        • Most people are asked for references that correspond with their resume or CV, though it’s random whether or not those references are ever contacted.

  2. i already have a business visa M for 6 month and need to apply for z visa so i need to go my own country and need to apply for z visa or i can stay in china and can apply for it.

    • Hi Harry – the answer is that it really depends. We’ve read accounts of both people needing to go home & others where they can change the visa in China or Hong Kong. Like so many other things in China, it will depend on your nationality, the province in which you are applying, and the amount of knowledge that your HR person has. If you are doing this on your own you will likely need to return home, but if you have your new job helping you there may be an easier way.

  3. This all really great and very useful!! Thank you! But I do have a question, what is the process for getting a teaching job in China AFTER you complete your contract at the first job, but will not be renewing and are will be changing cities?

    • Hi Shannon – there is a general process in place to transfer your work permit from one employer to another and both the old and new job will need to work together to make it happen. The new city may require additional docs (like a background check from your 1st city) but as long as you start the process before your permit (and contract) expires it should be possible. Note: you may have to be persistent with the old and new job as they dont always know the process (or don’t want to help).

  4. Can a Cameroonian obtain a teaching visa in China

    • It’s going to be very difficult – do you have a 4-year degree?

  5. I have a question. Is it more difficult for a US military veteran to get a work visa? My husband and I are moving to China to teach English but one recruiter mentioned that it was more difficult to attain a visa for someone who is less than 5 years out of the military (my husband got out 4 years ago). Do you know anything about this? Thank you.

    • Hi Savannah – Im sorry but Ive never heard of it being more difficult for veterans and couldn’t find any discussion of it on other forums – sorry! Did they say why that makes it harder?

      • Hi I have a question I am from Pakistan living in Malaysia and working as English teacher , I am holding master degree . I have heard that only native speakers can get a job and visa in schools as English teacher , my husband also holding masters degree and he is from Pakistan too but worked for 12 years and he was holding z visa and foreign expert but In 2012 we moved to Malaysia , but now we want to come back . Any help and proper info if I can get . Thanks

        • Hi Laila – in order to teach legally in China you will need to be a native speaker. Some schools may promise you a Z visa but Id be very wary of those as they often aren’t legal.

  6. Am from Cameroon and have a 3-year degree in Sociology and Anthropology, Diploma in Aviation Security Management from Edith Cowan University of Australia and also TESOL Certificate. Is it possible for me to get a teaching job in China?

    • Hi Gervais – it might be possible – biggest sticking point is your 3 year degree and passport. I suggest contacting a few recruiters and getting their take on it – they will have a better idea if they can place you or not.

  7. Hi, I’m from Sweden and I have a 5-year degree from Stockholm University in education (English and Swedish as a second language as my main subjects) and a TEFL certificate. Can I obtain a z-visa?

    • Hi Esmat – it will be very difficult as you are not a native speaker but there are schools out there that will hire you. Please note that it is not without risk as almost every province requires teachers to be native speakers, but schools often use their influence to get visas for non-natives.

  8. Can you please tell me whether there is a chance for a non native to get a z visa? I’m from morocco, and I have a master’s degree in linguistics and Eng lang teaching. I’v been thinking about applying to teach there but this whole mess surrounding non natives and visas is scaring me.

    • Hi Sara – yes, there is a chance but it will depend on your school. Legitimate schools will insist on native speakers but there are plenty of dodgy options out there that use back channels and “influence” to get Z visas for non-native speakers. These won’t be the best teaching positions but they are out there.

  9. Hii there, I do not have a bachelors degree however ibest teacher did offer me a teaching job to work in China with regards to my tefl certificate. If they issue me a work permit and letter of invitation to work for them, would I still be able to enter China and get a z visa even if I do t have a bachelors degree. I do have teaching experience of over 2 years as have completed my matric or high school. Is it still possible…please help!

    • Hi Tim – you’ll get the Z visa before you leave for China and if the school can provide one without your bachelor’s degree you shouldn’t have any issue when arriving in China. Make sure they are giving you a Z visa as many schools will ask you to work on a tourist or business visa and claim they can change it once you arrive – this is illegal and extremely risky.

  10. What if yoυ send all the paperwork (digitally) from the U.S. for a job you’ve already accepted (with not yet having signed a contract), but then receive a better offer?

    Are yoυ already bound to that job you’ve sent the digital paperwork to, or can yoυ just resend the paperwork to the other job?

    Is it okay as long as yoυ haven’t applied for the Z-visa in your home country?

    • Nothing is final until both parties sign the paperwork – it might upset the first employer but you should be able to pursue the better offer without issue.

      • Thanks Quincy. Can yoυ verify which paperwork it is that needed to be signed such that yoυ can’t back out?

        Do yoυ mean the invitation letter yoυ receive in the mail from the company/government? Or the contracts yoυ sign after arriving in China?

        • Im not an expert on this but Id assume the contract would be the most important – you should not be doing any of the other paperwork (like visa processing, etc) without a signed contract by both parties.

  11. Hi. I’m Nigerian residing in Ghana with my work permit, I got a teaching contract for a year and the school is ready to take on the visa process. Do you suggest I apply for the visa in Ghana or apply in my home country? Second where do you suggest I get my documents authenticated and legalized, Ghana or home country? I’m confused pls help!

    • I believe you can apply anywhere there is a Chinese embassy or consulate but will likely need to get your docs authenticated in your home country – make sure to confirm with the school as they will know best.

  12. I’m a native English speaking US citizen with a 4-year degree and a TEFL certificate. Sounds perfect, right? The only problem is I got my TEFL certificate in 2012 and haven’t used it since because life issues got in the way that prevented me from committing to a job abroad. Would this gap give me any problems? If they ask me why I haven’t used it for so long, what should I tell them?

    • Hi Amanda – you should be fine as a TEFL isn’t a hard requirement for China. While Im unsure if a TEFL actually expires, you can always take a short 40hr online class to refresh your skills if needed!

  13. What do I do if my work permit has been cancelled but I want to start the work Z process again with a new school in China? I worked at a school for over a year and family things came up. I decided I wanted to go home to be with my family. I gave my school a four month notice and told them in early October that I was leaving in late January. I had a family issue that I needed to tend to and I gave them a letter from my mother and it was notarized. They then asked me for a copy of my mother’s passport. I gave it to them since I wanted to prove that I had nothing to hide. When I signed my termination letter they said they will prosecute me if I work in China before July 2019 or if they find out if I am “lying.” Now that my mom is feeling okay and things are falling into place at home I would like to return to Asia but really to China. My finacé lives in China and we have been away from each other. There is a school that is interested but they said they NEED a reference letter with a government stamp from my previous employer in order to apply for the new work visa. I have the letter of the cancellation of my work permit. But I highly doubt my previous school will give me a reference letter after the way they treated me when I decided to leave. I did everything legally and by the book. My contract said that all a teacher needs to do to terminate a contract is give a three months’ notice and pay back fees. I did both! Can I reapply for a work Z visa without a reference letter from my previous Chinese employer? The HR woman from this new school says it is requirement to get this letter because I am already in the system as having had a work Z visa. Is this true? So if my previous employer never gives me that reference letter that means I can never work in China again.

    • Hi Vera, it sounds like the 2nd school might be talking about the release letter which the 1st school is legally required to provide in order to transfer your visa – you can read more here. If they really do need a reference letter and you left the first school on bad terms then Im not sure you have any options, but I would lean on your 2nd school to get involved on your account. They might have more negotiating power than you in this case and it’s in their best interest to make sure the process & paperwork go smoothly. Regardless, I would not be worried about being “prosecuted” as it sounds like you did everything according to your contract.

  14. If I have a Z visa for one school, working full time, can I also work part time for another school? This other school wants me to sign agreement with them, is it legal to just sign it, or do I need to complete other procedures, or should I reject this offer?

    • Your visa is linked to your employer and it would be illegal to work (part time or full time) for another school. While working on the side isn’t uncommon, I would not count on a signed agreement to protect you as the visa and work permit are the only things that matter.

  15. The diploma of the bachelor’s degree has to be notarized now. To prove that it is authentic.


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