What Happens if I Quit My Teaching Job in China?

by | Jan 29, 2017

So your dream ESL job in China isn’t everything you’d hoped it would be.  In fact, it’s getting downright difficult to carry on with the day-to-day grind and you’re thinking about quitting – but what will happen if you do?

There are plenty of legitimate reasons why you may choose to quit your teaching job: poor management, breach of contract on the employer’s part, toxic work environment, illness, family emergency or some other external factor.

If you have found yourself in this situation, a foreigner teaching abroad in China, whatever your reason for quitting may be, just know that you do have options.  You are not stuck, and by no means are you forced to remain anywhere against your will.

How to Quit Your Teaching Job in China

Most contracts in China are on salary, so familiarize yourself of all terms and conditions, and benefits. Contracts usually include housing, airfare, and a salary, among other things.  Obviously, if you are getting paid on a regular basis, the flow of income will cease.  Any airfare or return tickets may not be issued.  Your housing contract may also be terminated early, and you will either be forced to vacate or pay for it on your own, depending on your housing situation. 

It is most important to speak with whoever oversees the terms of your contract.  Make sure you discuss any other consequences for an early termination, as some schools will require you to pay a fee.  If they require a fee, pay it!  You do not want to be in debt as this could severely affect your move to a different school or even your return home.   

Be open and clear with your supervisors.  Be courteous and give them an advanced notice of leave.  If you are planning to stay in China, you’ll want to get a release letter from your current employer.  This letter basically acknowledges that you no longer work for the school, but you departed on good terms.  Obtaining a release letter is important in preparing you for the next step: what to do after terminating your contract.

Your Visa and Residency Permit

Understanding china visa process for teachersBy now you would have decided if you are moving to a new school, staying in China to travel, or leaving the country completely.  Find out how much time you have to legally remain in China.  The terms of your work visa and residency permit would have been outlined by your current employers. 

If you are choosing to work with a different school, your current employer will write you a letter of release upon your leave, which will allow your work visa and residency permit to transfer to another school. 

If you are choosing to stay in China as a tourist, you will still need to obtain a letter of release which you will use to transfer your current work visa to a tourist visa.  You do not need proof of residency for a tourist visa, but you do need proof of a return home (i.e. plane ticket information).         

It is very important to try and leave the school on good terms, as your former employer has the ability to cancel your visa and residency permit early.  Not only will you need those documents to legally stay in the country, you need them to move about as well. 

If you wish to stay in China and are thinking about applying for a different visa, visit the website for the Chinese Embassy for more details on how to do so, including the contact information for the immigration in Hong Kong and Macao.  Note which visas can be issued only from the Chinese Embassy in your home country.    

Leaving China

If you have decided to leave China for home, hopefully, you left the school on good terms, have the release letter, and have some extra money to purchase a flight ticket home.  However, if your school’s contract terms require you to pay a fee for terminating the job early, and you did not pay, you can be detained if you are in debt.  Having the letter of release will prove that you fulfilled all the duties of leaving early.  Do your best to cleanly end your relationship with the school so you can be free to move on. 

Another option to get home is to simply vanish; you grab your last paycheck and literally run to the airport to buy a one-way ticket home.  Vanishing on a “midnight run” may not be the greatest way to go, as your information could be reported to the government, thus making the possibility of ever returning to China extremely difficult.

Think also about the reputations of your home country, any professional contacts who may have recommended you for the job, and your teacher training alma mater before attempting any sort of vanishing act.  Do not feel bad about having made the choice to leave, but leave in a civilized manner to maintain the integrity of your professional connections.

It’s China – There Are Always Exceptions

Perhaps you are married; both you and your spouse have legal verification to work in China.  If you end your contract early but your spouse remains in the work force, you can stay in the country on your spouses’ visa for the remainder of his or her stay.  So long as you have a place to live, you’re free to travel the country or apply for other jobs.  Still, try and leave the school on a good note, and make sure you obtain that letter of release.

If you are married to someone with Chinese citizenship, again, you can remain in the country if you stay married and are living together.

Remember, It’s Just a Job

Quitting your teaching job in China requires much more work on your part than leaving a job back in your home country.  However, it is not impossible.   

Make sure you take the time to speak with your employer about your plans to leave.  Give them notice and maintain a sense of professionalism.  It is very important that you have documentation of termination in the form of a release letter, as well as knowledge about the parameters of your work visa and residency permit.  Maintaining an open dialogue with your supervisors should result in a smooth transition out of the school, and a safe passage home.

Making the decision may be hard, but once you know what you’re in for, the leaving process will not be so rough.  This is probably not the first job you have decided to quit, and more than likely, it won’t be the last. 


  1. I live and work in China, Guangzhou. I am also married to a Hong Kong citizen, who is not a Chinese citizen anymore. This makes legal status trickier to receive for me because my spouse is not considered a Chinese citizen.

    • Hi Toni – can you share some more details on this? Was there additional paperwork needed for your situation?

  2. Is it legal for a school to charge you one month salary when you quit your job during your probationary period in Shanghai, China. Unfortunately the position the Expat employee agreed to from her home country of Canada did not live up to her expectations. When first arriving in China she signed a contract saying she would have to pay one month salary if she terminated her contract early (before one year) however it does mention a probationary period of which she is giving them professional notice prior to this. She trialed the job for over a month and did not feel fulfilled. She was able to find herself a new job teaching in a school that she is very excited about. She is very anxious about not getting her release letter and working visa transferred. But I have been reading and also her new school told her by law they have to give her a release letter. However can they charge her 17,000 RMB’s legally for breaking contract during her probationay period? She will have worked for them a month for free? Could you please help explain ?

    • The good news is that legally they do have to provide the release letter – they might try and fight the employee on this but if you get the new school involved it should help. Secondly, if the employee signed a contract stating she would pay 1mo salary if she broke the contract early, then she might be out of luck. Im honestly not sure how the probation period factors into this (nor am I a lawyer) but it might be easier for her just to chalk it up as a loss and focus on her new and better job. If she wants to fight for the 17k RMB it’s probably worth consulting with a labor lawyer to discuss her best options.

  3. I’m in Chengdu, Jianyang, have been teaching in a kindergarten for 3 weeks now, but I’m not satisfied with my working conditions (the kindergarten crammed all the English lessons into 3 days and I have classes of 27 toddlers, some classes last for 60 minutes, different age groups together, all in all it’s not teaching, but a mess), so I decided to cancel my contract and go back home. I arrived here 8, July, I have an open visa Z in my passport and my residence permit is not ready yet. What’s the procedure now? What should I do to leave the country without any problems? Should my employer get me a tourist visa or I just buy a ticket and there’s nothing to worry about as long as it’s been only 3 weeks?

    • Hi Olga – sorry you’re having such a bad experience. The first thing Id recommend is trying to talk to your employer about the conditions – is there anything in your contract about class size? If not, you can still explain that it’s too much and see if you can reach an agreement. If you’re still set on leaving and might want to return to China then Id try and follow the steps in your contract that outline how to end it – if you just leave it will be very hard to come back. As for your Z visa, Im not an expert but I believe it’s single entry meaning you can enter and leave once – getting your residency permit expands that to as many times as you want but I dont believe that not having your permit will prevent you from leaving. Again, Im not an expert and I believe you should try and work things out with your employer first. Also, if you do end up getting your permit (doesn’t the school have your passport for that?) then you will want to make sure it’s cancelled if you want to get another job in China – if you leave without cancelling it then it can be difficult to get another job.

      • Thank you for your attention, Quincy! I’m actually willing to stay and negotiate, and for that I corrected my contract and offered to sign a new one, but the employer refused to do so at first, saying, and I quote “because you already signed it it can’t be changed”, which sounded a bit like slavery to me. First of all, I was pressed to sign it to start all the paper work (as they said), and now I’m pressed to just shut up and do as we tell you. The size of the class was never mentioned in the contract, the fact that I had to work in 2 different schools, commuting at the weekend was, of course, never mentioned as well. My pay for this months sounds ridiculously small (they only summed up the actual teaching hours, not taking into account that I was at the kindergarten all day from 8.40, as the manager demanded me to, till 6 pm), so as I see it I was simply tricked into taking a job which I otherwise would never have taken. After I reached out for help from a manager of their associate company they reconsidered and on Monday we will, hopefully, get somewhere comfortable.

        • Great, best of luck and please keep us updated!

    • olga im in chengdu too….im in a nightmare atm

    • Hi Olga, I having the same issue as yours. I just came for the 1st week and found out that I’m not satisfied with the job offered. My residence permit still in process. Meantime, I’m actively applying job online. Anyhow this was found out by the local bureau as what the boss told me, I was blamed on doing so, and as per the boss, this will impact my permit application. I’m wondering.

  4. I did quit China job properly with all the papers and release letter. After one year I tried to apply for tourist visa to visit friends in China and I was refused. Chinese embassy did not even look at my papers properly, because they thought I am going to work in China on tourist visa. I even had new work visa for another country in my passport. These visa things depend on what mood are embassy officials in that particular day.

  5. I understand leaving the company on a good note is quite paramount. I am on probation and I have decided the school is not a good fit. My probation is the first and second month and I am currently in my second month. My contract doesn’t state anything specific about how to terminate my employment during probation it does, however, mention giving a 90-day notice prior to leaving. The company handbook states under probation, I can leave by giving 3 days notice. The company has refused to go by the handbook and said they are contacting their lawyer. What is your advice in this situation? Also, I have heard about holding on to my work permit card so that they cannot cancel my work permit, but if I am to leave for a new job, doesn’t it need to be canceled anyway?

    • Hi Diana – sorry you’re in this situation. The easiest option is to get another school involved if you’re looking to stay in China and teach. It will be in their best interest to help you leave your current school amicably. The alternative is to contact SAFEA which helps oversee labor disputes – they are not easy to get ahold of and it can be a frustrating experience, but their mandate does cover instances like this.

  6. I want to quit my job as soon as possible because I found out some things were wrong and it may put me in risk, but I’m just renewing my resident permit and I’m supposed to have my passport back in 2 weeks (with the new permit printed on it). What should I do if I don’t want to leave China? How much time I’ll have to find a new job?

    • Hi Ann – Im a bit confused here as to your question – are you looking to change jobs once you get your new permit back? If so, there is no need to leave China, everything is transferable but you will need the cooperation of both your old and new employer.

  7. I handed in my resignation notice with 30 days, which was accepted by my boss and afterwards refused by my Principal.
    He said that if anyone leaves during the academic year he refuses to sign their release letter.
    Not sure what I can do in this situation.

    • Hi Joseph – the only things you can do are try to get your new job involved (assuming you have one) or contact SAFEA and see if they can intervene.

  8. I recently resigned from my job. They cancelled my work permit but my Z visa is valid until March. Does that mean I can stay here until then? Or is my Z visa no longer valid? Thanks.

    • Hi Howard – I believe it’s all about your residence permit in this case, if it’s not canceled too then you should be ok and any visa agent should be able to transfer things to a new job.

      • Hi again Quency

        Please assist me , I want to leave China ASAP we just found out that my previous employer only applied for my work permit last week (Which he sent to my agent, I haven’t received it) and now wants me to complete residency this Friday. My visa expires on Saturday. I want to leave China for good tomorrow as I have not been happy over the past couple of weeks. Please note that previous employer and the agent have transferred me to a different school but today when I asked the school principal for my contract with the schools seal she told me they do not have I should enquire with my agent. But when I asked my agent she told me I should enquire with the school. Does this mean I currently don’t have a valid work contract? Or my name is still registered with the previous employer? Will I encounter any issues at immigration if I leave before the visa expires? Please understand that this has been a long daunting journey that I want to close for good.

        • If you still have your passport and a valid visa I dont think you should have a problem leaving China. Im unsure about your contract or where you are registered but it doesnt seem to matter that much if you are only interested in leaving.


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