What Happens if I Quit My Teaching Job in China?


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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.

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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 workforce, 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. 


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63 Responses

  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.

    1. 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 ?

    1. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. I there what is my chances to get into china again if I did the mid night run. This is now 2 years ago. Will i have penalty fee waiting for me there when I get there? Will I get z-visa again though? Please help

      1. Are you saying you’ve been in China illegally for 2 years? If so, then not good – you will probably be fined leaving the country and have a very difficult time getting another visa.

  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?

    1. 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?

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  9. Hello Quincy,

    I want to leave at the end of my contract and go to another school. However, my boss refuses to help me transfer and has been the same to every foreign teacher who has left. I want to have the release letter before my contract expires but she says she will cancel after my contract expires. This means it would be too late. Can she legally do this? Does she have to give me the release letter?

    1. Yes, she has to give you the release letter – if you have another job lined up Id get them to speak to your current school and see if they can help out, otherwise you can always go to the labor board (SAFEA).

  10. i had issues renewing my passport via the us embassy in china so i informed my job that i would not be working at the school. i came back to usa…fixed the issue and reported to my job that all is well and that i can complete my contract. my job in china said they won’t let me work anymore because they have a new plan. i asked for a release letter/letter of recommendation for another job and they said no. i did a good job at the university though. i told them the issue was not my fault and that i can pay the fee to be released from my contract and till now…no response. any suggestions?

    1. You can either let everything expire and start the entire process over OR find a new job and get that employer involved – explain the situation and see if they can assist with your previous school.

  11. I want to leave my current job and find a new one in Shanghai. The unpaid overtime is immense. My current criminal clearance certificate has expired. Am I able to transfer my working visa and work permit to another school? Is the school legally required to allow this to happen?

    1. Hi Jane – yes, assuming you give notice as it should be defined in your contract your school is obligated to let this happen. My advice is to find a new potential employer and get them to assist – it will be easier to have someone on your side should your first school drag their feet on anything.

  12. I’ve given my notice and it has been said my last working day will be the 9th and then I’ll leave my passport at PSB to have everything canceled. However, with the current virus I don’t feel safe here and want to leave asap. What happens if I just fly home on my day off and don’t return?

    1. Hi Audrey – you’re perfectly able to leave whenever you want as long as you have your passport, but if you don’t cancel everything then you may have a difficult time getting another job in the future.

  13. My employer told me it was customary at our job, and in China, to sign two contracts. One was a year in length and one was two years in length. The contract with one year’s length is filed with the government. The whole time has been just problem after problem and breach after breach of contract. I want to know

    1) Is the contract even valid since there are two of them?

    2) The contract (and Chinese Labor Law) says I can terminate the contract if I give 30 days notice – will I need to leave the country immediately once the contract has ended or do I have until my residence permit expires? I have taken a job in Thailand and will be leaving China.

    3) Will I require any documents from the school to fly to Thailand, I mean, can I not just fly out of the country at will?

    1. Hi Neo – wow, what a mess, we have no idea which is valid since there are 2 – in an ideal situation there would only be one. If you cancel your contract you have a reduced amount of time to leave the country – I cant recall the exact amount but you will not be able to stay until your residence permit expires. And no, you dont need anything to leave China, you aren’t a prisoner.

  14. my current school cancelled my work permit, can they also cancel my residence permit which will expire in Sep 2020? or do they need my passport to do so?

  15. Hey Apologies but its not clear for me from this article but if you have a resident permit until the end of september and want to quit your job, are you legally able to remain in china for the remaining period without working? Or while trying to find a new job?

    1. Hi Jen – no, you will not be able to remain until your residency permit expires, I believe the limit is 30 days after job termination (or similar) to transfer your permit.

  16. I went to China to teach last August. I found that it wasn’t for me and the job wasn’t what I expected. I handed in a notice where I had a few weeks to work. However, as the days went by, I mentally couldn’t stay so I left before my contract. However, I did pay the fine given. Would this impact entering China again?

    1. Hi Jade – you should be fine, though if you’re looking to return to China as a teacher you may want to disclose everything to your new school just to get their opinion.

  17. Hi Quincy , I have been in china since october 2019 , due to the virus , mz school stopped paying me as a music teacher since mars 31 and adviced to find another job because the school is closed and may reopen in september , and this is what I did . I contacted my school today to get a release letter and to my surprise they refused and asked me to come back teaching with them . my contract with them end 13 July and my residence permit until November 2020 . what should I do ?

    1. I forget to add that they have my orginal bachelor degree and the notirized translation in their possesion .

    2. Wow, what a situation. The easiest thing would be to go back to them as they have all of your documents. If they can make up the money they owe you it will be easier to finish your contract there than fight them for the release letter when you only have 1 month left.

      1. the school is closed , since the virus in January, they want me to come back with them in september 2020 when the school open again . I don’t want to lose the new job opprtunity , double salary and better place to teach . should I involve the new school , contact the police or what should I do ? I don’t want any money from them , just get my papers and go to the new school .

        1. Yes, then Id suggest getting the new school involved, they might be able to negotiate with your previous employer.

  18. My former school has been known to not pay its teachers even if they give the contractual 30 day notice so I got my last paycheck and left the country. Now they are threatening to take legal action. Is this possible? I will never return to China, nor teach again in the future.

  19. Hi, I finished my teaching job contract in good terms. However, the school principal keeps telling that the the return home flights tickets will be issued and the tickets have not been produced. It has been already one month and a half. What should I do?
    Ed Paula

    1. Hi Ed – what does your contract say? If you are owed tickets according to your contract then you can get the labor board involved – that should help motivate your employer.

  20. hi i have a question. i don’t want to stay at my school anymore and want to go back home. now because of covid19, would it be difficult to do the midnight run and leave china without telling my employees until i have left. like i don’t want to get caught at the airport and being told i can’t leave and them making a fuss as i don’t want them to know i have left.

    1. You shouldn’t have any issue leaving – there are now regular flights and they won’t stop you from leaving (assuming you are here legally).

  21. Hello, I would like to ask something. I am not happy with my working place right now. The moment I arrived in this school, I already had the urge to leave right away. I am just not happy. My expectation were not met. But I decided to give some time but unfortunately until now, I am still not happy. I just had my first month stay here. I am planning to leave after 6 months because I am still willing to give the school a chance. But I can still see myself leaving after 6 months. Do you think that would be okay? My contract should end November next year but I am planning to leave on June or July. Can they still give me release letter?

    1. Yes, as long as you follow the details of your contract regarding termination you should be fine – they are legally obligated to give you a release letter.

  22. Hi. I’m 58. I have an 11 month contract to teach in China, public school, starting in February. I’m planning to come home for the 6 week summer vacation, which is unpaid. My family, (kids, husband and elderly dad) will I suspect want me to stay home and not go back to China at that point. Since July is technically the end of the school year, I don’t think I would be putting my employer in a serious predicament. How best to end the contract if this is what I decide to do? The contract says I will have to pay a full month of salary if I terminate the contract. Would it be wise to try to renegotiate the contract now, or better to take a wait and see approach? Looking forward to your comments! Thanks!

    1. It’s still early so I’d wait and see – the risk you have is that your school might try and keep some of your money if you inform them too early. How much notice is requried per your contract?

  23. Whatever you do, never teach in or even visit China. It’s not worth it at all. Anyone who says it is a good choice is either crazy or lying or being paid to say it’s a reasonable option. I don’t care if you teach in Zimbabwe, it would be better.

  24. Hello. I started a new job at a training centre, which I don’t like very much. But the thing is that, just after two weeks of working, I receive a much better offer in another city, only it is to start in four months. My current contract is for one year. Can my current employer refuse to let me go after four months or to cancel my papers? Thanks.

    1. Legally they can’t refuse but they can make it incredibly difficult – my advice is to get your new employer on board for support so they can help talk to your current school.

  25. Hi Quincy, thanks for the information! I am due to teach in China in September 2021. I have signed the contract but under the current climate I’m finding extremely difficult to fly to China (no direct flights from Ireland so various tests, I’ve had covid before so x rays, separate tests and isolation before I leave etc). If I was to email the school and say I am declining the job would there be any implications of this? (They have not processed documents for my visa yet). Any advice would be great, thanks!

    1. Hey Paul – this shouldn’t be a problem based on what we’re hearing – everything is paused now (for the most part) and most schools will understand. I will say that a lot can happen between now and summer (including you getting vaccinated) so if you’re still interested in the position I wouldn’t scrap everything yet.

  26. With managed isolation requirements, I’m afraid if I wait I may not get a spot to go home. So, I was considering just getting a covid test and leaving asap – when I can get a spot to return. Essentially — midnight run. Are schools notified if/when I take a covid test? Any other implications? Don’t plan on ever returning.

    1. There won’t be any lasting implications but we aren’t sure if your employer is notified of any testing, sorry.

  27. Hello! I am currently living in Shanghai. I’m also working at a kindergarten and my contract will end in July. I’ve already given a notice letter that I will not renew. So, I will be getting a release letter from them once I’ve completed my contract terms.
    Now, this is where my situation gets messy. I interviewed with a new school. I accepted the offer and signed a contract (a week ago) that is set to be in effect in August 11th… however, I just recently interviewed with another school (out of curiosity)…now this newer school offers a better benefit package. The school is more to my liking. I want to move forward with them…but I don’t know what to do about the other school I signed the contract with. Can I cancel the contract if it hadn’t even began with? Do I need a release letter from them as well? Or can I just sign a new contract with the new school and move forward with the paperwork process with them.

    1. Hi Anne – it likely depends on where you are in the process. It’s unlikely the first school has started transferring any of your permits so I’d suggest reading your contract for an ‘out’ clause. If there’s nothing that will permit you to break the contract then you will either (1) need to ask or (2) ask the 2nd school for advice. Contracts are legally binding in China and I wouldn’t recommend just signing a new contract without addressing the first one.

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