China’s New Policy for Online Teachers Explained


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It’s no secret that the ESL teaching industry in China has historically been filled with legal grey areas. Up until this year, the legal requirements to teach English online to Chinese students has been fairly vague. This has meant that ESL teaching platforms based in China, such as VIPKID and Qkids, have had free reign when it comes to setting their own hiring policy.

As such, companies like VIPKID and Qkids have been under no obligation to require teachers to have evidence of TEFL certification or prior teaching experience. Many such companies were happy to hire teachers without these criteria as long as they were native speakers and Bachelor’s degree holders.

However, that all changed earlier this year when China issued new regulations for online teaching companies as part of a national crackdown on ‘after-school classes’. Today, we’re going to be explaining exactly what these new regulations mean for ESL teachers.

When Did This Happen and Why?

It all started with a press release published on the official Ministry of Education website towards the end of last year.

China ESL policy change image

The press release was vague in detail but, importantly, mentioned that “a management platform will soon be launched online to tighten scrutiny of after-school training institutions across China.”

As online ESL classes fall under the banner of ‘after-school training institutions’, it was clear that this new management platform would affect the online ESL industry.

The change came amidst the country’s broader efforts to ease academic pressure students in primary and secondary schools. As mentioned in the press release, one driving factor behind the change was complaints regarding the overall poor quality of many after-school programs.

Since the announcement, further details about the regulatory changes haven’t been made public. However, they were given to the ESL platforms in advance of the crackdown. That’s why major ESL platforms like VIPKID and DaDa all made major changes to their hiring policy at around the same time, from which we can deduce what changes were made to the regulation.

Below is a screenshot showing an announcement by ESL company DaDa ahead of the crackdown:

DaDa new requirements

Companies That Aren’t Affected By the Changes

It’s worth noting that not all online ESL platforms will be affected by this change. It’s only platforms based in China that are subject to the new regulations. Here are a few popular ESL companies that won’t be affected:

As the above companies aren’t based in China, the new regulations don’t apply. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have similar entry requirements regardless.

Companies That Are Affected By the Changes

All of the following companies are based in China and as such will likely already have/soon be updating their hiring policy to reflect the new requirements:

How To Meet The New ESL Teaching Requirements

If you’re already a teacher for any of the above companies or are hoping to apply for them, you may be required to supply documentation proving you meet the minimum job requirements.

If you don’t already have them, that means you’ll need to get your hands on a TEFL certificate, background check, and Bachelor’s degree.

Let’s talk about each of them in turn:

China ESL Teaching Requirements

Getting a TEFL Certificate

There are many TEFL courses out there that will award you with an internationally-recognized accreditation. There are lots of different types of courses, but they’re usually subcategorized based on how many hours are required to finish the course, and where the course takes place.

As such, you can choose from:

  • Online-only TEFL courses, face-to-face TEFL courses, or a mixture of both
  • 100-hour courses, 120-hour courses, 140-hour courses, or more.

Usually, online-only TEFL courses are a lot cheaper and faster to complete, but they also don’t give you any actual classroom practice, so if you want some hands-on experience, it might be worth investing in a course with some classroom teaching hours.

Under the new China regulations, you’ll need to have a minimum of 120-hour TEFL course, and your accreditation will need to be internationally recognized. Bare this in mind while shopping around.

The gold standard when it comes to TEFL courses are the CELTA, DELTA, and TrinityTESOL courses, but these are also the highest-price courses you can get – they cost hundreds of dollars while some online-only TEFL courses are available for as little as $50.

Related: Discounted TEFL Courses

120-hour courses are designed to require you to study for 120 hours in order to pass, but in practice, many teachers report being able to complete them substantially quicker. Some teachers report finishing online TEFL courses in as little as a few hours.

Getting a Background Check

To get a background check, you’ll need to go through the appropriate channels for your home state or country of residence.

If you live in the US, this might require you to go to the local police department for your most recent place of residence and request a criminal record search and documentation. You may also be able to apply from your embassy if you live overseas. It’s worth consulting with your local authority to confirm the exact process required, but you can find out more information here.

If you’re from the UK, you may be able to apply for a basic check or DBS online, depending on what your specific ESL employer requires. You can ask them for more information or consult the UK government website for more information here.

Getting a Bachelor’s Degree

There’s really no shortcut to getting a Bachelor’s degree, you simply need to finish an accredited 3-year or 4-year university degree that awards you with a Bachelor’s degree. If you don’t have one and don’t feel like going back to college/university to get one, you might want to consider applying for a company that doesn’t require a degree, such as Cambly.

Final Thoughts

That about covers everything you need to know about China’s new policy for online teachers.

What do you think about these changes? Will they improve the standard of online ESL teaching? Is your company affected? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Matt is a former online English teacher, content writer, and digital nomad. He’s also the founder of Remotely Working, a blog that helps other aspiring nomads to find online work opportunities and kickstart their digital careers.


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56 Responses

    1. Hi Tasmiya – your best place to start is at – we have a lot of great resources there that show you how to get hired + how to be a good online teacher.

      1. I have a Masters degree in TESOL but not a TESOL teaching certificate with a number. Will that be enough?

  1. Hi, I am a qualified English teacher. I have a TESOL from UK and I am a Doctorate degree holder from the US in Theology. I have approximately 25years of teaching experience, in school and as a personal tutor to Chinese, Japanese and Korean students. However, I am an Asian and I would like to seek for online teaching opportunities in English for adults and children. Please advise me how to go about it. Thanks.

    1. Hi Maria – what have you done so far? You’re plenty qualified so our advice is to start browsing jobs and apply to the ones that appeal to you.

  2. Hi! I currently teach for Qkids and was hired before these changes were made (as many of us were). I hold 2 120 hour accredited TEFL and TESOL certificates and one accredited 40 hour TEYL (teaching english to young learners). I do not hold a BA. I have a technical training diploma in Computer Animation. I have been working with Qkids for almost 2 years. I am also currently enrolled in a 300 hour accredited TEFL diploma course. As many of us without BA’s are concerned about our positions with the company, does this mean we will technically lose our current positions once our information has been verified by the Chinese Government? Thanks for any insight.

    1. Hi Tina – I don’t think anyone knows yet (and we haven’t heard if anyone can be ‘grandfathered’ in) – what does Qkids say about it?

      1. Hi Quincy – I don’t think Qkids knows either. They’re just doing their best to prepare all of the current teachers for the Government review. My case is a little bit odd because I am from Quebec. The Education system is very different here. Although I don’t have an actual Bachelor’s Degree per-say, I hold the equivalent in credits. I did a technical training program that bypasses University and you get a different kind of Certificate. I’m hoping that the’ll refer to the accumulated credits on my transcript instead of an actual diploma. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see. I really love my job so I’ve been praying, like many others, that everything works out in my favor.

  3. I work for a Chinese bases company, 31abc. I don’t have a BA, but I do have the skills and a TESOL. I don’t think all of the online schools Will be affected, Even if they are in China. There are thousands of online schools in China. I’m not worried, each school has their own policy.

    1. I work for Itutor group and have been for three years ,also don’t have a degree and did not need it when the company took me on ,I have the TEFL ,also worrying as you can’t just get a degree ! It’s money and time ,really worried

  4. My son just started teaching online for a Chinese company. His first check was supposed to be about $68 USD. He only received about $28. They told him the Chinese bank charges a fee to make a wire transfer to his bank and that this cannot be avoided. What fees are legal? Is there a better method to avoid these high, unreasonable fees?

    1. Hi AK – unfortunately bank-imposed fees are a reality for most online teaching companies. A few have US entities through which they can pay their teachers, but the majority will be sending foreign wire transfers that do come with fees. My only advice is to see if they offer any other payment method that can reduce costs – a good place to start is with the company and any teacher’s group that may exist (check Facebook). Good luck!

    2. Hi AK,

      I have been working for a Chinese ESL company for a few months and am getting paid via TransferWise. I am charged a small fee to change USD to GBP as I’m from the UK but that’s the only fee I pay. Perhaps this would work well for your son?

  5. China imposes an age limit for expats that teach English in China which is 60 years old. Do you know if there is any such age limit for teaching ESL online? I am 59 and considering an online teaching platform.

    1. Hi Belinda – there is no set limit like there is with visas, but it does seem that companies prefer younger candidates. This is anecdotal as there are people of all ages teaching online, but have heard that it’s more difficult for older educators to find jobs.

  6. As of yesterday, the company is asking for either my Driver’s license, passport number or SIN number. They also want a passport type photo on a white background. This seems like too much personal information. This is all in response to the Chinese Gov’t crackdown. They want this by Dec 31. I don’t feel comfortable giving this much info. Any suggestions?

    1. Did they give a reason? It sounds like they might be trying to run a background check on you so if that’s the case Id see if you can do it yourself. Otherwise Im afraid you don’t have too many options, if you want to teach for this company but they require one of those then you’ll need to decide if you’re comfortable with it.

    2. Hi Julie, I recruit for upper tier online schools. What we advise our applicants to do is to provide the passport with the number covered for scanning purposes. I can’t understand why they would insist on the number.

  7. I think China needs STEAM teachers even more than ESL teachers.
    I teach online live stream science and Maths ( hands-on ) classes from Auckland to many schools in China, almost two classes per day.
    China needs thousands of STEAM teachers, both online and in-class.
    Younger parents ( born in the late 80s are the main driving force and want STEM/STEAM learning to take place.
    The conventional learning is becoming irrelevant and it is causing disengagement in many classes.
    I am looking for collaboration between myself and independent schools to pilot the STEAM learning on a larger scale and I would like many ESL teachers who are currently teaching in a Chinese school to join forces with me.

    1. Melvin, I’m interested to do it. I have a Master’s degree in Engineering from Canadian university. How can we get in touch?

  8. I can teach the English on the line? How to start educating the children of world? What is pay for the good teacher?

    1. Hi Dimitri – what have you done so far? We suggest checking out and reading the material we have there – it should answer most questions!

  9. Hey, how do we know that the other, non-China based companies will not be affected when they are teaching children in China?

    1. Hi Den – good question – that is definitely a possibility. We can’t know for certain but China seems to always be adjusting their rules so it could spill over to non-Chinese companies who want to teach Chinese kids.

  10. Do the companies actually do the work of verifying all the degrees are real? I have been teaching online for two years now with DaDa. I want to try other companies that require a degree and wonder if a good copy of a fake degree would satisfy them. I know I’m a great and effective teacher. My students and their parents love me. I’m 34 so paying for and doing 4 years of university is kinda out of the question at this point.

    1. Hi Bradly – non-online schools in China require the degree to be authenticated but we’re unsure if online companies are requiring that yet. Either way, we can’t endorse you trying to pass off a fake – sorry!

  11. HI Quincy = just a little feedback about teaching Chinese kids for a company based in China. I worked for abc360 until 31st December 2019. I hold a TEFL, TEYL and 2 diplomas in graphic design and we design. I was hired with these. On the 23rd of December – just as a special Christmas ‘gift’ – were informed that – as of 1st January 2020 – ALL INCENTIVES and bonuses are being stopped and pay per hour reduced. Teachers with a degree will take a $1 pay cut. Teachers without a degree will have their hourly rate reduced to $11. For me that was a devastation to my life and world. I worked for them for 2.5 years. I worked really hard and because of my reputation as a diligent and patient teacher, I worked my way up and was fully booked and had increases to my hourly wage. I never took a single day sick leave, never had any cancellations of classes. I was a highly rated and popular teacher. I took leave ONCE in the 2.5 years and worked mostly 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I never took a single Christmas, New Year, Easter, nor public holiday off. I dedicated my entire life to this company. For me the pay cut meant losing 65% of my hourly rate. On top of that – abc360 voided my contract as well as the contracts of EVERY teacher in the company. To this date – not a single teacher working for abc360 has been issued with a new contract – as everyone was told would happen. Everyone has been working without a contract since January 1st 2020. They have however, been issued with a new ‘handbook’ detailing the new and ridiculous guidelines and policies, which seems to be geared at making teachers pay hefty penalties for a wide array of differing possible situations. There is absolutely not an iota of care for the teachers well being. There are many new rules stated in the handbook which detail grounds for termination. It seems as though the company is now looking to make money from the teachers. Their platform is full of glitches and unstable – and teachers who have problems with getting into the class, using there platform (which again I repeat IS NOT STABLE and full of bugs) will have severe deductions on their salary and not be paid for the class, even if the class was taught and the issue stemmed from the company’s platform and not the teachers side. I handed in my resignation and left on the last day of December 2019. We were given 7 days notice of these changes. I am unsure if this has happened in any other companies, but expect the worst.

    1. Wow – Im sorry this happened and thanks for sharing. There is a lot of volatility in this industry, much of it is driven by shifting regulations and heated competition between companies, unfortunately, it’s usually the teachers who suffer because of it.

  12. I have a question, before applying to any online ESL company in China, and hope to get an authoritative answer. Do companies in China accept non-native speakers who are highly qualified to teach English (ESL) in class or online? I’m Canadian of Asian/Chinese descent, with a Master degree from a reputable (top-3) university in Canada, with TEFL certificate and more than 10 years teaching English at university and language schools in China. Now back to Canada, I would like to teach online to some reputable companies, mainly because I just love teaching. Can I apply to any of them, or some companies would insist you must be English-native speakers? If so, which ones? Please respond at your earliest convenience. Thanks.

    1. Hi James – not sure I follow – you’re Canadian but not a native speaker? If you have a Canadian passport and speak as well as you write you won’t have any issue. If Im missing something then Im not sure which of the companies in China accept non-natives, none of the big ones do and you might have more luck looking outside of China.

  13. AK, I am a teacher for VIPKid, and they do not charge fees if you provide your American bank’s ACH number. I don’t know if this applies to other online teaching platforms.

  14. I have started the application process with VIPKid and have done everything but the demo and I’ve been getting calls and emails daily over the past week urging me to complete and submit my demo. I have a BS degree and 10+ years of experience working with kids in schools but I do not have a teaching credential or a TEFL or TESOL. This was not mentioned in any of the application process so far so I’m wondering now if this is something that is brought up at a later point in the hiring process?

    1. Hi Carmen – have you uploaded docs yet? I believe that is the step where they ask you for proof of everything.

  15. Will there be any issue, e.g. tax, if I apply for the online teachers of a non-US based company, that means they do not have any branch in US? They will pay by paypal and the teachers are only independent contractors.

    1. Hi Ann – in the US you are responsible for reporting all income regardless of source. So, even if you earn money from a foreign company you will need to declare it and pay taxes on it.

  16. I signed my 3rd contract with VIPKid on 4/1/2020 but am concerned because I know that they no longer hire California teachers and, since I am in California I was considering adding another online company in addition to VIPKid but not sure if I will run into the same thing. Do you know anything about that? I haven’t heard back from them yet. Thanks

    1. Hi Sharon – good question – we haven’t heard of any other companies excluding CA residents but it makes sense others might do the same eventually – wish we knew more!

    2. Hi Sharon, our agency (which is based in Toronto but hires for upper-tier Chinese online schools) just hired a teacher from California. We don’t usually bother recruiting there because few teachers want to start that early, but these are not normal times.

  17. Hi this article discusses changes to criteria for teachers working for the selected companies operating in China. Are there any regulations for individuals looking to teach in China without being involved with one of these companies? And looking at Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet; these platforms are not accessible by people in China unless you use VPN, which can be unstable. Are there any platforms that can be used outside of China that students living there can access without too much trouble?

    1. Hi Sheldon – obligatory “I’m not a lawyer” but if you’re asking about teaching Chinese students without actually being employed by a Chinese company then you should be fine – these rules are directed at Chinese companies specifically. And regarding your question about platforms, Zoom actually works well in China and is what a lot of schools are using during this Covid-19 period.

  18. Hi, I am keen to teach English online to Chinese students. From what I can understand, Skype and Zoom cannot be used by Chinese citizens. Can you suggest any platforms that I could deliver my lessons on, please?

    1. Hi Shona – I know Chinese citizens using both Skype and Zoom daily (and many schools relying on Zoom to hold online classes during Covid) so you should be ok with one of those.

      1. Hello,
        I’m a Canadian educator currently grounded in India due to the Covid lockdown. As it appears I’ll not make it back to Canada this summer, I am interested in teaching ESL online to the Chinese market. I have an MEd with primary certification and an MATESOL degree, so teaching for one of the big outfits like VIPKids is not a good fit for me. It doesn’t pay enough and I have the skill and the credentials to craft and implement my own program. As I’m currently teaching the students at my international school on Zoom, I’m comfortable with this form of teaching.
        It appears from prior comments that this is a legal endeavour….I won’t be in trouble from the Chinese authorities. A Youtube tutorial I watched suggested that ESL teachers from within China could attract clients by setting up a WeChat account from which they sent out a brief ad. They also suggested that I create teaching”moments” as an attractive form of advertising. I am curious to know if you have heard of anyone doing this from OUTSIDE China? I can certainly set up the account and, using an online translator, establish lesson times and communicate on a basic level while I am building relationships with a few regular students. This would be an enjoyable way to fill my summer downtime, but it would be small-scale. I’m not looking to build a vast teaching empire.
        Have you heard of anyone going this route before?

        1. Hi Heather – interesting thoughts. Ive never heard of anyone doing this and while it sounds easy enough, Im not sure of the legalities of it given that you are currently employed by a Chinese school. There is little risk if you’re not planning on returning to China but in order to work for another company in China I believe you technically need permission from your primary employer. I normally wouldn’t worry too much about this if you’re doing some sporadic tutoring but trying to start a business, albeit a small one, and using Wechat to find students seems a bit riskier.

  19. HI,

    I am a Canadian and have been teaching English for 4 years now and for the same company- Tutor ABC. I took the 70 hour TESOL course back in 2016 but just had my account deactivated/suspended today because I don’t have the 120 hour certificate. Does the mean I have to go back and take another 70 hour course in order to teach again or do I have to take a 120 hour course? I have 4 small children and my husband just lost his job last week due to covid-19 so I am seriously panicking right now. I can’t afford to go back to school and I can’t afford to not work especially now with my husband losing his job. What do I do! This is not fair to the teachers that have been teaching full time for many years online!
    THank you.

    1. Hi Jolene – Im sorry to hear about this but you should really be communicating with TutorABC with what you need to do in order to get your account reinstated. In the meantime, you can always start looking for an additional job that will accept the 70hr certificate.

  20. International Open Academy gives a 120-hour TESOL certificate that I paid less than $20 for, and I was able to finish it in about a week and a half. Many QKids teachers obtained this one.

  21. Hello I’m a teacher in Los Angeles and applied to VIP for a position. I see that they no longer hire teachers from California because of the higher taxation that the company has to pay. Is that prevalent for all online teaching companies in China?

    1. Yes, this is becoming more common (unfortunately) and is more related to where the teacher is located as opposed to where the company is based.

  22. Hi there, I have a BA in English from the University of North Florid, and would like to teach English online to Chinese students, but not through any agency. What are good (social media) platforms to run (free) ads in to find students in China, and what are the best ways to get paid independently, rather than through an agency. Thank you. Evelyn

    1. Hi Evelyn – we aren’t aware of any platforms that allow you to run ads for free, but for payment you can use Paypal, Cash App, Zelle, Transferwise, or the like.

  23. I am in China and I have a couple of students online.
    I don’t charge them much as it’s for friends.
    Will these changes affect me? I don’t work for a company.

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