What are the requirements to teach English in China in 2020? Well, China is a big country and some of its rules can fluctuate from city to city, province to province and school to school.

The requirements are super clear cut and they can be conditional depending on the visa type, your qualifications and location within China.

The legal visa or rather the official visa for teaching English in China is the Z visa which we will talk about first. The other visa that is commonly used, but not officially for teaching English is the F (business) visa. 

We'll talk about that one later.

The places with the strictest requirements are usually the tier 1 cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzen and Guangzhou.


This is what you "generally" need for a Z visa (foreign expert certificate) to teach in China

  1. You need to be a native English speaker from the USA, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand or Canada. 
  2. You need to have a bachelor's degree in any discipline notarized.
  3. You often need TEFL certification notarized (although below you'll see someone who didn't have to)
  4. Criminal background check.
  5. Clean health check.
  6. 25-55 years old.
  7. Have 2 years post grad work experience (see below for more).


Those are not set in stone everywhere.

For example, if you have a degree from an English speaking country then you may be able to get a Z visa if you are not a native speaker (more on that later).

And here's a comment about the "rules" in China that pretty much sums it up from my point of view.

"Like most rules in China they aren't always enforced. Anecdotally it's been mentioned around as two years post graduation but finding anything concrete is gonna be tough. Every province handles their visas differently.

I've seen the two year rule only referenced in Shanghai. I'd contact some recruiters and see what they say. There is always a way to teach here if you want."  - cheine on Reddit

Work experience, TEFL certificates... what does the Chinese government say?

Here is a quote from a Chinese government site in regards to visas for teachers and the 2 years of experience which seems to vary from school to school.

"Teachers of foreign languages. Teachers of foreign languages generally shall be engaged in the teaching of their native languages and shall have a bachelor’s degree or higher degree and language teaching experience of at least two years.

Those who have had degrees in the field of education, language or teaching, or have acquired a qualification certificate of teaching at their own countries or a recognized international certificate of language teaching (TEFL certificate) shall be exempted from the restriction on work experience." - Source

Which TEFL course?

Lots of options out there. I've taken 2 different courses and taught in China, Korea and Taiwan (currently living in Japan).


My advice is this...

Take the course that's targeted at teaching who you are going to be teaching (most of the time).

Most courses might be CELTA copycats in the sense that they focus more on teaching "Adults" and say they are "internationally recognized, accredited, 120 hours", blah blah...

But these courses like the ones I took won't help you to teach kids much.

So if you teach mostly kids I'd take a course focused on doing that like this one.

Here's Kyle... he took ESLinsider's advanced course and is teaching now in Qingdao, China.

kyle 250

"I've been teaching at a Qingdao training center for about a month now and it is going super great for me. Just finished a class where Teacher Says was a big hit. Your website is still so useful for me! (And other teachers at my school hahaha) There's a lot of tips that seem obvious, but really aren't something you think of when you are in the middle of teaching. Some of the long-working teachers still do some oopsies you've pointed out, so needless to say your stuff makes me a lot more confident in the classroom." - Kyle P.

Do I need a "120 hour" course?

If you are looking into this you're going to see this come up. Some websites, bloggers, etc. are going to tell you that you need a "120 hour course". And if you look a little closer you will also probably see that there's an affiliate link or ad nearby.

As far as the "accreditation" or "hours" go I wouldn't get to hung up on that as they are superficial

I don't name the courses I have created with these online "hours" because they are fake.

Kyle recently took ESLinsider's advanced course (TEKA) and is teaching in China.

In an email I asked Kyle above if he had any problems with his certificate and apostilling it since it wasn't named a "120 hour" course.

"As for the certificate, I actually didn't need any apostille on it (only the police check and degree these days). I just scanned it over to the school and they used it to get the work permit. Besides some documents over here (like resident permit), they've never needed it and so they never questioned much about it. I always had the lesson list ready in case someone asked about it, but no one ever did. So again, it was only used for the work permit and residence permit (no notary or anything)." - Kyle P.

Kyle also left a review on ESLinsider before he went to China.

If you ask a surgeon what should you do? Chances are he is going to recommend surgery. Likewise if you ask someone who has a "120 hour" course they are going to recommend that.

As far as these hours go...

You will find courses of various lengths like 20, 60, 100, 120, or 150 hour courses. In the case of online courses these hours are not accurate. Some say that 100 or 120 hours is "standard" yet in the case of online courses there are no real TEFL course hours and it's little white lie.

What if you are teacher back home?

Should you take a TEFL course if you are a licensed teacher back home?

Can you teach English in China if you are not a native English speaker?

For more on that you can skip to 2:22 in the following video.


Yes, I have met many. Some may have been on an F visa though.


I have also met non-native English speaking Europeans who got legal Z visas to teach in public schools in China online through my course.

So different schools can have different requirements.

Related videos:

Are there any risks associated with teaching on an F visa?

I am sure there are risks, but I have not heard of a single first hand account of this. Based on my experience and what I know it definitely isn't as risky as some people may lead you to believe.

Take for example the subreddit r/tefl. 

The moderators that run that subreddit will ban anyone for even mentioning anything related to teaching without a degree or teaching in China on anything but a Z visa.

Those folks are very high in the Big 5 trait called conscientiousness...

Ooh wee...

But the reality is...

I met lots of teachers in Shanghai (a tier 1 city) who were not native speakers or who didn't have a degree.

Here is a video where a French man who taught in China that suggests that maybe 50% of the teachers there are on F visas.

The risks...

I'd guess you could be asked to leave if you are teaching illegally, possibly have to pay a fine, and/or not be allowed back in for a number of months or years.

I have heard of those things happening in Korea and Taiwan, but not actually in China.


Don't believe all the talk by one anonymous blogger out there that uses scare tactics to blog about "scams in China" under different user names (all anonymous). If you read something about teachers being jailed for teaching without a Z visa that was probably him.

Check your sources...

And if you can't identify who said it then only take it as a grain of salt.

I also met quite a few people teaching English in China without a degree on an F visa. So if you have the will there is often a way, but some people are saying the rules have changed and maybe they have somewhat, but not that much.

Compared to a place like Japan, China is not a very rule abiding place either and you can see that in the video on this page about teaching English in China with folks swimming in the park right in front of the no swimming sign.

How do you authenticate your documents?

I wouldn't worry much about that yet. Your school will help you through the process, but some things you'll need to do.

  1. Apply for criminal record check (FBI check is often better than state check)
  2. Notorize your diploma (maybe TEFL certificate) at a notary public
  3. Certify the original criminal check
  4. Send all of those documents to your local secretary of state to be certified
  5. Once certified you'll send those to China


Welcome to China.

The culture is different.

Like I already mentioned, people in China are not as rule abiding as they are in a place like the USA or Japan. Another way to get a legal Z visa teaching in China is if your employer has good connections to someone who works in the local government office.

Those connections are called guangxi and they can grease the wheels.

"The ESL TEFL online course was worth it to me and it made a huge difference in my application to teach in China. The program itself was very informative and rewarding. I can't complain because It was money well spent. I will be teaching in Beijing this September, so I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to get certified. Thanks Ian!" - Sens

They said this course was "practical" and that it made them feel "a lot more confident in the classroom".