If you’re considering teaching in China, you probably have lots of questions about what the requirements are.
As things are changing often in a fast-paced country like China, you have to make sure you have up to date information about what you need to teach English there.
This article will detail the seven requirements for teaching English in China in 2019 ( plus a bonus!), so you can rest easy knowing you’re prepared for your journey to the Middle Kingdom.
Good Preparation Is Half the Battle
Traveling is invigorating, eye-opening, horizon-expanding, and … exhausting.
Before you even set foot on the plane, you need to do a million things to make sure you’re ready to go, and never is this truer than when you’re preparing to live and work in a foreign country like China long-term.
However, if you leave yourself time to prepare and do your best to be aware of all that’s required of you, your getting-ready process will be (almost entirely) stress-free!
In this post, you will learn about a few different aspects of preparing to teach abroad in China.
Keep in mind that the government changes the requirements for teaching English in China often, so you should double-check with your school and embassy to make sure you have the paperwork you need.
When you apply for an ESL teaching job in China through a recruiter or with a reputable school, they’ll usually assist you throughout the process.
Please note, that while you’re technically required to have a work visa in China, there are people who find workarounds to that requirement (on their own risk; we do not recommend it).
Teaching English in China – Visa Requirements
You will find the requirements for your work visa and foreign expert certificate (both of which are necessary to legally teach in China) below, but here’s the short list of requirements for teaching English in China:
- Valid passport
- Bachelor’s degree
- Federal background check
- TEFL Certificate
- Medical Check
- Curriculum Vitae
- Passport-sized photos
1. Valid Passport from an English-Speaking Country
In order to meet the teaching requirements in China as a native speaker, you need a valid passport from an English-speaking country. These include:
- The U.S.
- The U.K.
- New Zealand
- South Africa
Your passport is obviously a requirement for traveling overseas, and it also proves that you’re fluent in English, and will be able to teach children to speak English with a native accent.
This requirement should be a snap!
2. Bachelor’s Degree
When you go to China, you will be required to get a copy of your original diploma from your university. (It doesn’t matter what kind of degree it is.)
You should then get it notarized by the college and apostilled by the state of the university you went to in order to prove its authenticity.
As you’ll see in the coming paragraphs, you’ll probably need a lot of stamps on a lot of documents to prove that they’re real.
Getting documents stamped can definitely be the most arduous part of the visa process, but like most things, it’s much easier than you think once you get the ball rolling.
3. Clean Criminal Record
The federal criminal background check (“Identity History Summary Check”) consists of two steps: getting your fingerprints done, and then sending them in straight to the FBI or through a channeler.
You can look up information online about where to get your fingerprints taken.
You can usually get your fingerprints taken at your local police station, or at a travel agency or private fingerprinting service. However, it’s often cheaper to get them done at a government agency like a police station than through a private agency.
If you send your fingerprints directly to the FBI, it will cost you $18, and turnaround will take 14-16 weeks.
Going through a channeler is much faster — you can get your background check back in as few as 24 hours. However, it’s also more expensive.
For more information on submitting your fingerprints directly to the FBI, you can refer to the FBI website.
For a list of FBI-approved channelers, see this FBI-issued list. All the channelers cost around the same amount and have similar turnaround times, but you can browse a few websites to find the one you feel most comfortable using.
Just like your diploma, your FBI background check will need to be apostilled to prove its authenticity. Even though it’s from the FBI. I know – just roll with it.
(As a special note, you’ll find that the ability to just roll with it will serve you well both in the process leading up to China and once you’re in China itself.)
4. TEFL Certificate
The last document you’ll need for a work visa is a valid TEFL certification.
If you have a teaching degree in your home country or have multiple years of teaching experience the TEFL requirement to teach English in China may be waived, but it’s generally better to have.
When I went to China, the agency I went through provided a free TEFL course, but if you don’t use an agency you may have to organize and pay for one yourself.
You can elect to do the course entirely online or to do an in-person component.
Most people opt for the 120-hour TEFL course as it’s comprehensive, and many schools require that you have at least 120 hours of TEFL training. If you don’t do the TEFL in China, you may need to get it apostilled as well to prove its authenticity.
I loved my TEFL course because I had never taught English before I went to China, and the course gave me confidence and knowledge that served me well in the classroom.
For this reason, I wanted to take the TEFL with a classroom component. If you have no teaching experience, you can practice your teaching skills hands-on and get a more realistic sense of what the classroom will be like.
Additionally, you’ll meet fellow traveling teachers in the classroom, and they may just become your friends for life!
5. Medical Check
You’ll need to get a medical check to prove that you’re healthy before you get your travel visa. You can just get your primary care physician to fill out your medical check, a copy of which you can download here.
You’ll also be subject to a medical check upon entering China, however. For that check make sure to bring cash and two passport-sized photos.
6. Curriculum Vitae (CV)
You’ll be required to provide a curriculum vitae that includes two years of prior teaching experience.
But don’t worry: being a camp counselor, a nanny, a private tutor, or an assistant teacher all can count as teaching experience. Just find something that shows you’ve spent some time with children in a leadership role.
7. Passport-sized Photos
You’ll need passport-sized photos for a number of the tests and verifications you’ll need once you get to China.
For example, you’ll have to establish a residency at the police station upon arrival, and you might need to register at your school.
It’s a good idea to have a bunch of passport photos on hand so you don’t need to rush out and get new ones all the time. Also, this way you won’t get stuck with a last-minute photo when you haven’t had time to brush your hair.
You can get a passport-sized photo at many subway stations and kiosks in China, or you can get one taken at a pharmacy, AAA, or Kodak store in the states.
Bonus: Soft Requirements
Chill and Practice Going with the Flow
While being able to roll with the punches is of course not actually one of the requirements for teaching English in China, it will serve you incredibly well.
China is, as you may already know, a foreign country, and things there don’t always work the way they do in America.
The difference is, of course, incredibly exciting, but it can also be tiring, confusing, and very frustrating. So practice breathing, accepting differences, and letting things happen.
Be Outgoing and Kind
Moving to China is hard! You may be totally overwhelmed by the different language, different culture, even different smells, and sounds.
But remember, just as everything is foreign to you, you’re foreign to the people around you. Be friendly and interested, and put yourself out there.
If people aren’t totally gregarious to you when they first meet you, they may just be shy or not know what to say to a foreigner. A smile and a friendly demeanor will go a long way in creating good relationships and a positive, open environment.
Learn Some Chinese Phrases
You’ll be perfectly able to get around China without a mastery of the language, especially if you’re in a big city. However, knowing at least some useful phrases will go far in helping you navigate the city and endearing you to locals.
You can download apps like ChineseSkill or Memrise to start studying, or you can refer to an online guide for a crash course in useful Mandarin.
Keep in mind that Mandarin is a tonal language, so you should listen to a recording of someone saying the phrases you want to use to ensure that you’re saying them correctly.
Last Requirement for Teaching English in China: Remember to Breathe
At the end of the day, you’re going to be fine.
Even if you get the wrong stamp on your passport, get lost on the subway, or ugly cry in the hospital, you’re going to pull through it.
Friendly faces are everywhere you look, and remember: expats in China have been through it all.
You’ll find that expats and teachers are usually more than happy to talk to you about their experiences and answer any questions you might have!
You’re not alone, and if you keep your head up you’ll be okay.
Good luck, teacher!
For more information about the nitty-gritty about finding TEFL jobs in China, you can refer to this handy guide on how to teach English in China.