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Oct 5th, 2020 by David O Connor

Teach in China – Authenticating Documents as a US Citizen

Teach in China - Authenticating documents as US Citizen

If you’d love to teach in China, you’ll need to collect a few documents for your China Z Visa application. Getting your documents together is only the start of the process. Being a US citizen, authenticating documents can be a long drawn out process. 

These documents relate teaching eligibility. Alongside the visa application form, you will need the following: 

  1. Passport – at least 6 months before the expiry date
  2. Copy of passport
  3. Your TEFL certificate
  4. Bachelor’s Degree
  5. A clear Criminal Record Check
  6. Invitation Letter – provided by your school
  7. Work Permit Notice – provided by your school

While you will not need these documents for your visa application, you will need them to board a flight to China.

  1.  Health Declaration Form – You will need to get this form notarised by the Chinese Embassy
  2. COVID Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) and COVID-19 IgG antibody test **

 **More details on COVID -19 pre-travel requirements at the end of the page


The documents you will need to get legalised, authenticated and/or notarised are 

  • Bachelors Degree or a higher award+
  • TEFL Certificate+
  • Criminal Background Check+
  • Health Declaration Form

+These documents must be authenticated and legalized in the country where they were issued.

For example, if you are a US citizen and gained your degree at home. While travelling through Europe, you gained TEFL certification in Australia. This means your degree needs authenticating and legalized in the US BUT your TEFL certificate needs to be authenticated and legalized in Australia.

You with us so far? Great!

Just in case, here’s a summary:

  1. Authentication is carried out by the government of the country of issue (the US Government authenticates documents issued in the US. This tells Chinese Authorities the document is legitimate).
  2. Legalization is carried out by the Chinese Government representative in that same country. (The Chinese Embassy in Washington legalizes documents authenticated in the US. This tells China your documents can be accepted in your visa application)

Authenticating your documents in the US, for a Z Visa

Of all the countries whose citizens are eligible to teach in China, the US boasts is the most convoluted process. Unfortunately it’s the most process for authenticating visa-application documents. That’s because every single state follows its own protocol.

Generally speaking, however, China visa document authentication is a three-step process that requires any document to be verified on three levels:

  • County
  • State
  • Federal Government

Before you kick off the procedure, it’s worth asking your prospective employer (the Chinese school that’s offered you a teaching job) which level of authentication they would like. Sometimes, a stamp by a Notary Public is enough will do (rare but it happens) and making things infinitely easier.

Steps to Authenticating Your Documents

Step 1 – Have your documents notarized by a Public Notary. 

This has to happen in the state where the document was issued. Notarization costs around $15, per document, although you may get a discount for multiple documents. This is the first step and the one step EVERY state requires.

Step 1.5 – Authenticating documents by State

Residents of the following US states must add another step here, and that’s to have the document authenticated by the County Clerk / Circuit Clerk / Probate Judge / Superior Court Clerk:

  • Alabama
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • New York
  • Tennessee
Step 2 – Authenticating documents by the Secretary of State

Have your documents authenticated by the Secretary of State (in the same state as the Notary Public). The cost of this can vary. In Michigan, it can cost $1 whilst in Texas it can cost $15. Simply contact the office of the Secretary of State in your state for details.

For most US states, this is all you have to do BUT for some states, some documents like the Criminal Record Checks (issued by the FBI), will need to:

Step 3 – Authenticate documents by US Department of State

Have your documents authenticated by the Office of Authentication of the US Department of State in Washington DC, which charges $8 per document.

Prior to the COVID-pandemic, the Office of Authentication accepted walk-ins but they are currently suspended. Now everything will have to be done by mail.

Firstly, you’ll need to submit a Request for Authentication Service. Here is the downloadable PDF Form DS-4194. The bottom of the form details how to pay and submit your form, by mail.

The mailing address is:

U.S. Department of State
Office of Authentications
44132 Mercure Cir.
PO Box 1206
Sterling, VA 20166-1206

Authenticating documents as a US Citizen for Chinese Work Visa

Authenticating Documents outside the US​

If you are planning on leaving for China from a different location outside the US, you will still need all your documents authenticated and legalized in the country they were issued. If you’re an American citizen and we would recommend getting a company like FBI Apostille Services. It is not the cheapest option, but it could have you a world of hassle.  

If you are leaving for China from another jurisdiction, your invitation letter and Work Permit letter should assign to that country. For example, if you are a US citizen and leaving from the UK, your two letters should be assigned to the UK. This also means your COVID tests (more on this later) must be taken in that country from their approved medical centre suppliers.

Traveling from US to China **COVID UPDATE**

Getting to China has not got any easier of late. In fact, due to the increase in imported cases attributed to those entering China, it has got infinitely harder. To counteract these imported cases, Chinese authorities have brought in tougher requirements for those want to enter the country.

The new requirements mean you will have to pass a COVID Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) and a COVID-19 IgG antibody testing within 48 hours (2 days) prior to traveling to China. If you fly through a third country on the way, you will need to pass another set up of tests before boarding the onward flight. For obvious reasons, it’s recommended that you choose a direct flight to China.

Reducing the window for testing,  authentication of from and boarding your flight, from 72 hours to 48 hours, means you will have some logistical challenges. You will need to find a recognised medical facility that can return the test results on the same day you are tested. Getting it back on the same day is realistically the only way to ensure you have enough time to authenticate your Health Declaration form and make your flight.

Getting your Health Declaration Authenticated

Once you have your test results back, and provided it is negative, you will need to send the test results alongside a Health Declaration Form  to the Chinese Embassy/Consulate of the jurisdiction for authentication.

Sending the Health Declaration form to the Chinese Embassy

To get your health declaration form authenticated, you need to 

  1.  Fill in and sign the Health Declaration Form
  2.  Make scanned copies of
        • Health Declaration form
        • NAT and antibody IgG Certificate (with negative results)
        • Bio-page of the passport

  3. Attached to an email and send to the most applicable email embassy and consulate.

There are six (6) Chinese consular services throughout the US, with each one covering several states. The main embassy is in Washington DC whilst there are Chinese consulates in New YorkChicagoSan FranciscoLos Angeles and Houston (note that the Washington embassy has temporarily taken over the tasks of the Houston Consulate).

Here is a handy map that details which US states fall under which consulate’s jurisdiction.

The Health Declaration Form looks like this:

Health Declaration Form - Chinese Visa
When You Travel

From the moment you check-in for your flight to the time you clear customs in China, you will be asked to show your ORIGINAL COVID NAT test certificate and the authenticated Health Declaration Form several times. Make sure to have these documents on you at all times.

Please note that testing negative for COVID back home does not preclude you from having to quarantine in China, when you arrive. For more details on the COVID test and other flight requirements, please refer to Planning a Trip or Returning to China in 2021

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David O Connor

David O Connor

David is China by Teaching’s chief contributor. When not offering sage advice about teaching in China, David is a headmaster of a Bilingual kindergarten in Beijing. David is a lover of craft beers, book clubs and super long road trips.

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