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October 5th, 2020 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 form. The documents relate to the teaching eligibility requirements, so alongside the visa application form, you will have to supply the following at application: 

  1. Your passport – at least 6 months before the expiry date
  2. A copy of your passport
  3. A copy of your TEFL certificate
  4. A copy of your Bachelor’s Degree
  5. A clear Criminal Record Check
  6. Job Invitation Letter
  7. Work Permit Notice
  8. A negative COVID-19 test certificate**

 **More details on the latest 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 of a higher award
  • TEFL Certificate
  • Criminal Background Check

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

For example: Let’s say you are a US citizen and gained your degree at home. While travelling through Europe, you gained TEFL certification in Australia.

What you need to do: Your degree needs to be authenticated and legalized in the US BUT your TEFL certificate needs to be authenticated and legalized in Australia.

You with us so far? Great!

Here are the first two important things to keep in mind:

  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 that 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 that your documents can be accepted in your visa application)

Authenticate and legalize documents in the US, for a Z Visa

Of all the countries whose citizens are eligible to teach in China, the US boasts among the most varied 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:

  • By County
  • By State
  • By 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 (rare but it happens) and if that’s the case your job will be infinitely easier.

Steps to Authenticate and Legalise 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 – 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 – Have your documents authenticated by the Secretary of State (in the same state as the Notary Public). The cost of this can vary quite a bit: 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 on how to authenticate documents.

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

Step 3 – 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 used to accept walk-ins but they are currently suspended. 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 how to submit your form, by mail.

The mailing address is:

U.S. Department of State
Office of Authentications
CA/PPT/S/TO/AUT
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 PU 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 test must be taken in that country from their approved medical centre suppliers.

**COVID UPDATE**

You can now add the COVID Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) certificate to the list of ‘required documents’ you’ll need to have authenticated before traveling to China.

At time of writing, the COVID NAT test needs to be carried out 72 hours (3 days) prior to traveling.

Eg. If you travel on November 20, the test can be carried out from November 17, onwards. However, given you must wait for the results, and that you must have the document authenticated by email with the Chinese embassy. It’s important to not leave this task too late. If you are flying November 20th, we would recommend you get tested on November 17 or 18 only, in this scenario. The 19th would simply not leave you with enough time to get everything else done.

Once you have your test results back, and provided it is NEGATIVE, you will need to send the test results to the Chinese Embassy/Consulate of the jurisdiction of the medical facility, for authentication.

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 York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los 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.

Given the COVID situation is evolving at lightning-speed, it’s important to contact your relevant Chinese Embassy/Consulate and asking them for:

  • A list of China-approved medical facilities near you (where you can have the COVID NAT done
  • List of required steps to mail the test results
  • A Health Declaration Form – which you will need to fill in and return to the embassy for authentication

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 2020


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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