Submit CV
September 28th, 2020 David O Connor

How to Return to China AND Survive Quarantine

Teach in China - How to Return to China AND Survive Quarantine in 2020

For the first time since March 28 this year, China is reopening its borders to some foreign nationals. ESL teachers keen to head back to their classrooms will no-doubt want to know how they can return to China and, more importantly, how they can survive centralised quarantine.

It’s important to note that 14 day centralised quarantine isn’t an absolute given. Some provinces have implemented different regulations.

In a few places, those who enter the country and test negative for COVID can quarantine at home for 7 days of their 14-day quarantine, if they have a fixed abode and meet requirements. So far, this has been an available option in Shanghai and the neighbouring provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui. If you live in these areas, it doesn’t mean EVERYONE will have the option to quarantine at home, but the signs suggest it’s becoming more commonplace.

First up, though, let’s see how you can return to China.

Who can return to China?

China has opened its doors to citizens of 36 European and 13 Asia countries and is operating direct flights from 30 countries.


For the most part, the authorities are only granting entry permission to holders of valid residency permits and this includes permits for family reunions. A residency permit is what you secure once you arrive in China with a Z Visa – the only legal working visa that will allow you to teach and live in the country.

There are reports of NEW teachers (those who’ve never taught in China before) being offered visas and the associated PU letters. This seems to be outside the Tier 1 cities and there doesn’t seem to be any official policy…. Yet. 

Some teachers are returning on Business (M) visas and then attempting to move to a Z visa when they get to China. Getting a business visa involves getting an invitation letter issued by a relevant entity or individual in China and a PU letter. Getting a PU letter and being successful depends on the industry type and location.

Had you secured a Z Visa and a teaching job position before COVID restrictions were introduced? Some entry exceptions are being made for those with valid work visas so contact us for more details. We may just be able to help you get to China!

How Can You Return to China?

Holders of valid residency permits can apply for a special one-time visa at their local Chinese consulate or embassy. Once you have this visa, you can start planning your return, including booking your flight, taking a COVID-test and preparing for quarantine on arrival.

All the while following instructions from your local embassy and/or prefecture.

For more in-depth details on the procedure, see our How to Return to China blog.

How to Survive Quarantine in China in 2020

Although there are variations of the 14-days quarantine rule in China, there is no doubt that at the date of writing this blog, you will be required to do 14 days. This quarantine duration is unlikely to change any time soon.

There is nothing to worry about here: centralised quarantine is done in a designated facility which has been set up specifically to deal with this 2020-predicament. For the most part, ‘facilities’ translates into 3 & 4-star hotels. However, if you are unlucky, this can mean being placed in less desirable facilities . Some arrivals have spent their quarantine in juvenile correction facilities and even a soon to be demolished hotel. Don’t worry, these are the exception rather than the norm. Most hotels are mid standard Chinese Hotels. 

 You’ve no-doubt heard about this form of ‘communal isolation’ which has proven to be safe and effective and has been adopted in many places aside from mainland China, including Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.

Rather than test you for COVID and send you home to potentially infect everyone you meet, centralised isolation ensures you have contact with no-one. Yes, it sounds harsh, but it doesn’t need to be.

Not if you’re prepared!

A Few Things to Know About Quarantine in China

  • As is the case the world over, quarantine for COVID in China lasts for 14 days
  • You will be tested for COVID upon arrival in China and, if you don’t show any symptoms, once more before being released. You will probably be tested at the one-week mark as well. These tests can be nose swabs, throat swabs or blood tests (rare), or all three
  • By and large, if you can catch a direct flight straight into your city of residency, you may have a shot at requesting 7 days in a facility and 7 days at home. If there is any kind of domestic travel involved, however, you will probably be refused and will have to quarantine in a hotel for the 14 days upon arrival
  • Your chances of being granted 7 days home quarantine option are higher if you already have an established place of residence (ie. not if you do not have a home to go to yet). Make sure you gave a copy of your Chinese lease agreement as the authorities will undoubtedly ask for it as proof of established residence
  • If you’re travelling with a partner or family (ie. spouse and children) it is unlikely that you will be allowed to share a room. Usually, children under the age of 14 can stay with one parent, however. Couples are split up whether or not they are married so be prepared for some ‘me time’. On rare occasion, sharing a room during quarantine is permitted if you agree to pay for two rooms but, mostly, sharing a room will only be permitted if there is a valid medical reason or there is a pregnancy involved.
  • Have very young children? It’s certainly worth asking if your and your partner can stay together, with the child/children, in the same room. If you’re lucky enough to tug at the heartstring of someone in charge, they do have the authority to grant you permission. A tip here would be to offer to pay for two rooms if you can indeed share with your spouse or family. 
  • Centralised quarantine hotels in China’s largest cities can be quite nice although rooms are oftentimes rather small. Teachers returning to China have reported the staff being very friendly and amenities being nicer than expected. You probably don’t want to get your hopes up for a 5* swanky hotel-vacay but it is nice to know that authorities are taking good care of returning foreigners
  • Hotel staff may not be fluent in English, so download a translation app to help you communicate
  • Hotel rooms will NOT be serviced during your quarantine so you’ll need to let reception know when you need something changed/replenished. In most cases, hotel staff will only replenish the absolute necessities like toilet roll. 
  • There may or may not be a fridge, so plan on not having one
  • The total cost of centralised quarantine in China has varied between RMB 4,200 and RMB 7,000 per person

Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s delve deeper into the important issues of quarantining in China.

The Food

The most talked-about subject in COVID times, aside from COVID itself, has been about food – in centralised quarantine in China, the topic has been a hotly-contested one.

Food is provided by the Chinese Government to guests in quarantine hotels, although both the quality and quantity can dramatically vary depending on where you are. You will have to pay for the food regardless of its quality. Normally it’ll be included in the quarantine cost and, other times, it’ll be billed separately. You may also have the option to ‘upgrade’ your meals.

Teach in China - Food to expect in China Centralised Quarantine

Luckily, many hotels have allowed daily deliveries for certain items (like canned foods and fresh produce) so you could (potentially) be able to order Western meals, delivered straight to your door (at your own cost, naturally).

Unfortunately, the situation is so fluid that you simply should not rely on that. First of all, you won’t even know which hotel you’ll be allocated, let alone if any delivery allowances will be made.

This means you need to pack as if you’re about to climb Everest: think cup-a-soups, energy bars, nuts, dried fruits and seeds; instant coffee, tea, chocolate, 2-minute noodles and any dehydrated packets that just need boiling water to spring back to life. Have plenty of crackers and canned tuna at hand and although it may or may not be confiscated, you might want to risk packing a couple of bottles of wine. Alcohol is outright banned in some hotels whilst totally fine in others. If it were us, we’d certainly take the risk.

You’ll probably have a mini-fridge in your hotel room but it may also be worth packing an electric travel hot-plate, a small frying pan and some camping cutlery and plates.

Once you have your own stash of goodies, the steamed rice with dubious bits of meat that you may/may not be served for lunch won’t seem so bad. 

While you may or not luck out, the consensus is that generally the food is not of the highest quality or variety and you will be ordering out more than you planned. For the average westerner thick doughy bread and chicken feet are not something you want staring back at you when you’re famished after a long day.

The boredom

Anti-social loners would probably cope better with centralised quarantine but, when it comes to teachers who love nothing more than to surround themselves with excited kids and eager students, the lack of contact and entertainment will make for some stressful days.

So be prepared. Write that book, learn that new language, take daily yoga classes and fill up your Kindle to bursting point. Make sure to have a VPN installed (find one that’s guaranteed to work in China) on your device so you can Facebook and WhatsApp to your heart’s content and, more importantly, Netflix-binge. Worried that you (or the kids) will get screen-time overload? This is centralised quarantine in China, for heaven’s sake! There are NO rules!

Families from countries that have not suffered through any kind of lockdown (are there any, really?) ought to scour the net for fun ideas on how to entertain kids during quarantine.

Clothing & Toiletries

Take it from those of us who have quarantined at home: living in a tracksuit, day and day out, is totally acceptable. But seriously: leave room and weight in your luggage for food and food-related items and pack light, but smart. Always pack a sweater in case the air-con is turned way up. Bring some handwashing liquid.

The usual travel-bag of shower tricks will do the trick in quarantine in China but you may also want to pack a disinfectant cleaning spray and cloth, for your room. 

The Routine

If you have yet to experience a full lockdown, you may be tempted to throw the watch in the bin on the first day and just do ‘whatever, whenever’. Yet take it from those who’ve come before you: routine is key to keeping your mental (and physical) health in check. 

Get up at the same time every morning and make sure you have a fulfilling breakfast; eat healthy, exercise and make at least one voice or video call, every single day. More importantly, use the time to do something you’ve never had the time to do before, like taking an online course, writing, learning a new skill or taking a virtual tour of some amazing museum on the other side of the world.

The Daily Health Checks

Once you check into your hotel, you’ll be given a thermometer and will be called, usually twice a day, to relay the info. At the half-way point of your quarantine, you’ll usually be subjected to a COVID test and once again just before being released.

If you have issues with old-style mercury-thermometers (or have kids who do) bring your own digital thermometer from home.

Manage to survive 14 days with no COVID infection in centralised quarantine and you will literally be home free!

The Release

Once your release from quarantine has been approved, you will be given a release letter and it’s important that you keep this document with you at all times. Your employer will want to see it and, in some cases, even your apartment manager.

Once released, you are allowed to return to life as normal, always respecting local health guidelines (social distancing and wearing masks, where appropriate). Some schools may allow you to get back to work straight away whilst others may insist you stay away from the school for a further 7-14 days. Once again, the situation is not uniform throughout the country.

Given the unpredictability of the current situation in China, and elsewhere around the world, it is impossible to delve into minute details on every possible scenario when it comes to centralised quarantine in China. For more personalised advice and help in securing a teaching job in China in 2020, contact us today.

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.

More Tips & Articles

All Articles

Teach English in China

Looking to teach in China?

Submit your CV and we will be in touch with the latest job offers.