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September 18th, 2020 David O Connor

Teach in China – Planning Your Trip or Returning in 2020

Returning to China

We have done our utmost to ensure the information is accurate as of September 18th 2020, however this blog should be used a guide and we encourage all travelers to double check information due to the changing nature of policies and protocols.

After suffering through some of the toughest COVID restrictions in the world this year, Chinese students are eagerly returning to their classrooms, almost 8 months after most of the country went into a hard lockdown. Just as eager to return to China are foreign teachers.

Returning to China to teach, however, is a somewhat complicated matter.

The three main factors determining your ability to return or reach your Chinese classroom in 2020 are:

  1. Your nationality (what passport do you hold?)
  2. Your residence (where will you be traveling from?)
  3. Your intended destination (which Chinese city in are you heading to?)

Although there are differences between provinces, a few requirements have been (somewhat) standardized. We have provided a standardized step by step guide. We have included the usual caveats of information that you need to be aware of. Read carefully.

Steps to Follow When Returning

  • Apply for a one-time entry visa from your nearest Chinese embassy or consulate – this is a special visa that is issued. The cost of the visa varies depending on your point of departure. For the most part, you will need a PU along with the usual documents.
  • Once you have your visa in your passport, which is usually valid for only 90 days, you are ready to book your Flight.
  • Confirm your Flight. Before even deciding the date of your flight, do your homework and book a flight that exists. There are many flights that seem available on flight websites that are in fact, ‘ghost flights.’ Check approved flights by the Chinese authorities, contact the airline directly and check FlightRadar24. Do not book any flight though Hong Kong. You will not be allowed transit your flight to mainland China.
  • Purchase you flight. Instead of waiting on your negative COVID19 test, you can book in advance. Check individual airline’s terms and conditions. In some cases like Air China, there is a no change fees policy from Europe and Africa until September 30th.
  • Within 72 hours (3 days) prior to traveling, you’ll need to have passed a COVID Nucleic Acid Test (NAT). You will receive instructions and a list of approved medical facilities by your Local Chinese Embassy. Previously the time before the test was 104 hours (5 days), however with the increase incidences of COVID19 positive tests, this has been changed to 3 days. This of course means there is a small margin of error. You must liaise carefully with your testing supplier and ensure you get your results back within 24 hours. This should allow you enough time to have your test approved with the embassy and catch your flight.
  • Submit Nucleic Acid Test to your local Chinese Embassy / Consulate. You now need to have your negative test stamped and approved by the Chinese authorities. The good news it that most embassies are working late and weekends to reply with stamped approval. Replies have regularly been received within hours. HOWEVER, don’t depend on this as a matter of procedure. There is no guarantee that you’ll receive your reply within hours or over the weekend. Place as much time within this stage as you possibly can and preferably during weekdays.
  • To be permitted to enter china you will need a health QR code with a 24-hour expiration time. To get this QR code, you need to fill in and submit a health declaration form. This code is only available with a flight that has a destination within mainland China. So, if you are flying from London to China via Amsterdam, you will need to fill in your health declaration form and receive your QR code in Amsterdam NOT London.
  • If you are at your final gate and don’t know how to get your QR code, don’t panic. The consensus from travellers is that airline staff have been super knowledgeable and helpful. If you are still none the wiser at this point, a tip would be to approach the business class section and ask for help.
  • You will have to show your code at passport control.
  • Once you arrive in China, you’ll need to follow designated health protocols at the airport of arrival.
  • If you NAT result is negative, you will need to quarantine for 14 days
  • If your NAT result is positive, you will be escorted to a medical facility for monitoring, treatment, and isolation
Teach in China - returning to china

Protocols You Should Know

This is the situation in a nutshell although you’ll find that protocols will be different in regards to:

  • Your one-time entry visa Chinese embassies and consulates around the world have devised their own requirements for the visa application so the best thing to do is to contact your nearest one and find out what you need to do – many are requesting an invitation letter from the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office. If you have a teaching job lined up, your employer can help you get this letter.
  • Quarantine type Every province in China has also set up its own rules – some returning teachers have been allowed to quarantine at home (rare), whilst others have been sent to a centralised quarantine facility for 14 days (most common) and even 7 days controlled quarantine and 7 days at home. The only real given here is that a 14-day quarantine is mandatory, one way or another.
  • Quarantine Facility which is usually a government hotel. Be warned, we cannot express to loudly that they quarantine hotels vary massively. Some has reported being settled in 4-star hotels with access to outside delivery while others have been placed at a vacated youth detention center in Beijing or a soon to be demolished hotel with no access to outside food deliveries.
  • Quarantine fee is not free not matter the standard. The cost per night ranges from 300-600 RMB for a 14-day hotel stay.

Worried about centralized quarantine? Don’t be! We’ll tell you How to Survive Quarantine in China in our next blog.

Returning to China – prepare for the flight

International travel has been in complete disarray since the COVID-crisis began and, although it’s impossible to list the current situation in every city operating flights into China, there are some basic things you ought to do, no matter where you’re flying from.


  1. It’s advisable to forego online flight engine this year and, instead, book your flight directly with an approved airline or even a travel agent. They are the best and most updated people when it comes to flight regulations right now.
  2. Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare – your airport/airline may require temperature testing of passengers.
  3. Service on board the plane may be greatly restricted, so pack a light blanket and pillow and food/snacks. The airline should advise you on the service situation of the airline you’re flying with.
  4. Pack (and wear) a face masks on the plane and make sure you have plenty of sanitizer in your hand-luggage. The policy of the airlines is that your must wear facemasks at all times and use a new one at four hour intervals. Whether you are asked to change to a new one is a different story.
  5. Be patient – boarding and disembarking may be staggered and can take upwards of 2 hours, either direction.
  6. Have all your documents ready upon arrival (don’t forget the QR code) and expect long queues and delays as every passenger will have their papers checked. People have reported the processing at airports in China, upon arrival, taking more than 5 hours.
  7. Quick tip: Prepare a piece of paper with passport numbers, visa number seat numbers, your address, your school’s address and schools contact. You will be repeatedly doing online forms and it will speed everything up.
  8. Don’t feel overwhelmed – although it may seem crowded and confusing, the authorities have done a good job of assigning plenty of workers to help people navigate through airports and onwards to their quarantine stations.


Be informed: It’s important to be informed as to the requirements at your province/city of arrival. In some cases (like Shanghai), incoming travellers with a negative NAT result can request a ‘7+7 quarantine’ option, which means they can quarantine 7 days in a hotel and 7 days at home. Most of the time, however, you will not have a choice and will simply have to follow regulations. IF you do have a home ready for your arrival, you live alone and can find a direct flight to your home city, then you’ll increase your chances of being granted a home quarantine option.

Teach in China - return to china

What happens if you return to China as a couple, or family?

When it comes to centralised hotel quarantine, you won’t have much of a say as to which hotel you’ll be allocated. Families will be placed in the same hotel, of course, and children up to the age of 14 can share a room with one parent. Other than that, however, it’s single-room occupancy, with every person allocated their own room.

Yes, even married couples will be split up.

What happens if you test positive for COVID during quarantine?

Once at the hotel, you’ll be given a thermometer and told to check your temperature daily – you’ll also be likely retested for COVID during your quarantine. Should you test positive, you will be relocated to a medical facility for monitoring, treatment and isolation. Anyone traveling with you will also have their quarantine extended – and this also goes for fellow passengers seated three rows away in any direction.

So yes, expect the unexpected! If your happened to have shared a row with someone who goes on to test positive for COVID, it is likely that your own quarantine will also be extended. At the very least your will be moved to another hotel for isolation.

What happens when your quarantine is over?

Just before your quarantine time is up, you will be tested again for COVID. If you test negative, you will be given a release letter at the end of your isolation period. Once you have this release letter and have followed all instructions, you will then be free to go home and return to your normal life.

Returning to China – teachers’ personal experiences

Just to give you an idea of how different and fluid the situation can be for teachers returning to China, here are some personal stories you may find useful to read.

Bernard William Mackey – an Irish citizen teaching in the Zheijang Province

Bernard left China back in January, on one of the last flights departing for Europe, and spent just two months in Ireland before returning to China in March. He was one of the last Europeans who managed to get back before the hard lockdown started. His story of living in China during the worst of the COVID pandemic sounds stressful but at least he was there, en-situ, when classrooms reconvened.

Leah White – a Canadian citizen teaching in Beijing

By sheer coincidence, Leah left China for a vacation to North America just before the Chinese New Year – before COVID was even named. She hasn’t been able to return to China and her teaching job yet she’s still working, teaching her classes online, sometime setting her alarm for 4am due to the time difference. Leah’s employer is working hard to get her back into the country (her specific schools has suffered various closures due to COVID infections) and Leah is excited at the prospect of returning soon. Here’s her story.

Coleen Monroe-Knight – US citizen teaching in the Fujian Province

Coleen has been working abroad as an ESL teacher for a decade and was into her 2nd year teaching in Fuzhou, a gorgeous seaside city south of Shanghai, when COVID hit. She and her husband decided to not leave China and have been riding out the pandemic at home, teaching remotely for almost 170 days straight. Coleen describes her lockdown as ‘not nearly as harsh as it was made out to be’ and she was eventually back in the classroom in July. Strict procedures have been in place at Coleen’s school and although not every rule is followed to the letter, the situation seem so far to be stable and secure. Her story here.

Looking to return to China to teach in 2020 or to take up your first-ever teaching position in the country? You’re in luck! Considering so many foreign teachers left the country and many still aren’t able (or willing) to return, there’s been a surge in demand for foreign teachers in China. Positions are available, almost all over the country and, with a bit of planning, there’s no reason your teaching in China dream can’t become a reality.

Yes, even in 2020.

Contact us for more personalized advice.

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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