Working Visa for teaching in China

COVID-19 UPDATE – Getting a work visa for China was never a straightforward exercise. It hasn’t got any easier with the onset of restricted COVID-19 restricted measures.

Due to the current pandemic crisis, China is currently requiring all foreigners to present their Electronic Health Declaration QR code and vaccination certificate upon arrival, as well as negative PCR and antibody tests. They will then undergo further testing at the airport and, provided all is good to go, a 14-day quarantine. Some provinces require that quarantine to last 21 days or even more for the most extreme cases. Should a visitor test positive at any point, they are escorted to a government facility for isolation. All of this, of course, is provided you hold a valid entry visa.  Many Chinese Embassies, Visa Processing Centres and Consulates temporarily closed down yet some have reopened in recent weeks. We envisage a backlog of visa applications and extensive delays. Moreover, entry requirements are constantly changing. Please contact us here, at China by Teaching, for more expert and up-to-date advice.

China offers a variety of different visas, although only one that allows you to work as a TEFL teacher: the Z-Class Visa. If you are heading to China on a teaching contract, you can only undertake your position if you hold a Z Visa and are not allowed to work under any other visa type (e.g., tourist).

On this page, you’ll find a wealth of useful info designed to help you obtain a China work visa.

Even though the process may seem daunting, rest assured that you won’t be doing it alone: your prospective employer will carry the bulk of the bureaucratic workload. We won’t lie: your first two weeks in the country will feel like a madhouse, as you run from office to office, handing in documents, having medical tests done and whatnot. This is where working with a reputable school really pays off. The best schools in China will offer the best help with your settling-in process.

The visa process can be nuanced and ever-changing. The video does a good job of giving you an overview of how to get your work visa for China, although we have more updated info below.

Enjoy the read!

General China Visa Overview

China visa options are numerous and include those specifically for tourists, students and even family members wishing to visit their ESL-teaching loved-ones.

1. Tourist Visa L

If you want to enjoy a holiday in China before deciding if working and living here is for you, then this is your best visa option for a short-term visit. Normally, tourist visas are valid for 30 days from the date of entry but can be extended once, about a week before they expire. Whilst yes, it is true that you can convert a tourist visa into a Z Visa once in China (if you fall in love with the place and don’t wish to waste time) do note that this option is torturously painful and may just not be worth it, to be honest. Unless you do manage this mammoth task, remember that you cannot teach English on this visa.

2. Student Visa X

Short and long-term student visas are granted to pupils who have enrolled in a certified school/university. As opposed to a tourist visa, this one cannot be converted into a teaching visa at all. You also cannot teach English (or any other subject) on this visa.

3. Business Visa M

Solely used for business visits to China, this visa is for those who are scouring factories, meeting clients or finalising contracts. You’ll need to have a letter of invitation from your Chinese business contacts to apply for this visa. Note that, once again, this visa cannot be amended once you’re in the country and…guess what? Nope, you also can’t teach English on this visa.


4. Private Visit Visa S

This is the visa your spouse or close relative (parent, child under 18 years of age or parents-in-law) will need if they wish to visit you, once you’ve started working. There are two options here: the S1 which allows for stays of more than 180 days, and S2, which allow stays of up to 180 days, only. You guessed it…you can’t teach English on this visa either.

NB: if you’re caught teaching in China on anything OTHER THAN A Z VISA, you WILL face huge fines and potential deportation. If you value your freedom of travel, your passport AND your teaching future, don’t risk it, it just isn’t worth it in the long run. While we’re at it: don’t trust anyone who says they can ‘help you because they know a guy’. That’s how every real problem starts, in China…

Not sure what kind of teaching job would suit you best? See our ESL Teaching Jobs page to learn the differences between teaching positions in China 

Qualification Requirements for China Teaching Visa

The working visa is called a Z Visa, and it is the only legal option if you want to teach English in China. Getting this is now a three-step process: first, you’ll need to secure a Chinese Work Permit, then you need to get a PU letter* and, lastly, you can apply for the visa.

Since you can only apply for the PU letter and the Z Visa once you have a signed teaching contract in place, get your job sorted first and then come back to step 1.

  • So, in order to get a Z Visa, you must:

    • Be between 18 and 55 years of age (exceptions are made if you are slightly above the max age requirement and find an employer who’s keen to hire you)
    • Hold a Bachelor Degree of any kind (does not need to be English or teaching-specific)
    • Have TEFL certification
    • Have at least 100hr practical teaching experience (in Tier 1 cities like Shanghai and Beijing, the minimum requirement is 120hr)

Eligibility requirements to teach in China are interchangeable with Z-Visa eligibility because holding a valid working visa is the main requirement for teaching here. There are a number of exceptions that can be made, however, so check out our Am I Eligible to Teach in China? page to know more.

Have all the below documents:

Document Requirements

Following is a list of all the documents you will need to see you through this entire China visa application process. Not every document is needed at every step, however, so we’ll detail when you should have what ready.

Once again for the kids in the back: to apply for this China work visa, you MUST already have a teaching job in China lined up. Your employer will provide all the relevant forms that you’ll need.

  • Passport with a minimum of 6-month validity and at least 3 blank visa pages, although it’s always better to have more, given the number of visas and entry/exit stamps you’ll receive
  • Copy of the details’ page on your passport
  • 10 x passport photo as per China visa photo requirements
  • Copies of your Bachelor Degree and TEFL qualifications, authenticated and notarised
  • Job invitation letter (supplied by your prospective employer)
  • China Work Permit Notice*
  • Clear Criminal Background Check from your home country * (notarised)
  • Correctly filled-in Z Visa Application form (here’s a printable pdf)
  • Any additional documentation they might request  *details below
A small model airplane placed on top of a passport

How to Apply for a China Teaching Visa: Step-by-Step Guide

The China Z Visa application process may see overwhelming at first but, in reality, it’s quite straightforward, especially when you consider that your prospective employer will be doing most of the bureaucratic run-around.

Your 10-step guide to securing that visa? Right here!


Step 1 – Obtain your China Wok Permit Notice

Once you have a job offer in place, your prospective employer will provide you with a job invitation letter and, with this, you can apply for a notice to secure a work permit. You can get the relevant application form and whatever other documents are needed directly from your employer, who’ll also guide you through the submission process. Keep in mind that you’ll also need to do this step BEFORE travelling to China.

On your end, you will need:

  • A copy of your passport
  • A copy of your authenticated qualifications as detailed above (Degree & TEFL)
  • 2 recent passport photos as per China Visa requirement
  • Your clear Criminal Background Check certificate


Step 2 – Get your PU letter

Until a few years ago, a PU letter was a mandatory requirement for anyone who wanted to apply for a working visa in China. Although it was scrapped a while back to streamline the whole process, the Chinese Government reintroduced it in March 2020. Yep, we have the pandemic to thank for that!

The PU letter is a formal invitation document that states you have been vetted and are allowed to apply for a working visa. Luckily for you, you won’t be the one applying for it – that job sits on the shoulders of your prospective employer. However, you will need to give them your China Work Permit Notice (see Step 1) so they can apply on your behalf. That’s why you’ll need to get that first!

There’s nothing particularly difficult about getting a PU letter but, unfortunately, it can add weeks (if not months!) to the whole visa application process, which is the real bummer. Moreover (and this is perhaps the most important part) this requirement can restrict your job opportunities somewhat.

Here’s why…

Businesses in China who wish to employ foreigners (schools included) must themselves apply for a permit to do so. This permit can be tricky to get and not every school has managed, so far. The most successful have been international schools so, if you’re eligible to teach in one, you’re in pole position already!

Nevertheless, not every school advertising teaching positions can get you a PU letter. So why do they bother advertising jobs, you ask? Because some foreigner nationals can get a PU letter exemption and those schools are hoping to score those foreigners. COVID drove a lot of foreign teachers out of the country, some of whom want to return. If their Chinese residency permits are still valid, for example, they are exempt from needing a PU letter and their entry into the country is facilitated.

So now you know!

Is it all getting a bit confusing? Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get there. But first, here are some crucial things you should know about getting your PU letter, including a possible exemption if you’ve had the SINOVAC vaccine.


Step 3 – Apply for your Working Z-Class Visa

Yet another step to do before travelling to China.

Your China work visa application must be handed in at your nearest  – some embassies and consulates around the world are still accepting visas applications (the number is dwindling) so best to check in the country you’re applying from.

Visa centres have not accepted walk-ins for a couple of years now so you need to first make an appointment, online. Making an appointment is a two-step process. Because, why not?!

Here’s what you do:

    1. Fill in your online visa application form, through the COVA (Chinese Online Visa Application) website
    2. Book an appointment online through AVAS, so you can hand in your documents.

    Given there are only so many appointments available daily, it can take up to a month to find a suitable slot – prepare for a possible delay!


    The above procedure has not yet been adopted by every country, which means you will need to double-check with your nearest Chinese Visa Application Service Centre. Moreover, the pandemic has expedited the shift to online/postal services so it’s always best to double-check current procedures.

    Here are the docs you will need:

    • Your Work Permit Notice
    • Your PU letter
    • Your passport, scanned
    • Passport photo, scanned

    The China Visa Application fee differs by country, so check with a Chinese Embassy in your home country. Do note that Chinese Embassy websites also have a dedicated page on how to apply for a Z Visa!

Step 4 – Receive your Z-Class Visa and double-check it carefully

Once you get your passport back, study your new visa very carefully. It’s not all that rare to be granted a visa other than the one for which you have applied. Some stuff-ups happen occasionally so go over it with a fine toothcomb.

The visa will detail entry date and length of stay, the type of visa (Z !) and anything else you need to know. When it comes to any kind of problem, do know that ‘ignorance’ is not bliss – no matter which class of visa you applied for, what your actual visa states is the only thing that matters!


Step 5 – Move to China

At this stage, with your job sorted and your work visa secured, you’re ready for the big move. It’s time to finally travel to China to teach!

It’s important to remember that, once you arrive in China, time is of the essence. After going through the rigmarole of getting your Z Visa, you’ll soon learn that it’s only valid for a limited amount of time. Pre-COVID, you had just 30 days to convert your Z Visa to a residency permit. Right now, authorities are granting Z Visas valid for anything between 60 and 180 days (you’ll see the number of days under validity on your new visa) – this means you have that many days to apply for your residency visa. This accounts for quarantine and extra settling in time due to the current crisis.

Some lucky folks are getting 000 on their visas, which actually means the visa is valid ‘indefinitely’. But it definitely isn’t! IF you receive a visa with a 000-validity period, don’t rest on your laurels too much … we recommend you apply for a residency permit in a timely manner, nevertheless.

Essentially, the Z Visa is just a foot in the China-door. Once you’re in, however, you are expected to turn it into a residency permit rather pronto.

Your school will likely appoint a local staff member to act as your liaison once you arrive, helping you with all the initial appointments and bureaucratic processes – so don’t stress, you will not have to do any of the following steps, on your own. You can read our blog on 10 things to know before moving to China.

Teaching Visa Z (Work Visa)


Step 6 – Get Your Police Registration Form

As soon as you arrive in China, you need to register with your local police station, within 24 hours of your arrival.

Most of the time, schools provide hotel accommodation to incoming teachers and hotel management will automatically register your presence with the local police. Once you move into permanent housing, however, you will need to notify the local authorities of your new address – your employer will assist you with this step.

You must personally present:

  • Your passport
  • Your housing contract (most often organised by your employer)
  • A copy of your landlord details (including contact phone number)

Once you have your Police Registration Form, you can move on to the next step.

Haven’t considered your housing options yet? Here’s our comprehensive teaching in China cost guide, which details some info about your housing options

Step 7 – Get a Medical Check

Everyone who arrives in China to work is required to undergo a fairly comprehensive and time-consuming medical check, which is meant to discount infectious diseases like HIV and drug use. All up, you’ll undergo half a dozen tests in a specific hospital/medical centre in your teaching city and your employer, or your appointed liaison officer, will make the appointment and accompany you.

Since it takes a few days to receive all the medical results, and your employer will need this to apply for your residency permit, expect this China visa medical check to be carried during your first week in the country.

This is what you’ll need to take along to your Medical Check appointment:

  • Your passport
  • Copies of your passport’s details, visa and entry-stamp pages
  • 5 passport photos (you’ll be going into various medical rooms, all day!)
  • The medical check-up fee of around 500 RMB, is usually reimbursed one you get the all-clear. It may originally be paid by your employer but do ask beforehand to be sure.

NB Whilst you do have the option of doing your China visa health check at home, before you travel to China, the set of requirements for both you and your doctor are extensive enough to make it a downright pain. And heaven forbid you get it wrong! For this reason, most teachers will simply opt to do it once they arrive in China – this is, by far, the easiest and more convenient option.

Step 8 – Acquire Your China Work Permit

Remember that Work Permit Notice you applied for in Step 1? It’s now time to turn that ‘’notice” into a bona fide “permit”, again by dealing with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security Your employer will also guide you through this process.

Expect to hand in the following:

  • Your passport
  • 1 passport photo
  • Your Medical Certificate
  • Your Police Registration Form (from Step 5), which should now reflect your permanent address

Step 9 – Secure Your Residency Permit

To apply for your Residency Permit, you must show up in person at your local Public Security Bureau (PSB) at least one week before you Z visa expires. Your employer will help with this process as they will have to verify that you will be working for them.

Here’s the documentation you’ll need to apply for your Residency Permit:

  • Your passport
  • 1 passport photo
  • Your Police Registration Form
  • Your Work Permit
  • A Residency Permit application form, nicely filled-in (your employer will provide you with this)


Can you believe it? You’re all done! Now you can finally get on with the business of teaching in China.

Mission complete!

Unfortunately, we are limited in the amount of info we can outline without knowing your specific situation. Requirements for Z Visa (as with all visas) in China are oftentimes also dependent on your nationality.

You can find more answers on our Frequently Asked Questions page, but if you are unsure, contact us here so we can advise you in more detail or browse our jobs.