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May 19th, 2020 by David O Connor

Teaching in China: Can I quit my Teaching job early?

Teaching in China_leaving your job early in China

Teaching in China is an unforgettable experience – except for those rare times when it becomes far-too memorable for all the wrong reasons. Hey, we get it. Sometimes, that dream job doesn’t quite materialise the way you thought it would, the school isn’t quite the right fit or the principal, and maybe even fellow colleagues, sing to a tune that screeches in your ear.

Or, sometimes, there’s a family emergency that requires you to get home pronto but you’re only half-way through your teaching contract.

So what should you do?

There are as many reasons to end a teaching contract early in China as there are teaching positions. Some may have been avoidable – here are some red flags to avoid when looking at job offers – yet others will simply arise after a few months. Yes, you’ll probably feel stuck at first, knowing you’re working under contract but do know that you need not feel forced to stay if you want to leave.

The internet is littered with horror stories of bad employers and loathsome situations yet dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that there is a right way to end your contract – one that has made countless stories end on a much happier note.

Approach your dilemma professionally and with courtesy and it can make all the difference.

Quitting your teaching job early in China can be both simple and painless, if you do it right.

What to know before you go – understand the consequences of quitting your teaching job early in China

Not every teaching contract promises a world of horrible consequences if you quit your contract early – but some may do. That’s why it’s important to know where you stand before handing in your resignation.For some, leaving a teaching contract early could mean they’d forfeit the initial airfare reimbursement or rental bond, for example, although many would be fine trading that in for greater job enjoyment. 

Nevertheless, you should know if your employer is likely to request an exit fee or if they will ask you to vacate your apartment if they’re the ones who arranged your accommodation to begin with. Knowing where you stand – and what you stand to lose, if anything – will bring greater clarity to your situation. It could be your incentive to stay and work until the contract ends or you may feel empowered to leave regardless. This is a very subjective matter.

It’s also important to note that the more reputable and professional the school, the easier you will find it to quit your teaching contract early if you aren’t happy. Yes, there are plenty of terrible stories told time and time again but, to be honest, there are just as many great stories – of good schools, excellent principals and fantastic working environments.

Quitting your teaching job early isn’t always a huge issue – sometimes, teaching in China can surprise you!

Just like no teacher wants to be stuck in a position they no longer enjoy; no principal wants a teacher who no longer wishes to be there

Teach in China_Leaving your job early

How to Get Out of Your Teaching Contract Early in China – Do it Right!

1. Be honest – sometimes

If you have a truly genuine reason for wanting to get out of your contract early, something that has nothing to do with the job or the school, then honesty is the best policy. The majority of teaching employers in China are compassionate and reasonable and if there’s a family emergency or you are having personal health issues, most schools will simply allow you to leave. No hard feelings.

If, on the other hand, the employer is the actual reason you want to run away to another planet, honesty may not bode well. “Keeping face” is one of the most important cultural traits China boasts and, whatever you do, you should aim to not blame the school, principal, staff and/or students in any way that may be misconstrued as being disrespectful.


2. Understand that lying and being courteous, in China, can sometimes be the same thing

If the school is your main problem, find another plausible explanation for leaving and do note that it only has to be plausible at face-value.

If you’re having a terrible experience and everyone at school knows about it, don’t worry. Your employer may know you’re lying, and you may know that your employer knows you’re lying – but as long as the official reason for breaking your contract has nothing to do with the school per se, you should be just fine.

3. Keep your cool

Maybe your employer really is a piece of work but losing your cool is NEVER a good idea. No matter how difficult it may be, you need to remain calm, affable and professional at all times. This is especially true if you want to continue teaching in China and need a reference letter to show your next employer. In this case, the ball is definitely on the school’s court and you need to be careful how you tread.

No matter how genuine your reason (or excuse) is for leaving your job early, no Chinese employer will grace you their permission if you lose your s**t.

There, we said it.

4. Don’t pull a runner

Infamously known as a ‘midnight run’ in the ESL teaching scene, pulling a runner is one of those ‘100 wrong ways of quitting your job early’ scenarios and certainly not something you should ever consider doing.

Many moons ago, not showing up to work (ever again) despite being tied to a valid contract didn’t attract a lot of attention but, nowadays, the authorities have introduced harsh penalties to those who simply quit without informing their superiors. It’s more than likely that nothing will actually happen to you if you were to simply not show up for work one day but it would be a pity to leave your job in this manner, especially if you’re unsure as to whether you’d still like to teach in China.

When in doubt…why not play it safe?

5. Transfer letter & referral

Quit your contract the right way – by politely requesting to be allowed to move on – and you should be walking away with a transfer letter and favourable referral. The former is an official certificate that states your intention to transfer your job from one school to another. The latter, the kind of job referral letter you’d get at home – these can be favourable or not, depending on how you manage to tie things up.

The transfer letter is what you’ll need to change your residency permit details with the local PBS office (the permit is the successor to your Z Visa), nominating your new school as sponsor. It usually takes about a week to make that transfer (more on this later).

As for your referral, well, that’s always a great thing to have, no matter where, in the world, you teach. It would be advantageous if you can walk away early from your job with a great referral and you’ll probably need one if planning to apply for a job at a highly-coveted school in China. Yet stuff happens, anytime and with any employer: if you simply cannot leave things on good terms and the employer refuses to give you a referral, it won’t be the end of the world.

6. Want to switch schools? Yes, you can!

Play all your cards right and, if you have another teaching position waiting in the wings, your transfer can be minimally painful, even if your contract is still running.

Your new employer can actually take over your residency permit sponsorship fairly easily as long as they receive all the relevant documents from your initial employer. You know, the one you’ve charmed into letting you leave your contract early (refer back to #5).

7. Know your resignation notice timeframe – and get some info

Many schools require a resignation notice of 30 days, as a minimum, so it’s important to understand that, no matter how much you wish for it, you can’t just show up on Friday, hand in your notice, and never return. Not if you want to do it right.

Not sure what happens if you quit your job? Why not ask! If you’ve made some valuable friendships in your school, a subtle dig into past teacher history may shed some light on how the school views early contract releases.

And here’s a left-field suggestion you may not have considered (just kidding):

8. Stay put – if you can

There are times when the benefits of putting up with a few extra ‘bleh’ months far outweigh the at-times painful job of quitting your contract early in China. Can you just grin and bear it without making everyone’s life (including your own) unbearable?

If you can, and can see the light at the end of the tunnel, do just that.

Moreover, you should seriously consider giving yourself a ‘decision timeframe’ of your own, especially if you’re thinking of quitting your teaching contract in China within just a few months of arriving.

The culture and professional shock of moving to such a drastically different country cannot be understated. The first few months can be brutal, even if you’ve taught in foreign countries before. Make sure you’re just not having one of those days – give yourself some time to adjust and settle in before deciding this just isn’t for you. If you still feel the same urge to leave after another month or two, then by all means, go ahead.

If we’d all left our contract early in China, the very first time we felt like doing so, we’d all have accrued just a few weeks in this incredible, infuriating and unforgettable country – it can be exceedingly tough and lonely to live so far away from everything we know and love AND get used to a whole new way of teaching. But just hang in there – You’ve got this!

Teach in China_Quitting your Job

What happens to your residency permit if you quit your job early in China?

If you’re teaching legally in China then you will have entered the country on a Z Visa, which you then turned into a residency permit, one that’s essentially sponsored by your current employer. You’re probably wondering what on earth will happen to this permit if you quit your contract early.

Switching schools – If you’re planning to continue teaching in China but switching schools, you will need to provide your prospective new employer with a transfer letter from your current employer. This will allow the new school to take over the sponsorship of your residency permit, without forcing you to leave the country and reapplying for a new one Z Visa. This means you won’t need to take another medical, resubmit all the visa application docs and so on. Trust us, this is the Holy Grail for anyone wanting to switch jobs in China, mid-contract. Simply visit your nearest PSB Office with a representative of your new school, hand in the relative documents and voila, residency details changed!

Remaining in China but not teaching – You will still need a release letter if you plan to stay on in China, as a tourist. The letter will allow you to turn that residency permit into a Tourist Visa without the need to leave the country and reapplying for a new visa.

Leaving China altogether – You may care a little less about leaving your job if you’re planning to leave China altogether but do know that you’ll STILL need that transfer letter as it shows the authorities that you are not financially indebted to the school.

Can my employer cancel my residency permit if I quit early?

Technically speaking, your employer CANNOT simply cancel your residency permit but they can certainly put a huge spanner in your wheels if you quit your job in bad blood. Heaven forbid they have friends in high places.

If you’ve done everything within your power to end your contract early in China on good terms, have politely requested a transfer letter and it still isn’t anywhere to be seen – you can take it up a notch.

First, schedule a meeting with the school administrators and go right over your employer’s head.

If that still doesn’t result in a transfer letter, you can file a formal complaint with SAFEA, the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs. Feel free to mention this next step to the school administrators, or the employer, if they really won’t budge – sometimes, a mere mention of SAFEA is enough to get the wheels in motion.

At China by Teaching, we’ve accumulated decades of experience teaching in China – the good and the bad! We find this to be one of the world’s most fascinating countries and find teaching here can be a sensational experience. But not for everyone. We hope this guide to how to quit your contract early in China will help ensure your own teaching experience here is a positive and fulfilling one.

Need help finding the right teaching job for you, anywhere in China? Contact us here to know more.

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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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