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Sep 1st, 2020 by David O Connor

What degree do you need to teach in China?

What Degree do you need to teach in China

A bachelor’s degree is one of the requirements for teaching English in China although, funnily enough, it does not need to be either English or teaching-specific. The Chinese government simply requires you to have a Bachelor Degree in any subject to be eligible to teach in the country.

Here are some commonly asked questions about the kind of degree you need to be a teacher in China:

What is a Bachelor Degree?

Traditionally gained in 3 or 4 years, depending on your country of origin, a Bachelor Degree is specialised tertiary education gained at university and something most students complete immediately after senior high school.

Is a Bachelor Degree the only qualification you need to teach in China?

It depends. If you wish to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in China, you will not only need a degree but also a 120-hour TEFL qualification, as a bare minimum.

For the majority of training centres and public-school teaching positions, a bachelor’s degree and TEFL qualification will suffice. Schools usually provide training to make up any shortfall if you have no experience.

Most private and international schools and international kindergartens, however, will insist that you tick all the boxes (degree, TEFL and experience). They tend not to take on newly qualified teachers without at least some classroom experience.

Whichever way you look at it: if you wish to teach in China legally, you MUST have a bachelor’s degree.

The qualifications for teaching in China are tied to the qualifications for obtaining a Z Visa – the only visa type that allows you to work in China. If you have a degree in English literature, however, you can ask for an exemption to the TEFL requirement and, if you don’t have a lot of teaching experience, you can still find plenty of teaching jobs that simply don’t require teachers to have an abundance of prior experience.

At the end of the day, requirements to teach in China can vary quite a lot depending on the school and the city in question, yet the one constant is the need to have a Bachelor Degree.

Can you still teach LEGALLY in China without a degree?

In the strictest technical terms, having a Bachelor Degree is a requirement for obtaining a working visa and, since you can’t teach in China without a working visa, it reasons you can’t teach without a degree. Simple as that!

The gist: The bad news is that yes, you really do need a Bachelor Degree to be eligible to teach in China although the super good news is that your specialization doesn’t need to be related to English or teaching.

CAVEAT: There is actually one way to teach in China without a degree and that’s by doing a teaching internship. This is the only legal way to teach without a degree and, although it’s usually a short-term position, an internship can be an awesome teaching experience for young up-and-coming teachers and, in some cases, you will even earn enough to enjoy a decent lifestyle.

Do you need a degree to teach in China

What happens if you teach ILLEGALLY in China without a degree?

While you can’t teach legally in China without a degree, many still do. In fact, estimates say that as many as 40% of foreign teachers in China are working illegally. Most of these teachers hail from non-native English countries, but a number are native English speakers without a Bachelor’s Degree.

China is an amazing country to live and work in but moving here to teach, without the proper paperwork, is not recommended. Yes, you’ll find plenty of schools ready to hire you even if you don’t have a degree but they’re also the same ones who’ll be happy to hire you without a proper Z-Visa. These are the kinds of school you’ll want to avoid: if they are dodgy in one respect, they’ll be dodgy in many other respects.

In the case of schools who hire illegal teachers; for those who treat one teacher well,  there are another three or four  that treat them unfairly. Since the work is illegal, they are the ones with all the power. In this scenarios there’s absolutely no-one you can turn to if your (dodgy) employer decides to dock your pay, insists on you working an unreasonable number of hours or withholds pay for weeks at a time. As an illegal teacher in China, you have absolutely no back-up and will never get the chance to truly relax into your job. You’ll always need to look over your shoulder.

Every now and again, there are concerted efforts by the authorities to clamp down on illegal teachers by performing regular checks. If you find yourself in this situation, do not be surprised if you are ushered into an empty toilet or closet (even the roof) to hide and wait until the coast was clear.

This are all fun and games until you get caught. Getting caught and being put in a Chinese prison carries all sorts of truly undesirable consequences.

Do you need a teaching license to teach in China?

No! Luckily, a teaching license from your home country will simply make you more employable. Not having one doesn’t preclude you from bagging an excellent teaching job. Indeed.

If you do have a Bachelor of Education and teaching license, you’ll be in a truly enviable position: you’ll be eligible to apply for teaching gigs with the top international schools in China (the ones which offer the best salaries). You’ll also be exempt from needed a TEFL certificate. 

What other eligibility requirements are there to teach in China?

Aside from a Bachelor Degree and TEFL qualifications (or teaching experience) you also need to:

  • Be a native speaker from one of seven recognized countries (Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, UK and US)
  • Have a Clear Criminal Background Check
  • Be between the ages of 18 and 55 (women) and 60 (men)
  • Pass a Medical Examination
  • Hold a valid Z Visa

Please refer to our Eligibility page for more detailed info.

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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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