Leaving a TEFL Job in China – Complete Guide on Doing it Right

Whether you've decided you're leaving a TEFL job in China and returning home, or simply transferring to a different school, you'll need to make sure your paperwork is in order. By skipping any part of the process, you could get into problems later down the line which may cause major delays to your plans, or even worse! When you're overseas, the last thing you need is to be stuck in limbo. Check out our helpful guide on what to do when you're ready to leave your position.

In this article

What We’ll Cover

  • The documents you’ll need to legally end your contract

  • Ending a contract early

  • What you’ll need to transfer to a new employer

  • What to consider when leaving China

Which documents will be issued when your contract is up?

When you are coming to the end of your agreed contract with your employer, you will likely have a discussion as to whether your contract will be renewed. It’s important you check the contract you signed when you took the job for information on what your obligations are at this point, e.g. how much notice you need to give if you don’t wish to renew and what benefits you may be entitled to if you have successfully completed the employment period.

Once it has been agreed by both parties that your contract won’t be renewed, you should be issued with two documents: a release letter and a reference letter. Whilst it is great to receive the reference letter, especially if you plan to transfer to another school at any point, the release letter is the most important document you will need to obtain. The employer will need to complete two forms on the government’s website to have this issued for you, which are:

  • “Application Form for Cancellation of Foreigner’s Work Permit”
  • “Proof of Cancellation of Work Permit for Foreigners Working in China”

Can you leave before your contract has ended?

Yes, you can. You’re certainly never locked into a job, though there may be penalties if you do end your contract early. These should be covered in your employment contract. This may be a financial penalty, such as paying a fee or losing benefits which you would have been entitled to if you completed your full term.

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There are many legitimate reasons to terminate your contract early; if you’re unhappy in your situation or you have an emergency and need to travel home, by all means do so. However, changing employers simply for a slightly better salary or a few extra benefits would likely have a more negative impact in the long-run. If at all possible, it’s better to complete an agreed term.

It’s worth taking some time out before you decide to call it quits and see if there’s any way you can improve the situation enough to last out your contract. Speak to your HR contact or supervisor if possible, to see if there’s anything they can do.

If you do choose to end your contract early, it’s in your interests to keep the relationship with your employer as positive as possible. Be upfront with them and give them as much notice about your intentions as you can, ideally at least a month. This will give them a chance to find a replacement and begin processing your release documentation.

You may even be able to help them find a replacement by recommending someone suitable! Any paperwork you need to start another position will likely appear much more quickly and freely if you are respectful and considerate of your employer.

Some people do leave their jobs without going through the formal channels, doing a midnight flit and leaving the country, but this is not advised. If you are caught at immigration and you’ve been reported as leaving your job, you could be held if you have any outstanding debts. If you do manage to leave the country without issue, you will likely not be allowed back into the country for at least 3 years and could struggle to secure employment again in China.

Transferring your visa to a new employer

Your release letter is extremely important if you decide to stay in China and look for a new position. Legally you are bound to the employer who is named on your Z-Visa and to have the details changed, you will need an official release letter in order do so. Your new employer will use your release letter to apply for the transfer of your visa details to theirs.

As long as you are simply changing employer and not occupation, and your residency permit is still valid, this can all be done in-country and you won’t need to leave in order for it to be completed. If you are changing both employer and occupation, you will need to leave China and apply for a new Z-Visa in your country of residency. This allows the Chinese authorities to verify that you are qualified for your new occupation.

It can be difficult to time the switchover perfectly, especially if one of the parties involved take their time over your paperwork, but it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t start your new position until your visa transfer has been finalised. You would technically be working illegally and can end up in hot water if you are caught.

If you’re having trouble getting your release papers from your old employer for any reason, reach out to your new employer for help. They are usually more than happy to chase up anything they need on your behalf; after all, they’ll be keen for you to start!

What you’ll need if you’re staying in China

If you decide to stay in China and travel, you will still need to ensure you have tied up all of your loose ends with your employer.

You can request a 30-day ‘stay permit’, (also known as a ‘humanitarian visa’) if you need to remain in China for a period after completing your contract. After all, when living in a country for a while, it’s more than likely you’ll have things to sort out which are always easier to handle in-country. To obtain this visa, you will need to attend your local Public Security Bureau Entry and Exit Division. The things you will need to take with your are:

  • Passport
  • Temporary Residence Form from a local police station
  • Certificate of Employment showing your last day of work from your company

If you wish to travel for a longer period as a tourist, you can apply for an L-Visa. In order to obtain this, you will need your release letter from your employer. You will not need your proof of residency to qualify for an L-Visa, but you will need to have proof of your return flight home.

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What to remember if you’re leaving China

When you’re leaving China, try to ensure all of your paperwork is in order and you have no debt or outstanding agreements in the country. As long as you have your release letter and are still within the parameters of your current visa or residency permit, you will have no issues leaving.

Remember that if you’re returning home, or moving to another country to teach, you will be in a good position if you can account for your time in China on your CV. Getting a stamped letter of recommendation for your employer will stand you in good stead when applying for new jobs!

It’s likely you’ll have a bank account in China, as well as other accounts such as utilities and subscriptions. Make a list of what you have and start to go through cancelling or closing them. You may decide not to close your bank account if you think you’ll be back in the future, but it would be good to advise them that you’ll be out of the country for a while and check that they have up to date contact information for you.

If you have any cash, plan to start either transferring it to your overseas account or exchanging it for your destination country’s currency a few weeks in advance. There are limits on transferring money out of the country as well as how much you can exchange in one go, so doing this gradually will take the pressure off when you’re ready to leave.

Something to note is that a stay permit can be transferred into a Z-Visa within China. So if for any reason you did change your mind whilst you’re there, you would be able to take up a new position so long as your status in the country allows.

Preparing for the next chapter in your adventure

Whatever you’ve decided to do, whether it’s simply move to a different region of China, travel around the tourist trail or relocate to a whole new country entirely, we wish you luck on your journey!

Remember that staying on top of the paperwork is important, but doesn’t have to be a headache. If you have decided to teach in a different country, bear in mind that your documents will likely need legalising again to be recognised in your new location.

You don’t have to travel home again for this, however. There’s no need to spend unnecessary money and cover extra miles when you can simply send your documents to us and receive them back completed, wherever you are.

If you’d like some advice, give us a call directly on +44 (0) 330 088 1142, send us a message via WhatsApp, use our live chat system, or e-mail us at sales@vitalconsular.com. Our friendly team of specialists are on hand to help.

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Ashraf Vachhiat
Ashraf Vachhiat

Ashraf is the Marketing Technologist at Vital Consular, which means he handles all the technicalities involved in bringing this blog to life! He also enjoys creating in-depth articles around current affairs which impact the travel and relocation industry. In his free time, Ashraf relishes travelling as much as possible, and is always looking for quirky spots to take some great photos.

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