Getting A TEFL Job In China – 10 Ways To Spot Scams And Stay Safe

If you're planning on teaching English in China, it can be difficult to know where to start. The recruitment process when you're dealing with a company overseas can be difficult in itself, but with such huge differences in processes and requirements, it can feel like a minefield.

What We’ll Cover

  • The most common scams in TEFL recruitment in China

  • What your contract should cover

  • What paperwork you need

  • How to meet the eligibility requirements to teach in China

  • Spotting unscrupulous employers

melanie clarke TEFL specialist

Our TEFL Legalisation specialist Melanie has put together some of the most common scams you need to avoid when looking for an ESL teaching position in China.

There are plenty of great recruiters operating in China who look after their teachers and ensure they have an amazing experience teaching English. But when there is huge demand, there are scammers looking to take advantage. Being aware of their tactics from the outset can help you avoid the rogue recruiters and stand you in good stead for finding your ideal job and getting your new adventure off to the best start.

1. What do you need to apply for a teaching position in China?

The Chinese Authorities have a set of eligibility requirements that all ESL teachers must meet in order to legally work in the country. These include:

  • Be a native English speaker
  • Hold a Bachelor’s Degree
  • Complete a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA certification of at least 120 hours
  • Produce a clear criminal record check

The above criteria applied to all in-person teaching positions. If you are teaching for a Chinese company online, and are based outside of the country, these may differ. Be cautious when speaking to recruiters who advise that the guidelines are flexible, as this is not the case.

What’s the difference between a TEFL, TESOL and CELTA, and which is right for you? Find out in our dedicated blog post on the topic.

2. What are the most important things to look out for when choosing a recruiter online?

Always be prepared to do some homework on a recruiter before discussing any job roles with them, and certainly before handing over any of your personal information.

Social media is awash with TEFL job groups where recruiters can advertise their latest positions to people across the globe, but do plenty of background checks on the company itself. If the company has posted a list of jobs, look for their website. They should have a site which lists their company information as well as contact details.

If they have an email address which is from a free provider such as gmail, or which is common in China, be cautious. Apply the same standards you would to dealing with any legitimate company; you would expect a level of professionalism in how they conduct their business.

With so much information available online and many expats sharing their experiences in forums and on social media, it would be unusual not to find any mention of them somewhere. Look for any experiences from previous employees who have dealt with them in the past and make sure it’s independent feedback. Don’t simply accept reviews from the recruiter directly.

If it doesn’t feel right, trust your gut.

3. What should I look out for in my contract?

First of all, you should have a contract. No question. This is not only security should anything go wrong with your employer, but it is a legal requirement to work in China. Don’t be tempted to take higher pay or benefits by accepting under-the-table payments or a higher salary.

Everything about your job role should be included in the document in a clear and concise manner, covering:

  • Length of your contract
  • Salary and any associated benefits
  • Work hours
  • Overtime policy and pay
  • Holiday entitlements
  • Sick leave policy
  • Resignation and contract termination procedure
  • Renewal of contract procedure
  • Roles and duties expected from both employee and employer

If anything included in your contract is ambiguous, missing or you don’t feel something is fair, speak to the employer. Don’t simply sign your contract if you’re unhappy about something, as changing it or accepting something verbally could cause issues in the future. Any good employer should have no issues with discussing your employment terms with you and, if necessary, clarifying something in writing.

4. Can employers and recruiters offer extra benefits outside of my contract?

If you are offered benefits as part of your job role, but it isn’t listed within your contract, there is a high likelihood that you won’t receive them. It is a pretty common occurrence amongst the more unscrupulous recruiters that they will promise additional benefits such as additional leave, plane tickets home or bonuses, only for them to never appear.

In China, if it’s not in black and white within your signed contract, you have no recourse. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of being tempted by “deal sweeteners”, only to find yourself out of pocket when you’re locked into your contract.

contract china

5. I’ve been offered a job on a probationary period, is this legal?

It’s not common to have a probationary period, but if you are offered one and you’re happy to take the risk, make sure that it is outlined clearly within your contract. The period can be no longer than 30 days per 1 year of your contract, and you should be compensated for your work in this time; do not accept any unpaid work, even if it’s on a trial basis.

If you do have a probationary period written into your contract, ensure that the agreement is clear and your salary for this period is included, otherwise you could lose out when it comes to payday.

6. How can I tell if a recruiter is legitimate?

If it’s a single recruiter who doesn’t represent any business, be wary. They should be officially registered as a company in China as they will need to be able to supply you with an government-issued permit for your work visa. Ask to see their SAIC business license and SAFEA registration for a start. They should be able to supply you with a clear colour scan of this to prove they are licensed.

There are some great sites which advertise job openings for ESL teachers, but due diligence is advised for any company you are considering working for. Look for others who have worked, or are currently employed by that company and ask for their opinion. You can usually find online reviews of most big companies.

If you’ve done all of these checks and everything looks in order, you can be confident they’re one of the good ones.

7. Do I have to pay anything upfront when applying for my job?

Apart from your document legalisation and your Z-Visa fees, you shouldn’t have to pay anything else upfront when applying for a teaching position in China. If your prospective employer asks for payment for anything from you directly, this should be a red flag that something isn’t right, including money for:

  • the processing of your work permit/other paperwork
  • a down payment on your accommodation
  • money for your flights or transfers

You also shouldn’t need to hand over any bank details until you have actually landed in China and started work. There isn’t usually any reason for an employer to need this information before then, so be careful what sensitive information you give out.


8. I’ve been told I can teach on a tourist visa, is this the case?

This is a definite no. Some unscrupulous recruiters have advised applicants that they can teach on tourist visas, but this is illegal and if you are caught, can result in a fine, deportation and usually a ban from returning for up to 3 years. If a recruiter tells you that you can start teaching on a tourist visa and then convert it when you arrive, or after your probationary period, walk away. By law, you should have your Z-Visa issued to you in your country of residence before you leave for China.

9. What can happen if I don’t have the correct paperwork to teach in China?

Over the last few years, China has been extremely active in cleaning up the pool of expat ESL teachers living in the country. They have tightened regulations and made it mandatory for all ESL teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree, as well as demanding that they are native English speakers and have sufficient documented experience in teaching their mother tongue to non-native speakers.

Despite the crack-down, there are still huge numbers of expats teaching illegally in China. A report by China Daily has estimated that of the 400, 000 expats in China’s education sector, as many as 60% are employed without the correct paperwork or visa.

As previously mentioned when we looked at teachers working on tourist visas, if you are caught without the correct paperwork, the repercussions can be severe. If you are fined and deported, this could have a knock-on effect if you apply for travel visas for other countries, too.

10. How can I make sure my paperwork is in order?

To apply for a teaching position in China, you will need to provide a set of documents which have been legalised, also known as attested, for your Z-Visa application. The legalisation process involves obtaining a series of government-issued stamps which are applied to your verified documents.

The steps of the process does vary from country to country, dependent on where your documents where issued, so it’s very important that you seek advice on your own personal circumstances before you start the process. There are also application form to be completed in order to request the stamps are applied, which must be filled out to the letter. If you get any stage wrong, this could cost you valuable time and money if your documents are rejected by the authorities.

Once you have the necessary paperwork fully legalised, you can then send them to your employer who will use them to request a work permit within China. Once this is issued by the government, you will receive it via email and can then use this to apply for your Z-Visa in your country of residence.

When your Z-visa has been successfully issued, you’re ready to start your new adventure in China!

Getting help with your documents

If you’re relocating to China and you need help with your document legalisation, get in touch with our friendly team of specialists. We’re real people who are here to offer you personalised advice tailored to your circumstances, wherever in the world you are. Chat to us today and we can help you get your documents ready for China, from start to finish.

While you’re here, why not keep up to date with all the latest comings and goings by following us on social media?

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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