Teaching jobs in China no degree / non-native — is it legal?

Many teachers sign-up on teach.fm and ask the same questions about English teaching jobs in China for non-native English speakers. Is it legal to work if I’m not from US/UK/CA/IR/AU/NZ/SA or don't have a degree?

The Foreign Experts Bureau (FEB) in China has strict rules for employing teachers from foreign countries by the law dictated by the Chinese government.

They require teachers to be native English speakers and at least Bachelor’s degree holders. They also need to have a clean criminal background. Only under these conditions will they meet the qualification and be able to legally secure the work permit in China.

However, you may have heard of non-natives who were hired to teach in China. Some employers ask for a favor from the FEB to hire non-natives.

Q: Is it legal to teach in China without a degree — on an internship or with a student visa?

— No, it’s not. Without a degree, even if you’re a native English speaker; you can’t obtain legal employment status. Some recruiters will tell it’s fine, or that they have an agreement with local authorities. It’s not true, you can’t legally teach with a business or student visa. Find out more in this post — Can I teach English in China without a degree?

Q: Can non-native English teachers get a work visa to teach in China?

— Yes, they can.

For non-native English speakers, the Foreign Experts Bureau (FEB) requires them to have a Bachelor’s degree and/or Master degree from a native English speaking country and preferably majored in English, Linguistics or Education.

For non-native English speakers without a bachelor’s degree and/or Master degree obtained in a native English speaking country, the FEB won’t issue them a work visa to teach English.

However, school employers can try applying for work permits in a non-teaching category to increase the chance of the FEB issuing the teacher a work permit. Usually, the schools will offer you a working visa for a manager/assistant. Of course, you will be working as a teacher. This approach usually requires a degree and at least 2 years of full-time professional experience.
It all depends on employers’ willingness and the FEB’s in different cities. Second and third-tier cities are comparably less strict than first-tier cities, i.e. Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Suzhou of Jiangsu province, etc. Please be aware that there is still a chance of being rejected for a work permit.

Q: Do I still have to notarize my police background check and Bachelor’s degree even it is non-teaching work permit?

— Yes, the process is similar and so you’ll still have to notarize both the police background check and degree with the Chinese embassy.

Q: Is it true that Chinese customs officers can check my phone/WeChat account if they think I’m violating the purpose of my visit?

— Yes, they can, and if they find out that you are breaching the purpose of your visit — by investigating your conversations with your new employer, they won’t allow you to enter the country.

Q: Is it safer to work with a work visa than with a business, tourist or student visa?

— Yes, it is. With a work visa, you barely run the risk of deportation unless you hold a work visa in a non-teaching category and the police see you in a classroom full of students. With a business or tourist visa, well, just being in a school might be grounds for deportation.

Q: Is it legal to work in China with a manager’s visa?

— Not 100% legal, but it is common practice, as the demand for foreign teachers is big.

Q: What do you need to have to get a managers’ visa?

— Bachelor's degree and 2 years since your graduation date, 2 years of full-time professional experience or TEFL certificate.

Q: Is it safe to teach holding a work visa in a non-teaching category?

— Yes, as long as it’s a working visa, you are safe to work in the school.

Q: I found a better offer — can I change a school when I signed a contract?

— Normally, if the school has already applied for the work permit for you in the FEB, you are not able to change a school as your name is linked to that school, unless they cancelled it for you. Otherwise you have to wait for 3 months for the work permit to expire.