How To Travel 

How to Get a Work or Dependent Visa in China

I’ve just started a job in Human Resources for SMIC Private School and Kindergarten in Beijing, and I’m pretty shocked to see some of the ads for foreign teacher recruitment spewed across the internet.

I’m not just talking about the overtly racist profiling – the search for the white face instead of qualifications has no end – but also the promises of a visa no matter what nationality and no matter what qualifications.

I want to yell, “It’s a scam people! It’s a scam!” But how much attention can I get on these sites anyway? I’d still like to at least try to settle this question for some of you.

Know and Follow the Law
First off, do not move across the world and accept a job without your visas in place. Just don’t. Don’t listen to people who say they can’t get you a visa until you’re in China. It’s not true. They want to scam you or they don’t know how the visa system works, and I’m not sure which is actually worse because you will be the one to be reprimanded either way.

(It’s just like in the US. Illegal immigrants are the ones who face penalties, not always the employing scammer. So be careful.)

You’ve also got to have a job through a company that can hire you legally. Not all Chinese companies can hire foreign passport holders.

And if you come to China on a tourist visa and then get a job, there is a possibility that your HR will ask you to go back to your home country to get this or that document. It is by far a safer bet to have the work visa in place before you come.

This isn’t the same case in transfer visa situations, when transferring from one work visa to another, but you could have to go back when transferring visa types, from student to work visa and visa versa.

Dependent Visas
Second, if your spouse has a work visa, if you get your marriage certificate authenticated by your country’s Chinese embassy through a handler or personally there, there really isn’t any reason why your spouse’s company can’t get a dependent visa for you too. That goes for your children, too. They don’t need to come to China first to get their visa. When we came from the US for the first time, SMIC immediately processed my children and my dependent visas after my husband got his Z visa.

We know for sure there are also Mandarin language schools that can provide dependent visas via student visas, but we’ve also encountered both companies and schools claiming they can’t do this.

I assume they claim they can’t do this because the HR person actually isn’t experienced enough to know the process, and they don’t know where to begin to do this. They just assume they can’t get this visa done even though it might be totally possible for them to do this.

Visa laws change every year, sometimes more. It’s actually quite confusing for many in HR who aren’t qualified to be there, so be careful which organization and school you pick. Companies can hire handlers on the China side too, who are experienced at legally getting visas.

Work Visas
Lastly, what you need for a work visa is essentially what you’d need for any other job. Proper education and enough experience.

For working at any typical company legally capable of hiring expats, you need either a BA in a related field and two years of experience after you have received that BA in a job directly related to the company position of what you’re applying for your visa, or you can have the two years of experience waived if you have an MA or higher. There’s actually a points system you can use to see if you would qualify for a Z visa from China for your work.

For working as an English language teacher, you absolutely must have a passport from the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, Jamaica or Singapore (there could be other English speaking countries that could be approved, but this can only be confirmed by calling the visa office in Beijing directly).

From INS Global Consulting on points for teachers, “A Foreign language teacher who teaches their native language and holds a bachelor’s degree in a country where the primary language is your native language. They also must possess at least two years of teaching experience (those with a bachelor’s degree in a teaching or language-related field, or a TEFL certificate are exempt from this).”

Any other country that does not have an English speaking origin will not be accepted as a country for an English language teacher, but subject teachers can still be hired from other countries.

English language teachers must have a Bachelor Degree or above and one of the following:

1 – Two years of language teaching experience after the degree.

2 – BA or MA in Education, English, or ESL

3 – State Teacher Certificate

4 – TEFL or TESOL (120 hours or more, online is acceptable)

5 – TEFL in China (this is the government approved course)


All subject teachers, regardless of nationality, must have a Bachelor Degree or above, a teaching license, and two years of teaching experience after the degree. A Masters Degree in a related field can sub in for either the license or two years of experience, but not both.

There could be wiggle room if you’ve attended a college here in China, but most of the time, not really.

Do you have to get your degree, license, and criminal background authenticated by your home country’s Chinese consulate or embassy before you can get your visa? Yes. There’s no way around it and that’s just the cost of moving abroad. If you can’t afford it… ask for a loan, put it on a credit card. If you’re at the visa stage of getting a job offer, then it’s worth it. You can really save money and pay off debt in China even though start up costs can be steep.

It’s better than staying jobless in your home country. Let’s get real.

I know some have complained about this not being the way things used to work, but honestly I’m glad China is wising up about how to let into their borders. It’s their responsibility to protect their own people, and many who complain are the same ones who applaud other leaders for tightening immigration restrictions elsewhere.

So there you go!

This post was updated with changes January 22, 2018 at 10pm CST. It is not intended to be legal advice and will most likely become out of date very soon. 

Got questions? Ask me below or in our groups, (but honestly I have a day job so every sticky visa situation might not get a reply other than re-read above). 

Click the link for the group of other China-focused parents on Facebook  or on WeChat by scanning my QR code and asking to join the WeChat group.

Vanessa Jencks founded China Family Blog to connect internationally-minded parents through semi-humorous stories and China-life-and-parenting fails. She is the former managing editor of beijingkids magazine; see her previous work here. She is also the founder of the 600+ member organization, Innovative Educators

WeChat: vanessajencks

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