However, teaching English in China on a tourist visa (otherwise known as an L visa) is a route we don’t recommend here at Teach Away, for reasons we’ll dive deeper into below.
But, essentially, it boils down to this: A Z visa (also commonly referrred to as a Foreign Expert Permit) is what sets you up to obtaining the two key documents you need to continue working legally in any province in China - those all-important residence and work permits. That’s why we always recommend you obtain your Z visa before arriving in the country.
That way, you know your employer is actually legally allowed to employ foreign teachers (which they need a license to do) before you start packing your bags for the big move.
Candidates applying for a Z visa to teach English in China should:
- Hold a bachelor’s degree
- Be a native English speaker
- Have two years of teaching experience/teaching certification/TEFL certification
Note: Z visa applicants are also subject to the same retirement ages as Chinese workers, so if you’re a woman over the age of 60 or a man over the age of 55, then age restrictions will apply.
But lots of commenters on Reddit claim they’re teaching English in China on a tourist visa? It can’t be that big of a deal!
The internet is also chock full of horror stories of expat teachers being arrested for working illegally on a tourist visa in China.
And the consequences of being caught working illegally in China can be pretty dire. You could face penalties ranging in severity from fines to jail time or deportation if you’re teaching under a tourist visa.
Trust us, not only have the Chinese government been tightening up their visa regulations in recent years - they’re also raiding language schools falling afoul of the law and detaining foreign teachers working without the right work permit.
While these occurrences are, thankfully, becoming less and less frequent as the Chinese ESL industry continues to clean up its act, the risks you take by teaching under a tourist visa are still very real.
That’s why, if your school is unable to obtain a Z visa for you before your departure, we advise you to seriously consider whether this is an offer you should be pursuing. Any reputable, well-established school will not pressure you to teach English “under the table”. They know better than most that this is a big no no with the Chinese authorities.
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By agreeing to teach on a tourist visa, you’re highly vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers or unregulated agencies.
Something to be aware of is the fact that many English teachers at schools in China actually have their contracts handled by for-profit, third-party hiring agencies, rather than by the schools directly.
These agencies earn a commission for every teacher they place. As a result, some will go so far as to offer contracts to non-native English speaking teachers, who they know will never qualify for Z visa status.
These agencies may have zero intention of ever completing the right documents for you, essentially leaving you stranded as an illegal worker in China. And open to exploitation.
We’ve heard of ESL teachers placed in China under tourist visas, who not only had their wages skimmed but were forced to live in unsanitary accommodation and work extended hours without days off.
Read this: How to spot common ESL job scams >>
Can’t I just convert my L visa to a Z visa when I’m living in China?
As we talked about above, if your employer is urging you to work on an L visa and convert to a Z visa at a later date, then you should know that by doing so, you’re essentially beaking the law.
Plus, when you apply for a tourist visa for China, you’ll need to show proof of hotel bookings for the duration of your stay and your return flight home within the three-month timeframe permitted.
Technically speaking, you could consider having an extended holiday in Asia while you’re waiting for your Z visa to be sorted out.
So long as you’re willing to take on the expense of returning home or flying to Hong Kong so you can get that Z visa, that is. And that’s because:
Z visas can also only be issued outside of China, in either your home country or Hong Kong.
This means that, more than likely, you’ll be faced with an expensive trip back to your home county or Hong Kong so you can then re-enter under the right work permit status - an additional cost that your employer might not be willing to be on the hook for.
And if your employer is dragging their heels on getting your Z visa organized once you’ve arrived, then you need to ask some serious questions about their legitimacy.
So, to recap:
- You can’t legally teach English in China on anything other than a Z visa (that includes L and F visas).
- You shouldn’t move to China to teach on a tourist visa with the promise of bveing transferred to a legal working visa at a later date.