You’ve just completed your TEFL course and been accepted into your first teaching position in China!

But then you need to get your work visa and a whole range of terms and procedures start appearing which are completely new to you.

Legalisation, apostille, FCDO, ACRO… where do you start unravelling all this information?

And how can you be sure you’re getting it right the first time?

Read on for my simple step-by-step guide for getting your documents legalised to teach in China. It’s specifically for UK teachers.

Firstly, what does legalisation mean?

Legalisation is simply the process of taking a document issued in one country and making it legally recognised in another.

Sometimes referred to as attestation or authentication, it’s achieved with a series of verifications and stamps from several government departments.

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An important point to note is that a document must always be legalised within its country of issue.

For example, if you have a degree certificate from a UK-based university, the legalisation process must happen within the UK itself.

Only the government here is authorised to verify the document’s authenticity.

Is the legalisation process the same for every country?

Unfortunately no.

This is where the majority of confusion stems from when a prospective teacher starts their legalisation journey.

There are several factors which directly influence the processes you will need to go through to successfully process your documents, including:

  • Country the document was issued in
  • Document type
  • Document issuer
  • Country where the document is being presented.

What documents will I need?

The documents you’ll require may differ depending on your school, but the basic requirements for a visa to teach English in China are:

  • Police clearance (usually an ACRO certificate)
  • Degree
  • TEFL, TESOL or CELTA.

(You can see all the requirements here.)

What if I studied my TEFL course with a company in a different country to me?

If you’re based in the UK, but you studied with a TEFL company that is based overseas, this could cause some issues when it comes to legalising your certificate for your Z Visa.

You’re still able to have the document legalised, but you would need to have this process completed abroad.

degree certificate

Your degree is one of the documents you need legalised for China. Image by Radu Bercan on Shutterstock.

For example, if you studied online with a company registered in the US, it would need to be handled by the various government departments there.

This can end up being both costly and confusing.

How do I legalise UK documents for China?

So you’ve been accepted for a role in China. Now you need to know how to legalise your UK documents to apply for your work permit.

There are specific steps you must complete and things you should be wary of in order to have this done successfully.

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Trust me when I say that the Chinese authorities like things to be done to the letter. This includes how the documents are presented and how you complete your application forms!

1. Get your documents certified by a solicitor

In order to keep your originals clean, it’s common practice to have a solicitor certified copy made.

Sometimes these are called notarized copies, but there is a difference here. If you have a notary public make a copy it will be much more costly and is unnecessary.

A copy from a registered solicitor with their stamp, date and signature is more than sufficient for legalisation.

Solicitor certifying document for China

Solicitor certification. Image by Fizkes on Shutterstock / Supplied by Melanie Clarke.

The only time you’re unable to submit a certified copy in the UK is when you’re having a personal document processed. This includes a birth, adoption, marriage, or death certificate which must always be legalised on the original.

It’s extremely important to make sure that you choose a solicitor who is registered with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). Move on to the next step to find out why.

2. Get your documents apostilled by the FCDO

All UK documents must be apostilled as part of the legalisation process. The only authority in the UK who can issue an apostille is the FCDO.

The apostille itself is a small paper certificate which will be applied once it has been verified as a genuine UK document. They will also verify the signature of the solicitor who made your certified copy by checking their signature on their database.

Apostille UK

The UK apostille. Image supplied by Melanie Clarke.

If the solicitor isn’t on their database, they will return your document and request a copy of their registration details and signature in order to verify it. This can cause delays.

Once everything has passed the FCDO’s checks, an apostille is applied. It will be signed and embossed, and carry a unique serial number which can be verified online.

Potential issues

Earlier I talked about the importance of choosing a recognised UK-based provider.

As the FCDO needs to check the registration status of the provider in the UK, you may face issues if you’re attempting to submit a TEFL which was issued by a company that isn’t registered here.

The FCDO wouldn’t be able to verify the authenticity of the certificate, or the provider’s credentials as they’re based outside of their territory.

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If you’re thinking of studying a TEFL for China and you’re in the UK, it can save you time and potentially money by checking that the course provider you’ve chosen is recognised by the FCDO before you start.

That way, you know that once your course is completed the process will be much quicker and smoother.

See this list of providers who have been independently verified by Vital Consular as accepted.

If you study a CELTA in the UK, you’re unlikely to experience these issues. This is because CELTA courses are recognised by the government’s Office of Qualifications and Examinations (Ofqual).

To find out more about the differences between TEFL and CELTA courses, read this post.

An important point to note is that your apostille can be no older than six months when you’re submitting it for a Chinese Consular stamp.

If it was issued over six months prior to your submission, you’ll need to have it re-processed. The same rules apply for police clearance certificates!

3. Visit the Chinese Visa Centre

Prior to November 2019, all legalisation requests were submitted directly to the Chinese Embassy in London. However, since then, any UK Citizens wishing to submit their documents for legalisation must do so at the Chinese Visa Centre.

There are four centres in the UK – London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast. This makes things easier since they must now be submitted in person. Postal applications are no longer accepted.

To submit your documents at the visa centre, you’ll need to book an appointment online.

China authentication stamp

Chinese authentication stamp. Image supplied by Melanie Clarke.

Once you have your appointment confirmed, you can gather your documents and complete an application form for your submission. This will include your personal details, information about your employer (i.e. the school) and the documents you wish to be processed.

If you’re unable to attend the visa centre yourself, this can be done on your behalf by someone else. However, you must complete the application form and nominate them as your agent.

At your appointment, you’ll submit your documents and be given a date for when they’re ready for collection. This is usually around 3-5 working days from submission, but always check your collection slip to make sure.

Important things to remember when you’re completing the application form are:

  • Complete the form itself digitally – hand-written forms will be rejected
  • Make sure you complete all sections accurately
  • Sign the form twice with an original wet signature – photocopies will be rejected
  • Submit a colour photocopy of the photo page of your passport.

The last bit – getting the Z Visa

Now you’ve successfully had your documents legalised, you can submit them to your school who can apply for your work permit.

It’s important that you time this correctly because as previously mentioned, your apostille and police clearance are only valid for six months from issue.

Once you receive your work permit from your school, the expiry date will be stated on it. You should check this carefully, as each offer can have different lengths of validity and you must apply for your Z Visa within this time.

You’ll need your permit to apply for your Z Visa here in the UK.

The Z Visa application requires another trip to the Chinese Visa Centre, but this time you must attend personally. This is because you’ll need to provide biometric data and have your photo taken as part of your submission.

You won’t need your legalised documents with you at this stage and they can be sent directly to your school in China.

Once your Z Visa has been issued and applied to your passport, you’re ready to travel to China!

And finally, you’ll need to apply for a residence permit within 30 days of arrival, which your school will help you with.

Further reading

Interested in teaching in China? Check out the following:

Have a great time working in China!

This is a sponsored post courtesy of Vital Consular. Main image credit: GaGo Design on Shutterstock.