Want to know the real deal about TEFL certification for China?

There’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to teaching in China, especially the TEFL certification requirements.

Some of the main questions you hear dubious answers to include: Do I need a TEFL for China? What’s the minimum requirement? And what’s TEFL accreditation?

Today I’m going to clear up these questions and more.

First things first

In case you don’t know, TEFL stands for teaching English as a foreign language. Once you’ve completed a TEFL course, you receive a TEFL certificate.

It’s this certificate that can help you get a teaching job in China.

Do I need a TEFL for China?

A TEFL isn’t legally required to teach in China.

However, most schools require it unless you have significant teaching experience or you have a degree in education.

In fact, to be able to teach in China, Chinese government guidelines state that you need a bachelor’s degree and more than two years or related experience.

But as many people don’t have that experience, schools ask for a TEFL certificate instead.

You’d be hard-pressed to find any legitimate teaching job in China that didn’t require a TEFL as part of the application process.

Teaching in China legally vs illegally

I have only ever taught English in China legally.

This means a licensed school in China arranged the relevant paperwork so that I could then apply for a Z visa in my country.

The Z visa is the legal working visa for China. As part of your application for the Z visa, you need a legalized copy of some personal documents. For most schools, this includes your degree and TEFL certificate.

Now, to the dark side.

Teaching young students China

What teaching path will you go down? Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

You can work in China illegally. I’m not suggesting you do this, but I know there are countless teachers in China working illegally.

If you want to do this, you simply arrive in China on a non-working visa and start working.

You can either tee up a job before you go or look for jobs when you arrive.

Every so often, there’s a crackdown on illegal teachers in China and scores of them are booted out of the country. It can also result in fines or even detention as reported here.

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But these teachers don’t get in trouble for not having a TEFL, they get in trouble for working without a Z visa.

I would hazard a guess that the majority of illegal foreign teachers in China don’t get caught. This is because the schools are desperate for foreign teachers (demand outstrips supply) and they will do anything to fill roles and please the bosses.

It isn’t in anyone’s best interests to spill the beans, so the secret stays safe – for the most part.

What are the requirements to teach in China?

If you’re intending on teaching in China the right way, you need more than a TEFL.

You also need:

  • A degree
  • A passport from the USA, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa
  • To be no older than 55, have good health and no criminal convictions.

There may be some different local requirements, e.g. some provinces may have different age cut-offs.

Man doing online TEFL course

Have you ticked off the requirements? Image by Fizkes on Shutterstock.

As part of the visa process, you need to get your documents legalized. The process basically works by getting your documents:

  • notarized by a solicitor or notary public
  • authenticated by the foreign affairs department of your country, and
  • stamped by the Chinese consulate or visa center.

Your recruiter or school typically helps with this.

Minimum TEFL requirement for China

As I mentioned earlier, TEFL isn’t a legal requirement to teach in China. Therefore, the Chinese government doesn’t specify a minimum requirement.

However, most Chinese schools and recruiters require at least 120 hours.

So, while 120 hours is an arbitrary number, you’ll find that you can’t get around schools that say they need this in order to get a job. And most TEFL certificates – but not all – have the number of hours printed on them.

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Can you choose to do a course that is longer than 120 hours? Absolutely, but you don’t have to.

Similarly, the 120 hours can be done all online, all face-to-face, or a combination of the two.

What’s the best TEFL course for China?

Like many things in life, there’s no simple answer. Course quality, features and cost all come into the equation.

What I can tell you, however, is there are three online TEFL courses that are pretty solid. And they’re all 120 hours in duration which will satisfy your Chinese employer or recruiter.

Plus, they’re amongst the cheapest TEFL courses available.

tefl acronym

The best TEFL courses aren’t necessarily the most expensive. Image by Natalie Schorr on Shutterstock.

While on the topic of cost, beware of dirt-cheap courses that you can find on sites like Groupon. They’re not worth the piece of paper they’re printed on!

More importantly, they may not be accepted in the legalization process.

1. 120 Hour Advanced TEFL Certificate Course by Global Language Training

Global Language Training was started by a group of experienced teachers. More than 85,000 students have graduated with one of their online TEFL certificates.

The 120 Hour Advanced TEFL Course is their most popular, and for good reason:

  • You get a year to complete it
  • Lifetime job placement support
  • 14-day money back guarantee
  • A notary and apostille service to help with your work visa for China
  • Includes a free 40-hour specialist course in teaching online (or another area).

Price point: US$86 / GBP£62 / AU$115 at last check.

I especially like the bonus 40-hour course to help boost your online teaching skills. And, this course comes at a great price for prospective teachers on a budget.

2. 120 Hour Online TEFL Course by i-to-i

TEFL company i-to-i is a pioneer of the TEFL industry, having been around longer than the others.

A staggering 200,000 people have completed an i-to-i TEFL course. And that includes me!

I like this course because:

  • It’s well-structured and constantly reviewed
  • Your answers are assessed by DELTA qualified tutors
  • Great customer service (backed by thousands of reviews)
  • Regulated by the English government.

However, you only get 10 weeks to complete it (an extension of up to a year costs extra).

Price point: US$222 / GBP£160 / AU$299 at last check.

For me, the fact that this course is marked by super-qualified instructors is what makes it one of the best online TEFL courses available.

3. 120hr Professional TEFL Course by TEFL UK

Don’t be fooled by the name. Anyone can complete a TEFL UK course – not just Brits!

TEFL UK donates a portion of every sale to Concern Worldwide to help tackle extreme poverty. So with this course, not only will you get TEFL certification but the ‘feel good’ factor as well!

Main benefits of this course:

  • Lifetime access to course materials
  • 95% of graduates say they would recommend TEFL UK
  • A notary and apostille service to help with your work visa
  • Comprehensive job placement service.

Price point: US$137 / GBP£99 / AU$184 at last check.

This is a popular course with hundreds of positive reviews from people all over the world. And with the link above, you can enjoy a discount thanks to our partnership with TEFL UK.

What’s TEFL accreditation?

It’s a made up word, really. There is no one international governing body that accredits (legitimizes) TEFL courses.

TEFL companies essentially pay to get assessed and use the ‘accreditation’ as part of their marketing. But in a very competitive industry, who can blame them?

accredited tefl stamp

Be careful when you see the word ‘accredited’. Image by Castleski on Shutterstock.

However, in the UK, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) can be strict when you get your paperwork legalized as part of the visa process.

They might require that your TEFL certificate is notarized in the country in which the TEFL company is registered.

If you’re British, you can rest assured that all three courses above have been given the tick of approval by the FCDO. You can also read more in the specific guide on getting documents legalized for China which is specific to UK teachers.

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I haven’t heard of other countries insisting that your TEFL certificate is issued in your home country. It’s only the UK government.

But please let me know in the comments if you’ve heard otherwise.

What about TESOL and CELTA?

Both these courses are fine for China in lieu of a TEFL.

Note that CELTA is a comprehensive (and expensive) course and is geared towards teaching adults, which may not be great for China.

Your TESOL should also be at least 120 hours to satisfy your Chinese employer.

How do I find a TEFL job in China?

The main ways are directly through a recruiter or via a job board.

Recruiters are great because they have a direct line to schools, can help match you with the best jobs, and even recommend you for a job before it’s been advertised.

A China-based recruiter will know the kinds of benefits and salaries that are available to expats. And they can help with the Z work visa or at least point you in the right direction.

Chinese classroom

Teaching Chinese students is rewarding. Image supplied.

Also, because they get a commission from the school on a successful hire, if you’re an outstanding candidate they will really look after you throughout the entire process.

You can browse through a list of China teacher recruitment agencies here.

Another way of finding TEFL jobs in China is via a job board.

Schools and language institutes advertise jobs directly, and you’ll also get a truckload of recruiters posting jobs on their behalf.

Job boards are good because they don’t preference any particular job or school. You can simply compare what’s out there and apply directly.

Check out The Helpful Panda job board here.

So, will I get kicked out of China for not having a TEFL?

You can get kicked out of China if you’re found working without a Z visa in your passport.

And in most cases, a certified TEFL certificate (along with other documentation) is the only way to get that Z visa.

As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous stories of teachers being deported or detained for not having the right visa. Don’t let that be you!

Frequently asked questions about TEFL certification for China

Do I need a TEFL certificate for China?

Legally no, realistically yes. While it’s not required by law, schools and employers in China will demand it (unless you have an education degree).

What’s the minimum TEFL requirement for China?

While there’s no legal minimum, most schools and employers will require at least 120 hours in course duration.

Where can I get a free TEFL for China?

There’s no such thing, but there are some cheap courses out there. If you study your TEFL purely online, it will be a lot cheaper than a course that has a face-to-face component. Some schools and employers may offer a ‘free TEFL’ but it’s actually part of your overall salary package.

What matters most

When it comes to TEFL certification for China, most schools in China insist on a TEFL certificate as a minimum requirement.

So, choose a TEFL course that you might actually enjoy doing, i.e. one that is engaging and well-structured, is at least 120 hours long, has qualified tutors marking your answers, and comes at a good price.

All three courses above fit that bill.

But if I had to choose just one TEFL course, it would be the Global Language Training course (no. 1).

Not only is it the cheapest, but I love the bonus 40-hour specialist course for teaching students online. It’s a handy skill to have in the current environment.

Do you have any questions about China TEFL? Hit me up in the comments below. And be sure to read my tips on teaching in China!

Main image credit: Jianbing Lee on Shutterstock.