Can I teach English in China without a degree?

China is without doubt the largest market for English language teaching in the world. With a population in the region of 1.4 billion people spread across a vast area, there are a huge range of opportunities to suit all tastes. Whether you prefer big city life, the peace of rural living, tropical or seasonal climates, China has it all. However, one big question is often asked by teachers who want to live and work in the country:

Can I teach legally in China if I don’t have a degree?

Until quite recently the answer would have been yes, as schools in China generally don’t care whether their teachers have a degree or not, and this still hasn’t changed. What has changed is the government has tightened the rules on who is eligible for a Z (work) visa which is what every teacher needs to work legally in the country. The simple truth is that you now need a degree in order to get a Z visa, so the answer is NO, you can’t teach legally in China without a degree.

Can I teach in China with a different kind of visa?

Teachers who don’t qualify for a Z (work) visa can enter the country on a different visa such as an L (tourist) visa or an M (business) visa. However, these do not allow you to work legally as a teacher and if you are caught you could face a hefty fine, deportation or even a stint in jail. Because of the huge demand for foreign English language teachers in China, recruiters and agencies go to great lengths to get teachers to come to the country whether they are legally allowed to work or not. If you do not have a degree and come across adverts online from agencies saying you can work on a tourist or business visa in China, ignore them because you will end up working illegally and taking a very big risk.

If schools are happy to employ people without a Z visa is it really that risky?

It is true that many schools across China will happily take on teachers without a degree because there are always so many vacant positions to fill and not enough teachers to go around. They do this on the assumption that getting caught is unlikely due to the huge number of schools the authorities have to cover. However, while some schools may get away with it, many do get caught in random raids by police looking for illegal workers. This scenario would be a very unpleasant way to end your Chinese adventure.

Is there any other way for teachers without a degree to work legally in China?

If you have your heart set on teaching English in China, there is an alternative way to do it if you don’t have a degree. By applying for an X (student) visa you are able to work part-time in an internship role. Although an internship doesn’t pay as well as a regular teaching job, you will still earn enough to live on and you will gain a huge amount of classroom experience that will set you up for higher paying jobs in the future. Unfortunately, the X (student) visa is only valid for six months, but you might be able to extend it once it runs out.