An Expat’s Guide to Gaining TEFL Certification in China

An Expat’s Guide to Gaining TEFL Certification in China
Oct 15, 2020 By Randall Cox ,

Whether you’re new to teaching English or have been doing it for years, you likely know something about TEFL (Teaching English as Foreign Language) qualifications. What you may not know is the advantages of gaining TEFL certification in China rather than taking the course in your home country before you arrive. Below is an introductory guide on why and how to do exactly that.

gaining TEFL certification in China
Source: Green Chameleon 

Why You Need a TEFL

Due to recent changes in China’s visa and work permit requirements, most cities and schools now require two years of teaching experience after completion of a university degree, and/or a TEFL certification. When I first came to China in 2009, the visa system was much more relaxed. A prospective teacher wasn’t even required to have a university degree, let alone any teaching qualifications or experience.

In the intervening years, the requirements have become much more strict, however, on par with what is expected in most developed countries. There are still some cities in China with more lenient requirements, but a university degree, a TEFL certificate and two years of teaching experience are now pretty standard expectations.

When I returned to China in 2019, I managed to find a job despite not having a TEFL qualification or any teaching experience after graduating from university — but again, this is increasingly rare. While I was initially thrilled to find this job, I quickly realized it can be a bit of trap to work in a school or city with lax requirements. It can frustrate your attempts to move on to a bigger and better city or school.

When I recently switched jobs, I found that while my new employer liked the fact that I had five years of teaching experience prior to graduating, I would still be unable to get a work permit in the city without two years of post-graduation experience or a TEFL. Gaining two years of experience would take, well, two years and have to be done outside of China. A TEFL certification, on the other hand, could be done within China in one to two months!

Why You Should Get a TEFL in China

A TEFL certification received outside of China must be authenticated (notarized, authenticated by your local Secretary of State, or the equivalent office if not in the US, and then legalized by the Chinese embassy). This must be done prior to arriving in China in a process that is subject to the same delightful bureaucratic strictures as any other documents required for the visa process. This takes plenty of time, patience, and a decent chunk of money, probably at least USD150.

A TEFL certification received from an accredited Chinese TEFL program, however, does not require any additional authentication, and is therefore the best option if you’re already in China and/or need it in a hurry.

Which TEFL Should You Get?

TEFL qualifications come in two main forms, the 60-hour certification and the 120-hour certification. Ten years ago, a 60-hour TEFL certification carried some weight in China. Visa and permit regulations now being what they are, however, the 60-hour TEFL is essentially worthless. In my research, any school or city that requires a TEFL certification will demand the 120-hour course.

You may also find 20-hour weekend TEFL courses and other shorter courses. While these courses are less expensive and may offer a good foundation in teaching English as a foreign language, they do not meet the requirements for a work permit in China.

Cost and Time Commitment

There are several TEFL certification types, including ones that involve full-time onsite learning and others that offer a hybrid of online and practical lessons. Any legitimate TEFL certification program should have a practical in-person teaching component followed by feedback from professional instructors.

The average cost of the 120-hour hybrid class in China is about RMB3,000 (roughly USD430). This is much cheaper than programs in the US or other countries where the cost can add up to USD1,000 or more, not including the price of travel or accommodation if a course is not offered near you. Most major cities in China offer TEFL courses several times throughout the year 

According to websites I’ve researched, the average time it takes to complete a 120-hour TEFL course in China is four to eight weeks, although the online self-study portion is at your own pace and can therefore be done faster (I did mine in about four weeks as I had plenty of holiday time) or longer if needed. Keep in mind that “120 hours” merely indicates the average number of hours needed for a student to complete and pass the course. You will not be required to log exactly 120 hours of study or course work.

A TEFL in China course is most often a hybrid with online self study and about a week of physical classroom time. Typically, the final day of the in-class component includes a test that must be passed. Certification documents should arrive two weeks or so after the test.

It’s Not Just About the Documents

While many foreign teachers may see the TEFL certification process as a mere formality, a perfunctory step on the path to getting a well-paid teaching job in China, I found taking the TELF qualification in China itself to be quite valuable. For first time arrivals in China, you will undoubtedly learn quite a bit about teaching English in China and Chinese education and culture more broadly. As someone who had been teaching for a while but needed to retool for China’s latest regulations, I also found that the professionalism of the instructors and the depth of the course content reignited my desire to be a great educator.

Of course, if there is a specific school or city that you’re looking to work in, talk to them first and find out exactly what they require. They will likely have a relationship with an accredited Chinese TEFL program and should be able to point you in the right direction. If they want to hire you, and they are a legitimate school, this should not be difficult.

Did you get a TEFL in China? Tell us about your experiences below.

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This is very helpful, but what about blocked borders? How is entry possible to foreigners looking for language employment? Does anyone know a strategy to deal with legal entry? I have a 10 year Chinese visa with 8 years remaining.

Oct 17, 2020 15:59 Report Abuse


Groupon . com 160 TEFL 20-40 dollars US. You can finish it in an afternoon if you skip all the reading and go straight to the test. It can be authenticated by the chinese embassy and used for a work visa.

Oct 16, 2020 16:56 Report Abuse


useful article

Oct 15, 2020 09:33 Report Abuse