The Ins and Outs of Annual Leave in China

The Ins and Outs of Annual Leave in China
Jul 03, 2018 By Niklas Westerlund ,

Working conditions in China may surprise you. For example, if you read up on the Chinese labour laws, you’ll find them to be remarkably comprehensive, contrary to the bitter rants you might have read online. In true Communist style, the worker nearly always trumps the employer. As for annual leave in China, it is (in theory at least) probably not that different from your home country -- that is, unless you’re from Scandinavia, where they get an insane amount of holiday.


What about public holidays in China?

A public holiday is a day (or several days) where most people in the country have the day off. “Most” in this case is open to interpretation. If you’re a regular office worker, you can expect to be free. But if you’re working as a doctor, police officer or food delivery daredevil, you can expect to work as usual (or even more).

China has seven public holidays, listed here in chronological order along with the dates for 2018:

Holiday name

Total length


New Year’s Day

3 days

Dec 30 – Jan 1

Chinese New Year

7 days

Feb 15 – 21

Qingming Festival

3 days

Apr 5 – 7

International Worker’s Day

3 days

Apr 29 – May 1

Dragon Boat Festival

3 days

Jun 16 – 18

Mid-Autumn Festival

3 days

Sep 22 – 24

National Holiday

7 days

Oct 1 – 7

Most of the Chinese public holidays change date every year, so be sure to make a note on your calendar. You might also notice that all of China’s public holidays are either three or seven days. This never changes.

Read this for more on China’s top 5 public holidays and how they’re celebrated.

A very quirky compromise to Chinese public holidays is that some companies will require you to make up for the days that fall on weekdays by working the weekend before and/or after.

While this sounds like a complete con, there’s actually a very empathetic reason behind it. Employers rearrange the holidays to bridge the gaps between the weekends so the holiday has a longer total length. The trade-off is that you will have to work on adjacent weekends instead.

Tell me all about annual leave in China

Annual leave is your personal vacation days (aside from public holidays), which you can use whenever you like, as long as your employer approves. While the Chinese labour laws are comprehensive enough to make most Americans green with envy, the amount of annual leave is still among the lowest in the somewhat industrialised world.

The statutory number of annual leave days in China is a rather modest five per year for the first 10 years(!) with the same employer. On your 11th year, you get bumped to 10 days. This is the same for both Chinese nationals and foreigners. No special treatment here!

So never accept anything less than five days of annual leave in China. Just keep in mind that you can be legally exempt from any (paid) annual leave during your first year of employment.

Obviously that’s pretty shoddy, so if you want more annual leave you’re probably better off negotiating with your employer before you sign a contract rather than waiting 10 years for the bump.

So, what about Christmas?

Don’t expect it off, regardless of your job, unless you’re employed by a foreign company with a foreign employment contract. You’ll get the same public holidays as your Chinese co-workers, so you’ll have to take Christmas off as annual leave. Sorry.

Employer exploitation 

Keep in mind that, as with everything else in China, just because it’s written down in a signed and formalised contract, doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. Your employer could always break the labour laws and ignore what’s written in the contract, and you can’t really do much about it. Although you would probably wioing to court in China would no doubt be an administrative, not to mention expensive, nightmare.

Also, if you’re working on an improper visa (which surely none of you are, but just in case), you have no legal rights whatsoever. That’s why you might find some very funky (read: illegal) clauses in employment contracts from some schools (both public and private) and training centres that hire teachers without the right papers.

On the flip side, you’re likely to receive more than the statutory five days of annual leave if you’re working on one of these contracts. Because even if you’re in a vulnerable position as an undocumented ESL teacher, you’re still too valuable to be exploited. Retaining teachers is one of the biggest problems faced by ESL schools and training centres. .

Believe it or not, some schools will also offer a kind of annual leave called a “visa-run” (of which you will have several per year), where their employees go abroad (usually to Hong Kong) to renew their visas. Don’t ask why; you know why.

Tell me more about ESL annual leave

Since there are so many schools and training centres that don’t follow Chinese labour laws, they tend to set their own annual leave rules for employees. You’ll usually find them listed up front in the job ads in our jobs section.

 Just make sure to ask exactly how many days you’ll get during an interview. The number will differ greatly depending on which school, and what type of school, you’re employed by.

I heard teachers get pay cuts during the summer!

Yes, some schools will supply teachers with a fraction of their salary during the winter and summer breaks. This is more likely to occur if you work in a public school rather than a training center. If you’re in the latter, you can expect to work full-time during the long breaks. Congratulations!

This is all very confusing

Don’t be too confused about annual leave in China. It is, just like anywhere else, broken down into public holidays and vacation days. China has a lot of public holidays but few vacation days.

Here’s a quick checklist to look over before an interview or signing a contract. Make sure to ask:

    • if you will be free on all the public holidays

    • how many vacation days you will get, and if you will get them in the first year of your employment

    • if your vacation days are paid in full (if you’re on a legal contract, they should be)

    • if you’ll work during winter and summer breaks

    • if yes, will you get extra pay?

    • if no, will you get a pay cut?


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I love how in the same article, it writes "the worker nearly always trumps the employer," to then later explain how employers can ignore labor law, ignore contracts, and there's no real recourse...

Jul 21, 2018 12:46 Report Abuse