How to Successfully Switch ESL Jobs in China

How to Successfully Switch ESL Jobs in China
Jan 11, 2017 By Bo Brennan ,

Having spent a fair amount of time in the English teaching trenches, I know that switching teaching jobs can be stressful at best and a dejected plane ride back home at worst. Nevertheless, changing schools can be done with minimal complications. What follows is a step-by-step guide to help you through the process. While the guide is primarily directed towards those switching between "official" ESL jobs, there are still many people who take teaching gigs at schools that don't provide a work visa, and I'll do my best to offer up some tips for them as well. In addition, please note that most of the following job-switching tips also applies to non-ESL teaching jobs.

How to Successfully Switch ESL Jobs in China 

Switching between official ESL jobs

1) Notify both employers
To insure a stable transition, start by notifying both your present school and your future school of your situation and make sure that the dates are perfectly aligned so you don't have a week/month where all of a sudden you're without a visa.

2) Get your release letter
The release letter is very important because without it, it looks to the authorities like two companies are sponsoring your Z visa, which is illegal. Your present school must give you a release letter so that your future school can begin applying for your new Z visa. Ideally, the school will give the release letter as soon as possible. However, if you broke the contract or accrued some bad guanxi during your time there, schools will likely drag their feet on getting the documents to you. See #6 for tips on what you can do if this happens. 

3) Get a temporary L visa (possibly)
During this transition period, you'll most likely need to switch to a temporary, zero-entry tourist visa in order to have enough time to file the paperwork for the Z visa with the new school. While it is possible to transfer directly from a Z to another Z visa, it depends heavily on how fast your present school is with getting your papers to you. In the event that you do need to get a temporary L visa, you won't need a release letter to obtain it; you only need the letter for when you apply for the new Z visa. According to the most recent Visa guidelines (as of August 2012), you can still switch from a Z visa to a 30-day L visa at your local police station.

4) Applying for your new Z visa and Resident Permit
After (finally) receiving the release letter from your former school, the new school will apply for your new Foreign Expert Certificate and, once that is done, submit the application for the new Z visa. Thankfully, when you are switching Z visas, there is no need to leave the country, even if there is a temporary L in the middle. Once you receive your new Z visa, head back to your local PSB to re-update your temporary residence permit slip, then head to your city's Entry-Exit Management Bureau to apply for a Residence Permit for your passport. Once you get that back, head back one last time to your local PSB to update your temporary residence permit slip. The total process, starting from getting your release letter to applying for and receiving a new Z visa and Residence Permit could take anywhere from a few weeks to a month depending on how fast you and your new school handle everything, hence the reason you may need a temporary L visa.

5) Extra steps when switching apartments or cities  
If you're residing in the same apartment as before, after getting your new Z visa, bring your old temporary residence permit slip and housing contract with you and simply update it. If you've switched apartments, then you'll need to go through the extra step of registering at your new address, which is usually handled with the assistance of your real estate agent or landlord. You'll have to get your new Z visa and you'll have the normal thirty days to register your new place under your new visa. Also, if you're changing jobs within the same city, you won't have to go do another health check to apply for your new Z visa, according to what an official at the Entry-Exit Management Bureau in Shanghai told me. However, if you've moved to a different city, you'll most likely be required to (in addition to registering a new address).

6) Dealing with difficulties
Unfortunately, even at legitimate schools and companies you may encounter some difficulties getting your money at the end of the contract or getting your release letter (click here for tips on quitting without "burning bridges"). For ESL teachers, the two main ways a school can make this process difficult are by refusing to pay you or refusing to give you a release letter. The official way to deal with payment issues is to sue them for your money. As is often the case here though, going to court, is no guarantee that you will get your money, and it may even cost you more money in the long run. Alternatively, you can contact the Labor Administration Department in your city ( 劳动行政部门), which handles cases regarding back wages. However, as previously noted in the above-linked article, the best way to avoid this fiasco is simply to try and leave on "good terms" and schedule your resignation near a payday. As for the second difficulty, the official way to deal with getting your release letter is by getting your local PSB involved and having them ask the school for the release letter.  You'll have to take several documents with you including your contract with your previous employer and your current visa/residence documents. Explain to the officers that you need your release letter for another job and, if you fulfilled the requirements for your previous contract, they will call the school and obtain the letter for you. Depending on the situation, once the PSB gets involved the school should come up with the document within a week.   

Switching from an unofficial ESL job

If you work at a very small school, it's likely that they don't have the resources or capabilities to provide you with a proper Z visa. In these instances, they tend to find clever ways around the pesky issue of giving Z visas to their foreign teachers. With whatever kind of visa they get you, you'll still have registered with the police for a temporary residence permit slip, but you won't have a Z visa or Residence Permit in your passport. And as such, the school won't need to provide you with a release letter or any other official documents regarding your visa when you quit, since you're not employed by them legally speaking (seeing as how you have no legal recourse in this situation, it's all the more important that you end the relationship on good terms if you're expecting to get paid, and even then, then chances of getting stiffed out of money is still incredibly high). When it comes time to "switch" jobs and visas, you'll actually just be applying for a first-time Z visa (follow the steps outlined here).

Have more questions about switching jobs? Did we miss something above? Let us know in the comments section below or head over to the Answers section!

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Keywords: Switching Jobs in China ESL teaching in China Release Letter for English teachers


All comments are subject to moderation by staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



The best you can do these days is work on a business visa, the requirements for working visa are just too harsh it's not worth it anymore to earn less than a burger flipper back home.

Feb 14, 2017 13:33 Report Abuse



Very useful information!

Jan 21, 2017 04:32 Report Abuse



Very useful information!

Jan 18, 2017 19:34 Report Abuse



What is the "new" procedure for transferring to another job? Any relevant information out there?

Jan 12, 2017 08:48 Report Abuse



Depends where you are now, in a big city? 1.Two years of reference letters that have been authenticated by the Chinese Embassy in your home country. To prove you have worked two years. 2.A security Check or FBI record check that has been authenticated by the Chinese embassy in your home country. 3.Your degree that has been signed by the University and authenticated by the Chinese embassy in your home country. 4.TEFLS & Certs authenticated by the Chinese embassy in your home country. 5.New health Check. 6.2x2 pictures. I know it seems like I’m exaggerating, but I am not. This is for the big cities than nationwide April 1st. You’re welcome to use the worst words in the bible for the hassle. It sucks.

Jan 12, 2017 09:02 Report Abuse



No, blindly reposting bad information is ok, tic

Jan 11, 2017 11:57 Report Abuse



At Wallstreet in Shenzhen we were given all the new stuff. None of the above is correct now and in other big cities.

Jan 11, 2017 12:44 Report Abuse



This is 100% wrong. Everything has started to change. Please update the details with the relation to the new ABC talent cards and how to change jobs. Its no longer like this and nationwide after April 1st.

Jan 11, 2017 11:44 Report Abuse



Hello dear one my name is Rose Achim,i saw your profile picture today then i became interested in you please contact me (

Jan 11, 2017 05:44 Report Abuse



hello everyone, i am postdoc scholar in chongqing (on working residence permit). my contract will finish in july 2016, i have residence permit of chongqing till 27 August 2016. Now i want to go to Wuhan as teacher. What is procedure/documents needed to apply for residence permit in Wuhan? Waiting for your help Regards

Jun 13, 2016 18:53 Report Abuse



Hey, I am not quitting but simply changing jobs. Current contract expires in about six weeks. Lack of response from my company tells me that I will need to find new employment. I am currently on legitimate resident permit/Z working visa. Will I be required to provide release letter? I assume that I should go ahead and start this process now in advance of future delays.

Jan 25, 2013 23:26 Report Abuse



Yes and yes...find a new job and get them on it ASAP. I almost got screwed by not having everything ready on time. In the end, it took 2 months to get my new visa, during which time I was on a temporary residence permit. You do need a release letter, assuming that you have a foreign expert's certificate, and not just a "work permit" (which does exist!).You will have to either go to HK or go home, though...and there's not much time left before the holiday.

Jan 30, 2013 22:38 Report Abuse



everyone has a different situation. my switch from old job to new job was pretty hellish. i had a z visa with my old job but it turned out they had given me a work permit, not a foreign expert's certificate, and the visa was only valid for 11 months, ending on the day my contract ended. the old school didnt involve me much in the process, and held my final pay and bonus until the day aftrr my contract ended. which means that i was here without a visa for three days, and it was only when i arrived at my new school that we caught the mistake. i had to make a statement with the immigration department (luckily i wasn't fined), get a one month tourist visa, and then go to hong kong to get my new work visa. over all, the process has taken two months to complete, and i still need to go to the visa offices one final time to receive my new residence permit. but it actually turned out to be a good thing about the work permit, in the end: if you apply for a job in the same province, they will check your application for differences., and since i came with little experience, the new school tweaked the resume a little to give me the rigbt qualifications. all in all, what a mess!

Dec 28, 2012 10:47 Report Abuse



Starting with October, 2 days before October Full Moon Holidays, there's been a new Immigration rule stating that all foreigners willing to work in China, should return to they own Countries and get there the Work Permit Visa. I know Hong Kong it was the easiest and cheapest way to get it. Nonetheless, nobody would be able to get the Working Visa neither from China nor Hong Kong or other Nearby China Countries. Unless you are a Hong Kong citizen or you got the working visa prior to that change, I am not sure how you could get the working visa from Hong Kong. Anyway, congratulations.

Dec 28, 2012 16:10 Report Abuse



From what I read, it is still possible to get the work visa from Hong Kong, but only a certain number of people per year are now allowed to do this.

Dec 29, 2012 21:06 Report Abuse



Really? Is there any official source to get that info? Thanks for your replying.

Dec 29, 2012 23:07 Report Abuse



sorry, I took a long time to answer--I only just noticed your reply. I got the information from this website, actually! And I experienced it myself--I got a visa form from the visa offices here in Nanning that said I was to go to Hong Kong to have my visa processed, back on the 7th of December.

Jan 30, 2013 22:36 Report Abuse



No it's not easy at all to be a teacher in China. You learn to love it, but it's hard at the beginning. This beginning to some teachers, including myself it make take from 6 months to 1 year to adapt to Culture, to a different sort of understanding Education, teaching, values and priorities in life. If a teacher looks down on you, and brags about his salary, he must be a miserable person. You can simply pity him. No way to brag about money at all. Why? Because, for dedicated teachers, the first satisfaction comes out of their own job. Seeing students how they learn and enjoy English....that, money can't buy. Likewise, for a same teacher, if the students don't learn, for many reasons, the unhappiness is this much that there is no money to compensate the frustration. If you are a teacher, and I believe you are you know happiness in your job as well as bitterness. There is much more bitterness in a life a teacher than happiness. So, how would money pay back for all the struggle and burden a teacher bears in his heart when he is responsible with what he does? I repeat, the only satisfaction comes out of the simple fact that kids learn what they are taught. Period. Do you really want to be a teacher? Are you happy being a teacher? I hope you do, otherwise there is no reason to keep teaching. Sometime, working in the McDonald or else where you have less doubt it provides more happiness than as a teacher. I believe from my heart that being a teacher is a call, an inner call and once you follow this path, you assume the risk because you love teaching. There are few people who are born to be teachers, there are many who are working hard to be a best teacher, and generally, there are teachers because they don't know what else to do in life. I am a foreigner, teaching English in China and I struggle to be a best teacher. It is not the fault of the foreign teacher that he is paid more than his fellow ones. I wish any Chinese teacher to get the double or triple or the same salary as a foreigner does. Maybe that in time will change. Maybe you Chinese people should do something about it, not complain about how much we are paid.

Dec 27, 2012 13:10 Report Abuse



hi, there, you made some important points the most significant of which is that teaching is indeed a calling. Do you teach at a school or a training centre/language centre?

Dec 27, 2012 13:19 Report Abuse



Hi Michael, I am teching at a school.

Dec 27, 2012 22:02 Report Abuse



Hey, hope you can be always happy being a teacher no matter in China or wherever. I submitted such questions cos i heard too many times from some foreigners that "How come you can't find a job here? Go to be a teacher, that's easy!" That's why i asked if that's easy-money. Anyway, good to hear that you are trying to be a best teacher.

Dec 28, 2012 14:19 Report Abuse



Hey, hope you can be always happy being a teacher no matter in China or wherever. I submitted such questions cos i heard too many times from some foreigners that "How come you can't find a job here? Go to be a teacher, that's easy!" That's why i asked if that's easy-money. Anyway, good to hear that you are trying to be a best teacher.

Dec 28, 2012 14:19 Report Abuse



All the articles about foreigner being a teacher in China give me a strange feeling " Is it so easy for a foreigner to be a teacher in China?" "Do foreigners look down upon chinese that being a teacher so easy with higer salary?" "Do they really want to be a teacher?"

Dec 27, 2012 09:23 Report Abuse



hi Ginaxiao, I would like to inform you that the days of being an English teacher here just because English is your mother tongue, are coming to an end. Previously, the profession had become very deprofessionalised as the interpretation of teacher was very unclear. It is good to see that requirements are becoming more stringent in order to qualify for teaching post. I am a professional teacher with excellent credentials and currently I am training and co-teaching with Chinese teachers in BJ.

Dec 27, 2012 10:09 Report Abuse



Hi, my questions have no offense.Every person should do what he/she wants to do.Hope you enjoy your job.

Dec 28, 2012 14:57 Report Abuse