With an approximated 400+ million Chinese learning English, China represents the biggest job market in the world for teaching English and the demand for English teachers is tremendous. Language schools in China often provide foreign English instructors with such advantages as complimentary airline ticket reimbursement after one year, a housing allowance, medical insurance coverage, and paid vacation.

You may believe that without a degree no one will provide you a visa. However, I’m here to inform you that you can teach abroad in China without a college degree. You’ll have to invest more time searching for a job and you probably won’t get the same salary and benefits as your coworkers with degrees, but if you’re determined to see the world and teach in China, there are lots of ways to make it occur.

Here’s a caveat though. If you happen to be black, Asian, Indian or don’t look like a stereotypical American to Chinese school owners, that will make it much harder to get a degree. In schools that don’t have Western management, it’s often easier for a blonde Russian without a degree to get an English teaching job than it is for an African-American or Chinese-American with a master’s degree in education. International schools and universities tend to be less racist but they don’t hire teachers without degrees.

The Law

Let me state in advance, the Chinese federal government requires teachers to have a 4-year college degree to get a Z work visa and foreign expert certificate. Laws and standards governing foreign instructors in China are developed by the State Administration for Foreign Expert Affairs (SAFEA). SAFEA states, “The foreign teacher should hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and more than 2 years of experience.”

Even though it might appear difficult to get a job without a work visa, numerous schools and parents are so desperate to have a foreign teacher that they will employ you anyhow. The main challenge is discovering a method to remain in China and determining which visa to get so let’s talk about the 4 most common visa types.

Work Visas

I’m going to sound like I’m contradicting myself, but even without a college degree, some employers with very strong political connections will be able to get you a Z work visa. Don’t take their word for it though. Unscrupulous recruiters and schools sometimes lie and promise things they can’t deliver, so ask for WeChat (the most popular instant messaging phone app in China) contact info for one of their existing foreign teachers without a degree that they got a work visa for.  If you can verify that they really can get you a work visa, the school will still usually ask you to come to China on a business or tourist visa and the school will apply for your work visa after they meet you in person. The advantage to this is that you don’t have to spend $200+ in the US or other home-country get an expensive physical with the required EKG, HIV and syphilis blood tests. Work visa processing time in China is at least 4 weeks after all the needed paperwork is submitted by your school, and you’ll be asked to work on your business / tourist visa till your work visa has been approved. Then you’ll need to travel to the Chinese consulate / embassy in Hong Kong, Seoul, or another city for 1-2 days to get your work visa and re-enter China with it. Make sure to clarify up front with your school if they will pay for this trip or the visa fee or if you are expected to pay for that. Policies on changing visas at nearby consulates change often and also vary between different regions in China and vary based on the teacher’s country of origin. As of February, 2017, South African teachers can only change visas at the Chinese Embassy in South Africa.

Student Visas

Lots of students in China teach English part-time at English training centers, kindergartens, or as in-home tutors. These jobs are part-time and pay up to $38/hour! About 2 years ago China altered it’s laws so if you have a 1-year student visa, and written authorization from the school that has issued your student visa, then you can take that letter to the local PSB (police station) for authorization to teach as much as 20 hours weekly.

If you’re not already in China on a student visa, you can sign up for a local Chinese language class that will offer you a student visa. Lots of people utilize language classes as a method to remain in China and then discover part-time English teaching jobs.

Business Visas

It’s possible that you’ll be offered a business visa if you take a business trip to China for a conference. Business visas are for individuals who remain in China for working but are not being paid by a business or school in China. Some schools in China might try to employ you on a business visa, declaring you’re an expert.

Tourist Visas

While teaching on a tourist visa in China is certainly unlawful, lots of individuals do this. Attempt to get the longest traveler visa you can, however the majority of individuals are only able to get a multi-entry visa for 60 days stays.

The main different when getting a task in China without a degree is that you will not have the job security and minimal legal protection that comes with teaching through a large well-developed program like English First or Disney English.

Plus, if you get captured working on a tourist or business visa, your school will be fined and you can be fined, imprisoned, deported and banned from China so weigh the risks in advance.

Steps to Find a Job

Now that you understand the visa issue, here are some suggestions that will assist you finding a job.

Search Online

Recruiters like EnglishTeacherChina.com and job listing sites like ESLCafe.com and SeriousTeachers.com can direct you to jobs that don’t require a degree. The reason we suggest you look here before getting your TEFL certificate, is because a few recruiters like EnglishTeacherChina.com provide free 120-hour online TEFL / TESOL certification for all the teachers they place.

Get TEFL / TESOL Certification

While a TEFL certificate is not required by all schools in China, it will usually help you get a job or increase your income. However, personal tutoring jobs usually care a lot more about your experience than TESOL / TEFL certification.

Network and Make Connections

The longer you remain in a nation and the more local friends you’ll develop and the easier it will be to find a job. Tell them you’re in the market for a job and ask them to let you know if anything pops up. Also, don’t underestimate the power of LinkedIn for building your network.

Interviewing for Jobs

Yes, you should dress for success in both your online video interview and your initial meeting with your school in China. If you’re teaching kids, you can dress down a bit, however still make an effort to look tidy. Remove facial piercings, cover tattoos, don’t wear too much makeup, eliminate unnatural hair colors, get a conservative haircut, and even shave off your facial hair for an added advantage and a higher salary. A conservative and smart appearance is much more important in China than in the west!

Remember, where there is a will, there’s a way. Don’t wait to see the world. Go for it if you want to teach abroad without a degree!