z visa

How to obtain a Z VISA for Canadians to teach ESL in China


How to get a Z visa to teach ESL in China

So you’ve read enough about the benefits of teaching ESL in China and have made the executive design to take the plunge and move to China.  Great, congrats. Behind every great adventure is the untold, laborious task of getting paperwork in order. It’s going to require some time and money on your part, to get your ducks & documents in a row before China will open up it’s doors to you.

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How long does it take to get a Chinese visa?

Most people should be able to get everything mailed, stamped and sealed within a month if nothing goes wrong.  Since you are probably buying a plane ticket in advance, and all of the documents need to be submitted before you are allowed in the country. You may want to err on the side of safety and give yourself two months if you can.


Let’s break it down.


What documents you need, to obtain a Chinese Z Visa

  1. Passport photocopy
  2. Passport sized photos
  3. Criminal record check – notarized & then authenticated by your province AND the Chinese Embassy
  4. University degree – notarized & then authenticated by your province AND the Chinese Embassy
  5. 120 Hour TEFL certification – notarized


1.Passport photos and headshots

This is rather inconsequential, but you will generally need passport sized head shots for almost every step of the visa application process from Canada, to finishing up and upgrading your Z visa in China.  So I recommend the first step is to get about 20 passport size head shot photos to have when you need them. Get them in both Canadian and Chinese required sizes. Tell the people at the photo store they are for Canada and China, they will know what to do.

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2.Passport photocopies

You will need photocopies of your passport for a variety of the steps both in Canada AND in China.  It’s good to have a handful of photocopies. You will need a photocopy when you send your documents to Ottawa to get authenticated by the Chinese consulate, when you apply for the Z visa in Hong Kong, and when you upgrade to a resident permit once you are in China.  

I also like to have at least a few copies when I am abroad just in case your lose your passport or need to prove to local authorities you are who you are in some uncommon but not impossible situations.


3.Criminal Record Check

As of writing this, you can get the basic criminal record check from your local police department.  It costs about $10-20 dollars and usually takes a few business days or a week to come in. Painless.


You will need to get this notarized by a lawyer which is either free or upwards of $100 depending on whether the lawyer is in a good mood.  A note on notarizing, if you are not personally connected to the lawyer or a client, many will be hesitate to notarize your documents, or they will charge an outrageous fee.  Shop around if you get a quote for $75 for example.


Next you need to get this document authenticated by the authentication office in your province.  Each province has a different office that authenticates documents. This is Manitoba’s.  This is a list of all the different authentication offices around Canada, just scroll to the bottom.


Lastly, you will need to send this off to get authenticated once more by the Chinese consulate.  You will have to send your authenticated university degree, copy of passport and some head shots.  More on this step in a moment.

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4.University degree

Most countries require a Bachelors degree at the minimum in order to process you a visa to teach English.  They don’t care what the degree specializes in.  But you must have a hard copy of your degree – recent grads beware!  Diplomas and the like don’t cut it, unfortunately.


Take your hard copy degree to a lawyer to get notarized and get a few notarized photocopies of the degree.  Then it’s the same process as the criminal record check; after notarization by a lawyer, get it authenticated in your province by the authentication office.  Finally send it off to the Chinese consulate.


Sending your documents to the Chinese consulate

I believe you need to go in by person to a Chinese consulate to get this approved and it can take a number of days.  There are only a few Chinese consulates in Canada so traveling across provinces probably does not make sense in respect to time and money.  What you can do, is hire a document processing company to handle it for you. I used this company.


You can send them an email saying you need documents authenticated by the Chinese consulate for a Z visa, and they will respond with what you need.  Below is a picture of a reply email they sent me with what I needed to send and prices.

z visa

Once you send off the mail it takes about a week or two for this to come back. They handle everything, when you get your documents back you will have stamps from the Chinese consulate that look like this below.

z visa authentication

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5.120 hour TEFL certification

Another requirement to get your hands on the Z visa is a 120 hour TEFL certification.  People with actual education degrees may be exempt from this. TEFL certifications are a bit of a formality, there’s no quality management or overseeing body that checks them so they can different heavily.  You can find online courses and in class lessons.

I personally think TEFL courses are a bit of a joke, and I was able to blow through my 120 hour course within a week spending an hour or two a day on it.  Granted, there was some useful information.  Someone with no prior teaching experience may find it useful to take a bit slower pace and drink in more of the information.  

The prices for these courses range for $75 to $1,500. I have a few courses I work with and if you send me an email I can link you up with a course for about $60 USD.

You need to get the hard copy certification notarized.  So when you are looking for a course make sure they either supply a hard copy certification upon completion or the option to purchase a hard copy.  Ask for a picture example to make sure it looks legitimate with a stamp and such.

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Final notes on getting a Z visa to teach English in China

That’s about everything you need to do in Canada.  Get your criminal record check and university degree notarized, authenticated by your province.  Then send off the criminal record check, notarized photocopy of the university degree and photocopy of your passport along with any other necessary documents sent by the document processing company (Chinese consulate application form, and power of attorney for the document processing company). 

On top of this, have a hard copy of your resume and signed school contract with you when you go to China.

Get your 120 hour TEFL certification notarized and also have a few copies of your passport and passport photos on hand.  

Your recruiter, or agency of hire should advise you for the next steps.  You will probably need to send photocopies of all the Chinese consulate stamps, and finalized documents to them.  They will apply for the Z visa for you. Depending on how much time between this point and arriving in China, they will either mail you the visa.  Or you will need to pick it up in Hong Kong.  

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Picking up Z visa in Hong Kong

I had to go to the China visa application service center office in Hong Kong to get the visa.  Before I could go up to China.  I brought all these documents plus passport photocopies, passport headshot photos.  I also brought my resume and school contract and about $2,00 HKD ($350 CAD) for the Z visa.  

You will need to leave your passport with the office for a night or two depending how quick of a service you choose. My company reimbursed me for the visa cost.  Inquire about that with your company or school.




20th Floor, Capital Center, 151 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai Hong Kong


Note, they suck at answering the phone or responding to emails.


If I have missed anything please let me know in the comments!  As far as I can remember this is the exact process I took to get my Chinese Z visa.  All in, it cost me between $400-500 Canadian dollars.


Best of luck!


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  • Currently located in China, teaching English and working towards Financial Freedom. I write about money, travel, personal development and more!

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