When your contract comes to an end, you’ll have to decide whether to stay at your current school in China or move to a new one.
Here’s what every TEFL teacher needs to know about changing schools in China.
Getting a job offer
If you want to change schools in China, your first step would be to secure a job offer.
It would be advisable in this situation to seek the assistance of a reputable recruiter.
Recruiters have hundreds of schools on their books and would know where the vacancies are. What’s more, their services are usually free for jobseekers!
You’d need to submit several documents, namely your resume, photo and scans of your passport photo page, degree, TEFL certificate and apostile stickers.
Any school worth their salt would normally want to interview you first before offering you a job. These interviews will likely be conducted over video like Skype or WeChat.
If the school likes you, they’ll make you an offer. Please make sure that you ask many questions before deciding whether to accept the offer. You don’t want to regret your decision later!
If you decide to accept the offer, you’ll need to print and sign the contract, scan the signature page and email that back to the school.
Some schools may require the signed contract in certain formats. I once had a problem because my new school wanted the contract in Word and I didn’t know how to scan a hand-signed contract into editable Word format.
You can read this page for advice on China teaching contracts.
When changing schools in China, you’ll need a recommendation letter from your current school. Please be aware that some schools may not issue this letter.
In a previous school, the International Office refused to give me a recommendation letter. I had to ask the head of one of my previous teaching departments to write me one.
Some of my former colleagues even had to ask their friends to write a reference for them!
Meeting local government officials at a dinner in my new city.
When it was complete, I had another problem. The form had a field for the teacher’s salary. Since the salary goes up each year, my school wrote that I had one year’s service since writing five years would make it impossible to write a salary figure.
But my new school informed me that prospective teachers needed at least 2 years’ experience to qualify for a work permit in their city.
Cancellation of your Foreign Expert Certificate (FEC)
Next, you’ll have to ask your current school to cancel your Foreign Expert Certificate. This is to enable your new school to apply for the FEC that you’ll need to work for them.
When I changed schools a few years ago, my old school told me that if they cancelled my FEC, it’d be illegal for me to work there!
If any school tells you this, you’ll have to insist that they cancel it. Usually, working for a couple of months without an FEC isn’t a problem, especially when there is an application in progress for a new one.
Before you start any new job in China, you’ll have to undergo a physical examination at the Entry-exit Quarantine Bureau.
This process is very thorough and literally checks you out from head to toe! You’ll need to submit blood and urine samples, have an X-ray, CT scan and ECG.
You’ll need to do this yourself because it would be too late to do it if you leave it until you arrive in your new city. The cost varies from province to province; I paid 610 RMB.
Your new school in China will reimburse you for this but please be aware that some schools will only be willing to pay what the checkup costs in their city.
Chinese criminal record check
If you’re coming to China for the first time from overseas, you’ll need to get a criminal record check done in your home country. Again, your recruiter can help you with this.
But if you’ve already been in China for a year or more, the criminal record check you had done in your home country will no longer be valid.
Previously, it was sufficient just to submit a signed declaration that you haven’t been convicted of any crime but this is no longer enough.
So, you’ll need to go to the local police station in the city where you’re working.
However, you’ll need to take more than your teacher ID card and passport. The Police will also require a letter of introduction from your school.
Leaving your old school
At some schools, the process for leaving is simple. You can just hand in your keys and leave.
At other schools, particularly universities, the process is more complicated. When I left the last university I worked at, this was the process that I had to follow:
- Pay any money owed for utilities (e.g. water, electricity) and get a receipt from the Finance Office
- Clean my room and get another certificate from Facilities Management that the room was clean and in good condition
- Hand in the room key to Reception and the certificate and receipt to the International Office.
I then had to arrange transportation to the new school for myself and my luggage. Some time ago, former colleagues had told me that all I had to do was to mail my luggage to the school and it would all be there waiting for me when I arrived.
I didn’t have to do this because one of my local Chinese friends kindly helped to arrange for a van to take me and my luggage to my new school.
That cost me 750 RMB. Luckily, my new school was in the same province otherwise this cost could have been a lot higher.
As an employee in China, you may be required to obtain a release letter from the employer whom you had just finished working for.
This letter basically certifies that you’ve fulfilled all your obligations to your previous employer and there are no impediments to you taking up your new post.
For example, you’ve finished all your work, returned all textbooks issued to you by the school, you’ve paid any outstanding utility bills and handed in the keys to your apartment.
However, when I recently changed schools in China, a release letter was neither issued by my old school nor required by the new one.
Regulations vary across China and it’s possible that release letters aren’t required in Jiangsu province (where I’m based).
What happens after you arrive at your new school
Security is tight at schools, especially now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Guards are usually stationed at all gates.
Before you arrive, you’ll need to arrange for someone to meet you at the gate of the school, especially if you have a lot of luggage because the vehicle you arrived in won’t be allowed to enter.
You’ll be given the keys to your accommodation and you’ll have to provide a photograph so that your school ID card can be prepared. You may also be asked to sign various forms.
Take time to explore the surroundings of your new school (pictured: local shopping mall).
After you’ve put your luggage in your apartment, the first thing your new school will do is to take you to the local Public Security Bureau to do your residence permit.
The PSB will hold your passport for a few weeks so if you intend to travel during the vacation before your term starts, you need to ask for your receipt to be stamped. An unstamped receipt is not a valid form of ID in China.
Once your passport is with the PSB, this marks the end of the official process of transferring from one school to another.
There is nothing more that you need to do except collect your passport when it’s ready.
In order to settle in to your new school and home, you’ll need to sort out your internet connection. Most school apartments have Wi-Fi but in others you might need to use your own router and internet cable.
Check to make sure that everything in the apartment is in working order. For instance, there might be some electrical sockets that aren’t working so you'd need to ask your school to fix them.
Many schools in China provide a rice cooker but if there isn’t one already in your apartment when you arrive, you’ll need to request one and eat out until it’s delivered.
Get your bearings. I would recommend that you send yourself on WeChat the locations of all the important places that you’ll need to be aware of, e.g. your apartment building, teaching building, main entrance, and nearest shopping mall so you don’t get lost.
I don’t know about you but I have a terrible sense of direction. Almost every time I move to a new city, I get seriously lost and spend a whole night outdoors trying to find my way back.
You’ll need to go shopping for food and anything else you need which you weren’t able to bring with you when you moved.
Finally, you’ll want to build a social life for yourself. When you’re offered a job, before accepting it, you would be wise to ask your potential school to put you in touch with one of their current teachers.
You can ask this teacher what it’s like to work and live in the school and when you arrive, they will be the first new friend that you’ll have.
Once you’ve done all this, you’ll be ready for your next teaching adventure!