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Teaching Contracts in China

What are the contact issues might you run into in China?

The most important contract issue we'll focus on is what happens when you cancel a contract.

Cancelling/Breaking a Contract in China

When you first get your contract from your employer, there are two very important clauses you need to look for:

  1. What happens when the contract is breached?
  2. How can the contract can be cancelled and what happens then?

These will lay out what happens if you need to cancel your contract early or it's broken. In China the penalty for breaking a contract early will usually be a fee which can be quite high. Our goal is always going to be an amicable breakup.

Aside: If you're working illegally then the contract means nothing. A contract on a F or L visa isn't worth the paper it's written on. You're not working legally in the first place so how on earth would they enforce the contract?

The important question we need to think about next is what you do want to do after breaking your contract: head home, carry on working or travel about China?

Option 1: How to change Jobs in China - Residency permit & work permits

There's a chunk of paperwork and process that comes with switching employers in China. This is because you'll need to get the company who is sponsoring your residency permit and foreign experts certificate (or work permit) changed.

There's an older post on China Law Blog which describes what you'll need to change a work permit and residency permit. In short you'll need to go to the Public Security Bureau with the correct documents to change over your permits.

The process is a little different with a Foreign Experts Certificate, rather than transferring it you'll need to get your new company to apply for one and then cancel your old one. The process for changing the residency permit should be the same.

There's a useful list here of all the documents you'll need to re-apply for a Foreign Experts Certificate when changing employers. Same as the first time around your employer should take care of this.

This process although bureaucratic comes down to having the correct documents and re-applying. Your new employer should be able to walk you through all of it and most of it's pretty easy, you shouldn't have to leave China to do it.

There's one very important document however that you'll need in order to complete all these applications, which is a letter of release from your current employer. If problems appear this is usually why.

The obvious problem:

If you’re leaving your contract early it might not be on good terms. Technically the school is obliged to give you the letter of release, but in practice if you leave on bad terms they might not and you won’t have the resources or legal connections to get it.

If you can't get it then you'll have to start whole visa process all over again, you'll have to leave China for either Hong Kong or your home country and apply for a new Z visa. What do we take away?

  1. First, if you want to cancel a contract: give them notice, be as patient as possible, don’t get angry, pay the cost of breaking your contract and do all you can to get that letter of release.
  2. Second make sure you do your due process going in and avoid anything that’s really dodgy (although if they're able to get you a z visa it's not going to be the shadiest and most illegal of schools).

There are going to be some bad schools and people who'll refuse you the letter or make problems for you, despite having badly mistreated you. By doing some good pre-job research and making sure you talk to current and past teachers before taking the job, you can hopefully avoid the worst of this.

To sum it up, changing employers is difficult. At the end of the contract you should be able to switch schools with just a little due process, but the penalty clauses for breaking your contract part of the way through can be really large.

Even if the penalty clause is small, you'll still need the release letter which if you're leaving your current school for a different one is often difficult to get hold of. This means if you're thinking of changing schools you'll often need a visa run to Hong Kong to redo the visa process if you want to continue working legally in the country.

Option 2: Heading Home

Heading home tends to happen in one of three ways.

  1. There's an emergency back home and school lets the teacher go back, they'll usually have to buy a plane ticket but that's about it.
  2. Same as above but with a fake emergency.
  3. A midnight run.

The main point to be aware of here are the stricter visa laws on expats that were implemented in 2013, you can read the full list of changes here.

The most relevant one is that you can be denied leaving the country if you owe money. This means if you breach your contract and do the “midnight run” then it’s possible you’ll be unable to leave China without paying up. In practice this will require your school to go through a lot of effort and as most people leave immediately it's usually impossible for the school to act quickly enough, but it is a possibility however slim if you hang around.

Option 3: Staying and travelling on your residence permit

Information on China's rules and regulations can be hazy at the best of times and unfortunately this is one of those times. As mentioned in the visa section, the residency permit acts like a multiple entry and exit visa, which should theoretically allow you stay until it runs out.

However your school can cancel your residency permit and certificate/work permit. Reports have been that they can do this without your passport now.

If you do have a valid residency permit, then you're free to stay and travel but you'll really need to confirm with the school about whether or not it'll be cancelled. Schools have a limited number of residence permits they can get for foreign teachers, so if they're bringing someone in to replace you then they may have to revoke your residency permit and certificate/work permit to issue one for your replacement.

If you're not sure (i.e. left on bad terms), a safer option may be to head for Hong Kong, apply for a tourist visa and do your travelling that way.

Image Attribution:

"February 5, 2010 - Paperwork" by Caitlin Childs is licensed under CC BY 2.0. This photo has been cropped.