China is big. No, not big, it’s huge. Not including territories like Hong Kong, the mainland itself it upwards of 3.7 million square miles in total area.

There are both pros and cons to traveling to such a large area. The positive is that you have so many different locations to explore all within one country. The downside however is that doing so in a short time period is all but impossible.

That means if you want to explore the all of what China has to offer, and you’re not independently wealthy, your best bet might be to secure some form of income while you’re there. That allows you to take your time and explore everywhere from the capital of Beijing to the historical attractions of Tibet.  

Finding Work in China

One of the most popular ways to earn money while exploring China is to teach English. There’s actually an entire industry dedicated to it referred to as EFL, or teaching English as a foreign language.

A decade ago finding work as an English teacher was extremely easy. However, due to a stronger economy and a rising supply of westerners looking to finance their adventures through Asia, China has stiffened their requirements.

Becoming Legal: Step 1

The first thing you need to be aware of is that in order to legally work in China as a foreigner, you will need a special work visa. That visa is called a Z visa.

Getting your Z visa isn’t particularly difficult, but you do need to meet a specific set of requirements. If you fail to meet them, getting a proper work visa is almost impossible.

Some of the basic requirements are as follows:

  • Hold a valid passport with at least six months of validly before expiration
  • Complete a visa application form
  • Obtain a recent color passport-size photo
  • Have your original 4-year university degree
  • Obtain a criminal background check
  • Have your resume translated into Chinese
  • Receive and submit an invitation letter from the school that’s willing to hire you
  • Agree to sign a 1-year contract

On top of all this, if you are looking to teach English you also need either two years of teaching related experience or a specialized EFL certificate such as a TESOL.

Once you have everything you need, you can submit your Z visa application. But, you aren’t done yet.

Becoming Legal: Step 2

If everything went well, if a few weeks you should receive a Z visa. That’s great!

However, you aren’t ready to work in China and start earning some RMB to fund your explorations just yet. You still need to get a residency permit as the Z visa is related to working and not residency.

This temporary residency permit will require a lot of the same paperwork you’ve already chased down, but there are a couple more things you need to do. For instance, you’ll need a medical exam.

The good news is at this point you’ve already secured a work visa and should be physically in China, so your employer will be able to help you with the rest of whatever else the government requests.

Earnings & Free Time

The major drawback of working your way through your travels is that employers expect you to spend more time working and less time exploring. That doesn’t mean you can’t get some adventure time in though.

The typical English teacher in China earns around $2,000 USD per month and receives an additional stipend for their accommodation. While this might not seem like much, if you immerse yourself in the culture, which as a traveler you should want to do anyway, you’ll have more than enough to live comfortably and fund your excursions.

More complicated than having enough money to travel however is finding the time. As a full-time employee, you will get about 5-10 unpaid vacation days as well as 11 national holidays off a year. But, you also have weekends.

If you’re efficient with your planning, you’ll be able to conquer a lot of territory in a year.

In Summary

Working your way through travel always comes with tradeoffs. You can minimize the drain on you travel fund, and even build it up a bit. But, you do lose out on free time.

That’s why digging in for a year in a foreign country isn’t for the faint of heart. The hidden treasure however is that the best way to really experience a new place is to fully immerse yourself in the culture. And, nothing does that better than making it your home for a year.