The 10 Dos and Don'ts of Quitting Your Teaching job in China

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Quitting your teaching job early in China isn’t as torturously difficult as you might imagine. In fact, the biggest issue is going to be keeping your (possible) frustrations in check if the reason, or reasons, are anything other than an immediate emergency back home.

Why would anyone want to quit their teaching contract early, after all they’ve done to secure a great teaching job in the first place? Well, sometimes there is a genuine family emergency back home or perhaps living in China isn’t what they envisaged and they’re having a hard time settling in. More often than not, however, foreign teachers run into problems with the school, principal or colleagues – problems that are compounded over time until they, eventually, see no other way out than to quit, cold turkey, before their job contract is fulfilled.

What’s a frustrated teacher to do?

Keep your eyes peeled for red flags – If you happen to be reading this before committing to a teaching contract in China, take advantage of your humongous luck and know the red flags you ought to be on the lookout for before you sign anything. Some of the issues that may make your future-self want to quit your teaching job early could be avoided – yet they must be avoided now, whilst you’re yet to sign on the dotted line. Is your prospective employer giving you the run around? Are they not willing to put what they promise on paper? Are you unable to talk to other teachers? Those are the hints that an employer (and teaching situation) may not be ideal.

STOP reading about horrible stories – If you’re reading this because you are at your wit’s end already, the best thing you can do is stop researching stories of teachers who had a hard time quitting their job. The net is littered with horror stories of unsavory employers and unmanageable teaching situations yet that’s mostly because not many teachers feel compelled to write blogs about understanding employers and easy situations. It’s just the nature of the beast: the most popular stories are recounts of horrible tales so those will get more traction online. This kind of research will do your head in so put a stop to it! No two situations are ever the same, no schools are the same and no two ESL teachers are the same.

Just because Karen had ‘the worst time in her life’ doesn’t mean you will.

Don’t resign to being stuck – If you really want to leave, it doesn’t matter what the contract or your employer says: you’re not a teaching slave and should never feel like there’s absolutely no way out. It’s true that some employers make it sound like it would be the end of the world if you were to quit early (especially if they’ve already reimbursed your moving costs) but it never is. Don’t feel forced, by anyone, to stay in an unmanageable situation.

Remember how you had to go through a multi-step process to get your China teaching visa?

Quitting your teaching contract early requires the same kind of commitment: it’s a step by step process that you will want to tackle with courtesy and professionalism. Quit your job the right way and, unlike what you may read elsewhere, you won’t be suffering the pits of career-hell for years to come.

Here’s how to properly quit your teaching job early in China


  1. DO know the consequences

The most proactive and useful thing you can do is understand what quitting early means in your case. Scour the contract you signed and identify the penalties for leaving early. Do you have to pay back the reimbursement of your flight or rental bond? Will they impose a fine of sorts, sometimes referred to as an exit fee? Do you need to give 30 days’ notice?

Know exactly where you stand – and what you stand to lose – and you’ll feel empowered to make the right decision. Whatever that is for you, in the end, will be highly subjective.

  1. DO ask around for previous experiences

How does your employer take it when teachers want to quit early? It’s worth digging around a little to find an answer to this question. If you can find out from present colleagues or find anything online, you may well discover how easy/difficult the process will be.

  1. DO understand your school and the level it holds in the teaching hierarchy in China

The best and most reputable schools and teaching institutions in China care about their reputation and, traditionally, are not the ones that elicit all those horror stories. Usually, those are from dodgy schools in remote areas that barely even have an online presence. You know what I mean, the ones you probably shouldn’t be working for?! Understanding where your school fits in could help calm your nerves and allow you to see the situation more clearly – if you’re in a good school, you will likely have detailed instructions in your contract for exiting early. Next, just speak to your employer in a cool, calm and polite manner (yes, even if they are your problem) and you will, in all likelihood, be let off the hook. This is especially true if your reasons are personal and genuine.

The one thing reputable schools don’t want is to deal with unhappy foreign teachers. Besides, many employers are kind and compassionate and will let you leave if you have genuine reasons

  1. DO ensure it’s not just culture shock

If you’ve only been in China for a couple of months, some objective soul-searching may be in order. Are you just suffering from culture shock? It happens! Settling in can be really tough for so many and especially for first time ESL teachers who may have left their own country for the very first time. Give yourself some time to settle in and, primarily, make sure that’s not the reason you want to quit early. Sticking it out may be worthwhile; especially given culture shock is usually temporary.

  1. DO contemplate sticking it out

This may be an obvious point to make but if you’re at all contemplating sticking it out, know that your life will be immensely easier if you do. Especially if you have just a short time left on your teaching contract.

If you can grind your teeth and see this through, that’s GREAT, but if not, thinking carefully and plan ahead.

  1. DO decide if honest really is the best policy

Sorry, mum, but honesty isn’t always the best policy…

Chinese culture is all about keeping face and protecting reputations which means if your problem is in any way related to your working environment (difficult employer, disorganised curriculum, and unfriendly colleagues) you may need to tell one of those bad-but-for-good-reasons white lies.

When requesting an early release from your contract, don’t say anything that could come across as disrespectful. Don’t blame the school, even if the school is the problem.


Make up another feasible reason why you want to leave early and you will have a much easier time doing just that.

Some foreign teachers have a hard time grasping this ‘pretend’ game but its part of the local culture and the sooner you understand how this works, the easier your life in China will be. Trust us. You need to know about this!

  1. DON’T lose your temper!

We really can’t think of many professional situations where losing your cool is ever helpful – it certainly isn’t in China when you’re trying to wiggle out of a teaching contract. Keep your temper and frustrations in check, don’t lose it in front of your employer and remain calm, friendly and professional at all times.

Fake it ‘till you make it? You bet!

  1. DON’T be tempted to do a midnight-run!

Pulling a runner can be insanely tempting, especially when your contract promises the wrath of Satan should you want to quit early. But don’t. Not only will you risk penalties at a government level (you are, after all, breaking a legally-binding contract) but you can just about kiss goodbye to that nice referral letter you’ll need to switch schools. Actually, a midnight-run, as it’s known in the biz, could potentially hinder your chances of finding another teaching job in China. You may be just fine but you may also not – why risk it?

  1. DO aim to get a transfer letter and employer referral

All of the above have one major purpose in mind: to secure a transfer letter and a referral. Funnily enough, the school MUST give you a transfer letter but if you piss off the employer, they can drag this out ‘till the second coming. Given it’s their country, their bureaucracy and sometimes, their contacts…what are you going to do about it? Not much! Yes, you could take it up a notch by requesting a meeting with the school administrator – you’ll be going above your employer’s head but safe to say you’re no longer on very good terms – and, finally, you can lodge a complaint with the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) or the foreign Labour Bureau. To be completely honest, it may all be a waste of time, in the end, but it’s worth a try.

A referral is, just like at home, a lovely thing to have, right? Play your cards well and that referral may even be a good one!

  1. DON’T panic if you can’t secure a transfer letter

Sometimes, nothing you do works and you end up leaving on bad terms, with no transfer letter. NOT the end of the world! Yes, this is needed to apply for another job in China but, once again: if you find a compassionate employer, and explain to them the situation you find yourself in, you could still nab a good teaching job in a good school.

What happens to your residency permit if you quit your teaching job early?

This is most teachers’ main worry – what will happen to their residency permit if they quit? In case you aren’t aware, do know that when a teacher moves to China to work, their residency permit is tied to the school that employs them which means your job and your permission to live are bonded. The permit is what the Residence Visa becomes within 30 days of your arrival.

Luckily, the residency permit can be transferred to another school if you have a new job already lined up. If you don’t, then you’ll need to switch that permit into a humanitarian visa if you wish to stay in China. Both of these scenarios will require that referral letter we mentioned above and that is, primarily, what makes it so important.

Here’s what happens after you quit:

If you want to teach at another school – You can hand over your release documents to your new employer and they can, in turn, take over the sponsorship of your residency permit. This is genius as it means you don’t need to leave China and reapply, from abroad, for another Z Visa and go through that all ordeals once again. Head to the PSB office with your new employer, fill in the relative paperwork and you’re done.

If you want to stay in China, but no longer work – Visit the PSB office, hand in your transfer letter and ask to transfer your residency permit into a tourist visa. This is a time consuming but relatively easy thing to do and, again, it’ll save you having to leave the country immediately.

If you simply want to leave China – So here’s the thing: the release documents tells authorities that you have been literally ‘released’ from any commitment. It also tells them that you don’t owe them any money (like an exit fee). If you want to leave China, easily and without hassle, you’ll still need this letter.

It’s important to know that your employer cannot simply cancel your residency permit without your permission but, on rare occasions when the situation turns nasty, they do just that. Seek help from SAFEA if that happens to be the case.

And do everything in your power to make sure it never gets to that point.

China by Teaching boasts years of experience in the teaching-in-China field and have a wealth of very good (and very bad) experiences to share. They are committed to helping teachers find the best positions with some of the country’s best schools, to ensure that quitting your teaching contract early in China is the last you’ll want to do.

Contact them here to know more.

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