Browsing teaching English as a foreign language jobs in China you will see that most of them require a TEFL certificate in order to apply. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificates come in many shapes and sizes, some month long intensive courses that can cost up to 2000 US dollars and will have practical teaching components which will get you up in front of a real class as well as plenty of teaching methodology, classroom management, grammar studies and the like. Cambridge CELTA courses are geared towards teaching adults and are probably held in the highest regard. There are also more and more courses which focus on teaching young learners.
Other TEFL courses can be shorter online ones where you typically complete course work and projects which is graded by an online tutor. These can be as short as 40 hours but are usually around 100 hours and considerably cheaper.
But what is required to gain legal employment to teach English in China and is it possible to get a job and China ‘Z’ work visa without one?
If you already have a year or more teaching English as a foreign language experience and a good reference the schools will be less concerned about whether or not you have a TEFL certificate or not. In terms of teaching, most schools will value a candidate with a years’ experience but no certificate over someone who has just completed a TEFL course but with no classroom time. This still leaves the issue of obtaining a work visa and for most areas in China a TEFL certificate is required. Schools will often advise you to complete a short, cheap online course just for the benefit of the certificate which will indeed be accepted by the labour bureau and is enough to issue a work visa.
If however you are looking to work abroad without experience and do not have teaching experience or a TEFL certificate you will not only need one for work visa but also the school will be unlikely to hire you as they will have to put a good deal of time and effort into training you. In this case it is advisable to complete a TEFL course of at least 150 hours, preferably which includes a practical teaching component which will give you practice teaching to real students. It will not only give you many more options in terms of jobs and good schools but will also give you a solid foundation with which to begin teaching. Arriving at a school with no idea about how to teach and no experience at all in front of a class can be quite daunting and the teaching adventure abroad you pictured in your head may well turn out to be drastically different in reality.
There do seem to be areas of China where a TEFL certificate is not needed however. Regulations are enforced differently in different areas of China. I recently heard, for example, about certain areas in the north being able to take a higher degree in place of a TEFL certificate and also a certain amount of relevant teaching experience instead of the certificate. Generally if you want to teach English in Beijing or Shanghai, for example, they will tend to have stricter requirements when it comes to applying for the China Z work visa so if you do not have a TEFL certificate and are open to teaching English in other areas of China you will probably have more luck.
For more information on some recommended TEFL courses have a look here.