Breaking your ESL contract in China
Obtaining a work visa in China has become considerably more difficult during the past few years. It is no longer possible in most places in China to have a tourist visa (L-visa) converted into a working permit. And while it used to be possible to have this processed in Hong Kong, the Chinese government is now requiring teachers to obtain the mandatory Z-visa in their countries of origin. In other words, the days of coming to China to have a look around first before deciding where to work are over.
The most important consequence of this ‘tightening up’ is that most teachers now have to sign contracts without having the chance to actually see where they will be teaching. This can really put teachers at a strong disadvantage because they are forced to trust that people whom they have never met are telling them the truth about a school that they have never visited.
As a result, I am receiving more reports than ever (through this website) of teachers who want to break their contracts after being here for just a few months. What they encounter is not what they expected and they want out.
But how easy is it to get out of your contract? And what are the possible consequences?
Technically, you can walk away from your place of employment and contract without worrying about being hunted down and thrown in jail. In fact, while the school can void your foreign expert certificate, your residence permit will still be valid until its expiration date. In other words, you don’t even necessarily need to leave China in a hurry.
However, there is one huge disadvantage to ditching your job here without the school’s blessing – you may have a very hard time finding another job in the near future.
In order to obtain another valid work permit for you, your new school will have to request that your old school(the one with which you broke the contract) provides an important document called ‘a letter of termination’. This letter basically releases you from your old school and makes it possible for your new school to proceed with filing for a new work permit. Without this letter, your new school will not be able to hire you.
It is very common for a disgruntled school to refuse to provide this termination letter. While the school can’t stop you from living in China they can make it very difficult for you to find a new job.
If you aren’t planning on teaching in China again in the near future, this doesn’t really matter. In fact, you could go home,wait until your current residence permit expires, and then apply for a new job in China. However, if you want to get another job right away, you need to find a better way to get out of your contract.
From my experience here, I have found that communication is the most important aspect of working here. If you are unhappy with your working situation, you need to go and talk to your boss or FAO about this. You may not like these people (they are often not very likable), but it can’t hurt to try. And sometimes, you may be pleasantly surprised by the response you receive.
I remember when I once wanted to get out of my contract. I was only 6 months in but I was really unhappy with the place where I was living. I wanted to go somewhere else and start fresh. I communicated this with my supervisor and while they weren’t thrilled with my plans, they were grateful that I was giving them enough time to find someone else. In the end, they allowed me to go and provided the necessary documents for my next place of employment.
If you have a family emergency or you are suffering from health problems, you will often find schools even more sympathetic to your request to leave.
What if the school refuses your request and threatens to prevent you from seeking future employment in China? In that case, you’ll have to make a tough decision. But if you have to go, you have to go. Ditching your job is always an option.
There is one important rule that you should always follow when teaching in China. Never let the school take possession of your passport. As long as you have your passport, the school can’t do anything to invalidate your residence permit.
Do you have experiences with breaking your contract in China? Please share with us in the comments section below.
The opinions and ideas expressed above were not written by a lawyer and not should be construed as legal advice. Every situation is different. Please do your own due diligence before making a decision.