I will answer this before Headmaster Ken does as I know his advice will not be any different than mine.
Please read our Guide chapter titled the Z-visa Debate
. Based on former questionnaire data, one out of six respondents (16%) who entered China on an L-visa failed to have their tourist visas converted to Z-visas during their entire stay in China. As Mr. Hayes asked in an earlier post, "How lucky do you feel?"
Your prospective employer may be asking you to do this because 1) his school is not licensed to hire foreign teachers or 2) he wants to see you in person before he goes through the added expense of processing your Z-visa paperwork. You may travel all the way to China at your own expense for what is just a glorified job interview. The Z-visa obligates this employer to actually give you a job the moment you land in China: the tourist visa obligates him to do nothing and puts you at risk for fines, detainment, and deportation.
From the teacher's perspective, after you receive your letter of invitation and work certificate, there is no more effort involved in applying for the Z-visa than a tourist visa.
Our best advice is to INSIST that he process your paperwork for the Z-visa. If he refuses or continues to make excuses, run--don't walk--away from this offer.
Do NOT travel to China to earn income on a tourist visa UNLESS you know and trust the integrity and credibility of the source making the promise to convert, in no less the manner you would know and trust a close friend or family member. Otherwise, as we see it, it is just too much of a personal risk for the prospective foreign teacher.