Different Types of Residency in Taiwan
All right, before we go any further, it’s important to go over the different kinds of residency in Taiwan. Some are better than others when it comes to making money and paying off debt, so this is important.
Non-Resident – These are people who fly under the radar. They receive all of their money under the table (tax free) and work illegally. To maintain residency, the foreign teacher will leave Taiwan every three months to another country to re-apply for a multiple-reentry visitor’s visa. Rinse and repeat. Foreigners doing this were once very common, but the country is cracking down on these “visa runs.” Many Taiwan Trade Offices aren’t allowing this kind of behavior anymore.
For you saving money, this is a horrible option. It means money needs to be spent on plane tickets and processing fees that could otherwise be sent home. In short, don’t do this.
Student – This was once also an option, but it’s also being cracked down on. People would come to Taiwan and enroll in a university, or an accredited language class. This would qualify the foreigner to live in Taiwan, and said foreigner would then go and find illegal, under-the-table work. This has become much more difficult. And even this scam has a built in time limit: after five years, you need to leave Taiwan and either come back and find a job or head home. It does provide you with residency, though, and you get an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC), which allows you to legally stay in Taiwan.
Again, this is a really bad idea. Besides being illegal, to maintain a student visa you need to be enrolled in a class and have a certain attendance record. You also need to maintain certain grades. Naturally, these both cut into your working hours and slow down your ability to make money. It also costs hard-earned money for the class that could otherwise be sent back to pay off your debt.
Work Permit – The work is the most common form of residency for English teachers. It means that you are legally employed by someone providing you with a work permit. Your residency is for the term of your employment contract – usually one year – and can be extended upon signing a new contract.
For most people, this is the best option. You get legal residency that makes a lot of other things much easier: bank accounts, travel, renting, etc. You get a Taiwan-issued ID card and number. However, you won’t be able to legally do any work that doesn’t sponsor a work permit (with a few exceptions like freelance writing and modeling).
Marriage – The next level of residency is a marriage or spousal ARC. Anyone marrying a Taiwanese citizen gets his or her ARC through that marriage. Most importantly to the bank balance, this also provides a foreigner with an open work permit, which allows the foreign spouse to do any kind of work he or she wishes. You can work at 7-11 or MacDonald’s if you really wanted to. But you probably don’t.
APRC – The Alien Permanent Residency Certificate is the holy grail of Taiwan residency. It means that you have qualified as a pseudo-citizen. Independent of all other factors (job, school, spouse) an APRC holding can stay in Taiwan indefinitely and do any work he or she wants. A foreigner qualifies for an APRC after having an unbroken ARC for the five years. Recently rules on getting an APRC relaxed (I was the first one to get the APRC under the new rules), and there are talks about making it even easier.
Pitfall: The Double-Edged Sword of the Work Permit
Work permits are by far the most common way for foreigners to live in Taiwan. However, it also gives one’s employer an unfair degree of power over its employees. Your residency, the connection to the life you’ve built, and the money you’ve saved are all dependent on whether or not your school continues to sponsor you. This is unavoidable, which is why we’re coming up on some ways to get a job and keep it.
Once a work permit expires, as well, a foreigner has 15 days to leave the country. Staying longer than that is an over-stay and is subject to a hefty fine. So make sure that you’re always covered for work to optimize moneymaking and minimizing the need to go to another country for a “visa run.”
Debthack: The Open Work Permit is Golden
Five years (or marriage) may be too much commitment at this stage in your life. However, the benefits are amazing. It means that you have the freedom to work for any company, and that you’re no longer under the thumb of a school providing you with a work permit. It also opens up industries besides the educational industry. An open work permit is awesome, but it just takes some effort to get it.
Getting a Job in Taiwan
So you’re packed, ready, maybe even have you plane tickets bought. Now you have a decision to make: find a job from home online or do it once you hit the ground? Both options have their merits, and the method of getting the job doesn’t vary much. Here are the pros and cons of each.
Getting a Job from Home
Frankly, you’re not going to get as good a job online from home as you probably can from on the ground in Taiwan. The pay is likely to be lower, and the distance weakens your negotiating power. However, it’s the safest option. You can shop around for the best job without being under the gun of a limited stay. You won’t be nearly as stressed out, and won’t need to settle for something just to stay in the country.
Debthack: Video for Success
Many jobs require that you do a teaching demo as part of the interview process. Obviously, you can’t do that from across an ocean. The next best thing is to video a demo and put it somewhere accessible like YouTube. Don’t worry; the Great Firewall of China doesn’t extend to Taiwan.
Gather a group of kids (nieces, nephews, cousins, neighbors, etc.) or a group of dramatically inclined adults to act like kids, and video a short class of you teaching something, preferably English-related. Ten minutes should do the trick. Post this video online and include a link when soliciting jobs.
If you’re already here, you’re much more likely to find a job in the first place. You’re already proven your commitment to the action, and employers take note of that. Also, there are many jobs that prefer you to come in for a face-to-face interview and a teaching demo. You will also have an opportunity to check out the school and make sure it’s on the level. Unfortunately, getting a job isn’t guaranteed in Taiwan, and it may take some time to get a good position. You’re definitely taking your chances, and you may have to settle for something less than ideal before your visa runs out.
Where to Find Teaching Jobs in Taiwan
When it comes to anything and everything about living in Taiwan, there’s one resource you need to have: www.tealit.com. Burn that URL into your brain, because it is one of the single most useful websites for foreigners living in Taiwan. It has information on Taiwan culture, events, and bureaucracy. It explains some of the strange goings-on around town. It also has listings of jobs, apartments, and personal ads. Through TEALIT, I’ve found jobs, girlfriends, language exchange partners, furniture, and apartments. This is one of the most important resources you’ll have, and it’s the first place you should check for job listings.
Here are some other good resources for finding jobs in Taiwan:
TeacherGig.Com – This is a website with a huge number of jobs from all over Asia, and it has a dedicated Taiwan page. (www.teachergig.com)
DaveESLCafe.Com – Another global website with a dedicated Taiwan page, as well as teaching resources. (www.eslcafe.com)
I have mixed emotions when it comes to recruiters. I’ve met a few, but I’ve never actually gotten a good job through one. For the most part, I put them on par with used car salesmen and telephone psychics on the business ethics continuum.
There is, however, direct motivation for recruiters to get you the best possible pay. A recruiter will collect a fee equal to one half of your monthly salary, deducted from the first month. So while a recruiter may be a good option if you have some cash in your account for that first month, it’s not a recommended option as far as I’m concerned.
The quick advice: avoid recruiters professionally as the bloodsucking parasites that they are. But go to their parties. It’s a great way to meet people, and they’re very nice when they’re not trying to sell you to someone.
Lifehack: Important Websites and What They’re Good For
TEALIT stands for Teaching English And Teaching In Taiwan. It’s one of the best resources out there for finding a job. The personal ads are also handy for meeting people, especially when you’re new in town. It’s not CraigsList. Many people there just want to make international friends or practice English. It’s also a great place to pick up deals on furniture, bikes, scooters, and other such things as foreigners will be selling as they’re leaving Taiwan. TEALIT is not a good resource for apartments, as landlords will dramatically over-charge because “foreigners are all rich.”
Another important site it FORUMOSA.com. This is an English-language forum for questions about anything and everything related to living in Taiwan. It has everything from work permit and ARC processing and driver’s licenses to food and poisonous snakes.
For teaching ideas and information check out Dave’s ESL Café (www.eslcafe.com). There are a huge number of games, activities, tips and tricks to make you a more effective teacher.
What to Look for in a Teaching Job
Taiwan is still very much the Wild East in many ways. Traffic and tax laws are mostly mildly amusing suggestions. The same goes for workers’ rights and labor laws. Most employers are fundamentally decent people, however, so don’t be too scared. You’ll generally be treated like a very valuable piece of office equipment. More on that in a bit. First, here are the things you should look for in a job.
Type of work – Teaching English is one of the few kinds of work that the average foreigner can legally do. Make sure that this is a school. It may be called a language school, a cram school, or a buxiban (boo-she-ban). These are all likely to provide the necessary work permits, and many job ads will state in them that a work permit is provided.
Number of hours – This is even more important than the salary, because a great salary at only 15 teaching hours a week is still not enough to save on. It’s barely enough to live on. You’re looking for a full-time job of at least 20 hours a week, preferably 25. It’s unlikely you’ll find a job with more than 25 hours a week.
Salary – Most teaching jobs are paid by the teaching hour. That DOES NOT mean by the hour… You will still be expected to prepare for lessons and do marking on your own time. In most school, the base pay is 600NT an hour, and even as a new teacher you shouldn’t accept less than that. Other schools will pay a base monthly salary, usually 50,000NT a month for 25 hours a week. This is reasonable, though it will cost you some money in the long run due to the way hours add up. Only accept a straight salary if there are other benefits being offered or it is well outside a city and much cheaper.
Benefits – It’s been a while since I’ve seen a school offering any additional benefits, especially in Taipei. You may still be able to find some outside of the cities (or at least outside the major cities). Some schools will pay for an apartment for you, your utilities, and even offer an airfare bonus (or a signing bonus if you sign on for a second year). Health insurance isn’t a benefit: it’s legally required for employers to pay 80% of their employee’s health insurance.
Pitfall: Time Off
This comes up later as well, but it’s important to note that paid leave is almost non-existent in Taiwan. If you’re not working, you’re not getting paid. This makes sense if you’re on an hourly wage (which most teachers are). It’s also true if you’re a salaried teacher, and you day’s wages are deducted from your pay for any day you’re not working.
Other considerations when looking for a job are the age group you’ll be teaching. Not all ages are considered equal, and you may have a talent for teaching one group or another. Personally, I like teaching first and second graders the best. They’re sweet, eager, and cute as all get out. I also like working with more advanced students, but I’m a bit of a grammar nerd. Here’s a quick breakdown.
Pre-School to Kindergarten – To start off, this is totally illegal. It’s illegal on almost every level. There are educational guidelines in Taiwan that (incorrectly) believe teaching young kids additional languages will interfere with their Chinese ability. This is completely contrary to all the research done to date on language acquisition, but it’s the law. So no English. Also, to teach youngsters like this you need to be certified in Early Childhood Development. It’s unlikely that you are, but if you have done that in school kudos to you.
However, you will see lots of kindergarten jobs advertised and they are highly sought after by foreigners, kindergarten work is in the morning, and it’s an easy way to add 15 hours of working time. And if you’re well suited to the work, it’s easy and enjoyable. I’m not well suited. I hate kindergarten with a burning passion. But thanks to a couple of kindergarten jobs, I was able to pay off thousands in my debt.
However, there is a significant risk, especially during election years when local politicians (whose kids often go to these schools) crack down on illegal foreigners. Police raids happen, and if you’re caught you can be deported within 48 hours and blacklisted from Taiwan for up to 5 years. That means can’t even set foot in the country. So teach kindergarten at your own risk. I survived. Everyone I know has survived. Stories circulate every once in a while about someone who is given the boot.
Elementary School – This age is likely to be your bread and butter. Elementary school goes from grades 1 to 6. Kids in grades 1 and 2 only have half days on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Their parents are probably at work during the day, so they find other programs for the kids to study in. English is a popular option, which is why Taiwan needs you.
After third grade, kids get out of school around four o’clock. Older students will typically start another class at 4:30, again English. Then there are the fifth and sixth graders. Many of them take a couple hours to do homework before taking another class around 6:30.
What these time mean is that the typical English teacher (most teach this age group at some point in their careers) will work from 1:30 or 2:00 p.m. until 6:30 or 8:30 p.m. four days a week. Yes, a four-day workweek. Pretty sweet, huh?
There is a lot of variation among these different ages. First and second graders tend to be happy-go-lucky and just want to play games and hang out with the teacher. Third and fourth graders are starting to get too cool for school, but they still want to be kids. Fifth and sixth graders are starting to develop attitudes, and the stress of preparing for a good junior high school will start to come through in their behavior and they’re more challenging to teach.
Junior High School – There are fewer junior high school students in language schools because their course load is getting so heavy that they need to focus on getting homework done. However, some kids will stay on to continue their studies or more likely prepare for a high school entrance exam like the GEPT (General English Proficiency Test). Junior high students are the same the world over: rebellious, bad attitudes, and constantly trying to outsmart authority figures. However, this is generally much more passive than in Western countries.
High School – If you’re teaching high school students, it’s probably going to be a special class with specific goals in mind. High school students are generally to busy for language classes, but you may get the opportunity to tutor a few. They are generally over-worked and exhausted, however, so they can be difficult to teach.
University – Once students get into university, their course load tends to drop off dramatically. They don’t have the classroom management issues often associated with young kids. However, as students grow older, they become too busy to take many classes, so private tutoring can be a bit flaky. There isn’t much work for this age group.
Those classes that do exist for older students will either be at the university (difficult to get) or with a private language school (easier to get, but still not easy). Teaching adults is usually during evening and weekend hours, but they work very well to supplement an afternoon job working with younger kids.
Adult – Some adults choose to take English classes, either for work or for fun. Like university students, not many of them have time to take formal classes. Most adults who learn English will be either taking on a private tutor or going to a language school, just like the university students.
All of this information (salary to age group) will likely be listed in the job’s advertisement. Salary is especially important to be listed so that you know exactly what this school is paying.
Writing Your Résumé for a Teaching Job
There are hundreds of different formats for your résumé (typically called a CV in Taiwan), and it’s up to you which one you choose to use. There are, however, some basic tips that will make your résumé work out a whole lot better.
1) Include a photo. Yes, I know it’s racist/sexist/etc., and totally illegal in the US to require one, but Taiwan doesn’t care much about such things. In fact, there are plenty of local teachers perfectly qualified to do the job you’re about to do. Probably even better qualified than you. So why do school hire foreign teachers? Because it looks good. So get a nice, professional looking photo and put it near the top of the CV next to you personal details.
2) Keep the English simple. There’s a good chance that the person hiring you has a fairly low English ability. English fluency isn’t required to manage a school, only to teach classes. Keep is simple and easy to understand.
3) Keep it short. For the same reason as you want to keep it simple, keep it short. Reading in a foreign language is tough, so don’t make your résumé a chore. Keep it down to one page, or two pages if you have something seriously awesome.
Below is the format I use, and it’s done a pretty good job for me so far.
1) Personal Information: Include your name, nationality, age, email address and phone number if you’re in town.
2) Objective: Write what kind of job you’re looking for and why. Be as flattering to the position as you can.
3) Education: Include your degree and university/college. Afterwards, also include any special training you’ve had that might be relevant, such as a TEFL or TESOL certificate.
4) Related Work Experience: If it’s your first job in the field, then you my not have much to include here. It can be any teaching, tutoring, or language related work. And if you’ve taught someone (anywhere), then include it here. If there are multiple items, list them in reverse chronological order with the first item being the most recent.
Now, 1 through 4 should fill a page, or at least come close. If you have some extra information to put on a second page, here are some things that you could put there.
Academic awards like scholarships, science fair prizes, etc.
Athletic awards from any sports you were involved in
Publications of any work you’ve ever done including the dates and titles of the publication
Any languages you speak and your ability in them (i.e. functional, beginner, intermediate, fluent, etc.)
You will probably be contacting a school or a school manager yourself by email either from your home country or Taiwan. That email should be a brief introduction to yourself, the fact that you’re looking for a job, and then your attached résumé. A detailed cover letter really isn’t necessary for Taiwan, and it may even lose the interest of someone who doesn’t speak or read all that well him- or herself.
The Interview Process
So you wowed the school with your résumé and got yourself an interview. You’re well on your way to being gainfully employed. These tips will help you really nail that job, and they hold true whether you’re interviewing in person or online.
1) Speak slowly. Again, you may be dealing with someone who doesn’t speak perfect English. Even if his or her English seems excellent, the interviewer probably isn’t used to your particular accent and style of speech. That sort of thing goes a long way. So speak slowly. Separate each word into an individual unit. But don’t speak louder. That doesn’t help, and it’s a stereotypically jackass-foreigner thing to do.
2) Avoid slang and idioms. Speak using the vocabulary you would use talking to a young child, but use the tone for speaking with an adult. The idea is to be clear through simple English, not to be patronizing.
3) Dress in clean, business casual clothes. A shirt or blouse with a collar is good for the top. A pair of nice jeans, comfortable pants, or knee-length skirt for the bottom. Also, a pair of nice shoes that is easy to take off if you’re doing this in person. Many language schools insist everyone wear indoor shoes only, so avoid the awkwardness of peeling off the shoes.
Other than these three Taiwan specific tips, follow the rules of good interviewing. Sit and stand up straight. Use a clear, confident voice. Listen, engage, and ask questions. If the subject of pay or number of hours doesn’t come up in the interview, ask at the end. There are many, many resources online for interview skills, but really it’s as simple as being polite, professional, and easy-going.
Pitfall: Aggressive Foreigners
In Taiwan, foreigners often have a reputation for being socially aggressive. Part of that is a very passive, etiquette-driven culture. What we may perceive as confidence may be abrasive or over-the-top, which on its own is often enough to bully Taiwanese into getting our way. However, if you come across as a prima donna in the interview and can’t back it up with experience or a demo, then you’re not going to get the job. The market is becoming more competitive, and difficult to deal with teachers are not finding jobs as easily as they once did.
My last school replaced me with a first time teacher who was very willing to learn and do whatever the school required of him. I’m… rather more opinionated. Frankly, I’ve been teaching in some way or another for 15 years. I’ve been doing it in Taiwan for 8 years. I spoke up at work. A lot.
So when my co-worker asked the manager why they went from an experienced teacher to an inexperienced teacher, you know what the answer was? The existing teachers had “too much personality.” They wanted someone a bit more easy-going. But he seems to be working out well.
Be that person. Don’t be a difficult teacher. Get a good job.
Debthack: Don’t Pay to Get Paid
There is absolutely no reason to ever pay money for a job in Taiwan. This applies to recruiters, job services, or even the school itself. In fact, if a job insists that you pay any money up front, there’s a ninety-something percent chance it’s a scam. Look into the free services above, and if there is any talk of exchange of money in the interview, just leave. They are paying you, not the other way around.
By the way, this has never happened to me; this is aimed mostly at recruiters and job services.
The Work Permit Process
Your interview was a success! I knew you could do it! Now it’s time to start work. To work legally, you’ll need a work permit. Your school will walk you through this, and they may even take you around town to get all this done. A great school will cover these expenses, but not all schools do.
Once you’ve gotten a job, you’ll have to sign an employment contract. The contract needs to be for the period of one year to be valid, so make sure that’s correct. It will likely be a multiple-page document that you need to sign and initial each page. You should get a copy of your own to take home. Then you will get a one-page government version. This is what you need for your work permit and ARC.
Then you need a health check. Most major hospitals will do a health check, but some are cheaper than others. The cost generally runs from 1000NT to 2000NT in Taipei, and it may be cheaper elsewhere on the island. It involves a physical, an eye exam, a chest X-ray, and a blood test. You’ll have the results within a week.
Once you have your health check, give it to your school, who will process the work permit.
Once you have the work permit, take it and the government-version employment contract to the immigration office. You will have to pay a fee of 1000NT for your ARC. It will be ready within one or two weeks, and then you’re a paid-in-full member of the foreign community here. Congratulations!
What to Expect from a Teaching Job
If you’ve taught ESL before, very little of the following will be new. But there are a few things you should definitely know so that you can KEEP that job you’ve just gotten.
1) Don’t be a diva. Make sure that you’re friendly, helpful and accommodating. All this was addressed above in the Pitfall.
2) There is a lot of unpaid work. This is just a part of teaching (even back home) and it needs to be handled. You will have marking, lesson planning, and even parent-teacher meetings (often called PTA here for some erroneous reason). Some schools will pay you for parent-teacher meetings and other events, while other schools will not. Be aware of that when you sign up.
Lifehack: Planning Made Easy
It’s much easier to plan in bulk. If you have a lot of lessons to plan, do a week or a month’s worth in a single sitting. It will make everything move much smoother, and it will take much less time. Most schools provide a syllabus or lesson plan, so be familiar with that as well. After you get used to a particular setup, lesson planning will become much faster and you’ll be able to whip something together in the few minutes before class or even on the fly.
3) Great people, poor communication skills. The majority of your Taiwanese co-workers will be truly helpful, kind and generally awesome. However, working with Taiwanese people can be frustrating as there is a general lack of communication. If you’re doing something right, you will rarely get recognition for it. If you something wrong, then you may not hear about it until your next evaluation (where it may interfere with you getting a raise).
Pitfall: Saving Face
Much of the interactions in Taiwan between Taiwanese people are defined by an elusive concept called “face.” You may have heard of it. It can be roughly interpreted as “honor” or “goodness.” Face is earned by accomplishing things, by being humble, or by being compassionate. Doing the opposite causes one to “lose face.” One can also lose face if another person calls them out on failure or an embarrassing fact. Thus, it is important to “save face” for yourself and those around you by not calling attention to failings in oneself or others.
It’s a very complicated interaction that takes a lot of time to get right. Basically, be open-minded and polite with your co-workers. Never criticize or berate them in front of others. Doing so could cause them to “lose face” and never forgive you for it.
4) In many cases, you’re a teacher in name only. Different schools have different levels of teacher participation. There’s a good chance that you’ll be working a large chain school with rigidly scheduled coursework. Your job is to get through that coursework and have the students pass their tests. That’s it. If you’re lucky enough to be able to participate in the scheduling of classes, and that’s of interest to you, then great. Otherwise, keep in mind that you’ve been hired for your appearance and your native tongue, and any teaching skills you have are considered a bonus.
5) Start out slow. This is an important one… Don’t rush into as many hours as you can possibly get, especially if you’ve just arrived in Taiwan. If you’re fresh off the boat (or plane), then it will take some time to get your feet under you again. You’ll be jetlagged and getting used to a new everything. Ease into that first job. That debt is a priority, but if you burn out before you even get started, then you’re in trouble. I’ve done many jobs: custodian, waiter, cook, factory worker, dishwasher, etc. Teaching is far and away the most exhausting. Until you’re settled into your work, don’t take on anything else.
A Note on Your Salary
If there’s one thing that you’ll hear again and again (and be annoyed by it just as often) is that foreigners make such good money in Taiwan. For some of us, that’s very true. But it’s not a cakewalk. To live the “foreigner life” of mornings off and four-day workweeks won’t make anyone rich. However, even then you’re likely to make much more than a local.
The median salary for a college grad in Taiwan is around 22,000NT or 23,000NT a month. Chinese co-workers will likely be making somewhere around 30,000NT a month, give or take a few thousand based on their seniority. Managers often make between 40,000NT and 45,000NT. And if you’re making less than 50,000NT a month, then you need to back and re-read the section about how to get a job.
This unfairness is systemic, and in many ways required. Foreign teachers wouldn’t come to Taiwan for any less than 500NT or 600NT an hour. And by law, our minimum wage is higher than a local’s. Last I checked, the minimum wage for a Westerner was around 350NT an hour, while a local can make as little as 19,047NT a month. Migrant workers from Southeast Asia have yet another set of wages.
So while you may not feel rich, especially with supporting yourself and paying down your debt, to all appearances you’re making an excellent salary. So get used to be considered “rich,” even when you’re living off instant noodles beneath a bare bulb and sending 80% of your money home to pay down your debt. Or 70% and eating well in a decent apartment.
So your primary salary should be in the neighborhood of 50,000NT, but you don’t get to keep all of that.
Taxes and Deductions
Your teaching salary is subject to taxes and deductions. It’s very likely that whatever school you work for has cooked the books to some degree or another, so those deductions will likely be less than you should be paying, but there will still be some. Luckily, deductions are very reasonable and there are only two.
Taxes – Compared to most Western countries, the taxes in Taiwan are awesome. By that I mean that they are very small. Also, foreigners are taxed at exactly the same rate as locals: 6%. However, foreigners go through a bit of a different process.
For the first 185 days of the year, foreigners are taxed at a rate of 20%. For the last 185 days of the year, we are taxed at 6%. When we do our taxes the next year we receive a credit for the extra 14%, plus a bit of extra for various tax-deductible expenses. To balance this out, and make it easier on everyone, employers generally deduct 10% from every paycheck. Confused? So am I. Here’s the simplification
Taxes are deducted from paycheck automatically, almost always 10% of your monthly salary. Sometime after January 1st, your employer will issue a tax statement. You bring this, along with your Taiwan ID, to the tax office. A nice clerk will help you fill in your documents and tell you how much tax credit you’ll get, which will be paid to you in August. You’ll have the choice of whether it is deposited directly into a bank account or mailed to you as a check.
Your rent is tax deductible. If you’re renting under your own name, bring a copy of your rental contract to the tax office. It would also be a good idea to bring a copy of the bankbook that you’ve been using to transfer your rent. The clerk will help you get this in order, and it will increase your return in August.
Health Insurance – Almost everyone in Taiwan is covered by National Health Insurance. It’s a government program that people pay into based on their salaries. It’s also required that an employer pay 80% of your insurance premium every month. This will work out to be about 300NT deducted off your paycheck every month. It’s well worth the price, because if you ever have health problems, you’re covered and covered procedures are remarkably inexpensive. I’ve had minor surgery for less than 1000NT at a top hospital. Coverage extends to dentists and Chinese medicine doctors as well, though not all procedures are covered. Make sure you’re covered before starting anything, because there are unscrupulous people everywhere.
Banking in Taiwan
Now that you’re collecting a salary, you’re going to need a bank account. Speak to your employer before starting an account. Many schools insist on you having a specific bank to receive your salary. The company has some kind of agreement with that bank, and if the company is willing to transfer to another bank, then there will be a service charge.
The process of starting a bank account is fairly straightforward, but it would be good to bring a Chinese speaker along. If you haven’t made any Taiwanese friends that can help, ask the Chinese staff at your job. They are very used to helping English teachers with various Chinese-related tasks, and they will almost always step in and give you a hand.
Once you have a bank account, you can start seriously saving.
Also relevant to banking is sending your salary home. This is, after all, the purpose of this weighty tome in your hands. To send money home, you will need your ARC, your passport, or both (always bring both). Also bring the banking information you got from your bank. You fill out a form that usually has English and Chinese, pay a service charge of around 200NT to 300NT, and away your money goes. The first couple of times, it’s a good idea to bring along a Chinese speaker to help with the process.
You can transfer money from any bank if you have cash.
Other things you can do with a bank account:
Use a debit card (it will probably say Visa on it, but it doesn’t let you borrow money)
Transfer money (such as for rent) from any ATM on the island
Lifehack: Copying a Copy
Once you’ve transferred money back home, it’s also a good idea to get a copy of a filled in form for next time. Just ask the clerk to use that information next time, and it saves you the trouble of mucking through it in Chinese.
Lifehack: Online Banking is Awesome!!!
I’d venture to say that online banking is both awesome and absolutely essential. However, not all online banking services are created equal. Many banks offer online banking, but only in Chinese.
That’s why I suggest HSBC.
HSBC in Taiwan has excellent English service. It’s website is clear and well written. There are always one or two staff members at the branch who can speak English fluently. Best of all, they have an easy-to-use English online banking service.
So regardless of what other bank you use for receiving your pay, I suggest that you also open an account with HSBC. You will need to do the following:
1) Go to the branch closest to you and speak to a customer service representative who speaks English.
2) Open a savings account and an account in your home currency. Both will be accessible by Internet banking.
3) Set up your phone banking and Internet banking access information. Phone banking also has 24-hour English assistance.
4) Set up a “Saved Transfer” to your bank account back home. I did this over the phone, but it would be even easier to do this in person.
Get all this done, and you will never need to go into the bank to make another transfer. Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., you can transfer money into your home currency account. During the same ours, you can do an international remittance (but only from your home currency account). The fees are exactly the same as transferring in person, only this one you can do in your pajamas.
Debthack: Less is More
To save money on fees and such, transfer as few times as possible. If you can, time any transfers home to coincide with the best exchange rate. But only make one a month, if that. Every time you transfer money home, it will cost between 200NT and 300NT. That’s debt money, and it adds up really fast if you’re paying it a few times a month.
Hooray! You are now gainfully employed at a language school! Your ARC is processed, and you’re legal. But you’ve just done the math, and it doesn’t add up. How are you supposed to knock off your debt on 50,000NT a month?
Simply, you’re not. Not anytime soon, anyways.
With 50,000NT a month, you can live a very decent life in Taiwan. You may even save 5,000NT a month. But that’s not going to hit your target income, not by a long shot. On the other hand, if you’re VERY frugal at 50,000NT a month, then you’re on the right track. By very frugal, I mean no travel, eating inexpensive local food or cooking for yourself, living in a box big enough for a bed and a toilet, and no going out with friends. If you can manage all this, you can probably save half your 50,000NT salary. It’s more likely, however, that you’ll want to go out and find more work so that you can have something resembling a life.
Here are a few of the jobs you can do as a foreigner. I’ve also listed their legal status, just for your reference.
Status: Very Illegal
Being a kindergarten teacher is a simple way to supplement your income. Almost all of your standard work is going to be afternoons and maybe evenings. Kindergarten jobs are all in the morning, and they provide blocks of hours at one location. Teaching at a kindergarten is highly sought-after work among foreigners trying to save a few bucks, and it’s a competitive job market. Getting one of these jobs, though, is likely to boost your income by around 40,000NT a month tax-free. If you’re working a decent job in the afternoons, then that should put you around 100,000NT a month.
There are some serious drawbacks to teaching kindergarten. The most dangerous (and expensive) is police raids. Every once in a while, police will stop by kindergartens to see if there are illegal teachers there. While this is mostly for show, if you don’t know the escape route out of the school, you could be caught and immediately deported. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. It’s an open secret that foreigners work at these schools. The jobs are even publicly advertised. But examples must occasionally be made, and it’s unfortunate when it happens to you.
Additionally, kindergarten hours are early and energy consuming. You’ll be far more likely to get sick, burnt out, and otherwise rendered useless. I can be pretty miserable if you don’t deeply love the work, and even if you DO deeply love the work it can still be bad.
Finally, being completely illegal, you essentially have no worker’s rights at a kindergarten. Your contract will be worth more as toilet paper. Unpaid extra hours or events are common, as are the occasional “deduction” for lateness or poor performance.
I don’t like teaching kindergarten, though I’ve done it a couple of times. It’s not an age group I work well with (too noisy and chaotic) and now that I’m a permanent resident there are much better options for work. However, I do credit a kindergarten job with paying off approximately half of my debt, so it’s a balancing act. The decision is up to you.
Status: Grey Area
Technically, doing private tutoring is illegal (unless you open your own tutoring company, and why bother?) However, the chances of actually being caught are negligible. Tutoring jobs generally happen in coffee shops, restaurants, or occasionally at student’s homes. For most teachers who clear 100,000NT a month, tutoring is involved.
Tutoring makes great money per hour. Don’t ever charge less than 1000NT an hour. You may think you’ll attract more students by being cheaper, but you won’t. I know. I tried that for years. Try to teach in blocks of at least 1 ½ or 2 hours as well. If the students refuse this, then don’t teach them. They’re probably not serious.
The biggest problem with tutoring is that it’s unreliable. Sure it’s a good hourly wage (and tax free), but students will flake out on you constantly. One way to prevent this is to meet students at their house. They will be less likely to cancel just because of the hassle of going to a coffee shop. This will eat up some time in traveling, but it’s worth it.
If you want to start tutoring, start as soon as possible. Everyone I know that does very well tutoring has found just one or two good, solid students and found the rest through word of mouth. Many of these people now make more tutoring than they do at their regular teaching gig.
To find tutoring jobs, you can use TEALIT (www.tealit.com) where there is a dedicated tutoring job page. You can also use MYU (www.myu.com.tw), which is a website dedicated to finding tutors. Both services are free to sign up for and respond to jobs.
Status: Legal (under the right circumstances)
If you have any skill in the written word, then you may be able to make some extra money by writing. There are English newspapers, magazine, and even anthologies that a printed in Taiwan. It’s a great way to make a little extra money during your down time.
Writing work is very difficult to get, however. Everyone and their cat think they can write, but very few can string together a readable sentence. And competition is fierce. The hourly pay is also much lower than teaching (between 350NT and 450NT per hour). However, it tends to be block hours and it’s much less demanding than teaching. For people creatively inclined, it’s often worth it, and a decent number of hours can increase your salary by 20,000NT or more a month.
Debthack: Can’t Find Writing Work in Taiwan? Go International!
I realize that I have been pretty lucky finding writing work, and I’ve occasionally turned down better-paying teaching jobs to follow my passion for writing. As a debt repayment plan, I highly discourage that, by the way.
However, most of my writing work in Taiwan has also been pretty sporadic. Sometimes I don’t get a single assignment for a month. How do I fill the downtime? I go to online freelance writing services. There are many out there, but these are my two favorites.
1) Elance (www.elance.com) – This is by far the most profitable of my freelance writing accounts. In fact, the fine people at Careerhack.Com found me through Elance. I’ve also done several projects for others, and work keeps coming in. The best part of Elance is that it’s free to join (though you have to pay 8.75% of your commissions to the site) and it has skills tests.
2) iWriter (www.iwriter.com) – The problem with Elance, especially in the beginning, is that you still need to write proposals and wait to see if you get the job. It’s not an immediate process. Also, prices often get undercut from freelancers working in developing countries like India and the Philippines. The solution to this is to sign up for iWriter.
iWriter is a different kind of writing service. It’s bargain basement, and you’ll have to hack your way through some cheap crap to start making some money. Basically, it’s a place where Internet marketers go to get cheap content. For a 300-word article at the cheapest pay grade, you’ll make only $1.62. For a 700-word article, you’ll make $4.05. It’s pathetically low, but there is no proposal process. You just look at a list of topics, choose one, and write it within a certain time limit (based on the word count). The employer then has 48 hours to accept or reject the article. If the employer doesn’t respond, you’re automatically paid. And as you write more, you’ll qualify for higher and higher paid articles as long as you’re writing well and getting approval ratings. If you do a really good job, you may also get a tip from the employer.
Though you’re not likely to get rich from either Elance or iWriter, both are great ways to supplement your income and develop a non-teaching-related skill.
Modeling and Acting
Status: Grey Area
To be honest, I’m not pretty enough to be a model. I’ve gone to a few castings, signed up for a few agencies, and had a few headshots done. Nothing. I’ve been to one or two auditions as well, but I’m no actor. Currently I do a little acting for one company I write for, but I’m not any good. Friends of mine, however, have made a few tidy little sums acting and modeling. One such gig I managed to get paid me 4,500NT to wait in line, get some free cake, and then talk to a news reporter in Chinese. I can see the headline now… “White Guy Like Chinese Cakes!”
There is no standard base pay for acting or modeling, and they can be fairly dodgy in a tax sense. Most will pay you cash under the table for services rendered, and despite publicly displaying your likeness, no one ever seems to get caught doing this. International models are a different story, and they may need to pay some taxes, but I’m sure there’s a lot of shady financial goings on as well.
To find acting and modeling work, you can check TEALIT (www.tealit.com) or look online for local modeling agencies. Getting a local friend or coworker to help is also an option. There are bound to be a few because foreign models add credibility to local products. Makes them look all international and stuff.
The Legality of a Second Job
Legally, you are allowed to have a second job on your ARC, but only if it provides you with a work permit. This is often difficult, as all your employers will likely take up the best of your time with their own classes. This is why many foreigners turn to under-the-table work like tutoring and kindergarten to supplement their income. If your second job also provides you with a work permit, you may need to do another health check and then go into the Immigration office to update your ARC.
Not all work offers a work permit, however. That doesn’t mean it’s illegal, so long as it’s the correct kind of work undergoing the correct process. Ask around, and there is a lot of bad information out there about whether or not foreigners are allowed to do extra work on a contract basis. Many people just say, “NO!” I have personal experience with this, guided by the tax authorities themselves, so here’s the law of the land.
Should you be doing extra work LEGALLY, there are two sets of digits that you need to know: 5O and 9B. The confusion of these numbers nearly got me deported.
These are tax codes for income. The 5O tax code (that’s “o” as in “octopus”) is for a salary. As a foreigner, you’re only allowed to collect a salary from jobs providing you with a work permit. Anything else is illegal, and getting caught will either get you immediately deported or prevent you from renewing your ARC. The 9B tax code is for freelance or contracted work. It is analogous to a consulting fee, though it’s often called an “authorship fee” here.
Whenever you do writing work or language consulting work (a euphemism for teaching somewhere you shouldn’t be teaching), your tax documents should read 9B. Anything else is big trouble. So if you’re going to work legally, make sure everything is on the level.
Pitfall: Dealing with Taiwanese Bureaucracy
For the most part, dealing with Taiwanese bureaucracy is quick and painless. Things run much more quickly than in Western countries. However, you need to know the tricks to navigating it.
Many government workers in Taiwan are superb. And many are idiots. There will be times that you want to do something like renew an ARC and you can’t. Something is out of order. Fine. Know what you do? Come back tomorrow and talk to someone else. Nine times out of ten, that’s enough to get everything straightened out.
Also, bureaucrats will often give you a song and dance about this or that. What that usually means is that the person you’re talking to doesn’t actually know what to do, so they make excuses and just say “no.” Again, come back tomorrow and speak to someone else.
Occasionally, you will run into a major problem. When I had my deportation scare, I brought up my concern with a clerk at the tax office. Here’s what she told me: “Don’t worry. It’s illegal, but no one ever checks.” Well, they checked. And I had one of the most stressful two months of my life trying to get it sorted out.
Be careful with the bureaucracy. It can bite you at very inopportune times.