Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in the Transitions Abroad 2014 Webzine Asia Issue
Related Topics
Teaching English in Thailand: Articles and Jobs
Teaching English in Taiwan: Articles and Jobs
Living in Thailand: Articles and Resources
Living in Taiwan: Articles and Resources

Live and Teach English in Thailand or Taiwan?

The "Land of Smiles" vs. "The Beautiful Island"

A Guide to Choose the Best Country for You

Island beach in Thailand Temple dragon in Taiwan
Rock formation next to island beach in Thailand. Dragon on temple in Taiwan.

Fortunately for anyone with experience who is trying to compare the merits of these two unique countries, both currencies now have a very similar exchange rate. In the conversion, you exchange about 30 New Taiwanese Dollars for the U.S. Dollar, against 31 Thai baht. Additionally, Western convenience stores are ubiquitous in both countries. However, that describes only the most superficial material attributes and not the cultural immersion experience of living and teaching in each country. We will make a comparison, inherently somewhat subjective, of some of the key aspects of each country that can make living and teaching a memorable and rewarding experience.

Buddha statues in a Thai Wat (temple).
Buddha statues in a Thai Wat (temple).

Types of Jobs

Thailand Jobs

A large number of foreigners in Thailand end up working in a government school, often through a placement agency. Teachers usually teach classes of 30 to 40 students, and perhaps see each unique class once or twice a week. Motivation is often minimal, progress is slow, and you often feel you are as much an entertainer as you are a teacher.

Working in an international school with higher English levels normally now requires that you have an advanced teaching qualification from back home (essentially the same qualification you would need to teach in your home country).

Jobs do exist in the private sector, particularly for adult students who now have found that they need English for work advancement. 

Thai tuk-tuk.
Thai tuk-tuk.

Taiwan Jobs

Similar to Korea, many Taiwanese students attend normal state-run schools and then continue on to extra English cram schools (called bushibans) afterwards. This means that many of the jobs you see will tend to offer teaching hours in the afternoon, evening, or weekend.

There are no mandatory kindergarten classes. Taiwanese children do not have to start attending school until they are six or seven years old. However, many families have two working parents and need somewhere to send their young ones. This means that there is a lot of work available at English-language immersion kindergartens. Strangely, this is technically illegal for a foreigner to do and grounds for deportation if you are caught. However, the law is pretty much openly flouted; usually there is a strict drill that if the authorities do visit a school, the foreign teachers all scurry off to a room to pretend to be in a "meeting," or they say they are just "guests."

Taipei 101, Taiwan.
Taipei 101, Taiwan.

Pay

Jobs in Thailand tend to pay around 30,000 baht (US$1000). Jobs in Taiwan pay a standard of 60,000 NT (US$2000). That is not to say you cannot find better-paying jobs in either country, but a TEFL teacher will generally be paid far more money in Taiwan than Thailand. This is one of the biggest reasons why teachers come to Taiwan; you can easily build up quite a relatively comfortable little nest egg.

WINNER: On purely a financial note, the high salaries you can earn pushes Taiwan into an early lead.

Food

Thailand

Thailand’s food…Wow, where to begin? Pad Thai. Delicious spicy curry soups like tom yam khung. Coconut milk is in everything. Deep-fried eggs in tamarind sauce. Som tam (unripened papaya salad). Northern curry with crispy noodles.

There is food containing enough chilli to pop your head off and enough sugar to rot every tooth inside it. You can start off the day by buying a parcel of rice with sweet shredded coconut on top, all wrapped up and ready to go in a palm leaf. After work you can head out to a "curry-rice" roadside stand to pick up some taste-bud tingling treats like deep-fried eggs in tamarind sauce or spicy chicken mince with basil--and all for just 60 baht (US$2).

Taiwan

One of the biggest surprises I had upon coming to Taiwan was discovering how similar the Chinese food was compared to back home in the U.K. I always assumed that what we were served in the West was some bastardised version of the local version, so I was pretty stunned to go into a self-serve buffet restaurant crammed full of locals and see them all eating the same food that my local takeaway cooked up!

You can also expect a healthy dose of delicious boiled dumplings and "pot stickers" (pan-fried, long, thin dumplings), which are frankly delicious when dipped in some dark soy sauce. You can start your day off with a stop at a Taiwanese brunch restaurant which serves up all manner of fried "somethings," a favorite of mine being a thin savoury pancake with a fried egg inside, drizzled liberally with hoi sin sauce. Alternatively you could go traditional with a long, thin Chinese doughnut dipped into a bowl of warm soymilk. If neither of those appeal, you can always go the lazy route and pick up a tall coffee and a jam-filled bagel from the ubiquitous multinational 7-Eleven on your way into work.

WINNER: The sheer taste-bud exploding treat that is Thai cuisine gives the "Land of Smiles" a clear win!

Drinks

Thailand

Thailand has a range of unique alcoholic beverages (Chang beer and snake whiskey anyone?), but for the sake of a fair comparison with Taiwan we will go with a non-alcoholic teacher favourite: Iced coffee. Ah, is there anything better on a hot, clammy afternoon after you have finished work than stopping off at a roadside stall and picking up a Thai-style iced coffee? Using generous helpings of sugar, condensed milk, strong Thai coffee and more sugar, the vendors make a small cup of pick-me-up tastiness that they then pour into a plastic cup full of ice for you to take away. Unhealthy? Yes. Wonderful? Definitely.

Taiwan

Taiwan is the birthplace of bubble milk tea, an extremely popular drink sold throughout the country, which is spreading around the world (including to Thailand). Jet-black balls made of tapioca, called "pearls," are mixed in with your choice of tea, milk, and fruit flavourings. The pearls are sipped through a wide straw along with the tea, giving you a mouthful of sweet treats to chew on while you drink. Initially it can seem like a weird sensation, but bubble teas can quickly become deliciously addictive.

WINNER: Close, but Taiwan wins by a nose!

The Students

Thailand

It has often been lamented that considering the early age at which Thais start learning English, their level of ability remains woeful. The blame for this situation is frequently placed at the feet of the Thai educational system and its focus on appearance rather than substance. Keeping everyone in a job and all students "passing" exams is often given priority over the actual amount of learning students are doing. Lessons taught by Thai teachers still tend to be very much focused on students copying off the board into their notebooks. Imagination and creativity are often neglected in favour of rote learning. 

Taiwan

In Taiwan, education seems to be taken much more seriously and there is more money put into it. Some children start attending English-speaking kindergartens from the age of two, meaning that they may end up being almost bi-lingual by the time they are teenagers. Students who attend the English kindergartens are often taught solely by foreign teachers in a Western-style educational system, and these private kindergartens have greater resources to put at their teacher’s disposal than you will find in Thailand. This means that Taiwanese students tend to exhibit a much higher level of English and also tend to share more of a Western outlook regarding education.

WINNER: Taiwan wins thanks to its higher-level and creative students with regard to learning English.

Holidays

Thailand

It can often seem like every other week is a bank holiday in Thailand, with days off for the King’s Birthday, Buddhist holidays, an ancient King’s birthday, New Year, Thai New Year, and almost anything else possible. On top of this, working at a Thai government school usually means that you will get more impromptu days off for Sports Day, Teachers Day, Children's Day and whatever else they can dream up (school trips, open days, plays etc., etc.). You can also expect to get a holiday off between the first and second semesters of the Thai school year.

Taiwan

In Taiwan you are more likely to be working for a private business, which means you will get nine paid days off a year. The only full week that your school will be closed is for Chinese New Year. One of the most infuriating things about Taiwan is that often you will get a bank holiday (yay!), which the Taiwanese government then stipulates you have to "work back" that holiday by coming in to work on Saturday!  

WINNER: With weeks off between semesters and loads of bank holidays, Thailand is the undisputed winner here!

The People (Expat and Local)

Both countries have extremely friendly residents who will frequently go out of their way to talk to you. The higher prevalence of tourism in Thailand means that seemingly everyone knows a smattering of English, which they are keen to try out on you. Taiwan has a higher number of residents who have lived in English-speaking countries and who have been educated abroad, which means that you can come across people with high to near-fluent levels of English who will happily help you out if you look lost.

Although I can only speak from my experience, I found the expat community to be much friendlier in Thailand. Maybe it is because Thailand is many teachers’ first stop for TEFL, and also because there is a bigger tourist industry, but it just seems foreigners are more open to chatting to other foreigners. People would walk over to each other on the street and chat to a new foreign face they did not know. This might well be because TEFL in Thailand is still something of a transient thing, with lots of younger people dipping their toe into teaching for a year before going on to other things.

Often in Taiwan I find that if I walked past an expat (even in the smallish town I live in), they would try to avoid making eye contact if at all possible. I put this down to  the quantity of more long-term teachers and business professionals working in Taiwan who do not want to "condescend" to speak to a newbie living in their country.

WINNER: The locals of both countries are incredible, but Thailand wins thanks to its friendlier foreign community.

The X Factor

Thailand

In Thailand, on the drive home from work I would see an elephant casually walking down the road. I could use the long holidays I received to cram myself into a mini-bus—driven by an elderly Thai man who looked like he had not slept in a year—and be whizzed off to one of the plethora of stunning islands nearby to bask in the sun.

In the more touristy locations, tuk-tuk drivers would harangue me when I got off the bus into town and try to charge extortionate prices to drive me to my guesthouse. Out on the streets in Bangkok you might pass by an establishment offering "ping-pong" shows, or see some old, crusty foreigner arm-in-arm with a beautiful young Thai girl. It is crazy, it is dirty, and it is loud. Nevertheless, you KNOW that you are in a different country.

Palm trees folded into a heart on Koh Lipe, Thailand
Palm trees folded into a heart on Koh Lipe, Thailand.

Taiwan

In Taiwan, you can get on the MRT Subway system and expect free Wi-Fi as well as public toilets at every stop. Parks and other social amenities are dotted all over. You will seldom (if ever) need to haggle when you buy things. More often than not you can walk on the sidewalk, something that you usually abandon in Thailand due to everybody using it as either an extension of their shop or a parking space for their scooter.

Taiwan is relatively clean and ordered. A high-speed train (booked online) can get you from north to south of the country in a couple of hours. It is not the West, but there is a healthy dose of it in how things are arranged. You get the best of both worlds, and that is a bonus.

View from hills in Juifen, Taiwan.
View from hills in Juifen, Taiwan.

WINNER: Split decision here, points for both countries for very different reasons!

The Ultimate Winner Is…

It is a close call to make and really depends on what you are looking for in your TEFL experience. In Taiwan you can expect to be a part of an educational system that actually works, and also put away some money every month. On the other hand, Thailand’s salaries and schooling system are not great, but it more than makes up for it with knockout cuisine, long holidays and stunning scenery.

Thailand is like that crazy friend you have who is always dragging you out to nightclubs until the early hours; you have a great time but you are left utterly exhausted afterwards. They are the friend who turns up an hour late for everything, and they could not tell you on Friday what they were planning to do at the weekend. You fall out with them one minute and then you will be laughing hysterically together an hour later.

Taiwan is your more responsible friend. Always on time. Sensible with money, and happy to give you a ride to the airport. You never fight or row with each other. Their weekend is more about going hiking and drinking a nice cup of oolong tea, rather than chugging down Redbull and dancing on the beach. A lot of fun to hang out with, but every now and then you find yourself wanting to call up that lunatic you know for a night out on the town…

For More Info

The most popular website for teaching English in Thailand is ajarn.com ("ajarn" being the Thai word for "teacher"). Here you can find job listings, guides, cost-of-living comparisons, hot-seat interviews with people of interest, and much more. The website is regularly updated and also has a thriving forum. The forum is a great place to get tried-and-tested lesson ideas, as well as up-to-date information regarding the ever-changing requirements to secure a working visa for Thailand.

A popular website for TEFL teachers in Taiwan is tealit.com, which is a good place to look for work, visa information, accommodations, and Chinese language exchanges. There is a big online community at www.Forumosa.com, which has threads discussing every major facet of life in Taiwan.

Dave’s ESL Café continues to be a solid choice when searching for TEFL jobs in any country, and it also has a healthy stock of TEFL game ideas.

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