Teach English in Taiwan
The Vital Information
Many questions arise when you are preparing to go teach English in Taiwan. What if I cannot find a job? Can I find one before I go? Will I need an English teaching certificate? If so, which is better, TOEFL or TESL? Where is the best place to live?
This article answers some of the most commonly asked questions posed by first time teachers including:
- Do I qualify to teach?
- How do I get a visa?
- Should I find a job before I go?
- Do I need a teaching certificate?
- How much money will I make?
- How much tax will I pay?
- What kinds of jobs are available?
- Should I use an agent?
- Where should I live?
Please note that since some of these answers are time specific (laws governing visa requirements and taxation change occasionally) important points should be double-checked using the links provided at the end of the article.
Do I Qualify to Teach?
The first question anybody should ask is, “Do I qualify to teach English in Taiwan?” The answer to this question is 2-fold.
First, almost anybody who speaks English fluently can teach English in Taiwan. But, speaking English is not the only requirement to legally obtain a teaching visa. Many people live in Taiwan, teach under the table without visas, and make regular visa runs to Hong Kong. This is possible for anyone who speaks English fluently.
If you want to teach legally you must obtain a visa, which in turn enables you to obtain your Alien Resident Card (ARC).
To qualify for a teaching visa, you must have:
- A degree from a recognized Western University.
- A passport that is good for at least six months from the entry date, from one of the following recognized English-speaking countries: Ireland, the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
- A two-month multiple-entry visitor visa. For more information on obtaining this visa, keep reading.
How Do I Get a Visa?
Do not tell immigration that you plan to work in Taiwan. This is very important. Tell them that you are traveling. You must do this because of a strange glitch in Taiwan’s visa laws. Although the 2-month multiple-entry visa can be legally changed into a work visa after you find a job, if you tell the immigration office that you plan to work in Taiwan they may deny you the 2-month multiple-entry visitor visa and tell you that you need a working visa. The problem is that in order to get a working visa, you need proof of employment (a contract with a school). And as I will explain in the next section, obtaining employment before you go to Taiwan is a bad idea.
Do not let telling this fib worry you. Taiwan’s bureaucracy is as flawed as any, and runarounds are common. This is an everyday practice and most teachers enter the country this way. It is not illegal. It is just working with an imperfect system.
For updated information on visa requirements visit the ROC webpage for Taiwanese visas at: www.boca.gov.tw.
Should I Get a Job Before I Go?
In my opinion, no. This almost always works out to your disadvantage. There are two reasons for this.
- First, the schools that recruit teachers from abroad do so because it is in their own best interest. When schools recruit teachers who do not know the normal pay scale in Taiwan they are in a position to offer smaller salaries for longer hours. Compared to the jobs that recent university graduates can obtain at home these positions still sound very attractive, but they actually pay less than the majority of teaching positions available in Taiwan.
- There is another unfortunate side effect of the practice of obtaining work before arriving in Taiwan. By working for less pay than most other teachers, those recruited from abroad contribute to the deflation of teaching wages countrywide. So this is both an economic and an ethical issue.
But this is just my experience and view on the issue, and many other teachers have had success obtaining well-paying and satisfactory jobs before arriving in Taiwan.
Do I Need a Teaching Certificate?
As a note, teachers with Education degrees are given preference for teaching jobs, though teaching certificates are progressively being required as well. Not surprisingly, people with postgraduate education (MA’s and PhD’s) have a much better chance of landing better jobs, such as University teaching positions, which generally require a minimum of a Master’s Degree.
How Much Money Will I Make?
The normal starting wage for an English teacher in Taiwan is NT$600 per hour. At the time of writing that was approximately US$20 per hour. Some schools will start teachers at up to NT$700 per hour. A very few long-term teachers make in excess of NT$1000 (US$30) per hour.
I believe that It is important not to accept a wage less than NT$600 per hour. If you do so you are both short-changing yourself and all other teachers by contributing to the deflation of teaching wages.
How Much Tax Will I Pay?
If you stay in Taiwan for less than 183 days of the fiscal year, you will pay 20% income tax. If you are in Taiwan for more than 183 days you will only pay a paltry 6%.
This is important to remember. If you arrive in October, you will not make the 183-day cutoff before the new fiscal year and will have to pay 20% tax on your pay for those first months.
For more information on taxes visit iff.immigration.gov.tw.
What Kinds of Jobs are Available?
There are several kinds of teaching positions available in Taiwan. They are as follows:
This is the most common employer of English teachers. Buxibans are privately owned after-school schools for children. They are generally open between 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. These schools will offer a teacher up to 30 (and occasionally more) teaching hours per week. Full-time work at a buxiban is considered 25+ hours per week.
Probably the second most common employers of English teachers are Kindergartens, which are unfortunately illegal. The law states that children are not allowed to learn English before Grade 1. Kindergartens are occasionally raided, and teachers occasionally deported, but for the most part schools know in advance about raids (through connections), or will have a plan in case of a raid. Kindergartens generally operate from 8 a.m. to 3:30 or 4 p.m., but starting and ending hours may vary. Kindergartens, despite their illegality, are commonplace and often are able to give teachers work permits through association with a buxiban.
Many teachers prefer private students because the money is good and they are less stressful to teach than large classes of children. The hourly wage tends to be better as it is negotiated directly with the student or the student’s parents. The best paying jobs that I have ever heard of were private lessons for small groups where teachers made more than triple the average teaching wage.
Teachers generally find private students by advertising on the Web, handing out business cards, and through personal connections.
Public school teaching jobs are harder to come by and generally better than other buxiban and kindergarten jobs. They usually offer above average pay, better benefits, and are tax-free (though this is not always the case.) Some have been known to offer half-pay for summer holidays. Public Schools are generally open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and usually offer teachers more hours than other jobs. Although some public schools require a teaching degree, most positions are open to any native speaker with a BA degree, or preferably an MA degree with experience.
These are very coveted and hard-to find jobs, generally filled by long-term expatriates. They normally pay much better than average wages and require a minimum of a Master’s Degree. The hours are extremely variable, including weekends.
Should I Use an Agent?
My personal experience is generally not positive, but yours may vary. Although there are certainly some good agents out there, I found that many are primarily interested in making as much money as possible in Taiwan.
Agents make money by charging schools to find teachers for them. Agents normally receive a signing bonus that can be as much as one month of the teacher’s wages. On top of the signing bonus many agents also receive a commission for every hour the teacher works. There are stories I have heard of agents who make more per hour than the teacher who is actually doing the work. Agents often make it harder for schools to make money and pay teachers good wages, and thus can be damaging to the work environment as a whole for teachers in Taiwan.
Some discussion forums on teaching in Taiwan also currently contain posts regarding agents withholding pay and other actions. But no experience is universal. Again, good agents do exist, but as a general rule I recommend that you not deal with agents based upon my personal interactions and the stories told me by other teachers with whom I have worked. If you do so, please do very thorough research, as in all such cases, to find the most reputable ones to ensure a positive experience as a teacher in Taiwan.
Where Should I Live?
Most English teachers decide to live in one of Taiwan’s four major cities on the West coast because they are the most accommodating to English speakers: Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung. Many teachers would prefer to live on the East coast in the cities of Hualien and Taidong because of their proximity to the mountains and beach which provide fabulous scenery. Work, however, is hard to find in these cities. Many people also live in small townships and villages. While cheaper than the cities, these places are generally harder places for non-Chinese speakers to live because there is very little English practiced.
The differences between the four major cities are as follow:
Taiwan’s capital, and home of the world’s tallest building Taipei 101, is probably the most accommodating city for English teachers. English is more commonly spoken here than anywhere else in the country. It is also the epicenter of Taiwan’s publishing industry as well as the arts and music scene.
Being the largest city in the country it is also the most expensive to live in, and being the most accommodating to English speakers, it also has the most English teachers and, thus, fewer available teaching jobs than other cities. This is not to say it’s difficult to find work here. Based upon my experience, It is just not as easy as elsewhere.
Located a few hours South of Taipei, Taichung is also attractive to teachers because it is very accommodating, English is spoken fairly commonly, and the foreign community is mostly located in a small area of the city, which is packed with foreign restaurants, outdoor cafés, and bars. Again, because it is so welcoming to foreigners Taichung has a higher population of teachers than other cities. Therefore, work is somewhat harder to find than in cities to the South.
In recent years the population of teachers has grown quickly in Tainan. The smallest of the four major cities, Tainan is Taiwan’s oldest city, a former capital, and cultural center. Tainan is full of parks and temples and Taiwanese tradition. Of the four major cities, Tainan is probably the easiest place to find a job. However, life here is more difficult for non-Chinese speakers because English speakers and restaurants with English menus are harder to find.
Probably the best pick for the new teacher to Taiwan, Kaohsiung is Taiwan’s second largest, and Southernmost, major city (which places it closest to Taiwan’s biggest beach/surf town, Kenting). Kaohsiung is a growing metropolis. In recent years the government has gone to great lengths to beautify the city. The population of teachers has been growing rapidly due to the relative ease of life and abundance of work here. Also, Kaohsiung’s airport, which just became international in the last few years, has made it an easy place for foreigners to land.
For More Info
Useful Taiwan Links
Taiwan Government Information for Foreigners
A website that covers almost anything that you would like to know about the legalities involved in living in Taiwan.
This is a very useful site with articles about living in Taiwan, a weather report, and classified ads where you can look for jobs.
This is a Taiwan-wide all-English classifieds website where you can find anything from housing to pets to jobs.
Taiwan’s largest English forums website with forums about every topic that you can think of related to living in Taiwan, all moderated by experts in each topic.
The Tainan Bulletin
A local bulletin board for Tainan, where you can chat with others in town, buy and sell stuff, and look for jobs.