Teaching English in Taiwan
Making the Transition
By Amelie de Mahy
Teaching English has become a big industry in Taiwan, a small island 100 miles from mainland China. Though things have settled down since the initial boom, those whose native language is English and have a college
degree have a good chance of finding work. An ESL of TEFLA degree makes you a more desirable commodity but is by no means a necessity. There is a wonderful web site, Teaching English and Living in Taiwan (www.tealit.com)
that allows you to place ads for work as well as search for prospective employers. It includes information on housing and just about every other aspect of life in Taiwan.
Some of the large corporately owned schools advertise for teachers from the States. This can be a good way to secure a job before you leave, but one needs to be aware of rigid school curriculums that leave little flexibility
for the teacher. Also, these schools tend to pay less and often gloss over their low hourly rates by quoting prospective teachers approximate monthly salaries. Teachers all too often find themselves locked into yearlong contracts because
they were simply ignorant of average salaries.
As Transitions Abroad writers have frequently pointed out, there are numerous ways to obtain a job upon arrival in your host country, and Taipei is no exception. The classified section of the two English newspapers,
The China Post and the Taipei Times, is a common place for schools to advertise. Another source is the bulletin board in the major hostels. A simple though tedious method is to drop off resumes at prospective schools—an option to
keep open, especially if you know the area you want to live in. It is also possible to register with an agent, who for a fee, usually around 20 percent of your first paycheck, will set up job interviews or find individuals looking for
private lessons. Many teachers, however, are reluctant to use agents because of the chance of being cheated and the ease of finding a job on their own. Agents can be helpful, but their fee can be hundreds of dollars, so it's better to
make your own efforts first.
Before you accept a job, here are a few important things to consider: You will usually be required to sign a yearlong contract. Be sure to read your contract carefully and understand everything it says. This seems
obvious, but contracts can be ambiguous. You want to know exactly what is required of you and what you will receive in return. Will you be paid for meetings and field trips? Are you provided with lesson plans or are you required to create
Wages and Salaries
The average starting pay is around NT550- NT650 (about $16-$19). If you are offered a salary, figure out just how much you will be making an hour. Beware of promises that you will be sitting around for much of the
time and not actually working. If you are on hourly work pay, again, find out what is required of you and just what they consider "work."
The whole issue of visas and who receives what and why, tends to be a bit confusing. The kind of visa you receive can be based more upon the mood of the consulate worker than on government rules. Upon arrival all American
citizens are entitled to a 14-day landing visa, which is extendable to 30 days for a small fee. It is better to apply for a longer visitor's visa from the U.S. Though 6-month visas are available, you will most likely receive one for two
months. Nearly all teachers apply for an Alien Resident Visa (ARC) or a Student Visa, and they often debate which is the best. The main advantage of the student visa is that you are paid full salary and not subject to taxes. You are also
not as legally bound to the school as you are with an ARC. However, you are an illegal worker and if caught will most likely be deported. You do not receive medical benefits. And, trips to Hong Kong to renew expired student visas can become
expensive. To be eligible for a student visa you must prove you have at least $3,000 in your bank account.
The ARC means you are a legal worker in Taiwan. You receive excellent health benefits and do not have the immigration worries that accompany the student visa. You also have more security in your job.
For those without contacts in Taipei, hostels are a cheap initial option. They are good places to meet other teachers, search for jobs, and get accustomed to living in a foreign country. Daily rates range from NT250
to NT550 (about $7-$16). Though some people live in hostels for their entire stay, most move into apartments because of comparable prices.
You can find apartments through much the same sources used to find teaching jobs. The English newspapers have classified apartment listings, as does www.tealit.com. If you prefer someone else to do the apartment hunting
for you, you can go to any one of the many realty agencies and tell them what you are looking for. If you sign a lease on an apartment they have shown you, you are required to pay the agent a finder's fee, usually a large percentage of
the rent. It is best to establish just what the agency fee is before wasting their time and your own.
As with job hunting, it is quite easy to strike out on your own. Finding housing is more a matter of preference than availability. The average teacher pays somewhere between NT5000-NT10000 ($150-$300) a month for a
furnished apartment. You will likely be required to sign a lease as well as pay rent for the first and last month.
It is important to bring plenty money for the first few months you will be in Taiwan. Even if you do find a job immediately, you will not be paid until the end of the month, and you may need up to $2,000 to start up,
since you never know about unforeseen expenses.
The whole idea of moving to a foreign country and finding a job may seem extremely intimidating. Just remember that people of all ages are doing it all the time. The warmth and friendliness of the Taiwanese people
makes the transition simple. Once you arrive, you realize just how easy and rewarding living in a foreign country can be.