There’s many routes to take, regarding teaching in Taiwan. Since there are a lot of outdated resources out there on the subject, I thought I’d write about a few of them, to give people some idea what to expect in 2012 Taiwan.
First of all, I live in Taichung – that is my perspective on The System. Other places will be different from here, but I want to give my insights on my world, as best I can.
If you want to come to Taiwan, your first priority is to get a visa in your home nation. Most countries will give you a 60-day visa, though some now issue 90-day visas. Often, these visas can be extended two times, making the effective time 180-days, if you play your cards right. They are also good for anywhere from 3-5 years. My advice would be to call the issuing office and be super cool and ask them how to get the best visa – tell them you want to visit many times and don’t want to have to keep reapplying – they will usually give you a pretty good visa. I have a 60-day 5-year multiple entry visa that’s worked great for the last few years, but I don’t even use it anymore because the USA is granted visa exempt status. Read my blog on visa runs for more information.
So, you got your visa. Now, you’re probably looking online for jobs, before you come. Stop. Do not, under any circumstances, ever take a job using a recruitment agency. Recruitment agencies are third-party groups who negotiate with schools and take a cut of what could otherwise be your own pay, if you negotiated it yourself. Footprints, TeachAway, ReachToTeach, and others are examples of the companies you’ve probably already discovered. On top of that, do not ever agree to teach at a school full-time without seeing their facility and talking with people at the school. Many schools (e.g. Joy, HESS, Kojen, etc.) make their money off FOBs (people who are Fresh-Off-the-Boat) who don’t know any better. They will offer to help you with accommodation that is far worse than you could secure yourself and often more expensive, as well. They will offer to loan you some money, but will hold the debt over your head. The visas they issue and contracts they have you sign will also be used in that capacity – the classic, “If you don’t like it, then quit,” doesn’t work here, because so many people are dependent on work visas issued by the schools. They also feel locked into contracts, despite their often not being worth the paper they’re printed on (again, since FOBs don’t know this, schools use it to their advantage)
That having been said, there are a lot of schools here that will suit you very well. Here’s a basic breakdown of what you need to teach:
1. Be a native-speaker (whites are preferred over other races – women are preferred over men)
2. Have a 4-year university degree (or be able to forge one well-enough to pass inspection; i.e. no one is going to call the university to check)
That’s it. While some higher-end schools will talk about wanting a CELTA or TEFL, it’s not required for 99% of the teaching jobs out there; the 1% that do are going to take someone with 5-years of teaching experience in Taiwan, not a FOB with none. But, that’s not to say many places won’t take you, with no experience. In fact, many places prefer you to have no experience so they can train you themselves. Once trained using their methods, they will put you through online professional development courses of their choice as well. This way, you teach the ways they want. Sometimes it’s easier to train a fresh-face instead of having to untrain someone. It could also be worth your while to figure out how to become a tutor by teaching some online courses for a while so you can have some English teaching experience before coming over, just to give you that advantage. Plus, it’ll give you extra income.
That having been said, many schools also have no clue what they want. If you are “too fun,” they will want you to “teach more;” if your class isn’t enough fun, however, they will also complain to you about that. Get used to criticism – if you can’t handle it, this culture is not for you. Everyone has an opinion and no one will ever tell you that they don’t wish you to do better in some capacity. This really only gets frustrating when the feedback is extremely vague, which is often is. I’ve had schools tell me “do better” and that’s that. Lots of times, schools do not know what they want, just that you’re not delivering it. They will also sometimes take the, “We pay you a lot of money, so you should be able to read our minds” approach, as well. Just things to know, off-the-bat.
Their argument isn’t entirely invalid. The pay is pretty good. You should be making $600NT ($20US) per hour, no matter where you are. Some places pay more, and expect more. Some pay less…and still expect more. This is why you don’t want to take a job without really going in and getting to know them. I’ve walked into schools without an interview scheduled and had a job before I left a half-hour later. There are simply more schools teaching English than there are foreigners to supply them – the difficulty is finding them and selling yourself to them. So let’s talk about what kind of jobs you might have. First, the types of schools:
1. Buxiban: aka “cram schools,” these are private learning centers that offer after-school programs in a variety of capacities. Some are more like day care centers and some are more like Sylvan Learning Centers; it depends where you go.
2. Kindergarten: in reality, these are preschools. The kids are aged 3-5 and, again, expectations vary depending on the schools. It can be tough to get jobs there if you don’t have experience, because you can never know if a kindergarten will want you to just play around or actually teach. It’s also important to note that, as a foreigner in Taiwan, it is illegal for you to work there (not that it stops anyone).
3. Adult Learning Center: these schools cater exclusively to adults. Some aren’t vastly different from the buxibans while others are really high-end.
So those are the three major types of schools you’ll be looking at teaching in. There are private schools and ESL schools, but they often want more experience. This is really written for the teacher coming to Taiwan, not the teacher in Taiwan (those people have already stopped reading this). Now, onto your legal status. You can not legally work on a visiting visa; you can not legally work in a kindergarten, at all. But, like I said: that doesn’t stop it from happening. Plenty of teachers never get a visa from a school and teach illegally their entire careers. Extending a visa is usually not too difficult and leaving the country every 60-to-180 days isn’t hard, either. A round-trip to Hong Kong is around $300US; a round-trip to Manila can be $100US, if you do it right.
If you get a work visa, you will have an Alien Resident Card (ARC) and it’s good for a year. That’s a year of working with a school, under contract, and only being allowed to work at that school – any moonlighting you do is under the same legal status as if you had a visiting visa, i.e. it’s illegal…though this can vary, depending on your guaranteed working hours from the school providing the visa. The law on this changes frequently, but the current rule is that, if you are working less than 12 hours for your primary school proving the visa, you can work for two other schools up to 6 hours each. You will pay 20% in taxes for your first six months of employment and then 6% after that – when it comes to filing taxes, which is super-simple, you get back the 14% extra you paid in during that first six months.
Standard contracts pay around $50,000NT ($1650US) per month, but can pay up to $80,000NT ($2650US) per month. Let’s go with the low-end, as an example…
For the first six months, your $50,000NT check only gives you $40,000NT in-pocket. For the last six months, you get $47,000NT in-pocket. Then, when you file your taxes, you will get back around $42,000NT.
Most schools push that as a great thing…and it can be. Work hard for a year, make enough money to live comfortably, and after that year you can have a very decent balance in your account. Living expenses vary in Taiwan, but $40,000NT a month is enough to live perfectly well.
The issue to look at there is that the $50,000NT per month contract may obligate you for up to 40 hours a week – that’s not even $315NT per hour, around half what you can make as an hourly employee. By not signing a contract and by working part-time for a school, you can make $50,000NT per month, straight cash, teaching 21 hours a week. But, you get what you are paid for. They can fire you at any time for any reason with no recourse by you, because you’re not technically working for them – you’re not on-the-books and there’s nothing you can do about the way they treat you (other than quitting which, again, you can do, because you don’t technically work for them).
You’ll also have to account “visa runs” into the mix. Like I said, you can do a fast roundabout to Hong Kong for $10,000NT, but if you do that every two months, that means you really might-as-well be paying taxes. The only real benefit of not doing an ARC is that you don’t have to worry about it being cancelled on you, at the end of your contract. It’s rare that an ARC employee gets fired, because it’s too much paperwork; the school will just choose to not resign with you, after a year. At that time, your visa is gone – you have to leave Taiwan, sometimes within a few days of the cancellation, and get a new visiting visa. This can be a pain, especially if you got that nice 5-year visa in your home country and then go to Hong Kong to find out they will only give you 6-months.
So there are many things to think about, before you come. There are many resources you can use, to get yourself set up before you come. Don’t find a job – find an apartment. A week at a hotel will cost you up-to $7,000NT, which is around the cost of a month in a studio apartment. If you use sites like http://www.tealit.com or http://www.591.com.tw then you should be able to find something that works for you during your first year here. Also, have resources. Don’t come here without at least $150,000NT ($5,000US) in your bank account. This is because it will take you the first month you are here just to find a job and, while the pay-schedule ends on the last day of the month, people don’t get paid until the 10th of the following month. What does that mean?
Month 1: Find a job (or, jobs) that start on Day 1 of Month 2. Pay at least $60,000NT ($2,000US) to live in Month 1, because you’ll have to drop two-months-worth of rent on the deposit for your place. You may pay up to $100,000NT ($3,300US), depending on what you rent/buy.
Month 2: Working all month, spending $40,000NT ($1,300US) to live.
Month 3: Working, still; extending your visiting visa, if that’s the route you chose. Finally getting a paycheck on Day 10 of Month 3.
At the end of Month 3, your expenses have totaled almost $150,000NT ($5,000US), and your earnings are only a third of that. You’re now self-sufficient, but during the time before that, you’re just bleeding money all over the place. Be ready for that. Don’t come here with a few grand and think it’s enough. Have more-than-enough money to survive and you can make your introduction to Taiwan far easier. I’d tell you to have $10,000 in-pocket before you put boots-to-the-soil, but that’s how I am. I find a financial buffer zone to be one of the most comforting things when it comes to decreasing stress in life, especially when living abroad.
Taiwan’s a great place to live and work. I know many people who pull $100,000NT ($3,300US) a month working 40 hours a week. It’s exhausting, but you are banking big-time and living well because of it. At the same time, I know others who find a 15-hour a week buxiban gig that provides an ARC and they make just enough to scrape by. It is what you make it. As a final comment, keep in-mind that you are teaching, and it’s high-intensity high-energy work. A 40-hour workweek, teaching in Taiwan at a buxiban or kindergarten, is an absolute endurance test.
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