A lot of people ask me about the pros and cons of having a Taiwan Work Visa, colloquially called an “ARC” (Alien Resident Card). In reality, these are two separate things – one is a visa and one is an identification card. But a question I often get from people is, “Do I need an ARC to work in Taiwan?”
Legally-speaking, the only way a non-Taiwanese citizen can work in Taiwan is if they have a Taiwan Work Visa (i.e. I can not advise anyone to work illegally because that would be illegal). Practically-speaking, if you’re looking to teach English in Taiwan, you can do so without a Taiwan Work Visa. But you would be breaking the law. But it’s one of many laws in Taiwan that’s frequently ignored.
There’s a clear division between supply and demand in Taiwan for native-speakers of English; Taiwan has a huge number of private learning institutions called buxiban and almost all of them would like a foreigner on the payroll. But many schools are unable/unwilling to hire a foreigner due to the cost of sponsoring a Taiwan Work Visa; if a school only needs a foreigner for a few hours a week, they have few legal options.
Taiwanese law is very interesting, especially when it comes to visas and working. For example, one can have residency through a marriage and have an ARC, but they are still not legally allowed to work. If someone is here on a work visa with an ARC, they are heavily restricted as to the work they’re allowed to do. Despite this fact, many schools not wanting to sponsor a work visa will only care whether or not a prospective hire has an ARC; teachers are often hired within this gray area of employment law.
Breaking the Law
That being said, some schools won’t even care if you have an ARC. This is where you leave the gray area and find yourself directly in the black zone: totally illegal employment. Despite its illegality, it’s extremely common for people on visiting visas or with visa-exempt status to work part-time jobs, getting paid under-the-table. If you are caught doing this, you’ll get deported. I’ve never known anyone that it’s happened to, but it is the law, and it does happen; it does take on a mythos, however, because as real as it is, it’s so uncommon that most people can only say “it happened to a friend of a friend.”
You have to understand that buxibans are almost completely cash businesses with no product to sell. They’re basically the easiest businesses there is to launder money. It’s not hard to say students/classes exist when they don’t, or vice-versa, to make it easy to cook the books. Unlike a store, nothing is bought or sold: you can pretty much just make up whatever you want, then just make it plausible enough so you don’t get audited. Many schools have foreign teachers sign contracts that say they’re making far less money than they really are – tax fraud is often just the way things work, even when that school is sponsoring your Taiwan Work Visa. So just be aware of these things.
Working the System
It’s also worth noting that while you can not have an ARC without a visa legalizing residence in Taiwan, you can have a national ID number that, along with your passport, usually serves the same purpose as an ARC. Many people with ARCs would give a school their information, but also say, “Since it’s not an ARC through your business, it can’t be on the books.” Either they agree or they don’t. Same goes for having no ARC or anything close to legal work status. People only know what you tell them.
Working illegally usually involves working for more than one school; it’s rare that a school will give an illegal worker more than a dozen hours a week, because that’s a good US$250 a week they have to make disappear from their books. By working a total of twenty hours through multiple schools, you can still make US$1800 a month, which is a pretty standard salary for a full-time teacher with a Taiwan Work Visa.
I’ve written a how-to about visa runs and another one, as well, along with a ton of stuff about Taiwan, so I won’t get into the finer details of living in Taiwan as a “visiting resident.” Search through my blog and you’ll find much more on the subject.
Breaking down the pros/cons really simply:
A Taiwan Work Visa Is a Personal Choice
That’s what it really boils down to. Some things that are deal-breakers for one person are not deal-breakers for another. One person might depend on the extremely cheap medical care through Taiwan’s National Insurance program while another person might be fine paying out-of-pocket (which, while more expensive than being insured, is still quite cheap). Contracts can be both good and bad, depending on the people involved and the words on the contract. Some people are comfortable working at a place where they need an “escape route” in case police show up; some people are more happy not having to worry about such things.
The choice of how to be employed in Taiwan is a very personal one: you will find plenty of people who swear by all the different methods mentioned here. Whatever path you choose, weigh the realities of both and see which is the best fit for you and your situation, in choosing if a Taiwan Work Visa is right for you.