No time for regrets

Figuring out life by running directly at it.

Want to teach English abroad?

Posted Wed, Jan 26, 2011

Teaching abroad is a great way to have an adventure while taking care of your finances. No matter where you go, it’s going to be hard. The transition won’t be flawless. I’m not saying it’s not fun, because it absolutely is. You just have to be beyond flexible and willing to put up with a lot of inconveniences. It’s life changing and challenging in the best possible ways.

It’s a major commitment, but if you’re considering it, I’d do it. Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan – there are a lot of options, and you’re not stuck with one for any certain amount of time. You can do whatever you want! I talked to one guy who taught in Turkey, then Thailand, then moved here, all within one year. He used an agent, so that’s something to consider.

It’s very overwhelming, especially because you read conflicting accounts from everywhere; plus, everyone you tell has some reason why you should go here but never EVER go there. It’s frustrating and scary.

So, that said:

  1. Which country?
  2. Recruiter versus the Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants Method
  3. Step by step, Taiwan edition
  4. Finances
  5. For the International Virgins
  6. Taiwan-specific details
  7. Advice for dealing with culture shock and I HATE THIS COUNTRY moments

—- ONE: Which country?

I’m in Taiwan. I’ve never taught anywhere else. You can go just about anywhere, but there are personalities and challenges with every possible country. My advice is sometimes pretty applicable to other countries, but it is Taiwan-specific.

—- TWO: Recruiter versus FBTSOYP Method

Lots of people use agencies, and I signed up with an agency before coming here, but they didn’t help me much at all. My friend, however, loves them. It’s okay. Use every avenue you have and something will pan out.

I got in touch with Asian Consultants International ( Signing up with them takes a while, but if you feel more comfortable using an agency, do it.

The reason I chose Taiwan, and specifically Hsinchu, is because a friend of mine already lived here. I just moved in with her, and she helped me find a job. I didn’t need to rely on a recruiter because I had friends here already. If you go to a country where you don’t know anyone, use a company to help you.

—- THREE: Step by Step

You’ll have to front all costs. If you find a job that pays for your flight, it’ll be a reimbursement, and will likely not cover the entire cost. You have to buy a flight – they say round trip, but that’s way too expensive and unnecessary. I flew Dallas to LA, stayed in LA a couple of days, flew LA to Beijing to Taipei, then had an outgoing, one-way flight from Taipei to Malaysia set for two months later. It cost $800-1000, and it’s the first thing you need to get.

I booked the outgoing flight to Malaysia to get my visitor visa when I first came here – you have to show that you’re going to leave Taiwan in order to get the kind of visa I wanted. I never went to Malaysia, just bought the flight.

Make sure your passport’s valid for at least 5 more years. That’s way over the required time, but it’ll make your life a lot easier in the long run.

Get two recent passport-sized photos. Actually, if you get 6 and bring them with you, you’ll use all of them. I’ve used 6 photos so far, and they have to be recent.

Next is the visa – you need a 60-day, multiple entry visitor visa. It’ll give you plenty of time to find a job and get an ARC (Alien Resident Card), which lets you stay in the country while you work. You send a cashier’s check or money order (not cash, not a check) for $140 to the Taiwan Embassy, along with the application (, two passport photos, your passport, and your travel itinerary (flight receipts or email confirmation showing you’re going to Taiwan, but also “leaving”). Give them two or three weeks, even though it’ll be done a lot faster.

Once you’re in Taiwan, you have 2-3 months to find a job and get an ARC (Alien Resident Card). Some people never go legal and just do visa runs every few months. It’s nice because you don’t have to deal with taxes, but rough because you’re basically an illegal alien. You have no rights, and it’s hard to do stuff (like sign a lease or buy a scooter).

—- FOUR: Finances

Lots of costs upfront. It freaked me out, to be honest, but it’s all good now. In Taiwan you’ll make anywhere from 550-700NT per hour ($18-23 US). If you find something salaried, you can generally find something that pays 60,000NT, which is just shy of $2000. That’s full-time. Some people only work part-time, so maybe they’ll make $1000 per month. The pay isn’t anything exciting, but the cost of living definitely is. I live in a nice apartment near downtown – 8,000NT per month ($250). Bills are around 4000NT every two months ($125). I pay around $30-40 every month in gas. My scooter was 10,000NT, which is around $300, but you can get one for far cheaper. It’s easy to eat cheaply – I can survive for a full week – food, gas, etc – on 1000NT ($32).

So right now, I teach a total of 23 hours every week – one part-time job, two tutoring jobs. I’m hourly, so I make anywhere between 55,000 and 60,000NT per month. That’s $1800-2000 per month. Gretchen makes around 70,000NT every month ($2300). I send home 32,000 NT ($1000) every month to cover my debts, so I have around 10,000-14,000 to play around with each month after I pay rent (8,000), bills (2,000 per month). The math isn’t exact, but it gives you a good idea. And, since it’s a cash economy, you’re not tempted to ever use your credit or debit card. You can pull cash from ATMs, but you don’t really need to.

Some more prestigious schools offer housing, a la dorms, so they “pay” for your housing, but don’t count on it. If you go without a plan, I’d stay in a hotel while you looked for a job, and once you got a job, ask your boss or coworkers to help you find a place to live. It’s always a good idea to have a local help you, especially when it comes to apartment hunting. Landlords can be difficult.

Jobs are available year-round in the big cities, especially Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. I have no idea what the job market is like anywhere else. Check out for sure if you’re considering Taiwan. That’ll give you some ideas. Privates are not too hard to find, but most people find that working for a school is preferable. Privates are fickle.

—- FIVE: For the International Virgins

There’s a process you go through emotionally. You miss home, you have culture shock, you feel forever far away from everything you love. But then you experience so many incredible things that counteract the negative. Taiwan is good because the pay is good while the cost of living is low; it’s rough because, especially in smaller cities like Hsinchu, most people only speak limited English. Hsinchu is similar to College Station in that it’s small, boring, and everyone knows everyone’s business. It’s a good place to start, especially because you make the most money and spend the least here. If you moved to Taiwan, you could start in Hsinchu, stick around for a semester while you get used to it here, then move to Taipei.

—- SIX: Taiwan-specific details

People come to Taiwan to pay off debt and party. If you don’t spend your money to party (drink and partake in extracurriculars, if you get my drift), you can easily travel all over southeast Asia, which is what I plan to do once my debt is gone. If you come for just one year, I can almost guarantee you’ll be in better financial shape when you leave than when you came. You can work as little or as much as you want – people who work insane hours to pay off tons of debt can make 80,000-100,000NT every month: $2650-3300. And you’re not skimping out on fun. We went to Taipei for Halloween for a massive rave – took a cab to the train station, took the train, took the subway, bought drinks, bought the ticket, took a cab from Taipei to Hsinchu – and I spent around $100 total. It was epic.

You can look around at jobs on That’s where most people look for work for Taiwan. The best time to come is in July/August and January – that’s when the jobs open up. I got here August 23, and there were lots of jobs available. Right now, the pickings are slim for Hsinchu, but there are a lot of openings in Taipei. There’s a lot of work available in Taipei, but the pay is a bit lower and the cost of living a bit higher. I’d love to move to Taipei, though, and will once my debt goes down. If you don’t have much debt to worry about, you’ll have few worries once you move abroad. My debt was around $13,000 in credit cards. I’ve got school loans, and the payments are $200/month, plus my car (which I didn’t sell before coming here), which is $300/month. So I’m paying at least $500/month toward my CC debt.

—- SEVEN: ‘Cause sometimes, you hate living abroad

You’ll probably experience culture shock. It’s likely you won’t realize it until you’re in the thick of it, when every little thing pisses you off and your emotions are as volatile as a pregnant woman’s.

It’s normal.

Read up on culture shock before you travel, and make sure you revisit the subject while you’re abroad. I went through it and thought I was going to throttle some of my kids.

Realize it, own it, talk to others about it. Contact me if you need to talk to someone. Don’t ignore it, and remember: pretty soon, you’ll love your world again.

4 thoughts on “Want to teach English abroad?

    1. In Taiwan, most people are from South Africa or Canada/US. There weren’t as many Indians, but there were definitely a few. Depending on where you wanted to go, you might have a shot. It’s just a matter of whether or not you can afford to go to the country and check things out.

    2. Being Indian, you will have a harder time. Unfortunately, they look for that “white” face and assume someone who is white will have superior English. They even discriminate against their own people in this way. I have a Taiwanese friend who spent 30 years in the United States and has flawless English, but he had trouble getting an English teaching job when he moved back home. That being said, you CAN get a job teaching English!! Really, you can! Your best bet might not be going through an agency because they’ll discriminate based on your name/background etc…but if you actually GO to Taiwan and go on interviews, they will see how good your English is and your personality will win them over. If you’re daring and adventurous, take a chance. Go there. I’m sure you’ll find a job!


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