Teach English in Taiwan Interview with Carrie Kellenberger

Teach English Abroad
Teach English in Taiwan with Carrie Kellenberger
Teach English in Taiwan with Carrie Kellenberger

How long did you teach in Taiwan and China?

I taught for three and a half years in northern China and three years in Taiwan. Today, my husband and I are co-owners of Reach to Teach Recruiting, an international recruiting agency that specializes in placing ESL teachers in countries all over the world. We are partnered with the South Korean Ministry of Education, the Georgian Ministry of Education, and the Taiwanese Ministry of Education, and we work with private schools and several prestigious international schools as well.

How did you find your job?

I found my first teaching job in 2003 through a website called Dave’s ESL café. Within days of submitting my CV, I was offered teaching positions in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and China. The hardest part was deciding which job to take. I decided to go to China because the package the school offered was really attractive. I was paid well. My housing was provided. I was given three weeks of vacation each year and I taught 18 hours a week.

How easy is it to find teaching jobs?

There are thousands of schools around the world looking for teachers. With that said, the ESL market has changed significantly over the past five years. Competition for high-paying jobs is fierce amongst qualified teachers, and it’s important to take the right steps to set yourself above the crowd. Furthermore, the requirements for teaching English have gone up, especially in Asia. A 120-hour TEFL certification is pretty much the norm now for schools in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?

A few years ago, having a TESOL certification wasn’t necessary. These days, more and more schools and government programs are requiring teachers to get TEFL certified. The EPIK program in South Korea, for example, has changed their requirements for their program. They now require teachers to have a 120-hour TEFL certification with at least 20-hours of classroom based teaching. EPIK is sponsored by the South Korean Ministry of Education, and it’s one of the most prestigious teach abroad programs in the world. It hasn’t taken long for other teach abroad programs and private schools to make a TEFL certification mandatory for their programs.

How did you get your work visa?

We have permanent resident status (APRC) in Taiwan, which means can work on an open work permit. That means we can work wherever we want without relying on school sponsorship, and we don’t need to do health checks or annual renewals. APRC holders can also leave Taiwan for up to 5 years without losing their permanent resident status. Anyone that has had an ARC for five consecutive years and earns double the amount of Taiwan’s basic wage qualifies for permanent residency.

For first year teachers in Taiwan, the only way to secure a work permit is for your school to sponsor you for one. This is typically done once you arrive in country.

Teachers from Canada, the UK, New Zealand and the USA enter Taiwan on a 90-day landing visa, and then switch to a work permit. Visa runs are no longer required for teachers who are entering Taiwan on a landing visa with the purpose of finding employment.

Citizens of South Africa and Australia, however, still have to apply for a 60-day tourist visa through their local TECO office.

You should check with your employer and the Taiwanese Economic Trade Office for visa and work permit regulations.

The days of arriving in country and knocking on doors to find work are over. I don’t recommend that teachers arrive in Taiwan and start looking for work. This is because the teaching community here is saturated with qualified teachers looking for work. I get requests from teachers all the time that came to Taiwan to find work and spent weeks/months without finding something suitable. Try and organize your position in Taiwan ahead of time.

Here is a rough outline of what you need to do to find legal teaching work in Taiwan.

1. Determine whether you can enter Taiwan on a 90-day landing visa or if you need to apply for a 60-day Visitor Visa at the nearest Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in your home country.

2. Do a health check at Renai Hospital in Taipei upon arrival.

3. Your new school or company will apply for a work permit for you once you have your health check completed. Provide your school with your original documents for your work permit application. You need your original degree, TEFL certification, passport, passport photos, and any work-related certificates.

4. Once your school receives your employment approval letter and your work permit from the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA), you apply for your ARC at the National Immigration Agency (NIA).

The whole process, from start to finish, takes 5-6 weeks to complete.

Is it possible for teachers to arrive without a work visa and look for a job?

It’s possible, but I don’t recommend that teachers show up in Taiwan and start looking for work. There are more teachers in Taiwan than there are positions, and part of this is because of Taiwan’s low birth rate. Simply put, fewer kids mean fewer schools. I’ve seen a lot of schools fold up and close down over the past five years. Speaking from past experience, schools that hire teachers off the street, by the way, tend not to be the best schools to work for.

Most schools will not issue a work visa in advance. You must be in country to obtain your work permit and ARC.

What is the Cost of Living in China and Taiwan?

RENT: We live in Taipei, which is the most expensive city to live in. We lived outside the city our first year here and we paid NT$9,000 ($272US) a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Our rent jumped to NT$19,000 ($575) a month when we moved into the city. We have a 2-bedroom apartment in a luxury apartment building on the 24th floor with gym facilities, swimming pool, and spa in the same building. We’re 10 minutes from the MRT (subway) and we’re in a great neighborhood with loads of restaurants, shops and a night market.

Studio apartments in downtown Taipei are expensive. (NT$15,000 and up) Outside of Taipei and its suburbs, the rent drops considerably. You can rent a nice little place for NT$4,000 – NT$7,000 a month.

Another important thing to remember is that most landlords will require first, second, and last month’s rent before they lease to you.

TRANSPORTATION: Taipei’s public transportation system is second to none. It’s cheap, fast and convenient. I spend about $1.25US a day to get to work and come back home by the MRT (subway). My ride downtown takes about 20 minutes. The bus system is also well organized. Taiwan also has trains and a high-speed rail system that can whisk you around the island.

UTILITIES: Most utilities will run between NT$500-NT$1000 a month. ($25-$50US) Summer months get hot, and if you’re running the air-conditioning all the time, your bills will jump. There’s no central heating here, so winter bills are cheap in comparison.

INTERNET AND PHONE: Some landlords will include an internet connection, but if not, you can expect to pay around NT$500 a month. There are all kinds of cell phone packages. You can purchase telephone cards by the minute or get a monthly plan.

FOOD: Food is incredibly cheap and you can eat here 24/7. You can get a healthy meal for as little as $1US. The international food scene here is terrific. You can get any kind of food you want. A lot of people here (locals and foreigners) choose to eat out most of the time because it’s cheap, fast, and convenient. Drinking can get expensive. Expect to pay NT$150 for beer. ($4.50US) If you like clubbing, you can expect to pay up to $20US dollars for entrance, but this usually includes a drink ticket or two.

SHOPPING: This is a national pastime in Taiwan. There’s something here for everyone. Night markets are always a great place to start if you are looking for cheap clothing, shoes and household accessories. You can also find some great deals on electronics here.

How much money can the average teacher expect to save?

Your salary is more than enough to live on. However, teaching salaries in Taiwan are not what they once were. Most schools in Taiwan are now offering hourly contracts, rather than salaries contracts. The average rate of pay for first-year teachers in Taiwan is between NT$570 and NT$600 per hour. Schools don’t tend to offer perks like flights, housing, or paid vacation time.

Depending on your lifestyle and where you work in Taiwan, you should be able to save $500 to $800USD per month outside of Taipei. Most Taipei teachers that I know are teaching two jobs to make ends meet.

Salary expectations in China are much different. Your rent and utilities are often free, your flights and accommodation are generally paid for, and you generally get more vacation time. An average salary for a TEFL qualified ESL teacher in China is between 8,000RMB and 16,000RMB per month, plus. The Chinese government has cracked down on job requirements, however. To teach legally in China, you’ll need a BA and a TEFL, unless you’re teaching in the public school system.

What is the typical number of teaching hours per week?

That depends on your school in Taiwan. You need to work a minimum of 14 hours to get an ARC. Anything above and beyond that is up to you. Some people like to teach enough hours to keep their ARC open and supplement the rest of their income with private classes. Other people like working a 25-35 hour a week salaried position.

How many weeks of holidays per year can teachers expect?

It varies with each job. While working in China, I had 6 weeks off in between contracts. I also got holidays and vacation days. I’ve managed to put in 2-3 months of traveling each year since I arrived in Asia in 2003. Teachers in Taiwan don’t typically receive paid vacation time during their first year.

Did your employers provide you with medical Insurance? Was it expensive?

My medical insurance was covered by the school I worked for in China.

In Taiwan, residents (those with an ARC) have access to National Health Care. The medical care here is excellent. You can see a doctor or specialist at any time with very little waiting time. It’s also extremely cheap at $5US a visit. Your visit includes the cost of prescriptions drugs as well.

Do you recommend Taiwan and China for other English teachers?

If you had asked me that question several years ago, I’d say yes. Life in Taiwan is easy. Teachers have access to good health care, cheap public transportation, and a vibrant expat community. Those things are still available to teachers in Taiwan, but if money or time off is a concern for you, Taiwan might not be your best option.
Teaching packages in China these days are excellent. You can’t beat earning at least $2,000USD per month with paid flights and accommodation. There’s plenty of opportunity to save in China, and the vacation time is generous.

What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?

Make sure you do your research before you leave. Just as you would plan a trip, you should also be putting time into learning everything you can about the countries you might like to live and work in and the jobs you apply for. Think about what kind of teaching position you want. What age group do you want to teach? How many hours do you want to work? Will your school be foreign-owned and operated or will your boss be a local? Will you be happier in an urban or a rural location? Do you want to live in a city that has a huge expat community or would you prefer to be somewhere where you can forge your own path? It’s all up to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more questions you ask and the better prepared you are, the better your chances are of finding a job that you really like and living a life that you want.

Travel writer and photographer Carrie Kellenbeger has been living in Asia since 2003. For more information please visit Carrie’s personal travel site My Several Worlds, which features information and photography on Asian destinations, lifestyles, and cultures. Connect with Carrie on Facebook, on Twitter @globetrotteri, and on Google+.

My Several Worlds (Carrie’s blog)
TaiwanPhotographers (Carrie’s photography blog)
Interview with Carrie on JetSetCitizen.com

Teach English in Taiwan (General Information)
English Teaching Jobs in Taiwan