Teach English in Taiwan – Interview with Timothy Backes

Teach English Abroad

Teach English in Taiwan

How long have you been teaching English in Taiwan?

I have been in Taiwan since 2005. I actually arrived in 2005 and spent a year here before moving to Japan. After spending a year in Japan I moved back to Taiwan, and have been here ever since.

How does teaching English in Japan compare to Taiwan?

As I only spent a year in Japan compared to over seven in Taiwan, my experience in Japan is much more limited. Japan and Taiwan are two very different places. As polite as the Japanese culture is, I always felt like an outsider. I always felt like a guest and not a resident, whereas in Taiwan, I feel much more at home.

Another big difference between the two countries is how polished Japan is. I lived in Tokyo and it is truly a world class city. It was extremely clean and well taken care of, and it’s as modern of a city as you will find anywhere. Taipei has taken great strides in improving itself over the years, but it’s still a little behind Tokyo.

Another big difference between the two countries is the cost of living. You always read and hear about how expensive Japan is, but I was still able to save a reasonable amount of money. That being said, my apartment in Japan was about 1/4 the size of my apartment in Taiwan, and probably twice the price. So, while you can save money in Japan, your salary goes a little further in Taiwan.

When it’s all said and done, I really enjoyed my time in Japan, and I would love to visit again soon. But, I don’t think I would want to work there again. The people were friendly, the students were as interesting as you could hope for, but the work culture is a little too extreme for my taste. I felt like I was always working and when I finally got a day off, I was too tired to enjoy it. Working in Japan is great for year and anyone interested in Japanese culture should definitely give it a shot, but from my experience, Taiwan is a bit easier for those looking for a longer term commitment.

Please tell us about your current work?

I currently teach at a private junior high school in Xinzhuang which is in New Taipei City. I work 8-4 most days, and since it is compulsory education and not a buxiban (cram school), we get a nice 2-month summer break. We also get a month off during the Chinese New Year holiday.

How did you find that position?

I actually found this teaching job through friends. When I first arrived in Taiwan I worked for the biggest chain school in Taiwan, which is called Hess. I quickly became good friends with one of my co-workers and we have kept in touch ever since. Through the years we both went our own ways, but several months ago I was looking for a new job and my friend and former co-worker told me his current employer was looking for a new teacher. He recommended me and after going though an interview and demo I was offered a position.

Does your school provide accommodations or pay for your travel expenses?

To my knowledge they don’t offer compensation for travel expenses, but they do offer new teachers a free dorm room on campus. As I have already been in Taiwan awhile and have established accommodation I wasn’t offered a room, but I have a co-worker who is currently taking advantage of the free rent. However, it’s important to note that the vast majority of schools here don’t provide accommodations or cover travel expenses.

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

Teaching certificates are only needed for teachers that wish to work in the public sector. You don’t need formal teaching education to work in private schools or cram schools in Taiwan. The government also does not require training and they leave it up to the individual schools or businesses to provide any training that they may desire.

Does your school provide a work visa?

Like accommodation, if you need a work visa they will provide it. I actually have a visa through my wife, which is called a JFRV, or Joint Family Resident Visa. I am also in the process of getting an APRC or Alien Permanent Resident Visa, which is available to those who have worked in Taiwan for 5 straight years. As far as the work visa that the school will provide, it’s called an ARC. ARCs are work sponsored visas that any business can provide to qualified people. To legally teach English in Taiwan you need at minimum an associate’s degree and a TEFL certificate, but most companies won’t even look at you without a 4-year degree or equivalent.

Is it possible to arrive without a work visa and find work?

It’s almost mandatory to arrive without a work visa. I don’t know anyone teaching English that has arrived with a work visa. Most people apply for a visitor’s visa in their home country and then change that to a work visa after they arrive and sign a contract.

What is Taiwan like?

Taiwan is awesome and there are many reasons I like living here. If you work in a buxiban (cram school), you are probably going to work 20-30 hours a week, so you will have a lot of free time. Having a lot of free time is great because there are so many fun things to do here like hiking (Taipei is surrounded by mountains), biking (great biking trails on several rivers), going out with friends, learning Chinese, etc. Taipei also has a great transportation system with a clean and modern subway and also a very efficient and inexpensive taxi system. This makes it easy to get all over the city very quickly. Another great thing is that Taiwanese people are really friendly to foreigners. When I first came I didn’t speak a word of Chinese, but this was never a problem and people went out of their way to help me.

What is your cost of living?

My share of the rent and utilities is around $350 USD a month, which is pretty standard for what most people pay here. For food, entertainment and other random expenses, I probably average around $1200 a month. So in general I spend around $1,500-1,600 per month. For new people who have just arrived, they should probably budget a little higher than this as they will be going out and meeting new people a lot. But most people I know settle in after the first 3-4 months and have similar expenses as I do.

Is it possible to save much money teaching English in Taiwan?

It’s definitely possible to save money in Taiwan. I know plenty of people saving $1000 USD a month, while also leading very nice lifestyles. It’s definitely possible to save more if that’s your goal either by working more, or by cutting back on other activities (eating at restaurants, going out to bars, etc.).

Are there opportunities to earn income on the side?

While it is possible to teach private students, you have to remember that most people teaching in Taiwan are doing so on a work sponsored visa. That means working or teaching outside of that company is technically illegal. That being said it’s still a very common occurrence. I actually spent a year only teaching private students, though I was under the family visa at the time, so it was not illegal.

Do you recommend Taiwan for other English teachers?

If you can find a good employer in Taiwan, it’s a pretty easy gig. Overall, the students are well behaved. I seldom if ever have problems larger than a random student trying to cheat or two friends getting a little too chatty in class. If you are flexible and easygoing, classes generally run smoothly.

Outside of work, Taiwan is pretty accommodating to foreigners. Most people are friendly and the government is working hard to make Taiwan a more international country. The health care is good and cheap, and it’s just a generally comfortable place to live.

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

Do it! I really encourage people to take the opportunity to move abroad and teach English. Almost everyone I know has really enjoyed their experience abroad. Being in a different culture, learning a new language, and trying exotic foods are all some of the fun parts of teaching abroad.

Can you please provide some links to online sites geared towards foreigners in Taiwan?

I definitely recommend people check out my site about what it’s like to Teach English in Taiwan. Other good websites for learning about Taiwan and interacting with people here are Forumosa.com and Taiwanease.com. Tealit.com is good for finding jobs when you are here.