How to Get a Job - and a Life - in Taipei

by Dawn Stanton, Apr 25, 2001 | Destinations: Taiwan / Taipei

The Chinese have a saying about being a stranger in a strange land: "Ren sheng, di bu shu." Literal translation is "People raw, earth not cooked." Appropriate words when you think about working abroad, but here are some words of encouragement for working in Taiwan.

Pre-departure: Plan, Plan, Plan

Plan as much as you can before you depart. You can arrange both temporary housing and your job before you arrive in Taipei. Tell relatives, friends and others that you're thinking of going to Taiwan, and you'll discover that you already know someone who knows someone in Taiwan. These contacts could prove to be invaluable. For me, a friend who had lived in Taiwan in 1995 made recommendations on employers and contacted her old Taiwanese roommate. The roommate agreed to meet me at the airport and let me stay with her for a week. Meanwhile, I researched and contacted potential employers via Internet. I secured a job three months before my arrival.

Some people argue against signing a contract for an unknown employer. Use common sense when you sign your work contract-avoid employers that fine you for breaking the contract early or have other penalties-and you'll be okay.

6-8 months ahead: Research and contact employers
2-3 months ahead: Apply for three-month visitor visa; book flight
Recommended money to bring: US$800+

The Basics: Job and Apartment

Maybe you've decided to get your job once you're in Taipei. No problem. Summer is the busiest time for buxibans (English cram schools), so if you arrive between early June and the end of August, you'll find a job within a week or two. The Taipei Times and China Times are two English language newspapers stuffed with employment ads from various English cram schools. Pick up these newspapers at any 7-11 in Taipei (try to go 4 blocks without passing a convenience store). If you're taking Chinese language classes, you may find job postings at your school, too.

You'll have to get a physical exam to start the work permit process. This exam will be done again every year that you renew your work visa. Meanwhile, your employer will probably want you to work illegally on your 3-month visitor's visa while your work visa is processed. Discretion is advised, but most teachers do it without having problems. Once the work visa is approved, you'll be sent to apply for an alien resident card (ARC). All this can be done within six weeks. You'll want to get started on this process right away, or you'll have to leave Taiwan and re-enter to renew your visitor visa before it expires.

Your employer may offer temporary housing for a few days but you'll need to find your own flat soon. Expat experiences in apartment hunting vary widely. I found a Taiwanese woman needing a roommate and moved into her apartment within a week of my arrival. Since I was replacing her previous roommate, I didn't even have to sign a lease. Talk about lucky! On the other extreme, a coworker from New Zealand lived several months in a youth hostel while he searched for suitable housing. How good are your resources-and your luck?

At one point I went apartment hunting with several coworkers. As we looked at one place, my coworker's Taiwanese girlfriend negotiated with the landlady. It soon became clear that, although all our names would be on the lease, the landlady wanted to hold the Taiwanese girlfriend fully responsible for the apartment. After all, Meifong was the only one who couldn't skip town.

You may encounter similar prejudice from Taiwanese landlords. Foreigners are notorious for trashing their apartments and not paying rent on time. Some abandon their flat and leave the country without notice, so I don't blame landlords for being wary.

You can find apartment/roommate postings in the newspapers, at neighborhood bars, at your place of employment, and on campus bulletin boards. When you get an appointment to look at a place, dress nice and have a Taiwanese friend accompany you. Have patience and tolerance!

1 week after arrival: find job; start work visa process; start apartment search
5-6 weeks after: apply for ARC

Beyond Basics: Survival and Satisfaction

When dissatisfied with a job, many ESL teachers overlook the opportunity to stay with the same employer but get transferred to a different branch. If you're unhappy with your work, try this before you quit the job. You could save that end-of-contract bonus that you'd otherwise lose by changing employers.

Taipei itself has plenty of negative aspects, which should be considered fully before you even book your flight. Hot, humid summers, noise and air pollution, and a baffling garbage collection system can cause mild inconvenience or, when combined, sheer outrage. Typhoons and earthquakes can be a threat to health and safety. And persons with severe asthma or allergies should avoid living and working in this city.

The biggest deterrent to satisfaction is probably good, old-fashioned culture shock. Recognize this fact early, and you've won half the battle. Combat culture shock by getting involved. Make friends in both the Taiwanese and expat communities. Join a local organization. Get out, somewhere besides the bars, which always seem overrun with overworked ESL teachers. Enjoy the night markets. Enjoy the free concerts and other cultural events offered at various parks. One weekend, I took the bus to find my way to Yangming Mountain, and I ended up viewing a free concert at Warner Village in the process.

Better yet, take a vacation. There's more to Taiwan than its capital. Take the train to explore the rest of the island. (You may even decide to transfer to a job in Southern Taiwan.) Taroko Gorge and Hualien are popular destinations on the east coast, and you can visit Tainan, known for its traditional culture, or recuperate at the beach in Kenting in the south. Airfare to Hong Kong, Thailand, and other nearby destinations is fairly reasonable, too.

Getting a job and setting up a life in Taipei is easy but not perfect. So when you're frustrated at some point in the process, stop and focus on what you want from your experience, what first brought you to Taiwan. Keep your wants and needs in mind and have the courage to fulfill them. Good luck!

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Get a Job: Employment Contacts

An organization's inclusion here is not an endorsement. Get information and decide for yourself.

ELSI, 6F, #9, Lane 90, Sung Chiang Road, Taipei, Taiwan ROC. Tel: 886-2-2581-8511.

Hess Language School, Hess Educational Organization, English Human Resources Department, No. 419, Chung Shan Rd, Section 2, Chung-Ho City, 235, Taipei County, Taiwan ROC. Tel: (886-2) 3234-6188 ext. 1053/1052.

Kid Castle, Foreign Personnel Department, Kid Castle Educational Organization, 8F No.98, Min Chuan Rd, Hsin Tien 231, Taipei, Taiwan ROC. Tel: 886-2-2218-5996 ext. 319/341.

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Get a Clue: Chinese Language Schools

An organization's inclusion here is not an endorsement. Get information and decide for yourself.

National Taiwan Normal University (Shida), Center for Chinese Language and Culture Studies, 162 Hoping East Road, Sec. 1 Taipei, Taiwan ROC. Tel: 886-2-2321-8457.

Taipei Language Institute (TLI), several locations, 4F No. 50 Roosevelt Rd., Sec. 3, Taipei, Taiwan ROC. Tel: 886-2-2367-8228.

Pioneer Language Institute Taiwan Branch, 6F, 200 Hoping E. Road, Sec. 1, Taipei Taiwan, ROC. Tel : 886-2-2363 3535