So you are teaching English or you want to teach English in Taiwan! Congratulations, you have picked a very live-able Island that consistently ranks high in countries that expats enjoy most. We certainly like it here. 

While we likely don’t need to sell you on Taiwan, if you are considering teaching or working here long term here are a few of the benefits: 

  • Extremely safe
  • Exceedingly welcoming people
  • Low cost of living
  • Great health care system
  • A perfect chance to learn or practice Mandarin 
  • First country in Asia to legalize equal (gay) marriage rights
  • Subtropical weather
  • Plenty of outdoor opportunities
  • Convenience stores
  • Thriving Expat community
  • Lots of work teaching English

It can be a great joy to find your place and your stride living and teaching in Taiwan. But in order to make sure you succeed, let’s talk brass tacks. In the post below we will seek to answer the big question that most first time teachers or those new to the Island have:

How do I save money while teaching in Taiwan?

How to Save Money as an English Teacher in Taiwan 1
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Calculating the average costs per month

To begin with it is important to calculate or at least estimate a basic monthly budget. Keep in mind this is a rough guess that will change drastically depending on your lifestyle, your location, and your priorities when it comes to spending money and living in a new country.

Based on our experience and the input of others, the average expat new to Taipei likely spends somewhere between 40,000 NT$ ($1,400) — 55,000 NT$ ($1,747) per month if not a fair bit more. You could probably get by spending as little as 30,000 NT$ or less, but it would likely be due to a special set of circumstances, an incredibly good grasp of Mandarin, or a great deal of luck within Taipei’s housing market.

The average English teacher in Taiwan is likely making somewhere between 70,000 – 120,000 NT$ per month which means that you can save a fair amount if you play your cards right.

Before you go further, it is worth reading up on the average cost of things in Taipei/Taiwan and drawing up your own monthly budget. Make sure to calculate in the little things like toilet paper and cell phone plans as well as unexpected expenses that crop up such as a hot water heater or salt, and don’t forget about the international costs such as a Netflix subscription. All these things add up AND the better you plan for them the more that you can save in the long run.

There are a number of websites out there that will provide an average cost for things in Taiwan. two that we like are: Expatistan and Numbeo.

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Lifestyle Choices / Extra Expenses

Now is where it gets tricky. In addition to apartment costs, cell phone plan, meals, transportation, and basic necessities, we would suggest drawing up a list of things that will be important to your lifestyle in Taiwan. You can think of this in terms of goals, pastimes, or things you want to make sure you do during your time here. Think also in terms of shopping and travel. Are you planning on returning with an entirely new wardrobe or jet setting around Southeast Asia? These things are possible while teaching in Taiwan, but it will mean sacrifices in other areas of your budget if you still aim to save money.

It is important to remember that living abroad is a marathon, not a sprint. You will need to find the things that bring joy, interest, and excitement to your life outside of your work.

How will you live during your time here?

There are those who travel abroad and teach English and who live like monks or modern-day ascetics to hold fast to shoestring budgets, but we often feel that they are missing the point. Why work abroad if you are not going to engage with culture, the language, or the place in one form or another?

What you might do is begin to develop a sense for what is important for your life in Taiwan as well as what that might cost. THEN you can start thinking about ways to cut costs, save money, or find cheaper options.

It sometimes helps to think in terms of exercise, language, and free time / quality of life.

What does your exercise regime look like?

  • A private gym membership might make sense for some, but others might be content with the 50 NT$ a session at Public Exercise Centers. Yet others might decide they are simply going to run and train for the Taipei Marathon (generally takes place mid-December). Still others might want to join a bicycling club that cycles along the rivers. Perhaps you want to join a hiking group that explores different parts of the Island or to learn tai chi and so that is where you devote both money and free time. Check out our blog post on exercising in Taipei for other ideas.

Are you going to be looking for Mandarin lessons / classes?

  • Many people who come to Taiwan want to learn or improve their Chinese. This often means either classes (which can get expensive, 1,000 NT$ or more / week), or language exchanges which can be fun and free but perhaps not as rigorous. Alternatives might be watching a lot of Taiwanese/Chinese TV or crash coursing on your own but you may not get as far. Yet other options would be to expand beyond an expat bubble and make a number of Taiwanese friends willing to spend a fair amount of time speaking in a mix of Chinese and English with you. Here is our blog post on popular language schools in Guting.

What are your dining and nightlife priorities?

  • Think in terms of food. Are you comfortable eating out of a 711 or cheap local restaurant for most of your meals? It’s easy to spend less than 300 NT$ per day on food in Taiwan, but you can also spend 3 times that on an entrée at a pricer restaurant.
  • Some expats decide that for their own quality of life they need to shop at grocery stores specializing in foreign food. Others set aside a weekly allowance for real bread or pasta sauce or cereal or (insert your comfort food here).
  • Remember to factor in coffee and bubble tea. Taiwan has some incredible coffee shops but the 95 NT$ per day latte does add up. Your 珍珠奶茶 will be at least 50 NT$. Instant Nescafe packets and the boxed milk tea at 711 are far cheaper but it depends on what is important to you.
  • Plan in terms of a Friday night or an evening off. How often you going to be frequenting the expat bar with craft / imported beer and trivia? That is easily another 200-300$ for a drink. Are you going to be eating your way through a night market, or hitting up karaoke with your friends? What about hotpot? Korean food? Movies? Shopping in Ximending? There is so much to do in Taipei and as a resident/visitor you should take advantage of this, but it is important to factor these type of things into your budget. There is a wild difference between the expat bar once a week versus every evening.

Where are you hoping to travel?

  • Some expats decide they are going to prioritize exploring other parts of the Island during their time off. They set aside at least part of their income as their travel fund and then they get to see Hualien, Jiufen, Sun and Moon Lake, Tainan, Kenting and more. Their instagram accounts look like something out of a tourism advertisement but this might mean that they spend a lot less on food each day during their normal week.
  • Plan ahead for vacations and travel over breaks. Laos is far cheaper than Japan and Japan is yet again cheaper than Australia, especially on a Taiwanese paycheck. Also think about what you will be doing on these vacations. Sightseeing, taking scuba diving lessons, sitting at a poolside resort in the Philippines, partying hard with the fellow expat crowd? Budget for this and set aside part of your paycheck ahead of time.

Extra Expenses:

  • Make a general list of upfront costs that you will likely encounter. Think in terms of appliances, cooking supplies, cleaning materials, toiletries, etc. that you will need in Taiwan. This can be everything from a broom and dustpan to a bottle or oregano to a yoga mat picked up at Decathlon.
  • Make or set a budget for new shoes and clothing. Are you the expat who brings everything with them or the one who buys everything on arrival? Keep in mind that regardless you will likely be purchasing at least one pair of shows and a few articles of clothing. And think in terms of brand names too. Taipei has some incredible boutique clothing stores but you can also find discount street markets with some wonderful threads.
  • Think about whether you want to live with roommates, Wifi, jugs of bottled water, or a person who comes and cleans once / twice a week.
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Location

Where you are teaching and where you live matters. It will be far cheaper to teach in Hualian, but you might also not be making the Taipei paycheck. If you are in Taipei, start researching the different districts. Check out our blog posts, read other articles, ask the school where you are teaching and other contacts in Taipei where best / cheapest places to live are. Join the Facebook groups and be proactive in your own exploration of the city. Remember there are almost always expat apartments looking for roommates. Ask yourself too if living with Mandarin speakers might be a priority.

Hands down it is cheaper to live in New Taipei City and commute into Taipei, but consider also whether that would suit you. There will be days when it is raining, when the subway or bus is crowded and when there is a ton of traffic.

Also think about whether it would make sense for you to pay just slightly more to be closer to a metro station or a bus stop or even a local park?

Normally schools or placement agencies will help new teachers find housing, however, make sure you are clear and take ownership in the process. Be specific about what you are looking for in terms of location, space, amenities, roommates, and price.

Remember that it is okay to spend the first few weeks (or even months) in a hotel / hostel getting your feet under you and figuring it all out.

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Travel, Splurges, and Treating Yourself

We have talked about budgeting for intended travel over weekends and breaks, but we are bringing up again in this category.

One of the best pieces of advice any new expat can receive is, “treat yourself in a way that is important to your life every month.

Living abroad can wear on you at different times and in strange ways and even in such an idyllic place as Taiwan. It can be vital to find a change of scene, take a small break, or do something nice for yourself every once in a while. This might look like taking yourself to the hot springs outside of Taipei, booking a paragliding flight at Sun Moon Lake, surfing for the day at Wai’ao, or drinking tea on a misty day at a tea house in MaoKong. It could also look like purchasing that kindle book you have had on your reading list, ordering a new pair of running shoes, buying that bottle of Kavalan, eating at a nice restaurant, going for a massage, attending a concert, purchasing a plane ticket, or signing up for a dance class. The point is that you are spending time and money on yourself in a way that you might not allow in the course of an everyday work week. The astute observer will point out that “this is not an efficient way to save money,” however, for those who are living abroad finding a means of refreshing and reseting is essential to one’s happiness, sanity, and ability to live and work here long term. Living abroad is a marathon not a sprint and it is important to give one’s self the ability to succeed in these conditions.

The other primary reason to sent aside a portion of a paycheck for treating yourself is that it allows space for necessary or even impulse purchases without the guilt that comes with a shoestring budget and overly-tightened belt. You will get an invitation to a film festival in the mountains, see a piece of pottery you simply can’t live without, accidentally purchase something very expensive because you were not paying attention to the price or hadn’t yet calculated the exchange rate. You may find you want to spend an extra weekend on the beach with that special someone, or wish throw an awesome going away party for a friend. Have cash from each paycheck set aside for these things. It’s called “a life abroad well lived.” And if you don’t spend it all than that’s all the more that you get to take home in the end.

Setting Aside Money

As you get a sense of your budget in Taiwan you will also be able to calculate how much to set aside from each paycheck. You could transfer it immediately out of your Taiwanese bank account, but we recommend waiting and doing a larger transfer every four, six, or twelve months if that is workable with your finances. It’s better to have more money on hand for the unexpected and you don’t want to pay exchange rates or transfer fees twice.

Be clear about the amount you are setting aside from each paycheck as well as the total. AND revisit this number every few months. It is okay if it changes. Remember you will likely spend more in the beginning and be able to save more later in your time in Taiwan. Regardless, you will need money for vacations and travel and unexpected purchases.

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Photo by Vicky Ng on Unsplash

Making Extra Money

Another piece of advice that seasoned expats can give new arrivals is: “say yes to the new opportunities to make money that will come up.” Because of your ability to speak English you will get asked to tutor on the side, judge competitions, edit a thesis paper, maybe even model. Within reason of your schedule and time for your own routine, say yes to these things and take the experience and extra cash — especially if you are looking to save money while abroad. Plenty of English teachers have traveled on that extra cash that they made taking part in that summer camp or the funds that they saved while teaching at a restaurant in exchange for free food. Hustle your command of English and spin things to your benefit.

Getting Money out of Taiwan

This is the hard part. As a foreigner who is teaching in Taiwan you will be paid through a Taiwanese bank account, the goal is getting money from that bank account out of the country to a different bank account as cheaply as possible.

The following website lays out different options fairly concretely

In our experience, Wise, Western Union, and Paypal (although we might not recommend that last one) are often some of the more popular money transfer options among foreigners in Taiwan. Make sure you give each transfer a few business days. Be sure to compare the different exchange rates and fees that are offered. When you go to the bank to set up the transfer service make sure to have your passport, ARC card and all of you banking paperwork in hand. Be kind and patient and at worst prepared to come back at another point. Initially it could be a lengthy process.

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