We’ve covered some financial related issues in other posts like how much money you can save and also how there is a relatively lost cost of living in Taiwan. However, one of the most important things to consider if you are planning on coming to Taiwan to be an English teacher is how much money you should save before you even get here.
We have seen so many people not consider this very obvious question, and they often arrive here without enough money, which can become problematic pretty quickly.
Can’t you just live off of your teaching pay right away?
Part of the reason people come here without enough money is because they are reading/hearing dated information (in the past finding a job and getting set up quickly were much easier than they are today). The other reason is that there is a lack of clear and concise info on the internet about how much money people should bring to Taiwan.
One thing I want to be clear about is that long gone are the days where you could show up in Taiwan over the weekend and have a teaching job within a few days and the first paycheck a few weeks later. It not only takes longer to find a job and get that first payment, but things are also more expensive than they used to be, which requires having more savings than in the past.
Exactly how much you should save of course depends on the lifestyle you want to lead during your first couple of months. In this post I’ll go over two levels of savings that should work for most people – a recommend level that will allow you to enjoy your first couple of months in Taiwan, and a bare minimum level that should be enough as long as you are very careful.
To explain the amounts I list below, I’ll go over some of the early expenses that you will have.
Note: all figures are in USD
Suggested Savings Before Living in Taiwan
- Recommended Amount: $4-5,000 – Should give you enough money without needing to be careful (take some time to find a good job, choose a decent apartment, enjoy the nightlife, eat decent food, etc).
- Minimum Amount: $2,000 – Should be enough as long as you are very careful (i.e. find a job quickly, are willing to take a cheaper apartment/stay in a hostel for a couple months, not partake in expensive nightlife activities, and eat cheaply).
Finding a Job in Taiwan
The vast majority of people who come to Taiwan find a job after they arrive (unless they work for one of the big chain schools like Hess that recruits overseas). Most schools will ignore your calls/emails if you aren’t yet in Taiwan, so generally you can’t start your job search until you arrive. While some people do find teaching jobs very quickly, we have seen it take nearly two months to find a job for some.
In general, I advise people that they should plan for it to take about a month to land a job/start teaching. In Taiwan, people are paid monthly, so if you started working at the beginning of the month, this means you’d have to wait until the next month to get paid.
In other words, it could easily take 2 months after the date you arrived before you get your first paycheck. If you have saved the recommended amount, this should be sufficient, but if you only saved the minimum amount you will need to be extremely careful with your spending to last two months before getting paid.
Additionally, if you don’t have enough money, you may need to settle for the first job you can get and often this means you’ll also have to sacrifice and deal with bad hours, a location that’s far away, and lower pay, etc. (of course you may get lucky and get a great job offer right away, but you shouldn’t count on this).
If you are living in Taipei, in general you should expect to pay around $3-400/month for a room in a decent shared apartment. Generally, you will need to put down two months as a security deposit and also the first month’s rent. So you will need to put down a total of 3 months rent when you sign a lease or move into a shared apartment. If you are paying $300/month, this means right off the bat you’ll need to pay $900.
With the recommended amount I list above, this is only approximately 20-25% of savings and not a problem, but for the minimum amount it is nearly 50% of savings and could be problematic.
If you don’t have enough money to pay upfront for a decent apartment, then you basically have three options.
One is to stay in a hostel for a couple of months until you find a job/get paid.
The second is to take a cheaper, and almost always, lower quality apartment. Of course, staying in a hostel for a while or living in lower-quality/cheaper place may not bother you (I do know several people who stayed in hostels for the first few months or got super cheap apartments their first year), and if so then you don’t need to worry about this as much.
Third, you may be able to negotiate with a landlord and pay the security fee over a period of a couple months; however, this isn’t something you can always count on.
Activities and Nightlife
When you first move to a new country and are meeting new people you will probably have a lot of opportunities to go out. I know that when I first moved here I kept meeting new people at places like my hostel, work, gym, etc. I regularly had weeknight and weekend plans to go out with people for hikes, dinners, bars, clubs, etc.
Some of the things people invited me to do were of course free or cheap, but other things like going out for dinner or to a bar/club can be expensive especially if you are on a tight budget (depending on the place you go to, with food, alcohol and a taxi home, you could easily spend $30-100).
If you come here on the recommended savings I mentioned, you still need to be a little careful, but you definitely don’t need to be too concerned about going out and spending money. However, if you come here on the minimum savings, you have to be incredibly careful, otherwise you will burn through your money very quickly.
It definitely isn’t fun to be the one person in a group who has to go home early because they are on a tight budget, especially with new people you’ve recently met. Of course, if you aren’t the type of person who likes to go out very often, then this might not apply to you and the minimum savings could be fine.
One of the most interesting things to do when going to a new country is to try out the food. The good news is that a lot of Taiwanese food can be both very good and very cheap. The problem with eating locally is that it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Most cheap local places won’t have English menus, so you’ll need to understand some Chinese to order. You can go to the more English friendly Taiwanese places (like mall food courts), but usually these places are more expensive than what you can find at a restaurant around the corner.
Many foreigners I know also take a little while to adapt to the local food and instead go to the many popular western restaurants that are available in any of the major cities. These restaurants are more expensive than local Taiwanese food and can add up very quickly.
For example, you can get a local dish like Taiwanese beef noodles for around $3, but if you want pizza or a burrito you expect to pay double that or more (sometimes much more).
If you are willing to eat local food for most meals and be very careful, then the minimum savings I suggested should work for you. However, if you think you’ll take a little while to adjust to Taiwanese food, or don’t want to eat it for every meal, then the recommended savings is definitely the way to go.
Basically, if you can’t save up enough money you will need to be very careful with how you spend it. You may need to do things like pass up on activities, stay in hostel for a couple months, take the first job you get offered, eat cheaply, etc.
If you can save more money (like the recommended amount I suggested), then you should have enough to enjoy your first couple months here without worrying about all the things listed above. Of course, for some people saving $4-5,000 may just be too difficult, especially for recent college graduates. If that’s the case then you can use this post as a guide on how/where you’ll spend money while living in Taiwan so that you can figure out the right amount for yourself.