Note: While this post was originally written circa 2013 and updated several times over the years, the general math and income vs. cost of living has not really changed much. There may be minor variances with how you choose to spend your earnings, but the conclusion that you can save a reasonable amount of your teaching income if you choose to do so remains accurate as of 2020.
One of the reasons I moved to Taiwan was that I needed money. I wanted to live and experience another culture. I wanted to challenge myself by moving away from the safety net of friends, family and convenience. I wanted to travel before I either started a career or family.
I didn’t need to go to Taiwan for those things, but I was only a few years removed from university life, and with university life came university debt.
Taiwan was a solid option for entertaining my wanderlust while maintaining some semblance of fiscal responsibility. Taiwan is a place in which you can either save money, or spend money. When I moved to Taiwan, I needed to save money, and I hope to show you how it’s possible in this post.
There are a lot of assumptions and averages made below as far as the math is concerned, but all of the financial information is realistic and possible.
How Much Money Do You Make?
To state things simply, saving money comes down to how much money you make and have access to versus how much you spend. Since I have been teaching English in Taiwan, the salaries have remained reasonably stable. Here are several screenshots from some online jobs pages:
As you can see, it’s fair to assume an average salary of about NT$60,000/month for a full-time position (That’s about $2,035 USD as of July 2020). I am not going to discuss part-time hours, because if you are trying to save money or pay off student loans, you are looking to maximize your earnings, and as a new teacher in Taiwan, you’ll most likely do that by working full-time.
An important thing to remember about budgeting is that the salary buxibans and schools quote you is the value before you are taxed. The tax situation for foreigners can get a little confusing as it varies depending on when you arrive in Taiwan and how long you stay, but for brevity’s sake, we will use the highest tax amount. This will give us a very conservative view of your potential revenue.
The high end of the tax rate you will be subjected to is 18%. There is also labor and health insurance fees, which will run you around NT$1,000 each month. That takes your monthly take home pay to around NT$48,200 (Around $1,635 USD as of July 2020).
How Much Money Do You Spend?
Now we can look at some monthly expenses. The first and most stable expense we can estimate is your rent. Again, I am making the assumption that you will be trying to save money. One of the best ways to do that is by having a roommate or two. You not only split the rent, but you split the cost of utilities.
Below are a few examples of rent, but this is much harder to estimate, because the prices can vary a lot depending on where you choose to live. I will lean toward the more expensive but not extreme side, since we want these estimates to be conservative.
A fair estimate for sharing rent and utilities is about NT$11,000 (~$370 USD). You can find places where you would spend considerably less, but we will assume a higher cost to keep potential savings conservative. Additional monthly expenses include phone, food, entertainment, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses such as replacing old clothes, etc.
In Taiwan you can get a pretty reasonable smart phone service plan for about NT$1,000 a month. If you eat local food, and not expensive western restaurant food, meals will run you around NT$50 to NT $150 each. We can estimate this at about NT$300 a day, or about NT$9,000 a month (~$305 USD).
Entertainment is too much of a variable to accurately estimate, as a hike is free, but a night out in a mid-level club can cost you a few thousand NT dollars. For this number, I’ll assume one night at a club, one nice restaurant meal, a few random drinks with friends, and couple of cups of Starbucks each month. That should run about NT$5000 (about $170 USD).
Next we have transportation. There are two options: public transportation or private transportation. Buses (and the MRT for those in Taipei) are cheaper up-front, but scooters can be cheap over time, though they have the initial cost of purchase. If you are in the city, and by the rent assumption we made, you would be, and public transportation should be OK.
Most bus rides cost NT$15, and trips on the MRT range from NT$18 and up, but most trips are under NT$30. We can assume a cost of about NT$3000 each month (~$100 USD).
The only thing left is the miscellaneous fees, like a gym membership or a trip to the beach. For some of you, this may be next to nothing, while for others, it may be more, so just to be safe, we can quote them at about NT$5,000 a month(about $170 USD).
You also should take into consideration that you will need to get to Taiwan, which can be expensive. Expect to pay close to $1,000 USD or more for your flight, though you only have to pay that once and not monthly. Alternatively, if you have decent credit, you can actually fly to Taiwan for almost nothing with some careful planning.
How Much is Left?
Now we have a pretty solid estimate of money coming in and money going out. Take home pay should average around NT$48,000 every month, while living expenses should run about NT$34,000, based on extremely conservative estimates. The leaves a monthly savings of NT$14,000, or around $475 USD (as of July 2020).
And remember, these estimates are very conservative. There is no reason why you could not push that number closer to NT$20,000 ($745 USD) and still live a comfortable and enjoyable lifestyle. I have personally done that month over month for over a year with a salary extremely similar to the base salary used in these calculations.
As I have stated several times already, all of these numbers are estimates and assumptions. Everyone will have different experiences as everyone has different needs.
It should also be stated that none of this takes your start-up expense into account. Some people may find a school willing to help them with airfare, while most won’t. Some people will find an apartment that requires a 2-month deposit, while others won’t. The numbers are only here to show that saving money while teaching English in Taiwan is definitely possible, and you do not need to live like a hermit to do so.