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Taiwan Vs Korea: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

We get a lot of questions a lot about how teaching English in Taiwan compares to other countries in Asia, like Korea, Japan and China. I thought it would be a great time to bring in a guest poster who has experience teaching in Taiwan and elsewhere. I asked my friend TJ to write about his experiences teaching English in Taiwan and Korea and how they compare and contrast.

In his post below, TJ gives some great insight into why he first moved abroad and on the differences between teaching English in Taiwan and Korea. As you can see from TJ’s story, he didn’t get very good advice before coming to Taiwan, which is one of the reasons we started this blog.

For example, we’ve covered important topics like how much money you should save before you come to Taiwan, when you should come, and much more. If you have any questions for us or for TJ, leave a comment below and we’ll be happy to respond.

Why I decided to teach abroad

When my friend asked me to write about the differences between life in Taiwan vs. Korea I instantly had writers block brought on by the difficulty of sifting through the massive stockpile of data I’ve accumulated throughout the 5 years since I left The States. I just didn’t know where to start. I decided to think back to what was most important to me when I made the decision to pack my bags for parts unknown.

I was in my late 20’s and wanted to do something crazy with my life.  Something nobody I knew had ever done. You’re reading this, so I can imagine you’re about to do something equally as crazy. But is moving to another country really crazy?  You be the judge.

It really didn’t take me long to narrow my search to two countries: Korea and Taiwan. The reason was simple and can be summed up in one word  M-O-N-E-Y. Unless you were fortunate enough to be a genetic lottery winner by virtue of well-off parents, worked your way through college, or had a rich uncle who went bungee jumping in Mexico; you probably have a financial ankle bracelet in the form of student loans, credit card bills, and the like.

If you are like I was, you probably need money and quick in order to loosen that ankle bracelet ever so slightly or remove it all together.

Life in Korea

After doing extensive research I decided that Korea was the way to go. Recruiters were all over the internet to help me every step of the way. My flight to Korea was to be reimbursed by my school when I arrived, and I was to be given an apartment rent free for the duration of my contract. Couldn’t argue with that.  It just seemed like the safer option at the time, yet still nerve-racking for a greenhorn like myself.

I had a rough time at first, but after slipping into a routine it was great. Most schools there might have you working 40 hours a week. My school, on the other hand, had me doing 50+. In a regular job 50+ is not that big of a deal, but when teaching kids it really wears on you.

However, when my paycheck arrived every month, my stress dissipated. I made about $2,500 USD a month for a salary, but most new people will bring in about $2,100 or so. Working 10 more hours per week was nice money-wise, but not at all worth the extra stress involved.

For reference, in Taiwan you can expect to make $2,000 starting out working 25 teaching hours per week. You will have to pay rent and a 2 month deposit, and you will likely have to sign a one year rental contract. In Korea you also get a bonus of one month’s pay at the end the contract. This is pretty universal. All of this said, you can stretch your buck more in Taiwan. A good deal of foreigners like to travel to Southeast Asian countries during holidays. Taiwan is much closer to Southeast Asia, and thus a more convenient home base.

Moving to Taiwan

When my year was almost up, and my countdown for returning to The States had begun I started thinking, “Hey. Korea is cool. Why not take the next step and try Taiwan?” I met a few people in Korea with knowledge of teaching in Taiwan.

After interrogating them extensively about how best to make the jump to Taiwan, my mind was made up that the best thing to do is get on a flight to Taipei without a job and find one when I get there. My advice to you as someone who has done this is as follows:  DON’T DO THIS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!

I was thrilled to hear that a foreigner could just arrive in Taiwan and get a job. You see in Korea, you need to procure a visa prior to landing at which time your new employer sponsors your visa. This means you have to do paperwork that can be difficult depending on where you live.

You also need a criminal background check and you have to do an interview with a representative at a Korean embassy. As a guy from Northern Michigan, this meant a 7+ hour drive to Chicago. Taiwan doesn’t require you to do all of these shenanigans!

Unfortunately, I took bad advice and just got on a plane with my anemic bankroll. I arrived in Taipei and spent a day in the city before moving on to Kaohsiung on the super-awesome High Speed Train. Why Kaohsiung? The beach, of course.

I spent a week there looking for a job. Sending emails, walking around with resume in hand, inquiring with local foreigners at bars in hostels just wasn’t effective. I had had enough of this runaround and I made the decision to take my talents back north to Taipei.

Upon arrival back in Taipei, it quickly became clear to me that the job market here was not good either. I figured out quite quickly that the best time to come to Taiwan is over the summer (June-August) or in January/February (before Chinese New Year). This was November. Ouch. My job hunt was rough and ended after almost a month when I finally found something.

So, if the job market in Taiwan isn’t as simple and easy as Korea, why have I been here 4 years and only stayed in Korea for just 1 year? Let me tell you. The people.

Taiwanese are much more inviting and polite in my opinion. Also, Korean schools hire anyone with a heartbeat and a degree. Sight unseen. That leads to…well…let’s just say you’re odds of working with someone who might not be socially accepted in their home country are pretty good. Taiwanese schools interview people in person, so they know what they’re getting.

Differences between Taiwan and Korea


Korean is spoken by 80 million people. Mandarin? Roughly 1.3 billion with a “b”. Do the math. Taiwanese people also have a bit better English to guide you around. Still, it can be frustrating at times in both countries to say the least.

The job

In Korea you have a lot of paperwork and it’s difficult to change jobs. You sign your contract the day your school has imported you. Getting teaching hours in Taiwan can be difficult. If you are new to teaching abroad, or don’t have a lot of money saved, then I recommend contacting one of the bigger schools like HESS and having things ready for you when you arrive.

Remember, the summer and January/February (before Chinese New Year) are the best times to come. If you don’t enjoy your initial school, you can always move on to another school during the two peak hiring seasons.


I have to say, the jobs themselves are about the same inside the classroom for both countries. Perhaps the Korean classroom is more serious, but business is business, so private schools just want to make money no matter what country you’re in. I was always warned that teaching private classes in Korea was policed heavily and could get you deported if caught, whereas this doesn’t seem to be an issue in Taiwan.


Korea and Taiwan both have great healthcare run by the government. Although I have to give the edge to Taiwan on this one, as it’s just plain dirt cheap while not lacking in quality.


As mentioned before, Taiwan is better situated geographically to tourist hotspots. It also has great domestic travel. The train system can get you to an array of great places in a short time and it’s cheap. Although, both countries have High Speed Rail.

Food and Drinks

Korea has great food and the people are not afraid to lift a glass to mourn the loss of fallen loved ones, celebrate a wedding, or celebrate just being alive. What I’m trying to say is alcoholism runs rampant in Korea. Many people (particularly business men in suits) binge drink like frat boys on spring break. This was never an issue for me, as I enjoy lifting 12 ounce weights myself. That’s not to say Taiwanese don’t drink, but in moderation for the most part.

The bars here are great and stay open all night in many cases. I love Korean food, and eating it with a large group of friends is great. This is all well and good, but I prefer the selection of food in Taipei: Chinese, Taiwanese, Thai, Korean, Indian, American, etc. This cosmopolitan city has it all.

Wrap up

I think I’ve shown that both countries have a lot to offer, but let me leave you with this, as it could be the deciding factor in your decision of which country to choose. As I mentioned earlier, if you don’t have a lot of cash saved up and want a job when you land then you probably should seriously consider Korea.

If you can save up some money before you come and can arrive at one of the peak hiring periods then Taiwan can be a great option. To wrap up, I’ll just say that I lived in Korea for one year and was ready to leave, while I’ve lived in Taiwan for four years and have no plans to relocate.

Taiwan Travel Guide





39 responses to “Taiwan Vs Korea: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”

  1. Julie Avatar

    Hi I believe both Korea & Taiwan are nice countries to live in. I am a Taiwanese staying abroad. After reading your article above, I am so agree with you about the differences of people in different countries. Taiwanese are very friendly and very polite, yes very true. I actually got alot of friends saying the same thing about people in Taiwan after they travelled there.

    I wish you have a great stay in Taiwan. Enjoy the food!

    1. Nick Avatar

      Thanks for the comment. Tim and I both really like Taiwan and the people here.

  2. […] recently did a really great job showing us the differences between teaching English in Taiwan and teaching English in Korea. I wanted to follow up his effort with my own personal experience about the difference between […]

  3. Tom Avatar

    i think taiwan is slightly better for foreigners

  4. Dorresa Bottex Avatar
    Dorresa Bottex

    Sounds like the best thing to do if you are low on savings is to go to Korea first, save some money then relocate to Taiwan.

  5. eslsmith1989 Avatar

    Really interesting article, im going the motions now with Korean schools but i got start up money so Taiwan is an alternative option.

    1. Tim Avatar

      There’s definitely pros and con to both countries, and if you’re single without much baggage, you can always try both.

  6. lefaiseurdepluie Avatar

    Glad I ended up here. As a longtime Montrealer (the Brooklyn of Canada), I might be more of a Taipei-type-of-guy… Though I’m not completely broke, my funds are limited. I’m considering a job downtown Seoul (great location) but remains unsure about rigid 40-hour contracts. I have another offer on the table, a waiting list for Taipei through a recruiter referred by my TEFL program. The offer is for a min. of 18 hours x NT 580… so I’m worried about money, which sucks cause it’s the only thing stopping me. I really need to save money (post-taxes in Taiwan and Canada), it’s the main goal of moving abroad. Can I easily get more hours? Can I easily tutor? Can I switch jobs easily? Could I make money with a second language (French)? Most importantly, should I accept the job? No one seems to know. Thanks for your future reply and, hopefully, for making my Taiwanese dream possible…

    1. Nick Avatar

      If it were me in your situation I’d just go to Korea. Everyone says it’s an easier landing for people who don’t have any money. You can always come to Taiwan after a year in Korea if you want.

  7. Anonymouse Avatar
    This video explains korea the way it is.

    1. Ryan Stallard Avatar
      Ryan Stallard

      Sure, if you don’t do your research and pick a bad Hagawon.

  8. ESLinsider Avatar

    I spent 3.5 years in Korea and 2 in Taiwan. Korea is better for money for the most part. There’s a lot of benefits and you can save a lot. Taiwan has a crappy tax situation and more expenses. Korea is a little cleaner.

    Aside from the that I think Taiwan is just better. Language, culture, environment…

    1. Ned Chu Avatar
      Ned Chu

      I think in Korea, only Seoul is clean, the rest of the cities looks like worse than small town of Taiwan, especially Busan has very serious air pollution.

      1. Jonathan Chon Avatar
        Jonathan Chon

        Well, I’ve been to Korea, Seoul is not really clean as you would expect – but I have to say Seoul seems a bit more clean than backward city of Toronto where I live. Seoul has too many people and tourists and if I decide to live in Korea, I prefer NOT to live in Seoul. Smaller cities like Daegu and Deajun (There was LITERALLY NOT A SINGLE piece of garbage; surprised revelation when I was roaming in the city of Daegu) and even a tiny remote rural town is extremely clean and well organized. I was pleasantly surprised to find the near the DMZ border rural town called “Yaang-gu” was so meticulously organized and clean and so modern that it left an indelible memory and I lament how Toronto seems to backward compared to even rural town of Korea.
        Even some Japanese tourists say that they feel like they are still in Japan considering the similar outer façades. When I went to Busan for the first time in my life, I did not find it air polluted at all especially considering I was there in the hot sticky damp summer. South Korea and part of Japan have serious problem of smog issues coming from the mainland China. Seoul is constantly (almost every year in the summer) bombarded with serious air haze smog being wafted from mainland China and this polluted air in gigantic magnitude now drifts into Japan.

        1. Ned Chu Avatar
          Ned Chu

          I believe cities in Korea can be better than Toronto, but I don’t think it can be compare with Japan.
          Consider the public manners and government effectiveness …
          Korea is still way behind Japan.

          1. Jonathan Chon Avatar
            Jonathan Chon

            Thanks for the reply. You’re right. Korea is behind Japan, but as a visitor to the country myself in recent years not a way behind Japan though. I’ve been to Taiwan and Japan as a Child with my parents and I remember Taiwan to be quite clean in the cultural tendency of Taiwanese people compared to the mainland China; Japan is also maintained very clean. Some non-Koreans including a past acquaintance at work said that on the “outer façade” Japan and Korea there was not so much difference to him during his visits to the both countries as a foreign worker. I believe Japan is about a decade ahead of most of the developed western countries, and I feel that Korea is also at least about a few years ahead of many western countries too. So Japan seems a way more advanced than Toronto or Canada, but Korea is also quite more advanced in many aspects than Canada where I live as Canadian.
            I used to snub on the Korean people & immigrants myself.
            but when I went to the country some time ago in recent years, I was just blown away by such high and efficient infra structure. I found Koreans to have extremely high standard of living and this is no exaggeration. Yes, sometimes I am very angry at their xenophobic comments and rude attitude towards non-Korean visitors, but otherwise my visit to Korea visit impressed me a lot.
            Koreans I find sometimes very obnoxious, crude and snobby. As a foreigner though I noticed they normally do not eat food on streets while walking which they themselves I heard considered uncivilized; so eating a hotdog while walking could be a rare sight in korea.

          2. Ned Chu Avatar
            Ned Chu

            Ha ha, nice to meet you Jonathan,
            You are Korean Canadian right ?
            Well, I do believe East Asia area like Japan, Korea and Taiwan are more advanced than Canada.
            I’m living in Vancouver and I hate their traffic so much, they can’t even manage or update skytrain system ( subway ) or any other transportation properly .
            I do like to hangout with Koreans in Vancouver, somehow I feel they are more friendly than Japanese and Chinese.

          3. Jonathan Chon Avatar
            Jonathan Chon

            Thanks for the reply again. Yes, I am Korean Canadian. Speaking of the public transit as you said about Vancouver, Toronto’s TTC is also not the greatest service either. I also had a very close friend (like a big brother) who was of Taiwanese origin but of mixed with Japanese blood on maternal side. I used get along better with Chinese counterparts than Korean peers. Koreans I find sometimes are notorious of making enemies instead of friends over the internet – ethnocentric view of things is creating havoc on themselves which I feel so grievous as a Korean background myself.

          4. Tennisb 20 Avatar
            Tennisb 20

            your mention of Korea still way behind Japan is a little irritating to hear.
            It’s same as saying Taiwan has no position of power between Korea, Japan, and China.

        2. ESLinsider Avatar

          I agree with you in regards to Busan. That’s true some places in Korea like Seoul get that yellow dust from China.

      2. ESLinsider Avatar

        I lived in Busan for 2.5 years and then Changwon for about a year. I never thought Busan was that polluted. It’s on the ocean too. One of the first impressions I had when I went there was that it was cleaner. Smog days are not that common there.

        Busan is around 3.5 million and I thought it was cleaner then the cities I lived in Taiwan that were only around a million (Taichung and Tainan). Scooters are the problem in Taiwan.

        1. Ned Chu Avatar
          Ned Chu

          Taichung and Tainan are old cities,
          You should compare Busan to Kaohsiung, they are both second largest cities in South Korean and Taiwan.

        2. 姚威志 Avatar

          My roommate is from Busan. From what I’ve heard, it is the cleanest city in South Korea

      3. tewkewl Avatar

        Not true at all. in fact, the smaller cities are cleaner because there is so much new development.

  9. ESLinsider Avatar

    That picture looks a little like Taichung.

  10. […] and we have also explored some other cites like Tainan. We even discussed other countries like South Korea and Japan. But, one place we haven’t talked much about is a very popular tourist destination […]

  11. […] At that time I was left with only a few choices, of which only three made my shortlist: Japan, South Korea, and […]

  12. […] example on this blog, there are English Teachers saying that Taiwan is better than Korea and Japan. I posted […]

  13. Truth2Disqus Avatar

    I prefer Korea. Taiwan ( food and weather) are lousy. If you want Chinese food go to Hong Kong, If you like hot humid weather. Go to Taiwan. If you want shopping, sight seeing, Urban Nomad. Go to Korea!!!!

    1. don mario Avatar
      don mario

      taiwanese food is way better than hong kong food. not everyone loves cantonese food you know. although i do love hong kong food, lets make that clear!

  14. Michael Leung Tsu Avatar
    Michael Leung Tsu

    hi 40 hours a week? that’s horrible . do you mean teaching 40 hours a week or the 40 hrs include the preparation time ? In mainland china, you can easily find a teaching job with 12000 RMB minimum with 25 hours max

  15. Ned Chu Avatar
    Ned Chu

    I would say Taiwan is better for advanced transportation system, and Taiwanese are way too polite.

    1. Tennisb 20 Avatar
      Tennisb 20

      For advanced transportation system around metro, Korea and Japan is the best. Taiwan has a nice one too, however, it is only because its small.

  16. Edison Kendrick Avatar
    Edison Kendrick

    Lol free healthcare :3

  17. CoreanoNoChino Avatar

    I prefer Korea over Taiwan. You are comparing State of Massachusetts to State of Guam.

  18. Vince Carter Avatar
    Vince Carter

    Koreans are very ignorant, and short minded. They are addicted to thinking high of themselves. It’s because of the memorizing based education system.
    They don’t know how to think. They don’t like to think.
    That’s why the society is so messed up.

  19. tewkewl Avatar

    This is utterly slanted and is one person view. Koreans are rude? That’s not what I experienced. There are a few that do prefer other countries. But most folks I have come across end up going to korea, getting addicted to it, and staying their many years.

  20. Will Mostert Avatar
    Will Mostert

    I taught in Whasun, South Korea and I’m now in Taiwan for 5 years. Cultural differences are huge in both countries but I find it easier in Taiwan. Sadly some foreigners come to these countries to fool around and made it difficult for everyone. Do your homework about schools before you apply for work.

  21. Point Venus Avatar
    Point Venus

    The food in Taiwan is seriously shit the country is small bland and unremarkable, on the other hand Thailand Japan and Indonesia are big countries lots of unique cultures histories lots of diverse islands etc, I found life in Taiwan really boring like asmall microcosm of China (but without the filthy rude people who spit and shit everywhere), Ive not been to Korea yet so couldnt abide you with that.

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