Where to Teach in Taiwan?
Not All Cities are Equal
By Troy Clarke
Taiwan enjoys a diverse geography and culture. From the ultra-high tech semiconductor industry to rural rice paddies, Taiwan has it all. The capital city of Taipei and its outlying suburbs are home to over seven million inhabitants, which is roughly thirty percent of the country’s population. Due to these demographics, most ESL teachers find themselves in the nation’s capital city. Taipei offers teachers the convenience of a modern western lifestyle, it is not too much of a culture shock for most western people. Generally speaking, ESL teachers in Taipei also have the highest wages and employment opportunities on the island. On the other hand, the cost of living is very high.
Kaohsiung is a large city in southern Taiwan with a population just under three million people. Kaohsiung is a modern metropolis which is home to a large number of heavy industries that include petrochemicals, shipbuilding, and steel production. ESL teachers in Kaohsiung have good employment opportunities and wages, but generally less than Taipei. However, the lower wages are offset by a lower cost of living.
Taichung is Taiwan’s second most populous city with a population of just under three million people. It is located in central Taiwan, and is home to the semiconductor giant, TSMC. Taichung has a great transport network and excellent cultural sites including many historic temples and several museums. ESL teachers in Taichung enjoy similar working conditions as Kaohsiung.
Tainan is another large city in southern Taiwan with a population of just under two million inhabitants. Tainan is a history lovers paradise; it has had a vibrant history as a fort for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and was the capital city of Taiwan under the Qing Dynasty. Tainan offers ESL teachers similar employment opportunities and wages as Kaohsiung, but it lacks a comprehensive transport network. If you plan to live and work here, a car or scooter will make your life much easier.
Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung, and Tainan are where the vast majority of ESL teachers live and work in Taiwan. Outside these cities there are opportunities, but they are limited. The rugged east coast of Taiwan is in stark contrast to the urban sprawl of the western half of the island. The east coast is blessed with spectacular scenery and rocky beaches. The beauty of this region attracts a lot of ESL teachers, and as a consequence, teaching positions are tough to find. The much lower population density also contributes to the difficulty of finding work here. The east coast transport infrastructure is quite minimal. There are rail and bus links to the major cities, but within the towns themselves there are usually only limited bus services.
I have lived in and around Kaohsiung for over twenty years. Kaohsiung offers reasonable teaching opportunities and wages. The cost of living is fairly low compared to Taipei, but it has been rising quickly in the last few years. Kaohsiung has great transport links including an international airport, a high-speed rail (HSR) station, a mass rapid transport (MRT) network, and frequent bus services. Kaohsiung does suffer from an air pollution problem, but with the rising popularity of electric vehicles this may become a thing of the past.
So, where should you live? My advice would be to live outside of Taipei. This is due to the high cost of living alone. Wherever you live, I hope that you enjoy your stay in Taiwan.