The necessity to have an ARC and work permit for five years in Taiwan pushed my career ahead. But, unlike many of my Taiwanese friends whose legal status to live and work in Taiwan is guaranteed, I’ve always had to fight for it.
My journey as a foreign professional in Taiwan has been fortunate. I found the jobs I needed to push my career, keep my legal status to live here, and finally, attain the foreigner holy grail, an APRC.
Throughout studying, working, and panicking about finding work, I have grown a deeper understanding and empathy for foreign nationals in Ireland. I realized that I took a right to live and work somewhere for granted.
Not anymore. Not after going through my experiences in Taiwan and coming out the other end with a greater appreciation of what it is to be a foreigner.
Important Note: My experiences were as a privileged white fella with a MOE scholarship to do a master’s in Taiwan. I could also enter work legally as a foreign professional. My experiences have also made me far more aware of the inequality in Taiwan and Ireland regarding foreign national working rights and statuses, particularly for migrant and seasonal workers.
Joining the Mad Max Job Market for Foreign Professionals
When I first joined the job market, the only jobs that were readily available were teaching positions. Corporate jobs for marketing were slim pickings. The majority of companies hiring foreign professionals offered packages that barely satisfied the WDA’s
Why Taiwan Drove My Personal and Career Development
When it comes to being a foreign professional in Taiwan, it’s sink or swim. You also need more than a simple desire to earn to live in Taiwan as a foreigner. You need to adopt the language, and culture, and partake in society. The wages in Taiwan aren’t going to be as competitive as you’d expect elsewhere, but this island’s people, culture, and society make up for that in ways I can’t begin to describe.
However, if you want to understand better why Taiwan drove my life and career development, here are three solid reasons.
1. You’re Constantly Proving Your Skills and Worth in Taiwan
As a foreign professional, you must prove your value to companies, the government, and most of all, your goddam self. Sure, locals must demonstrate the same, but foreign professionals must meet a minimum monthly income of around NT$48,000 to be legally employed. Earning over this amount puts you roughly among Taiwan’s top 50% of earners.
To give you some perspective, according to this UDN article, business school graduates can expect anywhere from NT$28,000 to NT$40,000 per month, depending on the job and their expertise. Furthermore, the article explains that without housing in Taipei City, you’d need a monthly salary of between NT50,000 to NT$60,000.
So, you’re earning 20% more than a graduate with a high level of expertise starting a good job. Those stats are against you unless you can pull out something in your favor.
Language and an international focus distinguish us from the local market. I work prominently in internationalizing product marketing to enter European and North American markets, strongly emphasizing SEO-friendly content creation. My starting salary for the past five years was NT$55,000 (NT$5,000 less than the others), and now my salary is above the D9 line.
You must remember that Taiwanese companies will always perceive foreigners being more expensive hires. Therefore, you might get a higher wage than a local in a similar role. Still, you must distinguish yourself and find companies with an international strategy to get it.
My Advice: Survive Bad Companies to Get the Experience to Find Good Ones
I can’t tell you how often friends have told me they were let go at companies over the last seven years because their Taiwanese 頭家 thought “foreigners are too expensive.” The mentality is, “I could hire two local people for that wage!” because the illusion of productivity is often more important than productivity.
To prove your skills, you might have to suffer idiots in good and bad companies. That’s pretty tough for people who are new to the market or are just starting out.
I know that feeling and it sucks. You don’t have enough experience to really go after juicy roles and nobody believes you are capable of it. You’re stuck with not a lot of options and you’re most likely going to take the first cowboy company that’ll hire you.
Once you get your experience, get out. Don’t fall into the trap of believing everywhere is the same. It’s not. After my first job in Taiwan, I suffered from imposter syndrome for the first year of my new job despite being given stellar feedback and accomplishing a lot.
I worked with a micromanager who had 20-minute check-ins each morning to review our plan for the day. They wanted a daily plan and a daily report. I felt terrible and worthless.
That job led to me not wanting to write this blog anymore, and I didn’t find my mojo until quite recently.
But I knew I wasn’t deep down; I had to move on and flocked to the job market with enough experience to want to better myself and my career, and, most importantly, keep my legal status to remain in Taiwan.
2. Your Career Development Is Your Legal Status
I believe that nobody is “illegal.” It’s just a pity the NIA doesn’t.
My legal status in Taiwan was tied to my work, making it imperative to excel in my job to maintain my visa. This heightened sense of responsibility made me more driven and focused in my career.
That might sound too “LinkedIn-y,” but it has merit.
When I graduated from NCCU, I thought, “how the f*** am I going to stay in Taiwan?”
I was in the best relationship of my life, living in a country I felt was becoming my home, and to stay there, I had to prove why I was valuable. I considered doing a Ph.D., but that was a dead-end because I’d still not have permanent residency after it and would be back at square one.
I also considered teaching English, but my heart was never in that. I thought I could teach enterprise-level English with the correct accreditation. I never had an interest.
That’s not to say I view teaching negatively. But it’s just not for me. I’d probably swear too much in front of the children anyway.
No, a professional career was the only way I could stay. That reality drove me to want to make the best possible career because, unlike my Taiwanese friends, I didn’t have family or 關係 to rely on. I just had myself and maintained my legal status working in Taiwan for five years before I could become a permanent resident.
3. You Have No Family, Safety Net, or Plan B
Being a foreigner in Taiwan, I lack the same safety net I had in my home country. This made me more resourceful and self-reliant as I had to take the initiative in building a support system for myself.
While foreign professionals can earn a higher wage than their peers, it needs to be recognized we don’t have our parents, government, or even community to run to when life gets hard.
Worse yet, if you don’t marry a local, you’ll be locked out of many government benefits and even citizenship for your child.
I recently spoke to a friend who would rather remain off the record. He’s a foreign professional married to another foreigner. They had their first child in Taipei, and here’s what he had to say about being perpetually foreign in Taiwan:
“A big thing is that APRC holders without a local spouse are essentially locked out of the housing market. We’ve lived here for five years and make over double the minimum wage. But we still are discriminated against in housing like we are rich Chinese coming here to f*** with the property market.”
Without property or a Taiwanese spouse, foreigners lack household registration documents that cut them off from basic things like kindergarten subsidies.
They also added that:
“But the one thing is that I’m going to have to tell my child (born and raised in Taiwan) that he should avoid marrying another foreigner. Because if he does, he will go through the same s*** his mom and I did.”
Some people will point out that you can get Taiwanese citizenship, but the process is a complete mess and requires you to renounce your original citizenship.
Some government departments even required a six-month-year-old to have a singleness certificate and a police record to prove they weren’t married in the Philippines, despite being born in Taiwan and never entering the Philippines, to gain their Taiwanese citizenship.
Living without a safety net in the form of a family or government made me more self-reliant. Everything I own, worked for and continue to work for came from me.
The Road to a Sense of Freedom with My APRC
Life recently changed for me. I finally got my APRC. The process was a colossal pain in the a**, but it paid off. For the first time in seven years, I feel relieved that my legal status isn’t subservient to a boss.
Still, the lessons I learned about being self-reliant haven’t left me. I’m just as cautious and driven as before, except I now have the freedom to choose my career and life path without needing to tie or justify it to the WDA, NIA, and a 頭家.
I can now happily say that with my APRC and open work permit, I’ll finally be able to turn Nihao’s It Going into something more substantial. I haven’t decided fully on that direction, but it will involve a lot more writing like this. I’ve finally got my mojo back because I’m finally settled in my new home without fearing about leaving over bulls*** work permits and ARCs.