Can You Teach English in Taiwan Without a Degree?

By Geddy Gee
Teach English in Taiwan

When someone thinks about teaching ESL abroad, the places that come to mind are China and Korea, maybe Vietnam and Thailand. China has arguably been the most important ESL location for the past few years. Thanks to the industry’s marketing from China, Taiwan is often overlooked, especially by less “Asia-savvy” teachers. If you’ve never been to Asia before, Taiwan is probably not the first place on your list. However, many teachers from China have taken a quick weekend trip to Taiwan and ended up staying 3-10 years. Teaching English in Taiwan is a great time. You get to experience Chinese culture as the national language is Chinese but a freer, westernized lifestyle. You don’t even need a VPN to access Facebook and Google! The three best places to experience Chinese culture outside of China would be Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. 

Taiwan is an independent island nation that lies vaguely between China and Japan. Because of that it has drawn some parts of both cultures, arguably more Japanese than Chinese. They even use the same app, Line Messenger, to chat with each other in Taiwan as they do in Japan. If you love the outdoors or delicious Chinese food, Taiwan is the place for you. The mountains, landscapes and national parks are breathtaking. In fact when the Portuguese first saw Taiwan in the 1500’s they called it Ilha Formosa, which means beautiful island. Taiwanese people are also some of the friendliest people in the world. English teachers often say it’s the beauty that brings them to Taiwan, but it’s the people that keep them there.

Teach English in Taiwan without a degree

People who want to teach English in Taiwan are often disappointed to find out that most jobs require you to have a bachelor’s degree. Maybe you’re still studying or you didn’t go to university for some other reason. Unfortunately the reason you need a degree is for the schools to issue a work visa. It’s a government requirement in Taiwan to have a bachelor’s degree to receive a work permit. An Associated degree is sometimes accepted along with a TEFL certificate. 

Many cram schools would hire teachers without a degree and many do. How do they do it? They do it illegally. Passport holders from most countries receive a 90-day visa on arrival and they leave at the end of 90 days to a nearby place (often Hong Kong) and come right back and get another visa on arrival. This does add some costs, but those teachers try to make a trip out of it. Others arrange an education visa where they don’t actually study or they take a few Chinese language classes. We all know it happens and I wanted to share, but I also don’t recommend doing that. It’s risky, as you can get caught, fined and deported if they decide to have an inspection at any time. In the past, teaching countries in Asia were more lenient, but those days are gone and it’s getting stricter and stricter as time goes on. So if you plan to become a full-time English teacher, finishing your degree will serve you well. However, I do have some good news: there is a special visa that allows you to travel and experience teaching English in Taiwan and that is called the working holiday visa.

Taiwan working holiday visa

The working holiday visa is valid for 12 months and can only be used once. So if you have previously been issued one in Taiwan, you will not be able to get another. The main purpose of the working holiday visa is to travel and to earn money to fund your travels but it’s a good chance to give teaching a go. If you just finished school and want to try TEFL out to see if you like it you can do this. Then if you like it you can go back to university and enroll in an English or Education degree and come back and secure a good job.

Taiwan working holiday visa requirements

  • You will need to be a citizen and hold a valid passport from one of these countries: New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Japan, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, South Korea, United Kingdom and Ireland
  • You should not have used the working holiday visa in the past
  • You need to show that travel is the primary reason for staying in Taiwan and that you intend to leave once the visa expires
  • You need to be between 18 and 30 years old
  • You are not allowed to bring any dependents 
  • You will need to either have a round-trip flight ticket or have sufficient funds to purchase it at a later date
  • You need to have at least NT$100,000 (or equivalent foreign currency) for your stay in Taiwan
  • You will also need to apply for full medical and hospitalization insurance for your stay in Taiwan

Some options are always going to be better than no options so hopefully that helps. China doesn’t offer a working holiday program so you won’t be able to teach English there legally. Many people do teach English in China without a degree, but it’s not something I would recommend. Singapore actually does have a working holiday visa but English is spoken as a first language there so ESL jobs are for highly-qualified teachers. Singapore is better known as a technology startup location and maybe if you want to develop a mobile app that kids can use to learn English in the future, you could go there. However,  Hong Kong also offers a working holiday visa, so that is another option.

Hong Kong working holiday visa

Hong Kong is one of the most multicultural places on Earth. The Special Administrative region is just 1h 30m away from Taiwan via a direct flight and about 4 hours away via a connected flight. Hong Kong is not part of China so they have their own visa system and currency. They are however very close to China so there are excellent travel opportunities. By teaching English in Hong Kong you are always free to travel around China on your weekends and holidays. Similar to Taiwan, getting a visa without a degree in Hong Kong is not going to happen. However, Hong Kong also has a working holiday visa. This visa allows people to travel and work in Hong Kong for 1 year. You might not be able to secure a full-time job but you will be able to work at some language schools and earn money to travel around Hong Kong and China.

Hong Kong working holiday visa requirements

  • You need to be a citizen and hold a valid passport from one of these countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom
  • The primary reason for your stay must be travel
  • You need sufficient funds for travel and staying in Hong Kong
  • You must be in good health and of good character

As you can see it is possible to teach English without a degree in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, but not possible to make a long-term career from it. While there are other countries (in South America) that do hire teachers without degrees, in Asia you will be limited to Cambodia. You can also start teaching English right away by teaching English online. You can do that full-time or part-time, while you study or while you travel. Either way, stay positive and make a difference!

Written by Geddy Gee for TEFL.net August 2021
Ex-teacher, unvaccinated traveler and amateur writer

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