Build Your Nest Egg Abroad


“It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you keep.” — a wise man (我爸爸)

(US$1 =NT 33-34)

I’m surprised by the number of foreigners living in Taipei.  On weekends, they come out to the clubs near a movie theater I frequent.  For every 20 people, there might be one obvious foreigner with European or African features.  Many people come to teach English to school age children.

Similarly, I belong to a CF gym where most of the members are foreigners.  One lumbersexual (American with beard in plaid) told me he’s been here for 10 years teaching English.  10 years!  (Technically, he did spend a year in Korea.)  A South African (white) lady said she’s been here for about a year; she said she can save twice as much as she can in her native country.

My understanding is that Americans have a dismal savings rate of around 5 percent.  In other words, if you’re making $60,000 per year, then perhaps you can save $3,000 in a year. But it’s not surprising considering the variety of taxes, rent, gas (fuel), utilities, cell phone, and eating costs.   On top of that, the US has so many things to buy!!!  And credit cards that help you spend money you may not have.

If you’re looking to shore up your finances and build some savings, consider teaching English in East Asia.  (This post is about Taiwan but you can also teach in Japan, South Korea, and China.)

If you have a North American accent or a British Commonwealth-type accent (UK/Australia/S Africa/Canada), then you can make a pretty good living in Taiwan as an English teacher. My understanding is that you can make around US$2,000/month working at an after-school learning center. That may seem like nothing to write home about but it only costs (maybe) $1,000 to live here. So a person could save half of his salary here.  Obviously, if you work more or do more jobs, then you can probably save more than $1,000 per month.

If you’re licensed/accredited and can land a job at an international school, then I believe you can make more than $60,000. Obviously, the competition for those jobs would be higher.  (For more information)

Friend’s budget

For instance, a classmate from Chinese school told me he paid NT 7200 ($220) per month for a room in a 3BR apartment outside of downtown Taipei. If you eat like a local, then you can eat for NT 60-100 ($1.87 – $3) per meal. Maybe you treat yourself to the occasional higher-end meal that costs you NT 500-1000 ($15-$30). Buses are NT 15 ($0.48) per ride; subway is around NT 20-30 ($0.60-$1.00). In other words, you’re spending around $12 per day for food and transport; depending on how much your rent is, it is possible to spend less than $1,000 per month. The only way you blow your budget is if you start partying a lot and hit the clubs.

Today’s Expenses

For me, I had a English breakfast with coffee at fancy breakfast place (NT 145), Grande Mocha at Starbucks (NT 135) this morning to rent my seat for the afternoon; a box of sushi from Shin Yeh for NT 180, and for dinner Korean noodles with pork (NT 120). I didn’t take the subway/bus today. I had another coffee at night (NT 160). All together $22.

In other words…

Using a 5 percent savings rate, if you can save $1,000 per month, then you are making the equivalent of someone making north of $100,000 in a major city.  (I assume you can save more if you make more.)


The questions is how are the quintiles broken up?  Source: Business Insider

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion*

Here’s the thing about being an American living abroad, if you stay out of the US for 330 days in a calendar year, then you don’t have to pay American taxes on the first $100,800 (2015) of salary earned outside of the US. Keep in mind that you still have to pay taxes in the country you work in.  It would appear that in Taiwan the tax rate for someone making around $24,000 is around 12 percent.

One caveat

A friend did mention that foreign women have some trouble adjusting to living here. Many Taiwanese people prefer to meet partners through friends or friends-of-friends. Thus, if you’re a foreign woman who has no connections to the local culture – no family, you didn’t go to high school or college here, only expat friends – then you may feel strange that no one is picking you up at _____.

Besides feeling like a fish out of water, one thing to consider is how you will return to the US.  But I will leave that for another post. I do think that returning with $30,000 saved or a significant amount of student debt paid down may make that adjustment easier.

Other opportunities?

Other than English teachers, I’ve also met several friends and foreigners who do a variety of things.  Many multinational companies have offices in Taipei( and Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo). The bar for those jobs is a bit higher because you probably need to have above-average  Chinese language skills plus some understanding of local culture. Might I interest you in Chinese language class?

So if you’re only skill is speaking your native tongue in complete sentences and you’re frustrated living in the US (UK/SA/Canada) working as a _____________, consider leaving for adventure abroad.



* I am not a tax professional.  For professional advice, please ask an expert before you file your taxes.


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