Working in Taiwan – part 2: the challenges

Disclaimer: I lived in Taiwan for almost eight years, and I obviously liked the island. But it does not mean everything is perfect. There are several irritating things about working in Taiwan and a bit of warning can help you to make the best out of your experience.

As an introduction, you can read this article from Focus Taiwan, stating that 90% of workers are thinking of changing job. My post assumes you are not an English teacher and you are working with a local contract. There are plenty of (better) resources about the first case, and if you’re here with an expatriate contract, most of those remarks don’t apply to you. But still worth reading!

The salary sucks

Taiwanese salaries did not increase, compared to inflation, for the past sixteen years. Yup. They are finally doing something about it in 2017, but this is really too little, too late. As a foreigner, you are entitled to a minimum salary above the average of 48,000 NTD a month.  It is relatively high compared to what the Taiwanese get.

Top-down management

This is probably true everywhere in the world, but I found the problem to be a bit more noticeable in Taiwan. Your own ideas will often have the cold shoulder treatment, and most of the decisions will be made without your input. Responsibilities and accountability tend to be diluted, and it can be a bit of a problem for people looking for empowerment at their job.

Overtime is expected

People who met me know that I don’t mind working late at night or during weekends when it’s needed. However, in Taiwan the overtime culture can be overwhelming.  Staying late at work and milking the clock, even if there is not much work to do, is widespread. Your manager sends you an email during your weekend/vacations? You have to answer. Establishing boundaries is very important and delicate to achieve, but very recommended.

Fluid job description

Doing always the same thing can be a bit boring. However, it’s not uncommon to be moved to something entirely different for weak reasons. This is especially true if you are working in a soft skill department such as marketing. Specialization is pretty rare in Taiwan and your manager will expect you to learn (on your own) new skills as needed. Even if this sounds good, advanced/multiple skills do not usually translate into a salary bump.

That’s all! Or not.

There are a lot of other problems with working in Taiwan: lack of career plan, very few days off and subpar perks in general, depressing gray offices, labor laws aren’t enforced, etc.

This is a fairly negative article, but a bit of balance is needed compared to what’s usually found online and will help you to avoid the common pitfalls. As a general advice, always negotiate with your future employer and have everything written down. Is the life in Taiwan worth enduring such a work environment? It depends on everyone. When you start your career, the low salary and long hours are usually not a big of a problem, especially if you can learn a lot. It’s a bit more delicate when you have more than five years of experience and/or a family.

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[…] in Taiwan is definitely not the best experience in the world. However, living on the island has many other perks one should consider when picking an Asian […]