You’ve finally made your decision. After hours of deliberation and weighing the pro’s and con’s, you’re ready to leave behind your home country, roll the dice, and voyage to Taiwan. First thing’s first: you’re going to have to get a visa, a job, and an apartment.

If you are from an English-speaking country, chances are you are eligible for “visa free” entry. This means you will get a stamp upon arrival that allows you to stay for 30 days. Even though I got a visitors visa before arrival, it’s unnecessary, and I don’t recommend it. If you don’t have a work permit (more on that later) by the end of these 30 days, then you can do a “visa run”. This means flying to Hong Kong and back in order to get a new 30 day stamp.  If you’re thinking about learning Chinese anyways, you can extend the validity of your stamp by applying for Chinese language classes at the local university. I highly recommend doing this whether you need the visa extension or not. Speaking the local language will greatly enrich your Taiwanese experience, and it will pay dividend for as long as you stay.

I’d initially had a job offer that got retracted about a month before my flight here, so I wound up arriving without a job and finding one after landing. Getting a job locked down before arrival can alleviate a lot of anxiety, but it isn’t strictly necessary. You should, however, get  on that right away if you’re arriving without a job. Getting a job ASAP helps in two ways: it helps to pay for hookers and blow, and it grants you a working ARC (Alien Resident Certificate). An ARC is a visa that can be renewed inside the country. In this case, it also allows you to work legally and get on the national health insurance plan. If you arrive without a job already locked down, it’s best to come in August or January when schools are looking for new teachers to fill vacancies next semester.

The only requirements for getting a working permit as an English teacher are: holding a passport of an English-speaking country and having either a bachelors degree or an Associate degree, college transcripts and a TEFL certificate. (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). I did the latter. Go ahead and find the cheapest, fastest TEFL program you can, because you are unlikely to learn anything from the TEFL program that you can’t learn in your first month on the job. I have a 20 hour certificate that took me two days and a few hundred dollars to obtain, and I barely even stayed awake during the seminar. For the purpose of getting your ARC, it’s just as good as a two month intensive course. An intensive TEFL or CELTA can help you get better jobs and higher salaries in some countries but Taiwan is not one of them. In fact, Taiwanese schools will often require that you attend their own training seminars regardless of how experienced or qualified you already are. If I could go back and do it again, I would’ve taken my first job  with: American Eagle, Williams, Shane , Hess or another school that offers/insists upon training teachers before throwing them in a classroom full of kids. Don’t waste your money on intensive TEFL courses. Those funds are better spent on language classes and booze.

Finding a job here is easier than finding Hello Kitty merchandise in an all girls middle school. My favorite site is Tealit and if you want to lock down a job before arrival, I highly recommend it. Also, make sure to look for (name of your future city) Teachers Board on Facebook. Taichung Teachers Board covers the area I live and it is loaded with full-time, part-time and substitute jobs. Some have had luck pounding pavement and going door to door with a stack of resumes; I haven’t. The final method is my signature move and trust me: I’ve saved the best for last. Go the website for your franchise of choice and find the phone directory for all the branches in your area. Call them one by one until you find one that is looking for teachers. This is far faster than pounding pavement and will help you find the jobs that aren’t advertised online. Whatever you do, keep scheduling new interviews until you have signed a contract. No matter how much they seem to love you, local employers are flaky, and rather than tell you “no”, they just wont call back. Don’t be the guy waiting, like a love-sick 16-year-old, for a call that isn’t coming.

Aside from a steady paycheck, you need a roof over your head and the best way to arrange that is to let the locals do it for you. The Taiwanese are very helpful. As a matter of fact, if you are white and tall the local girls are VERY helpful. “Helpful” includes all the things you fantasies about during your yellow-fever induced hallucinations, but that is going to have to wait until you have an apartment to bring her back to, so tuck your boner in your waist band, refocus, and ask for help finding an apartment. This includes: employers, coworkers, girls you pipelined before arriving, and even strangers you bump into on the street. I spent my first week in a hotel that my college classmate helped me find. My second place was a dorm that I found by asking the girls who work in the Feng Chia University Chinese Language Department. I could speak just enough Chinese to work out how much the rent and security deposit cost, but I could have just as easily asked any of the English-speaking students on campus to act as an interpreter, and they likely would have eagerly agreed. My third place was found by a Taiwanese dude who played guitar in our band. I told him that I want a larger apartment and he got back to me 10 minutes later with 5 options. Anyways, you get the idea. The Taiwanese want to help you, so don’t be selfish: give them the opportunity to do so.

Once you are employed and settled in, the next priority is getting legal before you’re deported and forced to pay for the construction of a wall to keep you out (whoops, wrong country). You are going to need a working ARC. If you have a job, you’re 90% of the way there already. Your employer will send in the paperwork and usually will pay the related fees but you’re still gonna have to get some pictures taken, get a health check and provide the requisite documents. So long as you ask nicely like your momma taught you to, your boss will point you to the closest photo shop with a letter explaining what you need. Pictures: check. Your employer can also tell you when and which hospital to have your health check done. Hail a cab and fake a seizure once you are inside. The driver will take you straight to the emergency room. Have a miraculous recovery as soon as you arrive and ask the information desk where to have your health check done. The health check itself will involve a chest x-ray, a blood draw and some miscellaneous tests that employ otherwise unoccupied staff. If you don’t have tuberculosis then you’ll pass the x ray, if you haven’t picked up syphilis or HIV from your hedonistic lifestyle then you will pass the blood draw, and if you have a pulse you will pass everything else. A week later, you will be back to pick up a clean bill of health.
At this point, you are in Taiwan with a job and a shiny (because it’s laminated), new ARC, untarnished except for your very own ugly mug. I’ll talk about money in part two. That is: how much of it you need to live in Taiwan.