10 ways to make money as a foreigner living in Taipei—besides teaching English / by Chris W. Hubbard

For most foreigners* in Taipei, teaching English can often feel like the only real option there is to make a living. Teaching English is probably what 90% of my foreigner friends in Taipei do, and for good reason; huge demand for the service, and decent pay. It’s not a bad option.

But what if, as a foreigner, you don’t want to teach English? Are there any other options? Is teaching English really the only thing foreigners can do in Taipei? What about driving a Taxi? Can we do that? Can we work in a restaurant? Can we work in a Starbucks, or get a job at a supermarket or a retail chain? (I always wanted to work in a Starbucks. Contact me if yours is hiring)

I’m not going to dig deep here. There are a lot of variables to be considered that impose barriers to some options. Whether or not a foreigner can work in a Starbucks is a good question—IMO—but not the question I’ll answer here. What I do want to explore is the real ways in which foreigners can possibly make money here in Taipei. These are the ten ideas I came up based on my own observations, and the people I know who are doing these things. If, after reading this you have ideas of your own you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments!

1 - Be a model

Outside of teaching English, this is the other top-option that becomes available to many foreigners within their first few months of living in Taipei. Modeling for commercials and ads can pay very well, but you need to have an extremely flexible schedule, be willing to sign a contract with an agency—who will take up to 75% of your pay—and be willing to drop into a lot of random, and sometimes strange, auditions. I’ve done quite a lot of this in Taipei. I’ve been in TV commercials and ads that I’ve never even seen. It can be fun, and good money. But it’s not something that can be relied on to be a regular form of income.

Here are my three tips for modeling in Taipei:

  • Ask for more money. Most of the agencies try to low-ball new foreigners so they can take a bigger cut of the money the client paid for your role.

  • Don’t sign an exclusive rights contract with the agency, or at least be aware of what you are signing as it could come back to bite you if you stay here long enough and want to work with other companies who offer better pay.

  • Shop around. There are a lot of agencies who want to add foreigners to their roster in Taipei. Don’t just jump onto the first one who approaches you with a gig.


2 - Be a writer

This is another popular, and reasonably accessible, option for foreigners working in Taipei. I write, as do many of my friends as well. English writing is needed by a slew of companies who are happy to pay for decent work.

Here are three tips for foreigners looking to get into freelance writing here in Taipei, from my friend Madeleine Work—a highly sought-after Freelance Green Technology, Clean Energy, and Sustainability Writer in Taipei.

  • Reach out to news editors at English-language newspapers in Taiwan. They are always looking for good content.

  • Attend lots of networking events to meet businesses in your niche. There is a serious shortage of good English writers in Taipei, and a lot of businesses need native speakers to help them write website content and other marketing materials.

  • Read the book "The Freelance Content Marketing Writer" by Jennifer Gregory. It gives some great tips about how to get started as a freelance writer, and some strategies for finding and approaching clients that want to hire you.


3 - Be an event organizer

Events are where it’s at these days. Most small businesses now use regularly scheduled events to bring in new customers and make end’s meet. It works. And foreigners love attending events as well. There are a lot of opportunities here I think.

My friend Sam Perniskie has a lot of experience organizing small events in and around Taipei. Check out his site at Kulchur Collective. Here are his three tips for foreigners looking to get into event hosting in Taipei:

  • Think cooperation instead of competition - there are so many creative people doing amazing things in Taipei, and the community is so tight-knit that it’s better to work with those around you instead of against them.

  • Look for effective partnerships - you’d be kidding yourself to think you can do it alone - so get active in trying to link up with people who share your vision, and complement your skill-sets - also a fantastic way to bring in diverse experiences for people that you might not otherwise be able to create.

  • Be mindful of work permits for foreigners. While the laws surrounding this are in a state of change, not having a permit can come with hefty fines and even deportation!! Lots of venues can help you apply for performance permits, so don’t be afraid to ask. Not always necessary, but definitely something to be aware of.


4 - Be a cook

I don’t have a lot of foreigner friends who make their living cooking in Taiwan, but I think it IS increasingly being explored by foreigners looking to do something “different.”

My friend Ed Mayhew is a bit of a pioneer in this area. He’s known for his popular mini pizza and fish taco pop-ups around Taipei, as well as his much-talked-about food stall—East-side Taipei.

Here are three tips from Ed for foreigners looking to get into food service in Taipei:

  • Product: Figure out what’s missing. What are the things you miss from home that others would head across town for? Or figure how you can take something already existing and put your spin on it.

  • Socialize: Share as much news (photos, breakthroughs, YouTube vids) about your product with as many different social groups as possible. Test your speed at friends’ get-togethers to find your flow. After you’re comfortable with your equipment and believe in your product, start letting everyone know you’re available to cater.

  • Mobility: Getting things to and from a function is half the battle. Try to start out as compact as possible (Mini gas grills have come a long way and can do a lot). If you’re on a scooter, using tough reusable bags (Costco style)is best for fitting gear. If you take a cab, it can be pricey, but convenient. Just keep things clean & sealed.


5 - Be an artist

I have a lot of artist friends. And many of them are able to scrape up some extra money on the side with their artworks or design skills. The foreigner artist community is quite large actually, and there are numerous outlets for artists to get involved and showcase their work.

My good friend and celebrity artist Zachary Widgren is well-known in the artist community. Here are his tips for artists looking to get paid for their hard work and talent in Taipei:

  • Be upfront about wanting to be paid for your work. This will save you trouble. Many times people assume you’re okay working for exposure. Don’t let it make you bitter, but don’t waste your time on vampire projects. If the project seems to offer things outside of pay, like experience or a way to help out your artistic community, then ok. Sometimes it’s okay to give back as well.

  • Keep a steady studio practice and document your work. Art is a fantastic passion, but if you want it to be part of your income, or your job, treat it like work. Don’t be late to your own studio practice and show up.

  • Instagram and other social media are great tools. You live in Taipei, but a lot of people that would appreciate your work live in other countries, so don’t forget about them. Post on a regular basis but remember not post too much.

  • Get a simple website up to showcase your work, so you can easily share everything in one place. If you’re not a website person, don’t do it yourself. Work with someone who understands those tools and can help you create something nice.


6 - Be a yoga teacher

Yoga is popular in Taipei—as it is in the rest of the world—which means there are opportunities for teachers looking to offer classes here and there. As a yoga teacher myself, and one of the founders of Oceansound Yoga Festival, I can tell you that while opportunities exist, the local market is difficult to break into and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to bring people into a class. I’m working on this myself right now and offer anyone a free private yoga class to anyone who is interested in my yoga to start building a healthier lifestyle.

Here are my three tips for foreigners looking to teach yoga in Taipei:

  • Specialize in something. This might be a style of yoga or a yoga for a specific type of person. There are hordes of general or basic yoga classes all over Taipei. Cafe’s, work hubs, and even 7-11 offers these types of classes. You’ll need to be unique and offer something special.

  • Get involved with the local yoga communities. Attend other teachers classes, apply to volunteer for the yoga festival, check out Lululemon’s free classes, and visit yoga studios around Taipei. Here’s a list of some of the studios I recommend checking out.

  • Go crazy on Instagram. Everyone knows this now, but IG is where it’s at in terms of promoting yourself as a yoga teacher. Check out the popular #taiwanyoga hashtag to discover who the popular, and up and coming yoga teachers are in Taipei. And follow ME too of course!


7 - Be a street performer

I regularly see foreigners in and around Taipei doing street performances of various kinds. So I reached out to my friend Rose Goossen, a well-known artist and musician in Taipei who has quite a lot of experience in this area. Here’s what she had to say: (and be sure to check out her fan page here)

“Street performance in Taipei is heavily regulated by the Taipei City Cultural Affairs Bureau. There are open auditions for permits held every year in June, and buskers must apply for placement in one of about 60 designated performance spaces around the city. Performances may be scheduled between the hours of 10 AM and 10 PM. 

If you wish to obtain a permit, it is best to create an act that will make an immediate impression on the group of judges who are walking through the performers and taking notes. You will not have a lot of time to impress them.

If you succeed in obtaining a permit, then there are two ways to approach the task. Many buskers make an effort to rally an audience before beginning the performance, especially in crowded pedestrian areas like Xinyi or Ximen. There is a gravitational effect in accumulating a crowd, and although many people will walk away without offering money at the end of the show, this is probably the best way to ensure profits.

Other buskers choose to play the long game, installing themselves in a space and performing constantly over the course of two or three hours, charming passers-by one at a time.

Without a permit, it's still possible to pick up some spare change in certain parks (I recommend 永康公園).”

Here are Rose’s three tips for street performers in Taipei:

  • Create a sign that includes a QR code for your online presence. Even if people don't make a donation, they might follow you and become loyal internet fans.

  • Make a pretty receptacle for money, with a sign in English and Chinese that invites people to donate, and display it prominently throughout your act. If your act is about 5 - 10 minutes long, then collect money at the end. When people see others donating, they are more likely to feel pressure to do so themselves.

  • Invest in equipment for amplification. Most of the designated performing zones are noisy, crowded places, and unless you are a mime, you will have difficulty to connect with your audience without some kind of microphone or amplifier.


8 - Be a photographer

I know a lot of great photographers in Taipei, and it’s one of those services that can be quite lucrative if you have the right skills, equipment and most importantly, the right contacts. Getting “into” photography isn’t challenging, but turning that into a money making gig can be.

My friend Garret Clarke has been very successful. With UpAgainstTheWall Garret and Steven Vigar (also a very successful photographer in Taipei) made a big name for themselves in Taipei. Now working independently with his own photography and marketing business, Garret has these three tips for foreigners in Taipei looking to get work in photography: Check out his site Garretmclarke.com

  • A business is about generating profit, can your photography lead to profit?

  • How do you add value for your clients? Make sure you know what your photography does for a client beyond looking nice.

  • Write out a business plan. Know what you need to do.

  • Be a nice person that people want to be around.


9 - Be a full-time student

If you want to go back to school, you are in luck. Taiwan has a lot of scholarship opportunities for foreigners. They—almost desperately—want international students in the universities here and are willing to help make it happen for those serious about learning and willing to give it a go. In addition to covering the cost of tuition, they sometimes provide a monthly living stipend and often provide a working permit that allows for part-time work on the side. Not a bad deal.

My good friend Leora recently went through this process and will soon be a full-time student at the National Taipei University of education, getting her MA in curation. Check out her website LeoraJoy.com

Here are Leora’s tips for foreigners looking to go back-to-school in Taipei:

  • Universities in Taipei want international students big-time, so simply apply to all the universities you can. You will be accepted.

  • Applying for, and getting scholarships can be a long, sometimes painful process, but it’s worth your time and effort as the opportunity, and the chance you will eventually get one is very good.

  • Apply for a work permit after you become a student. This is a big bonus that can sometimes be hard for foreigners to get, but they will give them to any students who request them. Good opportunity to make extra money on the side, legally.

10 - Be an Entrepreneur

Taipei isn’t the most friendly place for foreigners to start a business—or so I hear—when compared with places like Hong Kong or Singapore, but it is possible to get things going if you have the time, patience and willpower.

My friend, and former co-worker at getchee, Josh Roberts recently left his job to start his own branding and interactive company here in Taipei—Level. They focus on offering a variety of services that include experience and social media.

Here are Josh’s tips for foreigners who want to start a business in Taipei:

  • Get a good accountant that can answer all your questions and take care of red tape and errands for you.

  • Get a bank account that allows you to send and receive payments with relative ease. Local banks don’t, so don’t use them.

  • Consider working with a local partner to deal with health and labor insurance and all the other necessities you probably won’t understand or have time to deal with yourself. You want to focus on your business core.