CTCB Bank office building in Nangang, Taipei
Taiwan's working environment can be confusing to those who are learning about this topic for the first time. There is a different work culture here than in other countries, and expectations in the workplace are not the same. In this blog, we will answer some frequently asked questions about working in Taiwan.
Foreword: Please note that in the following blog I will share my personal views. As you can tell, I am biased and I prefer American work culture. Overall, I think Taiwan's work culture is stuck in the past, is based on a manufacturing economy, and needs to improve to accommodate modern office work.
My views are based on my experience of working in very traditional Taiwanese work cultures over ten years in Taiwan. Not every Taiwanese company has these problems and some foreigners in Taiwan are lucky to work for companies with more western oriented work culture, but according to my experience with others working in Taiwan as normal employees (not on secondment assignments) the following will be true.
How are communication styles different between Taiwan and the West?
Taiwanese communication style is more indirect, formal, and hierarchical, while American communication style is more direct and informal.
In Taiwan, it is customary to show respect to authority figures and senior colleagues by using formal titles and deferential language. Direct confrontation is also avoided, and criticism is often delivered in an indirect manner. In contrast, Americans tend to be more direct in their communication style, often speaking their mind freely and openly expressing their opinions. Hierarchy is another area where Taiwanese and American work cultures diverge. In Taiwan, hierarchy is deeply ingrained in the culture, with respect and deference paid to those in positions of authority.
As an American, I have learned this the hard way. You will not last long in a traditional Taiwanese company if you are always speaking your mind freely and talking back to superiors; in Taiwan, this can be seen as insubordination and having a bad work attitude. It is better to try to address problems indirectly, such as through another coworker or superior, and avoid direct confrontation if at all possible. The only exception to this is bosses or supervisors who can be very curt and direct to their subordinates, but their subordinates are not allowed to talk directly back.
Alternatively, Taiwanese working in America can be criticized for not speaking up or contributing their thoughts to the team.
How are management styles different between Taiwan and the West?
In terms of power distance, Taiwan has a high power distance work culture, while America has a low power distance work culture.
This means that in Taiwan, decision-making is centralized, there is a strong command structure and set hierarchy, formal communication is required, and employees have little say regarding the management of the company.
This is reflected in workplace structures, where managers are often seen as authoritative figures who are not to be questioned. In the United States, however, the culture is more informal, with less emphasis on hierarchy and more on teamwork and collaboration. There are also differences in the way that tasks are approached in each culture. In Taiwan, there is a tendency to be meticulous and precise, with a focus on getting every detail right. This reflects the culture's values of hard work and attention to detail. In contrast, Americans tend to be more results-oriented, with a focus on achieving objectives quickly and efficiently.
Part of the reason that employees in Taiwan are so submissive to their leaders has a lot to do with Chinese culture, where respect for elders is paramount. In addition, Taiwanese schools and the education system, in general, teaches children to listen to what the teacher has to say and not ask questions; asking questions or sharing one's own opinion can be a sign of contempt for the teacher or a lack of understanding.
Contrastingly, in America there is more decentralization of power, status, and formality are not as important, employees are encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions freely, and it is easy to approach and communicate openly with company leaders.
This can also be linked to America's school system. America's school system in contrast teaches students freedom of expression, thinking outside of the box, and asking thought-provoking questions. Respect for authority is not emphasized, but rather it is expected that teachers earn the respect of their students.
It doesn't help that most businesses in Taiwan are family-run and owned, and management stays rigidly in the family. This means that many times in Taiwan management is passed on to younger family members even if there are more skilled and experienced employees that can manage the company.
How are professionalism and formality different between Taiwan and the West?
Taiwanese culture places a high value on professionalism, with a focus on etiquette, manners, and proper conduct, while American culture is more casual and informal.
In Taiwan, looks are very important. It is important to management and coworkers to always look and act professionally, even if you are not completing work effectively or in a timely manner.
As an American working in Taiwan, I also had to learn this lesson the hard way. I have learned that the attitude I portray and paying attention to minor details is actually more important than the work results I put out in the eyes of my superiors.
How are details and goals different between Taiwan and the West?
Taiwanese workers tend to be meticulous and precise, with a focus on getting every detail right, while American workers tend to be more results-oriented.
This also means that Taiwanese people focus more on details and correct form, instead of the overall objective. Contrastingly, American work culture places more emphasis on substance and results, and employees are more casual in the workplace.
How is time orientation different between Taiwan and the West?
Taiwanese culture values long-term planning and prioritizes future outcomes, while American culture tends to prioritize present-oriented goals.
The overall mindset for Taiwanese workers is often to work in the same company for life, while American workers might be interested in a certain position for a shorter time and switch to another opportunity or career path once a project or goal is finished.
How is teamwork different between Taiwan and the West?
Taiwanese culture emphasizes teamwork and harmony, while American culture emphasizes individual achievement and competition.
In the USA, individualism is a core value that influences the way people approach work and life. Individualism emphasizes personal freedom, autonomy, and self-reliance. People are encouraged to take responsibility for their own lives and to pursue their own goals and dreams. This individualistic approach to life is also reflected in the workplace. American businesses tend to focus on individual achievement and performance, and employees are often evaluated based on their individual contributions to the organization.
Teamwork is highly valued in Taiwan. Taiwan is a collectivist culture where people prioritize the needs of the group over their individual desires. This collectivist approach to life is reflected in the workplace, where teamwork is emphasized and collaboration is encouraged. In Taiwanese companies, employees are often evaluated based on their ability to work well with others and contribute to the team’s success.
One of the reasons for this difference in values is the role that Confucianism has played in Taiwanese culture. Confucianism emphasizes the importance of family, community, and social order, and this has influenced the way Taiwanese people approach work and relationships. In the US, on the other hand, the Protestant work ethic has played a significant role in shaping the culture. This work ethic emphasizes individual responsibility and hard work as a means to achieve success.
How is overtime different between Taiwan and the West?
In Taiwan, it is common to work overtime without additional pay, while American labor laws typically require that employees be paid overtime for work beyond a certain number of hours.
Before coming to Taiwan, I had the expectation that I would be paid for any overtime I worked. However, I quickly learned that I was expected to work overtime for free every day, if only for a few minutes. Clocking out at exactly 5:30 was considered as having a bad attitude and showing a lack of effort.
In addition, I also soon found that it was my boss's expectation of me wanting me to check and reply to emails at night, on weekends, and on holidays and business trips. For instance, he would send me emails during the vacation to tell me to complete a task during the vacation.
Americans understand that long hours do not mean more effective work, but in the eyes of Taiwanese bosses, longer hours means more dedication and a more professional attitude.
Taiwan has some of the highest working hours in the world, ranking in the top 3, behind Mexico and Singapore and it’s getting worse. However, Singapore has an advanced economy and workers are getting compensation 90,000 NT per month for new employees. Starting salaries in Shanghai and Shenzhen have also risen above Taiwan’s.
Most Taiwanese workers cannot join unions and voice their rights as workers. In Taiwan, a company needs 30 or more employees before it can make a workers union, which is only 3% of the total companies in Taiwan. For most other Asian countries, this number is less than 7. If more Taiwanese people were able to form their own unions, perhaps we wouldn’t have such backward labor laws.
How are holidays and vacations different between Taiwan and the West?
The number of public holidays in Taiwan is around 12 per year, while the number of public holidays in the US is about 10 (and can vary according to state).
However in the US, sick leave can be taken at will and is paid in full. In Taiwan, sick leave can only be taken when you can get a doctor's notice, which can be annoying especially when you are sick and do not want to leave the door.
In addition, according to a survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average number of paid vacation days for employees in private industry and state and local government in 2020 was about 10 days per year for employees with one year of service, and 15 days per year for employees with five years of service. However in Taiwan, most companies go by the Labor Standards Act, which gives employees that have worked one year or less only three paid vacation days. After one year, the employee earns seven vacation days, and after two years 10 vacation days.
In addition, Taiwan implements the work/school makeup day system, which means that employees are forced to work on Saturdays many times throughout the year. There are six makeup days in 2023!
This longer workweek in Taiwan is partly a reflection of the culture's strong work ethic, which places a high value on hard work and productivity.
How is work-life balance different between Taiwan and the West?
Taiwanese culture tends to prioritize work over leisure and personal life, while American culture places a greater emphasis on work-life balance and personal time.
In my personal experience, I think the economic development in Taiwan happened too fast, so the older generation doesn’t know what to do with their leisure time because they spent all their free time working while they were young. It seems older Taiwanese people don’t have hobbies but earn money just to earn money, not because they need money or they want to do something or achieve a life goal, but just because they like to work and earn money.
However, the younger generation likes leisure time more and knows how to enjoy themselves even with much smaller salaries.
This gap between older and younger generations is getting worse because no one in Taiwanese companies want to retire.
The older generation seems to live to work, while the younger generations work to live.
Also, you can forget about remote or hybrid working. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan never really went under lockdown, and office workers could always come to the office to work, therefore sadly hybrid and remote working never became a thing. Most traditional Taiwanese companies will not have this kind of option.
How are life goals and success measured different between Taiwan and the West?
In Taiwan, there is a strong emphasis on academic achievement and career success, with many people valuing a stable job and financial security. In the United States, success is often defined more broadly, with people valuing personal achievements and experiences in addition to career success.
In Taiwan, life goals and success are defined by working in the same company for your whole life and then finally retiring. There is also strong pressure from family to marry and produce children, especially for men.
In America, people tend to have more varied life goals such as accomplishing a certain project, learning skills, or advancing the corporate ladder. Success is also defined more in terms of single accomplishments over the span of a career.
Do you have any advice for westerners thinking about working in Taiwan?
The above advice for Americans in Taiwan is not good advice for being a productive worker.
However, if you want to survive long-term in a traditional Taiwanese corporate work environment, you should do all of the above. If you do, you will be able to keep your job and earn the affection of your boss. If not, something will eventually go wrong for you.
Again, the above is heartfelt and sincere advice for anyone that wants to survive long-term in a traditional Taiwanese work culture.
Taiwan needs to give its workers back their rest days and their weekends. It also needs to lower the limit for labor unions, so that workers can fight for their rights and continue to lobby to improve the law. When this happens, Taiwan workers will be happier, more productive, and willing to stay. Otherwise, the brain drain will continue, and foreign professionals will not want to work here.
In summary, the differences between Taiwanese and American work cultures are significant and can be attributed to the unique values and beliefs of each culture. Understanding these differences is crucial for anyone hoping to work effectively in either culture, as it allows them to navigate the workplace more successfully and build positive relationships with colleagues. I hope this information is helpful to others, especially westerners who want to come work in Taiwan professionally for the long term.
Why work in Taiwan?
Taiwan has a great living environment and is very friendly to foreigners. Many Taiwanese people want to improve their English and are interested in foreign culture. It is also a great place to learn Chinese. Taiwan is a clean, safe, modern, convenient, and free country with a thriving democratic government. Also, Taiwan has many great places to see and explore, eat, and the cost of living is relatively cheap.
How do I find work in Taiwan?
The best way to find work is to ask your existing connections, but there are also many websites that can help.
What are the best work finding websites in Taiwan?
This most popular work finding website in Taiwan, although the interface is only in Chinese (sorry), although some job postings are in English. Its worth checking out, even if you can’t read Chinese. Perhaps you can have a Chinese friend help you out.
This is probably the second most popular work finding site in Taiwan, this website's interface is also only in Chinese, although some job postings are in English.
This is a great English based website for English Teaching jobs in Taiwan.
Linkedin has a few job opportunities that are most in English.
Other than these, search Google. Who knows what you’ll find!
Why Teach English in Taiwan?
Teaching English can be a fun way to make a living if that’s what you’re into. The working hours are short and pay is relatively high in Taiwan (at least 48,000 NT per month, for about 30 hours a week). These jobs are only available for those with passports from English speaking nations. However, if singing songs and disciplining children is not your thing, then you probably won’t last long. Also, beware of bosses that will take advantage of you, giving you no time off and no overtime pay (you are allowed overtime pay and time off by law, as well as labor and health insurance).
Which bank should I use in Taiwan?
Most banks will let foreigners set up an account. Some handy accounts to have when shopping are with Cathay Pacific, which has the only Costco accepted credit card, CTCB which partners with PX Mart, and Yushan Bank which is aligned with Carrefour.
How do I open a Taiwan bank account?
Typically you can walk in to any bank, and open an account if you bring your passport and/or ARC. If you do not have an ARC, then you will need to apply for a Taiwan uniform ID number at the immigration office first.
If you are from a list of countries that is high risk because of money laundering it may be harder to open an account.
Also, if you are American you will have to sign a W9 or similar form because of FACTA.
What are the work regulations in Taiwan?
Please see our article on Taiwan’s Labor Standards Act. These regulations change regularly, so look at our latest blog on the topic.
Do I get pension as a foreigner in Taiwan?
Foreigners not married to a Taiwanese spouse are entitled to theold pension scheme, you must work for the same employer for 25 years or work for the same employer for 15 years and be at least 55 years old. Reaching this requirement is near impossible for most foreigners.
However, if you are married to a Taiwanese national, you are eligible for the new pension scheme, which is not based on your work tenure, and 6% of your salary paid by your employer, which can be redeemed at age 60.
Do I get labor insurance as a foreigner?
Do I get health insurance for me and my family in Taiwan?
Yes, if you have a job, but dependent family members have to wait6 months to join as of now.
Newborn foreign babies born in Taiwan are eligible immediately.
Do I have to pay taxes in Taiwan as a foreigner?
Yes, if you work in Taiwan. If you stay in Taiwan less than 183 days, you will be subject to 18% tax. For tax advise, please contact Grant Thornton Taiwan.
What are the tax rates in Taiwan?
You can check out our full Taiwan tax guide here.
Where can I get tax advise in Taiwan?
You can visit the Taiwan tax office.
What is the Taiwanese working environment/culture like?
This depends on where you work. For a typical Taiwanese company, the boss is very powerful and employees are more passive. It is typical for everyone to wait for the boss to leave before they get off work. So, as you can image, Taiwanese people work lots of overtime.
In addition, Taiwanese people like to have working connections, and give gifts to improve a relationship. If you take a gift such as chocolate from a coworker, or are treated to lunch, you are expected to eventually give back similar gift in return to keep the relationship going.
What is the average salary for foreigners in Taiwan?
The starting salary for a white collar foreigner is about 48000 NT per month, average salary for English teachers is 60,000-80,000 NT per month. However, foreign blue collar workers make about 20,000 NT per month or less. Foreign executives working in Taiwan make foreign salaries (typical US salaries), which are much higher than the average Taiwanese salary.
Can foreigners start a business in Taiwan?
Yes. Please read our blog on the subject.
Why live in Taiwan?
Taiwan is one of the best countries in the world with one of the best qualities of life. Taiwan boasts delicious food, great weather year round, amazing tourist sites, friendly people, cheap cost of living, and economic opportunity.
How is the water in Taiwan?
Filter or boil water in Taiwan, or buy bottled water. It is not safe to drink from the tap. Taipei has the cleanest water (meaning it requires the least filtration), while more rural areas are hit and miss.
Are there foreign schools for my children in Taiwan?
Yes, there are a number of American and European schools in Taiwan. Please clickhere for a full list.
What is it like to buy a house as a foreigner in Taiwan?
Check out our guide to buying a house in Taiwan here.
What is it like to rent an apartment as a foreigner in Taiwan?
Check out our guide to renting an apartment in Taiwan here.
What is it like working as an English teacher at a Cram School in Taiwan?
See our experience teaching at a cram school in Taiwan here.
Why are there work and school make up days in Taiwan?
Check out our guide to Taiwan's work and school make up days here.
What are the difference is work culture between Taiwan and the USA?
Check out our full blog on this topic here.
Is Taiwan safe?
Yes, Taiwan is one of the safest countries in the world according to Prescavve.
This is mainly due to low crime and high economic freedom and devolopment.
Have any more questions about work in Taiwan? Please leave them in the comments below, and we might just add them to the list!
Please like, follow, and share to help everyone know that Taiwan is a great place to work!
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living, working, and travelling in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.