I moved from New York to Taiwan for work. I had to take a pay cut to my $40,000 salary — but I have no regrets.


This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Alex Teachey, a 38-year-old astronomer and New Yorker who moved to Taiwan in 2020. This essay has been edited for length and clarity. Insider verified his salary and expenses.

I’d been living in New York since I was eighteen. I moved there to study a degree in theater at New York University, before later pivoting towards a career in astronomy by starting a PhD in 2015.

After graduating from Columbia University in 2020, I started applying for postdoctoral positions globally. I landed my current job as a postdoctoral fellow at the Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan, that same year.

It meant a pay cut, which is a rarity for US grad students, who typically make significantly more after their PhD. I was making slightly over $40,000 a year before taxes as a grad student. I took more than a 10% pay cut to move to Taiwan.

Still, I don’t regret the move and am now focused on staying in Taipei. Here’s why.

I fell in love with Taipei after moving here at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York

New York City was hit hard by the pandemic, and living there at the start of 2020 was a scary time — it was like a ghost town filled with the noise of ambulance sirens.

When I arrived in Taiwan in September 2020, I felt like a prisoner for the two weeks I was in quarantine, but life after that was basically back to normal.

That was a real jolt coming straight from New York City.

But it wasn’t just the way Taipei handled the pandemic, it’s how much more safe, functional, and clean the city feels in comparison to NYC.

Every New Yorker knows there are many places in the city where you’d feel vulnerable walking through, but I feel safe walking down any street at any time of day in Taipei.

And if Google Maps told me it’d take 30 minutes to get somewhere in New York, I’d allocate an hour because of how unreliable the subway is. In Taipei, the same estimate often means arriving early.

Though I only started learning Mandarin after accepting the job offer, I’ve found it really easy to assimilate, as people are extremely friendly here.

Right now, figuring out a way to continue to stay here after my postdoctoral position ends has become my top priority.

Why I don’t need more than $40,000 a year to thrive in Taipei

When I first received the job offer to come to Taiwan, I thought: Wow, this salary is really low. But after living here for three years, I can safely say it’s enough to live comfortably on in Taipei.

I live in a three-bedroom apartment by myself — it’s a fourth-floor walk-up built in the 1970s, a typical Taiwanese family home. I pay around $800 in rent for it.

It’s in a neighborhood that I love, in New Taipei City, the enormous donut that sprawls around the center of Taipei. I live a 20-minute bike ride from my office — I never could have have afforded anything remotely similar if I’d stayed in New York City.

Other than rent, the other big chunk of my expenses comes from food. My sense of what counts as an expensive meal has changed a lot: Here, my lunches cost between 100 to 200 Taiwan dollars, or between $3 to $6.

If I spent 500 Taiwan dollars on a meal, I’d feel like: Wow, it’s my birthday. And that’s less than what I would spend on a Chipotle in New York.

One big issue that I’ve faced though, is that when you travel out of Taiwan, you really do feel how low your wages are in comparison to the rest of the world.

The number one misconception about Taiwan is that we’re always under siege

In general, I feel like folks in the US don’t know enough about Taiwan.

There’s this misconception, possibly because of media reporting, that bombs might start getting dropped tomorrow. Some people that I’ve spoken to are worried about coming here because of it.

When I first moved here, I paid close attention to how many Chinese military planes were entering Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, each day. I felt like maybe I had jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

I don’t know when exactly it switched, but at a certain point, you realize a lot of it is just background noise.

The post I moved from New York to Taiwan for work. I had to take a pay cut to my $40,000 salary — but I have no regrets. appeared first on Business Insider.

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