How can I get privates? (students, that is!)

I would like to start teaching privates. What is the best way to find students? Any sugestions would be helpful!

My advice is (and I’m totally serious): hang out in McDonald’s, smile at everyone and don’t be afraid to start talking to people. An amazingly high number of times, when people get over their initial fear of you as that Foreign Person and see that you actually can communicate with them, they will ask you to teach them English. Of course if you speak Chinese your chances are all the better. Somehow people seem to be more open to talking in McDonald’s than in tea shops, although I get accosted for English teaching in teahouses, too.

If you want a specific type of student, obviously, try to hang out or post ads where that type of person might be found (i.e., universities for university students, and so on.)

Having some business cards made up isn’t a bad idea either…I’d just put your name and cell phone number on it, plus some kind of description (“English teacher” or “Private English lessons” or whatever). Leave off your address and home phone unless you’re willing to have them made public; you might move, as well, and that will make it more complicated if you put that on your cards.

Good luck!

Make up a thousand flyers advertising your service, go to a busy intersection and hand them out!


With all due respect to Terry (Ironlady), and to Chung - I don’t think either of these methods are going to get you the kind of reliable, enjoyable private students you will want to have. Chung’s suggestion could also get you caught violating your work permit. [Private classes are technically illegal]

Taiwan is the land of “guan-xhi”. It’s all about who you know - it’s about connections. As you develop a circle of Taiwanese friends, and assoicates people will seek you out for private work. If you teach regular classes at a bushi-ban, be they kiddie, or adult classes - especially if you are a good teacher - you will be approached for outside work. You can seed the clouds a bit by letting your Local friends know that you are keen to pick up some extra work, they’ll be happy to help you spread the word. People do things for friends in Taiwanese culture. Getting privates this way can be good because it can be done discreetly, and you can have a sense of who your students are and what their needs are, before signing on.

Another way to get privates is to develop a circle of foreign teacher friends. People get over loaded - they pass jobs on. People leave Taiwan and they bequeathe really plum jobs to friends.

Once you get established in Taiwan these two resources will probably bring you more work than you can handle. Then it becomes a question of picking and choosing.

Some things to consider when selecting the privates that you take on:

  1. Location.

If at all possible, have the students come to your house. Why should you travel across the city at rush hour if your students are willing to come to you. [Again, if you are a teacher with a solid reputation they will be glad to come to you, especially if you live near good public transport.]

Avoid public places like coffee shops and fast food restaurants.

If you are taking on a private company class make sure you factor in a transportation allowance if you have to get to the company during rush hour. This is standard - any Bushi-ban with ESP courses will pay their teachers an hourly wage + transport for classes held at the clients location.

Don’t stretch yourself too thin. I still have emotional scars from early days in Taiwan [1989 - 1990] when I had classes all over town. Try to organize your regular work and your private work so that you don’t spend half your life in traffic! You’ll end up burning out on Taiwan much too soon if you get hyper greedy and take all kinds of work all over the city, all day and all evening.

  1. Privates can be incredibly tedious.

If you can get beyond the feeling that you deperately need to tap into the private market - I’d suggest that you really try to take on students who you find interesting, and/or who have very well thought out goals for their classes. There is nothing worse than sitting down to a 2 hour class with someone who is very low level, who doesn’t have the time or motivation to prepare inadvance for class, who hasn’t a clue how to proceed, and who just wants to “free talk”.

If you are teaching more than one student make sure that the students language levels are compatible. Try to avoid situations like - Two friends who want to study together, one is a “false beginner” and the other has done a MBA in the States. There just isn’t an effective way to deal with both their needs - they really need to study independently. Splitting them could lead to more hours for you, and will make the experience better for everybody.

  1. Privates cancel.

If you haven’t encountered this yet - you will. Imagine how you’d feel if you travel across the city during rush hour, during the “plum rain” season only to find, when you get to your private class that they want to cancel today’s class. Unless you take steps to protect yourself - this will happen again and again.

What to do about it?

a) get a cell phone
b) have your privates pay in advance. [I’d ask them to pay month by month]
c) allow them one “cancellation” per pay period - provided that they give you 24 hours advance notice. If they cancel without notice, or multiple times in a pay period - you count these as lessons. Be flexible, but don’t be too soft - people will take advantage of you. Your students will acknowledge that your time, which they have booked, is money.
d) if you cancell, you have to make up the class. If you cancel without 24 hours notice you have to make up the class plus 50% of class time for free.

They key point here is that you need to get paid in advance. Once you have the student’s money, you can decide how hard-ass you want to be. If you don’t do it this way you will find that even nice students can take advantage.

e) kids are more steady and reliable as privates than adults. If not kids, the next best bet for reliability are housewives. Business people and college students cancel more often.

  1. Charge what you are really worth.

You will hear stories of golden privates that pay NT$800~1,000+. The question you have to ask yourself if you are new to teaching is - does the fact that you are a native speaker automatically qualify you for extreme fees? I’d suggest you ask around to find out what people are charging these days, and price yourself according to the degree to which you are really capable of helping someone. In the long run - you will get more business from referees if your students don’t feel like they are being over charged.

Good luck getting started and I hope you enjoy your time in Taiwan as much as I did.


Originally posted by Mwalimu: Taiwan is the land of "guan-xi". It's all about who you know - it's about connections.

Amen!!! Say that again…

You’ve provided some excellent advice on this subject, Mwalimu.
I do disagree on one item, however, and that is the charge. I don’t think that private teachers should undercut each other, or charge less than going rate. This may ultimately affect the market cost per hour. IMO, Don’t take LESS than $800/hour! And, especially if you’ve been referred, charge $1000 or more.
Since private classes are made to suit individual students’ needs and the Taiwanese think they get what they pay for, don’t underestimate yourself.
One of my friends who charges $1200+/hour has more privates than you can shake a stick at. You, and the student, will be far less likely to cancel these classes, and as a teacher, you’re likely to deliver more knowing your student is paying an outrageous fee for your services.
The only time I’ve charged less than $800 is when a student was literally around the corner from my home, and then they didn’t have the option to cancel class. EVER! A “NO CANCELLATION” policy.

Finally, prepare for your private lessons and you’ll find these classes flow more smoothly and students will stay with you forever. If you’re doing one-on-ones, there’s a good book on the subject available at Cranes Publishing on Hoping E. Road called, “One to One: A Teacher’s Handbook”, by LTP.

Oh, and if privates don’t come pounding on your door or accosting you in McD’s, place an ad on

Bump. This has been highly informative.


You are so right when you say that preperation is another key to success with private students. Appropriate material, and good preperation - fundamentals. Forgot to emphasize this.

Regarding “tuition”… I guess I’m a bit out of touch on going rates. That’s why I advised Dawn to do some research on the subject. I’ve been back in the States for almost 7 months, and prior to that I seldom had private students during my last few years in Taiwan. When students did approach me for private work, my fee would start at NT800 and go up according to the number of students, location, and focus of lessons.

Should Dawn use this as her base rate? Well… I think it very much depends on her background with teaching. I based my rates on the fact that I was a senior teacher at (arguably) the most prestigious language school in the country with 12 years of experience. I had more opportunities to take on private classes than I could deal with - because, as you point out Alien - people are willing to pay a premium price based on perception, and reputation. I would imagine that your resume, too, is quite substantial - justifying the rates you charge.

What annoys me a little is when people arrive “fresh off the boat”, with zero experience, and assume it’s their birth right to fetch top dollar as a private teacher. Local people aren’t stupid - they know when they are getting someone who understands the nuts and bolts of the language, knows how to identify and deal with an individual students strengths and weaknesses, knows the common learning problems of Taiwanese students, who speaks their language - and can relate to their culture. They also know when they are also getting – just a pretty face.

I think it’s reasonable for students to pay more for a qualified, experienced teacher. I also think its unreasonable for a newbie to gouge Locals - just because they can get away with it. If the common perception that its hard to get value for money in English language tutoring continues to grow, surely that’s bad for everyone?

I would say to Dawn, that she should start off learning the trade craft at a good language school. Build up a stock of experience, build up a personal libray of materials, get to know the language from a student’s perspective [studying Chinese will help a lot in this respect]- build a reputaion. Then - when you really have something to offer beyond your charm, wit, and intuitive understading of English - charge top dollar with a clean conscience.

Wow! I didn’t expect so much thought, time, and consideration would be put into your responses, Mwalimu and Alien. Thank you!
I will probably be here around one year. I am not interested in working the million hours that most schools offer. I am, however, eager to teach.
I tutored a Chinese man for the past year in the states. (very low level) I have subbed for one year, as well. I also have a BS in business admin and a TESOL (4 week) cert from TEFL in Thailand. I’m not overly qualified by any means of the imagination.
Would a starting salary of $800 be an ideal place to start? If you have multiply students, do you normally discount the rate? Say, 2 for $1400?
Also, I am new here…Is it normal to teach illegally? How often do people get caught and deported? Seems to me that it is very common to teach privates this way.
Again, thanks for your input!


You write that you don’t really want to get “taken over” by a language school, and that you want to stay in Taiwan for a year. Does this mean that you plan to do the whole stint under-the-table?

Is it still possible to live in Taiwan for such a long time, without an ARC? I became "legal"in 1992, so I really have no idea how people get by as undoucumented teachers anymore.

Teaching privates is technically illegal, but we’re talking about Taiwan… everyone seems to have some kind of job or enterprise going on the side. I just think, as a foreigner - you need to be a little discreet about flaunting the fact that you are doing illegal privates in public. That’s why I suggested that you don’t follow Chung’s advice and do a leafleting on the street.

I don’t think you would be deported if you were actually caught teaching your private. Haven’t heard of this happening - but police vigalance about stuff tends to come in phases. You could run into bad luck. [I’ve had cops at the National Police Headquarters - foreign affairs police - ask me if I could teach them. My friend had a immigration officer at CKS ask him the same thing.]

I guess you should charge what you feel a fair market price for your services are. One thing though - the math doesn’t work quite the way you suggest: 1 student = NT$800 & 2 = 1,400. In my experience the per person rate drops very rapidly with each student you add. For 2 people you might charge NT$1,000-1,200.

Keep in mind a couple of things when setting your price:

  1. Not everyone is filthy rich in Taipei

  2. Parents will sacrifice almost anything for their kids education - including paying your fees. Even adult students might have their folks paying the bill. They are putting their faith in you that you will provide something substantive for their kids.

3)The average office girl makes about NT$25,000 a month [about NT$150/hour]. An MBA grad fresh back from the States might be looking at NT$60,000 in a local company. A blue collar worker - NT$40,000. A manager in a Local company with 20 years experience - NT75,000. A China Airlines Flight Attendant (first year)NT$65,000. Joe Schmo English Teacher - NT$80,000+.

When setting your rates think about who you are dealing with… A lot of people are digging deep into their pockets to pay your price.

Be fair.

Great advice on the privates.

If I can add:

Don’t accept any more than one cancellation. The poster who said that students will take advantage of you is correct. I use the analogy that the Taiwanese “studying” abroad (whatever that means) do not get a refund if they don’t show up for a class that they have paid in advance so: same rules apply here.

If they really want to improve, tell them that they are expected to apply themselves. Same rules apply here also. You cannot “buy” English skills.

Tell them that they are very lucky to have your services at such a reasonable fee.

These parameters usually pave the way for successful learning. These may seem rather strict but they do ultimately benefit the learner. As I say, “Same rules apply.”

I was standing in the street in Tucheng (Taipei county) today and a woman pulled up on her motorbike and asked me if I could teach her son English. How easy is that!!!

Generally people will approach you and ask to teach privates. It helps to have a name card. Unfortunately I have only just arrived in Taiwan and don’t have a name card yet, so I just gave her a piece of paper with my phone number on it. But having a name card gives you a bit more credibility in Taiwan.

ok I was born in the states but I am asian. So even though my English is exactly like you guys I heard that my pay will be around 25% less? is that true? btw I attended one year of grad school.

yeah, they sound good in theory but in reality they are a big pain: they cancel too much, have a high turn over rate, require alot of prep time…

after a few years here i have learned not to even bother with privates. it is easier/more profitable just to do some stand-up routines at various kindies.

Privates are my bread and butter. :smiley: I can make significantly more money doing privates than working for someone else. They do cancel a lot, but I just reschedule/shuffle people around. No problem… :sunglasses: