What's the best way to start my career in Asia as a Westerner?

I'm graduating soon and I want to find a job or internship in Asia and I'm considering Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Taipei.

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If you're job choice is not industry specific, then I would consider language as the first factor when making your decision, and then cost of living as a close second. If you are interested in learning/using Mandarin Chinese, then avoid Hong Kong. You wont' get much of a chance to use it, and unless you know Cantonese or have an interest in that language, then Hong Kong isn't for you. Alternately, if you are a native English speaker and only have a passing interest in foreign languages, then Hong Kong is probably the best choice of the three you listed.

Next, cost of living versus salary. Taipei on the whole is a slightly cheaper place to place to live than Shanghai, but the base salary for foreigners starting out in white collar jobs is not particularly high (only about US$1,700, and a bit more for the English teaching cram school jobs, a little over US$2,000). In Shanghai, you can probably make and save a bit more, but I would bet quality of life will be a little lower, and entertainment expenses will cost you.

Personally speaking, I'd say go with Taipei, but I'm sure there are good times to be had in both Shanghai and Hong Kong. Once you have your priorities figured out in terms of how much you expect/need to make and/or save, then the easiest way to get settled, realistically, is to either (A) hop on board as an English teacher at a cram school, or (B) sign up as a full-time language student at a university.Lots of companies will often only recruit from within Taiwan, and don't want to go through the trouble of providing plane tickets or apartments for new arrivals/hires, but English cram schools do this all the time (even if the apartments are likely to be far from the height of luxury, be warned).

Both of these strategies will get you the initial residency visa you need to get over here. Then during your first six months to a year, you should begin networking around to get involved in the industry/work you are interested in. The freedom you have as a student is great for exploring your target city and building new social networks. On the other hand, the English teacher route will provide you with more initial income, which will allow for better travel opportunities and living arrangements earlier on.

Either way, as a language student, degree student, or an English teacher, you'll have the window you need to begin developing your network and job-specific credentials. There is a world of opportunity across cities in Asia. Don't be afraid to that chance and make that leap. Start doing your homework on the country you want to visit, and then start saving that money for your flight and new digs abroad. Even if you only end up staying for short while, you won't regret it.

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