Taiwan is an extremely safe country, and violent crime against foreigners is a rare occurrence. That said, expats in Taiwan, particularly in metropolitan areas like Taipei, should exercise basic precautions as in any large city, such as being aware of personal belongings in crowded markets. It's safe to walk around or catch public transport at night, but this should be done with company while avoiding isolated areas.
The police are genuinely helpful and people are kind – if a foreigner is in distress on the street, it shouldn't take long for someone to come to their aid.
Gang-related crime in Taiwan
Prostitution and organised crime are common in Taiwan. There are some districts where businesses function as fronts for prostitution and are controlled by criminals. Expats should avoid these areas and rather attend nightclubs, barbershops and massage parlours that advertise themselves prominently and have store windows which passers-by can easily peer into.
This may seem scary, but for the average expat, it’s generally not an issue as gang activity is mostly confined to certain areas. Gangsters are more concerned with territory and making money than violence.
Pickpocketing in Taiwan
Although occasions of theft are rare, crowded public areas such as markets and public transport hubs are often targeted by pickpockets and occasionally even bag snatchers. In these areas, new arrivals should be careful not to carry valuable items in open bags and should wear bags in the front of their body rather than on their back. Bag snatching from motorcycles also happens occasionally. The usual rules of travel apply – keep photocopies of passports and other important documents in a safe place and, if possible, carry the photocopies themselves in place of the original documents.
Scams in Taiwan
Expats should be aware of scams in Taiwan. Credit card fraud can occur, as well as telephone fraud, where the scam artist will call the victim and claim to be from a government department, bank or other official office and request personal information such as bank details. ATM fraud is also a risk – when using ATMs, expats should be aware of their surroundings and not accept help from strangers.
Road safety in Taiwan
Taiwan's metropolitan areas often see major traffic jams, which is why many people opt for the scooters which are visible in abundance on Taiwanese roads. Although scooters allow a person to weave in and out of traffic and get around faster than other means, this sort of erratic driving does make for chaotic traffic, especially at peak hours, and bicycle and scooter accidents are common. Added to the confusion are ongoing repairs and extensions of the MRT underground system, as well as highway overpasses, which have resulted in congestion at peak hours. All passengers in all vehicles are required to wear seatbelts.
The highways in western and northern Taiwan are usually in good condition, but those in eastern Taiwan are sometimes in disrepair. Road closures due to flooding aren't uncommon during the typhoon season.
Food and water safety in Taiwan
Because of the frequent earthquakes, water pipes are often cracked, and so tap water can be contaminated. The quality of tap water in Taiwan varies, but in most cities, it's safe to drink after boiling and filtering. Expats moving to Taiwan should consider installing a good quality water filtration system or sticking to bottled water, as it might be unwise to drink even boiled tap water in Taiwan for an extended period of time. Drinking-water fountains in public spaces are already fitted with filter systems and are safe to use.
Natural disasters in Taiwan
Earthquakes are common in Taiwan and quakes measuring over 6.0 on the Richter scale cause damage at least once a year.
July to November is typhoon season. Typhoons have caused mudslides, road closures and collapsed buildings in the past, sometimes resulting in fatalities. Expats should be careful of travelling in the mountainous regions of central and southern Taiwan during this period.