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Moving to Taiwan

Taiwan is an island off the coast of mainland China with one of the highest population densities in the world. Expats moving to Taiwan are equally likely to notice that it's very mountainous, home to the tallest peak in northeast Asia, and has an abundance of nature reserves and hot springs. 

Taiwan has ultra-modern cities that still strongly uphold traditional Chinese culture while at the same time embracing a capitalist business culture that appeals to Western expats. As a result, many new arrivals find that the lifestyle in Taiwan is highly convenient as goods are easily accessible and both the public transport and healthcare are excellent.

Taiwanese are extremely friendly, helpful and gracious people. They will generally go out of their way to make visitors feel at ease. They pride themselves on being good hosts. Expats may find themselves asking a stranger for directions and end up being personally escorted and then being invited home for dinner. The language barrier is no obstacle to this hospitality and willingness to assist as many can speak English.

The main religions in Taiwan are Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism and almost all Taiwanese pay homage to their ancestors. Homes have sacred shrines where people can burn incense and make offerings to ancestors. Beautiful temples are found throughout the cities, but churches and mosques are also easy to find.

The cost of living in Taiwan is generally high. Accommodation, which mostly consists of apartment living, can be expensive. Taiwan's main industries include electronics, industrial processing, and information and communications technologies. Expats looking to work in these industries should be highly qualified, as Taiwanese companies tend to employ qualified local workers. Due to this, expats looking to work in Taiwan tend to transfer to the country from within an international company. Otherwise, many young Westerners move to Taiwan to teach English.

Taiwan has a problematic relationship with China, mostly as China insists that Taiwan is a province of China. While many cultural traditions of the Taiwanese stem from a long history with China, the majority of Taiwanese see their country as autonomous and have no wish to unify with China. This is a sore point and the reason behind the rocky political relationship with the mainland.

Taiwan is incredibly safe. Foreigners moving to the country are unlikely to be affected by political tensions. In fact, those living there enjoy Taiwan's cultural richness, modern amenities and the country's embrace of the wider world.


Fast facts

Official name: Republic of China

Population: Over 23 million

Capital city: Taipei

Neighbouring countries: China, Japan and the Philippines

Geography: Taiwan is an island and is characterised by a contrast between rugged mountains, which run in five ranges from the northern to the southern tip of the island, and the flat to gently rolling Chianan Plains in the west that are also home to most of Taiwan's population.

Political system: Semi-presidential republic

Major religions: Buddhism and Taoism

Main languages: Mandarin (official), Taiwanese Hokkein and English (mostly in Taipei)

Money: The New Taiwan Dollar (TWD), which is divided into 100 cents

Tipping: Tipping is not standard, although it's unlikely to be refused if offered. Baggage handlers at hotels and the airport will accept loose change. Hotels and restaurants typically add a 10 percent service charge to the bill.

Time: GMT +8

Electricity: 110 volts AC, 60Hz. 'Type A' two-pin plugs with flat blades and 'Type B' three-pin plugs with two flat blades and a grounding pin are commonly used. 

Internet domain: .tw

International dialling code: +886

Emergency contacts: 110 (police), 119 (ambulance and fire)

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right. Taiwan has an extensive public transport system that is easily accessible and reliable. 

Weather in Taiwan

Weather in Taiwan is at the mercy of the tropical monsoon climate that also affects the southern portion of China's mainland.

Expats moving to the island can leave leggings and the winter warmers behind as summers are hot and humid, while winters are relatively mild.

The northern part of the country can potentially experience slightly cooler temperatures off-season. However, lows rarely dip below 54°F (12°C), with the average annual temperature sitting at a comfortable 72°F (22°C).

Rainfall is by far the defining characteristic of weather in Taiwan. Typhoon season settles in from late summer to the middle of autumn (June to October) and between three and four of these monstrous storms tend to wreak havoc on the tiny island each year. Devastating winds and heavy rainfall often cause damage and flooding. Taiwan also experiences the occasional earthquake, but these tend to come in the form of mere tremors rather than earth-shattering separation.

 

Embassy contacts for Taiwan


Taiwanese embassies

  • Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 895 1800

  • Taipei Representative Office, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7881 2650

  • Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 231 5080

  • Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6120 1030

  • Taipei Liaison Office, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 430 6071

  • Taipei Representative Office, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 678 5413

  • Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Auckland, New Zealand: +64 9 303 3903


Foreign embassies in Taiwan

  • American Institute, Taipei: +886 2 2162 2000

  • British Trade and Cultural Office, Taipei: +886 2 8758 2088

  • Canadian Trade Office, Taipei: +886 2 8723 3000

  • Australian Commerce and Industry Office, Taipei: +886 2 8725 4100

  • Liaison Office of South Africa, Taipei: +886 2 8175 8588

  • New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office, Taipei: +886 2 2720 5228

Public Holidays in Taiwan

 

2020

2021

New Year's Day

1 January

1 January

Republic Day

1 January 1 January

Chinese New Year

24-29 January

11-16 February

Peace Memorial Day

28 February

28 February

Children's Day

4 April

4 April

Tomb Sweeping Day

5 April

5 April

Labour Day

1 May

1 May

Dragon Boat Festival

24 June

14 June

Mid-Autumn Festival

1 October

21 September

National Day

10 October

10 October

 
*When a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, a deferred holiday is granted. Some holidays are based on the Chinese lunar calendar, so dates on the Gregorian calendar can change.

Pros and cons of moving to Taiwan

With the ESL market expanding rapidly, Taiwan has become a popular expat destination, especially with younger expats. However, like with most countries, a move to this East Asian country comes with pros and cons. While the warm weather and plentiful travel opportunities have drawn many expats in, the culture shock and language barrier has also lead many expats to cut their stay in Taiwan short.

Below are some of the biggest pros and cons of living in Taiwan.


Accommodation in Taiwan

+ PRO: Affordable accommodation is easy to find.

Accommodation in Taiwan is affordable. It’s also very easy to find, even for expats who only speak English. There are dedicated plenty of groups on social media sites for foreigners wanting long or short term stays. 

- CON: May not meet Western standards.

The major downside to accommodation in Taiwan is that it’s not modern. Humidity also affects accommodation greatly. Apartments in Taiwan can get hot and humid in the summer months unless one is willing to spend more money on air conditioning.


Quality of life in Taiwan

+ PRO: Taiwan is safe.

Taiwan is much safer than what many expats may be used to. It’s possible to walk around alone in most cities, even at night.

- CON: Air pollution is a reality.

Taiwan suffers from extreme air pollution. This is especially the case in larger cities like Taipei. It's very common to see residents walking around with face masks. There are also times when the air pollution gets so bad that residents are advised to stay indoors.

- CON: Taiwanese cities can be crowded.

Large cities in Taiwan tend to be crowded and noisy. The cities are densely populated which can come as quite a shock to expats. Expats who are used to space and quiet will take some getting used to the hustle and bustle in Taiwanese cities. 


Lifestyle in Taiwan

+ PRO: Entertainment is easy to find.

Taiwan has a variety of down-time options that will suit any kind of expat. It's very easy to find beautiful day time spots for expats looking to be outdoors. Taiwan also has a fun nightlife scene. Most expats and locals are open and friendly, making it easy to find someone to have a drink with, even if it's short notice.

+ PRO: Delicious and affordable food.

The food scene in Taiwan is incredible. Street food is everywhere. It’s delicious and very budget-friendly. Convenience stores like 7-Eleven also make it easy for residents to get tasty food on the run. Even going out for a night or eating at a nice restaurant in Taiwan is very affordable compared to the prices in most Western countries.

- CON: Expats will experience a language barrier.

One of the biggest struggles for expats moving to Taiwan is the language barrier. Mandarin is famously hard to learn for those who haven’t grown up speaking it. With the language so hard to learn, it can affect different aspects of expat life like going to the grocery store, setting up banking or even going to the doctor.


Getting around in Taiwan

+ PRO: Excellent public transport options.

Public transportation in Taiwan is everywhere. The country has an excellent range of options including trains, subways and buses. To add to this, public transportation is also very cheap. This makes it easy and affordable for exapts to get around the country.

+ PRO: Google Maps is available.

An issue many foreigners experience in Asian countries is that navigation apps in their home language aren’t available. However, new arrivals can rest assured that they can still use their favourite navigation apps like Google Maps in Taiwan. This makes getting around without getting too lost a reality.

- CON: Strict rules on public transport.

Taiwan has very strict rules when it comes to using public transport. This especially applies to the subway system. Some expats may be shocked to find out that they aren’t even allowed to drink water on the subway. The reason for these strict rules is to keep the subway system clean.

- CON: Driving can be dangerous.

Many expats choose not to drive in Taiwan. This is because roads tend to be congested and dangerous to drive on. Many Taiwanese drive scooters and don’t seem to follow the rules of the road. This can take some getting used to. It’s therefore advised for expats to stick to public transport.


Weather in Taiwan

+ PRO: Winters are mild.

Expats who don’t enjoy the winter will love winter in Taiwan. Winters are famously mild. Average lows range between 55ºF and 58ºF (13ºC and 15ºC). Nighttime temperatures in the northern region of Taiwan can dip to the mid 40ºF range (below 10ºC).

- CON: Summers can be extremely hot.

Summers in Taiwan can take some getting used to. Temperatures can get extreme, with highs ranging between 80ºF and 87ºF (27ºC and 31ºC). What makes summers even more extreme is the intense humidity Taiwan experiences which often makes days feel much hotter than they are.

- CON: Typhoons and heavy rain occur frequently.

Like in many Asian countries, Taiwan suffers through an annual typhoon season. Typhoon season in Taiwan usually lasts from July until September. This season is characterised by extreme rain showers, thunderstorms, and strong winds. Expats need to invest in proper raincoats and umbrellas if they want to survive the Taiwanese rainy season.

Safety in Taiwan

Taiwan is a very safe country and violent crime against foreigners is a rare occurrence. 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 which are controlled by criminals. Expats should avoid these areas and rather attend nightclubs, barbershops and massage parlours which 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.

Working in Taiwan

Expats working in Taiwan will find themselves part of a continuously growing economy marked by low unemployment rates, rising salaries and increasing output. That said, most foreigners moving to the tiny island are relegated either to the ESL teaching industry or to the confines of the multinational organisation that initially enticed them to relocate. 

As of the last century, Taiwan has exchanged its agrarian roots for electronic extensions to become a global player in the information technology and electronics market. The small nation is a prolific producer of computer-related products, and it continues to promote enterprise in technology-intensive industries.

As a result, many multinational firms, including over twenty of the top communication and technology companies in the world, have opened up branches in one of Taiwan's three major cities: Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung.


Job market in Taiwan

Taiwan's key industries include microprocessing, electronics, communications and technology development and industrial processing. However, it can be difficult for foreigners to find prominent positions working in these sectors.

There are management, finance and design and marketing positions available in Taiwan but expats will need to work hard to prove that they hold exceptional skills and a high level of education and experience. Expats will find that learning Mandarin is a great way to get a foot in the door. More opportunities will materialise for those with even a mediocre grasp of the language.

Overall, though, the most common jobs for expats in Taiwan are related to the English language itself, including teaching and translation.


Finding work in Taiwan

Due to the large number of international organisations that operate in the country, intra-company transfers are a primary source of employment opportunities for expats wanting to work in Taiwan. This is the easiest way for foreigners to find a job in the country, especially for those who wish to find a senior management position.

Foreigners can also search for jobs through online job portals and through local publicationsOtherwise, expats should approach recruitment agencies who represent companies in Taiwan.


Work culture in Taiwan

The concept of "face", meaning a person's or company's dignity and prestige, governs all actions and behaviour both in leisure and work culture in Taiwan. Foreigners should keep this in mind and realise that decisions are often made to give face, lose face or save face – not necessarily to act in the best interest of the business.

In line with this, new arrivals should make all efforts to avoid confrontation in business. Any loud or angry outburst will be considered unforgivably rude. Indirect communication or no communication at all is viewed as preferable to causing a colleague to lose face.

Doing Business in Taiwan

Foreigners are often unprepared for doing business in Taiwan. The working culture is unfamiliar to most Westerners, and achieving an adequate understanding may require some cross-cultural training.

Though the country prides itself on its capitalist success, Confucian values still permeate the business environment and dictate etiquette and common practice. Expats should familiarise themselves with this system of behaviour to better succeed in the business sphere.

Taiwan was ranked 15th out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020, scoring particularly well for dealing with construction permits (6th), getting electricity (9th), and enforcing contracts (11th). One area of concern, however, is getting credit in Taiwan, with the country placing 104th in that category.

Taiwan is largely dependent on foreign trade and the number of multinationals in the country means that locals are often accustomed to interacting with expats in the business world.


Fast facts

Business hours

Office hours are typically 9am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Business language

Taiwanese and Mandarin are the official languages. English is rarely spoken outside large multinational organisations, so a translator may be necessary.

Dress

Formal and conservative, with dark suits for men and modest dresses and skirts for women. Pantsuits are considered business casual and might not always be appropriate.

Gifts

Gift-giving is an essential relationship-building tool. A simple gift for all members involved in a meeting is appropriate. A slightly better gift may be presented to the most important member of a party. It is customary to open gifts in private.

Gender equality

Taiwan is a traditionally male-dominated society and women have a diminished role in business. Nonetheless, foreign businesswomen are treated with respect.


Business culture in Taiwan

While Taiwan’s highly developed capitalist economy is marked by modern enterprise, its business culture is rooted in old-world tenets.

Hierarchy

With the exception of a few multinationals, most businesses in Taiwan are small- to medium-sized and family-owned. Senior managers assume a paternal role and not only take an interest in all activities but expect to be consulted on each decision prior to action being taken.

Hierarchy is established and greatly respected, although protocols are not as formal as in nearby Japan and South Korea. As a consequence, lower-level employees often lack initiative.

Relationships

In accordance with Confucian principles, maintaining a sense of harmony by carefully controlling one’s interpersonal relationships is paramount. Individualism is abandoned for the collective and in many cases, local work groups are a major source of identity for people.

According to this line of thought, the most important aspects of business culture in Taiwan are ‘face’ and guanxi (relationships).

Creating and sustaining relationships are integral to doing business in Taiwan. Local enterprises rarely engage in negotiation before establishing a connection between the parties involved. Expats should take note of the practices that support this concept, like gift-giving, and should avoid rushing business dealings in order to allow for relationships to develop.

Saving face 

‘Face’ is a complicated concept relating to a person’s dignity, prestige and reputation. Both individuals and companies have face. Expats will find that the concept often informs both personal interactions and business decisions.

Giving face, saving face and avoiding losing face is so important that expats may find the principles that usually guide negotiation don't apply. For example, Taiwanese colleagues will avoid pointing out other's mistakes to allow them to keep face, even if this comes at a cost to the company.

New arrivals should abide by these principles, as causing someone to lose face will have a negative effect on business dealings.


Dos and don'ts of business in Taiwan

  • Do speak directly to the most senior person in a meeting, even if they don’t speak the best English

  • Don’t do or say anything that will embarrass or bring shame to the company. Causing a collective group to 'lose face' has a very negative impact on business relations in Taiwan.

  • Do accept any invitations to events outside of the normal working environment. Relationship-building is paramount, and it's important to capitalise on any and all opportunities to connect with clients and colleagues.

  • Don’t be afraid to depart from a meal during tea time, even if asked to stay or go somewhere else. This is a feature of all Taiwanese meals, and an appropriate time to leave.

Visas for Taiwan

Unless they are from a visa-exempt country, foreigners will need a visa to visit Taiwan. Those from the US, Canada, Australia, UK, Ireland and several EU countries, as well as some Asian countries, can stay for 90 days without a visa. South Africans need to acquire a visitor's visa before travelling to Taiwan.

To stay longer, expats will need to acquire a residence visa, while those wanting to work in Taiwan will need both a work permit and a residence visa.


Visitor's visas for Taiwan

Expats looking to visit Taiwan for a short time without working will need to apply for a visitor’s visa at their local embassy unless they are from a visa-exempt country. Required documents include application forms, travel documents, passport photos, proof of airline tickets, proof of funds and a hotel reservation.


Residence visas for Taiwan

Expats will usually only be able to get their residence visa after finding a job and getting their work permit approved. In order to be granted a work permit, applicants send copies of their documents (including a health check and police clearance) to their employer, who can apply for a work permit on their behalf.

Once the company receives the applicant’s original work permit, then prospective expats can apply for a residence visa at their local embassy before arriving in the country. 

Some foreigners looking to work in Taiwan arrive on a visa waiver, find a job, apply for a work permit, and then use the work permit to apply for a residence visa in Taiwan. This process has been streamlined in recent years and is, for the most part, quite straightforward. For those not eligible for a visa waiver, it's best to obtain a work permit before arriving in Taiwan. 

New arrivals should remember that they cannot begin working in Taiwan without a work permit, even if they have started the permit process, which can take several weeks. Once an expat has their work permit, they can legally work while they apply for a residence visa and wait for it to be processed. The advantage of organising a work and residence permit before arriving in Taiwan is that an expat can legally live and work in Taiwan from their first day of arrival.

Note that after an expat receives their residence visa and is living in Taiwan, they need to apply for an Alien Registration Certificate (ARC) within 15 days of arriving in Taiwan.


Alien Resident Certificates in Taiwan

Once granted a work permit, the process for obtaining a residence visa and an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) can begin. Having an ARC entitles an expat to temporary residence in the country and allows expats to access Taiwan's public healthcare system, which operates under the National Health Insurance. An ARC is valid for the same amount of time as the holder’s work permit.

Foreigners must carry their ARC identification as proof that they legally live in the country.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work Permits for Taiwan

Most foreigners moving to Taiwan will obtain a work permit with the help of an employer, which removes much of the stress and tension normally caused by navigating government bureaucracy.

Over the past decade, the country has made large strides in allowing more leeway for international companies to fulfil their staffing needs with foreign nationals. The application process for work permits has been streamlined and many restrictions have been relaxed or even lifted for multinationals.

A foreigner's work permit in Taiwan is tied to their employer. So, if an expat changes jobs or employers, then they must apply for a new work permit. An employer must start the work permit process by applying with the Workforce Development Agency. For a list of required documents, it's best to check the agency's website. 


Getting an Alien Resident Certificate in Taiwan

Once granted a work permit, the process for obtaining a residence visa and an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) can begin. Having an ARC means that an expat is a permanent resident and is therefore entitled to National Health Insurance.

However, in order to become a legal permanent resident and receive an ARC, expats must fulfil the following criteria at a minimum:

  • Pass a health check (not necessary for those from visa waiver countries or in possession of a residence visa)

  • Have a work permit (which will be arranged by their employer)

  • Have a residence visa (which can be applied for either at the Taiwanese embassy in one's home country or from within Taiwan if one has entered the country on a visitor’s visa)

An ARC is issued for the same length of time as a work permit. As soon as an expat's work permit expires or if they leave their place of employment, an ARC will become invalid.

Cost of Living in Taiwan

The cost of living in Taiwan varies depending on the area and expats' lifestyles. Most foreign nationals relocate to Taipei, although rural living and the south of Taiwan are much less expensive. The 2019 Mercer Cost of Living Survey ranked Taipei at 35 out of 209 cities, placing it as slightly more expensive than Paris and Milan, but cheaper than London and Dubai.

While Taipei may inspire the highest cost of living in Taiwan, it is still significantly cheaper than regional competitors like Beijing, Seoul, Singapore, and Hong Kong. That said, life in Taiwan is very consumer-oriented and expats living in Taipei, in particular, will have to battle the constant onslaught of trends, merchandise and entertainment if they wish to save their money.


Cost of accommodation in Taiwan

Housing in Taipei is expensive and most accommodation is small and has basic amenities. Affordable one-man apartments will most likely be lacking a kitchen. Clean, spacious apartments with three or four bedrooms are easy to find but the most fortunate are those who will be sharing with their partner as they will be able to rent an apartment of a significantly higher quality while splitting the costs.

Houses tend to suffer under the humid climate and cheaper accommodation are often plagued by the mould and mildew that thrives in high humidity environments. 

Utilities are affordable, although electricity bills increase a lot during the hot summer months when it is all but impossible to live without air conditioning. Stoves and geysers are usually gas-powered, which helps to minimise costs. Initially, the most exorbitant household cost will seem to be the trash bags, which are sold at a premium to encourage recycling.


Transport costs in Taiwan

Taipei has fantastic public transport which is affordable and reliable. It's possible to get anywhere at any time without a car. The vast majority of both locals and expats in Taiwan make use of public transport.

Owning a car is a great expense as the monthly costs include not only the car repayments but also fuel tax, insurance, maintenance and very expensive parking fees.

Many locals (and some brave foreigners) have small motorcycles which are a cheap and convenient, if somewhat dangerous, way to get around. Those without motorcycles usually have bicycles, which are easy to ride on Taipei’s flat streets.


Cost of schooling in Taiwan

There are world-class English-education schools in Taipei, but expats should be prepared to pay high fees. International school fees are typically high and additional expenses such as textbooks, uniforms and bus service are not always included.


Cost of health insurance in Taiwan

The healthcare system in Taiwan is very advanced and the costs are low.

In Taiwan, employers are legally required to subsidise the health insurance of their employees. Foreign employees will be placed on the National Health Insurance and receive the same benefits as Taiwanese locals. For a small stipend, expats in Taiwan can have access to Western doctors, Chinese doctors, hospitalisation, dentistry, prescription medicine and more.


Cost of food and clothing in Taiwan

The cost of food and clothing in Taiwan is hugely variable and it is up to the individual how much they want to spend. However, it's fair to say that the quality of clothing is determined by price. As such, quality clothing tends to be limited to designer brands and is therefore expensive. Many expats resort to buying clothes when they visit their home countries or shopping online.

Night markets have cheap food and clothes but the clothes are often made from poor quality, synthetic fabrics. It is possible to buy large amounts of affordable fresh vegetables at local day markets. Fruit is also readily available and relatively inexpensive.

There are many restaurants tucked away in side alleys which sell local food, which is often a fairly healthy and cheap option.

Taiwan does not have much of a drinking culture and so alcohol is expensive. Spirits are the most affordable, followed by beer and wine.


Cost of living in Taiwan chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Taipei in January 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent in a good area)

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

NT 16,100

One-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

NT 10,900

Three-bedroom apartment in the city centre

NT 37,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

NT 24,500

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

NT 75

Milk (1 litre)

NT 88

Rice (1kg)

NT 102

Loaf of white bread

NT 55

Chicken breasts (1kg)

NT 260

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

NT 110

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

NT 130

Coca-Cola (330ml)

NT 27

Cappuccino

NT 88

Bottle of local beer

NT 59

Three-course meal for two at mid-range restaurant

NT 800

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

NT 4.50

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable average per month)

NT 680

Basic utilities (per month for small apartment)

NT 2,300

Transportation

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

NT 25

Bus/train fare in the city centre

NT 20

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

NT 29.50

Culture Shock in Taiwan

Expats should expect some degree of culture shock in Taiwan. Simple tasks and comforts that are taken for granted in an expat’s home country aren't as easy when a person doesn’t speak or read the local language.

Once expats start learning, speaking and understanding Mandarin, their understanding of Taiwanese culture will deepen and their frustrations should ease.


Language barrier in Taiwan

The most difficult thing to adjust to in Taiwan is the language barrier. Mandarin is the official language, while Taiwanese, Hakka and indigenous Formosan languages are also spoken.

The most important thing expats can do to acclimatise is to start learning Mandarin as soon as possible. While it is challenging, learning Mandarin can help expats feel less isolated.


Saving face in Taiwan

“Saving face" refers to maintaining personal and collective honour and integrity and is central to Taiwanese social relations. Expats should avoid losing their temper or embarrassing anybody. Self-control and subtlety are preferred Taiwanese strategies when dealing with conflict, as this allows parties involved to save face. This can be frustrating for foreigners accustomed to direct communication, but it's vital for smooth interactions. 


Taking off shoes in Taiwan

It is custom for people to remove their shoes before entering homes, tea houses and certain public areas. There are usually slippers available for people to wear once they have taken their shoes off.


Dates in Taiwan

Taiwan uses a different calendar to the West, with the first year of the Taiwanese calendar beginning with the country's founding in 1911. Payslips, bank receipts, licenses and tax slips often show the year of both the Taiwanese and Western calendars.

Many public holidays are also calculated according to the lunar calendar. Chinese New Year is the most important holiday and is at the end of January or beginning of February.


Public bathrooms in Taiwan

Many new arrivals from the West have never used a squat toilet, which are common in Taiwan. While many public spaces have both squat and Western-style toilets available, many only have squat toilets. Bathroom stalls with a disabled sign are also rare. Toilet paper may not be free at public bathrooms but can be purchased from a vending machine. Paper isn't flushed but must be placed in the provided bin.


Traffic in Taiwan

Taiwan’s traffic makes even experienced expat drivers nervous,. Even crossing the street can be hazardous. Scooters often ignore road rules and drivers must constantly be aware of them. 

In order to navigate Taiwanese traffic, it's best to proceed slowly and avoid making any sudden moves, whether changing lanes or crossing a busy street, so that scooters have time to react accordingly.


Friendships in Taiwan

Expect friends to cancel plans at the last minute for family affairs – family takes precedence in Taiwanese society, and this isn’t considered rude. Unreliable RSVPs and uninvited guests, even when reservations are involved, are also common.

Local friends may also not directly tell an expat when they are upset with them. It can be difficult for foreigners to discern indirect cues from locals, especially when saying “no” is involved.

Even though Taiwanese people are less direct in some ways, they can be more direct in others. A Taiwanese person may not tell someone that they are upset or they may not express open disagreement, but many will make remarks about their expat friends’ complexion, changes in weight or other things that wouldn’t be mentioned in the West.


Gender in Taiwan

Expat women can expect to be safe, treated with respect and earn equal wages. On the whole, Taiwanese laws protect women. 

Maternity leave is guaranteed to full-time employees and most reproductive health needs are covered under national health insurance, except for birth control. It is more likely to find women who prefer an independent lifestyle and have chosen not to marry in Taiwan than in many other Asian countries.

Despite high levels of gender equality in Taiwan, some traditionally-minded locals do wonder about women who are single, unmarried or don’t have children. Some employers might also be overly familiar and offer unsolicited life advice or have sexist notions about the emotional or family needs of female employees.

Accommodation in Taiwan

Expats moving to Taiwan can expect to find plenty of accommodation options available to them. Although accommodation in Taiwan can be relatively expensive, there are so many properties on offer that with a little patience and ingenuity, new arrivals are sure to find a comfortable, reasonably priced place to rent while in the country.

Some Taiwanese employers will provide foreign employees with a housing allowance over and above their basic salary, while other companies may provide free accommodation. Considering the high costs, it's worth trying to negotiate this as part of an employment package, especially if relocating specifically for work purposes.


Types of accommodation in Taiwan

Most expats tend to live in apartments. Houses aren't very common, although they can be found in suburban areas on the peripheries of Taiwanese cities. The most commonly available type of apartment is the small, studio-style variety. Generally, accommodation and room sizes are smaller than some new arrivals, especially those from the US, may be used to. 

Most apartments have air conditioners installed (Taiwan is very hot in summer), but central heating is not common. It's possible to find apartment blocks with indoor swimming pools and gyms, but these are very expensive.

Although some apartments are furnished, most apartments in Taiwan will come unfurnished. However, it is also relatively easy to buy second-hand furniture and appliances when in the country. 

Taiwan is a very safe society. Expats can rest assured that home security won't be an issue during their time in the country. Some apartment blocks do employ security guards in apartment block foyers (a cost which is included in the rent).


Finding accommodation in Taiwan

The process of finding an apartment in Taiwan can be difficult, especially if one doesn't speak Mandarin. Foreigners can search for accommodation through online property portals (some of which have English postings) and through expat social media groups.

Otherwise, new arrivals should contact a local real estate agent directly. Many Taiwanese estate agents won't be able to speak English, but there are some agencies which cater to the expat market. 

Those looking for accommodation should ensure that they are able to view the property in person before committing to it, as the quality of many listed properties may not match what is presented in the listing. 


Renting accommodation in Taiwan

Many expats rent in Taiwan's capital, however, accommodation in Taipei is relatively expensive compared to the rest of the country, but it varies according to the area.

Deposits

Typically, rental deposits in Taiwan are equal to one to three months' rent. This deposit is refundable at the end of the rental contract provided no damage has been done to the apartment.

Leases

Year-long leases are common. If securing a lease through an agent, expats must pay an agent's fee which typically amounts to one month's rent. 

Utilities

Sometimes rental prices in Taiwan will include utilities such as building maintenance and garbage disposal. Tenants must pay their own water and electricity bills, but these are relatively low. Most Taiwanese apartments already have internet connections installed. In these cases, the landlord would usually have included the cost of internet in the rent.

Utilities and bills can be paid at convenience stores, the post office, the bank or through the landlord. It's also possible to set up a direct debit at the bank.

Bins and recycling

Taiwan has set up strict recycling guidelines. Tenants need to separate their trash into cardboard, aluminium, plastic and glass. Each group of materials needs to be bagged separately and placed in the corresponding collection area.

Trash is typically collected daily. Many buildings have a designated area for collection. However, in some cases tenants need to run out when they hear the rubbish removal truck coming and throw their trash in the truck themselves. These trucks usually play a jingle that makes it easy to identify.

Healthcare in Taiwan

Healthcare in Taiwan is affordable and user-friendly. Foreigners moving to the island will be well provided for by highly skilled medical personnel in well-equipped hospitals. Facilities at both public and private hospitals in Taiwan offer a high standard of care, although private hospitals afford both more choice and less waiting time than public facilities.


Public healthcare in Taiwan

Public health insurance in Taiwan, which is managed by the National Health Insurance Administration, is compulsory for all Taiwanese residents, including foreigners working in the country. 

Expats using one of Taiwan's excellent public health facilities are given access to heavily subsidised medical care. Services covered by National Health Insurance (NHI) are varied and range from traditional Chinese medicine to emergency care. 

Although public hospitals are world-class, many inpatient services that are standard in the West may not be provided at Taiwanese public facilities and it is often expected that a patient's family provides these services. Another disadvantage is that patients seeking treatment may experience long waiting times at public care centres. 


Private healthcare in Taiwan

Although most expats rely on the public healthcare system, many also utilise Taiwan's high-quality private care in order to avoid long waiting times, to receive better patient care and to access a greater choice of treatment options. 

There are also many private clinics in Taiwan's urban centres which specifically serve the expat market. These are primarily staffed with English speakers, which can be more convenient for English-speaking expats.  

Private healthcare in Taiwan is expensive, so those planning to make use of this sector should explore their private healthcare options.


Health insurance in Taiwan

The majority of foreigners and Taiwanese citizens make use of government-funded healthcare through the NHI. Expats living in Taiwan for more than four months or who hold an Alien Resident Card (ARC) are required to join the NHI. New arrivals are often enrolled in the system by their employer with their contributions being automatically deducted from their salaries. Dependants, students or self-employed residents need to register at a hospital within four months of obtaining their residence status. Taking out private insurance is, however, still recommended.

The NHI is funded by employee taxes and government subsidies, but there are still co-payments and limited coverage for certain types of treatment. If an expat becomes very ill, the capped coverage provided by the NHI may not cover all of their medical expenses. This is where additional private insurance is useful.

After enrolling in the NHI programme, expats are issued a Health Insurance Card, which must be presented in order to receive benefits. 


Pharmacies in Taiwan

Pharmacies are widely available in Taiwan. Though 24-hour pharmacies are rare, there are some operating in Taiwan's major cities. Doctors and hospitals often have pharmacies attached to their premises, making it convenient to pick up prescription medication after consulting with a doctor. 

Medicine is generally cheaper in Taiwan than many new arrivals may be used to. Those who rely on a specific brand of Western medication should bring an adequate supply with them to Taiwan. In some cases, it can be difficult to find the exact same medicine, but there are usually local alternatives or equivalents under a different brand name.


Health hazards in Taiwan

Although Taiwan is mostly safe for foreigners, mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis are endemic to the country. Expats can avoid mosquito bites by taking the necessary precautions such as using mosquito repellents, sleeping under a mosquito net and wearing long-sleeved clothing. 


Pre-travel vaccinations for Taiwan

There are no specific vaccinations required for travel to Taiwan, but expats should ensure that they are up to date with all routine vaccinations.

A yellow fever certificate is required if travelling from an infected area.


Emergency services in Taiwan

Expats should dial 119 in case of an emergency in Taipei. Ambulance dispatchers may not speak English.

It's important to be aware of emergency evacuation procedures in the case of an earthquake or typhoon, both of which may occur from time to time.

Transport and Driving in Taiwan

Taiwan is a small country which is connected by comprehensive and affordable bus and rail services. Transport in Taiwanese cities is excellent and Taipei, where most foreigners live, boasts a metro system. The public transport system is reliable, affordable and easily accessible, so expats should have no problems getting around in Taiwan. 


Public transport in Taiwan

Buses

There are buses that travel almost every main street in Taiwan. They’re clean and safe and run often. Taking the bus in Taiwan is a practical and safe way to get around town inexpensively.

Buses are a popular form of transportation in Taiwan for travellers who want to get to smaller or more rural destinations. There are a variety of buses to choose from with the most popular being the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle which covers more than 42 bus routes. Bus companies usually have offices near the train stations in most Taiwanese cities.

Trains

One can take the train easily from city to city. The trains in Taiwanese urban centres run frequently and are very cheap. The announcements are in both Mandarin and English, as are all the road signs.

The express train, Tze-Chiang, is the most comfortable and fastest way to travel across Taiwan. It is also the most expensive. Tickets should be booked in advance, especially when one plans on travelling over a weekend or public holiday.

For long-distance travelling, Taiwan has a high-speed rail system (HSR). In a little over two hours, one can travel the whole length of the island. The train is very modern but can be expensive. 

Train stations in the larger cities in Taiwan usually have tourist information counters with English-speaking staff. Most cashiers at ticket booths will understand foreigners when they speak slowly. Therefore, buying train tickets should be quite straightforward.


Driving in Taiwan

Driving in Taiwan is difficult due to the chaotic nature of the local driving culture. It's common for other drivers to disobey traffic laws and drive dangerously. In Taipei, traffic laws are enforced and driving there is safe and easy. However, outside of Taipei, this is generally not the norm. Scooters also tend to weave in and out of traffic, which can result in accidents. 

An international driver’s licence can be used in Taiwan, which is valid for 30 days for those living in Taiwan. After which, new arrivals must obtain a Taiwanese driver's license. Taiwan has reciprocal license agreements with certain countries. Members of these countries can obtain a Taiwanese license without taking a driving test. Otherwise, expats not from these countries will need to pass the Taiwanese driving test, which can be taken in English.


Air travel in Taiwan

There are two international airports in Taiwan; Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport for the northern part of the island and Kaohsiung International Airport, which caters to the southern part of the island. However, in many places, there are local airports where one can book a flight to anywhere in Taiwan, including the islands out in the Strait of Taiwan.

Keeping in Touch in Taiwan

Keeping in touch in Taiwan is easy given the country's fast and reliable internet. There is free Wi-Fi in many coffee shops, restaurants and public spaces such as metro stations. ADSL lines are also reliable.

The media industry is free and highly competitive, with an abundance of radio, cable television and newspaper choices, including English-medium sources.


Mobile phones in Taiwan

Foreigners can sign contracts with mobile phone companies, although the actual documentation required will differ from company to company. Some companies will allow an expat to sign a contract if they pay for a year in advance, while others will only allow an expat to sign a contract with a Taiwanese person as a guarantor.

Generally, expats will only need their Alien Registration Certificate (ARC). However, some companies may ask for additional identification. However, braving the process of getting a mobile phone contract is usually worth it, as prepaid options, while available, are generally more expensive in the long run.

Some mobile companies and contracts offer discounted rates in the evenings or to other phones on the same network. It is a good idea for expats to compare packages from different companies to find one that best suits their needs.


Internet in Taiwan

Taiwan's communications infrastructure is excellent and internet connections are generally fast and very reliable. The internet isn't censored in Taiwan and social networking sites, as well as instant messaging services, are available and unregulated.

There's an abundance of internet cafés, and most coffee shops and restaurants provide free Wi-Fi. In Taipei, the city provides a free Wi-Fi service at MRT stations and in some other public spaces. Public telephone booths in the streets also offer Wi-Fi.


English media in Taiwan

There's an abundance of cable television channels in Taiwan as well as five free-to-air television networks. Cable is popular due to the low subscription rates. The free-to-air channels and most subscription channels are in Taiwanese or Mandarin, with only a handful of channels in English. However, many Western programmes are screened in the original language with Chinese subtitles, so expats will probably find there's always something to watch.

Frequently Asked Questions about Taiwan

Expats considering a move to Taiwan will naturally have many concerns about life in this culturally rich country.

From questions about finding a job to language concerns, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about expat life in Taiwan.

Do I need a car in Taiwan? What’s the public transport like in cities like Taipei?

If moving to Taipei, a car is not a necessity. The public transport in Taipei is excellent and the MRT system reaches most of the city, including outlying suburbs. Traffic can be a nightmare at peak times and parking is expensive. Also, new cars are expensive in Taiwan.

On the other hand, if living outside of Taipei or looking to explore the island, a car can be useful. Renting a car is possible with an international driver's permit. 

Where is a good area to live in Taipei?

Taipei is one of the safest cities in the world, so foreigners can search for accommodation with cost and proximity to their work or children’s school as a first priority. There are many expat-friendly areas throughout the city.

Is it easy to find work in Taiwan?

For English-speaking foreigners, a common way of working in Taiwan is teaching English as a second language at local schools. Otherwise, those with a tech background should be able to find work, and those with good business acumen can usually find opportunities.

Generally, most expats living in Taiwan work in the finance and IT sectors and are often transferred from their home country. There are several large multinationals based in Taipei. If working for a Taiwanese firm, it may take a while to adjust to Taiwan’s business culture.

How do I make friends in Taiwan?

Taiwan has a large English-speaking expat community, and as a result, there are plenty of expat groups that one can join to make new friends. Of course, if working for a Western company or as an English teacher at a large school, expats will also have the chance to make friends with colleagues. 

Do I need to speak Chinese to survive in Taiwan?

Although Taiwan has a large community of English-speaking foreigners, Mandarin and Taiwanese are spoken more often. Even a small amount of Mandarin will go a long way to help ease the transition of living in Taiwan. It can also be beneficial for finding employment. It's a good idea to get a phrasebook with phonetic translations as well as Chinese characters. 

That said, it's possible to work and live without speaking any Mandarin at all, especially in Taipei. Many shops and companies have their names displayed in English as well as Chinese. Buses and trains in Taipei also display destinations in English.

Do I need health insurance in Taiwan?

In short, no. Taiwan has a national public healthcare system that foreigners are entitled to use if they have an Alien Registration Certificate – which is issued when an expat starts to work in Taiwan.

Articles about Taiwan

Banking, Money and Taxes in Taiwan

The Taiwanese economy is among the largest in the world and is underpinned by a reliable and efficient banking system.

Once new arrivals have the appropriate documentation, opening a bank account is easy. Otherwise, Taiwan is a very cash-based society. ATMs are plentiful and can be found throughout the country. 


Money in Taiwan

The currency used in Taiwan is the New Taiwan Dollar (NTD), which is subdivided into 100 cents. In common usage, Taiwanese money is often referred to as kuài or yuán, although this is not to be confused with the Mainland Chinese Yuán.

  • Notes: 100 NTD, 200 NTD, 500 NTD, 1,000 NTD and 2,000 NTD

  • Coins: 1 NTD, 5 NTD, 10 NTD, 20NTD, 50NTD


Banking in Taiwan

Taiwan has a sophisticated banking system, and expats have a wide variety of options when it comes to managing their finances.

Internet banking is available, although some banks don't have English versions of their websites.

Banking hours can vary but are generally from 9am to 3.30pm, Monday to Friday. Some banks are open from 9am to 12.30pm on Saturdays.

Opening a bank account

Expats moving to Taiwan have many sound banking institutions to choose from. Local banks that are popular with expats include CTBC Bank, Bank of Taiwan and Taichung Bank. Alternatively, expats can open an account at a local branch of a foreign bank such as HSBC, Barclays, Citibank or Standard Chartered.

While many new arrivals use foreign banks in Taiwan, this may not always be possible as some employers insist on paying salaries directly into a Taiwanese bank account.

In order to open a bank account in Taiwan, expats will need an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC). Other documents that may be required include a passport or other proof of identity, and proof of residence. A minimum deposit is also required when opening an account.

ATMs and credit cards

ATMs are widely available and operate on a 24-hour basis. Foreign credit or debit cards can usually be used to withdraw cash in Taiwan but will incur charges. Some only accept Taiwanese cards. Even using a local card at an ATM operated by a different bank than one's own will incur charges.  ATMs in Taiwan offer English menus and have the facilities for transferring money and paying bills.

Credit cards are accepted by hotels and large retail outlets, but less so in smaller establishments. It's common practice in Taiwan to use cash whenever possible. 


Taxes in Taiwan

Expats staying in Taiwan will be subject to a withholding tax on their personal income for the first 183 days of their stay. Thereafter, both their income derived in Taiwan as well as their worldwide income will be taxed according to a progressive scale. 

Expat Experiences in Taiwan

When considering a move to a new country, there is nothing more useful than hearing real-life stories and experiences from other expats who have lived there. We'd love to hear about your expat experiences. Please contact us if you live or have lived in Taiwan and would like to share your story.


After living in Taiwan for 11 years, Canadian expat Nick has recently moved back home with his wife and children. Nick has a wealth of information on the country, and specifically about Taipei where he lived with his young family. Read about his expat experiences in Taiwan.

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With no clear prospects after graduating, South African expat Melanie decided to take the chance and move to Taiwan. She has been living and teaching in Taichung since 2016 and loves every moment of it. She loves the city's free public transport and eating at the night markets. Read all about her expat life in Taiwan.

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Ter is a South African expat who moved to Taiwan in 2018. This isn't his first experience as an expat in Asia which has helped him deal with the usual culture shock one can expect. He currently works as a teacher in Taichung. Read more about his expat experiences in Taiwan.

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Christel is a Filipina expat who moved to Taiwan in January 2012. Although she misses her family and friends, and Filipino foods, Christel enjoys the convenience of life in Taipei, especially the fast and efficient public transport. Read more about her expat experiences in Taiwan.

Christel - A Filipina expat living in Taiwan

Jen, a South African expat teaching English in Taiwan, was bitten by the travel bug while teaching in South Korea. What with Taipei's excellent public transport and convenient weekend getaways, she and her fiancé are having a great time living and working in Taiwan.

Jen a South African expert in Taiwan

India, an American expat living in Taiwan, travelled from California to Taipei to teach English. Read her advice on the best areas to live in Taipei as well as her comparison of the cost of living in Taiwan to that in LA in this interview about her experiences of living and working in Taipei.

India an American expat in Taiwan

Ryan and Neil, hailing from Canada South Africa respectively, are expats living in Taipei. One is a freelance editor, writer and graphic designer, while the other is an ESL teacher – together, they have 10 years of expat experience in the city. Read their great advice about living in Taipei.

Adrienne is an American expat living in Taipei. She was born in Taiwan but grew up in California, USA. Her family has now returned to Taipei where she attends the Taipei American School for expat children and leads a life much like that of a typical American teenager – but with some twists! Get a glimpse of her unique cross-cultural experiences in Taipei.

Adrienne Vagabond in Taiwan

Jenna, an American expat living in Taipei, openly confesses to drinking too much coffee and alcohol (often together) but if it means that she continues to share the kind of insight she's afforded expats in her interview we say "keep up the good work Jenna!" Jenna has lived in Taiwan for over five years and shares her expat life in Taipei.

Jenna - an American living in Taipei

Richard, a British expat living in Taipei, has moved to a slightly different beat since he relocated to Taiwan 18 years ago. Though he initially came to teach English, he now gives private piano lessons and spends time freelance writing and editing. He may be recognised as the author of "Taipei Day Trips: I and II", and if not, all the better reason to become familiar with his publications. Read what Richard's learned from nearly two decades of expat life in Taiwan.

Richard - a British expat living in Taipei

Catherine, a Taiwanese American living in Taipei, is still sussing out exactly where she fits in but is nonetheless having an amazing experience doing so. She makes her bread and butter as a journalist for the Taipei Times but takes true pleasure in maintaining her blog about daily life in Taipei. Read what she has to say about local culture and challenges of settling in in her expat interview about living in Taiwan.

Thumbnail of Catherine - a Taiwanese American living in Taipei