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Moving to Taiwan in 2008, I only planned to stay and teach English for a year. But 10 years later, I found myself married to a Taiwanese, father of two, published author and editor for some of the country’s largest educational publishers, and, yep, still living in Taipei, Taiwan.
If you aren’t familiar with this website, I’ve got dozens of articles covering all aspects of traveling and living in Taiwan–my Taiwan travel guide links out to most of them.
For this article, I’ve compiled a huge amount of information for anyone thinking of relocating to Taiwan for work, family reasons, to retire, or simply because Taiwan is a great place to live.
I’m going to cover everything from current visa rules, general country information, where to live, getting an apartment, finding a job, getting around, weather, daily life, costs, making friends, how to live in Taiwan permanently, and much more.
Essentially, I’ve tried to make this guide everything that I wish I had known before moving to Taipei more than a decade ago. Whether you’re moving to Taiwan from the US or any other part of the world, I hope this makes your transition as smooth as possible!
Moving to Taiwan in 2021
As you may be aware, Taiwan was one of the major success stories during the pandemic. They only had 1000 cases and 10 deaths, and life there has remained largely normal. But one of the ways they’ve achieved this was by almost totally closing their borders to non-residents, and they remain that way today.
Presently, the following are the only people who can enter Taiwan, and all of them will have to get a test 72 hours before boarding their flight plus do a 14-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel upon arrival in Taiwan.
- Taiwanese citizens or ARC (resident card) holders
- Spouses of citizens
- People moving to Taiwan for a job or to be a student
- People with important business matters or emergency family reasons, subject to approval
- Entrepreneurs/Professionals/Digital Nomads who’ve successfully applied for the Taiwan Gold Card (you’ll need to be making at least TWD160,000/month to qualify. For more info you can also join the Taipei Entrepreneurs Group.
On April 1, 2021, Taiwan & Palau will commence the first travel bubble in Asia. Taiwan is also considering travel bubbles with other countries in Asia in the future, such as Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam.
Reasons to Consider Living in Taiwan
Taipei has more than once been chosen as the best city in the world for expats. What exactly makes Taiwan such a great place to live? Here are some commonly cited reasons:
- Friendly, welcoming people
- Excellent national health care system
- Extremely safe
- Lower cost of living than most Western countries
- First country in Asia to legalize equal (gay) marriage rights
- Chance to learn Mandarin (yet most people can speak at least a little English)
- Amazing food (especially street foods like these)
- Subtropical weather
- English teaching opportunities
- Comprehensive transportation, including the world class Taipei MRT and High Speed Rail, so you don’t need to drive
- Thriving expat scene with loads of clubs, social gatherings, and events
- Convenience stores everywhere, selling more things than you can imagine
- Exceptional handling of pandemic
- No open liquor laws (you can drink just about anywhere)
- Beaches and hot springs within short drive of major cities
- Abundance of outdoor activities, including river tracing, high mountain climbing, scuba diving, and more.
- Democratic elections and freedom of press
- Extremely fast Internet speeds and lots of free WiFi hotspots
- No sex tourism or trashy backpacker’s scene like in some Asian countries
No country is perfect. Here are some challenges or complaints that some visitors face or make:
- Air pollution is an issue.
- Traffic can be a little wild.
- It is extremely difficult to become a Taiwanese citizen, so you’ll never get the right to vote.
- You’ll always be regarded as a foreigner, no matter how long you stay.
- Outsiders are sometimes given special attention, which can be nice but can also be annoying.
- Summers are extremely hot and humid, not to mention the handful of typhoons that strike every year.
- Getting a job besides teaching English can be difficult, especially if you don’t speak Mandarin.
- The country is one of the world’s most crowded, and it can sometimes feel that way. Apartments are small, too.
- Noise pollution is very real.
- White males from native English speaking countries are treated like rock stars and can easily find employment (and dating partners), while foreign women don’t receive the same treatment, and Asian or black native English speakers may face discrimination in hiring practices.
- If you’re not from a native English-speaking country, you probably won’t be able to find work teaching English.
General Taiwan Information
In this section I’m going to cover all the basic information that you’ll want to familiarize yourself with if you’re considering moving to Taiwan. I’ll cover Taiwanese history, culture, people, languages, food, weather, attractions and more.
Hopefully this will give you a broad understanding of what this country is all about before we get into the more specific details about everyday life in Taiwan in the next section
A Quick History of Taiwan
The aboriginal Taiwanese have inhabited Taiwan for thousands of years. In the 1600s, an influx of people, mostly fishermen, began migrating from Fujian province in southeastern China to Taiwan. The Spanish and Dutch had brief settlements in Taiwan, until the Ming Dynasty loyalist Koxinga kicked the latter out in 1662. For centuries, Taiwan lay at the fringe of the Chinese empire.
In 1895, the Japanese began a 50-year occupation of Taiwan, during which they developed a railway system, universities, hot spring spas, hospitals, and other infrastructure. After WWII, the Republic of China lost the Chinese Civil War to the communists and occupied Taiwan with plans of retaking China someday (it never happened). This is why Taiwan is still, confusingly, officially called Republic of China.
The KMT ruled Taiwan as a single-party state for 40 years, a period referred to as White Terror. Taiwan also rapidly industrialize during this time, becoming one of the four “Asian Tigers.” Democratic reforms came in the late 80s and 90s, and the first non-KMT presidency, under the main opposition party, the DPP, came in 2000. Currently, Tsai Ing-Wen, belonging to the DPP party, is in her second term.
The two main political parties of Taiwan differ most notably in their stance toward China; the KMT supports a closer relationship with China, while the DPP is vocally pro-independence.
Is Taiwan a Country?
Taiwan is not officially recognized by most countries in the world. Only 14 countries in the world currently have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and they are mostly small countries. This is why, for example, foreign embassies in Taiwan, and Taiwanese embassies abroad, are usually called “Trade Office”, “Economic and Cultural Office”, or something like that. But for the sake of those thinking about living in Taiwan, these offices are embassies, and they are where you will apply for visas.
Despite the fact that Taiwan acts as an independent country in virtually every way, China maintains its stance that Taiwan is a province of China and bullies Taiwan from joining organizations like United Nations, or from using the name “Taiwan” in events like the Olympics (it has to call itself “Chinese Taipei”). Many airlines, companies, schools, and so on around the world are also pressured by China to list Taiwan as “Taiwan, Province of China.” This drives Taiwanese crazy (understandably), but calling Taiwan “Taiwan” drives Chinese crazy.
Simply put, a majority of Taiwanese feel that Taiwan is an independent country and they abhor the Chinese government, especially after seeing what it has done to Hong Kong. Moreover, any outsider who visits both Taiwan and China will note that the two countries are extremely different in many ways, including Taiwanese and Chinese travelers themselves (I have spoken with many from both sides).
What is Taiwan Known For?
Here are some of the things that Taiwan is famous for or known for internationally:
- Made in Taiwan: in the 1980s, it seemed like every little trinket in the world was stamped “Made in Taiwan”
- One of the “Asian Tigers”
- Taipei 101: tallest building in the world from 2004-2009
- Bubble Tea (also known as Boba or Pearl Milk Tea): Yep, it was invented there
- High mountain oolong tea
- Night markets
- Convenience: highest concentration of 7-Elevens in the world
- Computers (Asus and Acer) and computer chip manufacturing
- Bicycles (Giant and Merida)
- Hot springs and high mountains
- First country in Asia to legalize gay marriage rights
- Success in handling the pandemic
Taiwanese aboriginals form the base of Taiwanese culture. They belong to the Austronesian cultural group, and it was from Taiwan that the Austronesians went on to populate numerous islands across an enormous area stretch all the way from Madagascar to the Pacific Islands. While only 2% of Taiwanese today are aboriginal, as much of 70% of Taiwanese have some aboriginal blood.
When millions of people migrated from Mainland China to Taiwan beginning in the 1600s, they brought with them the customs, foods, language and culture of China, especially that of the Hoklo people in the Minnan region of Fujian Province.
When the Japanese colonized Taiwan for 50 years (1895-1945), they left significant marks of Japanese culture. These included food preferences (for example train bento boxes and sushi/sashimi), architecture (numerous Japanese-built shrines, martial arts halls, the Presidential Palace remain), and language (most Taiwanese learned Japanese, and many Japanese words entered the Taiwanese language).
After World War II, another wave of Chinese came, but this time from all over China, bringing the Mandarin dialect and a wide variety of foods and customs from different corners of China.
In other words, Taiwanese culture is a combination of influences from aboriginal, Chinese, and Japanese cultures. However, with the passing of time, it has become its own thing, which is being increasingly recognized as a distinctive Taiwanese identity, including by Taiwanese themselves.
Because Taiwan never underwent the Cultural Revolution of communist China, many religious and cultural traditions that were practically destroyed in China lived on in Taiwan. Numerous art forms, religious practices, and traditional folk customs originating in China are today preserved and thriving in Taiwan, not to mention the millions of artifacts that were taken from the Forbidden City in Beijing and are now stored at the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
Many Taiwanese are religious, practicing a combination of Buddhism, Taosim, and Chinese folk religion, while some adhere specifically to Buddhism or Taoism. There are four major Buddhist organizations in Taiwan with huge headquarters, universities, hospitals, and so on. They are Dharma Drum Mountain, Tzu Chi, Chung Tai Shan, and Foguangshan. Nearly 20% of Taiwanese are Christian.
What Are the People Like?
Taiwanese have a reputation for being friendly and welcoming to outsiders. Visitors are likely to receive random hellos on the street. People may want to practice their English with you (most people can speak at least some basic English). And it is not uncommon for Taiwanese to ask if they can take a picture with you (or sometimes sneak one without asking).
If you learn to speak a few words and phrases in Mandarin or Taiwanese, it will go a long way. This will warm the hearts of locals and they will shower you with praise.
Taiwanese are very concerned about what visitors think of their country, and they love hearing any positive comments about it. Taiwanese are very proud of their country (and especially their food, which they are all obsessed with), and they want the world to know they exist.
This is why whenever there are international votes for top places in the world, for example when the New7Wonders were chosen, Taiwanese always flood the ballots with votes for Taiwan or places in Taiwan. This in part has to do with counteracting China’s undying attempts to convince the world that Taiwan belongs to them, and also has to do with the fact that many people in the world think Taiwan and Thailand are the same country.
Younger Taiwanese sometimes have a tendency to be shy and afraid to talk to “foreigners” because they are worried they will make English mistakes. Take a peek at what high school students are studying on the MRT, though, and you will see that their English ability is actually quite high. Unfortunately, though, their education system focused on memorizing words, not actually using them.
While Taiwanese are generally reserved and very polite, if you get invited to a meal in family home, a wedding, or dinner and drinks out with some business associates, you will see just how funny and loud they can also be.
The four official languages of Taiwan are Taiwanese (also called Hokkien or Taiyu), Mandarin, Hakka, and the Formosan languages collectively. English is widely spoken but not an official language.
Generally speaking, Mandarin is more common in Taipei and big cities (vs. the countryside), among younger generations (vs. older ones), and in the North (vs. the South) of Taiwan. It is also the primarily language of business, government, education, and so on. Therefore, Mandarin in the most useful language for learning when you are living in Taiwan.
Taiwanese, which is a regional dialect (or topolect) of Chinese, is considered the “local” language of Taiwan and is the same as the language spoken in the Minnan region of Fujian in China and by Hokkienese communities in Southeast Asia. It is more common among elderly, in the countryside, and in the South of Taiwan. Very few foreigners that I know living in Taipei ever bother to pick up any Taiwanese.
However, foreigners living in Kaohsiung or other parts of southern Taiwan may find that learning Taiwanese is more useful, and most will learn at least some Taiwanese as well as Mandarin. Some Taiwanese words have made their way into daily Mandarin Taiwan, and you may learn some without even realizing it. Many locals also switch between the two languages. For example, my father-in-law always does this to purposely mess with me!
If you want to want to score brownie points with Taiwanese, then they will definitely be more impressed if you say something in Taiwanese. Some of my expat friends in Taiwan pride themselves and knowing all the best swears in Taiwanese. However, just keep in mind that many young Taiwanese themselves can’t speak much Taiwanese.
Just like the people of Taiwan are influenced by aboriginal, Chinese, and Japanese cultures, the same can be said about the food.
Some of the most classic Taiwanese foods, such as oyster omelets and mee sua, originate in Fujian province, where most Taiwanese trace their ancestry to. Others, like beef noodles and green onion cakes, came more recently from other parts of China. Many of these Chinese foods have since been adapted in Taiwan due to different ingredients and taste preferences.
Aboriginal influences can be seen in the widespread use of ingredients like taro, wild greens, and roasted mountain boar, while Japanese-style sushi and sashimi are universally loved.
Taiwanese is especially known for its street foods (here’s a list of the 100 most common street foods in Taiwan). Walking and sampling various “snacks” is a national pastime, and Taiwan’s night markets are some of the best in Asia.
Even breakfast is typically enjoyed on the go, with breakfast shops and breakfast trucks on practically every street. There’s also no shame in having a meal at a convenience store, and many Taiwanese miss Taiwanese 7-Elevens when going abroad. (The ding-dong of the 7-11 door is one of the most familiar sounds in Taiwan, along with the garbage trucks that play Beethoven’s Fur Elise!)
Food is a very serious topic in Taiwan and literally everyone is obsessed with it. Eating out is the most popular thing to do with friends or a date, whether its all-you-can-eat hot put, DIY barbecue, or all manner of international cuisine.
Michelin introduced its first Taipei guide in 2018 and Taichung guide in 2020, and they include many street vendors. Le Palais is the country’s highest rated restaurant, while Din Tai Fung, which does Shanghai-style soup dumplings, is the most well-known Taiwanese restaurant.
Seasons & Weather
Although Taiwan is a small country, the weather varies quite a bit from north to south. The North (including Taipei) lies north of the Tropic of Cancer and has a subtropical climate with distinct seasons, while the south is more tropical and warm to hot year-round.
In Taipei, winters can be cool and damp, but snow is very rare except on mountaintops. Summers are extremely hot and muggy. Rain is common throughout the year, but around half a dozen typhoons strike the island from July to October.
In terms of activities, you’ll find yourself visiting hot springs in winter, doing lots of hiking in spring and fall, and heading to the beach in summer in Taiwan.
Taipei City is where many expats end up living in Taiwan, and it is also home to some of the country’s most famous attractions. The big ones include Taipei 101, National Palace Museum, Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and Beitou Hot Spring. Other notable ones include Ximending shopping district, Maokong Gondola, and numerous temples.
For a more comprehensive list of things to do in Taipei, here are 50+ popular attractions in Taipei.
Outside of Taipei, the hottest tourist draws include Taroko Gorge, Sun Moon Lake, and Alishan National Scenic Area, which is famous for its high mountain teas, small train line, ancient cypress trees, and sunrises above seas of clouds.
Many visitors also like to visit Taichung, the largest city in central Taiwan. It is the homeland of bubble tea, and also known for its artistic attractions like Rainbow Village. Here is my full guide to Taichung.
Tainan is especially known for its historic sights, the port city of Kaohsiung has a lot going for it, while Kenting at the far southern tip of Taiwan is the country’s most famous beach resort. The offshore islands, such as Green Island, Penghu, and Orchid Island, are also major draws than few foreign tourists ever make it to.
Here is my post introducing 55+ famous attractions across Taiwan.
Choosing Where to Live
OK, so you’ve decided you are definitely moving to Taiwan. But now comes the more difficult choice of deciding where exactly to live in Taiwan, and how to get your life started there.
In this section I’ll focus on which city to live in Taiwan and how to find a place to live there.
Is Living in Taipei the Best Choice?
To no major surprise, a significant number of expats in Taiwan live in the capital city, Taipei. Here are some of the advantages of living in Taipei City:
- Access to Taoyuan International Airport
- Best public transportation in Taiwan, notably the world-class Taipei MRT
- Best and most varied restaurants, bars, shops, concerts, sporting events, expat scene, and so on.
- Best hospitals, schools, recreation centers, and other facilities
- More work opportunities
- Home to many of the country’s most famous attractions
- Plethora of day trips possibilities and easy access to hot springs, hiking trails, and beaches
- Mandarin widely spoken (which is a more useful language internationally)
Meanwhile, here are some of the disadvantages of living in Taipei:
- Most expensive city in Taiwan
- Traffic, noise pollution, and hectic big city life
- Rains more often than anywhere else in Taiwan
- Sits in a basin that seems to trap heat and humidity in summer
- Winters can be unpleasantly cool and damp
Which Neighborhood to Choose in Taipei
If you’ve decided on living in Taipei, your next step will be to decide which neighborhood to live in. While it’s hard to really go wrong and they are all connected by MRT (just make sure your place is close to any MRT station), here are some of the most popular ones:
- Da’an: Home to lots of universities and the city’s largest park, it has a younger, more international vibe.
- Xinyi: The most upscale and home to Taipei 101 and popular hiking trails
- Songshan: Nights markets and some leafy, riverside communities make this a nice place to live.
- Shilin: Lots of malls, shops, museums and other attractions make this the most family-friendly district.
For more information, see my guide to the best neighborhoods in Taipei.
Other Cities to Consider in Taiwan
Here are some other major cities in Taiwan, most of which are on the developed west coast of the country, while the last two are on the more remote, wilder east coast. These are in counter-clockwise order from Taipei.
- Taoyuan: Large city that is often ignored by visitors and is much cheaper than Taipei. The airport is located there.
- Hsinchu: Lots of teaching opportunities and closer to nature, for those who like to pass weekends by hopping on a scooter and exploring mountain roads.
- Taichung: Central Taiwan’s largest city, known for its restaurants and artistic attractions, and for being much cheaper than Taipei. Its brand new MRT is opening in 2021.
- Tainan: The original capital of Taiwan will appeal to history lovers, and Taiwanese consider it the food capital of Taiwan.
- Kaohsiung: Southern Taiwan’s largest city is probably the second most popular choice after Taipei. Compared to Taipei it can be a little grittier but more laid-back.
- Taitung: Hippies, surfers, and backpackers will be drawn to this remote and highly scenic corner of Taiwan, but there aren’t many jobs.
- Hualien & Yilan: Many tourists visit these counties for their attractions, but few expats actually live there. If you love exploring nature and don’t care much about meeting fellow foreigners, these areas may appeal.
New Taipei City: The Perfect Compromise?
For the 10+ years that I’ve lived in Taiwan, I lived in Taiwan’s largest city, New Taipei City. While it has technically been a city since it was upgraded from “Taipei County” in 2010, you can think of New Taipei City more like the suburbs of Taipei.
New Taipei City is huge, taking up most of Northern Taiwan, and is composed of 29 districts. These range from some of the most crowded neighborhoods on Earth to wild, sparsely populated areas and even beaches.
Depending on where in New Taipei City you live, you might feel like you are practically in Taipei City. Several districts of New Taipei City are on the Taipei City MRT line. The main advantage is that New Taipei City can be quite a bit cheaper than Taipei, and only a stone’s throw from the city center.
Some districts of New Taipei City that quite a few expats live in include Banqiao, Yonghe, Zhonghe, Xindian, and Sanxia. All of these except Sanxia are on the Taipei MRT.
Personally, I lived in Banqiao in my first five years in Taiwan, before I moved in with my wife’s family in Xinzhuang, and then we later bought our own apartment there. Xinzhuang used to feel a lot more removed from Taipei, but ever since a line MRT line was built to it, I’ve felt much more connected to the city center.
Finding an apartment
One of your obvious first steps to moving to Taipei or elsewhere in Taiwan is finding somewhere to live. Hotels aren’t particularly cheap in Taiwan, so this should be a priority. And note that I say “apartment” because very few people in Taiwan live in proper houses except in the countryside. Space is a commodity in this country, and thus even the wealthiest of Taipei families live in apartments, not houses.
Most landlords ask for a two-month deposit when you sign a contract. It is important to note than this deposit is not always returned to renters when they leave; this should be clarified upfront.
Costs & Expenses
Compared to other Asian countries, Taiwan is sits somewhere in the middle in terms of costs. It is more expensive than most Southeast Asian countries, but not as expensive as Japan or Hong Kong.
Certain things in Taiwan are notably cheaper than in Western countries, such as food, transportation, and daily needs. However, things like electronics and cars can be more expensive than in the United States.
It’s also important to note that Taipei City can be quite a bit more expensive than other parts of the country.
Here are some examples of typical costs in Taiwan in NTD (New Taiwan Dollars) and USD.
- Apartment in Taipei City: 20,000 ($700)
- Simple meal on the street: 100 ($3.50)
- All-you-can-eat buffet with drinks: 600 ($20)
- Taiwan beer at 7-Eleven: 35 ($1)
- Visit to a doctor: 150 ($5)
- One month of riding the MRT every day: 2000 ($70)
- High-Speed Rail ticket across the country: $1490 ($50)
When all is said and done, you can live in Taipei for roughly 40,000 ($1400) per month, but of course this is going to vary quite a bit depending on your lifestyle, where exactly you live, and so on.
It is possible but not easy or straightforward for foreign residents to buy property in Taiwan. Here are some things you must note:
- Down payments are very high, typically 30%.
- Doing any kind of banking in Taiwan can be annoying if you don’t speak Mandarin.
- Your country of origin has to have a reciprocal arrangement with Taiwan, that is, Taiwanese are allowed to buy property there.
- You will need proven salary to get a loan.
- You will need to register with the Land Registration Office.
- Property in Taipei City is particularly expensive.
Due to the hassle and expenses, and comparatively cheap rental fees, most of the expats I know in Taiwan rent rather than buy. Having said that, my wife and I bought our own apartment in New Taipei City, but it was entirely under her name.
See more information here about buying property in Taiwan.
Safety & Health Care
Taiwan is considered one of the safest countries in the world. Even as a solo female, you can safely walk in virtually any neighborhood in Taipei at night without concern. Tourists scams are very rare in Taiwan.
Some safety concerns to be aware of are traffic (the pedestrian does NOT have the right of way in Taiwan) and typhoons. You should never visit mountainous or coastal areas during or after heavy rain, and when the government calls a typhoon day, you shouldn’t leave your home.
Taiwan has an excellent national health care system. All workers pay into it and receive free health care, except for a nominal fee of TWD150 ($5) per visit to the doctor or dentist.
Even if you don’t have national health insurance, the rates for visiting a doctor or dentist are significantly cheaper than in most Western countries. Waiting times also tend to be much shorter.
Parents of young children may notice some differences in terms of health priorities in Taiwan. For example, locals believe their babies and young children should always be wrapped up in many layers of clothing (even when it’s 25+ degrees Celsius), but many of them have no qualms about smoking around children or putting their infant on a scooter with no helmet.
Moving to Taipei with Kids
My two kids were born and raised in Taiwan. We feel that Taiwan is a very family friendly country for traveling and living in, although it’s not perfect. If you already have kids and are thinking of moving to Taiwan, I would recommend living in Taipei, for the sheer number of things to do there with kids, infrastructure, schools, public transportation, parks, and so on.
I’ve also traveled extensively around Taiwan with kids. It’s really easy to do and I would highly recommend it! Here is my detailed guide to traveling around Taiwan with kids. You can also connect with other parents and ask any questions you might have about living in Taiwan with kids in the Taipei Parents group on Facebook.
Here are some of the ups and downs of living in Taiwan with kids.
Pros to Living in Taiwan with Kids
- Super safe
- Locals are very friendly and helpful, especially when you’ve got kids (for example, they always give up their seats for you on public transportation or give your kids little gifts)
- Tons of parks, museums, playcenters, and kid-friendly things to in Taipei and around the country
- You can get by without having to drive
- All MRT stations are air conditioned and stroller friendly. Children under 6 ride free.
- Great hospitals (including maternity centers) and national health care
- Convenience stores everywhere where you can gets snacks, water, or even heat up a milk bottle.
- Your kids can learn to speak Mandarin.
Challenges when living in Taiwan with Kids
- Apartments are small and you won’t have a yard.
- Air pollution isn’t good for those little lungs.
- Traffic doesn’t yield to pedestrians, even when you’ve got a kid or baby. This drove me nuts.
- Not all streets have sidewalks, or they can be uneven or filled with parked scooters. Not ideal for pushing a baby stroller around!
- Summers are extremely hot and humid.
- Most local schools are in Mandarin. If you want your kid to attend an English school, you are limited to expensive private ones or the Taipei American School (also very expensive).
- Schools are very competitive and there’s lots of homework (this applies mainly to junior high and high school).
- If your kids looks “foreign”, they will get tons of attention, including people photographing them. The attention is positive, but it can be annoying.
- Your kids will be called “foreigners” all the time, for example at the playground. Even if they were born in Taiwan, speak Mandarin, and so on (like mine).
Daily Life in Taiwan
So what’s a normal day in Taiwan like? Here I’ll cover various aspects of day-to-day life in Taipei and Taiwan.
Eating in Taiwan
Eating out is one of the great pleasures associated with living in Taipei and elsewhere in Taiwan. Food seems to be available EVERYWHERE you go. It is not only cheap but also delicious, even at the rock bottom price range. Because it is so convenient and cheap to eat foods like these on the street, many people almost never cook at home in Taiwan.
Beginning with breakfast, there are breakfast shops in virtually every residential neighborhood in the country. There serve a huge range of freshly made items, from breakfast burgers and sandwiches to traditional pastries and green onion cakes. Some of these shops are open 24 hours, catering to the after-bar crowd.
For lunch, most people in Taiwan enjoy a take-away lunch box with meats & veggies on a bed of rice, or they pop into a local noodle soup shop. There are also tons of vegetarian and vegan options and restaurants in Taiwan.
In the evening, there are millions of restaurants to choose from, covering all types of food and budgets. Chinese and Japanese-style foods are the norm, but you can find just about anything.
Meanwhile, youths and tourists flock to the country’s many night markets, where countless vendors serve up an unimaginable variety of take-away treats.
Last but not least, Taiwan is known for its high concentration of convenience stores, where you can get a hot bowl of instant noodles, Japanese-style onigiri, soft serve ice cream, lattes, cold beer, and more.
The MRT is the lifeline of Taipei. Because it is so efficient and goes almost everywhere, there is little need to drive in Taipei. Driving is often slower, while traffic and parking can be a nightmare.
Using an EasyCard is the way to go in Taipei. This is a reloadable transportation card that works on the MRT, buses, taxis, and convenience stores, not only in Taipei but across Taiwan. There’s a TWD100 deposit, and rides are cheaper when you use it.
Taxis are also cheap and plentiful in Taipei. Drivers don’t always speak English, though, so if you can’t speak Mandarin, it’s a good idea to show the name of where you are going. Drivers are very kind and honest, and you are very unlikely to be ripped off.
Once in a while you may have to take a local bus in time. You may have to swipe when you get on (watch for 上 displayed above the driver) or when you get off (watch for 下), or both (both characters will be lit up).
Traveling between cities in Taiwan, there are long distance buses, regular trains (TRA) and the High Speed Rail (HSR). TRA trains do a full circle around Taiwan, while the HSR only runs down the developed west coast.
Buses and regular trains take a similar amount of time. On a bus, you are guaranteed a seat, but for trains, it depends on which type of train.
Here are the four types of TRA intercity trains, and they can be booked two weeks in advance online or at any station:
- Local Train (區間車) the slowest, stops at every station, no reservation needed, can get really full.
- Chu Kuang Express (莒光號): regular train that circles around Taiwan. You can reserve seats or just try your luck with a standing ticket.
- Tze-Chiang (Express / 自強號): Similar to the last one but faster, and standing tickets also possible.
- Taroko / Puyuma Express (太魯閣號): Super express and reservation only. They always sell out quickly.
The High Speed Rail runs down the west coast of Taiwan from Taipei to Zuoying station (Kaohsiung). It is twice as fast but generally costs twice as much. It’s important to note that most HSR stations are located outside of the city center, except for Taipei. You can book HSR seats 28 days in advance and there are early-bird prices, but you can always buy a full-price non-reserved ticket, even at the last minute, for cars 10-12. Visitors can get HSR discounts here on Klook, but these are not meant for locals or residents.
How to Dress in Taiwan
Taiwanese are quite casual when it comes to clothing. Walking on the street, it’s normal and common for women to wear short shirts, very short shorts, or tops revealing their midsection. For men, shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt are fine.
However, it is not considered normal or polite to go topless (for men) or shoeless in Taiwan unless you’re at the beach, and you may want to dress a little more reserved if visited a place of worship (there still aren’t usually any rules, though).
This relaxed dress code in Taiwan is a blessing, as summers there can be extremely hot and humid.
Winters in Taipei and the north can be quite chilly. It can feel quite a bit colder than the temperature indicates due to the humidity. A jacket, thermal underwear, and winter hat may be necessary.
Customs & Etiquette
When meeting people, including friends, Taiwanese usually give a wave or nod. Hugging is less common, and a kiss is a good way to freak people out. In business situations, you can expect locals to shake hands with you. If they give you a business card, it’s best to receive it with two hands and place it on the table (if sitting) and not write on it. Writing names in red is also not OK.
The topic of death is taboo in Taiwan and may make people uncomfortable. Most Taiwanese believe in ghosts, or ancestral spirits This is also why some hospitals and buildings don’t have a 4th floor (“four” sounds like “death” in Mandarin). Certain gifts are also taboo for similar reasons, including clocks/watches, scissors/knives, and white flowers. It’s impolite to open a gift as soon as receiving it. Finally, don’t place your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice; it looks like incense left for the dead.
While Taiwan can seem like a noisy place, locals are extremely quiet on public transportation, especially buses and trains between cities. Even chatting with your friend at what seems like a reasonably volume can bother locals, who often use the ride as a chance to catch up on sleep.
On the MRT, the dark blue seats are reserved for the needy, and it’s bad form not to offer up any seat to someone who needs it more than you. Chewing gum and eating are strictly forbidden. On the escalators, stand on the right side only; the left is for people who want to walk up or down.
If visiting one of Taiwan’s many hot spring resorts, be aware that some are mixed sex (bathing suit and usually bathing hat required), while some are Japanese style (nude and sex segregated). For more information, see my guide to Taiwanese hot springs.
Holidays & Festivals
The Taiwanese calendar is dotted with traditional and modern holidays, while many Western holidays are semi-celebrated but not as national holidays.
The main holiday of the year is Lunar New Year, which usually falls in late-January to late-February. Most people get around a week off at this time, while students also have a winter break for a few weeks before it. Most Taiwanese travel south to visit their relatives at this time, so it can be a tough time to travel around, Taipei City feels empty, and flights in and out of the country can be expensive. See more information in my guide to Lunar New Year in Taiwan.
Here are some of the most important holidays in the Taiwanese calendar:
- Lunar New Year: January or February
- Lantern Festival: 15th day of the Lunar New Year
- Children’s Day and Tomb Sweeping Day: 4-day long weekend at the beginning of April
- Dragon Boat Festival: usually in June
- Ghost Month: usually around August
- Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival: usually in September
- Halloween: not an official holiday or celebrated much, but great night to party
- Christmas: also not official, but celebrated with lots of decorations, especially at “Christmasland” in New Taipei City
- New Year’s Eve: Celebrated with a huge fireworks display from Taipei 101 and other places across Taiwan
There are also numerous local and religious festivals on the Taiwanese calendar, with dates usually tied to the lunar calendar. These can be noisy boisterous affairs, and it’s not uncommon for such parades to pass by right in front of your home (and at unusual hours of the day or night). Some of the biggest ones include the huge Matsu Pilgrimage and the very dangerous Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival.
If you’re working in Taiwan, you will have to go by the local schedule, which means half the country will seem to be on the road whenever you have a day off. As an English teacher, you may or may not get summers off, but if you need the hours, there are usually summer camps you can teach.
Making Friends in Taiwan
It is surprisingly easy to make friends in Taiwan because there are so many other expats and students from all over the world living there, not to mention many locals who are interested in making foreign friends.
When my close friend and I first moved to Taiwan, we didn’t know anyone there. Within days, we met a group of people in a pub that would become some of our closest friends in Taiwan, and as time passed our circle of friends seemed to grow exponentially.
Whether you are into sports, underground electronic music, hardcore metal, traveling around, the LGBT scene, or the arts, there are loads of events in Taipei, and it doesn’t take long before you’ll start recognizing and getting to know people in Taiwan’s expat community. There are hiking clubs, language exchange gatherings, comedy nights, poetry readings pub quizzes, pool parties and so much more. There’s even an annual Canada Day celebration!
These events always have a good mix of foreigners and locals, too, but to generalize, there is probably a higher percentage of Taiwanese women compared to men who speak English, have been aboard, and want to hang out with foreigners.
One great way to make a local friend is to do language exchange. The supposed purpose of LE is to teach each other your language–you practice English with them for an hour, and they practice Chinese with you for an hour.
While this can truly be beneficial for both parties if you can manage to find someone you work well with and you both take it seriously, more often than not it is a pretext for friendship or dating.
There are numerous language exchange groups on Facebook.
Visas & Jobs
The visa situation is of course different than usual in 2021 (please see the first section of the article for current restrictions). What I describe below is under normal times, assuming that we will soon go back to that.
Getting a Visa for Taiwan
Under normal times, tourists can stay in Taiwan for up to six months (depending on your nationality) and some don’t need a visa. Some expats who don’t want to work the minimum 15 hours per week to apply for an ARC just exit and come back to the country every six months, and there’s no limit for how many times you can do this. Here’s a handy list of the cheapest flights from Taiwan to neighboring countries.
If you plan to look for a job after you arrive in Taiwan, you should just show up in Taiwan without telling them of your intention to work. Once you get a job, your school will apply for a work permit on your behalf, then you will apply for a working visa and ARC from within the country.
If you sign a contract for a job before arriving in Taiwan, you can apply for a working visa before arriving, and the school should guide you through the process of doing this.
The ARC and APRC
An ARC (Alien Resident Card) is a Taiwanese resident card. It serves as your local ID in Taiwan. You can get an ARC through work, marrying a Taiwanese citizen, or being a student.
Note that if you get divorced or stop being a student, your ARC will expire. For workers, if you change jobs, you will have to convince your company to transfer it to the new one. If they aren’t willing to do this, you will have to start again from scratch or leave the country.
If you maintain the same ARC for five consecutive years (this means you didn’t change ARC types/numbers, and you didn’t leave Taiwan for more than 183 days in any calendar year), then you can apply for an APRC (a permanent resident card).
Having an APRC means you can do any work you’d like in Taiwan, and you can keep the card forever. If you leave Taiwan for more than 183 days in a year, you have to notify them online in order to maintain it.
With an ARC, you don’t have to fill in arrival forms when you fly in to the country, and ARC holders have been allowed to enter or exit Taiwan throughout the 2020-2021 world health crisis.
Note that as an APRC holder, you still don’t have the same rights as a citizen in Taiwan. For example, you can’t vote, and locals will still always consider you a waiguoren (foreigner).
It is extremely rare for foreigners to obtain Taiwanese citizenship or a passport. First of all, they have to give up their own country’s passport first. In recent years, the government has started giving citizenship to a very small number of foreigners with decades of experience doing good things for Taiwan, such as priests who live in aboriginal communities.
Job Opportunities in Taiwan
English teaching is by far the most common job that foreigners from English-speaking countries receive in Taiwan. People from non-English speaking countries will have a significantly harder time finding a job teaching English in Taiwan.
A comparatively small number of foreigners find work in other fields, with the main obstacles being an excess of qualified locals in many fields, low wages compared to many other countries, and the fact that most business in Taiwan is conducted in Mandarin.
Editing and writing work is something I got into after I got my APRC in Taiwan. For my last five years in Taiwan, I was mostly working from home for various textbook publishers across the country. I strongly preferred it to teaching, and the pay was better. However, please note that these companies usually prefer to hire people with APRCs and/or lots of formal writing experience.
Taiwan also has an entrepreneur visa, but it’s not easy to get.
Many Southeast Asians also migrate to Taiwan for manual labor, fishing, and caretaking jobs. Their wages are low, and they are often treated as second-class residents.
Best Time to Arrive for Work
If you are moving to Taiwan for work, there is a very important tax issue to be aware of.
If you are in Taiwan for more than 183 days in a calendar year, you will be taxed at the regular rate for any work that you do. However, if you are in Taiwan for less than 183 days, your tax rate will jump to 20% with no deductions. This can end up costing you thousands of dollars in lost income.
Therefore, if you are moving to Taiwan, I would recommend coming anytime before July, even if you don’t plan to start working until September (for example, for teachers).
The same goes when leaving: try to stay until July or later, otherwise you’ll have to pay more for your final year, and yes, you will have to pay those taxes even after you leave; you’ll need to ask for someone still in Taiwan to file on your behalf.
Also, don’t forget to subtract any days you spend out of the country on holiday when figuring out if you’ve passed the 183-day mark!
Many schools in Taiwan will automatically deduct 20% from your checks and withhold it until you file your taxes, especially if your first year there. They do this to protect themselves, in case you end up leaving early. They don’t want to have to front your tax bill if you just take off one day.
Once you pay your taxes, if you stayed long enough and are only charged the normal amount, you’ll get the rest back.
Some schools don’t do this, but you’ll be expected to pay the 20% bill on your own if that does happen to you.
If you plan to be a teacher in Taiwan, you can find jobs throughout the year, but of course the months leading up to September (and to a lesser degree Lunar New Year), are the best for finding jobs.
How to Find a Job in Taiwan
The main ways to find a job in Taiwan are using an agent or finding a job on your own.
Some people decide to use an agent and find a job before they arrive because this offers more security and the agent will guide you through the application process. However, on the downside, schools that rely on agents to find teachers often do so because they are located in crappier areas that nobody wants to work in or they have lower pay than what is normal.
For these reasons, I usually recommend that teachers just show up in Taiwan and find a job on their own. That way, you can see where the school is first, shop around, and get more familiar with how things are done in Taiwan before signing on for a full year.
If you go this route, though, you’ll need to come with enough money to survive for a few months before finding a job and getting your first paycheck. There’s a little risk, but I’ve never heard of anyone coming (from a native English speaking country) to Taiwan for work and not found something within a month or two.
For non-teaching jobs, try 104, Forumosa, or this non-English jobs in Taiwan group on Facebook.
The majority of English teachers in Taiwan work in kindergartens and after-hours private cram schools. A much more limited number of them work in public schools, colleges, or other institutes, and these usually require more qualifications and/or experience. Many families and companies also hire private tutors; this can help to add to your income, but it is less reliable, so few teachers rely only on tutoring.
A degree of any type is legally needed to teach English in Taiwan. A teaching qualification such as TELF is not required but some schools prefer that you have it.
The minimum number of teaching hours to maintain an ARC in 15 per week. Most English teachers work 20-30 teaching hours per week. More than 30 is quite a lot, as you need to also factor in prep time and time between classes.
Some schools offer full time positions, but in my experience, they often expect you to do a lot of extra work or spend quite long hours there. The hourly pay ends up being quite low, if you calculate it.
Personally, I always worked hourly for several different schools when I was a teacher. This way I could pick and choose classes/schools to try and create the perfect schedule, and the schools often expected me to do little more than show up and teach at the designated time.
For example, many teachers will work at a kindergarten in the morning, take an extended lunch bread, then teach in a cram school in the evenings.
The average monthly wage for a full time teacher is 50-70k/month ($1750-2450), while the average hourly wage is 600-750 ($21-26). For me, after a few years in Taiwan and working my way up to some better jobs and private tutoring gigs in Taiwan, I was pulling in 80k ($2800) per month and higher.
In terms of dress code, Taiwan is quite casual. Many cram schools have no dress code, while some require business casual.
If you’re coming from a Western country, you will surely notice some differences in the working culture in Taiwan.
Taiwanese are some of the hardest workers in the world (in terms of number of hours spent at school and at work). They are expected the be loyal to their companies and never question orders from above. It is very normal for them to work large amounts of overtime, often unpaid.
Foreigners, however, are often not subject to the same treatment, especially in the case of English teachers.
Schools have a major preference for teachers from native English-speaking countries (UK, Canada, US, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa).
However, it should be noted that Taiwanese parents (and by extension most cram schools) seem to think white people are the only true native English speakers. There is definitely some discrimination in hiring practices, and non-white native English speakers may have more difficulty finding jobs or receiving the same pay.
As an English teacher, you may sometimes feel like you were hired as an entertainer/clown/face to put on the school’s ads. You must remember that most English schools in Taiwan are run as private businesses, and their primary concern is getting more students to sign up. It can sometimes feel like the education itself is not at the forefront, and keeping the parents happy is. For example, a ridiculous amount of time and effort may be put into preparing for elaborate year-end performances that have little to do with learning English.
Clashes between foreign teachers and bosses over such issues can sometimes happen in Taiwan, but this can have consequences for your work situation in Taiwan. Remember that if you decide to quit, you may lose your ARC and have to reapply for a new one.
It’s not uncommon to have to work as late as 9 PM at cram schools in Taiwan. Saturday classes are also very common, but you can make a lot of extra money by choosing to work them and taking a weekday off instead.
Most of the business people I tutored in Taiwan wore casual business attire for their jobs, but more formal clothing such as suit and tie for men or skirt, blouse and high heels for women for certain days or meetings. Entertaining clients at quick fry restaurants or KTV parlors, usually with lots of drinking and sometimes paid accompaniment by women, is common in business culture in Taiwan, like in other East Asian countries.
Becoming a Student
Taiwan has some excellent universities with numerous opportunities for international students. Besides being a comfortable and welcoming place to live, Taiwan also has relatively low tuition fees and offers many scholarships for international students.
Whether you want to do a Master’s degree in your field, or advance your Mandarin, opportunities abound in Taiwan. Becoming a student is one way to stay in Taiwan longer if you’ve left a job or don’t intend to work there.
For more information, here’s a detailed guide to becoming a student in Taiwan.
I hope you have found more information than you expected about moving to and living in Taiwan. I also hope I’ve painted a fair picture of life in this country which I dearly love.
If you’ve still got questions after reading this or feel I’ve missed anything, please feel free to comment below or join my free Taiwan Travel Planning group on Facebook.