Pack your suitcase and re-start in the world’s best-managed COVID country. Why moving to Taiwan is one of the best decisions you can ever make.
I remember when I first traveled to Taipei. Having said goodbye to my family back in the Czech Republic, I had my entire world packed into a 20-kilogram suitcase. Stepping out of plane in Taipei, I had no idea whether I would enjoy or at least get used to living in Taiwan.
Taipei seemed hard in terms of orientation, with its monotonous urban landscape of grey buildings and busy streets. It also felt like everyone in Taiwan drives a scooter! Everything was new and exciting, and very different. Before I knew it, this place far away from my own country felt like home. Its friendly people and stunning landscapes are just some of the many reasons to visit Taiwan.
After spending two years in this incredible place, I have decided to write this post to give you an insider view of living in Taiwan. Blog should be more than a suitable place for this.
Let’s get this started. What is living in Taiwan actually like?
15 Things No One Told You About Living in Taiwan
Visiting a country is much different from living in it. It simply needs the time to understand a foreign culture a little bit more. No matter how much I love this tiny country, living in Taiwan is “special” in many ways:)
01| Pay first, eat later
Ordering food can be quite confusing when you’ve just started your Taiwan trip. The meals are usually listed in Chinese only, and guests are asked to pay first.
Once you get used to it, you learn two advantages of this system: First, you know how much the stuff costs from the very beginning. Second, you can leave anytime without the necessity of waiting for the bill to be issued. Quite convenient, huh?
02| There are no public trash cans
In order to keep the streets clean and cockroach-free, there are few trash cans placed in the streets. If you decide to get rid of any trash, you will probably have to carry it to the nearest metro station, or even to your home.
One of my teachers told me that when she was younger, she remembers how the sidewalks were covered in rotting garbage. It was disgusting, and there were rats everywhere. So apparently, a lack of trash cans is actually a move to a cleaner city. It’s not practical, but it simply works!
03| Literally everyone rides a scooter
Taiwan is the land of scooters, with more motorbikes per capita than anywhere else in the world. Sometimes you can see a whole family on scooter (I’m talking about 4 to 5 members, including the dog!).
If you want to ride scooter in Taiwan, I recommend doing it in the countryside or on small offshore islands. In the cities, the fun is spoiled by heavy traffic. A driving license is easy to get and people don’t strictly follow road rules (some of them don’t even know what they are!). Living in Taipei, I witnessed accidents on nearly a daily basis.
04| Garbage trucks play Beethoven
Living in Taiwan, you have to accept that garbage is a big deal. The garbage from households should be disposed of in city-approved trash bags. Garbage trucks drive through every neighborhood five times a week and residents carry their bags of trash down and put them into the trucks themselves.
Waiting for the garbage truck is one of Taiwan’s liveliest communal rites. Many people go out earlier to have a chat with their neighbors until they hear the unmistakable song being played loudly by the truck: Beethoven’s Fur Elise. What a fancy song for this kind of situation!
05| There are earthquakes all the time
Located at the junction of two tectonic plates, Taiwan is one of the most tectonically active regions in the world. The Central Weather Bureau reports as many as 1,047 earthquakes per year that are perceivable (and over 18,000 per year if we include ones that are not perceivable).
Many buildings are built to rock with the earth to withstand powerful typhoon winds and earthquake tremors, including Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest building and once the tallest building in the world.
06| The best place to lose your wallet
Taiwan is one of the few places in the world where people actively search for an owner of an item they have found. Not only will they not keep it, but they will really take the initiative to return it to its original owner.
The very first week I was in Taiwan, I forgot my bag, which contained my wallet and mobile, at a public event. Soon after, a stranger started dialing numbers saved in my phone until he figured out who it belonged to. By the time I reached my flat, an email was in my inbox stating, “Please come to pick up your bag!” I couldn’t believe this!
07| Karaoke is the Taiwanese way of clubbing
The Taiwanese are normally very shy, so it took me by surprise that this doesn’t apply to public singing. Karaoke is one of the most popular social activities; some of my local friends would go out for karaoke at least once per week (as often as my European friend would go clubbing)!
Karaoke bars look a bit like 5-star hotels, with a reception area and private rooms. Many people also have KTV at home, including some of the smallest villages in the south of Taiwan.
08| You may be surrounded by people with masks
It is impossible to overlook this: people in Taiwan often wear face masks in public. It feels really weird at first, but they actually do it out of courtesy.
The Taiwanese wear masks in public to let people now that they are sick or have a cold. Although the masks are unlikely so prevent any diseases, they function as a gentle sign of caution.
09| The Taiwanese never say no
This was always the most confusing thing to me about people in Taiwan: their disability to say a clear and direct “no”. If you call a friend, asking whether she would like to go to the cinema later, and she responds: Eh…Maybe? Then what she really means to say is “No“.
Taiwanese consider saying “No” directly as impolite. At times, they even say “Yes” when they actually mean “Yes, I understand” – and despite the fact that they understand you, they still mean “No”. Make sense?
10| 7-Eleven: your new office
These 24-hours convenience stores are everywhere, even in small villages and rural areas. For all who expect just a replica of the American chain store – you will be surprised! Taiwan’s 7-Elevens are far from just another junk food shop…
A Taiwanese 7-Eleven is one of the most convenient places on the planet; you can get train tickets, pay you school tuition, ship packages, print documents, call taxi, and so much more. Once I asked if I could leave my gigantic backpack there for a few hours, and it actually worked! Yay!
11| The best street food in Asia
Taiwan is a true food paradise. Even the smallest stall in the street, which has no proper seating besides a couple of plastic chairs, may serve you the most delicious meal. When you ask to have it taken away, you will get it in a neatly prepared disposable paper box without questions.
The best place to sample Taiwan’s famous street fare is one of the many famous night markets in Taipei or just about any city across the island. For a cheap price you get to try some of the best snacks and discover one of the biggest passions of Taiwanese people: their food.
12| You new home won’t have heating
Although Taiwan is quite hot, subtropical country, the winter months can be rather damp and chilly. With the high humidity, one can feel colder than what the temperature actually indicates (Taipei gets as cold as 8 °C, but may feel as uncomfortable as below zero). With local houses not having any indoor heating, you may find yourself shivering in your own home.
My place (luckily) had air conditioning that included a heater mode; some of my friends didn’t have this and often complained about the cold. It’s funny that when I mentioned this to local people they always replied: But you have freezing winters in Europe, you should be used to it!
13| There is a festival dedicated to ghosts
The Taiwanese are incredibly superstitious. It is fairly normal to believe in ghosts (!), and also to be afraid of them. In the seventh month of Taiwan’s lunar calendar (that is, around August) the Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated. Creepy, isn’t it?
During this festival, it is believed that the gates of hell are opened and all of the hungry ghosts are released to the world in search of food, money, entertainment, and what not. The whole month, referred to as “ghost month”, is comes with various precautions and prohibitions. Taiwanese try to avoid travelling, starting a new business, or having a wedding.
14| Toilet paper does not get flushed down the toilet
Let´s be honest: foreign visitors may find this to be one of the most disturbing habits in Taiwan. You will notice signs instructing you not to throw the paper into the toilet. You are supposed to put it into the trash can beside the toilet instead.
People generally say that the plumbing cannot handle the toilet paper because it will clog the pipes. I guess there is no need to mention the smell that remains when used tissues are left sitting in the bins all day. Oh, and don’t be surprised to find that many public toilets are “Squatty Potties”.
15| Everyone is so friendly!
Taiwanese people are the friendliest people I have ever met. They are really welcoming, and always offer you help when they see you lost and struggling with a map.
Sometimes, they will even personally guide you to where you want to go (even though they often don’t even know exactly where you want to go). You might still be lost, but in the best company!
Pros of living in Taiwan
- The cost of living is relatively low (compared to that of neighboring countries such as Japan, China, and/or Korea).
- A great blend of Asian cuisine: food is affordable and available round the clock. There are many local “night markets” and convenience stores. There is 7/11 and Family mart on every corner, open 24/7. Eating out is affordable and many of the restaurants offer takeaway food.
- Taiwan is known for gender equality – females are treated fairly, and have no issues advancing in the workforce. Women’s rights are taken seriously. You will notice small details such as special areas in the metro for women waiting at night. It’s no accident that the president is female.
- Taiwan is often regarded as one of the friendliest Asian countries. Not every Taiwanese person speaks English (get ready for a language barrier as soon as you leave Taipei), yet most locals are friendly, welcoming, and willing to help others. As either traveler or ex-pat, you will most likely feel welcome here.
- Taiwan is one of the countries with a strong focus on education. The two biggest cities (Taipei and Kaohsiung) are home to some world-class universities, and there are even courses available in English. Tuition is relatively cheap (by Western standards), and a number of grants, scholarships and loans are available for foreign nationals: I have a personal experience with Taiwan scholarship, which was a great way to move to Taiwan and take a benefit of the comprehensive education system.
- Taiwan offers amazing natural scenery: while the country is small, butted by countless natural wonders including rivers, mountains, and hot springs The landscape changes dramatically across the island. Central Taiwan is dominated by impressive summits, while the southern tip of Taiwan – Kenting – is famous for its sandy beaches.
- Taiwan has a modern and good medical system and every person is entitled to healthcare. Majority of medical treatments are affordable.
- Public transportation is very efficient. Modern, clean and well-signposted metro in Taipei and Kaohsiung makes the two biggest cities easy to visit and commute. There are great trains and many buses, too.
- There is always something exciting to do. The cities present countless cultural events as well as possibilities to enjoy fresh air: Taiwan is incredibly green and the next hiking route is never too far away.
Cons of living in Taiwan
- Taiwan is located in one of the most seismically active areas in the world, and earthquakes occur on a regular basis. Typhoons are also common, especially in the summer (June and August).
- There are restrictions that apply to foreign workers.
- It’s rather uneasy to start a career: Salaries for new graduates are relatively low in most professions.
- There is nearly no work-life balance in Taiwan. The workplace environment (like in Japan) is stressful and hierarchical, with many unpaid overtime working hours.
- Long-term immigration isn’t easy –although it’s easy to come to Taiwan on visitor visa, there are very strict criteria to meet to be considered for a long-term residency.
- There is a lack of direct flights to Taiwan. Very often, you have to take an indirect flight to Taiwan. Flying from Europe, you are likely to have an interchange in Dubai or Abu Dhabi (Frankfurt, Prague, and Vienna are examples of airports with direct flights to Taiwan).
How to move to Taiwan Step by Step
So, does Taiwan sound like a place where you would like to live?
Moving to Taiwan is a big step, no matter whether you are doing it for travel, work or study. You should have a valid passport (which is not expiring in the next 6 months), visa, and enough money for the beginning. Most foreigners wanted to move to Taiwan in order to find a teaching job, which of course never happens overnight. So be prepared.
I moved to Taiwan to study, which was much easier than having have to find a job first. As a Taiwan scholarship recipient, I got the residential visa for all the period of my studies: it this case it was two years. After completing my master degree, I decided to come back to my home country: if I wanted to stay, I would have to search a job: many of my my classmates went this path, and not all of them succeeded to find a job in Taiwan.
Here is what how to move to Taiwan step by step:
01 | Find a job
Definitely the most important step of your whole procedure and key to success. Taiwan is a successful and modern state, but I would say it’s rather uneasy to find work and obtain an employment permit there – especially if you are a foreigner who doesn’t speak mandarin.
Look for open positions in Taiwan, and try to look for an employer who is interested in an international candidate. Note that there are strict restrictions on the kinds of employment that foreigners may take up. The Taiwanese government is particularly keen to attract highly skilled or professional personnel.
02 | Get a visa/permit
Depending on your nationality, you may be able to visit Taiwan for 30 or 90 days without applying for a visa beforehand, so long as you have a passport and a return ticket.Although visitor visa are rather easy to get, to work in Taiwan or even to stay longer you need to obtain another visa. Get ready to be patient, there is a lot of burrocracy in Taiwan.
Resident visa: If you intend to stay in Taiwan for more than six months, for purposes including joining family, studying, working, investing, or doing volunteer work, you’ll need to apply for a resident visa. Resident visas are valid for three months at a time, and visa holders must register at the National Immigration Agency within 15 days of their arrival in Taiwan. As a long therm intenational student, this was a visa that I had to have.
Work visa: If you plan to work in Taiwan, you’ll need a work permit and a residency permit, as well as a work visa if you don’t already have a visitor visa. Taiwan only grants work visas to specialised workers, teachers, coaches, artists, and contract workers in certain fields. You’ll need your employer to get you a work permit first, before you can do other steps (and prepare many, many other documents).
Work permits can only be applied for by Taiwanese employers. They will apply at the Ministry of Labor (or Ministry of Education, for teachers), and then provide you with the permit. You will need this to either apply for a work visa to enter Taiwan, or to change your visitor visa to a residency permit if you are already in Taiwan.
03 | Get health Insurance
The characteristics of the Taiwanese health system include good accessibility, comprehensive population coverage, short waiting times, relatively low costs and a national health insurance databank for planning, monitoring, and evaluating health services. The weaknesses include variable quality of care, a weak gatekeeper role and increasing financial pressures.
Many ex-pats take out private medical insurance, even if this is not a requirement of residence, because healthcare is expensive in their destination country or because certain treatments and procedures are not available.
When taking out health insurance, be sure to check factors such as the annual and lifetime policy limits, whether there are any exclusions that are likely to affect you, whether you are limited to treatment from specific types of healthcare providers, and whether the policy covers emergency evacuation for medical treatment.
04 | Rent a flat
The cost of renting in Taiwan is relatively cheap. However, prices do vary depending on location. Taipei, for example, has much higher rental rates than anywhere else in the country, even though central apartments there are often very small and compact.
According to data statistics website Numbeo, a one-bedroom apartment in a city centre location costs around 13,987.96 NT$ (New Taiwan Dollar) per month in rent. This is equivalent to around £377.06 (GBP) or $468.98 (USD). An apartment of the same size in a less central location costs approximately 9,500.25 NT$ (£256.09 or $318.52)). For larger properties, the price increases drastically, with a central three-bedroom apartment costing an average of 32,778.30 NT$ per month in rent (£883.58 or $1,098.97), while its more suburban counterpart costs roughly 22,058.84 NT$ (£594.62 or $739.57).
05 | Open a bank account
Taiwan has a technologically advanced banking system, although internet-banking is not yet popular. ATMs are widely available, and can be used to pay bills and transfer money. Credit or debit cards (with the Plus or Cirrus symbols) issued overseas can be used to withdraw cash from ATMs.
Banks which are popular with expatriates living in Taiwan include the International Commercial Bank of China and China Trust Bank, as well as the local branches of international banks such as Citibank, HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank. Normal banking hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday.
To open a local or foreign currency account, you will be asked to show your passport and Alient Registration Card (ARC) and provide your full name and address and contact details. You will normally be issued with an ATM card within a week or two.
Credit cards are generally accepted at large stores and hotels in the main cities, but not in smaller establishments. It is normal practice to use cash for payment in restaurants and smaller shops.
Now that you are done with the administrative steps and hopefully on your way to moving to Taiwan, let’s get to know the country a bit more in detail. I can promise you that exploring Taiwan is one of the coolest things ever 🙂
Expat in Taiwan: Things to Do in Taiwan
There are two opposing faces of Taiwan: the urban one represented by the big cities, and the natural one featuring stunning mountains, wild springs, and untouched nature. These two faces are reflected on the map of Taiwan: the west coast is dotted with cities, while the east side is primarily natural.
With this combination, Taiwan is a place where you can taste amazing foods and visit lively temples one day, while the next day, you can take off hiking alone in the mountains.
If you want to explore as much as possible in one trip around the island, you should definitely check out my Taiwan itinerary for 7 days. It includes both urban exploration and some of the most beautiful national parks in Taiwan. Additionally, I’ve included two relaxing days on the beach. I also recommend staying in Airbnb instead of the boring hotels: you can find my selection of the best Airbnb’s in Taiwan here.
There are some must-have experiences in Taiwan:
Visit one of the many night markets
There are world-famous night markets in Taipei, but you can find a night market in pretty much in every major city and town. There are always plenty of stalls to choose from, and the food is cheap, including seafood and fresh juices.
Taiwan is incredibly green, and the best way to experience it is to embark on one of many possible hiking trips. And no excuses! There are MANY easy to moderate hikes that you can easily do from Taipei. A big selection of hikes is, for example, possible at Yangmingshan National Park right in Taipei City, but if you are going to explore beyond the capital, I highly recommend the east coast and Taroko Gorge for some of the best hikes.
Eat traditional Taiwanese breakfast
There are countless breakfast shops in Taipei; just take a walk in any city (or even small town) in Taiwan in the morning and you’ll see them. I often got the impression that Taiwanese prefer not to eat at home. Why should they, if the food outside is so tasty and affordable? Some breakfast staples include green onion pancakes and soymilk, but you can also get breakfast sandwiches, burgers, and so much more.
Make Taiwanese friends
Taiwanese people are very friendly and love to chat with foreigners. I always loved how they offered to help when they had the feeling I was lost. If you get past their initial shyness, they are quite chatty. Make sure to make at least one Taiwanese friend as soon as possible; they can contribute many eye-opening moments that help you to understand this unique culture better.
Enjoy the view from Taipei 101
This bamboo-shaped tower is, without a doubt, the most fascinating building in Taiwan. No wonder Taiwanese are so proud of it! Although it’s no longer the highest skyscraper in the world, it still has some special architectural features. The building can even survive a massive earthquake, and can reach the observation deck in one of the world’s fastest elevators. A must-see when in Taipei!
The other place for you to visit and enjoy Taipei’s panorama is definitely the Elephant mountain, a hill in the city center that takes you from the urban city to the jungle within minutes. The entrance fee is free, so you can literally go there as many times as you want.
Have a dip in a hot spring
Similar to the Japanese, Taiwanese are obsessed with hot springs, and the island has loads of them. Many elderly people go to hot springs every week, but even for the younger generation, it is one of the favorite ways to relax. You will have a lot of choices in Taiwan – with Beitou being the most popular choice in Taipei. But if you can, you should make it to some wild springs (I loved Wenshan hot spring in Taroko gorge!)
Cycle along rivers
Believe it or not, Taipei is the best metropolis in Asia for cycling. Taiwan’s capital offers an extensive infrastructure for cyclists. I’m speaking of a network of hundreds of kilometers of cycling roads dedicated exclusively to cyclists and walkers.
Most popular cycling roads are located along rivers and surrounded by greenery, including nature parks and amazing mangrove forests. It is possible to cross the city from south to north in just two hours. The trip starts in Muzha and ends in Tamsui. Overall, this tiny country in East Asia offers more than 3000 roads dedicated to cyclists. And that is something!
For planning longer cycling trips around the island, make sure to check my detailed guide about cycling in Taiwan. I have done the full round around the island, with 900 kilometers in 9 days.
FAQ: Frequently asked questions
Although I tried to cover as much information as possible in this guide, there are often the reader’s questions coming, so I decided to cover the most frequent ones.
How to live in Taiwan permanently?
Taiwan issues five different types of visas to foreigners — the diplomatic, courtesy, working-holiday, visitor, and resident visa. However, only the last two are really relevant to expats, with the working-holiday scheme only available to citizens of selected countries.
General requirements for the resident visa are as follows:
- You want to stay in the ROC for more than six months for the purpose of taking up employment, investing, or joining your family, among others.
- Your passport must be valid for at least six more months at the time of application.
- Your application form must be accompanied by two recent, passport-sized photos.
- You have all the supporting documents or letters of approval required for your type of visa (e.g. work permit).
- You have obtained a Health Certificate (if applicable).
- You have to apply for an Alien Resident Certificate within 15 days after the day of your arrival (see below).
If you are planning on taking up employment in Taiwan, then the matter of work permits typically needs to be taken care of even before you apply for a resident visa. Legally, no foreigner can start a job in the ROC without a work permit.
Please keep in mind that as a general rule, foreigners in Taiwan are limited to employment in the following fields:
- specialists or technicians
- executives of enterprises set up by foreign investors
- school teachers and teachers at language schools
- artists, entertainers, athletes, and coaches
- so-called contracting foreigners
Your work permit is issued for a specific job with a specific employer and valid for a maximum of three years, after which it can be extended. Should you change employers within the period for which your permit is valid, they will have to reapply for a new permit.
Is Taiwan safe to live?
Definitely yes. Taiwan is considered to be a very safe country to live in and is consistently acknowledged as a safe country in a variety of global safety indexes, including SafeAround’s Index in which Taiwan took 24th position out of 160 countries. The Global Peace Index awarded Taiwan with 26th place out of 163 countries.
I always felt very safe, even as a solo female who often traveled alone.
What is the cost of living in Taiwan?
One of the things that worried me before moving to Taiwan was the living cost in Taiwan. Of course, various people have various needs and so the standards of living in Taiwan can be very different. It is good to know that Taipei is much cheaper than other big cities in East Asia including Japan, Soul, Singapore and Hong Kong. I have spent one semester in Hong Kong before and it was a relief to find out that in Taipei the money goes a much longer way.
As a foreign student entitled the scholarship and not having had to pay for the university fees, I was dealing with a budget of 30 000 NTD for a month, which is about 980 USD. This money was more than enough to cover my living costs in Taiwan including the dorm, food and some smaller trips around Taiwan, too.
Overall, the cost of renting an apartment will definitely be the largest expense you will encounter. The prices for which can vary quite drastically depending on the type of accommodation and the area of Taiwan you choose to live in.
Most expats decide to rent a shared apartment or studio apartment. In Taipei, the cost for a shared apartment will range between $10000 to $16000 NTD (approx. $330 – $530 USD) per month.
If you can choose your location, it is good to know that outside the capital the cost of living is much lower. By staying for example in Kaohsiung, one can save a lot of money especially when it comes to accommodation. You can check my other posts on Things to do in Kaohsiung here.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT LIVING IN TAIWAN?
I wonder what kinds of interesting experiences you had living in Taiwan. What surprised you? What did you consider the most interesting or the weirdest?
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