It’s hard to believe that my I have lived in Taipei, Taiwan for nearly 5 years already. For the most part, I have felt confident in my decision to trade my comfortable life in Southern California for a life of relative uncertainty. I am happy with my choice as it has given me the chance to travel and experience the world in ways that would be impossible with 10 days of vacation annually. When I meet people on my travels they always ask me two questions. 1) Why did I choose to live in Taiwan? 2) Is Taiwan a good place to live?
Admittedly, these questions were a bit difficult at first. The decision to trade a secure future and income for a life of adventure can be hard to explain at times. After spending some time in Asia I feel like I have the ability to answer these questions better. Today I’ll focus on the topic of living in Taiwan. In the recently published survey by InterNations, Taiwan came out on top as the country most favored by the 14,000 expats surveyed. This might seem surprising but there are a few reasons why foreigners enjoy the quiet island.
Why do expats like to live in Taiwan?
Food – Taiwan is renowned for its wide selection of food and snacks. Many Taiwanese delicacies have made their way around the world. One example is bubble milk tea, which has become quite common in the west (including numerous shops in my hometown). One thing to remember is that sanitation standards will be a bit different from what you are used to. If you have a sensitive stomach you may want to ease into the food here. Whether you chose to eat street food or in a Taiwanese restaurant, you can rest assured that the food will be cheap and delicious.
Natural Beauty – Although a relatively small island Taiwan is a hidden treasure for outdoor enthusiasts. Taiwan has the highest concentration of mountains in the world. There are 286 mountains over 3,000 meters. More than any other country in the world! If you aren’t one for hiking there are a number of other places to check out. Some of the most notable sights are Taroko Gorge (located in beautiful Hualien County) a great place for trekking, Kenting (墾丁國家公園) the popular beach on the southern tip of Taiwan, and if you’re feeling adventurous there is always Taiwan’s tallest mountain YuShan (玉山) also called Jade Mountain.
Cost of Living – Taiwan is also an attractive place to live due to its low cost of living and relatively high salary. Expats working in Taiwan will notice that the cost of living is significantly less than the cost in other major cities around Asia. The best value for rent and food can be found in the south of Taiwan or in less populous cities around the island. Even if you choose to live in the capital of Taipei you should be able to save a bit of money, how much you save will depend mainly on your choice of living and how often you go out for a night on the town. Don’t expect to get rich here (my salary is lower than it is in America), but if you are good at saving Taiwan can help you pay off student loans, travel to nearby countries, or save towards your next adventure. You can check the cost of living in Taipei here and compare it to where you live.
Healthcare – Taiwan has an excellent national health care system with affordability that can rival the best in the world. The standard copay for doctor visits/dental work/etc. is 200NTD (roughly $6.50). And that copayment includes all the medicine you will need. I don’t get sick or visit the doctor often but it has been great to have. When I developed an allergy to cashews 200NTD. Acupuncture 200NTD (seriously!). Periodic dental cleaning 200NTD. Expats can rest assured knowing that seeking healthcare in Taiwan won’t break the bank.
What do expats dislike about Taiwan?
Weather – The most common complaint I hear from other foreigners in Taiwan is about the weather. Taiwan is a tropical island with frequent rain and occasional typhoons. It is a good idea to carry an umbrella with you when you walk around Taipei. You never know when you will get caught in a sudden shower. The weather is the worst in the summer when the heat and humidity reach their peak. The humid summers make walking outside uncomfortable. When should I visit Taiwan? The best time to visit Taipei is during the winter when it is relatively cool and dry. Is Taiwan a good place to live? If you can’t stand humidity then you won’t be too happy here.
Housing – Apartments in Taiwan tend to be small and cramped, at least more than I’m used to. Most people I meet in Taiwan either stay alone in a small studio or 1 bedroom apartment. Another option is to find a room in a shared house. In my experience roommates can be either totally amazing or completely horrible so I prefer to live by myself. I plan to write another post in the future with tips on making the most of your housing budget.
Food – In Taiwan food is both a pro and a con. Food from around Asia can be found in abundance (there is a lot of great Japanese food here!) but there is a lack of international options. If you want something specific your choices will likely be few and far between. For example, a recent craving for Greek food sent me on a 45-minute trip to the other side of the city. Even the capital of Taipei lacks the international flavor that can be found in cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Beijing.
Pollution – I have heard a lot of people complain about the pollution in Taiwan. To be honest, it hasn’t bothered me, but maybe I’m just used to the pollution in Los Angeles. Air pollution in Taiwan is comparable to Los Angeles and isn’t as bad as other cities in Asia (manufacturing cities in China *cough*). The water here is a bit of a problem as it isn’t considered safe enough to drink. Bottled water is inexpensive and can be purchased at any supermarket or 7-11 and shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Is Taiwan a safe place to live?
Absolutely yes! Taiwan is a very safe place to live with crime rates that consistently place it as one of the safest countries in the world! This is due to their strict adherence to the law. Taiwanese conduct themselves in an orderly and respectful manner, and when in Taiwan you should as well! In fact, serious crime is so uncommon that any instance of violence is sure to make national news. The only crime that you could expect to face as a foreigner in Taiwan is the very occasional dishonest taxi driver or pickpocket. In 5-years in Taiwan, I have only had bad experiences with taxi drivers twice, and have never been pickpocketed. When you come to Taiwan you will be greeted by people who are overwhelmingly pleasant and friendly. Hopefully Taiwan is on your list of places to visit or even live!
I hope this post gave you some insight into some of the major questions (and worries) that you might have. The choice to live in Taiwan has been a great one for me, but may not be right for you. If you are thinking of making the move and have any questions you can ask them in the comments below. I will be happy to answer them!
Also, if you have lived in Taiwan I would like to hear about your experience. Is Taiwan a good place to live? If you agree/disagree with me on any issue or if you feel that I missed anything I’d love to hear from you in the comments.