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Living in Taipei
Robert Schrader moved to Taiwan in 2019, after having bounced around Asia (and the world) for the better part of the previous decade. He shares his insights about traveling and living in Taiwan via his website Taiwan Starts Here, which he hopes you'll check out after you finish reading this post.
Moving to Taiwan in mid-2019 was one of the best decisions of my life. I say this independently of Taiwan's handling of the coronavirus, which has made it one of the safest places in the world to ride out 2020.
Taiwan, you see, has proven itself to strike an enviable balance. It's equally amazing as a travel destination (I'll explain some of my favorite things to do in Taiwan within the next few paragraphs) as it is hospitable to those who settle on a longer-term basis.
What Are Essential Itineraries?
These bite-sized guides focus on the Top Sights to See and Best Things to Do for New Expats.
Written in collaboration with my network of expats and experienced travelers, you get up-to-date first hand knowledge and local tips.
Perfect for short trips, these overviews for visiting a new city are available for download.
Note that while I'll be addressing the topic of expat life in Taiwan using my experience in Taipei as a frame of references, many of the conclusion I've drawn apply nationwide. Whether you're on the fence about living in Taiwan, or are about to sign on the dotted line, I encourage you to continue reading.
US News and World Reports
"This safe, clean, well-organized and interesting city has all the appeal, infrastructure, amenities and comforts of the region's A-list destinations like Singapore and Hong Kong – with one big difference. The cost of living in Taipei is within the reach of most retirement budgets."
Why I Moved to Taiwan
I hatched the idea of moving to Taiwan in a moment of extreme stress. I was in the back of a Bangkok taxi, traveling in the opposite direction of my destination on account of my incompetent driver, and I acknowledged that the constant stress of life in Thailand was no longer sustainable. As I shuffled through all the Asian cities I'd recently visited to think of which might be the happiest future home, Taipei immediately stood out.
Which is not to say I made my decision right then and there—it took several more months of plotting and planning before I found myself living in Taipei. When I finally did take the leap, however, I found not only that my daily life (and my quality of life more broadly) was significantly higher than it had been in Bangkok. Taipei also proved perfectly positioned as a base for all my other travel in the region. (But more on that in a second!)
Things to Know About Moving to Taipei
Visas and Immigration
Taiwan is (or at least it was, before coronavirus) a pretty lenient country when it comes to immigration. If you don't intent on working full-time (and thus, getting a work permit and an Alien Resident Card, or ARC), you can easily enter multiple times per year on whatever visa-exempt arrangement your country has made with Taiwan. Many nationalities can even enroll in the country's e-Gate system! I did this the very day I entered Taiwan, and it's made my life so much easier.
INSIDER TIP : To expand a little on what Robert mentions here, US Citizens have it easy. We do not require a visa to enter Taiwan for stays less than 90 days. However, if you are looking to retire in Taiwan, it gets a bit tougher, as there are no dedicated "retirement visas" similar to the Philippines or Malaysia. In a future article, we will look at Taiwan's Investment Visa ($200,000 minimum investment) as a retirement visa option.
Cost of Living
One of my main concerns, moving to Taiwan from Thailand, was that things would be much more expensive. The good news, with the exception of my monthly rent, was that prices were largely the same. While the amount you spend will vary depending on your standards (and, if you're working in Taiwan, your salary), I can say personally that it's possible to live well in Taiwan on around NT$60,000 (around 2,000 USD) per month.
INSIDER TIP : While the Cost of Living in Taipei doesn't have the crazy-cheap moniker of Manila or Chiang Mai, most estimates put Taiwan's capital city at roughly 35% less than the US. Let's look at some data points:
- Robert's Estimate: $2000 per month
- Earth Awaits LeanFIRE Estimate: $1100 per month
- Numbeo Estimate: $1400 per month
The pics below are a real world example of a $425 per month furnished co-living duplex in one of the oldest and most historical neighborhoods in Taipei. Price includes all utilities, wifi, essential supplies, and maid service twice a week!
Food, Drink and Nightlife
I'll be honest: I don't avail Taipei nightlife often, on account of my old-man sleep schedule—I go to bed and wake up embarrassingly early. However, whether you spend your time in the student-filled watering holes near Gongguan Station, the karaoke rooms of Zhongshan or the LGBT-friendly bars of the Red House in Ximen, Taipei is a great nightlife city. To say nothing of incredible street eats, whether along Yongkang Street near Dongmen Station, or at night markets like Shilin, Shida and Raohe Street. (Or wandering into random temples just after nightfall, as I'm prone to doing.)
INSIDER TIP : One of the first things you will learn about Living in Taipei is the culture is best experienced through its cuisine. The city competes for Asia's Best Street Food Capital belt (I'm still voting Penang, Malaysia, but that's my personal bias showing). Even Taiwan's 7-11s have crazy yummy eats.
For first-time expats moving to Taiwan, Raohe is the place to get your late-night snack hit. Raohe Street Market is one of the city’s oldest night markets and it’s accessible by Taipei’s public rail system.
Like many Asian cities, Taipei food scene comes alive at night. Stalls and carts emerge in the alleys to feed tourists and locals alike. Crowds wander the maze-like corridors following hanging lights that lead to fried and grilled savory snacks and sweet sticky desserts.
I don't party very much, but moving to Taiwan has still proven exciting. Prior to Covid-19, this was largely because of how easy Taiwan's location made my trips to nearby countries like Japan, and even back to Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. These days, however, domestic travel has kept me busy, whether I'm visiting cities like Kaohsiung and Tainan, natural attractions like Sun Moon Lake, Alishan and the East Coast Scenic Route or simply hiking near Taipei in Maokong or Yangminshan National Park.
INSIDER TIP : Getting from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei city isn't super difficult, but after a long plane ride, it isn't something you want to figure out while jet-lagged. Here is a handy guide to get from the airport to Taipei after you touchdown.
Safety and Security
Is Taiwan safe? Whether in terms of personal security, or if you're asking in specific regard to the pandemic (which I'll address in greater detail later), the answer is unequivocally "yes." As is the case in most other East Asian countries, petty and violent crime in Taiwan are very rare. While standards of road safety in Taiwan are unfortunately closer to Thailand than, say, Japan, you're still relatively unlikely to get in an accident, particularly if you avoid driving at night or while drunk.
Perfect for first time visitors, this Living in Taipei guide is available for download.
Taiwan Compared to Other Countries in Asia
As I've suggested throughout this article, I find life in Taiwan all together more pleasant than I found life in Thailand. While apartments in Taipei are slightly more expensive than their counterparts in Bangkok, the juxtaposition of an organized, ruled-based society with cosmopolitan, artistic and forward-thinking population creates a perfect balance that is both stimulating and eminently livable.
Of course, Thailand wasn't my only framed of reference as I weighed the pros and cons of moving to Taiwan (and as I've assessed them since arriving). I also spent some time living in mainland China; I have extensively traveled in Japan and Korea, two places I also considered living. In general, I'd say that Taiwan combines the best of most Asian countries, while omitting most of the qualities I dislike about each.
Living in Taipei in the Post-Covid World
The good news? Disruption to daily life from coronavirus in Taiwan has been minimal, thanks to the country's early action on the pandemic, and masterful handling of it since then. The better news? Although Taiwan's borders remain mostly closed as of July 2020, the reputation the island has achieved during the Covid crisis has raised its profile among prospective travelers—and expats.
To be sure, in addition to feeling lucky to have been in Taiwan during this uncertain time, I'm confident in the country's ability to mobilize again in the face of any future crisis. Just as Taiwan is a country where aspects of daily life balance themselves out and contribute to a feeling of sustainability, the larger impression I now have of it is one of resilience and responsibility. Who wouldn't want to call a place like this home?
Living in Taiwan- The Bottom Line
Moving to Taiwan isn't for everyone, but it sure improved my life. Just as it's geographically located at the heart of Asia, Taiwan's kaleidoscope of cultural and culinary influences makes it a tantalizing melting pot that never gets old or boring. When every day life in Taipei begins to wear on me, I can hop a high-speed train or short domestic flight to dozens of other destinations, from vibrant secondary and tertiary cities, to natural wonders ranging from world-class hiking trails to stunning surf beaches. Even if you don't ever end up calling Taiwan home yourself, I hope this article has inspired you to visit the country!
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