The Pros and Cons of Living in Taiwan as an American
We lived in Taipei, Taiwan for a year, and it was quite a ride! From July 2017 to July 2018, we had many new and exciting experiences. All with their positive and challenging points. We decided to compile these pros and cons of living in Taiwan as an American into a list, in case you are thinking of moving to there in the future.
Here are a few quick background points about us for some context:
- We are American and lived in the city of Taipei specifically for 1 year, so most comments are related to Taipei
- We didn’t make this choice right out of college. I am 39, Andrew is 28. We are both professionals who had been working in corporate, full time jobs when we left the United States
- We didn’t speak any Chinese when we moved and we chose not to live in an expat neighborhood (we lived in the Datong District)
- We eat vegan and plant-based food only
So take all of those into consideration when watching and/ or reading about our pros and challenges. Hopefully this can help you decide if this is the right location for you to live. This video and post are organized by categories.
Be sure to also check out our Pros and Challenges videos here:
Although there’s a slight learning curve, there are many housing websites like 591, Housefun and Craigslist you can use to find apartments. Most have phone numbers or LINE IDs so you can contact the owners or housing agents directly. They are very responsive and want to help you. Know that you may need to have your google translator out to communicate back and forth in Chinese.
You can also hire companies (or agents) to help you find apartments. Once you find an apartment, they work with you during the entire term of your lease to help you communicate your needs in English. Such as a pipe busting and you need a plumber (which happened to us our first month!). You pay a one-time fee up front that’s half the cost of one months rent. This was definitely worth it for us! If you speak fluent Chinese, you probably wouldn’t need these services.
Housing prices are on the rise in Taipei City. Our small, 500 square foot apartment cost $35,000 NTD/month which is about $1200 USD per month. Mind you, this comes without comforts we are used to such as a big refrigerator, cabinet space, etc. Although not as expensive as apartments in some major US cities, this is not much less than it would cost for the same sized apartment in downtown Denver, Colorado.
If you live a bit outside the city, you can’t get more bang for your buck but you will probably have a lot less amenities around you. If you’re going to school or working in the city, you would need to take the train in so add that to your budget and decision. Many apartments in general are small, outdated, and may not be up to western-living standards so you will need to adjust your perspective. Standard appliances like refrigerators are small, you will probably only get a one-burner stove, ovens, and washing machines and dryers are rare. A dishwasher just isn’t going to happen.
Although there are options for finding a home, house hunting can be exhausting with the language barrier. It’s definitely doable, but expect to invest more energy into it than you would need to at home. If you have a friend in the city who can help you or translate, that is helpful. Or find an English-speaking rental agent as mentioned above.
Taipei has one of the best MRT systems in the world. It’s extremely clean and efficient. You don’t need a car or scooter if you live in Taipei, as you can get by with both the Metro Rapid Transit system (MRT) and the easy to use bus system. Taipei is also very walkable compared to other Asian cities, with large sidewalks and clearly marked crosswalks. However, pedestrians still don’t really have the right of way. We made it our personal mission to boost pedestrian confidence and train taxi and bus drivers to be less aggressive. If we saved one starfish then we did our job.
For longer distances, the High Speed Rail (HSR) is also one of the best we’ve ever seen. You can get down to places like Tainan in southern Taiwan in under 2-hours. Purchasing tickets is a breeze, it has comfy seats, you can order food and drinks and it’s a great experience overall. Public transportation is also helpful because renting a car is more expensive in Taipei than in the US. We rented the lowest cost car we could find for a trip to the east side of the country, and even after a discount it ended up being about $80 USD per day. Compared to some of the deals you can find in the US, this seemed pretty high.
As mentioned, renting a car is more expensive in Taipei than in the US. We rented the lowest cost car we could find for a trip to the east side of the country, and even after a discount it ended up being about $80 USD per day. Compared to some of the deals you can find in the US, this seemed pretty high.
Also, pedestrians still don’t really have the right of way. It was our personal mission to boost pedestrian confidence and train taxi drivers to be less aggressive toward pedestrians. We thought we were winning…but there’s still more work to do, hehe.
Taiwan offers a 90 day visa for visitors with a U.S. Passport. For other countries, check their local requirements. For long-term stays, there are several options for obtaining an Alien Residency Card (ARC), which provides you will a long-term visa. Most companies will sponsor your visa if you have a job, or you obtain a visa if you’re accepted into a school to study. The requirements are easily communicated so you know what paperwork and forms to complete.
On the other hand, it’s A LOT of work to get an ARC, and seemingly unnecessary paperwork to complete. I spent so much time getting all of the health requirements completed, sending files back and forth, having forms notarized. Then once you’re in Taiwan and you have your ARC you have to go back to the National Immigration Agency to renew your residency card every 6-months to keep it valid. It makes sense that they have so many requirements, but there are many inefficiencies in their process that could be eliminated. Hint hint.
4. Cost of Living
Compared to the US, you’ll find more affordable high speed internet, monthly cell phone charges, cable charges, and transportation. Restaurants costs are also pretty good overall.
Housing isn’t as affordable as you’d think, especially for the smaller spaces you get.Consumer products like electronics, camera gear, quality apparel and shoes are also marked up 20-30% from what you can get in the US.
Groceries aren’t always affordable if you’re not able to get to a traditional market or if you’re looking for foreign goods. Especially for items many Americans might be used to buying like peanut butter, syrup, pasta sauce, spices, etc. There’s an international section of the grocery stores but look to pay higher prices, such as $16 for peanut butter. It really adds up. You can learn to work around it and make things less expensive by going to certain Indian grocery stores for spices, or just learning to cook with new foods. It takes some getting used to.
There are many vegan and plant-based options throughout the city if you want to go out to eat. Taipei ranks near the top worldwide for the best vegan restaurants, and it’s easy to understand why. If vegan or plant-based food isn’t your thing, there’s so much food everywhere. It’s very easy to walk outside your apartment and grab a snack from a food stall or get some quick noodles at a restaurant. Everywhere you go in the city, food is never too far away.
There are many interesting local varieties of food to try. Swing by any night market and there’s always something unique and different to try (or just look at). Be prepared for the most amazing fruit stands and fruit options as well. We’ve never had so many delicious and unique fruits, as well as the best kiwi’s, mangoes, watermelons and pineapples of our lives.
We aren’t huge fans of traditional Taiwanese food in general. Many sources you’ll read on the internet talk about how amazing the food is in Taiwan, but we weren’t huge fans of the flavors of traditional dishes. Maybe it’s just us, but we found it to be a bit bland – lacking depth of flavor and spices. We have a few of our favorite spots to find cheap and tasty noodles and buns, but otherwise we ate at more Western or Indian style restaurants if we were out.
Also, expect lots of gelatinous foods which weren’t our favorite texture to begin with but definitely grew on us over the year we were there.
6. Grocery Shopping
One of our favorite features of Taiwan were the traditional, outdoor morning markets with fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs all over the city. We primarily went to the large Shuanglian market in Datong district, near our apartment. There are many others throughout the city, as well as a few ‘sundown’ markets you can find with a little research. Although they try to give you plastic bags at these markets, all you have to do is decline politely and potentially several times, and bring your own sustainable bags and containers.
When moving to an Asian city, it’s a given that you will be adjusting the types of foods you eat and ingredients you buy. Foreign items are expensive and everything you are used to from home is stocked. This includes spinach, kale peanut butter, syrup, and so much more. Even if you find something familiar one week, you can’t necessarily count on it always being in stock. We found it easier to shop for and learn to cook with local foods, but even then the items are still seasonally stocked. It’s not like in some other countries where you can have produce year round. It’s something that takes a lot of time to get used to.
In addition, there is a lot of plastic wrapping over individual fruits and vegetables. Even crackers in a box are then individually wrapped in plastic. We avoided buying products like this. Plastic use is a major problem in Taiwan that the government has claimed they are making efforts to reduce.
7. The Taiwanese People
One thing you always here about Taiwan, and what we heard before arriving, is that the people are incredibly nice. And it’s true. They are very kind and always want to help you. If you look like a foreigner and somewhat confused, they will stop you immediately to ask if you need help. The Taiwanese are so open to welcoming you into their lives and homes and are excited to meet new people from other countries.
The Taiwanese, especially the older generations, are fascinated by foreigners and especially ‘Westerners’, or people from the United States and Europe. People stop you to ask you where you are from and stare a lot. If you are traveling through or there for a short time, this wouldn’t be a big deal. However, when living in Taiwan this can get a bit uncomfortable after a while. As an American female, I was stopped constantly, almost every day, much more often than Andrew. It got tiring some days.
Taipei has a subtropical climate, so it is beautifully green, with many trees, plants and flowers everywhere. There are mountains nearby that are easily accessible via bus, with many hiking trails. The city has done an incredible job incorporating green spaces into the city with parks, waterfront walking paths and more.
Taipei is very hot in the summer, so it is difficult to do outdoor activities during the day. Even walking outside can be tough because the sun is so strong and it’s pretty humid, so you want to stay inside during the day. Choose evening or morning during the summer for outdoor activities. In addition, some of the better hikes and river activities require a car or scooter to access.
Taiwan has a national healthcare system, which means it’s it’s free and accessible for citizens of Taiwan, and those with an ARC (Alien Residency Card). As a foreigner working and living in Taiwan or going to school, your health needs can be taken care of without going into extreme debt or worrying how you might pay the bills while you are sick. Which is the opposite case in America for the most part.
As a foreigner, it can take some time to obtain an Alien Resident Card to qualify for national healthcare.
English in Taipei is actually pretty good. There’s at least one person in every establishment that can speak enough english to communicate with you. When we were looking for housing, we opted to use a company with an english speaking realtor. Although you usually have to pay a fee for this service, it’s very helpful to have someone to help when things to wrong
Learning a bit of Chinese before you come to Taiwan would be a big help. Yes, you can get around with English no problem, but everyone else is speaking Chinese around you all the time. So if you’re not able to speak Chinese, it can feel a bit isolating. If you’re here to study Chinese then you will quickly come up to speed, but for people not here to study the language, we recommend brushing up first. Check out the book Fluent Forever which helps put you in the mindset of learning any new language,
Taipei is a great location if you want to travel within Asia. The best destinations with affordable flights are Japan, China, Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia. Direct flights back to the United States are also extremely budget-friendly for most of the year. EVA Air has a brilliant 16 hour direct flight from Taoyuan Airport to in Taipei to Chicago O’hare Airport. Since my family (Caryn) lives there, that was our go-to flight. For the west coast of the states, there are also many other direct flight options.
Taipei can feel a bit far from home at times, so if you need to get home on a regular basis or think you will get homesick, plant this in ahead of time.
Taipei is reasonably warm and humid year round. Although it can be extremely hot in the summer, the winters are very mild and enjoyable. Many homes don’t have a heater, and it’s very personal if you need a winter coat. I, Caryn, needed one. Andrew is tougher than me so he rocked a spring jacket or long sleeves all year.
Again, the extreme heat during the summer. Some people worry about the typhoon’s, but we didn’t experience any issues with this in the year we lived there. A few storms during Typhoon season, but not more than we’d experienced during a typical thunderstorm at home.
Native english speakers are still needed in Taipei, and generally throughout Taiwan, to teach english. There are several opportunities that pay reasonable wages to live in Taiwan. If you’re young and just want to check out Asia for awhile, this is a GREAT place to get started.
There aren’t a ton of jobs outside of English teaching for foreigners, since you need to know Chinese. And even if you do, for mid-level career jobs that Caryn and I would be interested in, the wages are significantly lower than what we would make in the United States.
14. City Life
Taipei is an extremely convenient city. Literally everything is a stones throw away. Extremely safe. Free wifi in Taipei
Very crowded. It’s extremely population dense and noisy. It is very crowded on the streets at any time of the day, and sometimes it feels like you can’t escape people. On top of that, we unknowingly chose an apartment ON a night market street. Which means every night, thousands of people pour onto our street until 1 or 2 in the morning.
Air Pollution hasn’t been as big of a challenge as we expected for the year we were here, but we heard it can get bad. Taipei is much better than other cities in Taiwan such as Taichung and Kaohsiung. Google has a great feature that tells you the air index levels for each day, so makes it easy to monitor if you’re especially sensitive.
Tap water is questionable. Andrew did A TON of research on this and his conclusion is that we shouldn’t fully trust the tap water. Chlorine is used to purify water at the source, but because there are many old pipes throughout Taipei, the main concern is getting metal in your water. If you ask local Taiwanese, many do not drink the water OR they boil it before drinking. It seems to depend on personal preference in the end.
15. Coffee Shops
There are tons of coffee shops and cool little cafe’s all over the city. You can always find a coffee shop to grab a coffee, tea or quick bite to eat.
Coffee shops in Taipei don’t open until the afternoon, until around 1 or 2pm. Part of Taiwanese coffee culture is to enjoy coffee in the afternoon. For plant-based friends, most coffee shops also don’t have nut or soy milk (dou jiang!) so you will probably stick to Americanos or tea. Unless you go to Starbucks, which are also located all over the city. We’ve brought our own soy milk to local coffee shops and they will make you a drink with it if you ask politely.
At the grocery store you can get your haircut for $100 NTD!
Shopping for clothing can be a challenge when you are taller than most of the locals, and when the style is quite different than what you are used to. I’ve been shopping many times and haven’t found great options. I also think the clothing can be of poorer quality at many shops and boutiques, and fall apart easily after a few washes. This may have been my experience only.
Getting your haircut and colored, or getting your eyebrows waxed can be an issue. I went to a shop where a local Taiwanese man worked in London and he still didn’t know how to work with my curly, blonde hair. I then tried to get it darkened at another shop and it turned purple. Many problems with this. I also couldn’t find anyone who would wax or trim my eyebrows if I didn’t speak Chinese. So I waited quite a while for these services until I went home to visit.