Making the decision to move to another country can be an incredibly daunting one. My husband and I moved to Taiwan without ever having visited. In the months leading up to that decision, I consumed possibly hundreds of internet articles about living in various countries, and all of the pro-con lists I could get my fingers on. Reading them, and imagining all of my new possible lives, was intoxicating.
My mind became a vast sea of floating detached bullet points, all the looming marvels and warnings. I swam through the days in a concoction of indecision, anxiety and excitement. If you’re reading this, then you probably understand what I’m talking about (or you can just say that you do and reassure me that I’m normal).
Eventually we settled on our decision, and found that it was actually pretty easy. Taiwan. It has so many things going for it. And it has turned out to be a great decision on our part. Of course, not everyone is the same and we all have our varying lists of values and lifestyle preferences. What is Taiwan for us may be Singapore for you! Let me tell you, though, I can think of at least twelve strong reasons for you to consider Taiwan.
So in the spirit of helping others to make that same incredibly daunting decision, here’s my list of 12 Compelling Reasons to Move to Taiwan (Plus Some Important Considerations), because we should all strive to be fair and balanced, brimming with personal experience and real life examples:
Note regarding COVID-19 and the times we live in:
Currently (as of June 11th 2021), the government has restricted entry to Taiwanese nationals and foreigners with valid Alien Resident Certificates (ARCs). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has temporarily halted visa application processing. This means that foreigners cannot enter without a valid ARC. When restrictions ease, it is possible you may still need to find employment before coming, so that your employer can apply for your work permit, giving you grounds for entry. If you do have a valid ARC, here’s what you need to know about entering Taiwan during COVID. See the section on COVID below for more.
- 1. Taiwan ranked #1 in the InterNations survey “Best and Worst Places for Expats in 2021”
- 2. Taiwan has a relatively low cost of living
- 3. Taiwan has great infrastructure and public transportation
- 4. Healthcare is super affordable, insurance or no!
- 5. Why, the street food, of course!
- 6. Location, location, location
- 7. It’s a gorgeous subtropical island!
- 8. It is a great place to learn Mandarin
- 9. It is super safe!
- 10. Taiwan is democratic, relatively liberal and LGBTQ-friendly
- 11. Safety and success in the face of a global pandemic
- 12. The people!
- Some Important Considerations
1. Taiwan ranked #1 in the InterNations survey “Best and Worst Places for Expats in 2021”
Yes, Taiwan has snagged the top spot – hailed as the best place for expats by expats. Not only that, but this is the third year running that Taiwan has topped the survey. The survey analyzes each country based on its given scores across a variety of factors that fall into four main groups: quality of life, ease of settling in, personal finance and working abroad. This year 59 countries were included on the list (only countries with a sample size of at least 50 participating expats can be included in the survey. This year 12,420 expats submitted responses, representing 186 countries/territories).
Taiwan scored first place in the Quality of Life and Working Abroad indices. This indicates job satisfaction, a sense of job security, a stable economy as well as positive feelings about healthcare, the environment, transportation, safety, leisure and digital concerns (good internet, etc.). Expats here are happy and satisfied, and I can corroborate that.
2. Taiwan has a relatively low cost of living
In Taiwan there is not such an obvious have/have-nots distinction. Just about everyone is able to make a decent living, and as such the collective quality of life is relatively high. This is so refreshing coming from the States (and so many other parts of the world!), where the wealth gap is such a big problem.
If you teach for 20-30 hours at a cram school, you can expect to earn somewhere around 50,000 – 70,000 NTD per month, more than enough to cover your expenses!
It’s worth noting that the cost of rent is somewhat cheaper in Keelung as compared to Taipei, which is the most expensive city on the island. We have been paying 15,000 TWD each month for a one bedroom apartment (not including utilities) with a spacious balcony. For the same apartment in Taipei we’d have to pay much more, a point which will probably find its way into a future “12 reasons to move to Keelung” list. 😋. (Note: If you want to buy a house or apartment, that’s a different story. While rent is relatively cheap in Taiwan, purchasing property is not. Although, I have heard it can be done.)
Luke and I were able to save approximately 20% of our income over those first two years, which also meant that when I decided to quit teaching to pursue writing, we were able to survive on one salary while I built my portfolio and experience. There is no way we would have been able to do this in the US with our service industry jobs!
Of course, most expats moving to Taiwan will likely not be married and able to rely on the added support of a partner, but with some grit and determination, you could do this on your own as well. If you work and save up for a year or two, then you can apply for a 6-month ARC extension (which is granted for job-seeking purposes) when your contract is up. You can use that six months however you see fit, while living on your savings (and being frugal, or possibly subsidizing that with a side-gig, like freelancing).
Sometimes expats are able to get a second 6-month extension. The regulations around this have relaxed somewhat during the COVID era as the government wants to support foreigners who may have lost work or been stranded during the pandemic.
(Also, side-note: In the US, being swindled by phone companies was one of my biggest peeves, but here I can happily pay $1000 (~30 USD)/month for unlimited data. You can get cheaper plans, but they may require a 2-year contract, which many expats may not be able to get on a one-year work permit.)
3. Taiwan has great infrastructure and public transportation
Taiwan’s period under Japanese colonial rule is largely to thank for such solid infrastructure and extensive train systems, as many such projects were initiated and built during that time.
It’s easy to get around in Taiwan, especially if you live in Taipei or Kaohsiung, the two cities with modern and far-reaching metro systems. But even outside of these cities, bus routes are well established and taxis are plentiful (and also relatively cheap compared to places like the US). Another great feature is the HSR, or High Speed Rail, which runs north-to-south from Taipei to Kaohsiung. A ticket from north to south will cost around $1,500 NTD, and the ride will take around 2 hours.
Personally, as someone who finds driving scary (particularly in Taiwan), this is both a high priority and a relief for me. I’ve always felt most comfortable as a pedestrian, and living in Taiwan makes that sort of lifestyle easy. Plus, you don’t have to pay all that money for a car (and a parking space)! Scooters seem to be the most popular option for expats as they’re compact, convenient and much easier to find parking for.
4. Healthcare is super affordable, insurance or no!
Like, I’ve actually been to the dentist in the past year! Not only that, but since I’ve been here I’ve been to the doctor on several occasions, made hospital visits for check ups, shots and annual tests, and I’ve even been visiting a functional medicine practitioner in Taipei – something that I would never be able to afford in the United States, not in my wildest dreams! I’ve been able to do all of these things without worrying about the costs or having to weigh whether or not it’s worth it, and I always leave blown away by how affordable it is.
Perhaps this sounds completely normal to those of you who hail from countries with functioning national health insurance systems, and as well it should, but coming from the U.S. I can tell you that this gift of quality health care has been such a relief. To highlight this point, allow me do a little compare-and-contrast.
In the US, I managed to pay $1000 for two separate incidents where I needed, like, 8 stitches. Thank god I had insurance at the time because otherwise those hospital visits would have cost me $4500. Does that seem ridiculous? Yes, because it is! In the last couple of years I was in the US I didn’t have any insurance, because it was just too expensive, even for the most garbage of plans (I’m talking catastrophic). Needless to say, I wasn’t really going to the doctor or the dentist, so who knows how many arms or legs that would have cost!
In Taiwan, it has cost $200 ($7 USD) for a doctor’s visit, which includes the medication (for example, if you go in for a cold or a flu, you will generally receive a prescribed 3-day course of medication). When Luke got a root canal, it cost $150 (about $5 USD. Yes, you read that right, and yes it was cheaper than the doctor’s visit!). For my annual physical I paid $1060 ($37 USD). Even my relatively expensive one-hour functional medicine consultation cost a fraction of what it would in the US, $3500 NTD ($124 USD) compared to a US average of $460.
If you want to learn more about Taiwan’s National Health Insurance (NHI, 全民健康保險), there’s a fantastic article at Vox about the system, covering all of its strengths and weaknesses!
5. Why, the street food, of course!
Who could make such a list without mentioning this one?!
Taiwan is famous for its night markets, where local delicacies abound. It’s one of the most delightful things about living here. Night markets are full of discoveries – braised pork rice (滷肉飯 lǔ ròu fàn), taro balls (芋圓 yù yuán), peanut ice cream rolls (花生捲冰淇淋 huāshēng juǎn bīngqílín), chicken rice (雞肉飯 jīròu fàn), green onion pancakes (蔥油餅 cōng yóubǐng), Taiwanese meatballs (彰化肉圆 zhānghuà ròu wán), pork belly buns (刈包 guà bāo)… My mouth is watering just writing this list.
Then of course there’s stinky tofu (臭豆腐 chòu dòufu). When I started trying to learn mandarin, I decided to incorporate some songs into my studying process, and this incredibly catchy song has been stuck in my head ever since (要!):
For many locals, the night markets are where dinner is found! You can order a bunch of food to take home and share, sit to dine at one of the many tables scattered around designated stalls or meander from stall to stall, following your stomach (or, why not, a mixture of all three)! Many night markets are open and frequented for lunch, such as Keelung’s Miaokou night market. Being just a couple blocks away, sometimes I like to grab a braised pork rice and a mango smoothie for lunch.
But don’t forget the breakfast fare, too, which in Taiwan is hard to beat. Our favorite is the egg pancake (蛋餅 dàn bǐng) – we like to get them loaded with egg, cheese and bacon, and then smother them with spicy sauce! Wash it down with a traditional soy milk (豆漿 dòujiāng) or rice milk (米漿 mi jiāng).
Last but not least, this feels like the appropriate place to mention Taiwanese tea culture! If this was a longer list, I’d definitely break this one out into it’s own point. Taiwan has many fabulous home-grown teas. There are loads of tea houses where you can enjoy a traditional tea ceremony, especially if you go up into the mountains! But, in the cities, one of the offshoots of this great part of the culture is the thousands of tea shops that line the streets, serving all kinds of refreshing or warming tea beverages and of course that world-famous bubble tea!
For more, here is a great article on some of Taiwan’s iconic foods.
6. Location, location, location
If you’re someone who likes to travel, and I’m guessing you are, then it’s worth noting that Taiwan is a great place to travel from. Given its position in Southeast Asia, it’s super easy to take a trip to any surrounding countries like the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, or Thailand. From Keelung you can even take a one-day cruise to Okinawa!
In fact, one of the reasons we chose to move to Taiwan is because of its proximity to my hometown, Hong Kong. Now I can get there (theoretically, ugh 2021) in 2 hours instead of 16. In our (almost) three years here we’ve managed a trip to Hong Kong, Macau and Japan. There are many more places I’m itching to get to, and can’t wait until it is possible. Of course, this sort of traveling is not in the cards for the foreseeable future given the pandemic, but I’m an optimist.
The good news is, if you can’t make the most of this perk for a while…..
7. It’s a gorgeous subtropical island!
This simple fact has a range of implications. First, mild winters and piping-hot summers, with sky-high humidity. The average annual temp is 22℃ (71°F), and the coldest it gets is around 12℃ (53°F), which is fantastic news if you’re sick of freezing winters! Because buildings in Taiwan don’t have heating, it can get a bit chilly in the winter but to be honest I love it. It’s like fall in the US and I get to wear cozy sweaters and thick socks and drink cocoa! It can also be rainy (especially in the north!) but I’ll take rain over snow (almost) any day.
Second, there are so many places you can go to enjoy the ocean! So many beaches! So many water sports to indulge in! Surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, river rafting, river tracing, kayaking, windsurfing, YOU NAME IT. On the flip side of that, Taiwan is mostly mountains, so if you’re into mountain stuff like hiking and climbing then you’re in luck too! It’s the best of both worlds.
Third, WOW Taiwan is beautiful! Of course the cliché is all about how the Portugese named Taiwan “Ilha Formosa” for a reason, but after all this time it turns out that maybe they were actually talking about Okinawa?!?! (Also, interesting article here about the European discovery of Taiwan.) Regardless, it’s true that Taiwan can be absolutely breathtaking. It has a wide variety of landscapes to enjoy, from the gorges, forests and valleys of the mountains to rivers (Taiwan has 129!) and plains with their plentitude of rice paddies to wetlands to hot springs to dramatic volcanic ocean-side cliffs and the magnificent sculptures of sea erosion created over thousands of years.
Not to mention the outlying islands, of which there are 15! Off the west coast lie the Penghu Archipelago, Matsu and Kinmen Islands. Off the east coast are Green Island and Orchid Island (also known as Lanyu Island). I haven’t made it to the outlying islands yet myself, but you better believe I will be planning a trip soon! For more about them, check out this article featuring 10 of the islands by Taiwan Everything.
8. It is a great place to learn Mandarin
If that’s something you want to do, then consider doing it here! It’s important to note that Mandarin here differs from Mandarin spoken in mainland China in pronunciation, colloquialisms and characters. In Taiwan, traditional Chinese characters are used, rather than simplified. This is also the case in Hong Kong and Macau. However it could be an advantage to learn the traditional characters alongside the simplified. In Taiwan there is also a phonetic system, Bopomofo, which is taught to children and used in devices (not super important but it may prove helpful should you need to use a car’s GPS system or type characters in your messages).
There are lots of different ways to go about learning. For some resources on courses, check out this article from FluentU or this list from Language International. You can study full time at NTU or do a short month-long intensive course. Of course there are also always people looking to do language exchanges, or you could hire a tutor. I’ve gone the self-study route (perhaps to my own detriment, haha), and I did take this beginner’s class from NTU (twice!) on Coursera, which has proved to be really helpful! I would recommend it, and you can even audit the class for free!
The really great thing about studying Mandarin here is how kind, patient and gracious people are. By taking away that extra stress of interactions-gone-wrong, Taiwanese people make it just about as easy as can be to practice a new language (although they might just start speaking English to you, thereby thwarting your efforts).
9. It is super safe!
According to the 2021 Mid-Year Crime Index from Numbeo, Taiwan is one of the top three safest places in the world, following Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Crime rates are very low and there’s not much to worry about when it comes to Taiwan’s streets. Occasionally things get stolen, and I have heard the odd story about apartments being broken into and valuables taken, but these events seem to be the exception.
Coming from the states, I can tell you what a relief it is to never have to consider the possibility that someone is carrying a gun, never wonder when and where the next mass shooting will happen. The policing situation is also a world of difference. While there are some incidents (that do indicate a degree of racism against migrant workers) and the police are not perfect, there is far less actual violence. It probably helps that citizens are unarmed and the police force is not heavily militarized.
Now I live a block away from a police station with a giant police teddy bear stationed outside, and every time I see it I am struck all over again at the difference in police culture.
I have made a lot of friends from South Africa, who all frequently laud the safety of Taiwan, compared to their particularly dangerous home country (again I direct you to the Numbeo ranking). Here you can walk alone at night, down alleys, and nothing bad will happen! The train stations even have special platforms and train cars for only women to use at night that are more heavily monitored (I am a huge fan of this, and its great if you’re a female solo traveler!).
As an interesting side-note: Taiwan does have a seedy underbelly, a world of organized crime, but it generally keeps to itself (the largest and most notorious group among the Triads being The Bamboo Union, which has a past interwoven with the KMT and white terror). As a local friend pointed out to me, it’s in their best interest to fly under the radar and not to draw negative attention. Their influence shows up more in business and politics than in violent crime rates. Unless you get mixed up in some shady dealings, it almost certainly won’t affect you. In recent years the government has cracked down on organized crime, in the run-up to elections making hundreds of arrests and signaling increased efforts to stifle gang activity. If you’re interested, there is some fantastic information on organized crime in Taiwan at factsanddetails.com.
10. Taiwan is democratic, relatively liberal and LGBTQ-friendly
In February, Taiwan News published an article announcing Taiwan’s ranking in The Economist’s 2020 Democracy Index. In a year that dealt so many blows to democratic freedom, Taiwan came in as the world’s 11th most democratic country, and the most democratic country in East Asia. Taiwan has competitive elections dominated by two ruling parties – the DPP and the KMT. There are also smaller parties trying to get in on the action. Politics here are lively, and sometimes it can get wild. Check out these two recent brawls in parliament. The first one even involves water balloons and looks kind of fun. Even the throwing of pig guts is not, apparently, an isolated event.
Anyway, Taiwan has been through a lot to get to where it is today, and to bring about the democracy that it now enjoys. True to its history, Taiwan is a complex country rich with the influences of its past. In a fascinating JSTOR article entitled “Confucianism with a Liberal Face: The Meaning of Democratic Politics in Postcolonial Taiwan”, L. H. M. Ling and Chih-yu Shih analyze Taiwan’s democracy through this lens, saying,
“[Taiwan’s] version of democratic politics operates across three contending normative domains: liberal political institutions, Confucian rationales for power, and Taiwanese nativist/nationalist sensibilities.”
The blend of Taiwanese, Chinese, Japanese and American influences have certainly shaped a unique little corner of the world. I’m still trying to figure it out, and suspect I will be for a long time.
At any rate, as the most democratic country in East Asia (according to The Economist’s Democracy Index), Taiwan enjoys some greater freedoms like free & fair elections and a free press. The number of Hongkongers immigrating to Taiwan almost doubled last year, and Hong Kong residents continue to leave home for the safe haven of Taiwan in fear of China’s ever-widening reach. As of 2019, same-sex marriage has been legalized (with some further developments along the way). Since it’s legalization, same-sex marriage has gained significant local support. Taiwan boasts the biggest Pride Parade in Asia, and last year had the biggest turnout worldwide.
Of course, Taiwan still has some more conservative views and policies. For instance, until this May, adultery was a crime punishable by law with a prison sentence of up to one year. Another notable case is Taiwan’s war on drugs: it is taken very seriously, and punishment for the possession/use/sale of drugs can range from a 10,000 NTD fine to deportation to a death sentence (depending on the drug’s classification. Bear in mind, marijuana is considered a Category 2 drug, along with cocaine, amphetamines and opium). For details, check the Laws and Regulations Database.
11. Safety and success in the face of a global pandemic
Even though the last couple of months have been a slippery slope and we’ve been in and out of lockdown, Taiwan seems to have successfully prevented a downward spiral. Cases have plunged back down and things are slowly starting to re-open. Taiwan has overall demonstrated great competence in protecting public health and handling a global pandemic, serving as an example to countries around the world. I’m so grateful to have been here, to be here, and for that reason, I give it two thumbs up! I’m not gonna hammer this one home any more, because I think we’re all pretty fed up of thinking about COVID, but, if you’re planning on coming…
You may have to wait. Currently (as of June 11th 2021), the government has restricted entry to Taiwanese nationals and foreigners with valid Alien Resident Certificates (ARCs). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has temporarily halted visa application processing. When restrictions ease, it is possible you may still need to find employment before coming, so that your employer can apply for your work permit, giving you grounds for entry.
If you somehow have a valid ARC, here’s what you need to know about entering Taiwan during COVID. Currently what is required is a PCR test taken no longer than three days before departure, a 14-day quarantine at a quarantine hotel or government facility, and three tests taken over the duration of the quarantine. After that you’re home-free (as long as you wear a mask and social distance and complete all of the contact-tracing requirements!)!
12. The people!
Everyone puts this on their list for a reason – the Taiwanese people are truly some of the most gracious, hospitable and kind people you could ask for. Moving to a foreign country is daunting, especially when you don’t speak the language, but in Taiwan people will go out of their way to help you. It’s worth noting that in 2021 (as well as in years before), Taiwan snagged the 2nd spot in the InterNations list of The Top Ten Most Welcoming Countries.
What we have discovered is that if you stand somewhere looking confused enough for long enough, someone will approach you and try to help, often in English! I have been so grateful for so many of these moments – at the tax office, at the hospital, at the Taipei Main Station (a veritable labyrinth), once even a block from my own house looking for the pesky entrance to a 2nd floor hair salon. This is not so in other places – like say Hong Kong, where people generally don’t have the time of day for you (and who can blame them with a cost of living like that!). So here I feel incredibly lucky.
The people in our neighborhood have graciously accepted us. I smile and wave at neighbors along the street every day, and they smile and wave back. Around his work Luke has made several friends that chat him up (in Chinese, despite the fact that he doesn’t understand them) and give him tea and cigarettes regularly. Sometimes one of their young nephews even comes along to help translate. Having positive interactions and forging connections in a new place makes a world of difference when you’re a foreigner in a strange land!
I do feel I should include a caveat here that Taiwan is not a perfect utopia. It is not free of racism, prejudice or discrimination. White males tend to be the most openly welcomed foreigners, and the ones who fare the best. Foreigners of color may face racism or discrimination (in the English teaching industry, for example, schools will sometimes only hire white teachers from English-speaking countries, despite this being a discriminatory practice). There is also a difference in the acceptance of “expatriates” and “migrant workers”, an unfortunate distinction. Migrant workers are one of Taiwan’s most vulnerable populations, and often subject to poor treatment.
Some Important Considerations
The language barrier
Many expats move here having studied Mandarin in university, and I often find myself jealous of these well-prepared few. I opted for the far more practical Philosophy degree, which while Incredibly Useful, has not lent me an edge in knowing Chinese (Searle’s Chinese Room, anyone?).
I find the language barrier to be one of the most difficult things about living in Taiwan. Mandarin is not an easy language, and really learning it (and the characters!) requires a certain degree of dedication, of dogged persistence, and of the time I did not feel I had in my two years of teaching. But, as discussed above, Taiwan is a great place to learn, especially if you’re willing to build time for studying into your routine!
The language barrier can be frustrating, embarrassing and sometimes it can feel pretty isolating. But the good news is, growing numbers of people here speak English, particularly among younger generations (and particularly in Taipei). And, if you decide to learn Mandarin, know that it is incredibly gratifying when you finally manage to surmount those hurdles!
Work culture & job opportunities
Unless you’re coming from another Asian country, chances are the work culture might come as a bit of a shock. It’s normal for people here to work 6 days a week, and long hours. It is customarily expected (yet unspoken) that workers should wait for the boss to go home first. As a result, people often work a lot of unpaid overtime.
Even if the teaching website you’re looking at says you’ll be working 20 hours, you can bet it’s going to be much more than that (this is their way of telling you that you’ll be working 20 paid teaching hours, leaving out all of that extra good stuff like lesson planning, grading etc.). It is definitely a work culture, with a strictly hierarchical structure that might rub westerners the wrong way. It can take some time to adapt and adjust, but I think it definitely helps if you are realistic and mentally prepare!
Above and beyond the hard work, there aren’t that many job opportunities for English-speaking foreigners outside of teaching English (for which there are many and varied opportunities. Check Tealit, ESLCafe or Facebook). I’m not saying that other jobs don’t exist. Of course they do, but they can be sparse and hard to get. They often require proficiency in Chinese and employers are more likely to hire local Taiwanese talent.
I don’t say this to discourage you. A lot of people reinvent themselves when they come here. Even I have managed to make a successful career change! After two years of teaching, I took a year to develop my writing skills, and was able to get a content writing job with a company in Taipei! So, it can be done. But it may require some patience, grit and tenacity.
Luckily, more resources are beginning to crop up for foreigners seeking job opportunities, notably All Hands Taiwan. If you’re interested in this topic, or want to know more about Taiwan’s job market for foreigners, I highly recommend reading this article by Alan McIvor, who is a professional headhunter working in Taipei and knows the market first-hand!
So there you have it, 12 compelling reasons to move to Taiwan, plus some important considerations! Of course, keep in mind this is all just one person’s humble perspective. But hopefully no matter what it is that you’re looking for, this article has given you a good idea of whether or not Taiwan is a good fit for you!
Questions? Comments? Anecdotes? Affirmations? Drop them in the comments below! As always, thanks for reading ☺️