One of the biggest decisions you can make if you plan to move to Taiwan is where to live in Taiwan. If you are being sent over by a company or get recruited by a school overseas then you won’t have much of a choice on where to live. But the vast majority of people who come here (especially those who are here to teach in Taiwan) will need to decide where to live.
I’ve already covered the pros and cons of living in Taipei in a previous post, so I suggest checking that out for a more in depth look at what it’s like to live in Taipei. I’ll cover Taipei again, but I’ll also focus on some of the other areas most foreigners choose to live in, including Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan, and some other notable areas.
Living in Taipei
Taipei is the capital of Taiwan and is by far the biggest and most populated city in Taiwan with nearly 7 million people in the city and surrounding areas. It is also the most international city (by far) in Taiwan, so you generally have a choice about how much you want to immerse yourself in the culture.
Many people come here and completely immerse themselves in learning Chinese and/or Chinese culture, while others come here and only hang out with foreigners. The great thing about Taipei is that you can easily do either of those two things or even a mixture of them and no one will care or bother you about it.
In terms of jobs, Taipei has the most English teaching jobs and also most other kinds of jobs held by foreigners. That’s why so many foreigners fly into Taipei and just decide to stay here. From buxiban (cram school jobs), to teaching in public schools, Taipei is generally one of the best places to look for jobs.
Other nice things about Taipei
- Great public transportation system, so it’s easy and convenient to get around the city and there isn’t a need for a scooter (see my post on driving a scooter in Taiwan).
- Surrounded my mountains, which means there are tons of hiking/outdoors activities you can do regularly.
- Close to lots of touristy activities, which is great for learning about Taiwan.
Living in Kaohsiung
Kaohsiung is the 2nd largest city in Taiwan and is about 200 miles south of Taipei. There are nearly 3 million people in metropolitan Kaohsiung, so while it isn’t as big as Taipei, it’s still a fairly large city.
Kaohsiung has really developed a lot of the past 10 years or so, and is becoming more international and modern. However, Kaohsiung still definitely doesn’t feel as international as Taipei and there are a lot less foreigners living there. But there are still many western restaurants, bars and other places and it’s continuing to grow, so you can generally find western things whenever you want them.
There is also a decent size foreign community and because it’s a large city there are many English teaching opportunities there as well.
Some of the other nice things about living in Kaohsiung are:
- Much better weather than Taipei (it’s hotter, sunnier and generally rains a lot less despite being only a couple hundred miles away).
- Close to Kenting (about a two hour bus trip away), which is Taiwan’s preeminent (and really only) tropical style beach town/resort area. (Click here to see what hotels are available in Kenting)
- Close to mountains with good hiking and outdoors activities. Make sure to go see the monkeys at Monkey Mountain if you live in Kaohsiung.
- A little cheaper than Taipei in terms of living costs.
Living in Taichung
Many foreigners I’ve met in Taiwan love Taichung. I think it’s because it embodies the best aspects of Taiwan. It’s still a relatively large city (approximately 2.6 million people), but it doesn’t feel as large or anonymous as cities like Taipei and Kaohsiung do.
Taichung is pretty easy to get around and generally you can get from one side of the city to the other in under 30 minutes. Taichung also has fantastic weather and despite being only about 100 miles South of Taiwan experiences far less rainy days that Taipei. It’s actually pretty amazing how often it is raining in Taipei and be a beautiful sunny day in Taichung. Taichung is also a lot more laid back than other parts of the island.
Perhaps because of a combination of the great features, Taichung has a pretty good sized foreigner community and I know many people live there for years. I know several foreigners who teach in Taichung and they say finding a job isn’t too difficult as long as you’re willing to look.
- Much better weather than Taipei (often compared to California’s weather due to the frequency of dry days). I’m jealous of how nice their weather is every time it rains in Taipei (which is a lot).
- Central location in Taiwan makes it easy to explore all over the island. Taipei and Kaohsiung are just an hour away each via the high-speed rail, and other fun things to do like Alishan and Sun Moon Lake are close by.
- Great laid back lifestyle.
- Close enough to hiking trails if outdoors activities are your thing.
- Cheaper to live in than Taipei or Kaohsiung
Living in Tainan
I’ve lived in Tainan and know it very well. Tainan has a population of 1.8 million, and while that seems to be pretty big for most of us from the west, the city itself is actually pretty small.
You can drive from one end of Tainan to the other in about 20-30 minutes and there really aren’t many tall buildings. Tainan has a very relaxed and laid back atmosphere.
In terms of weather, as long as you don’t mind the heat it’s fantastic. It’s not as temperate as Taichung, but it has nearly as many sunny days and is warmer, which is great during the winter. Tainan also has a close knit foreigner community and chances are you’ll get to know a good amount of them since more people frequent the same restaurants, bars, clubs, etc.
I highly recommend Tainan to anyone who doesn’t want to live in a big city and wants something more laid back. Here are some more reasons that living in Tainan might be for you:
- Very easy to get around. You can get most places in 10-20 minutes by scooter, so you can live anywhere in the city you want and not worry about getting to work.
- Very laid back compared to other parts of Taiwan.
- The food in Tainan is known for being amongst the best in Taiwan and it’s also cheaper.
- Significantly lower cost of living than the other cities, especially Taipei (my rent in Tainan for a similar apartment was 1/2 the price of my rent in Taipei)
- Close to Kaohsiung (about 45 minutes by regular train) for bigger city adventures, and also relatively close to Kenting (about 2.5-3 hours away)
Other Places to Check Out
- Kenting is a small beach resort town. There aren’t too many jobs down there, but if you love the beach it’s worth taking a look to see what’s available.
- Yilan is on the coast and close to some decent beaches and is especially popular amongst surfers. I know some people who live in Yilan and commute into Taipei (about 1 hour away by) because they like living there so much.
- Hualien is a small city in eastern Taiwan. To be honest I haven’t heard that many great things about living in Hualien, but I do know some people like it there because it’s much quieter and there are many really cool places nearby like Taroko Gorge.
- Taitung is a small city in southeastern Taiwan. Not too many foreigners live there, but if you are trying to get away and really immerse yourself in a different culture thenTaitung may be a good option. I haven’t been there, but I know many people who have and they say there are many beautiful places to see there.
So, you have made up your mind. You are ready to make the move and you have your destination city all lined up.
But, what exactly do you need to do in order to make that happen? What needs to be done to ensure the smoothest transition?
10 Steps for Moving to Taiwan
Before you rush to your computer and start searching for the cheapest flights, you need to get some other things, like paperwork in order.
1. Your Passport
The most important part of this trip is going to be your passport. Whether you are planning on teaching English in Taiwan, learning Chinese or exploring the island from Taipei 101 to the beaches of Kenting, you will need a passport.
If you don’t have one, get one. If you do have one, make sure that it doesn’t expire within 6 months of your departure. Nothing good comes from trying to enter the country with a soon-to-expire passport, and it’s much easier to renew it in your home country anyway.
You will also want to make sure your passport has a few blank pages in it. Running out of pages while in the middle of obtaining a residence visa, or even while traveling around Asia, can be an expensive mistake. I also recommend making a few copies of your passport. Keep one copy in your checked luggage, one copy in your carry-on luggage and one copy on you.
2. Your Visa
Once you have sorted out your passport situation, you will want to decide how you will handle the visa situation. The Bureau of Consular Affairs has a very thorough breakdown of the various visas that the Taiwanese government offer, available here. I could go into more detail, but it’s best to get the info straight from the horse’s mouth.
One thing that I think is important to point out though, is that if you plan to move to Taiwan, you may want to opt for a visitor’s visa. You can change a visitors visa to a residence visa inside Taiwan.
The last time I arrived at Taiwan and entered visa-exempt, I had to leave Taiwan for Hong Kong on a visa run. I was told that since I did not have a visa, I had nothing that could be changed into a residence visa. If I would have had a visitor’s visa, I could have had that changed into a residence visa.
>> Definitely double check before you go. This changes all too often. Currently, people have been having no problem with getting a landing visa changed while in Taiwan, but these things change like the wind.
To make a long story short, if you plan on heading to Taiwan for travel and fun, you may not have any need for a visitor’s visa. But, if you are looking to move to Taiwan for a year or more, applying for a visitor’s visa will probably be worth the time and money.
3. Find Your Flight
Now that you have your passport and visa sorted, you can get to the actual travel planning. I remember my excitement while searching for a flight on the Internet at 3 am. I remember the excitement of finding the best deal available. I remember entering my credit card number and personal information right before finalizing the order. I also remember the fairly long layover I had in Los Angeles.
It’s always important to keep and eye on your budget, especially if you are relocating internationally, but I suggest seeking value more than solely focusing on the bottom line. Stepping out of Taipei Taoyuan International Airport with nothing more than a suitcase and good intentions can be as shocking as it is exciting. Add fatigue and irritability to that shock, and your move could be starting off on the wrong foot.
Of course you need to mind your budget, but the cheapest flight may not always be the flight offering you the best value.
If you have decent credit, you might also be able to leverage that into a free flight. It will take a little extra planning, but the savings often make it worth it.
Another important detail to be aware of when purchasing your flight ticket is the idea of having an onward destination. For those of you with international travel experience, this should not be the first time you have encountered this. If it’s your first time flying into another country, it’s something to be aware of. While not all customs officials will ask you for proof of how you will leave Taiwan once your visa expires, some occasionally do.
There are a couple of ways to handle this.
If money is not a concern, you can always get an open-ended round trip ticket. This is a nice safe way to check out Taiwan and have a way back to your home country if things don’t work out. I was on a rather tight budget when I made my initial move to Taiwan, so I instead bought a one-way ticket from Philadelphia to Taipei (with the aforementioned layover in Los Angeles). I then purchased the cheapest one-way outgoing flight from Taipei that I could find. In my case, it was a ticket from Taipei to Hong Kong.
It served a few purposes. It was proof for my onward destination that I may be asked to show. It was also built in damage control in case I needed to make a visa run. That is, extend my stay in Taiwan by getting another visitor’s visa in a Taiwanese embassy outside of the country.
I ended up just trashing my ticket to Hong Kong, which is apparently frowned upon by the airlines, but it ended up being of no use to me, and it was non-refundable. So, going with a refundable ticket may be a safer bet.
Regardless of the route you decide to take, making sure you have all your bases covered will make your move or visit go as smoothly as possible.
4. Your Accommodation
The next logical step is figuring out where you will hang your hat when you first arrive. A lot of this depends on your plans, and if you have a job or study program established before you arrive. If you do, then there is a good chance that they will help with your accommodation. If you don’t, then there are a few obvious options available: hostel, hotel, apartment, or an acquaintance.
Up until a couple of years ago, hostel availability in Taiwan was incredibly limited. Now there is a rather healthy selection by comparison. Using hostels is a very good way to see different parts of Taiwan on the cheap. It is also a great place to meet other travelers or job seekers.
The best part is that you aren’t planting roots which opens up more work or study possibilities.
The upgraded version of using a hostel is booking a hotel room, but they can be costly, and you can end up socially isolating yourself. However, the older I get, the more likely the chance I decide on this avenue as opposed to a hostel, mostly because I just like the extra privacy and nicer accommodations after a long flight.
I’ve personally been using Agoda.com over the last few years both in Taiwan and when I travel to nearby countries as well.
I strongly advise against jumping into an apartment, whether it’s a place you rent by yourself, or a place you enter as a roommate, unless you already know where you will study or work. Though Taiwan is small, the commute times from one part of a city to another part can be quite lengthy.
And of course all of this is moot if you have a friend or relative willing to put you up until you get settled. Once you know where you will stay, make sure to get the address, because you will need to write that on your disembarkation card which you have to present to Taiwanese immigration.
*You will find Airbnb listings in Taiwan, but they technically illegal from my understanding. I have used them a couple of times and didn’t have any problems, but your milage may vary.
5. Your Bank
At this point you may think you are good to go, but you aren’t quite ready to move to Taiwan just yet. There is a little housekeeping you may want to do.
Firstly, you will want to contact your bank, and let them know you will be traveling overseas to Taiwan. There is ample ATM access here, but many banks have security measures in place, and if you try to use your ATM card outside of your home country, you could end up with a frozen bank account.
6. Your Mail
Something else you might consider is setting up a mail forwarder. I did not do this when I first traveled to Taiwan, and I wish that I had. Having the ability to manage your mail from home while in Taiwan without burdening a friend of family member is worth the small fee, in my opinion.
7. Your Documents
Now that you are finally ready to fly to and enter Taiwan, there are a few things you should know about immigration at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. If it’s your first time flying into an Asian country, the initial imagery may be a little intimidating and overwhelming. The good news is that the airport has become more and more English language friendly, as far as signs and directories, over the last few years.
The immigration officials are fairly easy-going as well. If all of your documents are in order, they may not ask you anything. If they do ask you a few questions, I would avoid mentioning that you are seeking a job. You don’t want to complicate visa matters.
8. Your Luggage
After you pass through immigration you will be directed to the baggage claim. It should go without being said, but do not attempt to traffic illegal drugs into Taiwan. Don’t even think about it. One thing you will notice when gather your luggage are the giant signs on the baggage carousel stating that drug trafficking is punishable by death.
I have even seen dogs sniffing for contraband the last couple of times I have entered the country. The Taiwanese government takes drug trafficking very seriously, regardless if you are a foreigner or a local. It’s not worth losing your life over. Don’t do it.
Once you have your luggage you will walk through customs. Most people have nothing to declare and walk through the final gate without any problem. On the other side of customs is Taiwan. You will be steered through a short pathway that leads into a lobby where people will be waiting for their friends and family.
9. Your Transportation
It’s almost time to celebrate, but not quite yet. Depending on what part of the island you chose to spend your first night in, you need to get there from the airport.
You will most likely arrive via Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. It’s a bit outside of the major Taiwanese cities. There are buses, but if you don’t speak or read Chinese, and you’ve been on the road for double-digit hours, you’ll most likely want to grab a taxi outside of the airport. Head to either somewhere in Taipei, or have the driver take you to the train station that is most convenient for you final destination.
The airport is now also connected to the MRT, which is extremely convenient if you’re heading to somewhere near an MRT station.
One last word of advice about your trip. If you choose to use a taxi, try and take an official airport taxi. They are metered and legitimate. There are occasionally other cars-for-hire that linger outside of the airport. They are usually people using their personal vehicles trying to make some money on the side. Most of them are honest people who aren’t looking for any trouble, but it’s safer to just use a metered company cab.
10. Welcome to Taiwan
And there you have it; a step-by-step process on how to leave your home and move to Taiwan. If you are truly considering making the journey, I hope this guide will make the process as smooth as possible.