If you decide to move to Taiwan, inevitably you are going to have to ask yourself whether you want to move to Taipei, or one of the other places on the island like Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan, Yilan and Hualian. We’ll do a comparison post soon that highlights the major positives and negatives for each city, but for now we are just focusing on the benefits and negatives of Taipei.
The reason for this is that most people we know either wanted to come to Taipei, or they wanted to go someplace else (and only after making this decision did they look into the other popular places to go in Taiwan besides Taipei).
5 Benefits to Living in Taipei
There are many reasons why someone might consider living in Taipei, but here are the five most common.
1. The most jobs
Taipei is the largest city on the island with nearly 7 million people in the metropolitan area (roughly 1/3 of the total Taiwan population), so it’s no surprise that the majority of English teaching jobs (and other jobs available to foreigners) are based in Taipei. In terms of English teaching jobs, there are many English cram schools in basically every neighborhood in Taipei and also the surrounding New Taipei City area.
As such, finding a teaching job in Taipei can be relatively easy if you are willing to do a bit of legwork after you arrive (i.e. sending out a few resumes and doing some interviews). Almost everyone you ask has been able to find an English teaching job in Taipei in a month or two after they arrived, and often they found jobs much faster.
2. Excellent transportation system
Taipei’s MRT (subway) first opened in 1996 and now has multiple lines that run all over the city. The MRT is fast, clean, efficient, and really one of the best in the world. It’s very easy to navigate and get around to most places in the city quickly using the MRT.
The MRT can be used to go to work or just go exploring around the city on the weekends. This means that it’s always easy to find something to do or someplace to go.
The bus system is also very useful and although it’s in Chinese, it’s pretty easy to figure out using Google Maps and some other resources. The bus system supplements the MRT nicely and can sometimes be faster than the MRT. While many residents have scooters (the mode of transportation for many Taiwanese), many foreign workers generally only use them if they choose to live somewhere that isn’t close to the MRT.
Unlike those who live in smaller cities like Tainan that rely on a scooter all the time, it’s really nice to live in Taipei and not have to deal with a 20-30 minute commutes through crazy traffic.
3. Lots of foreigners
Depending on your reason for coming to Taiwan, having lots of foreigners around could either be a positive or negative. For now, let’s go over the positives.
There are lots of bars and clubs that foreigners go to as well as many activity groups (hiking, rugby, soccer, yoga, etc.) so it’s always easy to find other foreigners to hang out with. In the beginning, it can be very helpful to have other foreigners who can help you settle in and get used to Taiwan. For many foreigners, having other similar minded people around is key, so if you think you are in this boat, then Taipei is the best place to go.
4. Restaurants and nightlife
Taipei has no shortage of international restaurants and pretty much every kind of food can be found in Taipei, from Mexican to Ethiopian. If you aren’t thrilled with eating only Taiwanese food, then Taipei definitely has the culinary options to satisfy the vast majority of people.
At the same time, Taipei has an active nightlife with a very good range of bars, clubs, music and other activities. If you like to go out and party, you won’t be disappointed with Taipei’s nightlife which can often end at 4 or 5 am.
5. English language ability of Taiwanese
Taipei definitely has the highest concentration of people who are able to communicate in English. This makes getting around and figuring out things, especially as a newcomer, much easier. Most college students can speak at least a little bit of English if needed and you can generally find people to speak enough English to help you out when needed.
That’s not to say that everyone speaks English really well, or at all (i.e. taxi drivers, 7/11 clerks, etc.), but in Taipei the odds are in your favor that you will be able to find plenty of Taiwanese who can converse at a decent to high-level of English.
If you are new to Taiwan and worried about communication issues, Taipei is definitely a good place to consider.
5 Negatives of Living in Taipei
As great as some of the reasons are fo living in Taipei, there are some potential drawbacks too. Here are five of the biggest.
1. Jobs can sometimes be harder to find
Although there are definitely more jobs available in Taipei than other places, there are also a lot more foreigners trying to get those jobs. Since the majority of foreigners coming to Taiwan choose Taipei, it means that competition for available jobs can sometimes be difficult.
If you are willing to going to a smaller city, or a less populated area, it can actually sometimes be easier to find a job due to less competition. We don’t see this as a huge issue because almost all foreigners we know found jobs relatively quickly in Taipei, however, it may be of value to you to consider elsewhere on the island.
2. Large, densely populated city
While Taipei has a great MRT system, it needs to because it’s a huge city with millions of people. If you don’t like big, congested cities, then you probably want to think of checking out other places in Taiwan.
In Tainan, you can generally get everywhere in the city in about 20 minutes, so getting around can be a breeze. At the same time, it’s also much easier to get outside of the city and go explore in the countryside on a scooter if you want.
If you are the kind of person that likes to quickly and easily get outside the city on your own transportation (i.e. scooter), then Taipei may not be the place for you.
3. Lots of foreigners
As we mentioned, having lots of foreigners around may not be a great thing depending on your intentions for coming to Taiwan. When there are lots of foreigners around, it’s easy to use them as a crutch and never really integrate yourself into Taiwanese life. If your goal is to learn about a new culture, make Taiwanese friends, or learn Chinese, then having so many foreigners easily accessible may not be such a good thing. When living in Taipei, it’s pretty easy to speak English at work and speak English with all your friends, which makes it harder to learn Chinese.
If you go to one of the smaller cities, it becomes much harder to get by without speaking at least a little Chinese in daily life.
4. Cost of living
The cost of living in Taipei, from rent to transportation, is higher than other places (sometimes considerably). Renting in smaller cities like Tainan can be considerably cheaper.
Getting a taxi, going out to dinner and just general living expenses tend to be the highest in Taipei and can definitely add up over time. Entertainment options are also more expensive in Taipei. Taipei has so many good places to go (restaurants, bars, clubs, etc.) that it’s easy to burn through money, especially on the weekends.
If your goal is to come to Taiwan and save a lot of money, then either you need to be disciplined while living in Taipei, or you may want to consider somewhere else where there are either less places to go or less expensive options.
5. English language ability of Taiwanese
If your goal is to learn Chinese, having so many people who speak English really well may not be a good thing. In Taipei, it’s easy to make friends with Taiwanese who already speak English really well. You you probably won’t get a chance to practice Chinese with these kinds of friends (not because they won’t want to help you, but because it’s easy and natural to revert to English when they speak it so much better than you can speak Chinese).
Many people find it much harder to pick up Chinese in Taipei than in other smaller cities and more rural areas because so many people in Taipei already speak English at such a high-level. If you think you can avoid these traps, or are dedicated to learning and won’t let it get in your way, then don’t worry about it. However, if you think this may have an impact on your learning, then you probably want to consider whether a different place may be better suited to studying Chinese.
As you can see, there are both positives and negatives of choosing Taipei as your home base for living in Taiwan. But, as we don’t want to dwell on the negative, knowing what fun things there are to do instead of simply the general positives might help you make up your mind too.
5 Fun Things to Do Around Taipei
Taipei is in a basin and so it’s surrounded by mountains. If you like hiking then you’ll love living in Taipei because there are a large number of great hiking trails. Yangminshan is the tallest mountain in the area and it is a really nice hike that takes about two hours up and about 1.5 hours down.
At Yangminshan you’ll also get to see some interesting things like the sulfur deposits, which billow up from the rocks (just make sure to hold your nose as you walk by!).
Another very popular hike is Elephant Mountain (you can see the view from the mountain in this post). Elephant mountain itself is a short (but steep) hike that only takes 15-20 minutes, but once you get to the top there are other trails that can be done in about 1-2 hours. The view on top of Elephant Mountain at sunset is spectacular and it’s not to be missed.
There are dozens of other great hiking trails all over the city and surrounding area, so you will always have access to new hikes to try out.
Biking is another very popular outdoor activity in Taiwan and the great news is that there are lots of good places to go biking. If you aren’t scared of biking on the streets, then going for rides on mountain roads is a great way to get some exercise and see some really pretty parts of Taiwan (note: biking on streets is popular, but just like driving a scooter it can be a little risky).
Taipei also has many excellent bike paths that line the rivers that run through the city. I’ve done most of my biking on the river paths and highly recommend it. What’s great about the river paths is that there are many bike rental stations set up in various spots around the city, so it’s easy to rent a bike for an afternoon and go for a ride on the river.
Taipei City also has a fantastic bike rental service called Youbike (see main picture of this post for Youbikes). Youbike has many stations around the city that house public bikes. Basically, all you need to do is scan your Easy Card (same card as used on the MRT) to unlock a bike and then you can ride it around and return it to any Youbike station. Over the last few years the service has become extremely popular and the government has expanded the number of locations so that they are all over the city.
Eating in Taiwan is as much an activity as it is a meal. There are so many great kinds of cuisines to try and if you like Asian food you’ll definitely love the variety that can be found here.
I’ve covered night markets before and they are a fantastic way to try out various Taiwanese dishes. Hot pot restaurants are fun to go to in the colder months. At hot pot restaurants you get a big bowl of soup in a simmering pot along with a variety of uncooked meats and vegetables and you throw the food in and cook it in the pot. Teppenyaki is actually from Japan, but it’s very popular here and one of my favorite kinds of food in Taiwan.
There are also great barbecue places, dim sum restaurants, and many other kinds of cuisines.
Taipei has many great places to shop, especially if you are a girl. In the Zhonxiao Dunhua area there are tons of small clothing shops with a variety of styles. You can get everything from name brand stuff to funky clothing in this area and the prices range from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars (USD) depending on the shop.
Night markets are also great shopping areas and you can go to places like the Shilin night market and Shida night market (near Taipower MRT stop) to check out many different kinds of clothes and shoes. One place not to be missed is the famed Wufenpu garment market. Wufenpu has hundreds of small stalls and stores hawking the latest fashion from all over Asia and is definitely worth a visit just to check out even if you aren’t interested in shopping.
Taipei has a great nightlife. Whether you are looking for bars, clubs, music, and even things like comedy shows, chances are you’ll be able to find the kinds of activities you want to do.
If you are a late night person then you will definitely love living in Taipei because you can easily stay out until 3 or 4am (or even later at some bars/clubs).
If alcohol isn’t your thing then there are a lot of other options like movie theaters with the latest movies from around the world (Taipei has numerous 3D and even a couple iMax theaters), night markets, eating at restaurants, bowling, pool, and more.
Are you ready to visit and maybe move to Taipei? Check out the Taiwan Go Sheet below: