House Hunting in a Small Taiwanese Town – Step by Step Guide

Here is an exact step-by-step guide of how I found an apartment in a small Taiwanese town. You can use this guide to take the exact same steps and missteps I did in your house hunting adventure.

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I’m pretty sure that these characters mean “for rent.”
  1. Arrive in Taiwan with no job lined up, but at least $2000 in your bank account.
  2. Find the cheapest hotel in the nearest bigger town that you can. My boyfriend and I found a teensy-tiny room for $600 (NTD) per night in Chiayi. Be prepared to stay there way longer than what you originally intended.
  3. Go online to start your house hunt. Quickly discover that not many houses are listed on 591.com.tw for your small town and the ones that are listed all have strange requirements. For example, you must be two women, you must be a student, you must be a civil worker, you must agree to never buy a scooter…
  4. Give up on online house hunting. Decide to take the train out of the “city” to the tiny town next door, where you’ve been told houses are cheap, plentiful, and close to your boyfriend’s university. Spend the afternoon walking around, taking photos of signs that you think mean “for rent,” but you’re not sure because you don’t know any Chinese. But, by golly, you will learn this year.
  5. Have your boyfriend bring the photos to his university only to be told by his advisor that you and he are idiots and that most of your photos only mean “for sale.” So the advisor shows you the one photo you managed to take that actually means “for rent.” She calls the number, but the number doesn’t work.
  6. Go back to tiny town. Try taking photos again, this time armed with the characters “for rent.” You manage to take several photos of possible rentals. One woman notices you taking photos of her “for rent” sign. She is nice, comes out to talk to you and your boyfriend, then dials a number, and hands your boyfriend the phone.
    1. Your boyfriend spends several minutes talking to a man with heavily accented English. It’s determined that the man on the phone will come to meet you and boyfriend.
    2. The man arrives, but is clearly concerned that you and your boyfriend are foreigners. After grilling you about your jobs and determining that your boyfriend is “not a real student” because his classes do not start for another week, he grudgingly agrees to show you his “house.”
    3. The house is actually a garage with no windows, but which has been partitioned into rooms to resemble a very stuffy living room and several bedrooms. The saddest thing about the house are the fake windows with curtains covering the fact that the windows only show the aluminum walls of the garage. The man wants $10,000 (NWT). Sorry sir, but no thanks. It doesn’t matter, because the man tells you repeatedly that all foreigners are druggies and he is “too worried” to rent to you anyway. You thank him for his time, not sure how to convince someone that you’re not a druggie, and return home with your other photos from the day.
  7. The next day your boyfriend brings the new photos to his school, including some photos he’s taken in the bigger town next door where you are currently staying in a hotel. His advisor calls the numbers, but each and every number is only renting a single room. Unfortunately, you are a couple, and a room in a family house would just be really inappropriate. The advisor agrees, but writes down the addresses and prices for you anyway.
  8. The next day your boyfriend and you go to a house where the advisor has set up an appointment for you. You arrive exactly at 10 AM, the prescribed time, and wait, but no one shows up. A Taiwanese couple sees you waiting and asks if you need help. You say that you do and the couple offers to call the owner for you. The man calls and talks to the owner, but when he hangs up, the man has to admit sheepishly that the owner refuses to come speak to you because you are a foreigner. You thank the nice couple.
  9. Dejected, your boyfriend and you go on a walk looking for more numbers. You try calling two, but no one speaks English, which is really not their fault and you think yet again about how you’re determined to learn Chinese this year. You go home.
  10. The next day, you have another appointment with a room that the advisor called for you. You arrive at the apartment on time, but no one is around. You wait around outside, unwilling to call the number after the rejections from the last few days. At this point you’ve been in a hotel for over a week and all of your clothes stink. Suddenly an older gentleman pulls up on his scooter. He asks if you need help. You say yes, and he directs you to a doctor’s clinic across the street where he says a woman speaks English and knows the owner.
    1. You walk into the doctor’s clinic where a woman is on the phone. When she gets off, she says that her friend has already explained your problem and she will call the owner immediately. When she gets off the phone again she tells you that the woman is busy and it will be another ten minutes. In the meantime, would you like to pet her cat? Yes, please.
    2. Ten minutes later she accompanies you across the street to the apartment. The owner shows you the room. It is itty-bitty and smells like mold. The doctor shakes her head and tells you that it is too small for you. Yes, yes, it is. The woman thanks the owner, then brings you back over to her clinic.
    3. Back in the office, you see the older man again. He’s a doctor too and greets you warmly. He and the woman conference and they determine that they know a few places that they can call for you. You’re shocked by how sweet they are. The doctors set about calling patients and friends who might be renting places. Soon some patients show up and they begin calling friends too. The room is suddenly full of Taiwanese people, doctors and patients alike, all googling possible homes, calling friends, and dialing realtors. Pretty soon, they’ve set up an appointment with a friend of a friend who will be coming to pick you up in his car and drive you to an apartment.
    4. The man arrives, speaks no English, but smiles a lot and encourages your boyfriend’s flimsy attempts at Chinese, as you say goodbye to the kind doctors. He brings you to the apartment and it is beautiful. You agree to sign a contract. His wife writes up the paperwork. She is super friendly, knows some English, and repeats again and again that if you need any help to just call her.
  11. The next day the woman doctor calls you up to check that you like your new place. You gush about how lovely it is and how nice she is for doing this for you. You secretly make plans to buy the doctors flowers and a card to thank them for all they’ve done.
  12. You love your new apartment in tiny-town Taiwan.
Home sweet home!

Taiwan is cool because people are so willing to help you if they see you’re in trouble, like the nice doctors, the couple that helped us phone the apartment, and the woman who gave us the number of “you’re not a real student” man. Yes, we encountered some setbacks because we’re foreigners and don’t know Chinese. There is some stigma against foreigners, but overall people are super friendly and shockingly willing to help. I love Taiwan.

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