The biggest thing I’ve learned is that you can’t move to Taiwan if you haven’t got a stock pile of cash to get you through the first few shockingly expensive months.
1. Finding apartments outside of the big city isn’t easy.
I live in a small town by Taiwanese standards and finding apartments on my own was rough. You can read about my experience here. In the end it all worked out, but good Lord was it stressful spending all my savings on a hotel every night while not getting any closer to finding a real place to live.
2. Hotels aren’t always listed online in English.
Speaking of staying in a hotel for the first few weeks, when I tried to book our first hotel online, I wound up paying much more than necessary. I’ve found that booking hotels in Taiwan online in English is not easy.
Pro tip: If you’re not looking to stay in a luxury place and you’re looking for cheap accommodation, either wait until you arrive to find a hotel, or have a friend book the place for you in Chinese. The places listed on English websites are often the most expensive.
3. You’ll have to pay the first three month’s rent.
And, oh yeah, if you do find an apartment, expect to pay the first few months’ rent in advance as a deposit. I’d actually expected this, as the same practice is common in Hanoi where I lived last year, but three months’ rent is a heck of a lot of dough, and it hurts pulling all that cash out of the ATM.
4. Taiwan is still a pretty cash-based society.
Taiwan is not as extreme as Vietnam or the Czech Republic when it comes to using cash instead of cards, but I still find that I have to use cash more often than card, even for bigger bills like my rent payment.
This means that you’ll have to use an ATM regularly to get at your reserves of foreign bills. While this is cheaper than bringing foreign cash and trying to exchange it in Taiwan (and more reliable as Taiwan banks seem pretty picky about the denominations they accept), you’ll still be getting hit with foreign ATM withdrawal fees. Those pesky little fees can add up quick, especially when you’re living off your savings.
5. It’s tough finding teaching work outside of August.
I moved to Taiwan at the end of August, and mistakenly thought I’d have no problem finding a job, but it was actually incredibly stressful, as most places had just finished their hiring process. If you can swing it, I’d arrive at the beginning of August or end of July to avoid the stress.
6. You might not get paid right away.
This was the roughest thing about moving to Taiwan. I had to empty my savings paying for a hotel and getting an apartment, and then I didn’t get paid for ages. It was about three months before I received my first proper paycheck under the guise that I was only “training” for about the first two months. So even though I was working what felt like full-time hours, I wasn’t getting paid full-time. It sucked and that first paycheck was a huge let down.
7. Taxes are a doozy.
18% will come out of your paycheck and go towards Taiwanese income tax on foreigners. That doesn’t include the deductions for health insurance and such either. To be honest, I don’t entirely understand the tax system. I know it’s different for foreigners than Taiwanese and I know that I’m supposed to eventually get my money back. But I also know that in the meantime I’m only seeing 48,000TND of my 60,000TND salary. And I wish I’d been aware of this before signing my contract. Yikes.
So in the end, yes, you can save money in Taiwan, but only after digging a heck of a hole for yourself in the first few months.
My advice? Taiwan’s awesome, and I’m excited to spend the next year or so here, but this is not one of those backpacker countries where you can work for a few months and then get out with no strings attached. You can do well. Don’t get me wrong, but do your research, arrive with a stockpile of cash, and plan on staying at least a year to make the expensive move worth it.