Living in Taiwan: 16 Things About Taiwanese Expat Life

Andrew Bliss marching with Amnesty International in Kaohsiung's gay pride parade.

Andrew Bliss marching with Amnesty International in Kaohsiung’s gay pride parade.

Andrew Bliss has lived in China, South Korea and now Taiwan, his home for the past six years. In his years living throughout Asia and Taiwan he has: mastered Chinese, secured a position teaching at the university level (which includes four months of paid vacation) and recently started his own company called The Adventurous Mailbox, which intends to help kids back in the US understand cultures around the world, all the while also running his editing company.

As such a seasoned expat I had to hear more of Andrew’s story about life and lessons learned living in Taiwan for my ongoing series about people who learned to live abroad. Here are the top 15 things to know about living in Taiwan as an expat.

1.       Teaching English is a way to make money, just not the most fabulous way


As I have heard from almost everyone I spoke to about teaching English to little kids, Andrew was not an enormous fan of it. Although he likes to teach at the university level, he describes teaching little kids as, “you end up being a rodeo clown — dancing around trying to entertain the kids so the parents will be happy. You do not get a lot of satisfaction out of it.”

2. Connections in your own country are important, your connections in Taiwan are even more important

When trying to learn about other jobs, make friends and get along with life in Taiwan, Andrew believes, “It is all about your connections. Once you have a base of contacts and a group of friends you can relax. When people first arrive they typically befriend other expats or people who want to practice English, but making an inroad with the locals is the only way you are going to develop a strong work and social network. It is a bit of a struggle at first.”

His advice for new expats in Taiwan? “You have to think about the kind of people you like and how to find these people in Taiwan. If you are an artist, find the artists… if you’re a health nut, join a soccer team.  If you are not that social it is hard. Some people are only befriending you to speak English and you are befriending them because you do not know anyone else. It took me a good year in China before I met my first real friend. You have to spend time by yourself for awhile and be ok with that.”

3.       Be very careful with who you do business with online in Taiwan

In regards to finding jobs teaching English in Taiwan or other jobs in Taiwan online Andrew warns, “It is really hard because a lot of websites are just littered with placement guys who are not very honest. There are a lot of people who get placed in a situation which is nothing like what they were promised.” With this precaution in mind Andrew recommends using forumosa.com, tealit.com, or city-specific message boards as good places to start looking for jobs for Taiwanese expats. He also recommends to try and contact a local on the ground try to verify the legitimacy of all potential job opportunities.

4.       Learn the language untraditionally

Andrew can speak Chinese he did not however learn to do so within the traditional ways. Unlike the traditional language classes that many attend Andrew “does not recommend Chinese classes here because as people from the US we are accustomed to learning in a manner different than how they teach. In Taiwan they learn set responses to set questions and set situations. It makes learning how to interact with the language in real situations more challenging.” Instead, Andrew’s approach was to, “only be friends with the locals. Once you show effort to know their language, they will totally open up to you and teach you the language you need. Grammar and whatnot you can study on your own, but the best teachers are by far local friends. I know expats who have lived here for 12 years and do not know the language, outside of ordering a beer. I don’t know how you can live here for 12 years and not be able to speak to 90 percent of the population.”

5.       Think outside of the US budget

“In Taiwan I spend 400 dollars a month for rent for a place five times as big a my friends’ apartments in New York, and my friends here tell me I spend too much. The Taiwanese are very frugal. Food is a lot cheaper in Taiwan than in the US. They do not cook very much in Taiwan as food is so cheap and they go out a lot. They have Buddhist vegetarian buffets all over the place where I can go and can get a plateful of Wholefoods-quality food for a dollar.”

6.       How to find a place to live

Andrew recommends forumosa.com and tealit.com as great places for expats to look to find places to live in Taiwan. Andrew also recommends, “to figure out the location where you want to live and then learn the Chinese character for rent. Then, walk around the streets in the neighborhood you want to live in and look for the “for rent” signs in the windows. You can have a friend call the number for you if you can’t speak Chinese.  Usually, prospective landlords will be thrilled to rent to you as Westerners have the positive stereotype of not only taking care of their homes, but also making them look better.”

7.       Beware of the drivers

When Andrew was asked about the biggest frustrations of living in Taiwan his immediate response was, “The drivers. It is so dangerous. I have seen too many people flying through the air from a scooter crash.”

8.        Making friendships can not only have language barriers but cultural challenges

“People here really feel so much responsibility to their family that it makes it difficult to have a deep relationship with them. In Confucian societies it is about respect and the obligation to take care of the family.  It is also about relating to each other as the position or status they hold, and it is rare to find people who can truly open up.”

9.       The best way to get a Taiwanese visa

If you are interested in working in Taiwan Andrew recommends, “The best thing to do is to come in on a tourist visa and then find a job while you are here. Then you will fly to Hong Kong for the weekend and go to the Taiwanese embassy and get your work visa and fly back. If you decide on a job and handle the visa Stateside, you run the risk of arriving for a job in Taiwan that is not ideal.  If you decide on a job before coming, you definitely need to ask for contact information for other foreigners working there.” If you would like to simply live in Taiwan Andrew said, “People do visa runs every 30 days all the time in Taiwan, which is simply leaving the country and coming back in on a landing visa. There is no limit to the number of times you can do it.”

10.   How to handle health care in Taiwan

“I love paying taxes in this country because the money goes to the national health care system. I had this thing on my eye, I went to the doctor, had surgery, got medicine and in the end I paid 10 dollars. When I turned forty I got a full medical checkup and it cost 5 dollars. If you have a job you get the basic health insurance. With that health insurance if you break your arm, you are good. Even better, preventive care, dental, and even Chinese medicine is covered.  If you get cancer you are going to have to have additional health insurance to cover some of that. I just got New York Life Insurance to cover the catastrophic stuff and I pay 100 dollars a month and that covers just about everything.”

11.   Taiwan is not safe, it is “ridiculously safe”

When asked how he felt about the level of safety in Taiwan Andrew noted it was, “Ridiculously safe. No guns. No drugs. There are some bad gangster folks down south but there is not very much violent crime. You need to be careful with your stuff as you do anywhere. Otherwise it is really safe.”

12.   Taiwanese Internet out performs the US

Little known fact about Taiwan? Almost the entire country is wireless AND Andrew feels the Internet connectivity and speed in Taiwan is, “better than the US.”

13.   In work environments there may always be an element of you being the foreigner

“I am left out of a lot of meetings because I am a foreigner and they want things to run as they always have. They do not want anyone providing any suggestions. They do not want anyone to rock the boat. In the US we value new ideas and innovation, but here it is about the master and student, with the latter slowly learning all the master has to offer, without questioning or offering new ideas along the way. Here it is the boss that has all the power and when he retires, whoever followed his example the best gets his job.”

And in educational environments it is not any different. “Here if you ask the professor a question or disagree with them they get out right angry with you. Professors do not want any of the students to do better than them. There is not the idea of students succeeding, perhaps more than the professors, to move the whole system forward.”

14.   Life as a gay man in Taiwan

“Taiwan is the best place in Asia for gay people. Taipei even has the largest gay pride parade in Asia.  That said, many of the gay guys in Taiwan will still get married and have a baby to make their parents happy and then get a divorce. It can make it really hard to have a relationship as a gay man here. However, younger Taiwanese kids do not have any issues with the gay community. At my university, my students and colleagues know I’m gay, and there is no problem at all. I do not march down the street and tell people as if it’s the most important thing about me, but when they ask why I am not married I tell them it’s because same sex marriage is still illegal in Taiwan. I am in the process now of starting the first gay organization at my university, with a few out students. At first students were terrified to join, but now both gay and straight students want to join. What you do not have here is a big section of the country violently opposed to it like you do in the US. It is not a Christian country so they do not have the bible to fall back on as their weapon.”

15.   The liberation of living in Taiwan

What does Andrew love about his life in Taiwan? “I get freaked out by the judgment back home and how you define yourself by your job or even your social identification, whether you’re a hipster, a big flaming queer, or a good Christian. People hear the slightest bit about you and then draw on common thought to form a complete impression of you, and then judge you on how well you are living up to their expectations of what a hipster or family man should be. There is a strange unspoken and constant competition in the United States, whereas over here no one has any expectations of me and it is absolutely liberating in that way.”

16. Learn More about Taiwan

Know more before you go! Learn the basics of visiting Taiwan, how to get around and get great background on the area and get the A to Z: Taiwan Culture Guide – the must have for anyone going for 3 days or 3 years!

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You can contact Andrew for further questions about living in Taiwan at [email protected]

 



10 thoughts on “Living in Taiwan: 16 Things About Taiwanese Expat Life

  1. This is an excellent summary that covers many of the things that I talk about at my blog about living and teaching in Taiwan in depth. I agree with Andrew that Taiwan is incredibly safe. It’s probably the safest place I’ve ever lived in or traveled to and you can literally go to 99% of place any time of day or night and not worry about anything. However, on the flip side traffic here can be very intense and there are many accidents due to crazy drivers and large numbers of scooter weaving in and out of lines. So while Taiwan is indeed very safe from a crime perspective, you do need to take some precautions while on the road. You can read more about Taiwan at my blog Teach English in Taiwan.

  2. I completely agree. this is dead-on-accurate. all the good, all the bad.

    In my experience here, as an American-born Asian, I have found that, the people in general, are nice, and somewhat conservative.

    I am generalizing/stereotyping, but:
    They can come off really open, on the surface level, but deeper down, they are not really that open to new things/ideas, mostly due to the traditions and values stated in the above article. I have found it very difficult to truly be “great” friends with 95% of the local Taiwanese people I have met. I have tried my absolute best, but I have found differences in communication styles to be the biggest obstacle/wall.

    Therefor, in my experience, I prefer America. because people are just more open/chill/free, in the big cities. I’m totally moving back to the States, eventually.

    But keep in mind, that’s just one person’s opinion and experience (me).

    • Is true the Taiwanese only care about their own family and their own intrest, anyone out side there blood family is none of their business. A very surface society, no heart no feeling inside, like a cold wood. Yes American are very open and passionate people.

    • As an Asian American, I agree with Will on eventually going back to the US. The cultural differences are definitely there, sometimes maybe because I have this fallback position. IMHO, the check and balance in America is far superior to any human forced system so that America will always be positioned at the frontier. Even though I feel physically safe in Taiwan, I can’t feel the social stability you take for granted in the US. Politics, as much as I hate it, dictates many aspects of life, more so in Asia.

      As for the question whether Taiwanese are more selfish because of the tradition family values, you can see that all over the world. One cannot generalize any part of the world or any groups of people. Look into the mirror once in a while and one may find the problem there. If you want people open to you, you must be open and accepting yourself. Good luck to all in living, exploring, and enjoying!

  3. Orseek.com is a job search engine especially designed for professional job seekers in Taiwan. It offers various job opportunities (full-time and part-time included) for job seekers worldwide. Hot job vacancies are updated by employers and head hunters every day, including high school teachers, elementary school teachers, ESL teachers for public or private schools or cram schools, editors, translator and interpreter, engineers, sales, professional managers, etc. Orseek.com is the best choice for jobseekers wanting to work abroad, providing instant and continuingly updated job vacancies.

  4. Orseek.com features overseas jobs and international employment opportunities for professionals. Many of our clients are business owners based in Taiwan, China and other Asian countries. We provide the latest information of potential employees for our clients. The website is updated every day with candidate information of various professions, including native English teachers, translators, engineers, top sales, models and professional managers. In addition, orseek.com is connected with various social networking websites, which increases public exposure. Orseek.com is your first choice in finding the right person for the company.

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