“Mom, I am more than ok…I am in Taiwan”
I wish I knew a few things in advance before moving to Taiwan to make my life easier some years ago. As time passed, I have come to name Taiwan “the country of convenience”, and it is this convenience that we foreigners come to love in a very short time with a sense of admiration too. Additionally, I consider that one of the charms of this island is the affordable price of life. So if you are a backpacker who usually travels on a budget, this is really good news because you can have those east Asian experiences very similar (and even better in some aspects) to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore or South Korea.
Here I give away some average facts about the average cost of living in Taiwan:
- Housing costs – USD 300
- Monthly fitness club membership – USD 35
- Movie ticket – USD 7
- Monthly mobile internet package – USD 5
- Monthly public transport – USD 40
- Lunch – USD 4
Most of the foreigners end up falling in love with this peaceful and friendly island, that is not only one of the cheapest places to travel and live in East Asia but also has so much overlooked beauty. With that said, I created this list of things that are useful to know when in Taiwan, hoping to help your temporary or permanent acclimatization become easier.
1. Convenience stores are your new best friends
They say the second country in the world after the US with the most 7-Eleven is precisely Taiwan. There are other popular stores, though, such as Family Mart, Hi-Life and OK Mart. These small establishments were designed to meet the needs of the busy city life, but their success has eventually taken them to every small township, literally. This last fact makes these stores also the ideal partner for any road trip within the island, for instance. Here you can pay electricity bills, buy cellphone data plans, plane tickets, print documents, recharge your Easy card (smartcard for payment and public transport), buy coffee (yes, they have coffee here in Asia and they love it), buy electronic essentials among others. This list is far from being comprehensive since I myself keep discovering things I can do at these little havens that are found sometimes one on each block. Do not expect low prices, though. Convenience has a price, and most products here are considerably more expensive than in a regular supermarket.
2. Home Goods Stores （生活店）
Taiwanese have come with this brilliant idea of fusing together a hardware store, home appliances store and grocery store in a single place where one can find virtually everything for your personal needs and the needs of your house. Do not spend time in big malls. Whether moving in or visiting, probably you can find what you are looking for in these multiple-story shops. I often get immersed for longer than needed in these places just browsing so many curious and useful things that are on sale. A quick tip: these stores can be found easily near universities.
3. Find and rent a house
Remember that convenience is king in Taiwan, therefore, you can look for apartments directly in 591.com.tw (there is also an app version of the site for Android and iPhone). Once you refine your search and find some options, you can contact the person in charge through LINE (the most popular chat service in Taiwan). Facebook also has a few useful groups where foreigners living in Taiwan (mostly exchange students) publish rooms or even entire house vacancies all the time, for three or six months, or one year. One of the most popular is Looking for Roommates or Apartments in Taipei and Taiwan. This is especially convenient if you are not familiar with Mandarin Chinese and you do not need to be in Taiwan to start looking.
4. Traditional markets
Most alleys in urban areas might look normal for most of the day, but if you wake up early enough, say, before noon, you will clearly notice the activity down some of those alleys. Taiwanese, especially adults and elders, truly enjoy to go out in the morning to buy their groceries here. Fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, meat, flowers, and some other more exotic goods can be found here. Although prices are well displayed, you can always ask for a discount. Chances are higher if you are a frequent customer. It might take you some time to find the closest to your place, but there is definitely one close by.
5. Keywords for Chinese menus
Ok, very straight forward, you need to eat. In a
6. Public transportation
From the main international airport, Taoyuan Airport it is possible to purchase bus tickets to go directly to many cities on the island. In case you are heading to Taipei, you might want to take the more convenient express metro from Taoyuan to Taipei Main Station for just USD 5.50. Taipei is, with no surprise, the most developed city when it comes to transportation. Whether, metro, bus, taxi, Uber, to public bicycles (Ubikes), commuting within the city is quite convenient. Other cities might just have a fraction of these services. But even without all the options found in the capital city, public transport in any city is usually organized, clean and trackable (with Google Maps, for instance, which works amazingly well here). Since Taiwan is a bicycle country, many people get their own bike (often second hand) for the everyday commute in the city. Although railways are one of the most developed in the world, I have not found a reason to take a train (apart from the scenic ride or the
7. Service hours
For some businesses like banks, the service hours are notably fewer than in other countries. Many restaurants will close during the middle hours of the morning and afternoon. Fruit and vegetable markets are usually open during the morning hours. Night markets are self-explanatory, but just to be sure, they open mostly at around 5 to 6 PM, until midnight. It is good to take note of the small details like these in order to avoid frustration and speed up the adaptation process. Remember two
There are more things that I wish I could put in this article, but it would make it too long (it already is!). However, I am confident this list will clear lots of doubts and encourage you to visit anytime. Taiwan is a western-friendly country, so there is no need to panic thinking that you will not find your favorite fast food restaurant here. The pasta and pizza are quite easy to find. Supermarkets have a fair balance between western and Asian foodstuff. I only grieve on the reduced options of bread and cheese. Here you will find a very different definition of these two.
Regarding Taiwanese people, both in the big cities and in the countryside, I found that they show curiosity towards the visitors, and they will try their best to communicate their questions to you. So, be natural and do not be shy. Enjoy sharing your story with them and also to ask questions to discover more of this amazing place. Finally, for more information about cultural events and holidays, you can consult this site.