This article has been a long time coming.
For the most part, my immigrant friends and I have been having a grand old time in Taiwan. Not perfect, nowhere is, but I like to say it’s about as perfect as life can be, depending on one’s circumstances.
There’s a loud minority though, and unfortunately like many loud minorities, the media loves to trot out their bad takes, because bad takes generate clicks and outrage, and that means eyes on ads. I’ve resisted writing a post like this because of that, I don’t want to feed the outrage machine, but when articles like this hit the news, written as if there’s some sort of dark secret, as if Gold Card holders are suffering under the (white) burden of improving Taiwan all on our own, as if people like us have a perspective that Taiwan absolutely must hear at its own peril, I gotta respond. It’s time.
It’s not just Gold Card holders I see this from. Places like “forumosa” and the Taiwan subreddit are also full of people who frankly I just don’t understand why they live here, considering how much they seem to hate it.
Thank you vocal minority, for giving me a frame against which I can compare what life is actually like for the rich immigrants coming to Taiwan on the Gold Card. I’ll use this most recent article as an example of these sorts of complaints, and illustrate how things really are, maybe lend some perspective based in reality here.
Part one of this article is a response to the above article, which mirrors similar mindsets (I won’t bother linking the other, super-toxic ones). Part two is my take on this phenomena of colonist mindset I find in the vocal minority of rich immigrants that move to Taiwan.
- In Response to a Rich Immigrant’s Typical Complaints
- Thing to Remember as a Privileged Immigrant
In Response to a Rich Immigrant’s Typical Complaints
We keep reading about all the various foreigners that love Taiwan for its food, hotpot and people. We see all the 15 second Tik-Toks, loud youtubers and attention seeking Instagram accounts but all of that is superficial. Dare I say fake even. What is reality like for Gold Card foreigners in Taiwan?
This is the primary reason I’m going to spend an hour or two putting this all together. The audacity of any one rich white immigrant claiming to speak for the rest of us, as if one’s lived reality is representative. It’s not, and I have the numbers to prove it.
I came to Taiwan from the United States on an economic development Gold Card about 2 years ago
Context: the Gold Card is a new visa in Taiwan that ostensibly is aimed at bringing in highly experienced foreign talent. The economy category is one of many. Two years ago, it was the most common, as it was a sort of loophole: if you had a monthly salary of $5,500 USD, you were basically guaranteed a Gold Card visa. The loophole has since been closed, insomuch as actual experience in economics is required alongside the salary requirement. I, as well, am on the economic category, despite being a software engineer. Basically, don’t assume that just because someone is in the economic category, they have any experience in economics. You basically just had to be (relatively) rich.
In the US I am used to owning…. I soon realized that the prices for houses and apartments are, for lack of a better word, unaffordable.
I am confused here. The author claims to be experienced in real estate, dare I say an expert, and yet is surprised to find housing prices in one of the largest, densest cities on the planet to be high. I don’t understand how someone could own own property in the USA, unless perhaps outside a major city or in a less-populated state, and find the prices here in Taipei surprising. It’s true that the cost of housing in the USA can be low (average is about $350,000), but in any major city in the USA you won’t find a house or apartment below $600,000. Housing cost inflation in cities is rapidly outpacing salaries in all developed nations, a well documented phenomena that I am surprised to find is news to a real estate expert. Perhaps if one was a specialist only in places such as Pocatello, Idaho, and utterly unfamiliar with the housing markets of major cities, it would make sense.
For what it’s worth, yeah, Taipei housing costs are high. They’re around $970,000 USD on average right now. Leave the city, and the numbers drop, fast. Yilan, which with low traffic is about a 30 minute drive through a tunnel to Taipei (high traffic can get up to 2 hours), you can get a 100 sq meter apartment for around $530,000 USD. In Taitung, Taizhong, etc, prices drop precipitously.
How anybody could immigrate into one of the largest cities on the planet and then for some reason expect to find a house under a million bucks is beyond me. Yeah, I wish prices were lower too, but I also wish we abolished private property altogether so I take a somewhat different perspective on the whole issue ;) Either way, to see a capitalist surprised at this fact is in itself surprising.
Especially when compared to the US. I asked how my local friends can afford their houses and the answers were either with the help of family or banks or that they rent for the foreseeable future.
This is absolutely a problem, not just here but in every city in the world, and local communities should be demanding more of their governments to resolve this issue. Recall, though, that we are immigrants, and I’m not sure why our needs, as rich digital nomads, the 1% of the 1% here, should be considered over those of local recent grads, old people, etc.
I was wrong. I was told by several banks that I would be lucky to get a mortgage and that if I do, the terms would be interest rates over 10% and a duration of 20 years, after putting down at least 40%. Apparently as a foreigner, I am “high risk per the central bank”. How is Taiwan going to settle any foreigner with this banking policy?
Immigrants are high-risk. This is true anywhere. Immigrants in any country are high risk from a financial perspective: they could get deported, have a free pass to leave whenever they want usually, I mean I feel like this should be obvious. Again, I agree that it sucks, though for again, different reasons - I believe borders should be open everywhere, totally. But why would this be a surprise to people with real estate expertise, and frequent travelers? Bear in mind that the rates are much better for locals, and also bear in mind the constant financial threat from uber-rich PRC citizens coming in and buying up property. That Taiwan takes measures to defend its citizens from the ultra-rich from other nations exploiting them and their land is admirable. If people like me or the author want the local rates, I figure we should put our stakes in the nation and go for citizenship. The alternative is the foreign capitalist class buying up local housing as investment properties, a problem that has blown up cities like Vancouver.
That being said, my Taiwanese friends told me early on that Taiwan real estate rentals are all about “compromise”. My biggest shock was how much landlords charge for rent given how they calculate the size of the apartments. The listed size includes as much as 50% of common areas or balconies that are inaccessible or patios that do not open up not to mention the elevators, hallways and lobby. That’s a big problem.
I’ve heard weird stories like this here and there, but at the end of the day before you rent, you come check the place out and decide if what you see is worth the price tag. It’s not like someone listing the ping (area measurement unit) incorrectly actually hurts you, beyond wasting your time on a viewing.
To talk about the positives of the renting in Taiwan, though, which should be impossible for a dirty communist like me: the rental protections are pretty intense here. Far better than the USA. The government banned evictions during COVID, for example. I’ve encountered landlords voluntarily reducing rent to businesses and residences during COVID, which is not only ethical, it makes obvious sense from a capitalist perspective: might as well get what you can while you can, because nobody’s starting new businesses during COVID. Meanwhile in the USA a lot of my favorite restaurants were forced to close because they couldn’t make rent. According to friends, those units remain empty. Stupidity. Not to mention, in general eviction protections are strong, and the process is lengthy. In short, for an American to move to Taiwan and opine on anything regarding housing is laughable. There are 250 homeless in Taipei’s 2,500,000 large population. Compare to Los Angeles at 4 million people, with 41,290 homeless. Other American cities have similar numbers. In the last year, Connecticut had 16,271 eviction filings. Delaware had 15,114. Indiana had 93,775. Maybe when Americans migrate to other countries, we should try learning, instead of pushing our broken opinions on others?
If you’re smart and want to get around Taipei, the MRT is quite convenient and the way to go. However, if you’re like me
So, not smart? Why give us this layup? lmao
I value my independence and the ability to hop in my vehicle and go. To a restaurant, to another city, to the beach, 2pm or 2am. I value that. A lot. Being an American, that often manifests as owning a vehicle. It is encoded in our DNA.
Ok, no, it’s not. I think we live in different worlds than the author. Very rarely do I hear an American that’s experienced an actual public transit system lament the lack of superhighways and the 45 minute car commute. Groups such as New Urbanist Memes for Transit Oriented Teens show how the younger generations of Americans aren’t blinded by the wool of decades of oil and gas company propaganda tying the mythos of American independence to car ownership, and people are clamoring for walkable cities. Not to mention, it’s simply not true that car ownership is encoded into American DNA. Cities like Chicago, NYC, an San Francisco certainly have problematic transit systems when compared to basically anywhere in Europe or Asia, but plenty of people live there their whole lives without owning a private vehicle.
This is in my opinion the most absurd possible perspective to take when immigrating to Taiwan. One would expect to come here to enjoy their remarkable, best-in-class public transit infrastructure, not try to move to one of the most dense cities in the world and immediately buy a Land Rover. If you really want a private vehicle, Taiwan has that figured out too: get a scooter or motorcycle, just like everyone else.
As some might now know, I drive a large vehicle in Taiwan. I learned how to drive with the craziness of the taxis, the scooters, and the buses all around me. It gets very exciting. Especially in alleys around Yonghe. Centimeters literally matter!
Do you understand how this sucks? I hate when I’m trying to enjoy a walkable food lane and a car suddenly is squeezing next to my elbow, knocking over bicycles and shit. It’s hard for a reason: You shouldn’t be doing it.
What I was stunned by though was the engine tax. In the U.S., registering a vehicle typically costs about $50 a year. In my case, I am paying 75 times that. The size of engine should not be a penalizing factor, but in Taiwan it is.
Exactly. How else does a city try to reduce its pollution? How else does it try to increase public transit ridership, decrease land wasted on parking, decrease traffic fatalities? He’s right, it’s expensive to own a car in Taiwan, as well it should be. Other countries should follow suit. That anybody would come from America, a nation with the most laughable public transit infrastructure in the world, a nation more owned by Big Oil than possibly any other than Saudi Arabia and Russia, and think that anything about our country’s transit infrastructure should be applied to Taiwan, is frankly hilarious.
I mean drive anywhere in the USA and see that not only is it addicted to its cars, it can’t even maintain the infrastructure for them. It lacks the political will, or is incompetent, I mean who knows why really, all I know is that I have motorcycled around this entire country twice, as well as deep into the mountains, and I have never once encountered a road as bad as any of the most traveled-on freeways in the USA, within which I’ve driven up the entire west coast, from San Francisco to Houston and back, from Houston to Chicago and back, all up and down the east coast… USA roads suck ass.
Americans, we have nothing to offer Taiwan in terms of transit opinions. Just appreciate that they allow us to enjoy the fruits of their hard work.
Getting my driver’s license was easy. Yours, might not be.
I actually agree that the licensing system is in desperate need of work here. The scooter test is hilariously stupid, and the licensing system doesn’t seem to be doing anything to prevent some remarkably terrible driving I see when I’m out and about. But I say that with full awareness that the USA system is no better, if not worse: there’s no re-licensing requirement in the USA, and the drunk driving rate there is abysmal. At least here, people don’t need a license or vehicle to live a normal life. Plenty of my friends don’t have one. I only have one so I can motorcycle around :)
However I wish the banks were half as useful as 7–11. This is where we take a trip back to 1980. Everything is manual. Simple things that should take 5–20 minutes in the west, like getting a debit card for the checking account one spent 3 hours opening, will take another few hours if you’re lucky.
It’s worth noting that if you speak Mandarin, the banking process is still annoying, but not nearly as much. This is the one area where I otherwise fully agree: the banking system here is very, very outdated, and its holding itself back in terms of a good experience people could be having with new technologies and the ability of the people to invest their savings. On the other hand, the exploitation of people’s earnings is much harder here. For example, people get actual pensions, instead of the scam of forcing them to gamble their earnings on the market through 401ks. We use to have a pension in the USA too, until that country transformed entirely into a oligarchy. It’s also worth remembering that the financial system here needs a huge amount of oversight to prevent massive infiltration by ultra-rich PRC citizens, or simply CCP sockpuppets, buying out the country from underneath itself.
The most worrying thing I came across in banking is that when I wired funds for my business, it took weeks to arrive in my account as well as numerous calls from the bank asking me about where and why I am sending funds to myself. The reason is that transferring funds from abroad into Taiwan has to get the approval of the central bank.
Another example of the system protecting the country from what many of us are: ultra-rich foreign nationals, whose motives are unknown, and who basically have no stake in the well-being of Taiwan.
On a more positive note, walking out of the bank, I find wireless service to not only be significantly cheaper than the US, I find it more reliable as well.
Unlike countries like the USA and Australia, telecom firms don’t have effective monopolies, and there’s strong consumer protections in place. Unsurprisingly, this results in lower prices and higher quality in service. Again, something we should be learning from them.
At the coffee shop, I start to order things online. there are a few go-to sites and some international providers. However, over time, I noticed some of the sites that deliver from China have slowed delivery or ceased it altogether.
Good, buy local.
I also noticed that ordering items I cannot find in Taiwan has gotten more difficult for unnecessary reasons. I used to order from Amazon but customs adds 33% duty for personal items over $75.
…and? Why is a customs tax surprising? Everyone does it. Don’t want it, buy local.
Now, If Taiwan is really part of the global commerce chain, limits like this should not exist.
Lemme just put my little red pin on here and say no, Taiwan should find ways to maintain an independent supply and commerce chain, because as we’ve learned from Ukraine, it really is important for countries to be able to be utterly self-reliant. Not to mention, global capitalism is a curse of exploitation that serves the interests of 1% of the global population.
I know and have spoken to many Gold Carders. Quite a large percentage of them left Taiwan last year when Taiwan went into COVID lockdown. Many have not returned due to the current quarantine policy and or their cumulative experiences.
Some did leave, but in my experience it was mostly COVID refugees that were just here to enjoy life in the only country on Earth to actually nut up and do something about a pandemic. While literally millions died around the world, my rich friends and I could party it up, and unsurprisingly, once the parties started up again back home, a lot of those people left. They won’t come back because of quarantine? Oh well, less than a thousand people died in Taiwan from COVID, and now that the population is nearly wholly vaccinated up, the borders are slowly re-opening. Surprising, I guess, that pandemics suck, but at least Taiwan acknowledged this reality instead of pretending everything is ok and letting nearly 1/300th of its population die.
I wanted to see what other Gold Carders were experiencing. I took it upon myself to conduct a survey and was shocked to see that 49.5% of respondents are thinking of not staying in Taiwan. 78% of those who said they would return to Taiwan, said they would return sooner if allowed to quarantine at home. The most troubling figure from my informal study was that only 27.5% plan on staying in Taiwan in general since only 10% think they cannot have better opportunities elsewhere.
This “survey” was posted and resulted in about 2 days, in the “Taiwan Gold Card Line Group,” an unofficial Line group that in my experience is mostly used to complain about how awful our lives, as rich foreigners, are in Taiwan. I have no idea the number of respondents, but I’m guessing it’s less than the survey done by the Gold Card Office in collaboration with the American Chamber of Commerce, which indicated that of the people that came during the COVID pandemic, only 16% were planning on leaving or had already left. In short, the “survey” was unscientific, biased, self-selected for people in the Line group that enjoy complaining about Taiwan, and should not be considered indicative of any greater pattern.
I worry that if changes are not made, the opportunity that Taiwan has with the Gold Card program will end up as the typical story of westerners come to Asia, are enamored because it’s new, try to settle down but soon find the shine wears off and they leave. I for one do not want to be part of this statistic
Colonial mindset. We are guests. Taiwan has done and will continue to do just fine on its own, according to the will of the people whose roots are here. We have no stake in Taiwan - we have foreign passports. We can flee to the USA at the slightest sign of trouble. The people here have generations of history here, have all their property and assets here, hold just the one passport. We should remember as guests of the country how lucky we are that the locals invited us in and are willing to hear out opinions like this with remarkable patience.
For the summary:
- Setup streamlined banking.
I agree, for locals. Rich immigrants should still be strongly monitored. Our motives are unknown and we are high-risk.
- Provide incentives to purchase properties (at least equal to locals).
Disagree. Immigrants should be required to put their necks on the line if they want to take property opportunities from locals, just like the locals have to.
- Reduce the red tape and overhead in owning a business.
This wasn’t addressed much in the article beyond the issues with moving money around, but it would be nice if it was actually easier to hire locals through a Taiwan subsidiary. I tentatively agree.
- Revisit vehicle registration taxes
I agree, it should be even more expensive to own a private vehicle in Taiwan, and the money should be put towards improving the transit system even further, particularly in servicing more remote locations and tribal townships. I have faith Taiwan will figure this out in the best way for itself though, as it always has.
Thing to Remember as a Privileged Immigrant
I’ve written before, life is good here, very good. In my opinion, we’re all of us quite lucky to be able to live and work in Taiwan. Perhaps that’s the source of my confusion at articles by rich foreigners complaining about minor or non-issues: is there a lack of holistic perspective here? Is this simply people not appreciating how good something is until it’s gone? Or is it a manifestation of white burden, a colonist mindset from people who have spent a couple hundred years under their impression that their opinion is the most important?
I have no idea, typically I just get in fights with people like the author and we don’t really learn much from eachother, cause I’m a stubborn leftist prick. His take is not necessarily unique, though it is a minority, and so I’ll attempt to address the difference between our positions.
Culture is Subjective, There is No Universal Morality
Benefit of a degree in anthropology, I picked up an anthropologist’s lens through which I can view the world. The difficulty of studying humans as a human is one’s studies will inevitably be tainted by one’s own experience and culture, and so an anthropologist has to work to eliminate those blemishes.
Another way to say this is “keep an open mind.” This can be pretty difficult if you’ve been told your whole life that your way is the best way, and all others are wrong, which is basically what white American men hear our entire lives, and our entire cultural history is one of us patting ourselves on the back about our cultural superiority. Hence my usage of terms like “white man’s burden” or “colonist mindset.” This is the perspective that people like Columbus had when they showed up to the Americas and tried to convert everyone to Christianity. An extreme example, but take any slice of history, and you’ll find what we now call “white people” (a recent invention) showing up in places other than their home and telling people how to live.
I find a vocal minority of people doing that here in Taiwan, and oftentimes, the criticism isn’t a rational critique of a local way of life, but rather just something different about the culture that the given person finds unfamiliar, and thus uncomfortable or “wrong.” The article author’s car example is perfect: why would Taiwanese people need cars? They have trains. The colonist tries to force his way of life to fit into an environment not made for it: stuffing his car through alleys, meeting tremendous resistance and suffering as a result.
Why not instead take a step back and learn more about a local culture, the reason people are the way they are? And then take another step back: what about your own culture, experience, and way of life is utterly irrational, nonsensical, ridiculous, or indeed morally fraught?
I think it’s kinda weird that Taiwanese people burn paper money for holidays, but it’s also very strange that tens of millions of Americans engage in ritualistic simulated cannibalism every Sunday. The somewhat rigid age-based hierarchical system in Taiwan seems unfortunate to me, but so too is the casual racism I encountered quite often in my time in the USA.
Leaving aside one’s own cultural introspective, and simply trying to appreciate some of these differences, will probably lead to a much happier life here or anywhere. The money burning thing is weird, but I kinda like the smell. The age-based hierarchical system is unfortunate, but the incredibly strong familial bonds here offer many advantages. You get the idea.
Essentially, I reject the notion that any given culture could be considered “superior,” as there is no universal morality. This may seem contradictory coming from a guy with some pretty strong and well-defined values, but values are different from culture. Within Taiwan you’ll find plenty of different values. You’ll find people that argue against established hierarchies here, you’ll find racists, you’ll find hippies, pro- and anti-nuclear power people, the whole gamut. It’s a human society, like any other. What I caution against is coming here (or anywhere) as an American, pretending to represent your entire culture, and believing that you have the knowledge or right to opine on an entire other culture in a judgmental manner.
Things are Overall Pretty Good Here
What I really can’t wrap my head around is how the vocal minority of privileged foreigners will blow super minor issues way out of proportion. Saying things like “Who would want to live in Taiwan? It’s hard to open a bank account here!” So what? Who cares? You’d give up socialized healthcare, incredible public transit and infrastructure, great food, low cost of living, low crime, a happy and healthy population, beaches, all of that, because opening a bank account, a thing you do maybe once every five years at most, is a little hard? Not to mention, was it hard because it’s hard, or was it hard because you don’t speak Mandarin?
This could just be a symptom of homesickness, which I empathize with. I would say people tend to wear rose tinted glasses when it comes to anything about where they grew up and lived most of their lives. That’s pretty natural. Who among us hasn’t craved something absurd, something we arguably normally hate, just because it comes from home and we haven’t had it in a while? (Taco Bell, for me, by the way.)
In my experience with privileged immigrants though, this vocal minority has obsessed over these minor differences to the point that they’ve completely forgotten about the good parts of the new country, and are absolutely unaware of anything bad about their homes. I’m not sure there’s any advice I can give these people other than, maybe it’s just time to go home? If one is literally craving the 40 minute daily morning commute to the point that they’ve forgotten all the good things about their new life, it could just be that one is not the kind of person that enjoys living outside of their comfort zone. Certainly those of us here don’t want to deal with incessant whining about how Taiwan should clog their highways with more cars, just so a couple SUV-addicted Americans can get their rocks off to huffing exhaust fumes.
In particular, I’ve noticed a trend like this among the spouses of people who move to a new country for work. Again a minority, these people will wilt without their friends they spent years making back home. Alone at home all day, and lacking the confidence to go around because of lack of language ability (which is completely valid and expected), their overall opinion of a country will diminish day by day until every moment abroad feels like literal torture. It’s a horrible condition to be in. Again, I’m not sure there’s any solution here other than trying your level best to just make some friends, because humans seem really good at that regardless of language barriers. If that doesn’t work, there’s nothing wrong with being the kind of person that prefers to live in a familiar culture and within familiar surroundings. Though again, a person such as this' discomfort does not equal a valid criticism of the given country, and especially doesn’t equal a criticism the rest of us want to hear.
How can you help someone that doesn’t know a good thing when it smacks them in the face? You can’t, I don’t think, and this is why Americans will never have socialized healthcare lol
We are Guests in a Sovereign Nation
I’m gonna walk a tightrope here. As an American, I think our treatment of immigrants back in the USA is horrible. In general the experience of non-Americans, especially when they aren’t passe blanc, can suck. I find takes like “they’re in America, they should learn English!” to be racist, or at minimum xenophobic.
So my opinion here doesn’t apply to others, that is to say, immigrants leaving a worse situation for a better one (and if America represents a better situation, your previous one must have been pretty shit), but rather towards those like me: relatively rich immigrants moving to a country with a lower cost of living, like Taiwan. Especially those of us that are white.
The long of short of it is, Taiwan is a dope country, with a fantastic quality of life, and like any sovereign nation, they maintain borders. Taiwan has its shit together, and most people that are moving here are moving into a situation equal to if not better than their previous one in many ways, especially because we can leverage the contradiction of their low cost of living to their high quality of life, against our high net worths, to create an absurdly high quality of life for ourselves. What a privilege!
What could be more obnoxious than someone like that spitting in the face of the gift Taiwan offers us? What could be more annoying than a man in a Brooks Brothers suit getting a ride after his car broke down, and then complaining that the seat isn’t comfortable enough?
Rich immigrants (they’ll sometimes call themselves “expats”, a word white people invented to separate ourselves from brown immigrants) show up in a sovereign country, don’t speak the local language and don’t bother to learn it, refuse to change even one iota of their behavior to match the local culture, and then complain that they have a bad time. Like, leaving the ethics aside, from a purely pragmatic perspective, what did you expect? Honestly, the leeway we get here is remarkable. White immigrant English teachers make a bit more than their non-white American colleagues, and far more than their Taiwanese ones. Cops often don’t bother to ticket us, remarkably letting our lack of Mandarin be an advantage (can you imagine what an American cop would do if he pulled over someone that didn’t speak English??). Government agencies will sometimes seek us out specifically for our advice, as if all of us have helpful perspectives to offer on global capitalism just because we’re American, or white, or whatever.
I mean we aren’t just guests here, we’re honored guests, so it really pisses me off when people don’t treat Taiwan with at bare minimum mutual respect.
Nobody Likes a Whiner, Taiwan Invites Aid
Principle 1 of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.” For starters, it’s annoying, and sucks to be around. I’d argue this is pretty universal, and sucks regardless of the dynamics I’ve discussed above.
Not only that, I’ve found Taiwan to be remarkably open to feedback, and outright action to improve situations. The existence of g0v and its projects exemplifies this. A somewhat rag-tag and disorganized collective of people regularly come together to do things like aggregating housing price information against a map, fight misinformation, and pressure the government to do something about illegal factories.
Taiwan’s young democracy is full of stories of massive changes made by small groups or just individuals. Huotong is a small mining town that was facing almost certain extinction once its mine closed down, until a local woman and cat-lover started fostering a ton of cats. Now it’s famous as the “Huotong Cat Village” and is a pretty big tourist destination. In 2014 a major student uprising prevented government action that likely would have resulted in painfully close ties between Taiwan and the CCP. I personally have started several projects for civic improvement here and have found Taiwanese people not only receptive, they’ve been out and out force multipliers.
In short, if you aren’t going to do anything about it, please stop complaining.
I’d love to hear from you, feel free to email me at caleb@ this website. (calebjay.com)