I recently moved to Taiwan on the Gold Card visa, and I’ve lived and worked here before. In this post, I’m going to try to convince you to do the same.
Perspective matters. I’m writing this as a white guy, an American, in my early 30s, no kids, and as a software engineer. Not that you need to be any combination of those things for this post to apply to you, but I want to acknowledge that some of my reasoning may not apply to you, that some aspect of your life may nullify my arguments, or perhaps make an even stronger case for why you should come here. There could even be reasons I haven’t considered to come here!
- The Economic Argument
- It’s Easier Than You Think
- It’s a Good Life
- The Political Argument
The Economic Argument
It’s kind of against my nature to start from an economic perspective, but the reality is that it’s one of the strongest reasons to come out here.
The cost of living to the quality of living ratio is the best out of any country I’ve lived in, which includes the USA (Wisconsin, South Carolina, Texas, California), Japan, China, and Vietnam. The last time I lived here, I did a blog post on my financial breakdown. Of course, that was back in 2014, and I was living as a grungy 22 year old guy in a 3 bedroom with a bunch of roommates, but it was a pretty nice place and I had a great life. I was working 12 hours a week making something like $2,000 USD a month teaching English, and just $200 USD of that went to rent. Tammy and I are in the range of $1,700 USD per month for a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom luxury apartment located close to an MRT station, and that’s before we negotiate rent down.
A regular lunch is between $1 and $3 USD. Boba tea is usually around $1 to $2 USD. A ride on the train is usually around $1 USD. Meanwhile, the mean engineering salary for Taiwanese citizens is $42,000 USD per year. Sure it doesn’t sound like much, but if your rent is $500 (easily doable) and your lunch is $3…
Also worth considering, for us Americans - you will pay about 10% of your healthcare costs, for better quality healthcare. Even less when you live here for 6 months and get on the nationalized health insurance, or, get a job for a Taiwanese company. It’s a single payer state health insurance scheme that everyone pays into. Every doctor I’ve ever interacted with had some part of their education in the USA, and the quality of the facilities is on par with the USA, minus the shitty parts of the American hospital designed to extract money from you and seek profitability. The life expectancy in Taiwan is 80.9 years. In the USA, it’s 78.5.
But what about tax! 20% income tax rate on the first $86,419 USD that you make, after that it’s a progressive tax rate applied on the difference between each bracket (kinda similar to the USA). That’s before you apply any discounts you get as a foreigner, depending on what visa you come in on. Given that your monthly health insurance bill is something like $8 USD, if you aren’t putting more cash away in Taiwan than you are in the USA, you might be actively trying not to.
It’s Easier Than You Think
Coming here is far easier than you may think. I’ll go through the common concerns I hear.
First, visa requirements. Right now because of coronavirus, the only way you’re getting in is with a working visa, which basically means the Gold Card Visa. I’ll do up a whole post on that later, but the long and short of it is if you have, at some point in the last 3 years, made $5,330 USD in one month from an employer in your country or in Taiwan, you’re automatically eligible. There’s other categories as well, like arts, sciences, etc, but the “economic” one is most common. If the economic category applies to you, it’s a straightforward, undemanding application process that takes a couple months before you get your entry permit, and then you have three unrestricted years in Taiwan to do pretty much whatever you want. Work for a Taiwanese company, work for an overseas company, whatever. Any sector, any job. Perhaps you don’t even work at all - although that goes against the spirit of the visa, and while it doesn’t appear to necessarily be against the rules, that may only be because of an oversight. Basically, don’t count on not working at all!
That visa-requirement difficulty is only because of Coronavirus. If you’re reading this post-covid, congratulations, it’s probably ridiculously easy for you to come here. If you’re an American, there’s no visa requirement to come to Taiwan - you can show up and stay for 3 months, no questions asked. Then, you can pop out for a weekend in Hong Kong, fly back in, and restart your timer for another 3 months. Plenty of time to find a job and get a long term visa. Or not, and you simply remote work. Note on that - that’s how it was, whether it remains that way remains to be seen. Double check before you start buying plane tickets!
Second, working and making a living for yourself. Worse case scenario, teach English. Hop on Facebook, search “English teaching job Taiwan,” and you should be presented with multiple Facebook groups where people are hiring teachers. Or, search for sub positions only, do that for a few weeks to build up a network, and then see if one of the schools you substitute taught at will hire you for a “full time” (read: 10-15 hours/week) position. Don’t feel qualified? Don’t worry about it. I won’t say don’t take it seriously - as a teacher you have an outsized influence on children’s psychology and learning, so don’t mess around. However, if you put in the effort and care, you’ll already be better than 50% of the English teachers here. If you have a college degree, you’re a shoe in, and will have no trouble whatsoever getting a job. If not, it may be a bit harder, but I’ve known people that didn’t even graduate highschool that managed to make it work. Expect pay of around $1000 to $3000 USD depending on how many hours you work, which is more than enough to survive in Taiwan.
That’s merely a backup plan by the way. There’s plenty of “normal” jobs here as well. Taiwan is a burgeoning tech hub, and as I write this I’m watching hordes of tech workers come in here and boost the science and technology scene. When I last lived here, I knew foreigners doing jobs like marketing, running a kitchen, engineering, military contracting, or making and selling greek yogurt out of their apartment. Because the cost of living is so low, it’s pretty easy to find your way here.
Concerned about Mandarin? That’s a fair fear, especially for English speakers that have never picked up another language. I don’t recommend this, but you can live a whole life in Taiwan without ever learning the most basic of Mandarin. I knew a couple of guys like that when I last lived here. I only say this to demonstrate why you shouldn’t worry. The idea is, these guys were able to work, eat, find friends and partners, without speaking any Mandarin, because Taiwan is highly internationalized and very welcoming. That being said, these guys also were very much looked down upon. As a white dude living here, my own values tell me that it’d be pretty exploitative and disrespectful to come out here to take advantage of the incredible economic opportunities and not even bother to learn the local language. When it does come time to learn the language, have no fear, it really is easier than you’d think. I found it easier to learn than Spanish, even though it’s a non-phonetic writing system. I’m no polyglot either, chances are you’ll have a much easier time than I did.
It’s a Good Life
Life in Taiwan is good.
The weather is tropical. Ever been to Hawaii? The beaches and water here are cleaner, and we have oodles of them. Like the rivers in Colorado? Here they’re crystal, and cold as a spring, wherever you go. Mountains in the middle of cities, snaked with hiking trails. Clubs that for a $20 USD cover get you an experience equal to something that would cost you at least a hundred in Japan, New York, or Vegas. Indie music scene. Indie art scene. Indie film scene hungry for foreign actors. Quite literally the best motorcycling I’ve ever had, and I’ve been over Japan, the French Riviera, end to end in Vietnam, and all over California. Incredible food.
The hiking here is hard to beat. There’s a wide variety for skill level, and many hikes are easily accessible. If you live in Taipei, you have access to Elephant Mountain or Gold Mountain within 20 minutes, both of which have easy going or strenuous options, paved and otherwise. Add another 20 minutes and you can be at the enormous Yangmingshan national park and mountain, which is covered in both sulfur vents and perfect, clean, curving roads for bicycling and motorcycling
Some of the trails, like above bridge at Taroko Gorge, are so well maintained despite the wildness of their environment as to require a permit to hike.
Many of the trails are extraordinarily well paved, seeing foot traffic in the thousands per day.
That being said, if you prefer something a little more wild, it can easily be had. One of my goals is to explore some of the more hidden, unmaintained hikes, as I did on my last stint in Taiwan. I wrote about a secret entrance to elephant mountain back in 2014, for example.
There’s also a huge rock climbing scene here. Practice during the week in a state gym for $1 USD unlimited climbing time, and an extra $1 USD to rent shoes. On the weekend, head out to one of the untold hundreds of natural climbing walls. One of my goals during my time here is to start mapping these out.
Bicycling and Motorcycling
Renting a bicycle is so easy as to literally be automated. Taiwan has a city bike rental program called “YouBike.” With a swipe of your metro card, you can ride a decent quality cruiser bicycle around town. Since Taipei is integrated about as unobtrusively as possible for a metro area into the local wilderness, even a city ride can turn into something quiet and gorgeous.
Just outside of Gongguan, one of the more popular areas of Taipei, for example, is a riverside trail that rides south to the beautiful Bitan, picture above. That water is clear straight through to the bottom, by the way, if you feel like cooling off after your ride.
Taiwan is a particularly exceptional motorcycling destination. As an American I’m still not sure how Taiwan maintains such perfect road infrastructure. In the States our GDP is apparently the highest in the world, yet the month before I moved out here, driving down Kirby Drive in Houston for 5 minutes resulted in my car’s front panel falling off. In any case, this means you can ride in Taiwan without fear of a slip or slide, all while enjoying breathtaking views.
Plus, renting is really easy, and fairly affordable.
The availability of destinations once you get your hands on a motorcycle is overwhelming. We’ll see how many I can hit during my new life here. Pictured above is Wulai, about a 30 minute ride south from Taipei (also accessible by bus), where the attractions include river tracing (sometimes called mountaineering or canyoning) and natural hot springs.
Taiwanese nightlife is incredible. Whatever your scene is, they probably have it here. Recently, Taiwan made the news for being able to safely host an EDM festival while the rest of the world was ravaged by a pandemic. Festivals are not a rare occurrence here, so the US West Coast Snowglobe, Coachella, Snowglobe, Life is Beautiful crowd will find themselves right at home here. Back in 2014, we took an overnight bus from Taipei to Kaohsiung for, if I remember correctly, something like $20 USD, and then piled into an impromptu van taxi with a bunch of strangers also on their way to a back to back weekend EDM festival in Kenting. While there, us and hundreds others partied at night, then retreated to the beach to sleep. A buddy and I broke away from the main groups, finding a sort of beach cave roofed by a dense net of vines to sleep in. No sleeping bags or anything - the weather just allowed for this sort of thing.
Jazz and swing are also popular here. Nearly every day in Taipei, some bar, club, or cafe is hosting a swing dancing night, which in swing fashion usually runs to the wee hours of the morning. There’s a couple good jazz clubs here as well. If rock is more your fashion, there’s a wonderfully old school, analog rock scene here, made up of young punks and old hat rockers. Last I lived here, there was a club where patrons would swap out instruments throughout the night and play whatever covers people knew. I’ve been to some pretty hardcore metal shows here as well, and Japanese rock artists often visit (if you haven’t yet experienced Japanese rock, I highly recommend it. Next level stuff).
Of course, there’s also bars and nightclubs. Taiwan’s laws around infusions aren’t as strict as the USA, so mixologists can whip up some crazy good drinks. To date the best cocktail I’ve ever had was in Taipei. If you’re looking for something cheaper, you can always pull the early twenties move of picking up $1 USD beers from 7/11 to pregame before sloshing your way into the clubs before 11pm to get in for free or a discount. On that note - low material and labor cost in Taiwan means that nightclubs can build out some absolutely phenomenal light and sound systems. The production level rivals anything I saw in Vegas.
The transportation system leaves you no excuses for a day trip to the beach, hot spring, or river. For $1 USD and an hour and a half of your time you’re on the East Coast with miles of beach to explore. For the same price and 30 minutes less you’re in the middle of a jungle hiking towards a water fall, or, on a mountain with a bicycle you rented for $2 USD exploring unmarred road with a bike lane as fat as a king sized bed. Anywhere you want to go can be gotten to on a bus or train, quickly. Failing that, you can splurge $10 USD on a taxi to get you there directly, on a whim.
For your daily commute, there’s the subway, called the MRT, which for about $0.60 USD can get you pretty much anywhere on the line. During off time, trains come something like every 5 minutes. Rush hour, it’s about every minute. It’s as plain as day to navigate, no matter what language you speak, and highly staffed. It’s also very clean.
Of course, considering the size of Taipei, you could always just rent a citybike. Complete your ride in under 30 minutes and it’s free (this may have ended). Otherwise, it’s about $1 USD every 30 minutes.
Failing that, depending on where you’re trying to go, you can probably get there on foot.
Best for last. Taiwan is home to some of the best food in the world. More than just delicious, it’s also diverse and highly accessible. In the morning, there’s morning markets that sell both general groceries such as vegetables, fish, meat, raw noodles, tofu, etc, but also people’s breakfasts - scallion pancake, buns filled with meat and vegetable, these sort of breaded omelet things that I still don’t know how to say. Or, you could go to one of the hundreds of “breakfast shops,” where more complicated food can be had in abundance, along with coffee and tea.
Wait a little bit and the beef noodle soup (one of Taiwan’s signature foods) shops open.
For dinner, you’re best off heading to a night market, which is a street lined with stalls selling fried chicken, steak on a stick, dumplings, custard dough fried in the shape of a penis, or ice cream.
Also, they invented boba milk tea here.
The Political Argument
This is mostly me making the case to my fellow Americans here.
Two weeks before I wrote this blog post, several thousand people attempted a violent insurrection that arguably only failed only because of the quick thinking of a single police officer that led the mob away from a room full of congress-people, and a trigger-happy secret service agent that prevented the lynching of the Vice President. As a Texan, I had to grit my teeth as my bloodthirsty congressional representative got on the news and lauded these efforts to overthrow a free and fair election, and the fact that that man (Brian Babin) is still in office today is the straw that broke the back of my faith in my country and my patriotism.
Throughout my life I’ve watched the US and state governments fail spectacularly to manage hurricanes, floods, and pandemics. The US government has no plan for mass automation, it has no ability to manage the next pandemic. It couldn’t even protect its capital from a violent insurrection. Healthcare costs are out of control. 11,000,000 children go hungry. And despite all this, soldiers remained stationed abroad, and we find the time to assassinate generals in other countries. My tax dollars, to that? My life spent giving thousands to United Healthcare in the hope that my deductible is paid off when I get cancer from poorly regulated food, water, air? No thanks.
Taiwan handled Covid-19 better than any country on earth. It had a case fatality rate of 0.82%, to America’s 1.68%. There have been 855 cases here, with a population of 23,780,000, to America’s 24,000,000 cases to its population of 328,000,000. I’ve watched Taiwan pull itself together quickly after earthquakes, landslides, a plane clipping the side of a skyscraper, and floods.
In the face of incessant propaganda fake news attacks from China, the Taiwanese government established an entire governmental department in charge of fighting fake news with fact checking. This has led to the development of an open source tool that Taiwan is offering to other countries waging similar information wars (so, all countries lol). Meanwhile I can take my pick of American politicians and find them repeating dangerous conspiracy theories time and time again, with absolutely no consequence.
When I went to Black Lives Matter protests, I was called homophobic slurs and a race traitor. I watched fellow protesters get the shit beat out of them by the police for the crime of sitting in a park with a sign. For the last two decades, I cared enough to fight to improve my country. I won’t try to argue that America is a lost cause, but to me, I give the fuck up. Why try to glue together a broken mirror?
If you’re tired too, there’s no shame in trying to contribute to the world from somewhere else. Here in Taiwan, everything learned is shared. When Taiwan had a surprlus of PPE, it tried to share it with the world. When it developed methods of fighting fake news, it turned those efforts into open source software and again, tried to share it with the world. Broadband is considered a human right here. Healthcare is socialized. Infrastructure is maintained. Education is accessible.
This is a peace-loving country that has never sent intelligence agents into foreign countries to overturn democracies, prop up dictators, or train guerillas. There is no NSA super-surveillance. There is no “no-constitution” zone. No criminalization of encryption algorithms. It doesn’t have a perfect history, but today, it’s a far more ethical a government than most. The president is kind, accessible, and genuinely seems to care. The Minister of Digital Affairs, Audrey Tang, is an international free software legend. Imagine being able to watch a politician from your government give a Ted talk without wanting to crawl out of your own skin! As an American, it’s refreshing.
But, what about China? Aren’t they going to nuke us at any given second? Shit, maybe. Probably not. No Taiwanese people I talk to seem concerned. In any case, death comes in many forms, but it inevitably comes. A nuke from China seems a little less likely than, say, getting killed in a drunk driving accident back in Texas.
Somewhat unexpectedly, I turned 30. Big surprise, apparently aging does happen, and I’m not immortal.
When I sit and think about my limited time, and how and where I spend it, I feel a sense of urgency. Why wouldn’t I try to make the most of life? More than anything, pandemic drove this home. Nearly a whole year “lost.” Of course, we make the best out of any situation, but why not make that process a little easier, by putting ourselves in the best situation possible?
I could fight for a good life in the USA, and I’m sure my life would be great. My obstacles would be long commutes, political frustration, high rent, high healthcare costs, but I’d overcome it, of course. But, why? It quite literally has never been easier to make a life for myself in Taiwan. Why settle for anything less than the best situation I can put myself in?
Further articles will come out about how to get a Gold Card visa and tips for getting work out here. In the meantime, I recommend this article by the nomadnumbers people. Fair warning, there’s quite a bit of advertising on their site, and I can’t account for the sort of tracking they might do. Their level of detail, however, is excellent.
Feel free to contact me. My email is caleb@ this domain.