If you decide to move to Taiwan, inevitably you are going to have to ask yourself whether you want to move to Taipei, or one of the other places on the island like Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan, Yilan and Hualian. We’ll do a comparison post soon that highlights the major positives and negatives for each city, but for now we are just focusing on the benefits and negatives of Taipei. The reason for this is that most people we know either wanted to come to Taipei, or they wanted to go someplace else (and only after making this decision did they look into the other popular places to go in Taiwan besides Taipei).
Benefits to living in Taipei
1. The most jobs. Taipei is the largest city on the island with nearly 7 million people in the metropolitan area (roughly 1/3 of the total Taiwan population), so it’s no surprise that the majority of English teaching jobs (and other jobs available to foreigners) are based in Taipei. In terms of English teaching jobs, there are many English cram schools in basically every neighborhood in Taipei and also the surrounding New Taipei City area. As such, finding a teaching job in Taipei can be relatively easy if you are willing to do a bit of legwork after you arrive (i.e. sending out a few resumes and doing some interviews). Almost everyone Tim and I know has been able to find an English teaching job in Taipei in a month or two after they arrived, and often they found jobs much faster.
2. Excellent transportation system. Taipei’s MRT (subway) first opened in 1996 and now has 4 lines that run all over the city, with several new lines opening soon. The MRT is fast, clean, efficient, and really one of the best I’ve ever been on in the world. It’s very easy to navigate and get around to most places in the city quickly using the MRT. The MRT can be used to go to work (both Tim and I take it to work every day), or just go exploring around the city on the weekends. This means that it’s always easy to find something to do or someplace to go. The bus system is also very useful and although it’s in Chinese, it’s pretty easy to figure out using Google Maps and some other resources. The bus system supplements the MRT nicely and can sometimes be faster than the MRT. While Tim and I both have scooters (the mode of transportation for many Taiwanese), we generally just use these to drive around our neighborhoods and don’t use them to commute. We do know plenty foreigners that still commute by scooter every day, but far less do so than in other Taiwanese cities where a scooter is a necessity for going anywhere. Having lived in Tainan and driven a scooter all the time, it’s really nice to live in Taipei and not have to deal with a 20 minute commute through crazy traffic.
3. Lots of foreigners. Depending on your reason for coming to Taiwan, having lots of foreigners around could either be a positive or negative. For now, let’s go over the positives. There are lots of bars and clubs that foreigners go to as well as many activity groups (hiking, rugby, soccer, yoga, etc.) so it’s always easy to find other foreigners to hang out with. In the beginning, it can be very helpful to have other foreigners who can help you settle in and get used to Taiwan. For many foreigners, having other similar minded people around is key, so if you think you are in this boat, then Taipei is the best place to go.
4. Restaurants and nightlife. Taipei has no shortage of international restaurants and pretty much every kind of food can be found in Taipei, from Mexican to Ethiopian. If you aren’t thrilled with eating only Taiwanese food, then Taipei definitely has the culinary options to satisfy the vast majority of people. At the same time, Taipei has an active nightlife with a very good range of bars, clubs, music and other activities. If you like to go out and party, you won’t be disappointed with Taipei’s nightlife which can often end at 4 or 5 am.
5. English language ability of Taiwanese. Taipei definitely has the highest concentration of people who are able to communicate in English. This makes getting around and figuring out things, especially as a newcomer, much easier. Most college students can speak at least a little bit of English if needed and you can generally find people to speak enough English to help you out when needed. That’s not to say that everyone speaks English really well, or at all (i.e. taxi drivers, 7/11 clerks, etc), but in Taipei the odds are in your favor that you will be able to find plenty of Taiwanese who can converse at a decent to high-level of English. If you are new to Taiwan and worried about communication issues, Taipei is definitely a good place to consider.
Need a place to crash in Taipei for a few days before you commit to an apartment? Click here for some awesome rates.
Negatives of Living in Taipei
1. Jobs can sometimes be harder to find. Although there are definitely more jobs available in Taipei than other places, there are also a lot more foreigners trying to get those jobs. Since the majority of foreigners coming to Taiwan choose Taipei, it means that competition for available joybs can sometimes be difficult. If you are willing to going to a smaller city, or a less populated area, it can actually sometimes be easier to find a job due to less competition. We don’t see this as a huge issue because almost all foreigners we know found jobs relatively quickly in Taipei, however, it may be of value to you to consider elsewhere on the island.
2. Large, densely populated city. While Taipei has a great MRT system, it needs to because it’s a huge city with millions of people. If you don’t like big, congested cities, then you probably want to think of checking out other places in Taiwan. When I lived in Tainan, I could get everywhere in the city in about 15 minutes, so getting around was a breeze. At the same time, it was also much easier to get outside the city and go exploring in the countryside on my scooter. If you are the kind of person that likes to quickly and easily get outside the city on your own transportation (i.e. scooter), then Taipei may not be the place for you.
3. Lots of foreigners. As we mentioned, having lots of foreigners around may not be a great thing depending on your intentions for coming to Taiwan. When there are lots of foreigners around, it’s easy to use them as a crutch and never really integrate yourself into Taiwanese life. If your goal is to learn about a new culture, make Taiwanese friends, or learn Chinese, then having so many foreigners easily accessible may not be such a good thing. When living in Taipei, it’s pretty easy to speak English at work and speak English with all your friends, which makes it harder to learn Chinese. If you go to one of the smaller cities, it becomes much harder to get by without speaking at least a little Chinese in daily life.
4. Cost of living. The cost of living in Taipei, from rent to transportation, is higher than other places (sometimes considerably). My rent when I lived in Tainan was $9,000nt (approx $300 USD) for a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom place in a new complex, while my rent in Taipei for not as nice of a place is more than double that. This is just one example, but in general it seems like rent prices are about double the price in Taipei than elsewhere (of course it depends on where and what kind of place). While not double, getting a taxi, going out to dinner and just general living expenses are usually higher in Taipei and can definitely add up over time. Entertainment options are also more expensive in Taipei. Taipei has so many good places to go (restaurants, bars, clubs, etc.) that it’s easy to burn through money, especially on the weekends. If your goal is to come to Taiwan and save a lot of money, then either you need to be disciplined while living in Taipei, or you may want to consider somewhere else where there are either less places to go or less expensive options.
5. English language ability of Taiwanese. If your goal is to learn Chinese, having so many people who speak English really well may not be a good thing. In Taipei, it’s easy to make friends with Taiwanese who already speak English really well. You you probably won’t get a chance to practice Chinese with these kinds of friends (not because they won’t want to help you, but because it’s easy and natural to revert to English when they speak it so much better than you can speak Chinese). I personally find Taipei much harder to pick up Chinese than when I lived in Tainan because so many people here already speak English at such a high-level. If you think you can avoid these traps, or are dedicated to learning and won’t let it get in your way, then don’t worry about it. However, if you think this may have an impact on your learning, then you probably want to consider whether a different place may be better suited to studying Chinese.