Compared with some countries in East and Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Vietnam, or China, Taiwan is a more developed and more expensive place to live. Compared with Western countries, Japan, Singapore, or Hong Kong, however, living here is much more affordable. Most of our NSTs feel that their salaries compare well with those in their home countries, and they find that they are able to save a lot more. The amount you spend will, of course, depend on your lifestyle and location. The more you adapt to living like a local, the more affordable Taiwan becomes. In fact, of all of the countries where TEFL work is abundant, Taiwan and Korea have the highest ratio of pay to cost of living. Taiwan is generally considered a better place to live.
Taiwan's 23 million people consist of Han Chinese, Taiwanese, and nine different aboriginal groups speaking primarily Mandarin as well as Taiwanese and aboriginal dialects. It is a thriving mosaic of tradition, culture, and high-tech development, merging Eastern and Western influences. In this fusion of modernity and tradition, street markets sell fresh produce and vials of Chinese herbal medicine next to modern shopping malls, and big city lights can be viewed from small, rural villages through the mountain mist. Taiwan is exciting, convenient, interesting, and affordable.
Housing standards here are generally quite acceptable, but apartments are usually smaller than you might be used to. Rent varies considerably depending on location, sharing arrangements, and quality of apartment. The majority of our teachers in Taipei and Taichung pay between NT$8,000 and $16,000 per month. Elsewhere, rent is cheaper. The typical arrangement for our foreign teachers is to have a room in a shared apartment. Often, new teachers find roommates during the large group initial trainings. Most apartments have two or three bedrooms. Deposits are typically two months’ rent.
Payment of the first month's rest is also required. The set-up cost of housing typically runs from NT$25,000-40,000.
Furniture and Major Appliances
Apartments usually come unfurnished, but sometimes the landlord or the previous occupants leave basic furnishings. Nevertheless, secondhand or simple furniture is very cheap and easy to obtain. At Chinese New Year, it is traditional for Chinese people to clean their houses and to buy new things. As a result, they leave out lots of secondhand furniture, and anyone who wants it can take it. Many teachers have furnished entire apartments, spending next to nothing, thanks to this custom. A person who is just renting a room in the apartment usually finds basic furniture already there. Air conditioning is common, but central heating is very rare as there is little need for it. Some apartments may not have a washing machine or refrigerator, but you can usually pick these up fairly cheap, or secondhand, or locate the neighborhood laundromat.
Western food is expensive. Local food is very cheap. You can easily find a filling local rice, noodle, soup, or dumplings dish for between NT$40 and NT$60. A Big Mac, fries, and soda set from McDonald’s costs about NT$118. Dinner for two in a good Italian restaurant will cost about NT$1,000. Supermarkets sell local and imported produce at average prices. Traditional markets sell fresh local produce at much better prices. Some Western luxury items are simply exorbitant, but even these prices are slowly coming down as Taiwan becomes more international and its cities more cosmopolitan.
While all manner of cuisine is available in the bigger cities, in some places, choices are limited. Finding vegetarian food is always easy—Taiwan seems to have more kinds of tofu than street names. Halal food is less abundant but still available.
In Taipei, the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), urban train system is inexpensive and efficient—you can get to one side of the city from the other for NT$40. Kaohsiung has started to develop MRT lines. The high population density across Taiwan means that buses run regularly just about everywhere. Fares are very cheap (NT$15-25). It's never cheap to make a habit of taking taxis everywhere you go, but cab fares here aren't too bad. This is useful because often taking a taxi is the easiest way to find a new place. The flag fall for a cab in Taipei is NT$70, and NT$250 would get you a half-hour ride of about 20 kilometers (from anywhere in Taipei to the heart of the city).
Many NSTs follow the trend in Taiwan and get around by scooter. They are good in traffic and very cheap to run. New scooters average at about NT$35,000 for a 50cc to NT$50,000 for a 125cc bike. There are also better deals, and secondhand scooters cost much less.
IA movie ticket costs about NT$250. Rent new releases at the DVD store for NT$70. You can see fine art at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), modern art at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), or the world's premium collection of imperial Chinese artifacts at the National Place Museum for NT$30, NT$50, and NT$160 admission respectively. Catch a Chinese opera for as little as NT$100. Soak in one of the many hot springs throughout Taiwan—public baths begin at NT$60, or spend NT$5,000 and get a luxury hotel room with its own private tub. A year's gym membership can be as little as NT$10,000 or as much as NT$40,000.
For the younger generation in Taiwan, KTV (karaoke) is pretty much the national pastime. A room costs about NT$500/hour plus expect to pay around NT$150/person on top of that. Some of the older generations like to relax and partake in indoor shrimp fishing in manmade pools. It would set you back around NT$100/hour to join them.
Drinking is one of the fastest ways to use up your money in Taiwan. A few drinks at home won't really dent the budget, but if you're into partying hard on the weekend, there are plenty of establishments willing to sell you a great time; it just costs a lot. The two most popular beers are Taiwan Beer and Heineken, costing NT$35-40 per can or bottle from the convenience store. In a bar, you'll usually pay about NT$150 for a beer and about NT$200 for a cocktail. Depending on the venue, these prices can run higher. Most clubs have cover charges, and they tend to charge about NT$500-1,000 per person at peak times during the weekend.
Luxury buses will take you from Taipei in the north to Kenting's beach resorts at Taiwan's southern tip for about NT$600. You can travel the length of the country by train for NT$800. Smaller distances cost less. You can also take the High Speed Rail Train down the west coast from Taipei to Kaohsiung for about NT$1,500. There are very few backpacker accommodations in Taiwan. Hotels start from about NT$1,000/ night.
Travel to some other countries in Asia can be very reasonable. You can get return tickets to Hong Kong for NT$7,000, the Philippines for NT$3,000, Thailand or Vietnam for NT$8,000 and Japan for NT$10,000. During festivals such as Chinese New Year, ticket prices usually increase.