In many cultures, talking about money is often considered taboo. Personally, I hate money and wish we could live simply like the primitive people on the island of Yap where men wear little skirts and deals are made with gigantic stone discs instead of money.
But we live in a more complicated world with the additional complication of money. Starting over in a new country can be really expensive – emotionally, mentally, and financially. It can break your bank while it breaks your heart, as you get rid of all your “stuff” and break-up with your old life.
When I wrote “Nine Reasons Expats Choose Taiwan“, I listed some important reasons for considering a move to Taiwan, but I didn’t discuss details regarding the most important factor: money. But in reality, cost of living is a major factor when faced with the difficult decision of relocating to another country – becoming an expat.
So, in an effort to assist expats who may be considering Taiwan, I’m going to be a rebel, break the social taboo and break it all down – I’m talking about money.
(This financial breakdown is based on life in Hsinchu, the sixth largest city in Taiwan. Hsinchu is known as “the Silicon Valley of Taiwan” and is the center of technology, which provides tons of job opportunities to teach Business English to adults.)
Housing – the biggest chunk of cash
During my first year in Taiwan, I rented an apartment in a nondescript high rise building on a busy road. It was 10 ping in area (about 350 square feet), with no kitchen, just one large room (bedroom / living area) and a bathroom. The view of the mountains was wonderful and the large windows allowed lots of natural light – two features that sold me on the place. At $10,000NTD per month the price seemed right too.
My employer introduced me to a real estate agent who took me to some really dark and depressing places before showing me the light, bright, mountain view unit. A few days later we met to sign the lease (all in Chinese) and I was prepared to pay the usual one month deposit in addition to first month’s rent. At that point I found out that I was required to PAY THE REALTOR the equivalent of one month’s rent too. Unlike in the US where the owner pays the rental agent fees, in Taiwan that expense is passed to the renter.
After that first year, I moved to a wonderful complex right on the edge of town. My apartment is beautiful with a full kitchen, comfortable L-shaped sectional, large patio, and a garden. It’s also 10 ping in area and the same price as the previous unit at $10,000NTD per month. Since I found it through friends and not a realtor, I didn’t have the additional expense of the agent commission and was not required to sign a lease.
(The complex I live in, sometimes referred to as “The Commune”, offers a wide variety of housing options ranging in price from $5000 – $16,000NTD per month.)
Price Conversion: $10,000NTD = $312 USD per month
My apartment includes cable TV and internet but I pay for gas and electric and the charges vary greatly with the season. My electric bill is around $700NTD in the winter and can jump to around $3000NTD in the summer, but the air conditioner is a necessary splurge during the hot, humid summers. Gas for heating and cooking costs $700NTD every 4-5 months, a pretty minimal expense (I don’t cook a lot!).
Price Conversion: $22 – $95 USD for electricity / $15 – $22 USD for gas (every 5 months)
I purchased my used scooter for about $16,000NTD and have been driving it for almost 3 years with no issues. Quality used scooters are readily available and range in price from $10,000 – $20,000NTD for a dependable 125cc scooter. I usually fill my gas tank once a week for about $100NTD.
Price Conversion: $500 USD for my scooter – $312 – $625 USD for used scooters
Transportation / Travel
For occasional trips to Taipei or other parts of Taiwan, I usually splurge on the High Speed Rail rather than the bus. The HSR costs $290NTD one way from Hsinchu to Taipei compared to $200NTD round trip on the bus. Despite the steeper price, I still prefer the speed and comfort of the train.
Traveling within Taiwan tends to be more expensive than southeast Asian countries, with higher hotel and transportation costs. For example, the hostel we stayed at in Tainan was $800NTD per person for a double room, much higher than comparable accommodations in Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam.
Fortunately, there are tons of budget airlines now flying out of Taipei making it easy to explore the surrounding countries. V-Air is based in Taipei and offers great deals on flights to Thailand, Korea, and Japan. Air Asia has convenient service all over Asia with connections through Kuala Lumpur. (And then there’s Peach, Vanilla, NOK, Scoot…)
Price Conversion: $9USD each way on HSR – $6.25USD round trip on bus to Taipei
When I first arrived in Taiwan I was hesitant to commit to a cell plan, assuming it would be ridiculously expensive like in the US. After a few months I did some comparison shopping and, surprisingly, purchased a Samsung tablet for only $49 USD with a 2-year agreement. My monthly bill for unlimited everything is $900NTD. And after the first year, my Samsung tablet was replaced for free. (Great deal!)
Price Conversion: $28 USD per month for cell service
Taiwan has a wonderful National Health Insurance program and my employer covers most of my premium. I pay only $1070NTD per month, which is taken from my paycheck. The co-pay for a typical clinic visit is only $150NTD.
Price Conversion: $33 USD per month for insurance premium – $4.60 USD co-pay per visit
The typical Taiwanese apartment lacks a kitchen, which is fine because most people eat out regularly. Local dishes are delicious and cheap – fried rice for $50NTD, Vietnamese dishes for $80NTD, Thai delicacies for $80-$120NTD – so it’s usually cheaper and easier to eat out. I typically budget $3000NTD per week for food, drink, buying plants at the flower market, and miscellaneous other “stuff”.
Price Conversion: $375 – $400 USD per month for miscellaneous stuff
I did the math with all the currency conversion and complicated addition, and my total monthly expenses in Taiwan are less than just my housing expenses were in the US. Even if I go over budget, I still can live comfortably on less than $1000 USD per month.
Winter: $807 USD per month Summer: $880 USD per month
(I’m not sure what that converts to in Yap stone discs, but it’s probably just a few of the lighter ones.)
One of the huge benefits of taking the leap of faith on relocating to Asia is the ability to spend less to live so you can spend more time on life, living a more simple life like on the island of Yap. It’s a balancing act and, hopefully, this real-life financial breakdown will help in making your decision on where to leap!
Any other questions feel free to send me an email!