Taiwanese cities offer mostly apartment-living; it’s usually easy to find somewhere suitable, though the quality of housing is often mediocre
Finding a place to live
Trying to locate a suitable home can be a frustrating exercise if you don’t read Chinese. A few places will be advertised on English-language message boards, but these will not represent a comprehensive range of options. If you can read a little Chinese (or have automatic translation software with your web browser), then websites like 591.com.tw list thousands of places for rent to suit all kinds of budgets.
Houses are measured in ping, with one ping being equivalent to 35.6 sq ft (3.3 m2). Advertisements often include balconies and a percentage of common areas in the total area, so be aware that the available living space may be up to 30% smaller than stated. When the number of rooms is discussed, this normally means bedrooms; living rooms and dining rooms are not included. Accommodation is classified into a number of categories:
- Taofang: Studio apartment with no separate living room
- Gongyu: Apartment in an older four or five floor building without an elevator
- Huaxia or dianti dalou: Taller community building with an elevator
- Bieshu: Independent house or row house
The first three categories are common in all cities. Independent houses are not often found in the downtown areas of large cities; generally land prices are too high to allow it. Things to look out for in Taiwan that may not be immediately obvious:
- Is the gas supply bottled or piped in? Bottled gas is more of a hassle and requires regular ordering of new supplies.
- Is there adequate parking available for your vehicles?
- Is it a rooftop apartment? If so, it may be an illegal structure. It may also get very hot in summer.
- Is there a temple, school, or market nearby? These places can be very noisy at certain times of the day or certain days of the year.
- Taiwan is very humid. Check for damp.
- If you are in a managed apartment complex, what is the monthly maintenance fee?
- How is the garbage collected? See the section below on garbage collection for details.
For international moves, any of the major international removal companies will be happy to handle your move to Taiwan. Relocating within the country is not too much hassle, and there are many local firms that offer door-to-door service. For English-speaking removal services in Taipei, Steven the Mover is a popular choice.
While some landlords will include some of your utilities in the rent, most will expect you to pay these separately. Utility bills are usually paid bi-monthly, and like most bills in Taiwan can be settled at a convenience store or an office of the utility company. Compared to many western countries utilities are cheap, with water and gas for most people coming to a few hundred Taiwan dollars a month. Your electricity bill will probably spike in the summer as you run air conditioning to combat the heat, meaning likely rates of a couple of thousand Taiwan dollars in peak months.
Electricity is supplied to houses at both 110 and 220 volts. The 220V circuit is usually reserved for air conditioners; other appliances and home lighting will use 110V. Gas is supplied either via pipeline (in newer buildings) or in gas bottles which sit in your kitchen or a balcony just outside. Most shower heating systems in Taiwan are gas powered. The government claims that the water from your tap is safe to drink as is, but most people still filter it or buy bottled water.
In many districts garbage is collected twice daily. A truck will drive past your apartment at an appointed time, and you will need to head downstairs to throw your waste in the back of the truck yourself. When the truck is on the way, you will be able to hear the tune it plays (often Beethoven’s Für Elise) – much like an ice-cream van in the West. In most areas there will be separate trucks for recycling and other waste; fines of up to NT$6,000 can be handed out for not disposing of your garbage properly. Sometimes the recycling truck will only come every other day; you can ask people in your area for times and details of the regulations, as these are imposed on a city level, rather than across the whole country. One of the advantages of living in a modern community rather than an older walk-up apartment block is that the newer places will often have communal garbage collection. This saves you the hassle of having to chase the truck when you hear the music!
Chunghwa Post, the state-run postal service, is fast, efficient, and cheap for services inside Taiwan. On the main island of Taiwan next-day service is the norm for letters and parcels; delivery to the outlying islands can take a little longer. There is a range of options for these domestic services, from standard post, through registered delivery (gua hao) and courier services. There are also private courier companies such as Takkyubin and Pelican that offer fast and secure delivery.
If you are getting mail sent to your address in Taiwan, you should work out the correct romanization of your Chinese address. Postal employees are generally pretty good at working out where something is supposed to go, even accounting for misspellings, but getting the correct 5-digit postal code will help a lot.
Sending overseas mail from Taiwan is very straightforward. You can do this at any Chunghwa Post branch. After telling the clerk where you want to send your letter, the teller will offer you standard or recorded delivery. Parcels can be sent one of two ways; by standard parcel post, or EMS. Parcel post is generally cheaper, while EMS is often quicker, though for heavier parcels EMS may work out more economical.
The major international parcel companies all have offices in Taiwan. DHL, Fedex, and UPS will all ship to and from Taiwan without any problems.
Taiwan is developing a more animal-friendly culture than previously, partially with pet ownership becoming more popular, and partly due to the hard work of animal welfare organisations, like the Taiwan SPCA. Dogs are a more popular choice for owners than cats, and with the limited size of apartments in the major cities many people favour smaller breeds. If you are looking to buy a pet, there are a couple of important considerations to bear in mind. Firstly, pet stores in Taiwan have a generally poor reputation with regard to the health of the animals they sell; adopting a shelter dog can be a more rewarding experience, as these animals often are in danger of being put down, and often have more robust health than dogs from the puppy mills. The other important factor is the length of your stay in Taiwan. If you are planning a short stay (a year or so) it may be better to foster for one of the animal welfare associations rather than get your own pet, considering the difficulties with rehoming or bringing an animal out of the country.
Pet owners are required to register their animal with the local animal disease control centre; any veterinarian will be able to direct you to the nearest branch. Importing your pet from overseas is possible, but bear in mind that this could be costly, and may involve a stay in quarantine, particularly if the animal is from a country affected by rabies.
Photo by Ray Tsang.