1. Taipei has (almost) everything you need
Taiwan is a developed nation with advanced infrastructure and a highly effective healthcare system. Imported goods are readily available thanks to thriving international trade, meaning foreigners have access to many products from their home countries.
There’s no need to pack a suitcase full of peanut butter jars or hot sauce bottles – you can find these products and lots of your other favorite snacks and condiments at specialty stores that stock a plethora of imported goods.
One trick for getting settled in Taipei is knowing exactly where to shop for the things you need. Looking for fresh fruit and vegetables? Try a street market instead of a supermarket. Not only are you supporting local farms and vendors, but your product will be fresher and cheaper.
Looking for foreign or specialty foods? Try Carrefour, Costco, Jason’s, or supermarkets in big malls. Each has a different range of imported products, so you might need to shop around. Just try to avoid shopping here exclusively — it’s much cheaper to buy local products. If you need clothing with larger sizes, head for big chains like H&M, Uniqlo, NET, Decathlon, and Costco instead of local boutiques, which may only offer Asian sizes.
If you’re still having trouble finding something, your best bet is to connect with other expats on Facebook groups. Chances are, someone will have information that can help you.
2. It helps to speak some basic Chinese
You can actually survive okay in Taipei without speaking any Mandarin. However, knowing some basic terms and phrases upon arrival could prove very helpful in certain situations. Making an effort to learn at least a little Chinese goes a long way.
Specifically, we’ve found it very useful to know how to communicate the following things: ordering food and drinks, directing taxis, translating addresses (knowing the Chinese words for road, lane, number, section, etc.), conducting a transaction in a shop, and knowing a handful of basic, polite phrases.
If you don’t have time to commit to full language courses, we recommend using Duolingo on your smartphone. They recently released Mandarin courses on their app. You can download it on Itunes and Google Play).
Just put in a short amount of time each day, and you’ll have a basic understanding of Chinese in no time.
Also note that although Taiwan speaks Mandarin, the same as mainland China, they have a distinct accent and also still use traditional characters in writing rather than simplified characters.
3. Pack for both hot and cold weather
Most people know how hot Taipei gets in the summer when temperatures reach the high 30s. Factor in the intense humidity and you’ll be instantly drenched in sweat when you go outside, feeling like you’re walking into an oven.
This kind of heat is unbearable at the best of times, and it is absolutely essential that you pack well so that you’re not miserable from the get-go. Make sure that the clothes you’re bringing are of light, breathable material: that pair of pants or cute dress you wore during the summer at home may not cut it here.
The other issue is that it rains a lot here. The typhoon season lasts from June to October, and the rainy months of May and June are seriously wet. There’s nothing worse than commuting to work during a torrential downpour without proper rain gear. You can buy an umbrella at any convenience store in Taipei, but boots are a bit trickier. If you have big feet or a specific brand you like, you should definitely consider bringing rain boots from home.
What foreigners don’t account for (considering Taipei’s subtropical climate) is the chill of winter. Although temperatures don’t drop much below 10 degrees on average, it feels a lot colder than that. Winters are wet, meaning the cold penetrates deep into your bones.
Buildings aren’t as well insulated as in countries with colder climates, so the chill creeps indoors, and many apartments don’t have heaters. Another thing to note is that during the intense heat of the summer, Taiwanese people like to keep the AC cranked high. If your job requires you to be indoors, you may need extra layers to be even remotely comfortable.
4. Emotionally prepare yourself for the weather
In addition to physically preparing with necessary materials, you should take a moment to understand how the weather will affect you emotionally. We’ve already mentioned the heat, which can be absolutely crippling to any plans in the summer.
There are times when you won’t want to be outside, period. If you struggle with the heat, you may want to book your summer holidays in the months of July and August to avoid the worst of it, but the hot weather will start in May or June and lasts well into October.
The rainy season can also be a huge buzzkill and put a dampener on all outdoor plans. If friends and family are considering visiting, make sure that you warn them of both the rain and the heat in advance — Taipei isn’t as fun in the pouring rain or blazing sun!
Typhoons are another factor to consider: we can guarantee you that you will be bitterly disappointed should your holiday plans be disrupted due to bad weather.
5. Learn to embrace local food
Although you can sample many different cuisines in Taipei, the cheapest and most authentic is local Taiwanese food. Some of the tastiest food in Taipei is served from dingy storefronts or carts on the side of the road, and the night markets are especially delicious.
Whatever your preconceptions about eating food off the street or from hole-in-the-wall places, leave them in your home country. In no time you’ll be ordering dumplings from grandma’s cart on the curb.
Don’t worry, your stomach will be fine.
6. Make public transit your best friend…
Forget about driving – for most people, there’s no need to own a car in Taipei. Although taxis are probably cheaper than what you’re used to back at home and they can be helpful when you’re in a rush, plan on using public transit for your daily commuting needs. We recommend getting a transport card (called an EasyCard) as soon as you land, and keeping it topped up for the duration of your stay
These cards give you access to nearly all forms of transit, including YouBikes, a public bike-sharing system. Although it may look intimidating at first, we highly recommend taking one or two minutes to sign up — it’s simple, fast, and in English. Taipei is largely flat and relatively accessible by bike, and once you master the YouBikes you’ll have the whole city at your fingertips.
As a rule, Taipei’s public transit system is modern, clean, efficient, and easy to use. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be traversing the city like a pro on buses and the MRT, all for cheap!
7 …but know the rules and etiquette
As a guest in Taiwan, be sure to show your respect by familiarizing yourself with some of the protocols that may be different from your own country.
Here’s what you need to know about using public transit in Taipei:
You can’t eat or drink inside buses or the MRT system. Law enforcement takes this very seriously on the MRT in order to keep public transit sparkling clean. You can be fined even for chewing on a mint. The rules aren’t enforced as much on buses, but it’s best to be mindful of them.
Priority seats are clearly marked for a reason – Taiwanese culture highly respects elders and people with disabilities. You should always give up your seat to someone who needs it more.
Be quiet. Keep your conversation at a low volume and silence your devices. Talking loudly on the phone or playing music is seen as rude.
8. Brace yourself for nostril assault
No, that rancid stench on the street is not a rotting corpse or old wet socks dipped in feces. It’s actually a fermented Taiwanese delicacy called stinky tofu that some people find irresistible.
Stinky tofu is usually cooked in vats on the sidewalk, and the stench can consume entire city blocks. When you’re casually walking down the street and your nose gets blasted by the sour smell of death, forcing you to gag and cry out in disgust, know that some people are licking their lips in anticipation of their next meal.
9. And cockroaches
When the weather’s hot, you can be sure to encounter these vile creatures scurrying across the pavement with alarming speed.
Be vigilant so they don’t catch you off guard when they dart straight at you from under a trash pile – that way you might be able to suppress the scream.
In some cases, older buildings will also be home to these nasty critters. Keep it in mind when apartment hunting!
10. Bring your international driver’s license
Although you’ll be using public transit most of the time, you might run into situations where it’s helpful to have a driver’s license from your home country. Scooters are another very popular mode of transportation in Taiwan, and if you want to do any traveling outside the city, renting one is a great option.
An international license is very useful, and in many cases, you can only apply for it in your home country. Make sure to leave yourself enough time to collect it before departing for Taiwan!
11. Beware of different romanizations
Throughout Taiwan’s history, different romanization systems were introduced to the island and multiple versions are still used today. That means the same location on a map might have more than one English name!
For example, “Tamsui” and “Danshui” are actually the same place, a seaside district north of Taipei – check the Chinese characters (淡水). Although most names are now converted to Hanyu Pinyin, the official romanization system of mainland China, some are still written in Tongyong pinyin. For example, “Kaohsiung”, Taiwan’s second most populous city, is written “Gaoxiong” in Hanyu.
Confusing, yes! Be wary of multiple romanizations – they’ve actually gotten us lost in the past.
12. Anticipate staying longer than planned
One thing we’ve constantly heard from expats in Taipei is that they’ve lived here much longer than initially planned.
While most foreigners only anticipate staying for a couple of years, most find their lifestyles in Taipei to be so comfortable and enjoyable that they don’t want to leave.
Staying longer than planned is a common theme among expats in Taipei. Prepare to love it here!
🗓️ Updated: July 2016 – Taipei.Expats