Michael A. Turton
I want to come. What should I do? Crime and Safety
What to Bring Health
Finding, Renting, Housing Money
Water Posts and Telecommunications
Transportation Personal Services
Recreation and Travel Learning Chinese
The Social Side Food in Taiwan
Driving in Taiwan Bringing Kids?
Keeping a Pet Living in Taiwan, Returning to America
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My daughter at the dentist. Our dentist was trained in Albany, NY. In Taiwan you can get US quality medical care at inexpensive prices.

Introduction Things to Watch Out For Diseases in Taiwan How to Visit the Hospital Or Clinic

My nieces place with fireworks. Children playing with fireworks unsupervised is a common health hazard in Taiwan.
A mother picks up her son in front of a train station in a crowded Taipei suburb. Soon she'll be going home with three helmetless children. Taiwanese often seem indifferent to both their own health and safety and that of their children. Like every civilized country, Taiwan has a national health insurance program to which most everyone belongs. It is a decidedly mixed program, inexpensive and universal, yet conducted with the indifferent service and corruption endemic to Taiwan, as well as its authoritarian values. It is currently suffering from a lack of funding, and may undergo radical revisions, including large fee increases, in the next few years.


The cashier counter of a hospital. All legal teaching jobs MUST offer health insurance with a work permit. In Taipei most foreigners go to either the Seventh-Day Adventist Hospital or the Chung Shan Hospital off of Jen Ai near the Tun Hwa S. Rd. traffic circle.
The waiting area of a small local clinic As a foreigner, you will find this program effective and cheap, unless you have kids or want to give birth in Taiwan. Doctors are competent enough and friendly to foreigners, though they often treat locals like crap. Most Americans who live here become instant converts to the idea of national health insurance.
A deep-fried whole fish awaits the attention of hungry diners. The prevalence of cheap food fried in bad oil means weight maintenance is difficult, and digestive troubles common. Although there are plenty of hacks, there are many wonderful doctors who genuinely care about their patients. You can easily find a competent, caring doctor. They are everywhere. 

Shopping for orchids with activist and Taiwan expert Linda Arrigo. Hanging out with friends is an important way to stay healthy and positive.
The frozen treats section of a local convenience store, featuring such delectables as red bean popsicles. The low fat and low calories of Chinese desserts make them an attractive alternative to the dairy-based health bombs of the West. Medical care is inexpensive relative to the West.

One huge advantage of the system here is that because so many doctors are US-trained, it is possible to get US-quality care at Taiwan prices. A nice deal.


The waiting area of a dental clinic in a large hospital. Glasses and contacts cost about the same as in the US and shops may be found on every corner.
Porn videos on the shelf of a local video rental store.Predictably, the children's section is right next to it. Birth control pills are available OTC in Taiwan in most drug stores, easy to get and cheap, $120-200 a packet. Bring your brand so you know which one to buy here. Condoms are also in plentiful supply, and vasectomies are about 1/10th the cost of the USA. Other forms of birth control (sponges, IUDs) are practically unknown. 
A farm in southern Taiwan. Although you can't tell from the pollution, there are 2,000 meter mountains not 40 kilometers from this point. High-intensity farming demands liberal use of poisonous agricultural chemicals. There is also an alternative health system available: Chinese traditional medicine. Many westerners in Taiwan become interested in (and strong proponents of) traditional Chinese medicines, acupuncture, acupressure and massage. It is 99% psuedoscience. I cannot ethically recommend it.
Introduction Things to Watch Out For Diseases in Taiwan How to Visit the Hospital Or Clinic
The feminine protection section of a small store in a small town. Several readers have informed me that although lots of stuff is available, they have found its ability to absorb to be on the light side.
My Econ 101 students struggle over an exam. At any given time, some proportion of your students will be sick. Take care of yourself, so you aren't too. Things to Watch Out For

The National Health Insurance system is not very well-regulated. Doctors tend to overprescribe, since they derive income from prescriptions. 


As you enter Kaohsiung, you are greeted by the perpetual pollution. The smokestack vents smoke from a trash  incinerator, the bulbous thing is a restaurant on top of it. If your doctor informs you that you need surgery, getting a second opinion is a must. I know people who have been told they needed surgeries they certainly did not because some doctor wanted to generate a little extra income. A good sign of corruption is if the doc will share information about your problem with you only AFTER you sign up for the operation. As the economy worsens this will only become more common. Get a second opinion for everything.
A buffet at a local steak house. Westernized food, and developed country health problems, are found everywhere. Additionally, do not inform the doctor/dentist that you are here short-term. I also know of cases of having false teeth disintegrate because the dentist shorted the patient on materials when he found out the patient was returning to the US.
A private swimming complex in Beitou, a nondescript small town south of Taichung. There is ample opportunity for healthy exercise if you seek it out. Demand a detailed explanation of what every drug given you is. Most places will be happy to tell you. Doctors generally do not explain, because their patients are Chinese, trained to accept the fiats of authority without question. Some Westerners get the prescription and then purchase the crucial drugs from an over the counter drugstore (since many hospital pharmacies will not let you pick and choose). This is sometimes necessary because unless you insist on a whole week, antibiotics are often only prescribed for three days (to get a seven day supply, you must visit the doctor three times!).
A temperature-taking station for SARS at a local university. Taiwan was taken off the SARS watch list in June of 2003. Formula manufacturers rule hospitals, so breastfeeding from birth is difficult. Surgeons are competent enough (I had minor surgery in Taiwan without a hitch) and you will not have to give them a "gift" (read "bribe") if you have major surgery, since you are a foreigner.
The pharmacy of a large urban hospital. Like the US, large teaching hospitals will often have excellent care. We go to China Medical University in Taichung, where our dentist was trained at NYU, speaks perfect English, and does first-rate work. You can get excellent care here. A clue is to look for doctors who are popular.
The name gives it all away... Another problem: if you want to travel to a country with malaria, the only drug the Public Health department will give you is chloroquinine (Aralen). It is useless in many countries of the world. Be sure to use your connections with a local doctor to get either mefloquine or doxycycline, both of which are effective malaria prophylaxis and available in Taiwan (I could not find Malarone).
 Introduction Things to Watch Out For Diseases in Taiwan How to Visit the Hospital Or Clinic
A Chinese medicine medical clinic. These useless clinics kill hundreds every year, paid for by the National Health Insurance.
Diseases in Taiwan

Taiwan used to have no tropical diseases, but recently they've started to make a comeback as more and more workers come in from SE Asia and more and more Taiwanese vacation there. 

Sashimi, always a healthy choice, is cheap here at the fish counter of a volume retailer. 
Enterovirus, a nuisance in adults, but deadly to kids, is now a threat all over the island.  Cholera appears rarely on the island, as does malaria, but dengue is a growing threat in the south.  Rabies is currently not found on the island, but the health ministry warns that is may re-appear. AIDS is not yet a problem in the general population, but prostitutes are riddled with it, as well as the usual diseases.  A modern-looking Chinese medicine shop. In addition to being useless, many rare animals die to make this stuff.
Giving blood here is completely safe. My wife, who gives blood regularly, poses in front of a bloodmobile.
 Introduction Things to Watch Out For Diseases in Taiwan How to Visit the Hospital Or Clinic
A more traditional-looking Chinese medicine shop.
A fruit vendor offers massive quantities of vitamin C cheap. Here approximately half a kilo goes for just NT$6.  How to Visit the Hospital Or Clinic
Under the National Health Insurance system everything is completely standardized.


Healthy foods hit the market fresh every day.
You might like to take a local the first time you go so you can see how it is done. But most clinic staff will be helpful. It's their job, after all.

The beautiful grounds of the National Fine Arts Museum in Taichung: therapy for the spirit.
Under the current system, you must first visit the clinic and then get a referral to the hospital, or pay a slightly higher fee. The difference is so small that it is not worth the extra trip.
My daughter picks out notebooks in a stationary store. Clinic:
In a clinic, go to the window at the front. You'll have to pay a fee, usually $150. Also give them your insurance card, currently an IC card that enables them to access your health data. 

Then take a seat and wait.

A Chinese medicine clinic. After you have waited for a while, they will call your name. You go in, the doc spends 5 or 10 minutes with you, you discuss your case, get your diagnosis, and get a prescription.
A betel nut stand. Do not become addicted to this; stats show that something like one in three habitual users will eventually develop oral cancer. You then return to your seat and wait for the prescription to be filled. They will call your name and hand you the drugs. For most routine diseases you will probably not have to pay anything. 

The prescription lists the name and directions for the drug, but only in Chinese (trade names will be in English).

Health drinks abound in supermarkets. Hospital:

The hospital process is the same as the clinic process. However, the hospital is much bigger.

Your problem begins with figuring out which department of the hospital you need to go to. For example, my wife had pains in her abdomen. Should she see the G-I doc? A muscle specialist? Or what?


The selection at Starbucks. With plenty of food like this around, it's a good thing Taiwan's health system is so inexpensive!
With fresh vegetables available every day, there's no reason not to eat healthy. Next, make an appointment. You used to be able to walk right in, but that system is being phased out in favor of computers.
The system in a hospital. "173" is the doctor's number. "022" is the number of the patient being served. Come early; waits are shorter. For your appointment you should be given a doctor number and a patient number.
Venus rising from the waves? No, just me wearing a shirt against the stinging jellyfish that sometimes appear in the waters off Kenting. Once you have reached the department, in front of you will be many doors, each guarded by a nurse acting as gatekeeper. Don't worry about the Taiwanese who try to cut in line; she will slap them down. Each door has number above or next to it. When your number comes up, simply go to the door (they should call your name).
My son gets inspected at our clinic.  If you arrive after your number has been called, simply stick your head in the door and alert the nurse to your presence. You will then be called when they are ready for you.
A vendor barbecues selection of goodies from a night market. Once the doctor has seen you and you have your prescription, go to the pharmacy (the nurse will direct you) and pick up your medicine. Your prescription slip will have a number on it. If you must pay for it, or any other treatment, go back to the cashier's desk in the lobby and pay.


A local sausage vendor, a fixture at every tourist spot.
Tip: in many hospitals, patients usually arrive en masse after 10. Hence, doctors often treat early arrivals on a "first come, first served" basis. If you can, come very early, you may just move to the head of the line.
 Introduction Things to Watch Out For Diseases in Taiwan How to Visit the Hospital Or Clinic

I want to come. What should I do? Crime and Safety Recreation and Travel Bringing Kids?
What to Bring Health Learning Chinese Keeping a Pet
Finding, Renting, Housing Money The Social Side Living in Taiwan, Returning to America
Water Posts and Telecommunications Food in Taiwan
Transportation Personal Services Driving in Taiwan Back to Teaching English in Taiwan home page