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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A Chinese traditional house in a rural area outside Taichung. 
Finding, Renting and
Living in Local Housing
Finding a House
Which City Should I live In?
Tips for Living in a House
A typical older suburban neighborhood. Finding a House
For singles, living in Taiwan is child's play. When you arrive, stay at a hostel for a month or two until you can find your way around, then rent. 
A potable water dispensary in an urban neighborhood in Taichung. Many Taiwanese get their drinking water from these, as what flows through the pipes is unsafe to drink.  I do not recommend lengthy stays in the hostel. Hostels tend to be cramped, dirty and full of weird foreigners who dislike Taiwan, complain a lot, and drink too much.

Hotpot and beer: it doesn't get any better than this.

One possible solution to the hostel problem is Mandarin Hostel. Instead of the usual set of moderately dingy rooms sharing an unmentionable  bathroom, Mandarin Hostel offers small, fully equipped apartments for short-term stays around the city of Taipei. I have not tried them yet, so if any readers do, let me know the results.
An alley in Kaohsiung, a melange of upscale restaurants, apartments, an English school, cheap eateries, and vehicles parked everywhere.  Unless you come competent in Chinese, you will be unable to find a place on your own, so riffle through your acquaintance networks until you find someone who has/knows of a place to rent. Some message boards, like Forumosa, have ads for housing.
There's lots to do....if you know where to look. One of the best places to find housing is where foreigners congregate. Places like the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei, or Bagel Bagel in Kaohsiung, are good spots. Another good place to look is the bulletin board at the local American or missionary schools. Some schools either offer housing, or offer to help you find it.
When you run out of batteries, you can use these batteries. These batteries, imported from China, are environmentally unsound and will not last. Don't use them. Foreigners often live with roommates until they know enough to strike out on their own. Rentals are plentiful, in a wide variety of price ranges, in many neighborhoods and in all shapes and sizes. Apartments are cheaper than houses of course, and more common.  Contracts are standard practice (standard contracts are sold at 7-11). My understanding is that the English wording is not enforceable in law, so unless it's in Chinese, promises by landlords don't count (not that they count anyway...........).

A typical Taipei alley.  This one, off Fuhsing N. Rd. in Taipei, shows a number of the features that render Taiwanese cities so unlivable: high population densities, a lack of sidewalks and parking, different types of vehicles using the same space, government indifference to private use of public space (note how the sign juts into the road), the dearth of light and moving air, and constant decay and repair of streets.  By the same token, they highlight the convenience, due to the high population density, of having many different kinds of business services available in a single neighborhood. Most neighborhoods in Taipei, Kaohsiung and other cities are similarly crammed.  Residents fight back against the inhuman conditions by raising plants and caring for each other in neighborly ways.

By custom, the space in front of a shop or house belongs to that shop.  That custom will be enforced by violence if necessary, by anyone concerned.  Once a friend parked his car in front of what we thought was a deserted building.  No sooner had we killed the engine than out of the building ran a little girl of nine or ten. To our amusement and despite our shouts, she immediately began kicking in the side of my friend's car.

Temporary buildings like this are found all over the island. They are used by construction companies who acquire the capital to develop a piece of land by selling houses that they have not yet built. For most singles, the incredible low quality of the housing won't be an issue. Not until one is married with kids does one really begin to notice how bad the housing situation in Taiwan truly is.
A typical northern Taichung neighborhood. The large white building is an illegal furniture factory.  Small, illegal factories are common in urban neighborhoods. Renting a house on your own is not difficult. You can check the classifieds, but those rents are higher. 

Upscale apartments across from the National Palace Museum.
Realtors also maintain lists of rentals, but sometimes they demand a fee.

Apartments and a school in the hills outside of Keelung.

There are several other ways to find rentals. 

The very best, #1 way is to drive around until you find a neighborhood which appeals in the area you like, then....

A bulletin board, found in almost every neighborhood, advertises places to live. ...look for the red and yellow signs advertise rentals and sales. Typically these are posted on telephone poles, walls, abandoned cars, etc. However, houses for sale may also be available for rent. It never hurts to call and ask.
My daughter in front of the bulletin board at the American school in Taichung, Morrison Christian Academy. Desks, shelves, cabinets, tables, table settings, fans, air conditioning, and motorcycles are on sale dirt cheap, all the time. Houses for rent are displayed as well. Number 1 method: The best rentals are never advertised. I don't know why; I suppose Taiwanese landlords expect renters to have telepathy. 
Domino's is found in most urban areas. First, drive around until you find a neighborhood you like. Then find empty houses in the neighborhood and ask next-door neighbors (bring a local for this one). We've located good houses this way.
The impressive Chung Yo Department Store, a Taichung landmark. Remember, every neighborhood has empty houses. Many people have given up trying to find renters -- something like a third to a half of all houses in Taichung are empty -- so your appearance is a great opportunity for them.
Finding a House
Which City Should I live In?
Tips for Living in a House
A typical alley in central Taiwan. Houses have no yards, and crowd each other. The problem of crowded, unlivable urban areas even in rural settings like this one derives from archaic and inefficient land-use laws, not population density, as the locals often assume.
Which City Should I live In?

General Considerations
Despite the identical dreary hideousness of the local infrastructure, Taiwan's cities  have distinct personalities. 

Whip scorpions, non-poisonous, may show up in your southern Taiwan home.
In general, northern Taiwan is more expensive and crowded than southern Taiwan. A two-bedroom fourth-floor flat in Taipei rents for $10 - 12,000 a month, a five-bedroom house outside of Kaohsiung (with a garden in front and a play area in back) goes for $10,000. However, you can probably find a house in your range anywhere, if you ask around.
A vendor in a morning market. Small neighborhood markets like this arefound in every community area in Taiwan.
Opportunities for other kinds of work are greater in the north (but teaching pay is higher in the south), and the cities of Taipei and Hsinchu are more cosmopolitan. The south, especially outside of Kaohsiung, is one of the most dirty, polluted, ill-run places on the planet. In the south and outside the cities, the use of both Mandarin and English disappears rapidly. Further, while theft and vandalism are serious problems in Taipei, they are simply obnoxious down south. 

However, down south the roads are bigger. Things are cheaper, too. 

  Large snails are common denizens of suburban homes. 
The East Coast remains clean and beautiful.  If you are into the outdoors, you might consider relocating to Taitung, Hualien or I-lan. Good luck finding a job, though. At play on the clean East coast.
Another factor to consider in choice of cities is that the foreign population in Taipei is more diverse and interesting. Taichung is the center of missionary activity. Many long-term expats have relocated to Taichung due to its excellent weather. Tainan has a great historic atmosphere. Kaohsiung has little for foreigners besides English teaching. An egret feeds on a soaking rice field in southern Taiwan. Looks gorgeous, but think about the bugs that breed here, and the fact that the locals burn off the fields periodically, and burn trash in them as well. Nice to look at, not nice to live next to....
Weatherwise, the south is better.  Taipei is beautiful in the spring and fall, but it can rain every day from January to April in some years, which is why I will not live there. Winter temps can reach the low 40s or even the high 30s in Taipei. Standing in an unheated home in February watching your breath fog up the computer screen is an experience that will make you wish you had moved to Kaohsiung.  In Kaohsiung it may dip into the 50s now and then, but you'll be fine with a long sleeve shirt in most winters. My wife and kids in Kuantien, the small farming village that is President Chen's hometown, in 2000.
Small towns, despite their bucolic appeal, are not only dull but rife with crime. Many are run by local officials working with organized crime gangs. Here's a page of pictures and commentary a one representative small town in southern Taiwan. A typical home in a rural area next to the mountains. 
In Taiwan, the convenience stores sell hot dogs, magazines, and the latest game software.
Taipei is cleaner, safer, more convenient and better-run than Taiwan's other cities (the government's tender care of Taipei is bitterly lampooned in the southern parody of KMT sloganeering: "stress the North, ignore the South").


Cars crowd Nanjing E. Rd. in Taipei. Taipei takes in the lion's share of government revenue and is chock full of amenities like museums and nightclubs. Seems great, until you wake up and realize you haven't saved any money for the third straight month....
Iin Taipei, don't live in the city, or in the suburbs southwest of the city like Panchiao and San Chung, where there are high concentrations of industry. The pollution, traffic, and noise in those areas are debilitating. The metro roars over a northern Taipei street.
Live in the suburbs southeast or north of the city. Yung Ho, Mucha, or Neihu are good places to live. Tienmu, the foreign ghetto, is expensive and everyone speaks English. Additionally, it can be a pain to get into Taipei, since there is only one route into the downtown.  A block of housing across from a park in Taichung. Along major streets, the first floors will 
be shops, with families occupying the second, third and fourth floors.
You might also want to think about Tamshui, which is now served by an excellent metro system, as a possible alternative to Taipei. Fifteen minutes on the metro will bring you into Taipei, yet you could live in a more livable small-feeling town on the ocean. The Taipei Metro in front of the Mucha Zoo.
Taipei has several downsides. First, it is extremely expensive. The cost of living is 50-100% higher than elsewhere in Taiwan. In central Taiwan we rent a five-bedroom house with a large grassy yard next to a scenic area for NT$10,000 a month. In Taipei that will get you a two-bedroom flat on the 4th floor of a nondescript apartment building. A father and son play together in front of the former's "American" fried chicken stand.
Since there are plenty of foreign restaurants and other opportunities to spend money you don't have on things you don't need, it is more difficult to save money. Apartment blocks and office towers tower over a traffic jam in Taichung. 
Another of Taipei's drawbacks is the horrible weather. Taiwanese houses are unheated, so if it is 6C outside, it is only a little warmer inside. Taipei is much colder than its latitude would suggest. Not only are the winters cold, but it can rain for weeks on end, each day 24 hours of absolute misery. In the summer the city becomes a giant open-air sauna, where even the buildings seem to sag from the sultry weather.  A bus route map for bus 255  at a Taipei bus stop. 
In addition to the miserable weather, one other strong reason not to live in Taipei: the persistent water shortages that have lead to rationing each in the last few years. Government water policy is wildly screwed up, and no one is willing to make the hard choices, such as raising water rates, enforcing conservation, and restricting the population density in the Taipei Basin, that will ameliorate the situation. The Kaoping River bridge at twilight after a typhoon. 
An alley in a small town. Note how the houses all open directly onto the street, and every window is barred.
Known as "the California of Taiwan" for its superb weather, Taichung can be a great place to live. Months can pass without rain, just one gorgeous sunny day after another. 
Taichung downtown overrun with cars and rain.
The missionary community is centered in Taichung, and Nike's Asian design center is also located there. Corning is putting in a massive new manufacturing facility just west of the city in Shalu. The city is the center of island's sporting goods industries, and also still a key player in the shoe industry. Sound trucks advertize new homes.
Northern and western Taichung beat southern and eastern Taichung, although the eastern side of the city is less crowded. The area around Fengchia University is lively and interesting. Southern and southeastern Taichung, where the industrial suburbs of Dali and Wufeng are located, are very badly polluted. Avoid them like the plague. The area from Wufeng down to Nantou typically has some of the worst air on the island. A breakfast vendor and her customers shoot the breeze as early morning traffic roars by.
Taichung is a cultural desert compared to the north or even Kaohsiung, but because of its wide streets, and cheap housing, it can be a nice place to live. Except for the cramped old city center around the train station, there's always a place to park your car. Rents are cheap, and there are numerous empty houses.  A typical small town alleyway, with houses commingled with factories. A machine shop rests at the end of the alley.
Your trusty author in Neihu in younger, thinner days. The views over the city from the mountains nearby are breathtaking.
Kaohsiung is one of the more unlivable places on the planet. on bad days the pollution burns the throat. The water is filled with heavy metals. There isn't much to do. 
Motorcycles race through central Kaohsiung.  The size, lawlessness and environmental effects of Taiwan's enormous scooter population create serious social problems. The government is currently financing the development of electric scooters.
If you have to live in Kaohsiung, the nicest housing is out by Chengching Lake, although some individual neighborhoods are nice. Chenching lake, outside of Kaohsiung city.
Kaohsiung's major advantages are the hot weather, and its prime location just three hours from the clean, beautiful East Coast. There are some interesting restaurants down by the docks, and not much else.

Waiting for the metro in Taipei. Kaohsiung's new metro should open in a few years.
One exception is the Love River, which has become an important tourist spot in the city. The large science and technology museum is also worth a visit.

A street performer on the Love River walk at night.
Dengue fever has re-appeared in Kaohsiung, and in neighboring Pingtung. It will only get worse.
Waking up at the Yuanshan Hotel in Kaohsiung.

The Love River in Kaohsiung at night.
Keelung, located on the northeast tip of Taiwan, is one of the rainest places in the world. Despite the rain and often cold winter temperatures, spectacular views from the slopes above the city and great seafood have given this declining port a unique, cozy, livable feel. 
The stunning port of Keelung.
The island's best Starbucks is located right next to the harbor. Unfortunately the local government has failed to realize the fantastic potential of this little gem of a city.  Keelung harbor by night. The green sign of the Starbucks is barely visible at center.

A park in Tainan.
Long the island's capital and now a center of Taiwanese nationalism, Tainan can be a great place to live.

English introduction at a Tainan historical site.
The city is studded with historical relics, including scores of famous temples. Several forts testify to the city's role as the administrative center of colonial empires. It is also famous among the locals for its cuisine.

A once mighty-cannon guards a Tainan fort.
Finding a House
Which City Should I live In?
Tips for Living in a House
Evening time: as a garbage truck rolls slowly by, residents rush to throw their garbage in. The next family is getting ready. High population densities mean garbage is collected daily. Downside is, if you are not home, the garbage doesn't get picked up. Note the sex role: garbage is usually women's work in Taiwan.
A man, barely visible behind his pigeon coop, trains a flock of pigeons to respond to the sound of his clapping. Racing pigeons is a major hobby in Taiwan, and pigeon coops like this one atop a factory in a small town are common. Tips for Living in a House

IMPORTANT: Pipes will not take toilet paper, so after you wipe yourself, it goes in the wastebasket to the side.  Humorous though it may sound, I know several foreigners who have shelled out thousands fixing plumbing.

A modern neighborhood temple in northern Taichung. Local temples are frequently the scene of communal activities like puppet shows, religious films, feasts and festivals. Don't rent by, over, or across from a neighborhood temple. They have celebrations that go far into the night, sometimes 2 or 3 am.  It's not quaint and cultural to be awakened at 3:00 a.m. by fireworks ignited to scare off ghosts or by idiots banging drums in the same rhythm for hours on end, like Orcs assaulting Minas Tirith. Temple celebrations also block traffic, make smoke and attract riff-raff to the neighborhood.
Taxis crowd a street in Yungho, a suburb of Taipei. Be sure to rent a house in which all the windows and other access are barred.  Break-ins are endemic. Be sure to get a place with bars over the windows and balcony. Check with the neighbors before you rent.
A typical secondary street, featuring heavily barred windows and balconies.  It's a good idea to make sure the bars have an exit hatch so that you can get out in case of fire. Every year scores of people die because they can't escape from fires due to barred windows.
A newstand in Taipei. 
An old women collects recyclable trash on the street. Many elderly eke out a living this way, others just supplement their income. Lock those mailboxes! Pilferage will occur.

Careful with that garbage! Your neighbors may rifle through your garbage looking for recyclables, or for credit card receipts, or out of curiousity. Burn everything personal.

Every place has its own garbage system. In some neighborhoods boxes are set out in the evening for you to place your garbage, but in most neighborhoods in the cities the garbage truck drives by around a fixed time and you have to run out, catch up to it, and toss your trash in. It will sound its way with pleasant music, just like an ice cream truck in the States. Garbage is collected 6-7 days in most areas.

My wife inspects the hot water heater. The device works by burning gas to heat water as it passes through thin copper tubing. There is no hot water storage. The spark is triggered by a "D" battery, so if your heater fails, it is probably just the battery gone dead. A canister of gas costs around NT$550 delivered, and lasts us 3-4 months for hot water for showering. Don't seal up house in winter for heating. Concrete houses do not exchange air with the outside. A concrete house with the leaky doors and windows properly sealed is a deathtrap. Every winter entire families suffocate to death in Taipei because they run a gas water or room heater in a sealed house (more than 70 deaths in the winter of 2004-5) (and in Taichung too). Don't become a victim.

Make sure that your gas water heater is outside the house, not inside it.


Here is the hot water heater from the front of our house. We don't use it, and the birds have moved in. Make sure your hot water heaters are outside, not inside. Additionally, your heater can kill you by fire as well. Be careful with it.
An alley in Taipei.  Don't rent or live next to a military base. They are hothouses of petty crime.
A night market in Taipei. The night markets are wonderful places to stroll, eat and buy things..... In the summer you will need at least a fan (but some summers will be unbearable without aircon), in the winter in the north, a heater.             

Picking lemons in a morning market. The ubiquity of such markets helps make the cities livable.
Mosquitoes are most active in the evening and early morning, so close your screen doors before 10:00 and after 5:00.

Fisherman in Keelung.

My mother-in-law advises that mosquitoes will lay their eggs in the drainpipes that lead away from bathroom floors, filling your house with clouds of mosquitoes whose origin will baffle you. Eliminate these by dumping boiling water or insecticides down the pipes from time to time.
Cylinders of gas loaded on a truck for quick delivery to local neighborhoods. Your stove will run on gas, not electricity. You'll need to order gas every five or six weeks or so for it. The local gas company will sell you gas for about $500-$600 a cylinder, and deliver it right to your door. Just call the number written on the canister.

If you don't want the hassle of using gas, electric hot plates, warmers, ovens, and cookers are available everywhere.

...but night markets are also a bizarre maelstrom of noise, smoke, and lights. If there is a large empty concrete lot nearby, it will probably be occupied by a night market. The noise and crowding will continue until midnight two or three nights a week, and the neighborhood streets will be overrun with pedestrians, vehicles and trash. You might want to think about avoiding apartments in buildings of 12 stories or less. Buildings of 13 floors and above are strictly regulated for earthquake safety by take-no-nonsense inspectors. The 12 and under crowd is indifferently regulated and will not be safe. 

Sashimi displayed in a local fish market.
Be sure that your house has a fan above the stove.  Lung cancer, caused in large part by cooking smoke, is now the leading killer of females in Taiwan.
Garbage collection in the morning in a small town in Taiwan. Taiwanese are enthusiastic recyclers, much more so than Americans, and recycle food (blue containers, for pig slops) as well as trash.

A full range of curios, knick-knacks, and gewgaws may be found in the local markets.
Cable TV is everywhere in the cities so you can watch American sports, especially baseball and basketball, both of which are popular in Taiwan, as well as a variety of movie channels, most of them bad. Cable is one of the great things about Taiwan -- you can get a year of cable for US$40-100, with HBO, Cinemax, and several other movie channels, whereas that's we were paying for a month of basic cable in the USA.
A new housing development next to a rice paddy. Taiwan's insane land policies fill valuable urban land with marginal rice fields. If you live in a small town on the west coast plain (why?) try to avoid houses next to rice fields, factories or large stretches of undeveloped, grassy or bushy plots. Rice fields are burnt off at intervals, while grassy plots and factories are frequent sites of trash burning. 
The extended family on an outing. The mountains are close to everywhere. Once you have a house, you can fill it with stuff by buying things from people who are leaving. The local English schools and restaurants will have plenty of advertisements from people moving on and selling stuff cheap. Missionary organizations are also good places to locate stuff, since missionaries are constantly rotating out to new assignments.
Tombs dot a hillside in southern Taiwan. Slopeland in marginal areas is often given over to tombs. Taiwanese consider it serious bad luck to live near or facing a tomb. DIY types will be cheered to know that B&Q and numerous local DIY places are found everywhere. 

Each neighborhood also has one or more handymen who will install things like lights and water heaters quickly and cheaply.

Here are two teachers who were in Taiwan a little too long... If you move, do not tell your neighbors unless absolutely necessary. You should basically get in the habit of not being open about your personal life the way Americans are with each other. 
Schoolchildren spill across an urban street. Having a house near a school has certain advantages, since there will plenty of cram schools around, a plethora of small shops, and some greenspace for jogging and walking around in after school. In many urban areas the only usable greenspace is the local school.  Hiring a moving company is a chancy process. Most are run by organized crime thugs. Things often "fall off the truck" or the company will stop right in the middle of the road and demand more money, or they will unload your stuff right there on the spot. Or they may be casing out your house for a possible robbery. It's best to riffle through your acquaintance networks to locate a reliable firm, or find a friend with a truck.
Finding a House
Which City Should I live In?
Tips for Living in a House
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