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Real Taiwan living experiences they don't tell you about

Taiwan Gold Card holder Jonathan Gropper shares his insights after emigrating to Taiwan

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(Taipei 101 photo)

(Taipei 101 photo)

How is day-to-day life in Taiwan for Gold Card professionals? Taiwan wants to attract 100,000 high-end professionals in the next 10 years. Can it keep the ones it already has?

We keep reading about all the foreigners that love Taiwan for its food and people. We see all the 15-second Tik-Toks, loud YouTubers and attention-seeking Instagram accounts, but all of that is superficial.

What is it really like for Gold Card foreigners in Taiwan?

I will start out with my experiences. I came to Taiwan from the United States on an economic development Gold Card about two years ago and have spent the time finding opportunities in the Taiwan market. For me, it has been an exciting exploratory mission in a foreign land, complete with a different language, ideologies and experiences.

As a Gold Carder, I am basically invited to emigrate to Taiwan. That means setting up a life from scratch. This is not the first time I have emigrated. I grew up in different countries, and started businesses from scratch in multiple locations.

I travel a lot. I know multiple languages, keep an open mind and I would like to consider myself dynamic and resourceful.

This time it is just me, myself and Taiwan. Here are some of my experiences of living in Taipei and Taiwan on a daily basis. From housing, to getting around, to banking and other observations.

First up is housing. Let me first emphasize these two facts:

  • I have extensive experience with real estate development and construction in the U.S.

  • Years ago I founded the first digital platform for real estate agents and buyers in the U.S. We had hundreds of thousands of listings and users.

It is fair to say that I know real estate pretty well as I have become intimate with construction, regulation, the mortgage and title industries, brokerages and the technology glue that binds all these components into the U.S. real estate industry.

1st question I posed to myself: “Buying versus renting”

In the U.S. I am used to owning. I came in with that assumption. If I am going to live in Taiwan, I want to own my home.

I soon realized the prices for houses and apartments are, for lack of a better word, unaffordable. I cannot in good conscience buy a home in Taiwan, in an area that I like, to the specifications that I like, at a price that makes it a worthwhile deal.

Especially when compared to the U.S. I asked how my local friends can afford their houses and the answers were either, with the help of family or banks, or that they rent for the foreseeable future.

Since I don’t have family in Taiwan, I turned to banks. I found out that Taiwanese can get a mortgage for as little as 10% down (5% if they are government employees) and for a duration of 30 or more years at interest rates of 2–3%.

I figured that even with the high prices, I could swallow my pride and buy a house with those terms. I was looking to stay in Taiwan for a long time and after all, I am a high-value client at my local Taiwan bank, surely it would provide me with a mortgage.

I was wrong. I was told by several banks that I would be lucky to get a mortgage and that if I do, the terms would be interest rates over 10% and a duration of 20 years, after putting down at least 40%. Apparently, as a foreigner, I am “high risk per the central bank.” How is Taiwan going to settle any foreigner with this banking policy?

Renting it is.

My Taiwanese friends told me early on that Taiwan real estate rentals are all about “compromise.” My biggest shock was how much landlords charge for rent given how they calculate the size of the apartments. The listed size includes as much as 50% of the common areas or balconies that are inaccessible or patios that do not open up — not to mention the elevators, hallways and lobby. That’s a big problem.

What is the rental process like?

Since I have experience with real estate agents, brokers, consumers and how they interact, I found the way that real estate is transacted in Taiwan to be surprisingly inefficient. Agents cannot or do not show all possible listings because they might not have contracts with those specific landlords.

Agents also often do not talk to other agents for one reason or another. Finally, agents show irrelevant units or show units that are rented but still appear available. No one benefits from this chaos.

Do you like driving?

If you’re smart and want to get around Taipei, the MRT is quite convenient and the way to go. However, if you’re like me, I value my independence and the ability to hop in my vehicle and go. To a restaurant, to another city, to the beach, 2 pm or 2 am. I value that. A lot. Being an American, that often manifests as owning a vehicle. It is encoded in our DNA.

This, however, might not make too much sense in Taipei. Seeing as I also want to be able to explore the island, and all the pretty things on it, I purchased a vehicle. At this point, I should make you aware that whatever vehicle you purchase, it will cost you at least twice (or more) as back in the U.S.

Getting my driver’s license was easy

Getting my license was easy and the people at the bureau were very helpful. I was able to transfer my U.S. driver’s license to Taiwan because, luckily, my home state had reciprocity with Taiwan. Other people are not as lucky.

As some might now know, I drive a large vehicle in Taiwan. I learned how to drive with the craziness of the taxis, the scooters, and the buses all around me. It gets very exciting. Especially in alleys around Yonghe. Centimeters literally matter!

Yearly vehicle registration

What I was stunned by though was the engine tax. In the U.S., registering a vehicle typically costs about $50 a year. In my case, I am paying 75 times that. The size of engine should not be a penalizing factor, but in Taiwan it is.

The positive aspect is that I am able to drive on roads and reach areas that small-displacement vehicles cannot (I tried with my friends).

Daily life in Taiwan

One thing Taiwan is light years ahead of the U.S. is 7–Eleven and FamilyMart.

I can buy lunch, whiskey, get passport photos, pay my phone bill. Even pay taxes. Convenience stores literally store convenience in Taiwan. However, I wish the banks were half as useful as 7–11.

This is where we take a trip back to 1980. Everything is manual. Simple things that should take 5–20 minutes in the West, like getting a debit card for the checking account one spent three hours opening, will take another few hours if you’re lucky.

Have to dispute a charge? It is easier to just let it go. Want a credit card? You have to pledge funds. “High risk” again.

The most worrying thing I came across in banking is that when I wired funds for my business, it took weeks to arrive in my account, as well as numerous calls from the bank asking me about where and why I am sending funds to myself. The reason is that transferring funds from abroad into Taiwan has to get the approval of the central bank.

On a more positive note, walking out of the bank, I find wireless service to not only be significantly cheaper than the U.S., but I also find it more reliable as well. Wishing to take a break, there are many coffee shops and local restaurants to recharge in. I find the fabric of life in Taiwan to overall be communal and pleasant. People are friendly, the streets are safe and strangers are mostly friends you haven’t met yet.

I also noticed that ordering items I cannot find in Taiwan has gotten more difficult. I used to order from Amazon but customs adds 33% duty for personal items over $75.

I used to buy vitamins from iherb but now that is “no longer allowed” by customs, which is really unreasonable. Then the manner in which each foreign order has to be confirmed on an app with all my details, I just stopped shopping on those sites. Now, if Taiwan is really part of the global commerce chain, limits like this should not exist.

Evening time comes around

My circle of Taiwanese friends is quite diverse and really fascinating.

It encompasses people in their mid-20s and up to people in their 70s. Business owners, professionals, lawyers, doctors, TV personalities, entertainers, and musicians. There is a lot of creative, professional, and passionate energy in my circle.

I see Taiwan from different walks of life. I see the potential and I see the struggles. The many faces of Taiwan. It reminds me of one of the songs I learned early on at a late-night KTV session, "Cha bu Duo Xiansheng" (差不多先生) by MC HotDog — despite struggles, persevering. It seems to be a good encapsulation.

So what is going to happen with Gold Carders?

I know and have spoken to many Gold Carders. Quite a large percentage of them left Taiwan last year when Taiwan went into COVID lockdown. Many have not returned due to the current quarantine policy, or their cumulative experiences.

I wanted to see what other Gold Carders were experiencing. I took it upon myself to conduct a survey and was shocked to see that 49.5% of respondents are thinking of not staying in Taiwan, with 78% of those who said they would return to Taiwan, saying they would return sooner if allowed to quarantine at home.

The most troubling figure from my informal study was that only 27.5% plan on staying in Taiwan in general since only 10% think they won't have better opportunities elsewhere.

As someone who got into the Gold Card program early on and made a point of growing roots in Taiwan, I know no place is perfect. Taiwan has much to offer but also has room for improvement. There is still much for me to learn should I decide to further invest my skills, resources, and most importantly, time, in Taiwan.

I wish to make a positive change as I believe in the potential this island has. I have made many friends over these years and I would like to keep making more as I believe Taiwan is known as "Treasure Island” because of the people that live on it.

I worry that if changes are not made, the opportunity that Taiwan has with the Gold Card program will end up as the typical story of Westerners who come to Asia, are enamored because it’s new, try to settle down but soon find the shine wears off and they leave. I for one do not want to be part of this statistic.

Taiwan did the right thing by inviting professionals to its shores. The next step is to make sure we stay and Taiwan grows alongside its invited professionals. Four imperative things that come to mind:

  • Setup streamlined banking
  • Provide incentives to purchase properties (at least equal to locals)
  • Reduce the red tape and overhead in owning a business
  • Revisit vehicle registration taxes

I hope this article reaches the relevant ministers so that an effective dialog can turn into a swift and productive reality, if Taiwan is serious about sustaining and growing its Gold Card class, and in turn, improve the lives of all its citizens.

The original article : Real Taiwan living experiences they don’t tell you about — from a Taiwan Gold Cardholder

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Updated : 2022-05-24 07:48 GMT+08:00