Living in Taiwan for a year was our plan. It turned out to be only three months thanks to our new jobs teaching English online. That said, we learned a lot about how living in Taiwan would be during our time there and we’re going back for an extended time in 2020! We searched for the cheap and tasty food, affordable groceries, and comfy but very economical living. We give our insights below.
If looking for some cool things to do in your new city then check out our post on things to do in Taipei!
Getting Around Taipei
One of Taipei’s greatest resources, the MRT, turned out to be one of our greatest challenges all because we over packed. Is it confusing? Not really, especially when a friendly Taiwanese guy sees that look of desperation on your perspiring face and kindly offers help. He even led us through the station to find our train and asked if we needed help with our bags. We had read/heard the Taiwanese were friendly but WOW. He was a life saver.
Convenient, clean, cheap, the MRT is the best way to get around Taipei. However, most international flights land in Taoyuan, not Taipei, so it’s important to note that there are two MRT systems: one for Taoyuan airport (the longest metro ride of your life) and one for the Taipei area.
Departing the airport MRT, you will most likely switch lines at Taipei Main Station. Luckily for us it was a friday night and it was a bustlin’… We were toting three 50 lb suitcases, one 50 lb keyboard and three backpacks all while navigating our way through an ocean of people. Not a pond, not a lake, but an ocean. Our friendly Taiwanese stranger was our lifeboat.
Here are our tips for cruising through the MRT to make living in Taiwan easier:
- These are posted everywhere in every station and easy to read. Just know what stop you need. Don’t know? Ask Google Maps, hotel or host, of course.
- Very cheap and easily purchased at a kiosk! We rarely spend more than 20 NTD per person one way. That’s only 65 cents per person! The kiosks only take coins or NT$ 100 bills. So it’s good to have some currency on you before you land! To enter and exit the platform areas you either need a single journey ticket or a reloadable card.
- We personally just use single journey tickets. Just tap your ticket or reloadable card on the turnstile to enter the platform but keep it handy! You have to insert your ticket or tap your card on the turnstile to exit the platform.
- MRT Rules
- No eating or drinking. Not even water. A friendly policeman gave us the no-no wave coming down the escalator for our train. That means no eating or drinking once you cross the turnstiles. Escalators crowd quickly in the stations with people coming on/off their trains. If you’re in a rush then keep to the left and hurry up. If not, then hop in line and enjoy the ride on the right. Lastly, give up seats to the elderly, pregnant women, others in need, etc…. DUH!
- The entrances to the stations are marked with one or more colored lines signifying what lines service that station. In large stations with multiple connections you can find which platform you need by following the colored line for your train or by knowing the name of the two end destinations.
- Signs everywhere say to hold the handrails. That’s great. And disgusting. We’ve witnessed too many people skip the sink after using the restroom (mainly in the men’s room). Guess they’re in too much of a hurry. Even if we hadn’t, Taipei is a crowded city and it’s good practice to sanitize. Be careful on those stairs and hang on in the metro, just watch out for those germs too and bring plenty of hand sanitizer. A good rule in general when living anywhere.
Convenience and groceries on a budget while living in Taiwan
We read a lot about 7-Eleven before making the move to Taiwan but we never realized how convenient it actually is. They are everywhere. Don’t like 7-Eleven? You’d be crazy not to.
No worries, because there’s Family Mart. It’s also everywhere. Most likely next to or just down the street from 7-Eleven.
We loved both! You can print documents from an email or memory card at an Ibon Kiosk, grab some fruit, sandwiches, pasta (which they’ll microwave for you), sushi, tea eggs, oreos, milk…the list goes on! You can even send mail, pay bills, buy railway tickets, and have them call a taxi for you! Practically a one stop shop, 7-Eleven and Family Mart have it all.
Most importantly for us, they have cheap water. For the short day trip it makes a lot of sense. And it comes in 2.2 Liter bottles. With a “buy two for less” deal going on we could get 4.4 liters of water for NT$49 ($1.60). We would do this a couple times of day while still figuring out our surroundings. Gotta stay hydrated!
Those first few days living in Taiwan were rough. We were looking for a job in Taipei, running around to get our health check, meeting different schools, all in early August. It was HOT! Feeling exhausted, 7-Eleven and Family Mart were our go-to, hydrating and saving!
While living in Taiwan, a typical day at 7-Eleven/Family Mart would have us spending a little less than $5 USD per day. That’s getting 4.4 liters of water, a few bananas, and some tea eggs.
Once we were settled we discovered that you can buy most items for even less at grocery stores like PXmart. They have everything! There was one nearby during our stay in New Taipei City. We stopped going to 7-Eleven and FamilyMart and started stocking up on groceries a couple times a week. More details on the cost below!
If you’re living in Taipei or New Taipei City then we highly recommend going to your local supermarket instead of convenience stores. You’ll save money and have to take out less trash. Those bottles of water can really pile up!
Our first two weeks took place in the Zhongshan District of Taipei and it was pretty cheap but didn’t match our expectations from our research. When our plans changed and we decided to teach English online instead of in a school we quickly found the cheapest accommodation we could near Taipei, which was in Banqiao District of New Taipei City.
It’s incredible what the difference in price was! We were spending upwards of $10 USD for lunch in Taipei and around $15 USD for dinner. Zhongshan was definitely more touristy so the price makes sense. In New Taipei City we spent around $4 USD for lunch (when we ate out) and around $5 USD for dinner (these prices are for 2 people). We spent about $20 USD at the supermarket (PXmart), and that covered our breakfast/lunch for 5 days. As you can see, much cheaper!
Just be ready to take out the trash and meet your neighbors! If you’re in the city and hear a classical tune approaching, it’s the trash! The yellow truck is trash and the white truck is recycling.
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Eating in Taipei
Food. The reason we came to Taiwan. We researched countless times that Taiwan is the foodie capital of Southeast Asia, which made living in Taiwan even more appealing. Taipei is very diverse when it comes to food. One street has Michelin-starred restaurants and the next has a street food vendor selling dumplings for just over $1 USD. We never made it to those fancy restaurants. No need! Cheap and savory options are everywhere.
Most of the food we list below can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner! We typically would chow down on these foods for breakfast and lunch and eat a bigger dinner. Most meals would run you about $5 USD or less for 1 person.
- Xiaolongbao, also known as soup dumplings, usually have a mixture of pork and gelatinous broth and are wrapped in dough. They’re cooked in a bamboo steaming basket and once they start heating up, the gelatinous broth becomes liquid, which is why they’re called soup dumplings! Best eaten with soy sauce and vinegar with a little bit of ginger on top. Yum!
- Shaobing is a flaky sesame flat bread stuffed with goodies. We usually enjoyed it with a fried omelet and pork patty but you can also get it with youtiao (fried Chinese dough stick).
- Soy Milk
- The Taiwanese love their soy milk. The foods above can be found in “Soy Milk” restaurants and the reason they are called soy milk restaurants is because they sell soy milk! Hot or cold, sweet or salty! They leave that up to you. Our favorite soy breakfast spot was Sihai Soy Milk in the Zhongshan district in Taipei City.
- Convenience Food
- Sausage sandwiches, bananas, tea eggs, pasta. You can pick up these surprisingly delicious, on-the-go meal at any 7-Eleven or FamilyMart. (NT$100)
- Made by us! Courtesy of our neighborhood Pxmart
- Scrambled eggs on bread with a side of grapefruit (or kiwi!). This healthy and delicious breakfast is also cheap!
- Ham and cream cheese sandwiches with a banana was our dependable afternoon snack. If we were low on ham we’d just make a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Cost effective and tasty!
A whole different ball game. If you’re anything like us then your stomach is growling by dinner and you want to feel even somewhat full. Portions do run smaller here after all. Depending on the district, your dinners can run you anywhere between $2.50-$10 USD for one person. When we lived in the Zhongshan district (Taipei) dinner would be around $8 USD per person but in Banqiao (New Taipei City) we ate like kings for $2.50 per person.
- Ramen was our staple when we first arrived in Taipei. We chose a restaurant nearby that had English reviews on Google and tried it out. To our great surprise, they spoke English and even had an English menu! Most ramen restaurants have pictures on their menus so no worries if you can’t read or speak Mandarin. Ramen is wheat noodles in a broth and accompanied by pork, boiled egg, seaweed and green onion.
- Din Tai Fung
- Din Tai Fung isn’t a dish but a restaurant that was founded in 1958 in Taipei. They’re the famous restaurant to get xiaolongbao in Taipei. A bit on the pricey side but they’re worth trying at least once! After you order they give you a handy note card that tells you exactly how to eat the xiaolongbao. Take our advice and don’t order the rice unless you’re a master of chopsticks.
- More dumplings!
- Our favorite restaurant in Banqiao was Ba Fang Yun Ji Dumpling. Passing by on the street one evening as we searched for food (and a menu we could actually read), we stumbled upon this gem. You can choose from several types of dumplings by themselves or try them in a creamy corn soup or our favorite, hot and sour soup.
- Street food
- There is no shortage of street food in Taipei. Every night you can see people setting up carts along the streets selling their plethora of mouthwatering foods. Exploring the area around our apartment one night we discovered a chicken sandwich with grilled onions, cheese and French’s Mustard. We were stoked! And our taste buds were too. You can find anything from soup to dumplings to western foods from street food vendors. So much variety
- Beef Noodles
- You don’t have to go far to find a beef noodle restaurant. We were lucky enough to have one downstairs in Banqiao! Made with beef broth, noodles, green onions and, of course, beef, this soup will warm your insides and fill you up. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous you can have beef and tendon noodles. A little on the chewy side…but good!
- Night Markets
- These are in a league of their own and you can read more about them in our guide to Taipei Night Markets.
There’s definitely no shortage of good eats in Taipei and these are just a handful of what you can find. It can be daunting to try and order from a restaurant with no pictures on the menu and no English (or whatever your native language) so if you want to try a place out then find a picture of a dish you like from their Google/Yelp reviews and show them that! If you can’t find any then just point and give it a go! Practice using those chopsticks and happy eating!
Cost of Living in Taiwan
So much to see, so much to do, so much to eat! We first arrived with the mindset of settling in and finding a home in Taipei, so we weren’t super cognizant of a strict budget. About a week later when we knew we wanted to backpack and travel the world as digital nomads, we got our budgeting butts in gear. Keep in mind these costs are for two people.
- In Taipei, expect a small studio apartment to be between NT$15,000-20,000 ($488-$651 USD) or more per month. In New Taipei City we got a shared apartment, much larger than a studio, for NT$11,918 ($388 USD) per month. The further from the city center the cheaper it is to live. That goes for anywhere!
- The bus is a good option if you’re going further distances. We took a bus for NT$15 per person to our hike in Yangmingshan National Park. We avoided taxis when possible as our research found they are more expensive. Our only taxi experience was in Yilan, a smaller city on the northeast coast. After walking all day in the heat we decided to take a taxi instead of walk 30 minutes to the bus station. It was around NT$120 for a 5 to 10 minute ride.
- Our main mode of transportation, especially in Zhongshan, was the MRT. About NT$20-40 ($.65-$1.30 USD) per person at least four days a week. Transportation is cheap, but it can add up quickly depending on your usage! As mentioned in earlier, we bought single journey tickets, but there are several different multi-day or unlimited monthly passes available. Check out the MRT website for more info. Explore your options!
- Food/Drink (only including water) – this number can vary greatly depending on where you live and whether you plan on cooking any meals.
- Eating out for every meal would add up quickly. We’d spend NT$800 or more a day. (Around $26 USD)
- New Taipei City
- At first we kept up the habit of eating out for every meal and that would be around NT$400 a day (around $13 USD), but once we started buying groceries and cooking for breakfast and lunch we reduced that to NT$200 a day. A week’s worth of our groceries cost around NT$600-800 ($13-$16 USD). We would go a couple times a week.
- Our groceries included:
- 10 eggs NT$84
- A large loaf of bread NT$37
- A small jar of peanut butter NT$ 96
- A small tub of cream cheese NT$97
- 6 L jug of water NT$39-45
- Sliced Ham NT$ 80
- Different fruits ranging from NT$40-80
- If you grab a beer then we suggest doing so in a Pxmart or supermarket. It’ll be way cheaper than at a restaurant, about NT$55 ($1.79) for a 500ml bottle. They have wine too! We found a cheap cabernet we liked for NT$199 ($6.48USD). Don’t look for the same cheap wine from the U.S. Yellowtail wine from Australia is double the price in Taiwan!
- Trash bags – NT$15-25 for small trash bags
- Toilet paper – NT$65-160
- Toothpaste – NT$60-99
- Soap – NT$10-20 per bar
Feelin’ Hot, Hot, Hot!
Traveling in August to a subtropical climate wasn’t the brightest idea. That said, our timing depended more on the school year than the weather so we just had to accept the fact that we showered in our own sweat whenever we stepped outside. While we were covered in sweat stains, you could barely see a drop on the locals.
The temperature would reach the low 90s Fahrenheit (32-34°C) just about everyday, high 80s Fahrenheit (around 31°C) if we were lucky. But the humidity was our main foe, making the outdoors a sticky mess.
We were prepared for all the rain. It was pretty comical. Our extensive research made us believe it would rain practically every day. It didn’t rain our first 13 days….
Rain, Rain Come Our Way
We finally got some relief on a Sunday afternoon when it rained for about five minutes. Beggars can’t be choosers. Short but sweet, we’ll take it. The pattern definitely changed after that. Almost every morning was a sunny morning, and we mean sunny! It would be so bright around 05:30 that we’d think it was after 08:00. Try falling back asleep with the sun bursting in. It’s not easy.
Those bright mornings turned into a hot lunch, leading way to afternoon thunderstorms. The downpours would get pretty intense but not for long. Then you have days where it never stops raining. These were rare but we loved them. It was a great opportunity to open the windows and let the cooler air rush in.
Oh yeah, and typhoons. Luckily for us, very unfortunate for Japan and the Philippines, they missed Taiwan. Three had approached the island during our stay, which had us more than a little nervous. Living in Taiwan during the cooler months like December definitely has its advantages!
Be prepared for weather that can change in an instant. Lots of people have umbrellas on hand for this reason. If you’re out and about and you can’t wait it out or the rain just seems endless, odds are there’s a random shopfront near you that has umbrellas. Sometimes the MRT stations have free umbrellas for you to take near the exits. How cool is that?!
Otherwise, keep dry on the sidewalks and let the shop awnings do the work for you. Grab some bubble or milk tea while you wait! If you want our opinion, chocolate milk tea is the best 🙂
Summary of Living in Taiwan: An Expat’s Guide
Living in Taiwan is an incredible experience and one we hope you get to enjoy. Surrounded by beautiful nature and hikes, packed with delicious food and friendly people, Taipei is a must. We hope you get to take some time to explore Taipei and all the beautiful island of Taiwan has to offer during your time as an expat.