Naturally beautiful, peaceful, and economically a growing powerhouse in East Asia, Taiwan – or as it is officially known, the Republic of China – has become a leading retirement destination for many of the world’s overseas Chinese residents and Western expatriates seeking a more accessible version of the Chinese lifestyle and culture.
A small island territory off the coast of the Chinese mainland, Taiwan is governed by its own island government, officially the Republic of China. Despite frequent territorial claims by the nearby PRC, Taiwan remains an independent country and is self governed. Taiwan-PRC relations are an essential part of local politics, and are a frequent talking point for Taiwanese residents and expatriates.
When compared to its neighbors, Taiwan is a relatively open country that’s easy for expatriates and retirees to move into. With a simple tourist visa scheme allowing up to six months of stay per entry and no ‘time within a year’ restrictions on tourism, living in Taiwan as an expatriate is a simple and effortless process.
Many retirees within Taiwan stay in the country using a tourism visa. Taiwan’s tourist visas can be issues in one month increments, with up to six months of stay available on a single visa. Because of this, many retirees simple enter the country using a tourism visa acquired from a foreign Taiwanese embassy, and take part in a ‘visa run’ to renew their visa at a foreign embassy once it has expired.
This has spawned an entire industry within Taiwan, made up primarily of local professionals that organize visa-related trips for expatriates and retirees. Consulates in Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea make this process a simple and inexpensive one that’s often quite enjoyable for retirees. There are also several other visas available for those intending on staying in Taiwan for a long period of time.
These include working visas, which are available to those with a job offer in Taiwan from a local company, and educational visas, which are issued to foreign students intending to study at a local school of university. Many expatriates and retirees, in order to extend their stay and learn some of the local language, enroll in Chinese language schools to stay legally and improve their skills.
Taiwan’s financial sector is well developed and modern, a feature that’s attested to in the island’s tall and ever-growing central skyline. With a number of foreign banking firms operating within its land, carrying out your financial matters and managing your accounts from Taiwan is simple. Banks like HSBC, officially based in London and Hong Kong, have special Taiwan accounts available.
ATM machines are found throughout the island, and are a frequent sight in cities such as Taipei. A large majority of merchants, particularly smaller stores and independent businesses, will focus on using cash, which is the preferred currency of most residents. Debit cards and bank cards are useful in some high-end stores and hotels, but largely useless elsewhere, aside from public ATMs.
There are relatively few restrictions on transferring money from Western countries to Taiwan, and the vast majority of expatriates have few problems making cash transfers from a Western account to a Taiwan-based bank account. Aside from the standard fees and charges, there are no taxes on bank transfers for expatriates based in Taiwan that are not involved in local businesses or industry.
Taiwan’s transportation system is well developed and highly effective, with urban transportation in major centers such as Taipei quick and efficient, and regional trains inexpensive and timely. Getting around the country by road is also a painless process thanks to infrastructure investment, which has produced smooth roadways and highways connecting most of Taiwan’s major settlements.
Despite Taiwan’s economic strength, it is a relatively inexpensive place to live, particularly when it’s compared to its counterparts – the “Asian Tigers” – in Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea. An influx of foreign capital in the housing sector has resulted in several high-rise apartment complexes popping up throughout Taipei, many of which are chiefly aimed at foreign residents.
A small one-bedroom apartment, often in a modern building with a swimming pool and many other amenities, can be found for approximately $1,000USD per month. This price generally affords one a condominium or apartment located close to major transportation lines and central districts. As you move further out of Taipei’s center, apartments and houses become significantly cheaper and larger.
Life in the countryside is even less expensive, with large houses often available for as little as $500 USD per month in more remote areas. Thanks to Taiwan’s large and modern road network, living in a ‘remote’ area is rarely inconvenient, with modern services usually a short drive away. Many of the foreign retirees in Taiwan opt for this relaxed, slow-paced lifestyle instead of fast-paced city life.
Internet access in Taiwan is fast, inexpensive, and widely available. Speeds are fastest in the central areas of Taipei, where high-speed business connections are the norm and public wifi networks able to be accessed from almost every building. Internet access in the countryside can be slightly slower, but is generally still faster than the cable connections found in most Western countries.
Phone service, particularly cellular service, is an essential part of life in Taiwan. While the country is less dependent on the cellular phone than nearby South Korea or Japan, cellular phones are one of the most important accessories for any resident. Pre-pay and post-pay phone contracts are easy to buy, even as a foreigner, and expansive cell phone malls are found throughout the city of Taipei.
Taiwan is well connected to other destinations in Asia. The country’s largest airport is found in the outskirts of Taipei – Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. With frequent flights departing to Hong Kong, Macai, Mainland China, Japan, South Korea, and Thailand, it serves as a major air hub for East and Southeast Asia.
Many international flights from North America also pass through Taiwan before landing in other Asian countries, making the country easy to access from elsewhere in the world. Flights to Taiwan are inexpensive due to the island’s hub status, and travel to and from many other parts of the world is often possible without stopovers or transfer flights.
With a combination of ancient Chinese history and modern living, Taiwan offers a ‘modern Chinese’ experience that’s less stressful than Hong Kong, and significantly more accessible than that found in the People’s Republic of China. With a relaxed tourist visa policy and a great deal of infrastructure for expatriates and retirees, this beautiful island is a great place to live as a retiree in Asia.