Taiwan is a great place full of natural beauty, excellent food and convenience. However, many people come to find these things are not satisfying them and can no longer justify staying on the island due to various reasons. Here is a list of those reasons based off complaints/concerns from Taiwanese and foreigners alike, and do not necessarily represent the views of the author. The goal of listing these is not to bash Taiwan, as many including the author want nothing but the best for the island, but rather, to address issues that need attention in hope that Taiwan’s society can be improved.
1. Housing is expensive. Statistically, Taiwan now has the most extreme scenario in the world in terms of wages vs. housing pricing. Many Taiwanese do not make more than NT$40,000-60,000 a month (US$1,330-US$2,000) while housing in Taipei, which is where most of the jobs are, start at average selling prices of US$350,000-400,000 minimum. However, outside of Taipei in areas such as Taichung and Tainan housing is more affordable but even residents there are complaining that anything near the city has similar pricing, causing people to feel that their only option is to move to the countryside or rent their whole lives. This is giving locals lack of security and hope for their family and personal lives in the future.
2. Upward mobility in careers is very difficult. When most Taiwanese talk about this they are referring to salaries in that they feel they will always be stuck in the same salary range. Even if they work really hard the attitude people get from bosses is not to be congratulated and rewarded, but rather, it was expected. “If you aren’t 110% then someone else will be” is the attitude often taken by employers. This is common elsewhere, but at least you are rewarded with more upward mobility, according to many Taiwanese who have worked outside of the US. It should be noted that employers almost never grant more days off than the required amount set by the government (0 the first year and 5 the second year), there are no paid sick days, and it is unheard of employers paying for employees to pursue higher education degrees (although some companies are good about providing stipends to take certain courses). All of these factors plus more are a large factor why Taiwan is seeing a brain drain in addition to very little foreign talent coming in.
3. Food actually isn’t that cheap. In general, people in Taiwan eat out for most meals, with a typical lunchbox (便當) costing between NT$70-100, and that is usually without a drink. More realistically, if you get other types of food such as something like Taiwan-style pasta, expect to be pay NT$100-200 per a meal. Breakfasts are slightly cheaper than lunchboxes depending on what you eat and dinners are around the same amount. Add it all up-about NT$250-300 a day, and that is considered fairly conservative. What that translates to is about US$300 a month for food, which is actually what an individual would spend a month in a place like the US (could be even lower than that). Don’t be fooled by all the “cheap” meals, as they add up quickly and that is not even considering the fact that you will probably pay more a day on average if you are a Westerner, especially since you are likely to shop at one of the high-end over-pried grocery stores to find some of the most basic cheeses and snacks etc. that would otherwise cost cheaply in the West. Buying food from local markets and cooking it yourself is almost as expensive than eating out as well.
4. If you are a foreigner, you will never be one of “them”. This is pretty self-explanatory, and not really special to Taiwan, but it’s based on the reality that in East Asia it is a bit hard to blend in if you do not look like locals (hair/skin) and thus will be considered an outsider. However, places like Taiwan are becoming more diverse and as more and more non-native speakers of Chinese learn the language that may one day change.
5. Crowded, crowded, crowded. Taiwan is one of the densest places on earth. For people who come from larger cities and reside in Taipei this may not be a big issue but for those who are used to a little legroom this may stress you out.
6. Goods are expensive-way expensive. Have you ever told a Taiwanese how surprised you are that something costs as high as it does, such as a pair of jeans, or even a car? That’s because there is 100% import tax on many goods, including luxury goods, which makes products way more expensive than what you would pay for in the West. This coupled with the food costs and the housing costs makes Taiwan an expensive place to live.
7. Forget privacy. Taiwanese tend to be curious of others’ affairs. One example of this is when parents have a newborn (at least for foreigners). Often, Taiwanese will come up to a child and start touching it as if they know the child really well. The Taiwanese who do this don’t actually have bad intentions, but they are curious and sometimes that leaves many foreign parents worried over the cleanliness of their children.
8. Entertainment is too expensive or virtually inaccessible. A lot of bands don’t come to Taiwan and if they do it is about twice as much as you would pay if you saw a show in the US. However, out of Taiwan’s defense, as it is an island and Taipei is really the main hub for international acts it makes sense that people pay US$120 for a concert whereas in other places bands can travel to many cities and by land.
9. The market is stagnant. Taiwan’s economic situation has not been ideal over the last decade and many small- to medium-size enterprises are feeling the heat from the Mainland. Taiwanese have not seen their wages increase much over that period while everything from food to housing has seen inflation. Taiwanese are just beginning to realize that they have relied far too long on their local economy and are now looking to expand abroad. However, this won’t happen over night but the author believes that based on trends and strategies certain companies are acquiring there could start to be a significant change by 2020.
10. Education. In one way the education in Taiwan is great in that children learn a lot about math and science and history. However, parents don’t believe this method is increasing their children’s job perspectives and are therefore looking to more alternative forms of education to cultivate their children’s talent and ensure they have a secure place in the world in the future.
Again, this is a list based off concerns from locals and foreigners in Taiwan and do not necessarily represent the author’s viewpoints. There are many positive things about Taiwan, which will come in a future post.