Living in Taiwan?
Living in Taiwan
At a Glance:
- Basic knowledge of the Taiwan’s official language, Mandarin, is recommended — many, but not all Taiwanese speak English.
- Expats in Taiwan are generally safe, though seismic activities and typhoons pose some danger.
- Healthcare facilities and medical equipment are of very good quality, with the National Health Insurance (NHI) covering expat employees from day one.
- International driver’s licenses may only be used for a limited time. While some nationals can exchange a foreign license, other expats will have to take the Taiwanese driving exam.
- Public transportation is well developed and safe to use, though information on local buses is not always translated or written in Roman script.
Getting to Know the Taiwanese Population
With more than 23.5 million inhabitants, Taiwan, a comparatively small island roughly the size of Switzerland, is one of the more densely populated countries worldwide. Roughly 98% of the country’s inhabitants belong to the ethnic group of Han Chinese. The remaining percentage are made up of about 2% of aboriginal Taiwanese peoples, as well as a sizeable expat population.
The most numerously represented subgroup of Han Chinese are the Hoklo and Hakka people. Approximately 14% of the population living in Taiwan today is known as waishengren, a term that denotes immigrants from mainland China that came to Taiwan after 1945, as well as their descendants.
Making Daily Life Easy — Learn Some Mandarin
If you have not had any experience with Chinese before moving to Taiwan, the language barrier will be one of the main obstacles for you. While large parts of the nation’s educated workforce are fluent in English (a compulsory school subject in Taiwan) and/or other foreign languages, you should not expect your daily life to be easy without knowing any of Taiwan’s languages. There are English resources catering to the growing international community, such as Taiwan News or the Taipei Times, but if you can, prepare for your new life in Taiwan by acquiring at least some basic language skills.
The language you will hear the most often is Mandarin Chinese, the main language of media as well as the native tongue of the majority of the population. Since its introduction as the official language after 1945, it has also been the lingua franca of the different demographic groups in Taiwan. Like in Hong Kong, for example, traditional Chinese characters are used in Taiwan, as opposed to the simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China.
The second most significant language among the people living in Taiwan, and one that has gained more widespread use and popularity in the media, is Taiwanese Hokkien, or Taiwanese for short. You will quickly find out that Mandarin and Taiwanese are two distinct entities and mutually unintelligible, though the debate on whether or not Taiwanese is a dialect of Chinese or a language of its own is usually a politically charged one.
The Taiwanese Identity — A Big Question Mark
Similarly, the question of whether or not there is a Taiwanese identity distinct from a general Chinese one is still a matter of debate among the population. The island’s disputed legal status and the related issue of relations with the PRC are the dominant political topics that you will not be able to escape while living in Taiwan.
Many surveys have been conducted on this topic over the years, and more often than not, the results have been somewhat contradictory — it appears as if context and wording of the questions influence the outcome drastically. More recent numbers seem to suggest that particularly the younger generation is predominantly identifying as Taiwanese, though, rather than Chinese or a combination of the two. The question regarding Taiwanese identity will surely continue to be a matter of much discussion in the years to come. As with most such sensitive matters, expats should probably try to steer clear of the topic in everyday conversation.
Stay Safe — Keep an Eye Out
You are very unlikely to witness or fall victim to major crime while in Taiwan. In fact, it ranked 4th out of 65 countries and territories for personal safety in the Expat Insider 2017 survey. Keep in mind that theft and purse-snatching can occur, though, particularly in crowded public spaces, so make sure to keep copies of your important documents in a safe place. Barbershops or massage parlors which do not openly advertise their services may also be a sign for criminal activity, including illicit prostitution, in the neighborhood. In case of an emergency, dial 110 for the police or 119 for an ambulance or the fire department.
Taiwan is located in one of the most seismically active areas in the world, and earthquakes occur on a regular basis. Not all of them are strong enough to be felt, though. If your new life in Taiwan is your first time in an earthquake area, please take the information on earthquake preparedness and response provided by the Central Weather Bureau to heart.
Similarly, be aware that heavy storms can occur during typhoon season from April to October. They can lead to flooding, mud slides, and road closures in rural or mountainous areas. For current forecasts and advisories regarding extreme weather and earthquakes, please check the website of the Central Weather Bureau.
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