Living in Taiwan?
Healthcare and Transportation in Taiwan
Healthcare Facilities of Outstanding Quality
In Taiwan, healthcare facilities and medical equipment are of outstanding quality. Since 1995, Taiwan has had a socialized healthcare plan, the National Health Insurance (NHI), which covers nearly all citizens; we have taken a closer look at this insurance scheme below. With the ever-improving standard of healthcare came a steadily rising life expectancy. Together with a sinking birth rate, this means Taiwan’s population is rapidly aging.
Hospitals and clinics abound in all main metro regions; however, doctors can be pressed for time. Medical practitioners and other personnel are highly trained, and as many of them have studied abroad, English is widely spoken in the Taiwanese healthcare sector. Particularly the expat-heavy regions and cities such as Taipei, Taichung, or Kaohsiung, to name a few, have many excellent Western-style clinics and hospitals with English-speaking staff. The American Institute in Taiwan offers a comprehensive overview of such clinics on their website.
Emergency services can be reached by dialing 119. For general questions regarding healthcare and insurance, as well as other relevant topics ranging from visas and taxation to safety and interpretation services, you can contact the hotline for foreigners in Taiwan under +886 (0)800 024111. English-, Chinese-, and Japanese-language services are available 24/7, with further Asian-language services provided at specific times only.
National Health Insurance for Expats
If you are going to come to Taiwan on a resident visa, you are required to sign up for the National Health Insurance (NHI). This can be undertaken in two ways: either your employer registers you with the insurance system starting the day you take up employment, or, if you do not have a steady employer, you can enroll yourself after six months of obtaining legal residence in Taiwan.
Enrolment is possible at one of the many local administrative office all over the country. For a comprehensive overview of offices, please see the website of the National Health Insurance Administration. Expats without a steady employer should look into signing up for an international health insurance plan to ensure coverage for the first six months.
The NHI is a premium-financed healthcare scheme. The premiums for your healthcare coverage are automatically deducted from your monthly paycheck. Personally, you only need to pay 30% of the current rate of 4.69% of your gross earnings. The rest is contributed by your employer and by government subsidies.
Affiliation with the NHI will cover the vast majority of your healthcare expenses, including traditional Chinese medicine and non-cosmetic dental services. Patients typically only have to cover a registration fee of around 100 TWD (less than 4 USD) and small co-payments. For a visit to the doctor or dentist, for example, contributions start at 50 TWD, while co-payments for prescription medicine range from 0 to 200 TWD depending on its costs. There are also maximum caps for co-payments in relation to hospital stays that are adjusted annually.
If you are not thinking of taking up residency in Taiwan (i.e. only traveling to the country on a short-term basis), you can expect to pay in cash for any medical services required. In case you have an international health insurance plan with coverage in Taiwan, you may be reimbursed for your expenses upon return but will still have to pay cash up front. Taiwanese hospitals — over four in five of them private — generally only accept insurance coverage by the NHI. Please also note that checks are never and credit cards only rarely accepted.
Getting a Taiwanese Driver’s License
If you have an international driver’s license, you may use it for the first 30 days after your arrival in Taiwan. If you wish to use a car beyond that period, you have two options: You can get the validity of your international driver’s license extended until your visa or Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) expires, though this is only possible for up to one year. Alternatively, you can exchange your original license for a Taiwanese one (for ARCs valid for more than one year). Both procedures need to be done at your nearest Motor Vehicles Office. For details, please see the requirements for the driver’s license exchange on the website of the Taipei City Motor Vehicles Office.
Unfortunately, the list of countries with reciprocal license agreements (i.e. countries whose nationals can have their driver’s licenses simply transferred to a Taiwanese one) is rather short. If you hail from a country that is not on this list, there is currently no other way than to take a Taiwanese driving test. At the time of writing, English-language driving tests were only available in Taipei.
Drive Cautiously in Taiwan
Roads are generally in good condition but can occasionally be closed due to damages caused by typhoons or earthquakes, particularly in rural and mountainous areas. Some general rules to keep in mind: Traffic is on the right side of the road, the legal blood-alcohol level is 0.05%, and seatbelts are mandatory for everyone in the car. The use of mobile phones without a hands-free device is also prohibited. Road signs are often — but not always! — bilingual.
If you are hoping to drive in Taiwan, be prepared for busy roads and potentially chaotic traffic in urban areas. Scooter drivers — omnipresent on Taiwanese roads — have a particularly bad reputation of not following traffic rules, so expats should drive cautiously. The better monitored and tolled freeways are typically less chaotic. You can find real-time updates on highway traffic as well as road closure information on the website of the Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau.
Getting from A to B by Using Public Transportation
Covering the Distance by Train or Bus
The railway network in Taiwan is well developed and connects all major cities on both coasts. However, barring a few exceptions, there are no routes into the central mountains. You can look up information on routes and times as well as book tickets online on the website of the Taiwan Railways Administration. In addition to regular trains, expats can also travel with the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR), a high-speed train service between Taipei in the north and Kaohsiung in the south. The THSR travels the over 300 kilometers between the two cities in about two hours, with stops along the west coast.
There are also a range of inter-city coach services available, particularly on the west coast. Called highway buses, they are operated by various private companies, including UBus and Kuo-Kuang Bus. For an English-language overview of services, head to the Taiwan Bus website. For journeys to tourist hotspots, you may also take the Taiwan Tourist Shuttle service.
Exploring Local Transportation in Towns and Cities
Local buses are available except in some rural areas. Depending on the city, they might be operated by a range of smaller, private services. This also means they are less standardized, particularly when it comes to providing information in anything but Chinese script. For this reason, best keep a note with you that details your destination — as well as your return address — in Mandarin.
Even without local language skills, expats should not have any problems navigating the comprehensive MRT metro systems found in Taipei and Kaohsiung. At the time of writing in late 2017, the Taichung Metro was still under construction and due to be opened in 2018.
Taxis are also readily available in cities, though drivers do not necessarily speak English — again, better keep written instructions with you. Fares are metered, unless you are going on a long inter-city journey; you should agree on a price prior to setting off then.
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