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A Comprehensive Guide on Moving to Taiwan

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Relocating to Taiwan

At a Glance:

  • Taiwan is highly urbanized: close to 80% of the population live in cities.
  • The island’s legal status has been disputed ever since the end of the Chinese Civil War. Due to the One-China Policy, few countries recognize Taiwan as a nation.
  • Unofficial representative offices handle many of the usual embassy tasks, including visas.
  • Expats hoping to get an employment visa will have to get a work permit first. In most cases, their employer will take care of the application.

Your move to Taiwan will lead you to one of East Asia’s most dynamic and powerful economies — also known as one of the four “Asian Tigers”, next to Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Located some 180 km to the east off the coast of China, the small and densely populated island has made the most of its geographic limitations and cultivated an economy that is also attractive to expats.

Population Density and Expat Numbers

Generally speaking, the steady flow of people moving to Taiwan’s urban areas has led to a densely populated west coast, with the central and eastern regions of the country being much less populated. The rates and numbers of immigrants and expats moving to the country are fairly low, with foreign residents making up not even 3% of the population. However, expat communities tend to be strong, and you should not have a hard time finding other expats, especially in the metro areas.

Get to Know the Main Cities

The large numbers of people moving to Taiwan’s urban areas, both in the past and present, have led to an urbanization rate close to 80%. Large parts of the Taiwanese economy operate in sector clusters in or near metropolitan areas, which is one of the reasons why expats in Taiwan mostly settle in one of the nine urban clusters on the west coast:

  • Keelung, New Taipei, and Taipei in the north
  • Taoyuan and Hsinchu in the northwest
  • Taichung and Chiayi in the west
  • Tainan and Kaohsiung in the southwest

Many of these cities boast science parks as a major incentive for expats and multinational companies — we have taken a closer look at these parks in our article on working in Taiwan.

Taipei — The City of Azaleas

Over seven million people call Taipei and its metro region, which includes New Taipei and Keelung, their home — this amounts to over 30% of the total population. Taipei also is a veritable hotspot for expats moving to Taiwan; not very surprising if you consider that the city is not only the national capital but also the most significant city in cultural and economic terms. In 2004, Taipei made international headlines with the opening of Taipei 101, the gigantic skyscraper (and formerly the tallest structure on earth).

The city on the northern tip of the island is also among the first things you are likely to see of the country when first entering or moving to Taiwan, as it is served by the country’s biggest international airport. The Taoyuan International Airport is located some 30 km outside the city limits.

Expats in Taipei will have to face congested streets on a daily basis, although the city administration has reacted to the rising numbers of people in the capital with an extensive network of public transportation options. These range from the Taipei Metro (MRT) to numerous bus lines, including railway and high-speed rail connections to other cities on the west coast as well. While the many different transit agencies providing bus services might seem confusing for newcomers, the Taipei smartcard known as EasyCard is valid on all modes of public transportation throughout the city. You can get the EasyCard at all MRT stations and supermarket chains.

Taichung — The Smart City

Close to 2.8 million people live in Taiwan’s second-biggest city, Taichung, which also boasts the second-fastest population growth rate in the country. Thanks to its central location along the west coast and easy access to the rest of the country — among other things — Taichung has even been voted Taiwan’s most livable city.

While expats moving to Taichung will have to make do with a metro system that is largely still under construction, they can look forward to life in a city that — backed by sizable government investment — aims to be a forerunner in smart-city technology. Taichung puts particular focus on the field of smart and automated manufacturing: for example, a new smart-machinery R&D center, as well as a new industrial park, is set to open by 2019.

Kaohsiung — The Harbor City

Taiwan’s third-largest city is found in the south of the country. Over 2.7 million people live in the Greater Kaohsiung area. The city proper is located right next to Taiwan’s largest commercial and industrial harbor and served by the country’s second-biggest international airport (Kaohsiung International Airport), which helps cement its role as an important trading hub in the region.

The local economy is not only based on shipping and the city’s traditional steel and petrochemical industries, though. Local authorities are seeking to further diversify Kaohsiung’s economy and actively promoting cultural tourism, green energy, R&D in general, as well as the “MICE” industries (meetings, incentives, conventions/conferences, events/exhibitions), among other things.

Hsinchu — Science Park Heaven

With a population of approximately 437,000 in 2016, Hsinchu is notably smaller than the cities mentioned so far. However, it is just as important! Home to Taiwan’s oldest science park — Hsinchu Science Park (HSP) first opened in 1980 — the city and its surrounding municipalities continue to play an important role in Taiwan’s high-tech industry. Local incomes are among the highest in all of Taiwan, with expats and locals alike drawn to the employment opportunities provided by companies in the HSP.

ROC Representations & One-China Policy

Taiwan’s Status and the One-China Policy

A full retrospective of the events that have led to Taiwan’s disputed legal status would go beyond the scope of this article. To summarize very briefly: The current status is a direct result of the Chinese Civil War in the years immediately following World War II. In this period, communist forces founded the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the Chinese mainland. This reduced the power of the previous regime, the Republic of China (ROC), to Taiwan and its surrounding islands. Since then, both regimes have claimed sovereignty over a China that encompasses both the mainland and Taiwan.

The PRC has maintained the policy that there is only one state called “China”, over which it has sovereignty. If any country wishes to establish diplomatic ties with mainland China, it cannot host official representations of the ROC on its national territory and must accept the PRC’s sovereignty over Taiwan or at least acknowledge its position on this issue. Conversely, hosting an ROC embassy or consulate means acknowledging the ROC as sovereign over mainland China. This has come to be known as the One-China Policy.

The policy continues to be the dominating issue in cross-strait relations (i.e. relations between the PRC and ROC) and is one of the most significant topics in Taiwanese politics. Over the past decade, there has been a mutual warming up of relations between the two parties, particularly in economic terms.

However, in March 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen was voted into office. Her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), traditionally leans towards independence from China, which has caused tensions to rise again. The number of Chinese visitors to Taiwan, for instance, has dropped significantly since the election.

Taiwanese Representations

As a direct result of the One-China Policy, there are only very few countries which recognize the sovereignty of the ROC and have official Taiwanese diplomatic missions (i.e. embassies and consulates). Ties to the People’s Republic of China are vital for many, if not most nations around the world. Numerous countries still have close economic or political ties to Taiwan, of course. However, instead of official diplomatic missions of Taiwan, they usually host unofficial representations, frequently called Taipei Representative Office or similar. The name Taiwan is deliberately avoided, as it might imply that this was indeed an embassy of a country distinct from mainland China.

Apart from the different name, the representative offices assume nearly every function a regular embassy would and should also be treated as such. This includes the issuing of visas. For a full list of Taiwanese representations abroad, both embassies and representative offices, please see the website of the Taiwan ROC Embassies and Missions Abroad.

Taiwan: Visas and Admin Issues for Expats

Visas: What You Need to Know as an Expat

Taiwan issues five different types of visas to foreigners — the diplomatic, courtesy, working-holiday, visitor, and resident visa. However, only the last two are really relevant to expats, with the working-holiday scheme only available to citizens of selected countries.

General requirements for the resident visa are as follows:

  • You want to stay in the ROC for more than six months for the purpose of taking up employment, investing, or joining your family, among others.
  • Your passport must be valid for at least six more months at the time of application.
  • Your application form must be accompanied by two recent, passport-sized photos.
  • You have all the supporting documents or letters of approval required for your type of visa (e.g. work permit).
  • You have obtained a Health Certificate (if applicable).
  • You have to apply for an Alien Resident Certificate within 15 days after the day of your arrival (see below).

While it is possible for white-collar professionals to enter Taiwan on a visitor visa and have it changed to a resident visa afterwards, it is much easier to apply for the resident visa right away at your respective embassy, mission, or representative office.

If you need more information on the process, please see the website of the Bureau of Consular Affairs. The Bureau also offers a list of countries whose nationals do not need visitor visas for Taiwan — please note that this does not apply to the resident visas! For application fees, please inquire at your nearest Taiwanese representation. The resident visa is valid for three months; how long you can actually stay in Taiwan depends on the validity of your Alien Resident Certificate that you have to get once arrived.

Getting Your Alien Resident Certificate

The Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) is your main means of identification and one of the most important documents you have as an expat in Taiwan. For your first application, you have to personally visit the nearest Service Center of the National Immigration Agency (NIA). Please bring the following:

  • your passport with your valid resident visa
  • a completed application form
  • two recent passport-sized photos
  • a letter of approval from the respective authority and any supporting documents
  • fees: 1,000 TWD per year

The required letter of approval depends on the reason for your stay: students, for instance, will have to hand in a letter of admission from their university, while spouses require proof of their relationship (e.g. an authenticated marriage certificate), and foreign laborers have to hand in their work permit, among other things. Your employer will most likely be able to help you with your application, or you can get in touch with your local Service Center for more information.

The processing time is ten working days. You need to reapply for your ARC after you change residence within Taiwan. The deadline here is the same as for your initial application: within 15 days after the day of your relocation. Along with your ARC, you should not forget to apply for a re-entry permit for the ROC if you are planning on traveling outside of the country. Your local Service Center will help you with the process.

No Work without a Work Permit

If you are planning on taking up employment in Taiwan, then the matter of work permits typically needs to be taken care of even before you apply for a resident visa. Legally, no foreigner can start a job in the ROC without a work permit.

Which authority you have to turn to in order to get your work permit depends on the type of permit. While most expats have to contact the Ministry of Labor (MOL), those of you who want to start working in one of the country’s many science parks will have to apply with the respective park administration. Likewise, specialized technicians employed with a manufacturer in the Export Processing Zone (free trade zone) need to apply with the respective authority there. Fortunately, in most if not all cases, your employer will take the necessary steps to secure your work permit.

Please keep in mind that as a general rule, foreigners in Taiwan are limited to employment in the following fields:

  • specialists or technicians
  • executives of enterprises set up by foreign investors
  • school teachers and teachers at language schools
  • artists, entertainers, athletes, and coaches
  • so-called contracting foreigners

Your work permit is issued for a specific job with a specific employer and valid for a maximum of three years, after which it can be extended. Should you change employers within the period for which your permit is valid, they will have to reapply for a new permit.

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  • Frederik Sørensen

    As I mainly use InterNations for business, it was just overwhelming to get so many international contacts working in Taipei as well.

  • Maggy Roswick

    When a friend invited me to InterNations my first thought was: This is exactly what I as an expat woman was searching for.

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