So you have a job, and you’ve found a place to stay. You’d like to equip your house with the niceties of civilisation. Water, Power, Gas, Telephone and Internet. Cable TV, and drinking water delivery. There are a lot of things that you will want to consider and this guide is here to help you through it all.
Right. This is probably to most important of all the utilities. You’re going to want to shower and shower often in the Taiwanese summer. Likewise, you’re going to want to wash your clothes and drink water too. The bad news is that Taiwan’s water is not safe to drink. Depending on where you live, you will hear stories from the locals as to how the water is potable, and perfectly safe. They do however, boil the water before they use it. Every complaint that I have seen in the newspapers has spoken about the heavy metal content of the Taiwanese water, and it certainly is very hard water. Boiling it is not going to remove any of that, and I, like basically everyone I know, stick to bottled water for drinking. Taiwanese water is fine for washing clothes and showering and stuff though….
Setting the water up at your apartment is probably going to be very easy. It is almost always left on in apartments, even when they have stood dormant for a while. Before you rent, make sure that the taps are working. If they are not working, speak to your agent to get the water connected… it may even have been cut off by the apartment block itself. Basically, you will just be taking over the water bill from the landlord. In every case that I have rented, the utilities bills have remained in the name of the landlord, and I have simply paid the bill every month. Water in Taiwan is stupidly cheap, and it likely to be a negligible amount. You will be billed every two months. The bill can be paid at any convenience store. (7-11, Family Mart) Simply take your bill to the counter. They will scan it and you can then pay. They will stamp the bill to say that funds have been received and you will receive two receipts, one stapled to the bill, and one normal cash register receipt.
If you have failed to pay your water bill, and are now in arrears or the due date has passed on the bill itself, you will no longer be able to pay at the convenience store. And now you are going to suffer for your disorganisation. You will need to find out where the Water Company is based in your area. There is normally only one office in a city, and Murphy’s Law puts it on the furthest point of the city from you. (Normally) You will need to go to them, take a number, stand in line and then pay there. Trust me… it is a LOT easier to go pay at the local convenience store.
Drinking water is a different story. It can get very expensive buying water from supermarkets and convenience stores. Convenience store prices are around NT$75 for 5 litres, and supermarkets average about NT$55 for 5 litres. Buying and carrying water bottles is also a real pain on a scooter. Far easier and cheaper than doing this is to have your water delivered. Look around at your school, or ask someone for a recommendation. There are water cooler companies. For a deposit of NT$2500 to NT$3000, they will deliver a water cooler to your house. The machine is capable of (BOILING) hot water, room temp water and (ICE) cold water. The sizes vary, but the three temperatures are basically a standard now. The same company can be phoned to deliver to your door the water bottles that fit into their cooler. This water is clean and safe, and costs NT$60 for 15 litres. (That’s FIFTEEN litres.) Much cheaper, and you are not having to schlep the bottles home. Every company is different, but most are paid cash on delivery.
Air conditioners and computers. Essentials to life in Taiwan. But all that power comes at a price, and in Taiwan, your biggest utility bill is always your electricity. Like the water, you will simply take over the electricity bill from the landlord. Like the water, this bill comes every two months. Like the water, you can also pay at the convenience store. There really isn’t much of a trick to keeping your electricity running in Taiwan. Ensure that you pay your bills on time or, like the water, you will not be able to pay locally, and will have to seek out the electricity offices. (TaiPower)
Something that should be kept in mind. Electricity prices go up during summer. And I encourage you to use your air-conditioners sparingly. Use them for the room that you are in… only. Shut your doors and windows and stay as much as possible to one room. In my time here, I’ve had three or four nasty surprises with electricity bills, and it is has always been in summer. (Normally after I’ve been running my ACs with gay abandon!) Consider using standing fans to take as much of the load off of the airconditioners. Also, check the airconditioners. Ask how old they are. The older ones are nowhere near as efficient as the new ones and you will feel the difference in your pocket.
Paying your gas bill is precisely the same story as with the water and power. Gas is pretty cheap, and even if you cook with it every day, you should come in under a thousand dollars in two months. Your apartment is likely to have a gas “on-demand” heater for showers and hot water, and probably a two-plate stove top. There are a few things that you can do to make sure that you have a happy time in Taiwan with regards your gas heaters and stoves. Check the hoses into your stove regularly. The hoses are a soft plastic, and can perish over time. This is especially important when moving into a place. Many Taiwanese don’t really cook at home, and that stove may not have been used in a while. The same goes for your heater. It can be a very confusing thing to work with, but check your hoses for leaks as well.
Tip: The time will come in Taiwan when you are desperate for a hot shower. And the shower will start out hot, and then go ice cold. You will jiggle the taps, and you will hear the heater igniter clicking. But you will not hear the gas burning, and the water will remain cold. Never fear. On the bottom of the heater is a little box that contains a big battery. This battery drives the ignition. No spark, no fire, no hot water. Changing the battery is as basic as changing the battery on anything else. BUT… make sure that you have a spare one of the same size lying about.
Telephone and Internet:
This is the only one that is going to present any trouble to you. And compared to the way it is handled in the west, and compared to the way it used to be in the past in Taiwan, you are in for an easy ride.
You will need to go to your local ChungHwa Telecoms office. There are several in any big city, ask around… or hit their website to find your local branch. Their help line in Taiwan is 0800-011765. They have decent English service available. You will need to report in person to their office, and you will need to bring your passport, ARC (if you have one), and another form of ID. (They insist on at least two forms of ID). It is not essential that you have your ARC, but it does help. I have managed to get a telephone on the strength of my passport and a winning smile, but others have not been so lucky. You will also need to bring your address in Chinese. (Use a bill or a letter, or it should be on your ARC as well.) You can then sign up for a telephone. Installation costs are laughable compared to the west. BUT… you do not automatically get a phone set as in other countries. You will need to buy one. (I recommend going to 3C (a chain of electronics stores) and buying their cheapest… should be about NT$300.)
While you are at Chungwa, consider bundling your telephone with an internet deal. (There are MANY service providers in Taiwan, and prices and services vary. In the end though, they lease line space from Chunghwa, so my advice is to go directly to the source.) Prices vary according to your desired line speed, and those line speeds are generally very good. Choose the option that best suits you, and remember… you might be signing up for a one year or two contract, but you can still change providers later… most of the other service providers can arrange that for you.
They will make an appointment for you to do the installation and setup. Your internet package is likely to come with a wireless modem, and they will install and test this for you too. Unlike the west where you can die of old age waiting for the telephone guy to come… here in Taiwan, they do things properly. They will make an appointment within a day or two, and THEY WILL BE THERE. And they will be quick too. (I am never really happy with the neatness of their wiring, but they ARE super fast.)
Your telephone bill is paid monthly, and with all the caveats of the other utilities.
In this… you are on your own. I don’t have a TV. Sorry. 🙂
That said, I encourage you to speak to your guards. There is normally a building deal on cable, and you may be able to get in on that. Failing that, there are many cable TV companies in Taiwan, and they have a host of really good deals. The costs tend to be around NT$500 a month for cable, and most contracts come bundled with free gifts like DVD players and such. My advice is to speak to your local teachers and friends. The deals differ from county to county, and you will find better advice from those that live there.
In closing.. paying your bills in Taiwan is designed to be an easy process. As in the west, keep a copy of your bills in case there is a dispute. Always ensure that you pay on time. You will get warning bills through the mail if you do not. Normal bills are blue in colour, although a final warning is normally pinkish red. If you find one in your postbox, no matter. Try and pay immediately at the convenience store, but be prepared to go stand in line somewhere.
Next time: Taiwan 005 – Transport