Category Archives: Surviving Taiwan

Taiwan 004 – The Utilities… Getting, Using and Paying

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.

Water: 

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.

Electricity: 

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.

Gas:

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.

Cable TV:

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

Ciao

Yeti. Out


Taiwan 003 – Accommodation…

So you have gotten yourself a visa, you’ve come on over to Taiwan, and you’ve found a job.

The time has come to find a place to hang your hat, to put your feet up and to call home. Now, if you’re like me, your home is your castle, your refuge from all the stupidities and distractions of the world outside. There are four options that are going to be available to you. (Note that these options are going to vary in size and price and quality depending on which city you land up in.)

Things to consider about location. Taiwan is an exceptionally busy place. Especially in the big cities. Where I live in Kaohsiung, it is possible to step out onto the road at 4am and flag down a passing cab in under 5 minutes. Traffic is a ceaseless monster prowling about the city, and noise and air pollution are factors in housing. Beware of living on main roads and near highways. It may be convenient, but you are going to hear everything. Taiwanese houses are built with excessive summer heat in mind. Windows are not double-glazed. Construction is light, and surfaces are normally hard. (I have yet to see a carpeted room in Taiwan) Unlike houses in the UK and Europe that are pretty sound-proofed, Taiwanese houses are as noisy as their area.

1) The School-provided Accommodation:

Sometimes, your school is going to provide your housing. This can vary from a room in a commune through to your very own cushy pad. Read your contract carefully with regards to your contributions to the housing. Are you responsible for the bills, the internet, the phone? How is the payment going to be made?

There are a few factors to consider when accepting school accommodation:

Firstly, the location of your accommodation is likely to be super close to the school. This is going to save you money on transport and transportation in the beginning, and there is always going to be a source of help on hand for any problems you may have. This proximity is a two-edged sword however, and just as easily as you can get to the school, they can get to you. (I once lived in a school house that was literally next door to the school. One of my housemates called in sick, only to have the boss dropping by to “see how sick he was”. The same boss also dropped round unexpectedly during a barbecue party we were holding.)

Secondly, it is not YOUR place. It is the school’s house. You’re not going to have too much sway with stating who stays there, who shares what and who gets the comfy chair. Because it is not your place, and wasn’t the previous occupants’ place either… it is likely not too well taken care of. The school owner/manager has likely never spent more than a few hours in the place, and that to oversee the installation of someone’s second hand furniture. Cram schools are, after all, a profit-driven company, not a government sponsored school. A lot depends on your housemates. I have lived with some really decent souls, and I have lived with some amazingly dirty and disorganised people. Being the school’s house, it is likely that you are going to be sharing it with your foreign colleagues. This is a good thing if you all get along, but sometimes (as we all know) you DON’T get along with your colleagues. Given the sheer variety of foreign cultures that are likely to be thrown together, some sparks will fly. Bear in mind that good or bad, you will be living with the people you work with.

Thirdly, if something goes wrong… your boss is likely to be your go-to guy. You are not likely to have mastered the local language before arriving, and believe it or not, air-conditioner mechanics are not overly qualified in English studies. Which means that you’re going to have to get someone at your school to phone someone in… and then explain what you want done. (Later in this series, I will cover home repair and technicians, but suffice it to say that they are a LOT faster in arriving than their Western counterparts, and do a MUCH sloppier job. As an ex-IT tech, I was horrified by the slack job done by our internet guy.) The idea of going to your boss with a problem is daunting to some people, and there can be a bit of tension regarding who gets to tell the boss that the washing machine is broken.

On the whole… I think that school-based accommodation is a good option for a first-timer to Taiwan. It is normally a decent place, with basic furnishings. You are protected from having to deal with bills and landlords by your school, and you are likely to be close by. That said, you pay the price in privacy and autonomy.

2) The Commune:

Just on the outset, let me tell you that I am not a commune kind of guy. I have lived with my wife and another couple very successfully, but we were all good friends that knew one another well. Moving in with friends is not the sort of commune I am talking about. I am speaking of the kind of place that has four bedrooms that are let independently to one another. Housemates come and go, and the arrangements are pretty casual. The dangers and pitfalls of living in a commune are basically the same as in the west.

The only differences here are that you are living in a country that doesn’t really speak your language. Paying bills is easy enough, but paying LATE bills is another story. If one of your housemates forgets or steals the money or something, you’re in for a lot of hassle. Likewise, trust between housemates can be a little tricky. Because everyone is basically transient and temporary, they will get up to many things that they wouldn’t ordinarily consider in their home town. They may steal, meaning that you need to lock your door… or it could be as bad as bringing drugs into the house. Remember at all times that you are a guest in the country, and if you get involved with something illegal, it may be easier for them to deport you than to deal with the problem.

Just as in the west, I recommend the Commune for younger single people. As in anything, check the place out to your satisfaction before signing anything.

3) The Apartment:

The apartment would seem to be the best option for the Taiwanese newbie and veteran alike. The trick is to get an apartment that is close enough to your schools to make the commute easy, but far away enough from the city that rent is cheaper and it isn’t so busy outside.

There are a few things to be aware of in the renting of apartments. You are just as likely to know your landlord as you are to deal with an agent. In either case, make sure that you can contact them when needed, and that you go through the contract carefully. It is normal in Taiwan to pay a rental fee to your agent or landlord, and then a separate “Guard or Management  fee” (Guanli fei – 管理费) to the guards that work in your building. This fee covers cleaning of the building (Not your apartment), the security, mail sorting and sometimes parking. The biggest thing that it may cover is the garbage collection. Many apartments have their own private skip downstairs, enabling you to dispose of your trash whenever you want to. The Guanli Fei is likely to be about NT$2000 to NT$2500 per month. This is dependent on the services provided and the size of your apartment.

Apartment size is measured in “Ping”, and the apartment size INCLUDES the outside area of your apartment and the elevator. When you are looking for an apartment, it is always a good idea to go on the number of rooms, and then to GO AND LOOK AT THE PLACE. Do not rent sight unseen. You really must look at your locale. You do not want to be tied into a one year lease in an apartment that overlooks a Stinky Tofu store. (Stinky Tofu, Chou Doufu – 臭豆腐 is a SERIOUSLY smelly delicacy in Taiwan. The smell of it has been likened to “hot garbage” and “rewarmed beer puke”. Describe it as you want, it is uniformly gross smelling.) If you are using an agent, feel free to haggle or bargain with the rental price. Agents take a slice of your monthly rent, so there is some leeway. Also feel free to keep looking. In my experience in Taiwan, there are two kinds of housing agent. The first charges a flat fee before showing you anything. The second is only paid when you find a place, and is then paid a half-month’s rent. The latter agent is more expensive, but also will not get paid until you find a home. As someone who has paid a flat fee and was then shown an absolute shower of crap, well… the second agent gets my vote.

Check with your agent when you rent… there may be building-wide special deals on gas and internet and cable. Worth investigating for savings.

4) The House:

Virtually without exception, a “house” in Taiwan is a terraced home, far longer than it is wide. With space being at a premium, houses are often 4 or 5 floors. Houses tend to run a wide range of prices. Unlike apartments, you will not have a communal garbage skip. This means dashing out at the assigned times with your trash bags, and jostling with your neighbours to get the bags tossed in the truck. This can actually be a very good social situation, as you will meet the people that live in your area. A smile and some Chinese will go a long way to making friends.

Houses are varied in terms of age and quality. Generally speaking, newer houses are more expensive than older ones, and with good reason. When you move in, make sure that you have tested the airconditioners and furniture in the house. I have a number of friends that landed up repairing airconditioners and putting up with crappy furniture when they moved into their houses. (The same goes for apartments, although they do tend to be better maintained.) Houses will give you privacy and off-street parking. That said, your bills can be very high, especially if you try and cool the entire place down in summer. (The higher floors in houses are always quite hot.)

There… I hope that this sees you settled and comfortable.

Next time – Taiwan 004 – The Utilities… phone, internet, gas, water and power. (And paying your bills.)

If you have any questions, please leave me a comment, and I will get back to you.

Ciao

Yeti


Taiwan 002 – Visas, Jobs and Agents…

So you’ve made the decision to abandon everything you hold dear, to throw caution into the nearest dumpster and to head off to the mystic East. In the words of Billy Connolly, you’re about to become “wind-swept and interesting”. As aspirations for life go, this is not a bad one.

This post will deal with Travel Visa’s, Jobs and Agents…

*

Firstly, Travel Visas.

I am working on the assumption that you are a qualified (Bachelor’s Degree, not necessarily a teaching qualification) individual, with a passport from an English speaking country. Sadly, this excludes Germans, Swedes and Spaniards etc… your countries are not deemed “English” and will not be granted a Taiwanese work permit for English teaching.  The UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand… you’re fine.

Travel Visas are going to be dependent on your home country. By and large, most Western countries get a 30 to 90 day visa on landing. South Africans, this does not apply to you. (As is usual SA gets screwed on landing visas.) This site gives an excellent breakdown of the various countries . You should be able to apply for a visa at your local consulate or embassy, and the process will take anywhere between 2 weeks and 2 months, depending on your country, and your situation. You are going to need to furnish a return ticket or proof of onward journey for the visa to be accepted, or for the landing visa to be granted.
Tip: Pay the extra and make sure that your return flight can be changed, and postponed to almost a year later. The standard Taiwanese teaching contract and Residence Permit is valid for a year. If you are sick of the place and want to go home, the ticket can then be used. If you are loving the place and intend returning, well…the ticket can still be used.

Secondly, Jobs and Agents.

Getting employment in Taiwan is perhaps not as easy as it was ten years ago, but it is still pretty basic. If you take nothing else away from this guide, let it be this. YOU DO NOT NEED AN AGENT.

I used an agent when I first came to Taiwan. I not only had to pay for the privilege in my home country, my pay was docked for the first three months in Taiwan. (This was explained as a “probationary” salary, not a deduction. It was only by chance that I discovered that the difference was being paid to my agent.) They promised support and aid, and nothing ever came of it. They basically found me a job….REALLY easy, then took advantage of my inexperience to make plenty of money. I landed up in a horrible little farming town, with a school manager that clearly had no love lost with foreign teachers. It was terrible.

You will find plenty of work available on the various forums devoted to expatriate life in Taiwan. The best one is Forumosa . That site is devoted primarily to Taipei living. If Kaohsiung is more your style, there is a Yahoo group called “Kaohsiung_living”. Check it out.

If you want to work legally, you will need to have a Bachelor’s Degree from a recognised University. It is not required that you have a TEFL qualification, although that might sweeten the pot a little. It is not required that you have a teaching qualification, although that too will make things easier for you. Resist the temptation to use a fake degree. The Taiwanese have begun clamping down on that, and deportation is never cool.

You will need to have a medical test done at a recognised hospital. The names vary according to your city. The best bet is to either enquire at the hospital, or to ask your prospective school. The medical test is blood and a minor physical including x-rays. They will screen for drugs, and they will refuse you your clearance if they find any. If you intend using drugs, and coming to Taiwan, detox before the test. (And think carefully about doing drugs here… it is a capital offense to smuggle drugs and they are really serious about sentencing users.) AIDS and pregnancy will also land you in hot water.

Tip: If you can do it, do the test ASAP. It takes about ten working days to process, and is valid for 3 months, which is basically as long as your visitors visa. You cannot get the paperwork started for your work visa until you have the hospital papers in hand. Getting it done early saves time. (It should cost around NT$ 1200.)

Your school will ask you to sign a contract, and will then apply for your ARC. The ARC is your “green card”… your Alien Residence Certificate. It allows you to exit and enter Taiwan, and is used for identity basically everywhere. It is valid for one year, as is your contract. (Usually.) Your ARC is gold to you. Keep it, don’t lose it. Once you have a school, you are good to go.

Tip: Although the practice is dying out, it was common for Taiwanese employers to include “security deposits” in your contract. Basically, they take a chunk of cash every month, and the money is only paid over to you when you complete the contract… security on you finishing your contract. This is illegal. They know it. You should know it too. If they insist on the clause, or try and take it out of your pay… WALK AWAY. If they get pushy, phone the Foreign Affairs police and report them. The fine is more than they would make off of you.

Once you have your ARC, you will have access to Health Insurance. (More on this later.)Your life here can start.

If you are working in a big city, you should be asking for roughly NT$600 per hour. Any less than NT$550 is a waste of time and money. Do not sign up for anything less than 14 hours per week. Resist the temptation to sign up for more than 30 hours a week… at least until you know you can handle it. When you are signing on, make sure that your working hour commitment is agreed on. There are many schools that demand and expect huge amounts of “office hours” to go with the teaching hours. Use your discretion. Or ask the other foreign teachers what they think.Actually, that’s a pretty good idea for any job.

Bear in mind that it is currently illegal for foreign teachers to teach kindergarten students. That said, there are thousands of foreign kindergarten teachers in Taiwan. Just be warned.

If you have any questions on any of the above, or if you are feeling lost… drop a comment in the box, and I will do what I can.

(Next week: Accommodation.)


Taiwan 001 – So you’re thinking about coming to Taiwan…

So you’re thinking about coming to Taiwan.

And you’re starting to realise just how far away and how definitively non-Western the country is.

And you’re thinking that it might be a good idea to find out what to expect. Well, keep reading, and I’ll see what I can do to help you.

I’m going to put up posts dealing with different aspects of life here. (Hopefully, I’ll be able to post them pretty regularly.)

If you have any comments or questions, throw it into the comments and I’ll do my best.

Ciao

Yeti.

(Next: Taiwan 2 – Visas, Jobs and Agents.)