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Your Ultimate Daily Guide: Living in Taipei

There are plenty of cities around the world that are beloved amongst expats. New York, London and Tokyo may be some of the most iconic, but according to a recent survey, the Taiwanese capital of Taipei was placed firmly at number one for the best places to live!

Taipei represents a series of delicate balances between a sleek modern metropolis and its humble past, 5-star restaurants standing next to bustling night markets, and stunning architecture embraced by rolling mountain ranges. There’s little wonder why an endless stream of foreigners choose to find their home in this spectacular city!

With such a steady supply of foreign nationals arriving in Taipei, it’s important to know some of the necessities to survive daily life. So here’s everything you need to know about living in Taipei.

Food

The Taiwanese have a deep love for their food, and it clearly shows! You could easily dine in a different place every day of your life here in the city. Whether it’s feasting on the finest gourmet meals as you look across Taipei’s skyline or sampling some unique street snacks in one of the many night markets, Taipei has a little bit of everything to whet your appetite.

Though an entire guide could be written on the culinary side of Taipei, equally important is knowing where to get your daily supplies. So let’s take a closer look.

Supermarkets

There are several supermarket chains throughout the country, two of which are Taiwanese, PX Mart and A-Mart. A similar selection can be found inside Wellcome, which is actually a subsidiary of Carrefour and thus has a little more to choose from. These three are definitely the favourites amongst the locals as they generally have the cheapest prices.

For a more extensive selection of foreign products, then you have Jason’s and City Super, though both are much more expensive. Carrefour on the other hand also has a fair selection of Western items and tends to be cheaper than the other foreign markets.

Convenience Store

You won’t be able to walk 5 minutes in Taipei without running into a convenience store, they are EVERYWHERE. The most widespread chain is 7/11 which you’ll be able to find on almost every street corner. Family Mart, Hi-Life and OK Mart are also very prominent stores that have hundreds of branches across the city, though the selections in the last two aren’t quite as extensive.

taipei daily convenience store
One of the many Hi-Life stores in the city. Photo by Solomon203, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

7/11s here are also incredibly versatile. Each store has an ibon machine which can be used to book tickets for trains and long-distance buses, or simply print ones you’ve purchased online. You can also use the same machine to print documents and photos via the on-site printer/scanner. 7/11s can also be used to pay bills such as taxes or electricity bills, or even arrange dry cleaning! Not to mention that all convenience stores, no matter what chain, can receive your deliveries for a fee.

Chain Restaurants

Taiwan of course has its fair share of Western chain restaurants, but Taiwan also has a few of their own that are worth a try! And dare I say it, they might be even better!

One of the most unique chains began as a simple food stall next to Shuanglian Market, though today it has grown into an adored national brand. Formosa Chang specialises in Taiwanese-style soy stewed meats served on rice, such as their award-winning Taiwanese classic, braised pork. You can even find a couple of their franchise sauces sold in supermarkets!

taipei daily formosa chang
A Formosa Chang Outlet. Photo by Solomon203, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you were hoping for a little more of a guilty pleasure, forget KFC, how about TKK? This Taiwanese fried chicken chain has stepped up to compete with its American counterpart. They even have their own brand of potato chips which you can find in most stores!

Don’t make the mistake of thinking chain restaurants equal lower quality, far from it! Din Tai Fung is not only an internationally renowned franchise with branches across the world, but it’s one of the few franchise restaurants that have earned a Michelin star! Though it may be a little more expensive, it’s definitely one of the must-tries in Taiwan! Their iconic paper-thin xiaolongbao with 18 folds are incredible! You can even see them being prepared!

The open kitchen of Din Tai Fung preparing their iconic xiao long bao. Photo by leesean on Flickr

Night Markets

If Taiwan should be known for one thing, it’s night markets! In every city on every day of the week, there’s a bustling night market in full swing! With streets full of signature street snacks and bargain (not so legitimate) brand names to fortune-tellers and arcade games, there’s a little bit of everything in this organised chaos! It might not be a part of your daily routine, but you can guarantee a considerable amount of your time in Taipei will be spent meandering amongst its night markets!

Shilin Night Market

How about starting off with a market that’s been around since 1899! From a humble gathering of snack stalls, Shilin Night Market has evolved into the city’s most iconic market and easily gathers the largest crowd with its 500+ vendors lined up one after the other!

The market is well known for its innovative culinary ideas as well as having plenty of Taiwanese classics, including bubble tea (of course), oyster omelettes, pan-fried buns, rice sausages and stinky tofu (you’ll smell it before you see it!)

Shilin is also a popular spot amongst local teens who spend their time pottering around the trendy clothing shops, cafés and movie theatres within the surrounding streets.

Raohe Night Market

taipei daily raohe market
The entrance to Raohe Night Market. Photo by a.canvas.of.light on Flickr

Not far behind in popularity is Raohe Night Market, though it’s probably the most recognisable! The lane which starts from Songshan Ci You Temple, possibly the most impressive temple in Taipei, attracts more than just devoted daily worshippers. The vibrant street is filled with everything a decent night market should have; plenty of snacks, sit down restaurants, fashion stalls, cheap tech and even a cheeky bit of gambling!

If you try any snack during your time here, then it has the be the markets’ most famous item, Fuzhou Black Pepper Buns. They’re the first stall at the beginning of the eastern entrance and usually gather a big crowd!

Huaxi Night Market (Snake Alley)

taipei daily huaxi market
Snake Alley in full swing. Photo by Trans World Productions on Flickr

No other night market in Taiwan has a reputation quite like Huaxi. A few centuries ago the market played an essential role in the daily life of Old Taipei! Yet over time the district deteriorated into one of the seediest areas in the city and became the centre of organised crime. To top it all off, the area progressed into the city’s red-light district! Thankfully the region has now managed to shake off its darker past…for the most part. You’re still likely to spot a few rough-looking prostitutes every now and again!

Regardless, the night market was the first to cater to tourists who would come from far and wide to sample the markets unusual speciality, snake meat! For decades people flocked to witness the handling and butchering of exotic snakes before enjoying alcoholic shots mixed with the serpents’ blood and venom. Though the spectacle no longer exists in public, two restaurants still serve snake meat and their various fluids to this day!

Tonghua (Linjiang Street) Night Market

If you’re looking for a more traditional market, then Tonghua is the one for you! Here you can find classic dishes that have remained the same for decades. A particular favourite (for some) is the notorious stinky tofu, though it’s definitely an acquired taste! Nearby you’ll also find a purely vegetarian stall, which is pretty uncommon for night markets but is very popular amongst the elderly.

Ningxia Night Market

Though it may be a little smaller, Ningxia Night Market sure packs a big punch! It also happens to be located in a pretty historic area of the city, which is a great spot for a little photography. After which you can head back to the street enjoy some treats like deep-fried oysters and traditional boiled mochi.

Bubble Tea

If you didn’t already know, bubble tea, or boba, was invented here in Taiwan! As such, there are more than 50,000 different stores that sell the iconic beverage, so plenty to choose from! Amongst these, there are a few chains that have opened up and are definitely worth your custom!

Chun Shui Tang is by far one of the most popular and might be the chain responsible for creating the drink in the first place (although that’s up for debate!) A few branches in the city even have their own restaurants which are also pretty good!

A smaller outlet of Chun Shui Tang. Photo by Wpcpey, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sharetea is another popular chain with over 90 outlets in Taipei alone. This is definitely one of the more modern stores and comes with some unique options including strawberry mojito and ruby-black tea.

Probably one of the most recognisable brands throughout the world, Coco is yet another popular chain that has 2,000+ outlets across the globe! Here you’ll have more freedom to create your own custom bubble tea by choosing different seasonal fruits and toppings.

The iconic CoCo chain. Photo by Shwangtianyuan, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another new up-and-coming chain is 50 Lan, which offers different varieties of tea such as lattes, milk teas, jelly teas and fruit juice teas. They also have some quirky flavours including plum & kumquat juice, tea macchiato and matcha latte.

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Transportation

Transportation in Taipei is highly efficient and, more importantly, cheap! Be sure to take advantage of the EasyCard, which works on all forms of public transport, and can also be used to pay in convenience stores, department stores, supermarkets, and other retailers. They’re available at all Metro stations and chain convenience stores and can be topped up in both too!

Metro

Covering all districts in Taipei from as far as the Northern Coast to the neighbouring city of Taoyuan in the southwest, the metro has become the city’s principal form of daily transportation. The 6 lines and 131 stations cover a hell of a lot of ground and passes by all the major points you’d ever need.

Buses

Numerous bus routes cover the entire city as well as extending outward into New Taipei City and further afield. For more detailed information on daily bus routes you could check out the Taipei Bus website or just a quick search for directions on google will show you which bus routes to take.

Though buses cover much more ground than the MRT, they’re a little more complicated to figure out. Yet there are still bus stations and offices near train stations in most Taiwanese cities, unlike the MRT.

Trains

This isn’t really the best option to travel within Taipei, as there are only two stations within the city, Nangang Station and Taipei Main Station. That being said, it’s still a great way to cross the city in a short time! The trains also extend out a little further to Banqiao and Taoyuan, making it a better option for long-distance travel.

Taxi

There are thousands of yellow taxis driving through the city at any one time! These days it’s easy to order one through either LINE or Uber for added convenience. That might be a better option for most foreigners, as the typical taxi driver cannot speak English and thus you’d have to know the address in Mandarin.

taipei daily taxi
The typical Taiwanese taxi. Photo by Solomon203, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Taxis may be more expensive compared to public transit but are cheaper when compared to the rest of the world. All taxi services charge a minimum of NT$70 and the rate is NT$5 for every 200 meters over 1.25 km, plus an extra NT$20 on your fare if travelling between 11 pm to 6 am.

Prices may be a bit higher for suburbs or the surrounding mountain regions. Oh and be sure to hurry up, as you’ll be charged an extra NT$5 if the driver has to wait over 80 seconds! Time is money people!

Shopping

In a booming trend-setting capital, there are plenty of shopping districts throughout the city. Each area seems to have its own vibe and a different target audience, though all are worth your time!

Xinyi Special District is easily the most developed spot. Not only is the area dominated by nearby Taipei 101, which itself has 5 full floors of designer stores, but the surrounding area also has some of the best shopping in the city! The attached shopping plazas, the most notable of which being ATT 4 FUN and Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Xinyi Place, act as an all-around entertainment complex filled with high-end stores, restaurants and even a cinema. Other close by malls include Neo 19 and Breeze SongGao.

taipei daily att 4 fun
ATT 4 Fun. Photo by MiNe on Flickr

The whole district of Zhongshan has numerous shopping areas, which are particularly popular amongst Japanese tourists. The Tiao Tong Shopping District and Chifeng Street are just some of the noteworthy spots. Also, be sure to check out the former U.S. Consulate building that’s been turned into a shopping plaza and cinema at SPOT – Taipei Film House.

One of the most popular areas amongst Taipei’s youth and slickest hipsters is Ximending, the first pedestrian-only district in the city. Though they still have some high-end stores, there’s a higher concentration of independent stores for a more authentic appeal. It’s also the prime stop to get yourself some new ink down Tattoo Street.

The narrow streets of Ximending. Photo by Jirka Matousek on Flickr

To please the students that attend nearby National Taiwan University on a daily basis, Gongguan Shopping District also has some of the cheapest shopping in Taipei.

Not to mention that if you’re after some cheap variety in your shopping then you could always check out one of the city’s many night markets!

Health

In the event that an unexpected problem breaks your daily routine, you can rest assured that the healthcare in Taipei is both affordable and well-reputable. Locals and foreigners are offered a high standard of care by highly skilled medical professionals whether its public or private hospitals.

Public Healthcare

Most foreigners and Taiwanese citizens make use of government-funded healthcare through their National Health Insurance. Expats living in Taiwan for more than four months or who hold an Alien Resident Card (ARC) are required by law to pay this insurance, so you are covered whether you want to use the services or not.

New arrivals are often enrolled in the system by their employer with their contributions being automatically deducted from their salaries. Dependants, students or self-employed residents need to register at a hospital within four months of obtaining their residence status.

Taxi’s arriving daily at the Renai branch of Taipei City Hospital. Photo by Tianmu peter, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In return, users get given access to heavily subsidised medical care services covered by their NHI and will vary between different cases and services. Yet be aware that you will still have to cover some of the cost, and though the public hospitals are world-class, many inpatient services that are standard in the West may not be provided in Taiwan. Also, medicines available in the West may not be available in Taiwan.

Private Healthcare

Many foreigners choose to utilise Taiwan’s high-quality private care to avoid long waiting times, to receive better care and have a greater choice of treatment options. There are also many private clinics in Taiwan’s urban centres which specifically serve the expat market. It’s also an advantage that many private hospitals have a greater proficiency in English. That being said, private healthcare in Taiwan is expensive.

Pharmacies

Pharmacies are widely available in Taiwan and there are even a few 24-hour pharmacies within Taipei! Doctors offices and hospitals often have pharmacies attached to their premises, so it’s pretty easy to pick up and prescription medication after consulting with a doctor.

Medicine is also generally cheaper in Taiwan compared to say the US, though there might not be as varied a selection. Those who rely on a specific brand of Western medication should stock up beforehand as Taiwan usually has its own local alternatives under a different brand name. If you’re looking for a more generic pharmacy with less of a medicinal edge, then you can check out Watsons for your basic hygiene and cosmetic side.

If you want to step out of your daily routine in Taipei, why not take a day trip to Beitou?

Explore the home of Taiwanese hot spring culture and a geological paradise.

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Leisure

You work hard, you damn well better play hard! In a booming capital like Taipei, there are plenty of daily opportunities to kick back and relax. You could make an endless list of the different ways to burn your free time, but let’s just stick to the basics!

Gyms

Taipei has no shortage of gyms and sports centres where you can exercise or join daily classes. Gyms and fitness centres are either privately owned or run as independent facilities or as part of large fitness franchises or public government sports centres.

Community sports centres are usually much cheaper and don’t require contracts, while private gyms expect annual or monthly agreements. If you’re hoping to find an English-speaking instructor for both private or class sessions, your best bet is with the larger chains such as World Gym.

Bars

There are plenty of bars out there across the scale. You can find everything from classy wine bars to speakeasies hidden behind all manner of secret doors! If you were just to stick to the places with more of a western feel, you could check out Carnegie’s, On Tap, Aye and Paddy’s Bar.

Selection on offer at Carnegie’s. Photo by slayer on Flickr

KTV

In true East Asian fashion, there’s no better way to spend an evening than to rent a private karaoke room for you and your friends. They range from the simplest little booths to having attached bars and all-you-can-eat buffets! I mean, have you even lived in Taiwan if you haven’t attended a KTV at least once?!

Cinemas

There are cinemas throughout the city that show movies in English with Chinese subtitles. Taiwan also has a unique concept (which should definitely be popular around the world) known as MTV. Basically, these are small private cinemas where you rent a room, pick your own movie(s), and have total privacy as a pair, a group, or whoever you want to go with. Just bear in mind, they don’t have locks on the doors *wink, wink*.

Banks

A foreign national wanting to open a bank account in Taiwan must be at least 20 years old and have proof of a fixed place of residence. To open a bank account, you’ll need your passport, a Republic of China (ROC) ID card, your ID number and your Alien Resident Card, or a Record of your ID number in the Republic of China. The amount required to open a bank account varies from bank to bank.

taipei daily chinatrust
A branch of CHinatrust. Photo by Solomon203, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the more popular banks, Chinatrust, requires an opening minimum deposit of NT$10,000. Local banks will normally have an English speaking representative to help you with any queries.

There are some recognisable international banks, however, they have some pretty demanding conditions. For example, to open an account with HSBC or ABN AMRO you’ll need at least NT$3 million and NT$3.8 million respectively, whereas Citibank requires a minimum of $25 thousand monthly.

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Apps

In today’s modern world, there are always a set series of apps that will work best for any city.

Communication

Daily life in Taipei revolves around Line. This basic communication tool can also be used to order taxis around the city! Another popular option (for some at least) is Wechat. However as it’s a Chinese company, many people tend to stay away from it just in case of some tomfoolery from across the ocean. If all else fails, common Western apps such as Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp are also used.

Food

We live in a modern age of food being delivered at a click of a button, and Taipei is at the forefront. There are two competing companies, UberEats and Food Panda.

Both apps are in English and interaction with delivery drivers and restaurants are minimum, so you don’t need to worry about communicating. These apps can also be used to order from supermarkets and several other stores such as 7/11 and pharmacies like Watsons, meaning you can do your shopping at a click of a button and have it delivered.

Dating

Come on, why shouldn’t single people get to have fun! And when in a new country, it’s important to know which dating apps are the popular choice amongst the locals! In Taiwan, the most prominent of all is the classic Tinder, though some others are used such as Bumble, Paktor and Goodnight.

Laundry

In almost every residential block in Taipei, you should be able to find a laundromat! They’re beautifully simple to figure out and are all coin-operated. What’s more, most of them are open 24/7, so if there’s ever an emergency, then you have a place to go!

I also recommend the service Laundry Town, which works in cities across the world. They pick up, clean and drop off your laundry for you at your prefered time and location. It may be a bit more expensive, but it’s incredibly practical!

TravellingWelshman

A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.

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