TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Amid rising inflation, a weakening Taiwan dollar and rising property prices, the cost of living in Taiwan, as in many parts of the world, is on the rise.
This is especially true in Taipei, where the high cost of living has triggered a slight exodus of people to other parts of the country, bringing its population to the lowest point in 23 years.
Knowing the best ways to reduce daily expenses in Taiwan can make a big difference to your wallet right now, Steve Cummings, a personal finance guru, told Taiwan News. Cumming’s blog, The Frugal Expat, provides money management advice specific to the needs of digital nomads, travelers, and expat communities.
Originally from Florida, Steve and his wife Sarah (from Australia) have lived in Taipei City for five years and manage to keep their combined cost of living below NT$30,000 (US$1,030) per month. They rent a single room, 20 ping (one ping equals 3.3 square meters) apartment near the heart of the city for NT$18,000 per month, while they budget all remaining expenses within 12 000 NT$.
They do this by cutting big recurring expenses, like food and lodging, Cummings said.
When it comes to finding accommodation, Cummings recommends foreigners look outside of Taipei City. He says people pay a premium for renting in the nation’s capital, but wages for most foreigners are about the same in other parts of the country, especially for university teaching jobs. English.
Regardless of location, he recommends shared accommodation, which can range from NT$5,000 to NT$15,000 per room in Taipei.
He also suggests learning enough Mandarin to navigate local websites for rental listings, like 591. You’ll get the best price on local sites, while English listings on Facebook groups that target expats are usually indexed at an inflated rate, he adds.
Also look for jobs that offer housing allowance or mention it in salary negotiations, he adds. This is a common perk for full-time English teaching positions, especially those working in public schools.
To go out
He said drinks in bars are expensive in developed economies and Taipei is no exception. They usually charge a 10% service fee and once you get there you can quickly eat up your week’s savings.
The best places to drink in Taiwan, according to Cummings, are those well-lit “bars” on every corner.
“Convenience stores are the best bars in town,” he smiles.
If drinking under fluorescent lights doesn’t appeal to you, he added, just go somewhere quiet, like a nearby park. You also don’t have to rule out eating out, but reserve it for special occasions, he advised.
Flea markets for expatriates
Expats are well placed to get offers from friends in the expat community, especially if they have to return home at short notice.
Cummings said he got a free scooter when his Australian boyfriend left Taiwan, while his wife got a smartphone for around NT$300 from another departing expat. People often empty a bunch of their stuff when they leave, he said, and don’t have the time or the know-how to put it up for sale on the local second-hand market.
Besides these parting gifts, expat friends may also ask you to take care of their business while they are away for an extended visa or vacation back home. He knows a Sydneysider in Taipei who takes care of a Mac Mini indefinitely while his American friend moves back to the States for a while.
For those who want to see all of Taiwan on a shoestring budget, pitch a tent at free camping spots.
Cummings advises checking out some prominent websites, such as FollowXiaofei blogs, which list free camping sites. Some popular places include natural hot springs, beaches, public “liang ting” (“涼亭”) pavilions, or parks.
Cummings said he and his wife have even camped at elementary schools on several occasions, which are often open as public land.
“You just have to be out before the kids come back the next day,” he laughed. Yunlin County has many free campsites, he added.
Cycling saves a lot of transportation costs, and Taipei’s flat terrain makes cycling easier, Cummings said. Search Facebook Marketplaces to find the cheapest used bikes, he suggested.
When it comes to public transport, Cummings opts for the bus over the MRT, as it’s usually cheaper.
Foreign products are too expensive due to high import taxes, especially on things like wine, so try to switch to a diet based on local products, he added. Avoid grocery chains like PX Mart (全聯), Dinghao (頂好) or Carrefour and head to your local vegetable market, he said.
For this, Cummings recommends becoming conversational in Mandarin. Timing is also essential.
“My wife usually goes there between 11am and 12pm,” he said. “This is when the sales people are tired, so they’re more likely to lower the price for you so they can sell their stuff, pack up and go home.”
He suggests building relationships with local vendors, which can bring you benefits over time. However, he does not recommend negotiating.
Negotiate a higher salary
Negotiating with your employer is fine and, in fact, Cummings recommends it.
Many expats can be shy about negotiating their salary, he said, especially if you’ve just moved from abroad, but earning more is of course a great way to boost your savings.
Cummings said he received four job offers as an ESL teacher in the first week of his arrival in Taiwan (although he applied while still in the United States). He then negotiated his salary with each of them and went with the school that made the best overall offer.
Banks and stocks
When it comes to managing your money, Cummings recommends keeping most of your funds offshore.
“Taiwanese bank accounts are only good for storing money, but they earn very little interest,” he added.
He said there is no point putting his money in Taiwan’s stock market, whether for foreigners, because he feels it is too small.
“You can buy the same big companies like TSMC, Foxconn, etc. internationally anyway, like the US market,” he added.
For those wishing to invest in the US stock market, Cummings recommends opening an account with Interactive Brokers. For US citizens, there’s also Schwab, which offers a debit card that allows free ATM withdrawals from anywhere in the world.
Despite recent cost increases, Cummings still believes Taiwan is a great choice for those looking to save money and travel.
“Taiwan is like the perfect way,” he said, explaining that it’s cheaper than Japan and South Korea, more expensive than Southeast Asia, but only a few hours away. from most of the rest of Asia.
“You can save $10,000 to $15,000 a year compared to North America,” he added.
“As long as you watch your budget,” he concluded with a smile.