Expats are often unprepared for doing business in Taiwan. The working culture may seem unfamiliar to many, particularly those from Western cultures, and achieving an adequate understanding may require some cross-cultural training.
While capitalism is a significant aspect of Taiwan's economy, many businesses also incorporate Confucian values into their practices, which can influence etiquette and common practices. Expats should familiarise themselves with this system of behaviour to better succeed in the business sphere.
Taiwan largely depends on foreign trade, and the number of multinationals here means that locals are typically accustomed to interacting with expats in the business world.
8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Taiwanese and Mandarin are the official languages. While English is frequently used in large multinational organisations, it can be less common in local enterprises, so a translator may be necessary.
Formal and conservative, with dark suits for men and modest dresses and skirts for women. Pantsuits are considered business casual and might not always be appropriate.
Gift-giving is an essential relationship-building tool. A simple gift for all members involved in a meeting is appropriate. A slightly better gift may be presented to the most important member of a party. It is customary to open gifts in private.
Some gifts to avoid are clocks, umbrellas, shoes, sharp objects and handkerchiefs. Good gifts include high-quality tea, fruits (but not pears), pastries or sweets from one's home country, high-quality liquors and nice pens or stationery.
While Taiwan has made significant strides towards gender equality, including having a female president, it should be noted that there are still challenges related to patriarchy and gender disparities. However, women increasingly occupy larger roles in the working world, and efforts are ongoing to decrease the gender wage gap.
Business culture in Taiwan
While Taiwan’s highly developed capitalist economy is marked by modern enterprise, its business culture is rooted in old-world tenets.
Many businesses in Taiwan, particularly small- to medium-sized and family-owned ones, tend to have a hierarchical structure, where senior managers take significant interest in all activities and expect to be consulted on key decisions.
Hierarchy is established and greatly respected, although protocols are not as formal as in nearby Japan and South Korea. Consequently, lower-level employees may exhibit less initiative due to cultural emphasis on hierarchy and respect for seniority.
As in many East Asian cultures, many Taiwanese businesses may prioritise harmony and group cohesion. These values are linked to Confucian principles, although not all companies or individuals will share these values equally. For many Taiwanese workers, work groups become a significant source of personal worth and identity.
According to this line of thought, the most important aspects of business culture in Taiwan are 'face' and 'guanxi' (relationships).
Creating and sustaining relationships is integral is doing business in Taiwan. Local enterprises rarely engage in negotiation before establishing a connection between the parties involved. Expats should take note of the practices that support this concept, like gift-giving. It's also crucial not to rush business dealings, allowing time for relationships to develop.
'Face', a concept deeply intertwined with personal dignity, prestige, and reputation, can impact both personal and business interactions in Taiwan. However, its importance and application can vary between individuals and organisations.
When there is a high level of trust and understanding between partners, more room is generally made for open and potentially face-threatening communication. In new relationships or those with significant power differentials, it's important to preserve face.
Giving face, saving face and avoiding losing face is so important that expats may find that other principles that usually guide negotiation don't apply. For example, Taiwanese colleagues will avoid pointing out others' mistakes to allow them to keep face, even if this comes at a cost to the company.
New arrivals should abide by these principles, as causing someone to lose face will have a negative effect on business dealings.
Dos and don'ts of business in Taiwan
Do show respect and deference to the most senior person in a meeting, acknowledging their position and influence.
Don’t do or say anything that will embarrass or shame the company. Causing a collective group to lose face has an extremely negative impact on business relations in Taiwan.
Do accept any invitations to events outside of the normal working environment. Relationship-building is paramount, and it's important to capitalise on any and all opportunities to connect with clients and colleagues.
Don’t be afraid to depart from a meal during tea time, even if asked to stay or go somewhere else. This is a feature of all Taiwanese meals and an appropriate time to leave.
►Read Working in Taiwan for an overview of the island's job market.
"Taiwan is a working culture. I would say that the average Taiwanese adult puts in 1.5 to 2 times more working hours in a week than the average person in Canada. It’s common in Taiwan to see things like people working on their days off, working overtime without getting paid for it, and so on." Learn about Nick's experience living and working in Taiwan as an expat.
Are you an expat living in Taiwan?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Taiwan. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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