Initially, expats may find their lifestyle in Taipei is full of ups and downs, with the city an eclectic blend of the traditional and the modern. The cityscape comprises sleek skyscrapers and historic temples, busy streets and tranquil parks. Like any major global city, Taipei grapples with urban issues such as congestion and pollution, but it is continually making strides in environmental initiatives.
As a crossroad between East and West, Taipei is a city rich with cultural nuances. Despite their interest in Western pop culture, locals may have different social norms. For example, alcohol consumption is often limited to bars or nightclubs, loud public behaviour is generally frowned upon, and voicing complaints directly can be seen as socially inappropriate.
With time, expats adapt to the rhythm of the city, discovering a multitude of things to see and do in Taipei. This enables them to better shape their lifestyle in Taiwan's vibrant capital.
The city offers an abundance of parks, nature reserves, and rolling hills at its fringes. Further afield, untouched beaches and rural landscapes beckon for weekend adventures. A rich and diverse food culture tantalises the palate, while shopping in Taipei, whether at major malls or night markets, promises a unique experience.
Shopping in Taipei
Shopping in Taipei will delight discerning bargain hunters. The historical districts in central and west Taipei have many small stores lining the bustling, narrow streets, especially around the main station. Eastern Taipei has more open spaces and features shopping malls and large department stores. Several of these can also be found in the cosmopolitan Xinyi District, which is home to Taipei 101.
Nearly all the high-end designer labels are found in shopping malls, which include the American-style Breeze Center and Dayeh Takashimaya. Most shops open mid-morning at about 10am and close at 9pm. The Eslite Mall in Dunhua South Road is open 24 hours a day.
The Jade and Flower markets on Jianguo South Road are open during the day on weekends. The Jade Market, one of the biggest in Asia, offers good deals on gems.
Technophile expats will be in their element at the Guang Hua Digital Plaza. Affordable, top-of-the-range electronics such as laptops and cameras are sold in stores and stalls throughout the building's six storeys, and tech giants often unveil new products at the plaza.
Visiting a night market is a quintessential Taiwanese experience and a popular leisure activity. Held outdoors, the endless food stalls, game arcades and trinket peddlers create a carnival atmosphere. While they aren't known for especially good quality, bargains are easy to find.
Night markets are more than a shopping destination. They are an entire cultural experience that reveals much of the city's hidden and traditional character. As the sun sets, thousands of stalls open to sell everything from pets to DIY tools and paper fans.
Markets run from 6pm to around 10.30pm. While some markets operate in the streets, others make use of covered open areas. The most popular markets are Shilin Night Market, which has been open since 1899, and the Raohe Street Night Market.
Nightlife in Taipei
While public drinking isn't as common in Taiwan as in some Western cultures, Taipei's nightlife caters to various tastes. Expats will find a broad range of bars, nightclubs, karaoke venues and traditional tea houses spread across the city.
Karaoke isn't just a source of entertainment in Taipei but is a way of life. Casually referred to as KTV, it's popular for birthday celebrations, staff functions and weekend entertainment. Entire buildings are dedicated to karaoke, with multiple floors of rooms that can be rented by the hour. Food and beer are usually sold on the premises, and many establishments are open 24 hours a day.
Another popular pastime in Taipei is tea drinking. Taiwan produces spectacular teas, most notably the fragrant Oolong tea and the richer Tieguanyin tea, both popular exports. There are dozens of tea houses in Taipei where expats can experience the local take on tea culture.
Eating out in Taipei
Taiwanese cuisine can be an exciting adventure for expats. Local specialities like stinky tofu and Century Eggs offer a unique taste experience. For those less adventurous, Taiwanese cuisine also boasts a wide range of more familiar dishes such as fried rice, noodles, steamed buns with meat fillings, and dumplings.
Street food in Taipei is a culinary delight. Inexpensive and tasty, offerings include Taiwanese-style omelettes with various fillings, perfect for a quick breakfast. For larger meals, take-outs from street stalls or neighbourhood shops provide a cheap alternative, with many locals regularly enjoying these fast food options. Night markets are excellent venues for sampling snacks like calamari and skewered squid.
For those who crave the comforts of Western food, Taipei hosts a variety of supermarkets, such as Jason's, Carrefour and Costco, that stock these items. Global chains like Starbucks and McDonald's are common, and Italian restaurants are also easily found throughout the city.
Meeting people and making friends in Taipei
Making connections in a new city can sometimes be daunting, particularly if you've moved halfway across the world. Fortunately, Taipei is home to various groups and clubs that can make the transition easier and can help expats establish friendships and integrate into local communities.
The Community Services Center is a non-profit organisation that provides a supportive environment for the international community in Taipei. It offers counselling, cross-cultural training, educational classes and social activities, providing a magnificent opportunity to meet people and make friends.
Joining a local Toastmasters club can be a great way to meet people from diverse backgrounds. Toastmasters is a worldwide organisation aimed at improving communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. There are several English-speaking clubs in Taipei, making it an excellent networking opportunity for expats.
The American Club Taipei stands as a beacon of camaraderie and leisure for the international community in Taipei. Established in 1968, ACC has become a 'Home Away from Home' for expats and visitors alike. With a commitment to providing top-notch products, services and activities in premier facilities, members find not only a taste of home but also a place where people with shared interests come together. From sports and entertainment to exquisite dining experiences, ACC promises to craft memories that will stand the test of time, always aiming to surpass expectations.
The Red Room is a non-profit organisation encouraging creative and artistic expression in Taipei's local and international communities. It hosts regular events, including open mics, art shows, and music performances, providing a wonderful environment for creatives and those who appreciate the arts to connect.
►For an overview of life in the city, read Moving to Taipei
"I loved that Taiwan was different enough from home to feel exotic, yet modern and developed enough to be comfortable. I loved the hospitable people. I loved how easy it was to get around by public transportation. I loved the street food, how cheap it was, and how it was available anywhere, at all times. I loved that I could buy beer from 7-Eleven and drink it anywhere. I loved that nature, hot springs, a dormant volcano, and beaches could easily be enjoyed as day trips from Taipei. I loved learning to speak Mandarin." Read more about Nick's expat experience in Taipei in his interview with Expat Arrivals.
Are you an expat living in Taipei?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Taipei. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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