The Cost of Moving to Taiwan: The First Month

How much does it cost to move a family overseas?

One important question to consider when moving abroad is: How much will this international move cost? When I was single, I moved around the world by myself. I brought $33,000 with me and thought that would be more than enough. But I after paying a security deposit and my first month's rent, I was left with hardly anything to buy food until I received my first paycheck, which was a month away. Although you can use a Visa debit card to withdraw cash at an ATM in Taiwan from a foreign bank account (make sure to notify your bank before you move because you might have an international block on your card), it's still important to be prepared for how much you plan on spending in advance.

Six years later, I was moving overseas yet again. This time, I had a family with me. Determined not to make the same mistake again, I wondered: How much is enough? Twice the amount I brought last time? Four times? Ten times?

Now that this move is behind us, let's take a look at how much we really spent when moving across the globe. Note that this post emphasizes the expenses we incurred that were not typical... because the first month in a new country is never a typical month. This post glosses over expenses we typically pay in a normal month and, instead focuses on crazy expenses we incurred during our first month in Taiwan that we hope to never pay again.

Total amount spent during our first month in Taiwan: $165,323

Wow, that's a lot of money. Let's take a look at each category and see where that money went.

Rent and security deposit: $62,584

  • First month's rent: $20,000
  • Security deposit: $40,000
  • Maintenance fee: $2,584

Transportation: $7,401

We paid for a van to pick us up at the airport. Although this van was rather expensive ($2,555), we believe that this was well worth the cost. After twenty hours of travel time with two screaming children, the last thing we wanted was to have to navigate public transportation with two strollers, eight suitcases, and an army of carry-on luggage. We will have to do another post about what we did to prepare for our first 24 hours in a new country.

We made a mistake and we both bought unlimited MRT cards for this month ($1,480 each). We later figured out that it was more cost-effective to only buy one unlimited MRT pass and trade depending on who was going where.

The remaining amount of transportation expenses included a taxi ride back from our first Costco trip and Phil's commute to work (unfortunately, the bus Phil takes to work does not accept the unlimited MRT pass).

This month's transportation expenses were over double what we now spend in a normal month.

Cell phone service: $2,698

We each bought a 5-day prepaid SIM card at the airport. These were quite expensive ($500 each). Later, we signed contracts, which were much more reasonably priced.

The amount we spent on cell service this month was over two and a half times what we now typically pay in a month.

Household necessities: $7,506

There were many household necessities that we simply couldn't bring on the plane and had to purchase in Taiwan. Our two largest expenses in this category were a miniature washing machine ($2,595) and several baby gates (totaling $3,422). Because kids make a mess, we do laundry almost every day. Our landlord provided us with an ancient washing machine that would have certainly given up the ghost if we had used it as regularly as we would have liked. So, we purchased a small washing machine that we could use for the regular washing that our kids' clothes needed.

A friend had helped arrange an apartment for us before we landed. When we arrived, we were taken off-guard by some very unsafe artifacts in the apartment. Thus, an army of baby gates were in order.

In addition, we had to purchase a potty ($465) and stock the house with paper towels, toilet paper, and toothpaste, and cooking supplies that the previous tenant had not left behind (These expenses totaled $1,673).

Because we still haven't finished furnishing our apartment, it's hard to compare this to a "typical" month because we still haven't figured out how much we spend on household necessities in a given month.

Books: $6,983

Books are heavy and hard to carry on the plane. So, we had to leave the majority of our collection at home. But books are also important for kids to have... plus, we wanted to have a collection of Chinese language books, as well. So, we bit the bullet and started our book collection from scratch.

We haven't had the need to purchase any more books since.

Eating out: $5,461

Because our kitchen was not yet set up, we ate out approximately 50% more than we now do in a typical month.

Groceries: $14,971

Once again, this amount was nearly double of what we typically pay for a month's worth of groceries. This amount includes:
  • Our Costco membership ($1,350). Note that we weren't Costco members back in the States. If you already have a Costco membership in another country, you won't have to pay the membership fee again in Taiwan until your membership expires.
  • Our first Costco trip ($4,836). I've subtracted the non-grocery items we bought (mostly diapers) from this amount.
If you subtract these two expenses from our first month's grocery expenses, the remaining amount we spent on groceries is only a little higher than a normal month's worth of groceries for us. This was because we bought many things during our first Costco trip (such as spices) that we have not purchased since. Also, we had not yet learned which grocery stores have the best sales on what types of food. Shopping sales has reduced our grocery bill by about 20%. At some point, we will have to write another blog post about this.

Toys & Diapers: $4,803

This amount includes:
  • Diapers ($1,529). With two kids in diapers, we really could have used two boxes but we only bought one because our expenses were already going through the roof this month.
  • Wipes ($685). Costco sells a huge box of wipes that lasts several months.
  • Toys ($2,589). This amount was over twice what we now typically pay for toys in a month. This makes sense, being that we had to leave the majority of our kids' toys behind.

Clothes: $1,266

Linda worked really hard to pack as many over-sized outfits as we could carry so that we wouldn't have to buy many clothes in Taiwan. (Garage sales selling used kids clothes are hard to come by over here.) However, there were many things that we couldn't bring that we had to purchase in Taiwan because they were too heavy or bulky... such as raincoats and shoes.

We have not purchased many clothing items since.

Family ARCs: $9,600

Phil's school paid for the price of his ARC (Alien Resident Certificate) but did not cover the cost of the ARCs for Lida and our kids, who came in as dependants. The cost is $3,200 per ARC. Please note that if you are planning to bring dependants with you to Taiwan, you must have all relevant documents (marriage certificate and birth certificates) authenticated by TECO in your home country before leaving. We also had to bring vaccination records for the kids and have them translated in Taiwan. We might write another post about this process in the future.

Medical expenses: $22,050

We had to go to the doctor for something important before our National Health Insurance came through. Although we did get part of this amount reimbursed through our travel insurance, we needed to have this amount of cash on hand. Additionally, Phil had to get a health check ($2,050) prior to obtaining his ARC.

Daycare: $20,000

The first month in Taiwan was extremely stressful. At first, we thought that it might help to send the kids to daycare every morning and pick them up around naptime. We only did this for one month because this didn't help as much as we had thought that it would.

The first month's expenses: 3½ times a typical month

It appears that the traditional wisdom of preparing for twice what you think you will spend is, in this case, not enough. Although most of our categories were double what we spend now that things have calmed down, we had additional categories of expenses (such as books, enormous medical expenses, etc.) that we have not had since our first month.

Note that we landed two days before Phil started his job, so we knew that we had a paycheck coming a month after we landed. If you choose to give yourself extra time to settle in before starting work, we recommend preparing to have your savings depleted by a greater amount. Also, this amount does not include airfare and other expenses you will incur prior to landing in Taiwan because looking up the price of plane tickets, visas, etc. is rather simple.

Triple or quadruple the amount you think you might spend in a typical month in Taiwan-- that math seems easy enough. But because you don't live our exact lifestyle, you might not spend what we do in our typical month. Your typical month in Taiwan also might not cost what it does in your home country. So, how should you estimate your expenses in Taiwan before you move?

Stay tuned for a post about this soon!

1 comment:

  1. I came across this post. Perhaps you'll find it useful.