November Expenses

Life in Taipei has been a lot of fun but it can get expensive very fast if we're not careful...

Review of Christmasland in New Taipei City 2018

If you're a foreigner living in Asia, then Christmas can be a bit different. But there are festivities here...

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?

How to compare cost of living between countries

Will I spend more money in Taiwan compared to my home country? Less money?

Toy bank - aka the Taipei City Parenting Resource Center

Those of you who are parents probably know that kids tire of toys very quickly. So the Taipei city government has this great resource for parents with kids ages 0-6 years old, the toy rental bank!

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Chinese New Years in Taipei

Hello readers!
Chinese New Years (CNY), called Spring Festival, is fast approaching this year in Taipei as February 4th. It begins on the first day of the lunar year calendar (usually around February) and ends on the lantern festival (15 days later). The significance is akin to that of Thanksgiving and Christmas where everyone goes home and celebrates together. So the Spring Festival is very important all over Asia and everyone here in Taipei gets several days off as an official holiday season. Most everyone in Taipei will be emptying out to go home in the more southern parts of the island.

The lunar new year celebrates the zodiac animals and this year is the year of the pig. Here our little girl dressed up as a pig at one of the government play centers. To learn more about the Chinese zodiac animals, here is a link for wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_zodiac. Speaking of pigs, there's a story of a mommy pig that's almost as inspiring as Charlotte's Web: https://www.ntd.com/inspiring/gravely-ill-mama-pig-miraculously-recovers-when-farmer-puts-13-newborns-by-her-side_575032.html. The mommy pig named Emma was exhausted with her 17 little pigs but after a short break she recovers when they come back by her side! As a mom I can totally relate as it is exhausting taking care of kids but they are also the reason I find to take better care of myself so I can take care of them.

However for foreigners living abroad in Asia going home to celebrate with family doesn't usually happen around this time. Our Spring Festival plans involve going to see the lion dance at the Grand Hyatt hotel (starts at 11 am on 2/5), visiting IKEA for some much needed kids kitchenware and seeing the Line Friends and Studio Ghibli exhibits. We'll be blogging about our adventures there.

UPDATED 2/28/2019

We ended up going to the Grand Hyatt at around 11 a.m. on New Year's day. The festivities take place right outside the lobby and then moved into the lobby. Here our girl is checking out the lion costume that the dancers placed on the lobby floor. There were other activities like calligraphy writing, balloon designs and silk screening that we left before we could do as the kids wanted to nap.



How to compare cost of living between countries



You just got a job offer in Taiwan paying $100,000 per month. You quickly convert this to your native currency and compare it to your current salary. But you ask yourself... will I spend more money in Taiwan compared to my home country? Will I spend less money? It turns out that determining how much money is worth in one country compared to another country is much more complicated than simply converting currencies.

In this post, I will explain how the amount of money we spent changed when we moved from the USA to Taiwan to try to give you a feeling for how much it cost us to maintain our former standard of living in a new country.

Let's look at each category of our spending and see what changed.

Rent

Rent can get costly very quickly... but don't think that you need to break the bank just to afford a decent apartment. If you want to live close to conveniences (food, MRT, etc.) you'll find yourself paying for it. If you want to save money, try finding a place which is not terribly close to an MRT station. But if you start looking too far away, you'll find some rather expensive communities inhabited by wealthy families who own cars. So, you want to find a sweet spot, which is going to be about a 20 minute walk.

We spend $20,000 per month in rent. But many people spend far more than this. This interactive map might help you find a sweet spot where you can save on rent in a place near where you would most like to live.

Groceries

Back in the States, we spent about $10,450 per month on groceries. In Taiwan, that went down to about $8,200. While our spending on groceries went down, don't be deceived into thinking that food is cheap here. On the contrary, many expats find them spending more on food because maintaining an American diet in Taiwan gets expensive. Our first month, we found ourselves spending a lot on food. Then, we realized that we needed to cut down on meat and eat more soy. That brought our spending down.

I dug through receipts and compared the cost of groceries at our local grocery store in Taipei to our local grocery store back home:
  Taiwan USA  
Eggplant (1 count) $016 $040 Save 60% in Taiwan
Potato (1 count) $012 $027 Save 56%
Broccoli (2 heads) $049 $092 Save 47%
Soy milk (1858 ml) $055 $096 Save 44%
Onion (1 bulb) $018 $032 Save 44%
Tofu (300g) $037 $054 Save 31%
Rice (3kg) $129 $163 Save 2%
Quaker Instant Oats (100g) $309 $289 7% more expensive in Taiwan
Shredded mozzarella cheese (300g) $139 $106 31% more expensive
Cheddar cheese slices (200g) $086 $048 79% more expensive
Eggs (10 eggs) $089 $041 115% more expensive
Small steak (100g) $049 $027 81% more expensive
Cow's milk (1858 ml) $166 $061 172% more expensive
Boneless chicken breasts (100g) $220 $027 715% more expensive
Note that all units in the above table have been converted to what you'll find sold in a Taiwanese grocery store.

Here's the same table again using the units you'll find sold in an American grocery store:
Taiwan USA
Eggplant (1 count) $016 $040 Save 60% in Taiwan
Potato (1 count) $012 $027 Save 56%
Broccoli (2 heads) $049 $092 Save 47%
Soy milk (half gallon) $055 $098 Save 44%
Onion (1 bulb) $018 $032 Save 44%
Tofu (18oz) $063 $092 Save 31%
Rice (3kg) $120 $123 Save 2%
Quaker Instant Oats (42oz) $3,679 $3,441 7% more expensive in Taiwan
Shredded mozarella cheese (8oz) $105 $080 31% more expensive
Cheddar cheese slices (10 slices) $098 $054 79% more expensive
Eggs (12 eggs) $107 $049 115% more expensive
Small steak (10oz) $139 $077 81% more expensive
Cow's milk (half gallon) $166 $060 172% more expensive
Boneless chicken breasts (1 pound) $998 $122 715% more expensive

If you're in love with meat, be prepared to find yourself spending a lot on food in Taiwan. But if you're willing to adapt to the Asian way of life, you'll be fine.

Eating out

The abundance of street vendors makes Taiwan a very convenient place to live. However, be warned that if you visit these vendors every day, you will find your wallet hurting. Back in the States, we ate out roughly once per month and spent $1,120/month. Here in Taiwan, we eat out about twice per week and spend $3,500/month. We have managed to keep our total food bill (groceries + eating out) the same in Taiwan as it was in the States. We didn't particularly struggle to keep costs down back in the USA... but here in Taiwan, we have to be very careful because our expenditures on food can get out of control all too easily just because there is so much delicious food readily available.


Utility Bills

Electricity costs $01.63 per kilowatt hour for the first 240 kilowatts, and costs $210 per kilowatt hour after that. This is well below the average cost of electricity in the USA ($3.96 per kilowatt hour is the national average). But remember that you might find yourself using much more electricity in Taiwan blowing air conditioning in the hot summers. When we made a constant effort to conserve, we did find our electricity bill lower in Taiwan by about half, even in the hot summers. In Taiwan, we spend anywhere between $650 and $1,500 per month on electricity. Compare this to our spending in the States, which varied anywhere between $1,600 and $4,000 per month.

Natural gas costs $15.15 per cubic meter in Taiwan. Compare this to the USA national average of $10.91 per cubic meter (the US uses cubic feet but I've converted units here). We only use gas for cooking, so we haven't seen a huge difference between gas bills in the States vs. Taiwan. Our gas bill is around $300 per month.

For water, the base fee is $260. We get a pretty consistent bill of around $350 per month.

We spend far less on cellular service here in Taiwan than back in the States.

More on our utility expenses can be found here.

Diapers

A box of 180 diapers from Costco costs $1,231 in the US. The same box (also from Costco) costs $1,239 in Taiwan.

A big box of 900 wipes from Costco costs $677 in the US. The same box from Costco costs $685 in Taiwan.

The price of diapers is virtually the same on both sides of the ocean.

Taxes

You don't normally think to budget for taxes... but when there's no sales tax, no state tax and a tax rate of around 6% (depending on your income), money goes a lot further in Taiwan. In the USA, most states charge a combined state tax and sales of somewhere around 7% (If you're lucky enough to live in a state without sales tax, you probably have a higher state tax... so it evens out). Additionally, social security and medicare take another 7.65% out of the paycheck of USA salaries. Below is a table which compares take-home salaries in the USA and Taiwan. Please note that the table below assumes that you are married filing jointly using the standard deduction with two children.
Gross (Annual)Take-Home (USA)Take-Home (Taiwan)
$600000$555160$598600
$800000$725860$788600
$1000000$896560$978600
$1200000$1054964$1162440
$1400000$1204128$1338440
$1600000$1350805$1514440
$1800000$1497512$1689000
$2000000$1644221$1849000
$2500000$2010991$2249000
$3000000$2376168$2648200

Some notes:

  • Taiwan does, actually, have a sales tax rate of 5%. But if you're smart, you won't have to pay it often. You don't pay it when eating out or shopping at traditional markets. You only pay sales tax when shopping at Western-style stores, such as department stores. Live like a local and save money.
  • The table above has not taken into account government assistance programs (such as EIC) available in the USA. If you're poor, America is a great place to save money.
  • The table above also doesn't include income levels above $4000000/year, where Taiwan's tax rate soars to 40%.
  • If you live in Taiwan for less than 183 days in a calendar year, your tax rate is a flat 18%. If you earn a typical expat salary and you arrive in Taiwan halfway through the year, this is going to hurt. But if you earn millions of NTD per year, you'll find yourself wanting to take a long vacation each year to keep taxes down.


Medical Expenses

Medical expenses are a lot lower in Taiwan... however, on a month-to-month basis, you'll probably end up spending the same amount you did back in your home country just because you'll go to the doctor more often because of the convenience. That's what everyone does here.

Conclusion

It's very difficult to compare the cost of living between countries. In our case, we have found that our cost of living has remained almost exactly what it was back in the States. But that wasn't by accident. Rather, we learned how to cut back in places where it saved the most in Taiwan and have begun splurging in places where it doesn't cost that much.

A lot of people expect their spending to drop significantly in Taiwan. But don't count on that. While I do believe that it is easier to save money in Taiwan than in the States, this doesn't mean that saving money will become natural as soon as you step off of the plane. In fact, many expats find that their spending increases in Taiwan. But with some diligent efforts to save, you can see your spending drop a satisfying amount.

Toy bank - aka the Taipei City Parenting Resource Center

Those of you who are parents probably know that kids tire of toys very quickly. So the Taipei city government has this great resource for parents with kids ages 0-6 years old, the toy rental bank! Also known as the Taipei City Parenting Resource Center
https://www.tcprc.org.tw

It is located right outside of the Shandao MRT station (exit 5) on the blue line.
捷運善導寺站5號出口 Here's the page with the location in Chinese https://www.tcprc.org.tw/?cat=41

The building is very stroller friendly, the toy bank is on the third floor but there's an elevator that will take you right up. They are open Tuesday-Sunday 9:30-12:30 and 14:00-1700. Similar to other government play centers, they are closed on Mondays and national holidays.

Similar to a library, you have to register to get a barcode to borrow toys. Parents can borrow two toys per child and keep them for two weeks. You can also go online to extend that time by 1 more week.

The website says you can register online to get your barcode but when I tried to enter our passport and then ARC numbers none of it worked so we had to go in to register ourselves. The first time you borrow toys you will need an ID (passport/ARC) to confirm your child's age. The toys need to be returned during their operating hours.

For foreigners, they are more used to those who come in with passports as it took awhile for us to get our barcode with our ARCs.

There are shelves lined up with all sorts of toys:



There are also toys that are at the center for kids to play with when the parents are browsing through the toys. If you are there on weekday mornings there won't be too many people as when we took this photo we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves.


Our kids had a great time and we came away with our two toys.


They also welcome donation of toys in good condition.


Traveler/International friendly teriyaki salmon

This is a re-post from our other blog as this recipe was so popular when we were back in the states that I made it again in Taiwan as all the ingredients you can get worldwide.

Originally it was from this recipe site:
https://chefsavvy.com/easy-teriyaki-salmon/

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon oil
4 salmon filet, skinless or not
1 teaspoon cornstarch (or any kinds of starch as I discovered tapioca starch here in Taiwan)
1 tablespoon water
green onions for garnish, if desired
sesame seeds for garnish, if desired

Marinade:
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon ginger, minced
¼ cup low sodium soy sauce (or you can water down regular soy sauce)
⅛ cup water
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar or honey (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Add garlic, ginger, soy sauce, ⅛ cup water, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil to a medium bowl. Place salmon filet in the ziplock/plastic bag and marinate for 30 minutes. I made another batch for the reserved marinade that's used later.
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add salmon filet making sure not to overcrowd pan.
Cook 3-4 minutes on each side until desired done-ness.
Meanwhile heat the reserved marinade in the saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Add cornstarch and water to a small bowl and whisk to combine.
Slowly whisk in the cornstarch mixture to the marinade and simmer until thickened.
Serve immediately with the teriyaki sauce drizzled on top as well as green onions and sesame seeds for garnish, if desired.



This was my stove back in the states. Will have to take a new photo with our kitchen in Taiwan.

Christmas and New Years in Taipei

Happy Holidays!

We previously blogged about Christmasland in New Taipei City so just wanted to continue on with the holidays season blog posts. In today's blog we'll finish with what we did for Christmas and for calendar New Years and anticipate Chinese New Years (CNY) as that is a really big deal here in Asia.

Christmas
The places that seem to have the most for Christmas are stores and shopping malls.

There's really nothing for western calendar New Years though as everyone is anticipating Chinese/lunar calendar New Years.



The store decorations went right from Christmas decorations to Chinese New Year decorations. Also if you are anticipating a Christmas sale, the time to go would be on Christmas day as the day after all the Christmas things are put away/gone.

However the nexus of calendar New Year's eve celebration is around Taipei City Hall Square and Taipei 101. Phil who has been there in previous years when he hasn't met Linda yet (so no kids!) says people will stake out the good spots 12 hours in advance. The singers they bring in are usually good if you want to check out the concerts (easier if you don't have kids). But our family arrived on New Year's eve so we tried to just live stream the fire works (which didn't work).

Here's the English version of the official site and I think you just have to change the year if you are reading this for 2020 (that or I'll re-post this then):

https://www.newyear2019.taipei/en/index.html

The Chinese New Years celebration is a much bigger deal here and we'll be writing posts for that in the near future. In the meantime, to finish up, here's a bonus Christmas decoration craft you can do with kids helping and you'll find the materials in any grocery/shopping store:

Christmas wreaths without glue - we'll probably re-post for next Christmas

Materials:
Cloth hanger if you don't have access to pliable branches
Decorations - usually around 50-100 NT
Garland - usually 50 - 100 NT depends on length
If your kids are a bit older they can do it themselves or mine just helped with gathering the materials.



Steps - bend the clothe hanger into the circle, ours was already really bent so it wasn't very hard to do with your bare hands. Then wind-up the garland around the hanger, without using glue I stuck the ornaments in between the winding-up process of the garland.

Finished product - Ta da