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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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!

Review of Christmasland in New Taipei City 2018 - Updated

Hello readers,

Merry Christmas! If you're a foreigner living in Asia then Christmas can be a bit different. Especially in Taiwan where it never snowed for Christmas and you're someone who is used to that all your life. But there are festivities here if you know where to look. So without further ado, here's my review of Christmasland (the organizers combined "Christmas" and "Land" together if you're wondering if one's English deteriorates in Asia) in New Taipei City, one of the major things to do for Christmas in Taipei from a mom's perspective when you have to little kids on hand.

Christmasland is located in New Taipei City and the station is Banqiao on the blue line on the MRT (Taipei metro). The English version of their official website is here:

The website lists events, transportation and map of the area which are all very helpful when you have to plan with kids. Once you get there this map will also be at all the different areas:

Unfortunately the day I went it was sunny all week so the AQI was off the charts for Taipei so you'll have to excuse the pollution/fuzziness and random finger in my photos. We headed out at 11 and didn't get there until noon although the festivities will start at 11 in the morning usually.

I choose to try to go to city hall plaza first, that's the one with a giant metal Christmas tree. Also unfortunate is that it was not very stroller friendly. To get there via stroller you'd have to follow all the signs for city hall:

Go through to the exit and you'll eventually reach the giant metal Christmas tree:

The difficulty level triples here as you have to go around the tree to the signs for the elevator which takes you to the motorcycle parking garage. Then you have to think about where they would put the elevator, and yes, next to the handicap motorcycle spots. This was really tricky as I kept on thinking I was at the wrong place but just keep going and you'll reach it. Don't take a double stroller though as the elevator is small in size and it gets crowded in there.

The city hall plaza is there once you get upstairs. Because the Saturday we were there was the government make-up day (where the government gives the calendar New Years off but deems that one of the Saturdays in the month everyone has to go to work to make up for it as that seems to be the workaholic nature of most Asians) it was not too crowded when we got there.

The main stage will be here and the events website will show who is performing.

There are different sponsor booths around this plaza but our kids liked the Line friends the best (will write another post about the importance of Line messenger in Taiwan).

We then went back down the elevator to check out the other parts of Christmas Land. The next one we went to were the metro station plaza, it's there right when you get out of the handicap accessible exit 3. There are some kids play areas here so I wish we would have gone here first.

Then there's the stations to take pictures with Poli near exit 1 of the MRT. It's just a bit to the west of station plaza.

By now it was 14:00 and my kids were tired and hungry so we didn't check out the rest of the festivities. However, if you go later in the afternoon at 17:30 the light shows will start but I'm not sure if we'll head back as my kids were not too impressed.

Update: we did head back for the light shows as the official website's photos of the light shows at night time looks fantastic and here are some of our photos:

So Phil found a way with the stroller through the shopping mall's elevators to get up to the government plaza levels. The light shows were very high-tech as you can see especially with the giant Christmas tree. There were cute cartoons played on the big screens but it was way too long for our kids' attention spans. Overall we thought it was a good experience for the kids at night and for those who are missing Christmas at home.

November Expenses

We're a family of four (Mom, Dad, a 2-year-old boy, and a 1-year old girl). Life in Taipei has been a lot of fun but it can get expensive very fast if we're not careful just because there are so many fun things we could spend money on if we wanted!

So, for the month of November, we were very careful with tracking our expenses. Below are our recurring expenses. (We did have some rather large non-recurring expenses. These are explained at the very end.)

Recurring Expenses: $54,060

This isn't bad! I know a lot of other young families who spend far more than this, so I'd say that we're pretty conservative.

Here's a more detailed look at these various categories...

Rent: $22,584

We live in a beautiful 28.8 ping apartment (That's 1024 square feet). Rent is $20,000 per month, plus a maintenance fee of $2,584. Although the maintenance fee might seem rather high, our apartment complex has two playgrounds... one is indoor, and the other is outdoors. The indoor play area has been a life saver with two active toddlers in a city that rains a lot!

Our apartment is a 15 minute walk from Xindian Station, which is considered by many to be the middle of nowhere. But that's one reason why rent is low.

Date Night: $1,715

This is our one luxury. Once a month, we put the kids down for naps, put cameras on them, and sneak out of the house and do something fun together as a couple (no kids!). We never go far. If we see them stirring on the cameras, we're back in five minutes.

Transportation: $2,868

Linda has an unlimited MRT card, which costs $1480. Phil has a limited MRT card, but he didn't happen to need to top up at all this month because he spent less than $100. Because Linda stays home with the kids, she uses the MRT to go places quite a bit, which is why the unimited MRT card is of great value for us... but we only need one. When Phil wants to take the kids somewhere and give Linda a break, he takes Linda's unlimited card.

Phil bikes to work half the days and takes the school bus the other half. He spent $988 on the school bus. But since his school reimburses us $2500 per month for transportation, biking lets us keep over half of the transportation stipend ☺.

We visited Costco once this month and took a taxi back. We spent $400 on the taxi back.

Cell Phone Service: $1,007

We both have plans with Taiwan Mobile. Our plans include unlimited calling to other Taiwan Mobile customers (mainly so that we can call each other). We each get 30 minutes free to other carriers (calls to land lines are not free). Phil's data plan will start to slow down once he uses up 3GB, so his plan is a bit cheaper than Linda's (Linda's plan has fast service no matter how much data she uses). Phil pays $399/month and Linda pays $599/month. Since Phil is at work during the day, he doesn't use much more than his allotted 3GB. When his plan gets a bit too slow, Linda opens up a hotspot on her phone.

We realize that there are other carriers who charge less. However, we didn't want to support those carriers for a few reasons. First, their service isn't nearly as good as Taiwan Mobile's. But more importantly, many carriers don't trust foreigners to pay their bills (are we, expats, known for being flakes??). If you read stories online, you'll certainly hear about people who managed to wrangle the carriers to give them plans... but we really liked the fact that Taiwan Mobile let us get contracts with zero hassles. We figured that deserves our support.

Eating out: $3,505

Food is readily accessible in Taipei. This is both a blessing and a curse. Grabbing a quick bite to eat is so easy and not that expensive. However, if we're not careful, this can add up very quickly. If we're out and the kids get hungry, we just buy food for the kids and we (parents) eat a light lunch and eat more when we get home. This month, we spent:
  • $488 feeding the kids while we were out. This was mostly finger-food like french fries, sweet potatoes, and chicken nuggets. We did this ten times this month.
  • $165 on snacks for us, adults. This includes things like bubble tea and 豆花 (sweet silky tofu). We did this twice (once we shared, once we each got our own).
  • $2,582 on grown-up food. This was mostly lunch boxes. We did this roughly ten times. Sometimes we shared and sometimes we each got our own.

Groceries: $8,218

We found that the more we eat in, the more money we save. This is our secret to saving a lot of money in Taipei. Linda has scouted out all the major grocery stores and discovered the most cost-effective way to make dinner, and which dishes are both delicious and budget-friendly. We might have to do another blog post about that. Below are the groceries we bought this month. Our kids would drink juice by the gallon if we let them... but we mainly get them to drink water and soy milk. Our daughter, especially, can never get enough soy milk!
Snacks for the kids (x14) $948
Rice $774
Hot pot ingredients (x6) $719
Soy milk (x8) $566
Vegetables (x12) $485
Ingredients for curry $450
Peanut butter $425
Frozen dumplings $378
Meat (x4) $344
Fruit (x7) $343
Bread (x8) $323
Butter (x4) $283
Egg tarts (x5) $275
Sushi (x3) $275
Muffins $215
Croissants $198
Dinner Rolls $160
Ginger tea powder $198
Orange juice $169
Milk tea powder $148
Mushrooms (x5) $145
Yogurt (x3) $112
Misc. $285

When I say "Bread (x8)," I mean that we bought eight loaves of bread, not eight meals' worth of bread. Likewise, six bunches of ingredients for hot pot (mixes for the broth, tofu, etc.) can make a lot more than just six meals' worth of hot pot. Even though I have listed fruit and vegetables above, note that we don't buy these from the grocery store... we buy from vendors on the side of the road who usually sell them cheaper and fresher. The miscellaneous groceries included noodles (I forget how much they costed) and potatoes (we made mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner).

Utility Bills: $2,523

  • Electricity: $1,467
  • Water: $737
  • Gas: $319
We have a gas stove, which is the only gas we use. Bills are low this month because the weather is cool now and there's no need for air conditioning. We don't use heat (it's a tropical island). Note that this is the amount we spent this month paying last month's bills.

Toys & Diapers: $3,377

We have two kids who are still in diapers. This gets expensive.
  • Toys: $1,249
  • Diapers: $2,129

Miscellaneous Expenses: $1,263

  • Paperclips: $49
  • Facial mask (worn when sick): $105
  • Zoo admission: $60. Phil took the kids to the zoo. Kids are free, so we just had to pay for Phil's admission.
  • Trash bags: $89
  • Hand soap: $43
  • Shoes: $400
  • Socks: $300
  • Cell phone charger: $199
  • Printing at 7-11: $18

Non-recurring expenses: $17,795

Below are expenses that are not included in the "recurring expenses" discussed above because these are things we won't purchase every month.
  • New computer: $12,800
  • Air purifier: $3,290
  • Scammed on Shopee: $1,705

I'm including these expenses in a separate category as "non-recurring expenses" because we won't buy a new computer every month (let's hope!). We were limited in what we could bring with us across the ocean and that means buying extra things in Taipei. We're really hoping that the non-recurring expenses part of our budget will go down. We'll see if that actually happens.

As for the scam, we bought something online and the seller didn't make good. Customer service was of little help. Finally, we had to give that money up as lost.

Grand Total: $71,855

  • Recurring Expenses: $54,060
  • Non-recurring expenses: $17,795

This is higher than I'd like, especially because of the non-recurring expenses. Then again, we moved across the ocean recently and had to leave a lot of things behind, so we knew that we'd be purchasing quite a few things on this end and we did budget for this. We'll have to write another post about the total cost of moving to Taiwan at some point. Stay tuned for expenses in upcoming months and see if our budget really does go down!