13 February 2017

Andrea Whitaker - Expat in Taiwan

Andrea Whitaker - Expat in Taiwan

We’ve had the chance to talk to Andrea Whitaker, 54, an American expat who has moved to Taiwan alone. Ms. Whitaker who has been living there for three and a half years, now works as an English teacher and blogger. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I’m originally from a small town in Minnesota called Zumbrota. When I was growing up there, the population was less than 2000. I left there shortly after graduating from college and have moved around a lot.


Q: What made you move out of the USA?

A: I was living in Florida working for a small fractional aviation company. The business was not doing well and I had the feeling they’d be going under, so I evacuated. I left in March 2013 and moved to Hanoi. The company went under in June. My timing was perfect!


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I’m currently living in Taiwan. Actually, my stuff is stored in Taiwan while I spend a few months house sitting in Europe, but I’ll be returning to Taiwan soon. I chose to move there mainly for the job market and low cost of living. After volunteering for a few months in Hanoi, I found a great job in Taiwan teaching Business English to adults.


Q: How long have you been living in Taiwan?

A: I’ve been in Taiwan about three and a half years.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live alone in a small apartment on the edge of town. It’s a wonderful place with a big patio overlooking my garden. I got really lucky there!


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Of course I miss my family but I usually Skype with my parents every two weeks. The hardest part is the holidays, especially Christmas Eve. I usually try to just ignore the whole holiday…it’s just too depressing to try to recreate the magic of Christmas Eve in a country that doesn’t really celebrate the holiday. Ignore it – not a great tip for dealing with it but it’s all I’ve got!


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: The Taiwanese people are incredibly friendly, kind, and generous people. They’re very hard-working, devoted to their family, and extremely trustworthy.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Taiwan? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: That part has been a bit difficult for me. I haven’t met a lot of people close to my age since many of the other expats are 20- or 30-somethings. Not a lot of single 54-year olds hanging out in Taiwan! I’ve got a very small social circle, some expats, and some Taiwanese. I’ve actually become good friends with some of my former students and we meet for dinner sometimes.


Q: How does the cost of living in Taiwan compare to your home?

A: Much, much lower than living in the US! I can easily live on less than $1000 USD per month.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Around $1 USD.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: About $3 - $5 USD.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: There are some western restaurants with western prices - $30 USD

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Cheap wine at Costco is close to $10 USD per bottle. Cigarettes – I have no idea since I don’t smoke.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Taiwan?

A: Bring a local Taiwanese person with you, if possible. Most bank employees don’t speak English and all the documents will be in Chinese.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: My boss handled all government paperwork for my work permit and ARC (Alien Resident Certificate), so I really can’t comment on that.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Taiwan is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Healthcare in Taiwan is excellent and very affordable. One tip – most small, local clinics have a certain specialty and are not “general practice”. I once went to an orthopedic specialist for a sinus infection. (He gave me the antibiotics anyway!)

Also, it’s worth trying traditional Chinese Medicine clinics. I had acupuncture on my back and one treatment cured a lingering back issue that western doctors couldn’t treat.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in USA or Taiwan?  What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: Taiwan has a wonderful National Health Insurance program, which I was eligible for as part of my ARC. My employer covered most of the cost of the monthly premium and I paid only about $30 USD. A typical clinic visit will cost only $5 including medication. It’s a great plan!


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Taiwan? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: I didn’t hire a mover since I really downsized when I left Tampa. I stored most of my stuff and arrived in Taiwan with only 2 bags. With every trip back to the US, I’d bring a little more. My stash of “stuff” increased with every trip to Thailand or Bali until I finally had to declutter again. I’m back down to about 4 bags of stuff.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: I think the biggest challenge is finding out where to find the basics of everyday life. Shopping used to take so long because it’s hard to find everything you need in one store. I finally have the grocery shopping route down to about 5 stops. One very helpful tip is a Facebook Group – Hsinchu WCIF (Where Can I Find?). I wish I had found that group right when I moved there!


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Taiwan?

A: Positive – Taiwan is an incredibly beautiful country with so much to explore. The people are wonderful and the cost of living is low.

Negative – Meeting people.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: My absolutely favorite thing to do is scooter trips into the mountains. My tip – get over any fear of driving a scooter and take advantage of the freedom it provides. It’s the best way to really get to know the area, the small aboriginal villages, and the stunning landscape of Taiwan.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Yes, I’m actually planning a move to Guatemala in the next 6 months.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Get out and explore! Don’t be afraid of getting lost – you’ll always somehow get found!


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Taiwan?

A: I think the Facebook Group I mentioned is a wonderful resource, especially for new expats to Taiwan (Hsinchu WCIF). Also, I think my blog contains some good tips and advice for new expats!