I am currently living in Tainan in southern Taiwan. Taiwan has a low cost of living and Tainan is great because it is even cheaper than Taipei, the capital. I have been tracking all my purchases to give you a sense of how much it costs to live here and if you ever wanted to retire here I’ll explain how much you would need to have.
My expenses are broken down into four categories: living expenses, schooling, food, and transportation. I have converted all numbers into US dollars, the current exchange rate is $1 to NT$32 and I actually get that with my Schwab Checking account.
For my first month, I lived in the student dorm; next month my wife is done with her world travels and we are moving into an apartment. One month of rent cost $210 for a single with a private bathroom. I learned this is the most expensive dorm and most people would pay $100-$200 for a room after they graduate. When I arrived I learned that my room came with nothing. On the first day, I had to buy a mattress but I opted for the cheaper one-inch pad which was $15 and is foam between cloth, so as you can see, it is like sleeping on a piece of wood. I also had to buy toilet paper and just about anything that is not bolted to the wall. I elected to skip the shower curtain and squat in the shower so the water doesn’t go everywhere. Was that oversharing? Electricity is not included and you have to buy a card which displays your balance and your electricity cost is constantly deducted from the card.
Total cost: $293
Food can be incredibly cheap, it depends on what you like to eat. The food in this picture cost $2; a few days later I went back and got one with more meat for $3. There have been many days where I spent less than $5 on food for the entire day. Tainan does not have many items with cheese, so one day I had to go to Pizza Hut which cost me $9. Expensive by comparison to the normal food I have been eating, but not when compared to America.
There were also times when I went out to eat at a restaurant. This usually cost $10 to $15 and was a good amount of food. I did not cook any meals on my own aside from ramen twice because I purchased it in case the typhoon caused us to get stuck inside.
Total cost: $215
A month of courses cost $490 for 80 hours of class which is $6.25 an hour and even cheaper than the community college course I completed. I got a 3% discount for paying early and had to buy some books and pencils. 我已經學了很多中文。
Total cost: $480
Other cities in Taiwan have great transportation systems with high-speed rail, train, subway, and bus. Tainan does not have a subway and its buses are not the most frequent. Often with friends, we would take the bus which cost 75 cents a ride, but if alone I would probably take taxis which cost about $3-$10. A train ticket between cities was $2 and all the way to Taipei at the top of Taiwan is $10. The high-speed rail cuts that trip from 4 hours to 1 hour 20 minutes and cost $40.
Most people here ride a scooter and if I was going to stay for a longer period I’d consider buying one. However, this time, I walk most places. It seems like those that don’t have a scooter have a bike which you can buy used for around $40. Every bike is rusty because it rains and you park outside. If you bike or scooter you should wear a mask because you are constantly breathing the fumes from the exhaust.
Total cost: $112
We donate money to a few places including Compassion. That money is not specific to the living cost in Tainan, so I’m not including it.
We also had to pay for Netflix, car and life insurance. I just cancelled Netflix and the car insurance was only $43 this month due to pay-per-mile. I have health insurance through my parents, in the future I will need to purchase that which will increase the cost of living.
Changes I would change
My wife was traveling around during this month, so I got to be as cheap as I wanted. With her, I believe our food expenditure will go up, so instead of $215 it may be $300. I will be living elsewhere, so that will change the cost of living. Our rent will be $535 next month which is $262 a person, so only $50 more. I think if I were going to stay a really long time I would add a budget for entertainment and travelling. I went bowling and it cost $2.20. I may want to play again at this rate. As for travelling, I think adding $200 a month would be a decent amount.
Total cost: $1101
As you can see, a month living here is very cheap. If you could maintain this rate you could theoretically retire with $330,300 ($1101*12*25). If you already know Chinese, then you could eliminate that cost which would bring the total to a mere $621 which you could retire on with $186,300!
I knew living abroad could be cheap, but I didn’t know just how cheap and if I could live like a local or if I would need $100 a night hotels (I didn’t think so). Turns out I can live like a local which is good to know for the future. I would not recommend moving here if you get paid the local salary because a college graduate starts around $1000 a month. Enough to pay for everything aside from Chinese, but you wouldn’t get to save very much in absolute terms meaning it would take you a long time to get to $186,300 and retire.
I realize that I am very fortunate to be American and do not want to let that go to waste. Make the most of your opportunities, everyone starts somewhere.