Reflections on six months in Taiwan

My six-month anniversary started with a visit to the government…

Panoramic view of Kaohsiung City with flowers in the foreground.
My home, Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Photo: Zhen-Kang.

Being technically unemployed—because I’m yet to launch my start-up in Taiwan—I had to wait six months before I could apply for National Health Insurance. I’ve been covered by travel insurance so far, which is reassuring but not as convenient or cheap as NHI—which, by all accounts, is excellent.

(A few months back, I met a Taiwanese surgeon who said he felt bad his patients would sometimes wait 12 days for a hip replacement. Meanwhile, my neighbor in New Zealand waited 18 months.)

Today at the NHI office, while a friend completed Chinese-language paperwork on my behalf, I was told my monthly premium will be something like NT$800 (NZ$40).

The low price didn’t surprise me: the same friend recently paid NT$150 (NZ$7.50) for the first stage of a root canal—a procedure that costs literally hundreds of times as much back home.

The Kaohsiung branch of the Bank of Taiwan, an imposing three-story building.
The National Health Insurance office is a generic 15-story building opposite this majestic branch of the Bank of Taiwan.

The past is a foreign country

“Back home” is a phrase I need to stop using. Because although I was happy in New Zealand—life was good, I felt lucky, etc—Kaohsiung is now unequivocally my home.

In nostalgic moments I look at my old house on Apple Maps. I scroll through my 17,000 photos taken around Te Waipounamu / the South Island. I smile at memories of conversation and coffee and constant road trips. I remember how good I had it.

But I’ve also had the great fortune to enjoy these same things here, in 33ºC Northern Hemisphere heat, with new and equally-wonderful people.

View of a river valley surrounded by forest-clad mountains. The photo is taken at the entrance to a tunnel, which is adorned with ceramic tile art depicting flowers and a clay pot.
Five days ago, I followed my friend to an indigenous mountain township, Wutai, for locally-grown coffee at a cafe overlooking a sugarcane field. Note the artwork on the tunnel entrance.

Are you American?

I thought I’d be lonely in Taiwan. I bought an Xbox, expecting it would distract me from depressive thought as I explored the world of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

But I’ve made so many friends here, that I’m constantly exploring the real world instead.

I’ve used the Xbox three times.

Friendships sometimes start with a stranger asking, in English, “Are you American?” I answer wǒ bú shì měiguórén, wǒ shì niǔxīlánrén (“I am not American, I am a New Zealander”). This surprises people. Questions about my nationality and Chinese ability inevitably follow.

People say my Chinese is good, which it isn’t—as evidenced by them being unable to understand much of what I say—but I appreciate the warm intent.

They’re surprised I’m not an English teacher (because Taipei attracts most of the westerners who don’t teach).

We exchange LINE details, then meet for tea or coffee.

I’m perpetually anxious about being invited over for dinner, given the long list of things I don’t eat. But it hasn’t been an issue: food is so cheap that it’s normal—especially for single people and groups of friends—to eat out every night. Most one-bedroom apartments don’t have kitchens.

A round banquet table with multiple dishes. There are approximately 10 people seated around the table (their faces are cropped out of frame).
Two-and-a-half weeks ago I was invited to an impressive family banquet. This was the first of 10 courses. They’d kindly pre-arranged for me to receive exclusively vegetarian dishes, then—because I was their guest—refused to let me pay. Taiwanese hospitality is so warm and generous it makes me a better person by association.

What culture shock?

Every day I feel happy and lucky and extremely thankful to be here. I moved to Taiwan because I love Taiwan, but—as wise friends have said—living somewhere is different to being a tourist.

Three of my friends took bets on how long I’d last. They were concerned because I hadn’t lived overseas, and because I was moving somewhere I knew no one, and because it would be so culturally different.

(And possibly because I’d only visited Kaohsiung for six hours before deciding to live here.)

For these reasons, I understood why their bets revealed little faith:

  • One friend bet that I’d last six months (ha!)
  • One bet I’d that last a year
  • One bet I’d last two

So, two friends are still in the game—but I’m confident they’re also going to lose.

Partly it’s because life in Taiwan has been so good and so easy, so far.

Day-to-day life is sort-of exactly what I expected, albeit more social. I’ve had no severe complications. I could complain that bureaucratic things are more bureaucratic here, but those hassles are offset by the willingness of friends—and customer service reps—to help.

When a friend helped me buy a rice cooker, the department store clerk literally took it off the shelf, plugged it in, and showed me how to cook rice in the middle of Electrical.

(She also warned against buying a more expensive model, correctly surmising I don’t eat enough rice to appreciate its superior output.)

But one massive caveat remains…

People sitting at outdoor tables, under umbrellas and festoon lights, at a cafe. A musician is singing on a stage in the distance.
Two weeks ago, I listened to live music and ate Taiwanese snacks at this seaside cafe, an hour north of Kaohsiung. On the ride home, I had to give way to a turtle.

I may, or may not, be able to stay

My situation is simple:

  1. I received my visa because of my work history, skills, and income at the time of application.
  2. My visa is valid for three years from when it was granted, meaning it will expire in August 2025.
  3. If I renew it in August 2025, I can apply for permanent residency in January 2026.


  • To renew my visa, my income needs to be relatively high.
  • This was attainable in New Zealand, where I had my own business and earned New Zealand Dollars—but the median salary is half as much in Taiwan.

If my start-up is wildly successful, then I’ll be fine: I’ll exceed the income threshold, I’ll renew my visa, and I’ll get PR.

But if it’s moderately successful or a failure, I won’t meet the income threshold. That would severely mess with my self-employed, work-from-home, super-flexible, everything-is-awesome, scooter-riding, photo-taking, night-walking, street-food-eating, iced-tea-drinking, I-don’t-ever-want-to-leave lifestyle.

Inside a 10-pin bowling alley. The room and the bowling balls are spotlessly clean.
Today, after getting National Health Insurance and a haircut, I went 10-pin bowling. This was my first time at a bowling alley in Taiwan. It was impossibly clean, and my fat fingers fit almost none of the balls.

If all else fails…

At this point, the thought of leaving Taiwan is genuinely stressful. But I’ve long dreamed of teaching, so that could be a feasible Plan B to help me stay.

However, switching visas will reset the clock for permanent residency.

And teachers have to wait five years for PR, not three.

So, if in the year 2030, you see me back at a government office—looking weary but happy, applying for PR after switching visas in 2025—you’ll know I didn’t make it in business, but at least I made it in Taiwan.

Photo of a forest scene, with twisting trees, roots partially covered in moss, and shafts of golden sunlight bursting through the trees.
Three days ago, I walked through this forest to a clifftop for sunset photography. An hour earlier, I was at an open-air cafe overlooking the Taiwan Strait, watching a monkey run along a fence. An hour before that, I was wrapping up a day of work at my home office. And an hour after taking this photo, I was on my scooter coasting down a mountain. I feel extremely thankful for my self-employed, work-from-home, super-flexible, everything-is-awesome, scooter-riding, photo-taking, night-walking, street-food-eating, iced-tea-drinking, I-don’t-ever-want-to-leave lifestyle, here in beautiful Kaohsiung, Taiwan.