There is a reasonable amount of information about finding accommodations while studying in Taipei, but like choosing a Mandarin Chinese Learning Center in Taipei, it is mostly scattered throughout random forum posts and is often quite out-dated.
This topic is pretty involved and well beyond the scope of a single post, so I am going to start with the basics that anyone who decides to study Mandarin Chinese in Taipei should know/consider, then follow-up with a more detailed post that covers the actual process I went through to find my first apartment in the city.
Find short-term accommodations, first
If you’re not already here in Taipei, find short-term accommodations first! I can’t emphasize this point more!
Every place I found online was actually not what I expected it to be in person. Sometimes this was for the better, but more often than not the apartments were no where near as clean as the pictures led me to believe.
More than likely, it will take some time to find and secure a place here. I recommend finding yourself at least a week of short-term accommodations during which you can set out on your apartment hunt.
I will dig up some references for cheap hotels and hostels that I will try to edit in here asap. But in the meantime, may google guide you well.
Renting an apartment vs. staying in a dorm
First of all, not all universities offer dorms/housing while studying at their Mandarin Learning Center. I summarized which do and which do not in this post about choosing a Mandarin Learning Center in Taipei, Taiwan.
Second, dorms are usually limited in availability and cost around NT$10,000 ($333 USD) per month. Also, depending on where you stay, you may have to share a bathroom with other students.
For about the same price, or just a bit more, you can have your own, proper apartment nearby in the city. This is my personal preference since it offers more freedom, local food options, and a much more culturally rich experience.
A few things to know about finding an apartment in Taipei
If you haven’t spent any time in Taipei, there may be a few things here that you’ll have to get used to.
Small, minimal living spaces
Taipei is big, walkable and has great transit. This is only possible because it is also quite dense. So if you’re coming from somewhere like America (outside of San Francisco and NYC), you may have to adjust your standards in terms of living space.
If you want to have a decent location in the city, you’ll need to either pay a premium or live like the locals do (I recommend the latter of these two). This means you’re apartment will likely be somewhere between 200 and 400 square feet (~18-37 square meters) in size, lack a kitchen, and have a wet bathroom.
What is a wet bathroom? Well, I’m glad you asked.
A wet bathroom means that the bathroom lacks a separator between the shower head and the rest of the bathroom, or no water softener systems in place. So, every time you take a shower, you’re entire bathroom (toilet, sink and all) will take a shower, too.
To keep things clean and mold free, you’ll likely need to wipe down the bathroom after you use it with a squeegee or similar tool. Also, no one likes stepping barefoot in cold bathroom-floor water, so it’s standard practice to keep a pair of slippers dedicated to bathroom use just outside the bathroom entrance.
Sound inconvenient? It can be at times, but it doesn’t take long to get used to. Just keep in mind that this is standard, so almost all apartments you find will likely have a wet bathroom.
No kitchens, no cooking
Again, unless you’re willing to pay a premium and/or share a larger apartment with others, you’re apartment will probably lack a kitchen. But fret not! Good, cheap food is available all over the city and most convenient stores (also stocked with good food) are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
During peak hours, small street vendors set up shop selling breakfast, lunch, dinner and other snacks throughout the day. As a result, there is actually little need to have a kitchen of you’re own in Taipei.
That being said, good convenient food is more readily available in some areas than in others, so the location of your apartment is key.
Location, location, location
This goes without saying, but having a place near your work/school will save you a lot of time when it comes to commuting.
More importantly though, most areas near Tai Da and Shi Da are dense with great shopping, vendors and eateries. This makes these areas pretty ideal locations for students.
Area is measured in “ping” in Taiwan
Ping, usually listed as 坪 (píng) or 坪數 (píng shù) is a unit of measurement for area. This is how the size of an apartment will be described on all apartment listings.
1 ping / 1坪 = 35.58 square feet = 3.31 square meters
While we’re talking about this, I should mention that Taiwanese units are derived from traditional Japanese units of measurement. This means the following are true:
1 Taiwan inch (cùn, 寸) = 3.030 centimeters
1 Taiwan foot (chí, 尺) = 10 Taiwan inches = 30.30 centimeters
If you plan to find your own apartment (as opposed to renting a single room, apartment sharing, etc), you can easily find an apartment between 6 and 11 ping for about NT$12,000 near the major universities. Anything less than 6 ping will be micro-sized and is probably not worth looking at.
The waste services in Taiwan are quite different from the U.S., U.K., and Canada in that trash/rubbish must be discarded in certified trash bags and taken down for collection at certain times of the day.
Some apartment complexes simplify this process for you by having an on-site dumpster for you to throw away your trash/rubbish, so make sure to double-check what the policy is when you’re looking at apartments. Otherwise you might have to pay for a company like Eagle Dumpster Rental.
Cost of rent and living in Taipei
( Photo by pold, on Flickr )
Rent prices in Taipei vary widely based on size, location, and how modern the apartment is. When searching for your first place here you probably won’t want to spend too much on rent, so I’ll try to put some of these prices into perspective.
Most locals I’ve meet here make a bit over NT$360,000, which is about $12,000 USD, annually. This means that if you’re willing to live like a local you can easily get away with spending between NT$18,000 and NT$27,000 ($600-900 USD) per month on food, rent and other living expenses.
You can find a simple, clean place near campus somewhere between NT$9,000 and NT$15,000 ($300-500 USD) per month.
Food / eating expenses
A reasonable budget for food is NT$100 per meal for local food. Western food is generally about 3x this price though. So, if you’re a picky eater, you may find yourself spending a bit more from time to time.
Nevertheless, food will likely cost you somewhere between NT$6000 and NT$18000 ($200-600 USD) per month depending on your lifestyle.
Internet, utilities, and waste services
Many apartments include internet and some utilities in the rent. However, electricity will almost always be a separate bill and in some cases internet, water and waste services will be separate as well. Utility fees will vary from person to person, but here are some ballpark numbers you might expect:
- Electricity: NT$200-400 ($6-14 USD) per month in the winter and NT$1000-2000 ($33-67 USD) per month in the summer. It gets hot, so you’ll be using your AC in the summer here.
- Water: NT$100-300 ($3-10 USD) per month, if not included in your rent.
- Waste: NT$60-180 ($2-6 USD) per month (depends on your lifestyle and apartment policy)
- Internet: NT$600-1200 ($20-40 USD) per month
Some apartment complexes have doormen and/or service people always onsite. More often than not, there will be an additional management fee for these perks. Be sure to double check with your landlord and the lease to make sure there are no other hidden fees.
Otherwise, the total will likely be somewhere between NT$960 and NT$3680 ($32-123 USD) per month.
English apartment listings in Taipei on Tealit
Tealit was originally a resource for people moving to Taiwan to teach English, but has become the go-to resource for expats that are looking for work, language-exchange and/or housing.
The site design itself somewhere in between craigslist and a bad spam page, but the content will be invaluable if you can’t read any Chinese yet. In fact, if you can’t speak/read Chinese, this may be your only decent classifieds resource for living in Taiwan.
The apartment rental page on Tealit is divided between apartment shares, apartments for one person, for one family, etc. I recommend both posting in the Housing Wanted section as well as following up to several posts in Apartments to Share and Apartments for One Person.
Again, it will take some time to find a place, so start looking early and give yourself at least a week to look at places in person before committing to your first apartment in Taipei.
Chinese apartment listings in Taipei
If you can read and speak some Chinese and/or have a friend in Taipei that is willing to help, you can take advantage of one of the many apartment listing sites. The biggest of these is currently 591 房屋交易網, followed closely by Kijiji (qí jí jí, 奇集集).
Keep in mind that after finding an apartment on one of these sites, you will likely need to deal with both realtors and landlords. On top of that, you will need to read and sign contracts/rental agreements. All of which will need to be done in Chinese.
Most of the listings on these sites are published by realtors. If/when you meet with them there are three things to remember:
1. Some of them will be pushy/persistent
2. They will probably not speak English
3. They will charge a finder’s fee upon signing of a lease, which is usually equal to 50% of a single month of rent
The first issue I ran into when using these sites was not knowing some of the key terms. Here are some that I found particularly useful:
- 最短租期 – Minimal rental period. Usually 1 year unless it is a short-term rental.
- 可短期租賃 – Short term stay allowed. Essential if you can’t stay for a full year, but usually significantly more expensive.
- 押金 – Deposit. Almost always equal to 2 months of rent.
- 獨立套房 – Studio with bathroom. The most common type of apartment and what you will probably want to rent.
- 獨立雅房 – Studio with shared bathroom. Usually tiny and probably not-so-desireable.
- 公寓 – Full apartment. May include a cooking area and probably not cheap.
- 雅房 – Apartment with shared bathroom.
- 坪數 – Area measured in “ping” (1 ping = 35.583104 square feet = 3.3057785 square meters)
Finding an apartment will take some time, so be sure to start looking early and have a temporary place to stay so you can see the places in person. Walk around the neighborhood and make sure transportation is easily accessible.
In the meantime, leave me a comment and let me know if there is anything else you’d like to know about the process!