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Monday, May 23, 2011

Public Transportation in Taipei



I have chosen public transportation as a started post this week, because it is one of the major expenses that anyone will face living here (others including food and rent)Taipei city is a very convenient place with lots of routes and types of transportation that will pretty much take you anywhere you want. You will probably mainly use the following public transport here:
MRT (Subway)
Bus
Taxi
Train
Bicycle

Before I move on to talk about different types of transportation and their relative cost, let me get one thing straight. I find that public transportation in Taiwan is expensive. You might say that in your home country transport cost about the same or is even more expensive, but take into consideration your other living expenses as well as average salary of Taiwanese versus averages in your home country.

The very first thing that you want to do is to get an Easy Card, which is obtainable at any MRT station. It is good for few reasons, but mainly: it saves you money, and is really convenient. To receive an MRT card, you need to put a deposit of NT100 (fully refundable,) as well as any deposit you wish to be used for future fares. Once you get the card, all you need to do is swipe it when you enter (or leave) bus, MRT, train, rent bicycle, or even pay for taxi (among other goodies, such as pay for parking lot, use at convenience stores, etc.)

Now, if you are a student - make sure you bring your student ID with you to receive student MRT card, which will get you 20% off all transportation costs (excluding taxi.) If you are handicapped or retired, bring your documents to and you will get another MRT card, that gets you 90% off.


Taipei MRT ride costs anything between NT20 to NT65, depending how far you travel (it has more than 100km of tracks) and of course, if you have discount MRT card, it will deduct the percentage automatically.

A single bus fare costs NT15 (if you transit from MRT to bus, you get 50% off, so if you are a student and would pay normally NT12, you pay NT6 instead, within 2 hours of the last card scan - it works vice versa, if you transit from bus to MRT, you will receive reduced fare of NT6-7.) A word of caution: sometimes you will need pay more than once in the same bus. Buses here map and driver will change the sign from up to down (up - you pay when you enter, down - you pay when you leave) if you travel quite long.

Taxi is also a popular public transportation way, especially at night time when MRT and buses are not operating. It costs NT70 for basic fare for first 1.25 km, and then additional NT5 for every quarter of kilometer, or NT5 for every 100 seconds if taxi does not move or move slower than 5km per hour. Some taxi companies offer discounts (up to 30%) if you call and order taxi. Usually if you travel alone at night time, it is recommended that you order taxi, just for your own safety.
Train is also widely used in Taipei and can be much cheaper and faster to travel by local train. It usually costs NT15 within city, but the price increases the farther you go.

Bicycle is one of the more recreational ways of using public transportation. You can rent bicycle anywhere around downtown (just swipe your MRT card to release bicycle) or around bicycle path, especially around river bank. The rental cost for 1 day is about NT100.

Unfortunately Taiwan does not offer monthly and unlimited cards, so keep in mind additional expenses on transportation when deciding where to work, study, play and live.

In short:
Easy Card: NT100 deposit
MRT (Subway) fare: NT20 to NT65
Bus: single fare: NT15, transit from MRT: 50% off
Train: NT15 around Taipei, higher for longer distances
Bicycle: rental NT100 per day, can also rent by hour
Taxi: First 1.25km: 70NT, additional 0.25km: NT5, 100 second wait: NT5, After 11PM: +20 NT to the fee (it won't show on the machine, but it is extra charge for night taxi service)
Students: 20% off (except taxi) Elderly: 90F off (except taxi)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cosco in Taiwan, What You Can Buy and Membership Information


So you decided to move to Taiwan and can’t find things that you used to like in your old country? Well, probably local Costco will have it – for a price of course.
This article will mention basics of applying for Cosco membership.
The basic Gold membership will costs you about $1200 NT (about USD 40) a year. For this you will receive your master Costco card and will be able to apply for extra one for any of your family members – be it your wife, child, parents, or siblings. You will not be able to apply for more than two cards – but that is not a big of a problem here, just read on.
There is also a business membership card, which is priced at $1000 NT a year. This will get you a business Costco card and if you want to give your employees Costco card, it will costs you extra $500 NT a year for each additional card.
For your application you will need to provide some kind of ID – it can be practically anything. You will be asked to look at their webcam and the picture will be taken of you in instant. The entire process takes about 3-5 minutes, and then you are free to go off shopping. If you planning to get additional card for a family member – be sure they provide their own IDs and if the name is not the same, some kind of proof that you are related (such as marriage certificate.)
When you are at Costco, you will need to use your newly acquired card plenty of times – at the entrance, at the pharmacy, at the photo and optic centers, and at the cashier.
The limitations at Costco are that you can only bring 2 people with you per card. However, it seems like nobody follows this rule and you will often see family of 10 walking together. Also, if your family is large enough and someone wants to borrow your card – they should not have any problems shopping at the center. Workers there almost never check the picture, and if they have any questions, just mention you’re a family member. It is Taiwan after all, things are done with ease.
Just one more thing, I have read that one Canadian was able to use his Costco card in Taiwan. However, here their system was not able to read his card (probably systems in Taiwan and Canada are not connected to each other) and Costco cards do not have any date on them. So, if you have a Costco card from your own country, bring it with you. Even if it is expired, you should still be able to use it here and save yourself $1200 NT a year.
Is NT1200 worth for being a member? That would depend what you like to consume. Personally, I go to Costco three times a month and I save quite a fortune on things like bread, sausages and milk. Milk in local supermarket cost about NTD120 per liter while Cosco sells for NTD185 NTD215 per gallon, so if you do your math correctly, it will save you up around NTD260 per gallon of milk. It is also very easy to overspend money shopping in Costco – you need to buy in large quantities - will you really be able to drink up almost 4 liters of milk in 10 days? There are also things that tends to be more expensive than in your local morning market (such as vegetables, fruits) – so just buy with caution, and enjoy saving where you can!
In short:
Cosco yearly membership: NTD 1200
Milk: NTD120-180 per liter in local supermarket; NTD 185 NTD 215 per gallon in Cosco (1 gallon ~ 3.79 liters)
Edit: (July 14, 2001) I have decided to start adding list of items from Cosco that I purchase frequently. This post will be often updated.

Food and drinks:
Milk: 215NT for a gallon
Barista Coffee: Instant, 100 satchets, each 20g: 679NT (they tend to have promotion 1-2 a year for 499NT) - same satchet in 7-11 costs 30NT per 1Coca-Cola: 6X2L: 192NT (32NT per 2L bottle)
Mini hot-dogs: 96NT (those are half sized of the regular hot dogs, I am not sure how many inside, but looks like way over 50 pcs)
Lactaid milk: 155NT per 2 liter (100% lactose free)
German Wieners (small sausages): 275NT for 2 packs (11 in a pack)
Bacon: 299NT for 2kg (cheap! considering supermarket sells only like 10 slices for about 100NT!)
Deluxe Bacon, Maple Bacon, Canadian Bacon: 599NT for 2kg
Toast bread: 32NT (it is about 3 longer than toast bread you get in the local bakery)
Frozen 17 inches pizza (square): 269NT
Very large bag of potato chips (such as Lays, Ruffles, Dorritos) - NT99 to NT129.
Healthy potato chips - NT199-249
M&M XXL bag (56oz, little over 1.5k) - 399NT
Crackers: Anything between 100NT to 250NT, really large bag. I personally like soda crackers, 169NT for 1200g.
Frozen Steam Bums - choose from bork and vegetables. 15pc inside, 119NT (about 8NT per one, great for breakfast, 7/11 charges about 25NT per one)

Animal needs:
Dog food (dry): 969NT for 18kg

Electronics:

USB Flash drive 4GB Sandisk Cruzer X3 579NT (193 per stick) + 100 free pictures to develop
Electric guitar set - 7499NT

Food court:
18 inches pizza (round): 300NT, 1 large slice: 60NT
Hotdog and drink: 50NT
Drink: 20NT
Coffee: 50NT
Bulgogi: 79NT
Salad: 149NT
Clam chowder: 45NT

Personal Care:
Toothbrush - NT315 for 8 toothbrushes - good quality ORAL-B, supermarkets tend to charge 120-150NT for 2 toothbrushes
Mouthwash - 3 large bottles of Cosco brand - 299NT
Sanitary napkin for ladies: 329NT for 12 packs

Clothing:
Women pack of underwear: 355NT for 6 pairs

Before we start: New Taiwan Dollar

Before I actually start on providing information about cost of living, it is important to understand Taiwanese currency. In Taiwan, widely used currency is called New Taiwan Dollar, or in short, NTD.

New Taiwan Dollar is a stable currency that can be exchanged in most Asian countries, with an average rate of 28,5 to 31,5 NTD to 1 USD. Just keep it in mind that NTD reached it record high in the past 20 years (Jan 2011,) so things might look a bit more expensive at the moment (comparing to USD.)

The good website that I found for checking on exchange rate is xe.com. On this site you can practically look up and check mid market exchange rates for any currency and look up historical data to give you an idea at cost at specific moment.

For simplicity, I will use standardized exchange rate of USD 1 = NTD 30.

The link to the website that points you directly to NTD is here:
http://www.xe.com/ucc/convert/?Amount=1&From=TWD&To=USD&r=1#rates

To my surprise, one of the good spot to actually exchange your country currency to NTD is at the airport in Taiwan. Some banks in Taiwan will not want to exchange your money, so if you decide to do it inside the country, just make sure you go to a larger bank to avoid problems.

Introduction

Hello everyone and thank you for visiting my blog about cost of living in Taiwan. Before I go on and tell you what motivated me to write this guide - type of blog, let me first introduce myself. My name is Mac and I am living in Taiwan since the end of 2006. At the time of writing this post, I am/was post-graduate student in Taiwan National University ( Department of Economics) and work on my own business.

In the past, I had episodes of working for Taiwanese company as sales rep, working in cram school as an English teacher (btw I am Polish) and now being a student on scholarship as well as owning my own business, I think I have enough knowledge to help anyone get an idea of what to expect financially when arriving here. I am also married to Taiwanese lady, so I can give you interesting perspective from local point of view (and guides how to buy things cheaply) as well as from foreigner point of view.

My pure motivation about writing this blog is to help anyone who plans to come to Taiwan and post how much things cost. It doesn't matter if you come here for traveling, study, family visit, work, or any other purpose, I will try to write to all the audiences in a simple and not difficult to understand way. I did write a very short guide on expenses in Taiwan a few years back, and it was quite popular search wise, so I have decided to make this niche blog. Also, in my articles, I will usually mention 'Where to Buy' especially for things that might be hard to find locally.

Did you notice that I wrote niche in italic? My goal for this blog is not to make it large and write about everything in regards to Taiwan, but rather - how much money will you need to stay here. It will not be updated daily, but more like weekly. I believe that if I can write one good article a week, for a year, then we have 52 articles in a year, which is a good enough to cover most important matters that I think of.

If you ever need some quick price information on anything that I did not post on this blog (for example, "Is there any Fridays in Taiwan and how much a good steak cost?" - feel free to let me know. If the inquiry is interesting enough, I dig up some info and write a whole article about it.

Edit (Jul 18, 2011): I will start adding restaurants overview to the blog, together with my verdict and scan of menu (if possible)