10 Things Taiwan Does Wrong

First off, I love Taiwan, so before all you Negative Nancies get started, have a look at my list of 10 Things That Taiwan Does Right, and please don’t be mortally offended by my list of things Taiwan does wrong. As far as I’m concerned, life in Taiwan is pretty sweet.

Things Taiwan Does Wrong 

1. Addresses, Signs, and Labels Strange Label in Taiwan

If you’ve spent any time at all in Taiwan, you’ve likely noticed that road signs and addresses never make sense. You’ll find signs with places that are spelled three different ways, and don’t get me started on street addresses!

Being given an address to get to in Taiwan can turn into a mess really quickly. Addresses can be next to impossible to decipher; maps don’t make sense, and building numbers can jump magically to the other side of the street or end abruptly.

This makes getting around extremely confusing, even for expats who have been here for years.

Misspelled labels on packages and menus are a pretty common occurrence in Taiwan as well.

2. Umbrella Etiquette 

People don’t seem to know how to use umbrellas in Taiwan. And that’s saying something because this little island gets a lot of rain.

And I mean A LOT!

There’s no point in walking down the street during a rain storm, and it’s not because you’ll get wet. It’s more likely that you’ll have an eye poked out. Umbrellas are held low, on angles, and generally at eye level on crowded streets. Furthermore, most folks are too busy looking at their phones to care about who is in front of them or behind them.

3. Bureaucracy and Following Rules

As business owners in Taiwan, this is probably one of the most frustrating aspects of life in Taiwan for us.

Dealing with banks in Taiwan is nothing short of a labor of love. It doesn’t matter if we go in with our company chop, bank books, permanent residence cards, passports, and a bunch of utility bills to prove our identities. We still end up waiting for ages while they patiently photocopy all the documents mentioned above, even though all those documents have already been photocopied and saved a million times before!

Despite the fact that we earned our permanent residency several years ago, not to mention that we employ local Taiwanese workers and pay our taxes diligently, we are still treated like outsiders in Taiwan.

Why do banks need to collect all of this documentation over and over all?

Because these are the rules!

What is the point of photocopying everything again when the teller already has a book of your photocopies open on the desk in front of her?

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Because these the rules!

God forbid if you’re missing one of those above-mentioned documents. You might as well give up and go home. Come back another day, and make sure you’ve got everything.

This doesn’t just happen with banks though. It also happens at hospitals, tax offices, visa offices, and the like.

4. SidewalksSidewalks in Taiwan

They’re called sidewalks for a reason. Sidewalks are meant to be walked on. They’re not for parking your scooter or your car, they’re not where you set up your family carwash; they’re not where you keep your outdoor patio set, where you park your food cart, or where you should set up your kid’s baby pool!

Further to this, sidewalks are supposed to be straight and flat. They shouldn’t involve a hodgepodge of steps and planks, and they should be kept clean.

5. Cake and Bread

Cake in Taiwan = WRONG. Taiwanese cakes often have the taste and consistency of cardboard, and most of them also have a thick layer or two of pudding too. I’s not the soft, velvety pudding like we get in North America, though. No, this pudding has a hard, gelatin-consistency to it. It’s just weird.

With that said, there are a growing number of bakeries in Taiwan that are starting to get cake right, and cupcake shops in Taiwan are really starting to take off, which really makes me happy. (VVG and Black as Chocolate offer great cakes, and the ice cream cakes at Cold Stone Creamery are also pretty good!)

Bread in Taiwan is usually sweet and it’s generally stuffed with things like red bean paste and pork floss. To make matters worse, you can pick up a perfectly wonderful looking loaf of what looks like French bread only to get it home and discover it’s filled with sweet mayonnaise and green onions. Blech.

6. Private English Schools

There are good schools in Taiwan, but this post isn’t about the good schools or improvements that I’ve noticed in Taiwan’s private school system over the past years. Nope, this is about three things that REALLY drive me crazy about private English schools in Taiwan.

1. There are loads of private schools in Taiwan, for instance, that don’t care that their text books were published in the 80s and haven’t been changed or updated since.

2. Teachers are not given enough time to make an impact with their students because they’re too busy trying to cram everything into their classes to ensure students receiving a passing grade. A great number of private schools in Taiwan have a pass rate of 80-85%.

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3. Lack of organization and communication seem to be the norm at most private schools in Taiwan.

4. School managers. Oops, that’s four, which kind of leads me to my next point…

7. Taiwanese managers

Most Taiwanese managers seem really tough to work for. They’re overworked, underpaid, and many of them don’t receive proper training or support. They’re also expected to work ridiculous hours, and they don’t often have any kind of cultural understanding of their foreign staff. (Not that any of this is their fault.)

That is a massive generalization to make, I know, but I bet there are quite a few of you reading this article right now and nodding your head in agreement. (I’m sure many of you who are agreeing with me right now would probably also agree that lots of people come to Taiwan without having any cultural understanding of the work culture in Taiwan. It goes both ways.)

I know some really great people in management that are just awful people to work with because of the stress their bosses put them under. Furthermore, the norm here is to ‘take it’ and not ask for more. The harder you work, the more work you get. It’s a no-win situation.

Now that I think about it, this is management in general.

8. Heating and Air Conditioning

There is no such thing as central indoor heating in Taiwan, and since most buildings are made out of cement, it’s often colder inside than outside during winter months. Let’s not forget about the humidity in Taiwan, which makes for a cold, damp winter all around.

In general, winter in Taiwan pretty much sucks,” says the Canadian (me).

To make matters worse, many companies and schools run the air conditioning full blast throughout the winter. This means that you have to commit to full work days dressed in your winter coat with hats, mitts and scarf, and a blanket to avoid getting sick.

Winter in Taiwan (to me) means staying bundled up next to an electric heater and dancing around in the cold when you shower or get out of bed in the morning. On the plus side, winter means hot spring season! (OH YEAH!)

Families on Scooters

9. Traffic  and Safety

Does anyone actually follow traffic rules in Taiwan? Considering that most drivers pay no attention to anything when they’re out on the road, you’d be surprised by the number of parents who drive their kids around on scooters with no helmets. It still blows my mind every time I see it.

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10. Credit Cards (Slight improvement in the past five years)

One really annoying aspect of living in Taiwan is what expats have to go through if they want to get a credit card in Taiwan.

When we set up our business in Taiwan, we wondered if we should get a local card, but that’s when we were told that the only way we could get a credit card was through our business. The bank would not issue personal credit cards to us, even though we are permanent residents of Taiwan. So we decided we weren’t going to get local cards at all.

Back in 2014 when I wrote this post, it was next to impossible. At the time, Standard Chartered Banks in Taiwan offered credit cards to Taiwan, but the process wasn’t simple.

That said, more banks are now offering credit cards to expats, but you’ll still need to be prepared to go through everything. Be sure to review what I outlined in Point 3 and take EVERYTHING with you when you go to apply for a credit card. Make sure you set aside at least an hour of your time to answer questions and wait for them to make photocopies.

It’s not unusual, even now in 2019, to read complaints online from expats who walk into banks and have staff walk away from them rather than dealing with ‘the foreigner’. It’s also not unusual for someone to tell you no, and then you get a yes if you ask someone else. There is no consistency, but I assume a lot of this has to do with staff not being updated on certain things.

I have no idea how this will work when Taiwan rolls out its changes to update our resident cards to match Taiwanese ID cards.

I expect we’ll have problems to begin with and staff won’t be updated for a while, and then like everything here, it should get simpler. In a matter of months, we’ll know and I’ll be sure to update you.

So that’s it, folks. This is my list of 10 things that Taiwan does wrong.

Can you think of any that you’d like to add?

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. I'm an experienced businesswoman and have worked in many leadership positions in Asia. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. I started writing about my health journey in 2009 after being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, which came with other massive health issues. These diagnoses were the start of my journey as a health advocate and patient leader. Since then, My Several Worlds has been recognized worldwide as a top site for AS, fibromyalgia, and chronic illness by WEGO Health and Healthline.

7 thoughts on “10 Things Taiwan Does Wrong


    (October 31, 2014 - 1:54 pm)

    Nicely written, and spot on! That #4 pic is straight outta my daily walk home. Shuffling between. cars parked on sidewalks is the worst.


    (October 31, 2014 - 7:12 pm)

    A spot-on list, especially numbers 4, 8 and 9.

    Number 11 would have to be beer. Taiwan Beer is a bland, tasteless brew, along the lines of a Budweiser or Stella Artois (and the monopoly’s attempts at replicating Belgian-style fruit-flavored brews have been disastrous). Taiwan is a land where Heineken is considered a “sophisticated” choice. Things have greatly improved over the last few years in terms of microbrews/craft beers, but outside of Taipei, it’s still a pretty bleak landscape for beer lovers.

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (October 31, 2014 - 8:38 pm)

      Ha! I agree. Those fruit beers are terrible. It’s a good thing the craft beer scene here is starting to explode.


      (November 5, 2014 - 10:47 am)

      “…along the lines of a Budweiser or Stella Artois.”

      You are referring to these magnificent beers in a pejorative sense with which I am unfamiliar.


    (November 1, 2014 - 11:11 am)

    I never knew that there was so much trouble getting a local credit card for expats! I might not agree with everything on your list (Taiwanese bakeries <3), but I definitely enjoyed reading and learning about an expats opinion! Discovered your website through American Citizens for Taiwan and I'll definitely be reading a lot while I get ready for my trip in December and hopefully teaching in the future!

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (November 1, 2014 - 11:23 am)

      Hi Anita,

      Thanks for stopping by. It seems that the difficulties of getting a credit card really depend on two things: 1) How long you’ve been here and 2) Which bank you choose. I’ve had a number of long-term expats write in to say that they have received credit cards through Standard Chartered banks in Taiwan and through American Express.

      As for Taiwanese bakeries, my favorite is Top Pot. Have you heard of it? I don’t like the breads and cakes mentioned in my article, but the chocolate buns and bread from Top Pot are amazing. Plus there’s always samples to try and at least 50 different kinds of breads. I always find something to take home. 🙂

      American Citizens for Taiwan is a new resource for me, Anita. Thank you so much for mentioning it!

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