You’ve probably seen Made in Taiwan labels on a lot of clothes and toys. But Taiwan is more than cheap imported goods! Close your eyes and imagine lush forests, natural hot springs, fun beach towns and bustling night markets. This sometimes forgotten country is the ultimate destination for travel and work after the pandemic.
Drew Joseph Sisera, a Canadian who obtained a Working Holiday Visa in Taiwan, shares his experience, told from the perspective of a traveller currently living there.
How Long Have You Been in Taiwan, and Which Visa Are You Using?
“I have been here since early December 2020 on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV), which is a one-year visa to work abroad and explore a different culture. This is a great opportunity for Canadians between 18 and 35 to work and travel to another country. I will be here until my visa expires in December 2021. So far, it’s amazing! I arrived at the perfect time because Taiwan has handled the COVID situation wonderfully. Meanwhile, my family is back in lockdown in Toronto.”
Why Did You Choose to Apply for Working Holiday Visa in Taiwan? Had You Ever Been to Asia Before?
“This is my first time in Asia, but this continent has intrigued me for a long time. After studying at the University of Waterloo (about five years ago), I moved to Vancouver, which has a large Asian community. I have met many people from China, Japan and Korea, and a few from Taiwan. I was fascinated by the stories of what life was like on the other side of the world.
My ethnicity and my origins are all from Europe and Africa. I thought it would be an even more rewarding experience to stand on a piece of land that my ancestors hadn’t touched before. So that took me to Asia.
Then the decision to choose Taiwan was inspired by a friend who went to college with me. She was Taiwanese and planted the idea of going there in my head. She was going back and asked me if I had ever considered going. It was like a sign. So I jumped at the chance and couldn’t be happier or more grateful.”
How Did Your Loved Ones React When They Found Out That You Were Going to Work and Travel to Taiwan?
“I have three sisters and a fairly large family. They weren’t expecting it, that’s for sure, especially from me. I am the last person they would think of to move to Asia. They had not followed me on my trip to Vancouver, where I developed an admiration for Asian culture. So when I told them that I wanted to move to Taiwan for a year, they were shocked. But they were supportive. My mom and dad said to me, ‘If you don’t have responsibilities to attach yourself to, go out and have new experiences because that’s invaluable.’ I had to take advantage of that.”
How Did You Plan for Your Working Holiday Visa in Taiwan?
“I started planning in January 2020. It took me from January to September (when I handed in the visa application) to fully plan. For seven or eight months, I went to the library, read books on Taiwanese history, and researched food. I joined several community groups on Facebook for the people who lived there. I put all my findings into a 20 page Google Doc with everything I needed to know. So I felt comfortable once the move came.”
How Did You Save Money Before Leaving on Your WHV?
“I knew I wanted to travel the world and experience something new and different. About three or four months before I started my research in earnest, I looked at my finances and started taking a look at my expenses and income. Next, I researched the Taiwanese economy and what I would need to survive while looking for a job. I sold my car to make sure I had enough money in the event that I couldn’t find a job right away. With the Working Holiday Visa (WHV), they tell you exactly how much you need to save to travel to a particular country.”
Now That You Are in Taiwan, What Is the Cost of Living Compared to Canada?
“Some things are relatively similar, and some are much cheaper. For example, you can expect an Uber ride to cost as much as a foreigner is paid to teach English. The 7-Eleven is like Taiwan’s Walmart. It’s incredible. Usually, alcohol is about 50-60% cheaper in convenience stores here than in Canada. You can get street food for $10, equivalent to a $25 meal in Canada. It depends on the lifestyle you want. You can go to really fancy restaurants, and the price will be costly. But I would say it’s cheaper to live here.
There are so many dining options with night markets in Taipei that it can be overwhelming for foodies. You turn your head and say to yourself, ‘Oh my God, I have to spend an extra hour before I decide what I want to eat.’ Something catches your interest at every intersection.”
What Were the Biggest Differences Between Taiwan and Canada?
“The smelly tofu! I mean the cuisine. Haha! It’s really interesting. Also, the temperature is quite different—fun fact: this winter was record cold for Taiwan. In Canada, it was warmer when I left (in December) than in Taiwan, which has around 70% humidity. So when it’s cool, it’s pretty cold. I have yet to experience the heat of summer.
There are also many more extreme weather events, like earthquakes. I’ve been through three so far, and as terrifying as it sounds, it’s not as bad as people imagine. One of the biggest happened when I was in quarantine. I was relaxing on my couch when I felt everything around me moving. At first, I thought I was drunk. Everything shook for six, seven seconds, then it went completely still. Earthquakes are common in Taiwan, Japan, and China; that’s why the infrastructure is so strong. I felt safe.”
Guessing You Didn’t Speak Mandarin Before You Came to Taiwan. So How Did You Make Friends There?
“As most young people would when travelling around the world, I changed my location on my dating apps. So for Tinder, for example, I said I was in Taiwan. This way, I was able to network and create a social circle before I arrived. I found people familiar with the English language (who obviously could speak Chinese and Taiwanese), and they agreed to help me learn the language and adjust to the culture.
Few people speak English in Taiwan. The younger generation is more familiar with English, as they learn the basics in elementary school. Generally speaking, Taiwan is trying to strengthen its relations with western countries, so nationals demand to learn English. This means that a lot of people are willing to try to speak to you in English. The other day a young woman who didn’t know a word of English pulled out her phone to help me order a bubble tea. She spoke into a translation app, then handed me her phone for me to answer. You can get around with basic English and waving with your hands, but networking and making new friends is best.”
What Advice Would You Give to Someone Who Would Like to Get a Working Holiday Visa in Taiwan?
“My biggest challenge has been overcoming the insecurities and paranoid thoughts that arise when you want to make a radical change in your life. You just need to push yourself and do it. Maybe your friends or family will tell you not to go and that it’s not worth it. Or maybe your finances will set you back. Remember that even if it doesn’t work and you want to go home, you at least took the risk. It will make you a much stronger person. You’ll make great friendships and see amazing things along the way.”
Drew has only scratched the surface of life in Taiwan, only being there a few months. If you want to travel and work abroad after the pandemic, you should visit the International Experience Canada website. Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35 can work in over 30 countries with the Working Holiday Visa. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you wouldn’t want to miss.
▶ ️ Get inspired by other destinations you could go to by listening to videos from our “Travel & Work: Working Holiday Visa for Canadians” series on YouTube.
You can follow Drew and his travels on Instagram.
In which part of the world would you step out of your comfort zone the most?
The original interview was conducted by Safia Dodard and compiled by Britney Claveau.