Taiwan is an extremely safe destination, and violent crime against foreigners is rare. That said, expats in Taiwan, particularly in metropolitan areas like Taipei, should exercise basic precautions as in any large city, such as being aware of personal belongings in crowded markets. Walking around or catching public transport at night is safe, but this should be done with company while avoiding isolated areas.
The police are genuinely helpful, and people are kind – if a foreigner is in distress on the street, it shouldn't take long for someone to come to their aid.
Gang-related crime in Taiwan
Gang-related activity is known to happen in Taiwan, but the prevalence varies widely depending on the specific location in the destination. In some districts, businesses function as fronts for prostitution and are controlled by criminals. Expats should avoid these areas and instead attend nightclubs, barbershops and massage parlours that advertise themselves prominently and have store windows that passers-by can easily peer into.
This may seem scary, but it's generally not an issue for the average expat, as gang activity is mainly confined to certain areas. Gangsters are more concerned with territory and making money than violence.
Pickpocketing in Taiwan
Although theft is rare, crowded public areas such as markets and public transport hubs are often targeted by pickpockets and occasionally even bag snatchers. In these areas, new arrivals should be careful not to carry valuable items in open bags and should wear bags on the front of their body rather than on their back. Purse snatching from motorcycles also happens occasionally.
The usual rules of travel apply – keep photocopies of passports and other essential documents in a safe place and, if possible, carry the photocopies themselves in place of the original documents.
Scams in Taiwan
Expats should be aware of scams in Taiwan. Credit card fraud and telephone fraud can occur, where the scam artist will call the victim and claim to be from a government department, bank or other official office and request personal information such as bank details. ATM fraud is also a risk – when using ATMs, expats should be aware of their surroundings and not accept help from strangers.
Road safety in Taiwan
Taiwan's metropolitan areas often see major traffic jams, so many people opt for the scooters visible in abundance on Taiwanese roads. Although scooters allow a person to weave in and out of traffic and get around faster than other means, this sort of erratic driving does make for chaotic traffic, especially at peak hours, and bicycle and scooter accidents are common. Added to the confusion are ongoing repairs and extensions of the MRT underground system and highway overpasses, which have resulted in congestion at peak hours.
The highways in western and northern Taiwan are usually in good condition, but those in eastern Taiwan are sometimes in disrepair. Road closures due to flooding aren't uncommon during the typhoon season.
Food and water safety in Taiwan
Because of the frequent earthquakes, water pipes are often cracked, so tap water can be contaminated. The quality of tap water in Taiwan varies, but it's safe to drink in most cities after boiling and filtering. Expats moving to Taiwan should consider installing a quality water filtration system or sticking to bottled water. Public drinking fountains are generally equipped with filters and are safe to use.
In Taiwan, food safety standards are generally high, with rigorous inspections and regulations in place. Street food is a major part of Taiwan's food culture, and most vendors maintain good hygiene practices. However, as with any destination, it's important to choose stalls that appear clean and are popular with locals.
Natural disasters in Taiwan
Taiwan is located in a seismically active zone, making earthquakes a relatively common occurrence. Although severe, damaging earthquakes happen less frequently, it's important to familiarise oneself with local earthquake safety procedures, such as taking cover under sturdy furniture or against an interior wall away from windows during a quake.
July to November is typhoon season. Typhoons can lead to heavy rainfall, causing landslides and flooding, particularly in the mountainous regions. It's advisable to monitor weather reports during this period, and avoid travel to high-risk areas.
The Taiwanese government has efficient early warning systems and emergency procedures in place for both earthquakes and typhoons. In case of a natural disaster, follow the instructions from local authorities and emergency services.