Working in Taiwan

Taiwan is a hub of international enterprise, with business booming in the fields of information technology and electronics. Most expats working on the island are English teachers or on corporate transfer.

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Doing business

Taiwan was ranked 15th out of 190 countries and territories in The World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business Survey, narrowly beating other popular expat destinations like Australia and Canada. It scored particularly well for starting a business, but one area of concern is getting credit – the territory was ranked 90th in this category.

Largely dependent on foreign trade, Taiwan prides itself on its capitalist success. The high number of multinationals in the territory means locals are used to interacting with expats in business, but you may feel ill-prepared for the unfamiliar environment. If you want to adapt quickly, you could consider doing cross-cultural training when you first arrive.

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Business culture

You’ll shake hands and smile when you meet a new business acquaintance, but the similarities with home could end there. Taiwanese business is a minefield of cultural differences where even a well-meant comment can sometimes offend.

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Management style

The principle of respect for seniority is endemic and Taiwanese managers are authoritarian – they expect to be obeyed and no one questions their decisions.

Communication style

Politeness is expected and tersely worded emails aren’t appreciated. A phone call is always better, even if it’s just to say that a detailed email is on its way.

The concept of ‘face’

The Chinese concept of mianzi (‘face’) is very important in Taiwanese culture and locals will go out of their way to maintain appearances. A person’s reputation can be damaged by the words or actions of others. To save face, you need to respect and compliment your colleagues – and never openly criticise them.

Confucianism

The philosophy of the ancient teacher Confucius still governs Taiwanese society. It’s based on inter-group dependence and emphasises the importance of duty, loyalty, honour, sincerity and respect for age and seniority.

Business dinners

It’s considered a great honour to be invited to a colleague’s home for dinner – and these occasions are rare. Most business dinners are held at restaurants. Dress formally, don’t start eating before the host and show your appreciation, even if the food isn’t to your taste. You should eventually reciprocate, but never try to outdo your host.

Fast facts

Business language

Mandarin and Taiwanese. English is rarely spoken outside large multinationals – so you may need a translator.

Business hours

Usually from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Dress

Businesspeople dress formally and conservatively. Men wear dark suits and women choose modest dresses or skirts because trouser suits are considered too casual.

Greeting

While handshakes aren’t a traditional Taiwanese greeting, they’re common in the business environment. Don’t shake hands too firmly or enthusiastically as this can seem aggressive. Businesswomen may prefer a simple nod of the head – so wait for them to initiate and act accordingly. Business cards are treated with great respect and should be exchanged at the start of a meeting. When you accept a card, take it with both hands and place it on the table in front of you rather than in your pocket.

Gifts

Gift giving is an essential relationship building tool. You can present something simple to colleagues in a meeting, but give a slightly better gift to the most important person in the group. It’s customary to open gifts in private.

Gender equality

Taiwan is a male-dominated society and women have a diminished role in business, although expat businesswomen are treated with respect.

Expat salaries

Expat salaries in Taiwan are quite high. In general, English teachers earn less than expats working in the corporate world.

Think carefully about what your non-Chinese speaking spouse might do while living in Taiwan as jobs for those who don't speak Chinese are rare.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

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All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in June 2018. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

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Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.