What to Bring to Taiwan
Documents: When it comes time to apply for your ARC and attain legal working status in Taiwan, you’ll need your actual diploma, not a copy, to certify that you graduated from University in America. This is a prerequisite for teaching and attaining your ARC. You may also be able to use a certified letter from your University, but be on the safe side and bring your diploma just in case. Also be sure to bring your transcripts, passport, and photo ID, and make copies in case anything should get misplaced.
Books: English books are incredibly hard to come by in Taiwan, and often cost 10% more than their American prices. The only bookstore with English-language books that I know of is in Taipei 101, near the top of the mall section. There are some stores called ESL lite, which will offer a very small collection of English books, often comical in their diversity. Strongly consider bringing a few new, large novels and your favorite travel guide, like the sweet sweet Lonely Planet Guide.
Cell Phone: You'll really need to check the internet for the policies and regional locking of your phone, but many phones, including a prepaid phone, will accept SIM cards purchased in Taiwan. SIM cards are little white pieces of plastic that slide into the back of your phone and store your number and others numbers, though some numbers can be stored in the phone. The best way for foreigners to get phone service in Taiwan is to go into one of many different providers' stores and purchase a rechargeable card. These cards require an initial purchase of 500NT (~13$USD) and can be recharged in various intervals, 1000NT (~33$USD) being the best deal. If your cell-phone isn’t Taiwan-compatible, you can get a cheap phone here for 2000-3000NT(~60-100$USD). Some of these stores are reluctant to sell a card and phone to a foreigner without his or her ARC, so you might have to wait or be wary, bring your passport, and shop around. For more information, check out this article on tealit.
For calling home, I recommend getting a good computer and installing Skype, and buying the 10,000 minute "unlimited" country plan, which lets you call home phones and cell phones in one country. This plan runs around 3.95/mo, and is well worth the price to talk to grandma whenever you want... just don't forget about the time change! You can also make calls from Skype anywhere with wi-fi with this amazing wi-fi phone built just for Skype. Expensive, but worth it when you're sitting in the wi-fi noodle joint with some time to kill and feel like regaling grandma with tails of spicy noodles.
Rain Gear: The rainy season in Taiwan can get quite intense (see: typhoons), especially when you're rolling on a rickety old scooter. You will want to seriously consider purchasing some nice Gore-Tex rain pants and a hooded raincoat to keep the wet out of your shoes. A nice raincoat will also keep you warm if you plan on hiking on the mountains of Taiwan. Some water-proof shoes would also be well-bought. No one likes teaching in sopping-wet clothes and socks in an overly air-conditioned classroom. (On that note, keep an extra pair of clothes in the seat of your scooter.)
Light Clothes: The summer months can get quite hot and oppressive, though the weather is generally perfectly tropical and beautiful. Make sure you bring shorts, light colors that don't absorb the sun. You'll want a bathing suit and swimming cap as all swimming pools in Taiwan require these caps to swim.
Warm Clothes: Surprisingly, the winter months in Taiwan get a little chilly. Your body will adjust to the sweltering heat of the summer. Add to that the heavy humidity and mountain winds, and the complete lack of heaters in all the buildings in Taiwan, and you'll be shivering. Do your best to buy a small space heater when you arrive, but until then, you'll want some nice fleece or heavy sweaters in your suitcase.
Shoes: Shoe policy in Taiwan is kind of insane. It's an important cultural more that thong sandals (those where the only thing connecting your foot to the shoe are a thin piece of leather between the big and index toe) are considered pajama shoes, and therefore inappropriate in the classroom setting. Ironically, the ugliest shoe ever created by man, the Croc, is allowed by many. You may even find yourself teaching without shoes in certain schools, as taking off your shoes at the classroom door is sometimes mandatory. Ironically, however, many people take off their shoes outside their house, only to put on a separate pair of indoor shoes. In any case, make sure you pack some rain-proof shoes to go with your slick rain-gear, you scooter baron, you. Some shower shoes might also be well-purchased if you're moving into a teaching dorm with a shared shower. Of all shoes, note that it is very difficult to find larger sizes in Taiwan.
Backpack: When you're scootering off to teach you'll want a good, sturdy backpack to carry all your toys, markers, pens, books, etc. There is little space on a scooter to carry a large, loose load, so bring a backpack that you don't mind getting dirty, but one which also has many compartments for different items. Many people also bring a hiking backpack for all of their adventures around Taiwan... and the opportunities are myriad.
Bug Spray: If you look closely, you'll notice many of the locals in Taiwan have a series of pockmarks on their legs from incessant scratching of mosquito bites. It seems as soon as cockroach season and summer end, the head-sized mosquitoes appear out of nowhere. No one can explain the whims of mosquitoes, but there will be a time when you will wake, middle of the night, to the monstrous buzz in your ear. Mosquitoes love dark clothing, sweaty bodies, and movement, so avoid these things. Also, bring a little DEET along in case you can't take it anymore. As with any bug, the best solution is to keep them out of your house, and kill them on sight.
Money: Make sure you bring enough pocket money to supply you from the airport, to the cab, to your destination school or hotel. You can change money easily here for a fee at any bank. The cheapest way to get money, and this is true in most foreign countries, is to have an nationally-accredited ATM card with Visa or Master Card and withdraw funds from an ATM. To avoid any messy flags and holds on your accounts, call your bank before you go to inform them that you will be traveling and living abroad. You'll want to change around $USD500-700 to get you by over the first month. The fee for this transaction will be much less than exchanging foreign currency or using a credit card for the purchase, the latter of these hitting you with a foreign service surcharge and exchange rate fees. Be warned: it appears that some cards and banks are not recognized in Taiwan, so best to open an account at home with a large bank.
Medicine: Make sure you check with customs, but consider bringing a wide array of medicines before coming to Taiwan. Taiwanese medicine can often be very "herbal" and eastern in its origins, and questionably effective. I especially missed Nyquil and Dayquil and brought some the second time I returned. Consider bringing a good head-ache medicine as well, as you cannot find Tylenol or Advil. Be advised that tampons are also not available. Condoms (Lifestyles, Durex, Trojans) are available at Carrefoure, though local brands should be used with caution. Birth control pills are available in Taiwan, and once you get your ARC you can see a doctor to get a prescription (NT$125-225). Do not bring any illicit drugs in: the penalty is death.
Food from the Native Land: About a month or two after the novelty wears off, many people are hit by the dreaded “culture shock.” You’ll begin to feel homesick and a little out of place, and perhaps angry at the strangest things, like the incessant sound of a Family-Mart door or the greeting at 7-11. For some it comes soon, for some, later, but all appreciate the delicious tastes of home when it comes. No matter what you eat here, it will be just slightly different, for better or worse, than what you’ve had at home. You will be surprised, horrified, fall in love, and long for the tastes of home again. While the large department store Carrefour has a wonderful assortment of foods, and the Cost-Co tailors to even more esoteric tastes, these are some of the items that are still not available or poorly imitated in Taiwan: Butterfingers, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, most cereals, tomato soup, white bread (Taiwan bread is filled with sugar) and Mexican food. (I’m not aware of the rules of customs of your country, so make sure to check on what foods can and can’t come from your country. A good general rule is that live foods are banned (cheese, meats, canned goods, seeds and plants), while inert, dead foods (chips, cured food, teas, powdered goods) are okay. Check with customs, but many have brought many a box of cereal and can of tomato soup here.)
Family Pictures: After your first month scootering and crawling around the streets, you'll want some memories of home in picture form. It's a good idea to take some framed photos of the family and your friends to remind you of home, as you'll often forget about that other life waiting for you back where you came from. These photos will also remind you to make calls back home.
Teaching Materials: While most schools will provide books and expect students to provide their own pens, pencils, paper, etc., there are still a few key items you can bring from home to encourage your students. First among these are English Stickers which say "Good!" and "Great!" and encourage students while supporting their vocabulary. Consider some small snacks and native currency from home, as students are amazed by foreign currency. Any english teaching materials like posters and board games (more expensive in Taiwan) are also more easily found in a natively-english country.
Movies: You will be able to find a number of good movie theatres and Blockbusters in Taiwan. The former of these show English language movies with subtitles in Chinese. You can rent the same kind at Blockbuster. If you're a stickler and don't want Chinese subtitles at the bottom of the movies, you should bring your own collection.
Pets: Taiwan is crawling with dogs and cats left out on the streets, so if you need a pet, the easiest way may be to adopt a stay. Pets can be brought into Taiwan, but because Taiwan has no incidence of rabies, pets will be quarantined for a long period of time: six months. To gain admittance for your animal, you’ll need a copy of your passport, residence certificate, work certificate, a letter stating that the animal is not for profit or sale, six color photographs of your animal, a rabies vaccination certificate certified by the Agricultural Bureau of the state (given 30 days before flying, and no more than 180 days prior to leaving), application form of the Bureau of Commodity Inspection and Quarantine issued by your company in Taiwan and an original health certificate, certified by a vet and the Agricultural Bureau of the State, issued be a licensed veterinarian in your home country with your animal’s species, breed, age and sex. Phew.
Taiwan Customs Information