Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Moving to Taiwan and Female? Here's what to bring.

So you're female, about to move to Taiwan, and wondering what to bring. From my own experience, plus some awesome suggestions on my last post, here are my suggestions on what to pack as you plan your exciting move abroad.

Men - lots of talk of women's hygiene, medicine and underthings below - feel free to skip this one (or, if you're not shy, you are welcome to read ahead).

1.) Tampons or basically any non-pad option –

We all know that Taiwan is not exactly a great place to find feminine hygiene items that are not pads. There are tampons available but they’re the tiny ones that…well, you know. Other items such as Diva cups and their ilk are available, I’ve heard, but never seen one for sale – if you do want to try this out, get used to it before you arrive. I would, however, be sure to bring a few boxes of tampons to last until you can get another supply.

I have heard unconfirmed rumors that Costco sells western style products for this issue, but haven’t been able to confirm in person.

2.) Birth control –

Birth control options are limited in Taiwan, and the most popular choices given out by OB-GYNs are Yaz and Yasmin, which many women don’t care for, and which can have some irritating side effects. Bring a supply if you don’t want to go through the rigmarole of changing your medication (although there are English-speaking OB-GYN options). IUDs and rings (NuvaRing etc) are available but implanted contraceptives and injections are not – apparently due to side effects, but I don’t really believe that considering the side effects of Yasmin and its continued presence in the Taiwanese market.

I have heard that a doctor will inject you with Depo-Provera if you bring your own supply – they all know what it is, they just can’t get it for you in Taiwan.

3.) Clothes you’d like to have copied or altered –

Bring any items you love enough that you’d like another version in a different color or slightly altered style: you can get clothes easily copied on Dihua Street in Taipei. Got an old article of clothing that you love to pieces and can’t bear to throw away even though it’s in tatters? I do – a faux leather jacket with a dragon on it – bring it along and take the time to get an exact copy made!

4.) Plenty of shoes in your size –

There is only one reliable source for large women’s shoes in Taiwan if you don’t want sneakers or sandals, and the selection is not that big. Bring lots of shoes – they tend to wear out quickly with all the rain and humidity and they’ll get dingy faster than back home.

Do bring your favorite shoes – you’ll have chances to wear them. It took me 3 years to get my super hot black leather boots to Taiwan but I’m so happy I did!

5.) Bras, underwear and a bathing suit –

Bras here are made for the Asian female form, which means probably not for your figure. Bring plenty from home, and more than you think you need – they wear out more quickly in the humidity. Underwear tends to be made of synthetic materials, doesn’t fit quite right and isn’t great for the weather (I don’t know how Taiwanese girls manage, honestly). Bring some soft cotton pairs for hot and humid days and a few nice pairs, ‘cause you won’t find anything really attractive that fits you here unless you are shaped like a Taiwanese woman – I don’t know about you, but I’m not!

6.) A few pairs of your favorite jeans / pants –

You can find tops if you look hard enough and get skirts made, but pants are an eternal problem. I have sworn loyalty to Old Navy sweetheart mid-rise boot cut jeans in dark denim, and you bet your boot cut that I can’t find anything like them in Taiwan. Nothing made for women fits me, and nothing made for men looks good. Like bras, they wear out faster in the humidity, especially between the legs, so bring a spare pair or two. The same for your any other pants you love.

7.) A large supply of your favorite skin and hair care products –

Many products are sold here – Clean&Clear has most of its product line (but not its strongest salicylic acid formula – it’s all much gentler) but St. Ives does not (and I swear by their green tea scrub). If you have a strong preference, bring along an extra bottle. Brands such as L’Occitane, Crabtree&Evelyn, Aveda and Lush are widely available – Lush closed for awhile but they’re back! Muji also makes a good facial soap and scrub, and the local herbal soaps are great. Only worry about this if you are loyal to a particular item, as I am. I have to get my parents to send a care package of St. Ives Green Tea Scrub and tampons every six months or so!

8.) Concealer and foundation in a color that suits you, makeup primer –

This stuff is all available in Asia, but generally the most stocked colors suit Asian skin tones…so if you’re super white like me, it’ll be harder to find stuff that suits your own skin. While major brands such as Shu Uemura, MAC, Smashbox etc. are available here, it still may be hard to find the foundation and concealer colors you need. Primer doesn’t seem to be a big thing here either.

Notably, Urban Decay and Bare Escentuals are not sold in Taiwan, and I do recommend bringing an oil-free primer and mineral powder foundation, not a cream, liquid or compact foundation simply because the weather is so humid: anything with even a touch of oil will make you feel like you smashed your face into a well-iced cake on any of the particularly devastating summer days.

Fortunately for me, I don’t wear a lot of makeup – most days I wear none, and on the days when I wear some it’s mostly to cover up undereye circles – so a little goes a long way.

Do bring “going out” makeup, as there is a good nightlife scene and you will use it.

9.) Your favorite deodorant –

Deodorant is available in Taiwan, so don’t fret if you run out. If you are loyal to a brand, though, bring along some extra as your choices will be limited and generally what is sold here isn’t as effective on us stinky Westerners. It all seems to be made for Japanese girls who don’t smell. Or something.

10.) Pamprin, Motrin, Zyrtec, Dramamine, Aleve –

Most medications are available here (Imigran, Allegra, benzoyl peroxide, ibuprofen, Panadol – which is a Tylenol/Excedrin equivalent – and more) but the ones above definitely are not. If you use any of these, bring your own supply. A Dramamine alternative is available but it puts me to sleep.

11.) Pajamas you love and a comfy, light bathrobe –

Pajamas are another thing that can be really hard to find – I find that the drawstring old lady Chinese pants and a t-shirt are fine, but if you like specific pajamas, bring them from home. Same for bathrobes – they are available but in too-small sizes and generally harder to find if you want light, soft cotton. I have one short cotton robe and one yukata (Japanese blue and white cotton robe) and they work well, but I procured neither in Taiwan.

One place to buy pajamas if you are feeling spendy in Taiwan is at SkinJoy/Danee 10)% Silk.

12.) Multivitamins or other supplements –

These are widely available but hellaciously expensive.

13.) A fluffy, absorbent towel you love –

You can buy decent towels in IKEA, Muji and Nitori, but they’re not cheap. Towels sold elsewhere tend to be too cheap, and made of a plasticky material that doesn’t really dry you off. You know I can be quite picky about certain things and have high standards for unusual items, and to me, a really good towel is key. Nothing beats the feel of a soft, absorbent towel and nothing is worse than feeling water slide around because you bought some cheap synthetic thing from the night market.

14.) A guidebook –

This goes for both genders, and seems obvious, but my own sister showed up for a year in Taiwan without a guidebook so I figured I should put it here.

15.) At least one semiformal outfit and one business formal suit/outfit –

You never know when an opportunity will come up and you’ll need to interview, and good business clothes are really hard to come by in Taiwan for the Western woman (although they can be found and can be made). If you will be working in an office, bring more than you think you need because they will be hard to replace. Sometimes this isn’t even a size issue – it’s a style issue. I’m not such a fan of the random lace and frills on women’s office wear here, nor do I care for those looks-like-two-tops-but-really-is-one shirts.

Semiformal outfits will work for nice dinners and who knows, you might be invited to a wedding! You’ll need something – like a not-too-fussy cocktail dress, to wear out.

16.) Pantyhose/stockings –

Also sold in Taiwan but in very limited sizes. I haven’t found any that are remotely comfortable (although I have found some that fit).

17.) Clothes you love -

Clothes that fit Western women are available here, but you may not find a lot that you really like or that flatters you. If you have favorites - as I do - bring clothing you feel great in.

Other suggestions I’ve received, and some things you do not need to bring:

1.) Iron supplements –

Yes, they’re expensive in Taiwan so bring them if you take them, but I find that the little white ‘women’s drinks’ in 7-11 as well as good ol’ beef noodles are fine for a woman’s iron needs.

2.) Cake and other mixes –

A great idea if you know you’ll have an oven, but don’t start your stay in Asia with these things, as most places you could rent will not come with an oven. It took us years to buy a convection oven and anyway, we prefer (well, I prefer) to cook from scratch. That said, if you cook with Betty Crocker or Jiffy mixes and do have an oven, bring them over as they’re really overpriced here.

3.) Photos of loved ones and a few personal mementos –

Photos are so much easier to just pile on a USB drive and print out here if you want to hang them up. I never felt the need for mementos (home for me is wherever Brendan is, awww), but if you feel more at home with a favorite item then go for it!

4.) Home décor items –

There are plenty of choices in Taiwan, often for cheaper than you can buy the same stuff back home. I recommend Nitori, personally, over bringing over items to decorate.

5.) Books –

Buy online with free delivery worldwide from The Book Depository or check out the myriad used bookstores in Taipei (not to mention the premium book retailers such as Page One and Eslite). Don’t waste luggage space.

6.) A formal dress/gown/outfit

You will basically never wear it unless you will be working for a company that holds a formal annual party (and even for those, a cocktail dress will do). I’ve never met an expat woman who needed to wear a black tie outfit in Taiwan. That said, if you will be working in a capacity where this might be necessary, then you are the best judge.

Generally, however, Taiwan is a much less formal place in terms of clothing. Most men have never worn a tuxedo, and most women don formal wear for their own wedding, and that’s basically it.

7.) Shapewear –

Most of the shapewear sold for old ladies will fit foreign women. I haven’t had a problem yet – you can probably get a lot of that stuff here.

8.) Spices –

Between Wellcome, the department store supermarkets and Trinity Superstores you can get whatever you need here. I make full-on Indian and Ethiopian curries in Taiwan and never brought spices from home. I can make bere-bere and chaat masala from scratch, and so can you!

9.) Hair care products -

For crazy hair colors, if you use Manic Panic do bring some, but otherwise if you are more every day in your hair care needs, Taipei has plenty of options, including hair care for colored and permed hair. I find L'Occitane and Just Herb products are good in Taiwan's weather, or you can go to Mix&Match and buy products there after your awesome haircut.

10.) Glasses -

Glasses are cheap and plentiful, available in a million styles here, and eye tests are quick and painless. Get glasses here, not back home.


That's about it for my suggestions - I got a lot of great ones in my last call for ideas, but if you are just happening upon this post now and want to help a new female expat out (as I am sure some will find this page), do post suggestions in the comments below!


catherine_sr. said...

Uniqlo has some non-frightening panties. I don't own any yet, but they look similar to Gap cotton panties. I agree, a lot of underwear sold in Taipei may as well just have "Yeast Infection!!!" printed across them.
I love for English-language books. They are in Chinese, but easy to navigate with some basic vocab and you can pay for and pick up books at your local 7-Eleven (so no dealing with online credit card forms). If they are out of something, you can click the notify me when back in stock button, and it'll usually be available to order within a couple weeks. Shipping is free. also has a ton of other stuff. I shop there so often my 7-Eleven clerk probably thinks I have a problem.
Thanks for the great list!
shu flies

黃愛玲 said...

This list is very helpful. Thank you. =o)

Deborah Provenzale said...

Thank you so much for this informative post. I am leaving for Taiwan in exactly five days (Thursday, June 16, 2011) and am very excited but also stressed about packing. I did the majority of my packing yesterday, and when I went to weigh my bags, one was 2 lbs. over and the other was 5 lbs. over the airline's weight limit. So I went online to see if I could find suggestions on what to pack and what I can hopefully leave behind as I will now need to pare it down.

Your suggestions were very helpful, although now I'm thinking, "Oh crap, I didn't pack many of the items you suggested," like jeans and shoes - I only have two pairs of jeans and maybe five pairs of shoes. So now I need to go back through my two bags see what I can eliminate so I can not only get within the weight allowance, but also make room for the items I haven't even packed! Yikes! Hopefully shipping isn't too expensive, because I may need to have my mom ship a few things to me.

Anyway, I am excited to peruse the rest of your blog and am glad I found it. By the way, I will be teaching Business English in Hsinchu City, so I won't be far from Taipei. My initial contract is one year, but I am going there with the intention to stay long-term. Perhaps I'll even meet you at some point.

Cheers to Expats in Taiwan!


Anonymous said...

Question: Is it not possible to have one's bras, underwear, pajamas, robes and jeans also copied by the folks who copy jackets and other outerwear? I tend to view sewing as just sewing - if it's a garment, it can be copied - but I don't know if the tailors/seamsters you deal with are so specialized that they would make outerwear only. It just seems to me that it might be possible to bring less, if one can expect to be able to copy the garments not carried in the local stores.

Randi Lang said...

I was reading through your post and I laughed when I saw about the tampons... My Mom sent me a care package of two boxes or a particular one I use at home. I couldn't believe how many maxi pad options were available though! :o When I met my language exchange partner, who is now in Vancouver, I had to reassure her not to worry that we had maxi pads available in Vancouver, not just pads :)