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Results of the 2014 Quality of Living Survey

On 18 March 2015, the ECCT's Better Living committee hosted a lunch to brief members on the results of the ECCT's 2014 Quality of Living Survey, commissioned by the ECCT to TNS. An overview of the main findings of the survey were presented by Mike Jewell, Senior Research Director at TNS.

The 2014 survey was the fourth such survey conducted (previous surveys were done in 2006, 2009 and 2011). The survey measures 51 different aspects of daily life. This year's survey was more representative of Taiwan's foreign community given the fact that there were a lot more participants (close to 200, which was almost double the number from the previous survey), participants came from a broad range of organisations (previous surveys were confined to ECCT members while this year included people connected to the Community Services Center, parents of pupils from the Taipei European School, ICRT listeners and others) and participants were from locations other than Taipei (especially Kaohsiung and Taichung).
Based on the survey results, in general, participants believe that the overall quality of life in Taiwan is good, although the level of satisfaction was not quite as high as the previous two surveys. This could be attributed to the fact that the latest survey includes participants who may not be senior executives, who have help to smooth over the difficulties that people in less senior positions have to deal with themselves.

Of the participants, 67% had previously lived in other countries and, of these 38% said that they liked Taipei the best. The strong sentiment that Taipei is a good place to live is also reflected in other surveys. For example, HSBC's Expat Explorer Survey ranked Taiwan as the eighth best place to live out of 34 countries behind Switzerland (No. 1), Bahrain, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and Germany.

Of the things most important to expats, such as the quality and affordability of health care, emergency services, housing, public safety, internet access, reliable power and water and education, Taiwan scores really well. However, one area where there was a significant decline from previous years is air quality. 62% of respondents said that the air quality is fair or poor while in the 2011 survey almost the same number (63%) said that air quality was excellent, very good or good. Jewell noted that Taiwan's air quality has improved significantly compared to 20 years ago but comparing 2014 results to those of 2011 and 2009, it appears that air quality has become a lot worse in the past few years (although a caveat should be added that responses from participants in Taichung and Kaohsiung, which generally have worse air quality than Taipei, were not included in previous surveys).

76% of respondents said that getting around is easy and had positive ratings on the quality and affordability of both public transport and taxis. 42% of respondents had used Taipei's Youbike system and 92% of them described it as excellent or very good. However, traffic safety is a serious concern for the majority of people surveyed. Taiwan's traffic environment received poor ratings in terms of safety for pedestrians, cyclists and children. Many comments were submitted that cited a general lack of respect for traffic rules and poor traffic law enforcement.

Ratings on the overall quality of English were similar to the last survey although ratings for various services varied widely. As to be expected, international hotels and upscale restaurants are highly rated for the quality of English while respondents also said that it was easy to buy transport tickets. However, in two crucial areas, banking and hospitals, there is clearly room for improvement. 40% of respondents said they had difficulty communicating in banks and 24% had difficulty in hospitals. That said Taiwan's medical facilities are highly regarded for their overall quality and affordability.

The opinion of Taiwan's banking services was less positive. 40% of respondents said they had difficulty opening a local bank account while an even higher percentage had difficulty with online banking and applying for a credit card (many banks appear to be reluctant to give credit cards to foreigners). Respondents cited excessive requirements, paperwork, inconsistent application criteria and procedures and the requirement for a local guarantor as obstacles to banking in Taiwan.

Over half of respondents had problems purchasing items online via local websites. Difficulties cited included the language barrier (most websites are only in Chinese or have limited/poorly translated English), many websites won't accept Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) numbers, there are many  problems with poor design, inefficient navigation, unclear instructions and frequently broken links while many sites won't accept foreign credit cards. 24% of respondents had difficulty getting a local mobile phone number.

38% of respondents said they had children in Taipei's schools and respondents gave generally favourable ratings to both local and international schools.

On the subject of housing, respondents gave favourable ratings on the range, quality and affordability of housing for rent. However, only 8% gave excellent or good ratings on the cost of buying property, reflecting the exorbitant cost of property, especially in prime locations. Jewell said that, on a purchasing power parity basis, Taipei is one of the world's most expensive places to purchase property.

On the quality of domestic services, most respondents were positive on the reliability of water, electricity and garbage collection services, although 66% said that the quality of water was either poor or fair.

Facilities in Taiwan have improved over the years and this is reflected in positive ratings on the range and quality of restaurants, sports facilities, activities for children and the speed of internet connections (both fixed and mobile).

According to respondents, Taiwan has a good range of food and groceries, although they are expensive. Almost half of respondents gave poor or fair ratings to the overall safety of food products sold in Taiwan, probably in response to the string of food safety scandals in recent years.

Clearly more could be done to publicise emergency service contact numbers as close to half of participants did not appear to know what number to call for police, fire or ambulance services. Fortunately, the minority (9%) of respondents who had used emergency services in Taiwan had had a good experience as reflected in the good ratings on the ease of reaching, ability to communicate effectively and the speed of response of Taiwan's emergency services.

Based on the survey results and quoting a comment from one of the participants, Jewell concluded that Taipei remains a good place to live but it is not perfect. This is clearly indicated in the areas where there is the most room for improvement: air quality, traffic safety and banking and online services.

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