Taiwan's new migrant schemes lures increasing numbers of Hongkongers
A growing number of Hongkongers are relocating to Taiwan, lured by its new migrant schemes and cheaper, less frenzied lifestyle, writes Elaine Yau
When Hongkongers think about emigrating, Canada and Australia are the countries that immediately spring to mind, or perhaps Singapore. Now another destination, almost at our doorstep, has emerged as a contender for residents seeking an alternative to the city's astronomical property prices and frenetic pace - Taiwan.
Security Bureau figures show that about 600 people emigrated to the island last year, triple the number in 2011. Push factors aside, the spike in emigration to the island is driven by programmes that the Taiwan government recently launched to attract overseas talent, experts say.
An investment migrant scheme introduced last year that simply requires candidates to place NT$5 million (HK$1.3 million) in a Taiwan bank for one year to be eligible for residency has proved particularly popular, says immigration consultant Eddie Kwan King-hung. Candidates can apply for permanent residency after a two-year stay, during which they must not be away from Taiwan for more than 30 days per year.
"Unlike other countries which require applicants to invest in a business, the NT$5 million can be kept for oneself in the bank and there's no need to buy anything. There's no risk at all besides fluctuations in currency exchange rate," Ng says. "The similarity between Taiwan and Hong Kong culture makes adaptation easier. My company has received inquiries from retirees about the scheme. Taiwan is a good destination for retirees due to the low cost of living, fresh air and quality medical health care."
Former artist management executive McVicar Wong fell in love with the island during his frequent trips to Taipei for work. So when he decided to quit to start his own business after 20 years in the industry, he opted to settle in Kaohsiung.
"All my Hong Kong colleagues love Taiwan. Some come to buy books and I love the food and relaxing pace there," he explains.
"A friend and I invested NT$1 million to set up a hostel, Angels' Backpack, which accommodates 24 people. Monthly rental is NT$30,000. I will soon open a branch in Taitung. We reckon we will recoup the capital in five years. In the meantime, I can still earn a decent salary. Although the money is not as much as what I earned in Hong Kong, the lifestyle here more than makes up for it," Wong says.
Just last month a Facebook group, Evacuation to Taiwan, was set up to offer Hongkongers tips on how to emigrate to Taiwan.
The interest in relocating to the island also led Centaline Immigration Consultants to hold the first-ever investment emigration talk covering Taiwan on November 1. Of the three destinations the talk dealt with, Taiwan, Singapore and Britain, the first drew most interest, says Centaline sales director for China and overseas, David Hui.
"Many locals are interested in buying property [in Taiwan]. Properties there are much cheaper. Centaline's housing project in Yangmingshan, outside Taipei, which is accessible by mass rapid transit, costs only HK$3,000 per square foot. Most buyers are from Hong Kong," Hui says.
For those who do not have the funds to make the million-dollar deposit, Taiwan offers an alternative small business scheme."The entrepreneurial scheme does not stipulate minimum capital needed, and commerce department officials approve applications based on the merits of business proposals," Kwan says. "Hong Kong people can start a coffee shop under the scheme."
That's exactly what 26-year-old Ted Siu Yik-ting has done. Last year, Siu grouped with five friends who each contributed HK$200,000 to open the Artista Perfetto cafe in Taipei. All six partners used to work for cafes in Hong Kong and saw it as a chance to run their own business.
"There's no way you can open a coffee shop with just HK$1.2 million capital [in Hong Kong]. The rent is four times that [of Taiwan]," Siu says.
They are on three-month travel visas, which can be extended for another three months for a HK$100 fee. So the partners must return to Hong Kong every six months.
Siu has no regrets: "I love living in Taiwan; its coffee culture is much stronger. Hong Kong people are too busy to savour life. Taiwanese are more friendly. Everywhere in Hong Kong is filled with crowds. People won't even say sorry if they bump into you in the pedestrian crush."
Despite the idyllic image, doing business in Taiwan isn't as easy as many Hongkongers think.
"The tax structure here is complex," says former journalist Raymond Chan, 54.
Chan and his wife, Kia Pang, also moved to Taipei last year to open a cafe in a school district near the National Taiwan University, investing NT$3 million in the business.
"You need to pay more tax than in Hong Kong, and on many items; even on the staff's overtime pay. But I, as the employer, have to file [the returns] and pay the tax for him. If I forget to do so, I am the one who is penalised. This is unbelievable," Chan says.
And unlike Hong Kong, where workers and employers contribute to their pension fund, employers in Taiwan have to shoulder the entire responsibility for their staff pensions.
That's why many Taiwan businesses employ part-time staff, usually students, who do not enjoy the benefit, Chan says.
Even so, he must buy medical insurance for the part-time staff, unlike in Hong Kong. And of the NT$50,000 monthly rent that he pays, 10 per cent goes towards the landlord's tax, while 2 per cent is levied for the landlord's medical expenses.
There are other hidden costs: "Former government staff enjoy many benefits provided by the government. They might demand discounts from shops. Many shops here roll out all kinds of discounts for Fathers' Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival. I won't do that because you must skimp on food material cost and use substandard food materials," Chan says.
"In Hong Kong, a person who earns HK$10,000 a month might still splurge on a HK$900 meal once in a while. But here, affluent people like to invest in cars and houses, not everyday items like clothes. A Taiwanese may own three to four expensive houses and five cars but will still buy three items of clothing for NT$100 and would rather park the car on the street to save on the NT$50 parking fee in car park. So I have clients who order only one drink and stay for whole day."
The Canopy Café & Lifestyle has rung up sales of more than NT$2 million since it opened one year ago, well short of the NT$3 million annual turnover the Chans must achieve as a condition for extending their business visa for another year. The government has, however, given them a few months' grace to meet the target.
But Chan is also vexed about another problem - bribes. "People in the neighbourhood do not welcome eateries as they think we pollute the environment and depress property prices. I need to curry favour with my neighbours by giving them presents before starting my business. An unofficial corruption culture prevails in Taiwan," he says, also citing the norm of giving laisee packets to doctors and nurses before surgery or presenting a university professor with gifts for help with a thesis.
But for all his complaints, Chan still reckons Taiwan is still a good place to live.
"Taiwan has good cultural atmosphere and scenery. If you know where to look, there are really good food ingredients here. Hong Kong mostly relies on food from the mainland.
"Hong Kong also frustrates me a lot. I cried on the day of the handover. Over the past 16 years, media businesses, one by one, have begun to toe the line of the government. Working in the media, I have my own views on things."