From the old lady selling home-grown vegetables at the local market to the teenage girl hawking the latest fashions out of a suitcase on Zhongxiao E Road, sometimes it seems like everyone in Taiwan is involved in business of some kind.
Taiwan is truly a country of entrepreneurs.
But what about foreigners looking to join the fold? How easy is it for expats to start a business, and what, if any, problems are they likely to encounter along the way?
Not too many, said accountant Ann Hu (胡安嘉), because registering a new company is relatively easy — as long as you’re prepared to employ an expert to help.
Hu, a certified public accountant (CPA), has been practicing in Taiwan for 15 years. During that time she has helped about 50 foreigners register their business. She also periodically teams up with the European Chamber of Commerce to give seminars for budding foreign businesspeople.
The process involves several stages and requires dealing with the likes of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Investment Commission and your local city or county government, Hu said, adding that it usually takes between six weeks and two months to complete.
Go it alone, however, and that time can easily double, as even with outstanding language skills it can prove difficult. All the paperwork is in Chinese and if your application hits a snag, a lack of readily available information means novices may not know where to turn next. This is why most Taiwanese also employ a professional, Hu said.
Employing a CPA will set you back about NT$60,000, including consultancy fees, while the minimum investment amount for a small company is NT$250,000.
That figure, however, is set to drop to NT$10,000 or NT$20,000 in the next couple of months, Hu said.
1. Do a company name check (Ministry Of Economic Affairs, MOEA).
2. Get approval from the Investment Commission (part of MOEA).
3. Wire investment (money) into bank account
4. Get second approval from Investment Commission.
5. Incorporate the company (MOEA or local government, depending on size).
6. Apply for a business license (local city or county government).
7. Apply for uniform invoice book (統一發票) (local city or county government).
For staff-related matters, you need to contact the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA).
But even with help, the process can still be problematic, as New Zealander Chris Jordan found out to his cost when deciding what kind of business license to apply for.
When Jordan and his partner started a business English consultancy almost three years ago, a consulting license seemed the obvious choice.
“We were led to believe that it would be possible for us to get ARCs for foreign employees,” he said.
But after obtaining the license, they found out that they could only employ foreigners if their business capitalization was in excess of NT$5 million (US$147,000).
“It caused us a lot of headaches,” he said.
After managing to successfully work around the restrictions for a while, business expansion plans meant a new license application was needed.
“What’s not easy here is finding any clear information,” he said. “There’s information on the Internet, but when you call people, most of the time you get a stock answer.”
Anyone who has been in Taiwan for a while knows that locals have no qualms about flouting the law, and businesspeople are no different.
Swiss national Michel Blanc has been here for 20 years and has three businesses — a freight forwarding company and two restaurants. During his time in the restaurant business he has seen it all. Despite strict rules and regulations for the industry, many still ignore them.
“Two weeks ago I saw the guy from a nearby restaurant dump the oil from his deep fat fryer into the drain in the alley,” Blanc said.
The main problem, he said, is that laws and regulations are selectively enforced.