Ever considered setting up your own company in Taiwan…

…and maybe become filthy rich in the process? No one can guarantee the outcome, but you can make sure the odds are stacked in your favor by not going in unprepared. Lots of important information is hard to find in English. That’s why the new book How to Start a Business in Taiwan is a pretty good read — not only for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Book How to Start a Business in Taiwan

I have never met Elias Ek, the author of How to Start a Business in Taiwan. So when I first heard about this book, I did not really know what expect. Having read it, I think Ek was the right kind of person to tackle this project.

I can recommend his book not only to readers planning to start a business in Taiwan, but also to anyone who wants to better understand how Taiwan works and the way things are done here.

Hailing from Sweden, Ek arrived in Taiwan in 2000. Together with his Taiwanese wife, he almost opened a coin laundry store, launched a website for homosexuals, and finally in 2002 founded Enspyre, which has grown, according to Ek, into Taiwan’s leading B2B telemarketing company. For some years, Ek also organized networking events as co-chair of the SME Centre in the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei.

Video of Elias Ek speaking about starting businesses:

Everything described in this book has been done by others who are now running profitable businesses in Taiwan.

On more than 320 pages, How to Start a Business in Taiwan offers a wealth of information, but it is important to understand what it does not do:

Ek does not tell you how to open a business in general. There is no information about non-Taiwan-specific stuff like “How to write a business plan” or “Do I have what it takes to be an entrepreneur”.

He also does not give advice on what kind of business to open in Taiwan. Obviously, everyone has to come up with his or her own idea. Ek does not know your destination, but once you have settled on it, you will find lots of information on how to get there and how to avoid or overcome obstacles on the way.

Some foreigners come to Taiwan and think that just because they are importing something foreign it will automatically be special and attractive to the Taiwan market. Or they might think there are big numbers of Taiwanese people just waiting to leanr whatever language they teach. I am sorry to say it is not that easy.

Ek does, however, try to dispel some common illusions right away. One of the most popular seems to be “I will only cater to the foreigner clientele in Taiwan.” Maybe this way some business founders hope they can avoid having to learn Chinese? It’s not that simple.

Generally speaking there are not enough foreigners in Taiwan to build a business. There are restaurants and such that perhaps got started by mainly meeting the needs of the foreign consumer market but in order to grow they need to bring in the local customers as well.

Ek quotes statistics from Taiwan’s National Immigration Agency: In 2012, 470,000 foreigners were registered in Taiwan. Of those, more than 370,000 were laborers (mostly South-East Asian workers, maids and caregivers) who may not fall into the target audience of a “typical” Western business in Taiwan.

So what do you find in How to Start a Business in Taiwan? Ek tries to cover all the bases and provide answers for basically any kind of situation that business owners might find themselves in in Taiwan.

To give you an idea, you will get information about how to:

  • check if the person you are renting office space from is really the owner of the property
  • print t-shirts with your company’s logo
  • open a corporate bank account
  • get in touch with potential venture capital and angel investors in Taiwan
  • apply for Taiwanese government grants and subsidies
  • check out how long the company you plan on selling to has been in business
  • buy cheap office furniture in Taipei
  • go after customers who refuse to pay, issue payment orders and take legal action

…and many other topics.

What kind of company to set up in Taiwan

Two of the most pertinent chapters are probably “Picking Your Business Entity” and “Business Registration Processes.” Ek does a fine job explaining the differences between corporations, partnerships, branch and representative offices, and so on. He also gives step by step instructions on how and where to register your company, apply for a tax number, translate and notarize documents, etc.

What I do not understand is why these two chapters only come towards the end of the book, right before “Exit Strategies” and the appendices. This is something that Ek might want to reconsider for future editions.

How to think like a boss in Taiwan

I really liked the chapters on “Finding Employees, Salaries and Wages”, taxes and social insurance. Readers who are used to thinking from an employee’s point of view will find it interesting to learn how companies approach these questions.

For example, Ek writes that most employess in Taiwan will only ask about the monthly salary and the Lunar New Year bonus. Because other considerations, like the number of paid holidays, are of minor importance, Ek advises fellow entrepreneuers to “save the benefit money for salaries and Chinese New Year bonuses.”

Taiwan Average Salary in Different Industries

Thanks to Ek, I finally understand how Taiwanese health insurance premiums and personal income tax are calculated. He does a less stellar job explaining Taiwan’s retirement pension system. The more I read about it, the more confused I get, and How to Start a Business in Taiwan did not manage to make things any clearer for me. The only thing I really took away was that most foreigners working in Taiwan apparently have zero chances to ever get money back from the system.

Where to buy the book: How to Start a Business in Taiwan

According to Ek’s staff, there will soon be a Kindle version available. If you prefer a printed book, maybe because it’s easier to underline and scribble remarks, you can order How to Start a Business in Taiwan via its own website (NT$1,200), Amazon.com (US$45) and other retailers.

I addition to the book, Ek has set up a company called Taiwan Business Consulting that offers assistance like market research, developing marketing strategies, and even offers to act as “your local representative in Taiwan.” Really smart. The website of Taiwan Business Consulting is the same as the book’s.

Also, since a lot of foreigners are interested in entering Taiwan’s education sector, which is a “sensitive industry with lots of specific rules,” Ek plans a seperate publication about this in the future. So you maybe want to keep off opening your own buxiban until then ;-)

I want to end with the disclosure that I received a free review copy of the book, and with this little quote that I will definitely remember should I ever hire someone in Taiwan to renovate an office or apartment:

Taiwanese contractors seldom ask questions or admit that they can’t do something. They will usually just nod and smile. When they are not sure how to do something, they will ‘improvise’. So double check everything.

Have you read the book? What do you think?