by Cat Thomas
There are several ways to start off on your entrepreneurial path in Taiwan and the environment is rapidly improving as the government responds to the needs of the startup community. However, by far the least complicated in terms of requirements for capital, turnover and minimum salaries is to get your hands on an Alien Permanent Residency Certificate (APRC).
Some background first: While Taiwan permits foreigners to outright own companies in Taiwan – without any need for a local partner — the practicalities are rather less straightforward. If you do not already have a resident visa (for example a JRFV or APRC) and you wish to actually work for your company you need an Employment Services Act Article 48 work permit. This permit comes bundled with minimum salary requirements, and minimum paid capital of NT$500,000, plus a requirement to reach revenues of NT$3,000,000 starting from the second year of running your business.
These are pretty steep requirements for a budding business and once the government realised it was hobbling startups it introduced the Entrepreneur Visa to address the issue. While we will discuss the ins and outs of this scheme in other articles, the fact remains that for longer term residents of Taiwan the APRC offers the simplest set up.
Dom Grant who founded Churchill’s, a recently established local company that makes premium-quality European-Style sausages, has lived in Taiwan for twenty years and gained his APRC in 2016. He describes the added ease that the APRC affords him:
“I explored the idea of starting a local company in the old days and it always looked difficult, with high capital or revenue commitments needed to secure an ARC or that for potential employees. I burned some cash talking to lawyers without really getting to the bottom of how to do it. With an APRC, it was a breeze. Not requiring a local “responsible person” was also very helpful. I would say that speaking the language helps though, and also I was helped by attending some of the startup talks hosted by people like Elias Ek, many of which were done in conjunction with government agencies. Nice to see progress.”
The key factor for entrepreneurs is that holders of an APRC can apply for the accompanying Employment Services Act Article 51 Work Permit; commonly referred to as the Open Work Permit. This removes the minimum salary and revenue requirements as well as the minimum paid capital when registering your business. Additionally, it opens up a pathway for entrepreneurs who are not yet ready to take the leap into full-time entrepreneurship to build up their business alongside other regular employment.
The APRC allows you to explore your options, try new ideas and build up your contacts too. As Taipei Startup stadium manager Holly Harrington says:
“After I got my APRC, but before my role at Taiwan Startup Stadium, I did a lot of fun freelance projects like writing for television, serving as a tour guide in historic Dadaocheng, selling my own artwork at creative markets, and doing marketing and translation for various startups and local businesses.”
The government has streamlined the process for applying for your APRC numbers of APRC holders have increased. However, if you don’t yet qualify and are planning ahead there are some factors that you need to keep an eye on.
The APRC requirements include a five-year period of unbroken residency. Many people believe that if you slip up, for example by inadvertently overstaying your ARC for even a day then your clock gets reset. As we can see from Article 31 of the Immigration Act this is not always the case:
“Where an alien overstays the period of his/her residence for less than thirty (30) days and the reasons for the application for residence submitted originally still remain unchanged, he/she can re-apply to National Immigration Agency for residence after being punished pursuant to Subparagraph 4 of Article 85. Where the alien applies for permanent residence, one (1) year shall be deducted from the period of permanent residence in the Taiwan Area.”
Therefore, in the circumstances described above – less than 30 days – rather than your clock being reset and having to start from zero again your residency period must now span six years instead of five. The ‘reasons for the application for residence submitted originally still remain unchanged’ does not mean you must have the same employer, but rather that your reason must still be for employment. It is possible to switch to the six-month extension in these circumstances and still maintain your residency record.
The most likely scenario for this kind of overstay is a clerical oversight by your company where paperwork is not submitted in a timely manner. If you want to keep your residency unbroken in behoves you to take the initiative in this area. Keep an eye on your dates, prompt those responsible to start getting the paperwork ready in plenty of time. If you’re on a fine line take the paperwork in to your local Council of Labour Affairs yourself and get the receipt to the NIA the same day.
It is also worth noting that if you take advantage of the six-month ARC extension to find work, assuming that you have held an ARC through work, this period does count towards your accumulated residency period.
Minimum income requirements
Another area which causes confusion is the minimum income requirements. There is a persistent idea that you may need to produce 2 or 3 years of tax records. The requirement as stated on the National Immigration Agency’s website is that:
“Having earned an average monthly income in Taiwan for the past one year that is twice as much as the Monthly Minimum Wage promulgated by the Council of Labor Affairs.”
Therefore, you will need to produce tax records that prove that you have met the income requirements for the past tax year (January- December). Note that the long form tax certificate that you need to provide to the NIA shows the source(s) of income. Any work shown that falls outside of your salary from the job(s) you hold work permits for may disqualify you from eligibility, and raise questions as to whether you have broken the law by working outside of the areas you have been given permission for.
Beware! Other work
A quick note on moonlighting. Taiwan is very strict on only working for companies which you hold work permits for. If you don’t have a work permit that permits you to be undertaking paid work at the address listed on your permit you are endangering your residency. In addition, the Immigration Act offers up rewards for people who correctly report violations of the act.
Article 92 A person who reports factual information on violations of the provisions of the present Act may be rewarded if the information proves to be true after investigation; the competent authority shall enact the regulations that govern a reward procedure; scopes, amounts and issuance of rewards, and other matters that must be complied with.
Be firm with your company and insist that they process the correct paperwork for you. While it is possible for you to work in more than one job you must hold a work permit for each job. If you are found to be working in a job with no permit you may face deportation, a ban on re-entry for anywhere from 1 to 3 years and a fine.
Amateur performances and voluntary work
Prior to October 2015 any performances by a foreign resident for which they had not received a one-off performance permit were illegal. However the Ministry of Labour loosened up restrictions in late 2015 releasing an interpretation of the law that now allows for unpaid performances (with an important caveat that no tickets may be sold). For more details see the translation of the Ministry of Labour’s letter of interpretation – provided by Winkler Partners – here; or for a more light hearted take on the matter this article from the Taipei Times.
In November of the same year Ministry of Labour also expanded the scope of voluntary work that a foreign resident is permitted to participate in to include public interest projects such as volunteering at animal shelters or participating in beach clean ups. Previously only registered charities or public institutions that had filed a Volunteer Service plan could accept foreign resident volunteers. For a translation of the letter of interpretation from the Ministry of Labour -provided by Winkler Partners – see here.
If you’re hoping to pick up a little extra income by working as an ‘extra’ for filming or advertising then the agent needs to apply for a permit for the work in advance (usually in the week before). See here to familiarise yourself with the process. If the agent isn’t asking you for the right documentation or is claiming you don’t need a permit don’t do it. You can be fined and deported for doing so.
If you are serious about starting a business in Taiwan the APRC removes many of the obstacles thrown in the path of less fortunate entrepreneurs. It’s worth making sure that you keep your nose clean and are aware of the requirements to retain your eligibility. As APRC-holder and stylist Jenna Robinette puts it “I can finally pursue my passions as actual work instead of as just hobbies.”