CostsTaiwan is one of Asia’s most developed countries, and, as such, is a more expensive place to travel than say Thailand or Vietnam. Still, you’ll find it considerably cheaper than Hong Kong, Japan or South Korea, and there are plenty of ways for inventive travellers to keep their costs to a manageable level.
While staying in Taipei can be challenging for backpackers on a tight budget, once you get outside the capital you’ll find that prices typically run the gamut of budgets, from backpacker to mid-range to luxury traveller. Accommodation ranges from as little as NT$400 (US$12/£8/€10) for a hostel dorm bed to NT$8000 (US$250/£163/€190) for a double in a business hotel, while food can cost as little as NT$30 (US$0.90/£0.60/€0.70) for basic street food such as noodles to easily more than NT$1000 (US$30/£20/€24) for a meal in a semi-posh sit-down restaurant. By staying in basic doubles and keeping mostly to ordinary, working-class Chinese places to eat, most budget-conscious travellers should be able to keep their costs to around NT$1500 (US$45/£30/€36) per day, perhaps a bit more when undertaking long train, bus or boat journeys.
Admission prices to most museums and tourist sights are usually quite reasonable; government-run venues are typically very cheap, while the cost of privately operated attractions varies wildly. Though discounts for museums and public performances are usually given to senior citizens and students, most travellers are unlikely to fit in the second category as foreign student cards are generally not recognized. However, foreigners who are genuinely in Taiwan to study Mandarin on a full-time basis can qualify for student cards that will be honoured throughout the country.
Crime and personal safetyFor the vast majority of foreign travellers and residents, Taiwan is an exceptionally safe place, and foreigners are seldom witnesses to – much less victims of – crime. By far the biggest threat to personal safety in Taiwan is traffic accidents, especially those involving scooters and motorcycles, and foreigners should employ extreme caution while out on the roads.
All drugs including marijuana are strictly illegal, and simple possession can lead to jail time and almost certain expulsion from the country. Police raids on clubs are common, especially in Taipei and Taichung, and in a few cases the police have taken all revellers to the station for urine tests.
Police departments in most big cities have foreign affairs sections that are normally staffed with English-speaking officers.
CustomsYou’re allowed to import into Taiwan up to 200 cigarettes or 25 cigars, and a one-litre bottle of liquor. Adults can bring in goods valued up to NT$20,000, and the duty-free allowance is up to NT$6000. It’s prohibited to import gambling articles, fruits, live animals, non-canned meat products and toy pistols, and drug trafficking can be punishable by death.
ElectricityTaiwan’s electric current is 110V AC, the same as the US and Canada, and the wall sockets are made for standard American two-pin flat plugs. Unless they’re dual voltage (most cellphones, cameras, MP3 players and laptops are), all Australian, British, European, Irish, New Zealand and South African appliances (as well as those from Hong Kong and mainland China) will need a voltage transformer as well as a plug adapter (hair-dryers are the most common problem for travellers).
Entry requirementsNationals of the UK, Ireland, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa do not require a visa for stays of up to thirty days. This visa-free period is for travel only – working is not permitted – and it cannot be extended under any circumstances. Citizens of these countries must have a passport valid for at least six months from the date of entry, a return or onward air ticket and no criminal record. For longer stays and other nationalities you can check information on various visa requirements at the Taiwanese legation in your home country, or on the BoCA website: wwww.boca.gov.tw. The site also outlines the procedures for changes of visa status, such as from student to resident.
Embassies and consulatesDue to the pressures of the “One China Policy” only 23 states have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan under its official name Republic of China. These states have proper embassies in Taipei, and likewise Taiwan has full missions in their capitals under the ROC name. Most other countries are represented in Taipei by a “trade and cultural” or “commerce and industry” office. Despite such names, however, these offices provide the same services as all other embassies and consulates.
Similarly, Taiwan is represented in most countries by consular, information and trade offices, but adding to the confusion is the fact that most don’t have “Taiwan” or “Republic of China” in their names; caving in to pressure from the PRC, most countries insist that something such as “Taipei” is used instead.
Gay and lesbian travellersDespite the traditional underpinnings of Taiwanese society, homosexuality is no longer considered taboo and the general public view of gays and lesbians is far more progressive than that of most of its Asian neighbours. Though pockets of prejudice remain, public acceptance of homosexuality has grown markedly since the lifting of martial law in 1987, and there are now thriving gay communities in big cities such as Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung. The country’s legal stance towards homosexuals is widely considered the most advanced in Asia, with gays and lesbians enjoying most of the same freedoms as heterosexuals: there is no law against sodomy, and homosexual behaviour between consenting adults over the age of 16 in private is legal. In 2003, the government proposed legislation that would legalize same-sex marriages and allow homosexual couples to adopt children (it’s since been stalled thanks to opposition in the legislature).
Much of this public enlightenment has been the result of a concerted drive by Taiwan’s homosexual community, which boasts more than thirty gay and lesbian organizations. The country’s first gay pride festival was held in 1997 at the 2-28 Peace Park, a popular night-time cruising spot for gay men, and what was hailed as the first gay rights parade in the Chinese-speaking world was held in Taipei in 2003. Around 25,000 people attended the Taiwan Pride parade in 2009, making it the largest LGBT event in Asia. It usually takes place in Taipei at the end of October (wwww.twpride.info).
Indeed, Taipei has become a magnet for overseas gay tourists, elevating the city’s status from the gay capital of Taiwan to a top gay destination for all of Asia. While the capital undoubtedly has the most sophisticated gay scene, with numerous bars, clubs and saunas specifically catering to gays and lesbians, such venues are springing up in other major cities and same-sex couples are commonly seen in mainstream social establishments as well. Given this openness, gay and lesbian travellers should easily find places to hang out: some of the best-known venues in Taipei have information on gay clubs in other cities and often can provide you with their business cards. For current information on gay life in Taiwan check out wwww.utopia-asia.com/tipstaiw.htm or wwww.outintaiwan.com.
HealthAs one of Asia’s most highly developed destinations, Taiwan on the whole doesn’t present many significant health risks for foreign travellers and residents – most visitors will find that using the same precautions they exercise in their home countries will be more than enough to keep them healthy during their stays and the worst you’ll face is stomach upsets, dehydration and heat stroke. Medical facilities in the big cities are of a high standard, although English-language abilities vary so if you don’t speak Chinese you may need the help of someone who does.
There are pharmacies in all Taiwanese towns, and most of them are of a high standard and offer a similar range of products to those in Western countries. Near the prescription windows there are sometimes counters offering treatment advice for a variety of ailments, but usually little if any English is spoken at these. In emergencies, you may wind up having to play a slightly embarrassing game of charades, acting out your ailment and pointing to the affected area – in such cases, the Taiwanese are invariably earnest and will try to help you without showing the faintest trace of amusement. Most pharmacies have a wide range of antibiotics.
There are public health clinics in most towns, and they generally are of a reasonable standard and can offer diagnoses and provide medication for most non-emergency conditions. Seeing a doctor at public clinics or hospitals is not expensive (NT$300–400), but you’ll be expected to pay first and then make the claim to your insurance company later. Private clinics in Taipei, where most staff will speak English, can be much more expensive: expect to pay NT$1200 or more just to see a doctor.
For emergencies and serious illnesses, you should go to a hospital – all major towns have them, although if you have time, you should try to get to a major city as their hospitals are usually of a higher quality and there is a greater likelihood that English will be spoken. The best hospitals are in Taipei, but Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan, Taitung, Chiayi and Hualien all have adequate hospitals. At these, you’ll also be expected to pay on the spot for treatment and make your own insurance claim later.
Dengue feverThere is no malaria in Taiwan, but dengue fever – a mosquito-borne viral disease whose symptoms are similar to malaria – has been a resurgent problem in recent years, in both rural areas and cities. There have been cases of dengue all over Taiwan, but over the past two decades it has been more common in the south, particularly in Kaohsiung and Pingdong counties. Outbreaks tend to occur after summer rains, when pools of standing water stagnate, creating breeding grounds for the aedes aegypti. The peak period is June to September, but increasingly cases are occurring earlier in the year as temperatures get warmer.
There is no vaccine, nor are there any prophylactics against the disease, so the only way to prevent it is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. The aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmit dengue bite day and night, so you should use insect-avoidance measures at all times. Also known as “break bone fever”, the onset of the disease is characterized by severe joint pain that gives way to high fever, sweating and pounding headaches. Some people may also develop a rash over their torso and limbs. There’s no cure, but bed rest is recommended while the symptoms run their course, and paracetamol can help the headache. The symptoms usually subside after several days of rest, but they can return intermittently over the following few weeks. Although dengue is not life-threatening to adults, a more virulent strain called dengue haemorrhagic fever primarily affects young children and can be dangerous for infants.
SARS and “bird flu”In 2003, Taiwan had the world’s third-highest number of confirmed cases (346) of the potentially lethal SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus. It also had the fourth-highest number of deaths, at 37, according to World Health Organisation figures (many of the infected were hospital workers). There have been no confirmed cases of SARS in Taiwan since June 2003.
Outbreaks of avian influenza, an infectious disease of birds caused by type A flu strains, have continued however. Although the so-called “bird flu” usually only infects birds and pigs, the number of humans being infected with a mutated form of the virus has been rising, especially in countries such as China and Vietnam, and there also have been cases in Taiwan. Most travellers aren’t at much risk of bird flu, unless they visit commercial or backyard poultry farms or markets selling live birds such as chickens, geese, ducks, pigeons and wild waterfowl.
The H1N1 Virus (so-called “swine flu”) pandemic in 2009 also affected Taiwan, with around forty people dying of the illness by mid-2010, but far fewer than in many Western countries.
Since the SARS outbreak, the practice of wearing surgical masks when suffering from colds and flu has become much more common in Taiwan.
InsuranceIt’s essential to take out an insurance policy before travelling to Taiwan, as much to cover against theft and loss or damage to property as for illness and accidental injury. A typical travel insurance policy usually provides cover for the loss of baggage, tickets and – up to a certain limit – cash or cheques, as well as cancellation or curtailment of your journey. Most of them exclude injuries caused by so-called dangerous sports unless an extra premium is paid, and it’s crucial to ensure that any borderline activities you’re likely to engage in are covered. In Taiwan, this can mean cycling, mountain biking (trail riding), paragliding, river tracing, rock climbing, scuba diving, surfing (especially during storms), white-water rafting, windsurfing and even trekking. Given the likelihood that you’ll find yourself driving or riding on the back of a motorcycle or scooter while travelling round Taiwan – especially if you plan to visit any offshore islands – you should make sure this activity is covered as well. If you need to make a claim, you should keep receipts for medicines and medical treatment, including copies of signed medical reports clearly stating the diagnosis and prescribed treatment, in English if possible. In the event you have anything stolen, you’ll need to visit the nearest police station and file a report for stolen property. Although this can be complicated in small towns where little English is spoken, police stations in the biggest cities usually have somebody on hand who can speak some English.
Finally, if your trip to Taiwan is part of a longer, multi-country journey, make sure that your policy covers Taiwan in the first place: some insurers will not provide coverage for Taiwan owing to perceptions of military-political risk.
InternetTaiwan is one of the world’s biggest users of the internet, although most surfing is done via home computers and laptops, so internet cafés are not as common as might be expected. If you’re travelling with your laptop and have cash to splash out on mid-range to business-class hotels, then getting a high-speed connection in your room shouldn’t be a problem, although five-star hotels often charge formidable amounts for this service.
In the more touristy bits of Taiwan, there are usually internet cafés. However, in most places – even in the big cities – you may be forced to enter the grisly world of the Taiwanese computer game centre. At these, you are likely to find a high-speed internet connection but you’ll have to endure the background noises of automatic gunfire and enough secondhand cigarette smoke to make the Marlboro Man suffocate. Prices vary among computer game centres, but in general most charge about NT$25–30 per hour (double this in Taipei) and usually offer discounts for multiple-hour use.
Another option, though one that takes some planning, is to visit a local library. Internet access at these is usually free for a specified period of time (typically about an hour), but you might have to queue up for a terminal so it’s best to turn up early in the day to put your name on the waiting list.
For unlimited Wi-Fi on the go whilst travelling Taiwan, buy a Skyroam Solis, which works in 130+ countries at one flat daily rate, paid for on a pay-as-you-go basis. You can connect up to five devices at once. Prices start from as little as €5 a day.
Living in TaiwanTaiwan has long attracted foreigners to work or study. Teaching English is by far the most common form of employment, though in recent years the trend seems to be reversing, apparently owing to a decrease in demand for English lessons. Though it’s certainly harder to make a decent living teaching in Taiwan these days, there are still plenty of jobs for the determined. Unlike places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, where teachers with English accents are preferred, in Taiwan it is the North American accent that is almost universally desired, so Americans and Canadians comprise the majority of teachers. However, there are plenty of teachers from countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and if English is your first language it shouldn’t be too hard to land a job.
Although it’s possible to source jobs from your home country before you leave, it can be difficult to determine the legitimacy of the company from overseas and most teachers recommend that you simply pick the place where you most want to live and turn up to look for work – most towns and cities have English-language schools. In general, the best times to look are towards the end of summer and just after the Lunar New Year.
It’s possible to teach a wide variety of age groups in Taiwan, from kindergarteners singing English songs to businessmen looking to refine their formal English skills. However, probably the most plentiful job opportunities are with the ubiquitous bushiban (after-hours cram schools, mostly for teenagers). While these night-time language centres are a major employer of English teachers, many foreigners have found teaching overworked and exhausted high-school kids to be depressing.
Qualifications, work visas and payTo teach legally, you must have a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent from an accredited university in an English-speaking country. It’s not imperative to have TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) or TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification, but it will bolster your credentials and make your job easier and more rewarding – in some cases it might also put you into a higher pay bracket.
Once you’ve found work and signed a contract, your school will apply for your work visa, which will qualify you for an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) and basic health insurance. However, Australians and New Zealanders aged 18 to 30 are eligible to apply for a working holiday visa that allows them to engage in part-time work while they travel for up to one year. Canadians aged 18 to 35 can also apply for one-year visas (US$100) through the aegis of the Youth Mobility Program. Contact the Taiwan representative offices in your country for more details.
Many schools pay on a monthly basis, so you may have to wait for your first payment and should come with enough money to live on for at least one month (at least NT$40,000). How much you get paid will depend on the number of hours you work per week and the hourly rate. Most jobs pay NT$600–700 per hour, with the amount of hours worked anywhere from fourteen to thirty; figure on earning NT$40,000 to NT$60,000 per month. Many teachers supplement their incomes – and try to dodge taxes – by taking side jobs that pay cash under the table, such as private tutoring. However, in the unlikely event that you are caught doing this, you are almost certain to be kicked out of the country.
The cost of a room in a pre-furnished shared flat varies widely, but in general they range from NT$5000–12,000 per month in the big cities; one-bedroom apartments will be N$8000–15,000, and over NT$20,000 per month in Taipei.
Useful websitesThe following websites have job listings, flats for rent and regularly updated information on issues affecting English teachers in Taiwan: wwww.tealit.com; wwww.forumosa.com. Another useful site with information for English teachers around the world, including Taiwan job postings, is wwww.daveseslcafe.com.
Mailboxes come in two colours: the red box is where you post overseas mail (in the left-hand slot) and Taiwan express mail (in the right-hand slot). Green boxes are for domestic surface mail and local city mail.
Poste restante services are available at the main post offices of the large cities. Letters should be addressed to GPO Poste Restante, together with the city name – be sure to use the romanization for city names that is used in this book. They’ll keep mail for fifteen days for free before they start adding daily charges.
MoneyTaiwan’s currency is the New Taiwan Dollar (NT$) or xīntáibì, although it’s usually referred to by the generic Mandarin terms yuán or kuài. Notes come in denominations of NT$100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000, while coins come in units of NT$0.5 (rare), 1, 5, 10, 20 and 50. You may also come across old cent coins (fēn), but these have become outmoded and prices are always quoted in dollar amounts. The exchange rate has been fairly steady at around NT$32–34 to the US dollar for a number of years now; at the time of writing it was NT$50 to the pound and NT$41 to the euro. You can check current exchange rates at wwww.xe.com. Note that foreign currencies will almost never be accepted in Taiwan.
Almost all cities and towns have ATMs from which travellers can withdraw funds using bank debit or credit cards – this is by far the most convenient and safe method of obtaining cash for daily expenses. Though some ATMs are only for domestic bank account holders, many of them support international systems such as Accel, Cirrus, Interlink, Plus and Star (always check for the correct logo). The most common ATMs – and the most useful to foreigners – are those of Chinatrust Commercial Bank, which allow cash advances from major credit cards and can be found in 7-Eleven convenience stores throughout the country. Other banks with ATMs that recognize international debit or credit cards are Bank of Taiwan and International Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). Citibank and HSBC also have branches in Taiwan’s five biggest cities. Most hotels accept credit card payment, with Visa and MasterCard the most widely accepted. American Express and Diners Club also are fairly commonly recognized, though this is more the case in the big cities. Stores in most cities will accept credit card payment, although in many rural areas this is not possible.
Private moneychangers are rare in Taiwan, and if you need to exchange foreign currency you’ll probably have to do so in a bank – in most towns, Bank of Taiwan will have a foreign exchange counter, and branches are usually centrally located. The most widely accepted currency for exchange in Taiwan is US dollars, followed by Japanese yen, British pounds and Hong Kong dollars.
Travellers’ cheques are becoming increasingly outmoded in Taiwan and are probably more trouble than they’re worth if the island is your only destination. Those cut in US dollars are the easiest to cash.
PhonesDomestic calls are easily made from private and public telephones; the latter come in two types: coin and card. Though there are still a few coin booths around, most of them only take NT$1, NT$5 and NT$10 coins, and with local calls costing NT$2 for up to two minutes (NT$6 for two-minute calls to mobile phones) you need a stack of coins to make it worth your while. Far more common these days are card phones (prepaid phone cards can be bought in convenience stores), and the ones marked with yellow can be used for both domestic and international calls. You also can make an overseas direct-dial call by first keying in t002, followed by the country code, area code and number. It’s possible to call via an international operator on t100, but this is very expensive. English directory assistance is on t106 and costs NT$10 per call. For domestic calls, there is no need to dial the area code when making calls within the same area code.
Mobile phonesYour mobile phone may already be compatible with the Taiwanese network, which is GSM 900MHz/1800MHz (visitors from North America should ensure their phones are GSM/Triband and have the appropriate MHz capabilities).
Buying a SIM cardAssuming you bring your GSM phone with you to Taiwan, you’ll save on roaming charges by purchasing a local GSM-standard SIM card, which gives you a new number for use within Taiwan, and allows you to pay-as-you-go (for longer stays it’s even cheaper to sign a contract and pay monthly). Regulations seem to change frequently, so the best strategy is to visit a mobile service provider store on arrival. Chunghwa Telecom, FarEasTone and Taiwan Cellular are the biggest service providers, and all have desks at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (most close by 9pm). These stores can also rent you a handset. If you miss the airport desks and can’t find one of their stores elsewhere (usually located in most cities), 7-Eleven and hypermarket chain Carrefour also sell SIM cards through their MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) agreements with FarEasTone and Chunghwa respectively. However, not all 7-Elevens seem to offer this service (especially outside Taipei); find a branch of Carrefour, or look for a 7-Eleven where one of the clerks speaks English – as long as it’s not busy, they’ll usually be happy to walk you through the process.
Getting a SIM card can be tough for non-residents, as mobile providers usually insist on an ARC card number, work permit or local driver’s licence; if you have an international driver’s licence or at least two pieces of photo ID (some will accept your regular driving licence), that should suffice. You could also ask a local friend to provide these details for you (though they will be called by the phone company to verify). In addition to the ID, the application involves filling out a form and providing a photocopy of your passport. SIM cards (with air-time) can be bought for as little as NT$600, and your new Taiwan number is usually activated within 24 hours. Taiwanese SIM cards allow you to receive incoming calls for free; you’re only charged for the calls you make.
SmokingLung cancer has long been a leading cause of death in Taiwan, and in 2009 the government implemented some of the most stringent anti-smoking laws in Asia. Smoking is banned in all indoor public places, including transport systems, hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and bars, though the latter can get round this if they have open-air areas or smoking rooms with independent ventilation, completely separated from the non-smoking sections (bars that open after 9pm are also exempt). Plans have been slated to ban smoking while driving and even walking on the street.
Studying ChineseForeigners have been coming to Taiwan to learn Chinese for decades, with many claiming that Taipei is the best place in the world to study Mandarin, as the version spoken here is far more intelligible than the heavily accented drawls of the Beijing dialect, for example. Be aware, however, that if you study in central or southern Taiwan – places where the Taiwanese dialect is commonly spoken – you are likely to hear highly corrupted forms of Mandarin in your daily activities, and this can seriously complicate the learning process.
TimeTaiwan is eight hours ahead of GMT throughout the year, the same as Beijing, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. Daylight-saving time is not observed.
TippingOn the whole, tipping at restaurants, bars and in taxis is not expected, although this is changing slowly in big-city districts. When you’re travelling round the country you’ll rarely be expected to tip, except perhaps in the occasional Western-oriented establishment, particularly those run by North American expats. Even then, many of these will levy a ten-percent service charge on your bill, obviating the need for any further gratuity. In some areas, such as Taipei’s university district, you may receive a bill pointing out that a ten-percent service charge is not included, indicating that some sort of tip is expected.
Tourist informationTaiwan’s Tourism Bureau (wwww.go2taiwan.net) operates a number of overseas branches, with offices in Australia and the US offering basic leaflets on Taiwan’s best-known attractions. There also are tourism offices scattered across Asia, with those in Hong Kong and Singapore offering the best range of English-language materials.
In Taiwan itself, reliable English information is a pretty mixed bag, especially considering the formidable number of tourist information centres around the island. Most of the material is simply translated directly from the original Chinese version, with literal interpretations that are more likely to leave tourists revelling in their literary merit than their usefulness. The most useful information sources are the visitor centres of the national parks and scenic areas, which often have educational overviews with English labelling and free pamphlets. Published under the auspices of the tourism bureau, the glossy bi-monthly Travel in Taiwan (wissuu.com/travelintaiwan) contains features on a variety of travel destinations and is worth seeking out. The free publication, which has calendars of events throughout the country, is available in many tourist information centres.
Travellers with disabilitiesTaiwan is making progress when it comes to accessible tourism, though overall the country remains woefully unequipped to accommodate travellers with disabilities. A good place to start is the Eden Social Welfare Foundation (t02/2578-4515, wengweb.eden.org.tw), which specializes in helping people with disabilities in Taiwan. Eden operates a network of wheelchair-accessible buses – if you don’t speak Chinese, someone at the foundation should be able to help you hook up with these. You should also get in touch with the Taiwan Access for All Association (t02/2620-9944, wtwaccess4all.wordpress.com), which has a special focus on accessible tourism; they can arrange hotels, transport, wheelchair rentals, assistants and organize excellent nature tours and day-trips all over the island, with English-speakers on hand as guides.
All stations and trains on the Taipei MRT (subway) are handicap-accessible, with special restrooms, ramps, elevators, extra-wide ticket gates and designated wheelchair areas on the trains. The Kaohsiung MRT has similar facilities. Most of the bigger hotels in Taipei can comfortably accommodate disabled travellers – Sherwood, Fullerton and Grand Hyatt among them. Major sights in Taipei shouldn’t provide too many hassles: the National Palace Museum has handicapped-accessible restrooms and elevators, and getting around Taipei 101 and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial is relatively straightforward.
However, most city streets and sidewalks pose formidable challenges, with consistently uneven pavements, steep inclines, steps and few access ramps to be found. Most of the older buildings remain frustratingly inaccessible for those with walking disabilities, and beyond Taipei, travelling will be tough going without the help of the above organizations.