If you’re travelling as a foreigner in Taiwan, it’s a good idea to brush up on the local etiquette, cultural norms and other travel knowledge before you arrive. For example, did you know that Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China (ROC), not to be confused with this South Asian island nation’s far larger neighbour, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), about a 100-mile boat ride to the west?
Fortunately, perhaps the most helpful piece of Taiwan travel advice you can read is that it’s generally a very friendly, polite country, with locals who’re used to tourists and happy to help. So long as you use your common sense and you’re polite in kind, you’re likely to have an enjoyable, stress-free time. This is the case whether you’re exploring the famous night markets, hiking in Taroko National Park, or sunbathing on the beaches of Kenting on the island’s southern tip.
In the following guide, we’ll examine everything you need to know before visiting Taiwan, from the local currency to the electrical sockets, restaurant etiquette, how to behave on the MRT (metro) and how to dress so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb. So grab yourself a bubble tea (or imagine drinking one once you arrive!) and dive into our top travel tips.
Also, to obtain your travel pass to enter the country, visit our page about Taiwan’s visas.
- 1 Language in Taiwan
- 2 Currency / Money
- 3 Taiwan Travel Tips: Use Cards or Cash?
- 4 Climate / Weather (Best Time to Travel to Taiwan)
- 5 Electrical Sockets (Taiwan Travel Adaptor / Plug)
- 6 Useful Contact Numbers
- 7 Transport
- 8 Taiwanese Food Culture / Restaurants
- 9 Interacting with the Locals / Fitting In
- 10 Taiwan Travel Safety
- 11 Other Miscellaneous Handy Advice
Language in Taiwan
If you’re wondering ‘What do they speak in Taiwan?’, it’s Taiwanese Mandarin. With this in mind, it’s advisable to learn at least a few basic words while you’re there, which the locals will appreciate both as a sign of interest in their culture and of respect. To start with, here are the fundamentals:
|I’m sorry / excuse me
|bù hǎo yìs
|boo haow eeh-si
|bú yòng xiè
|boo yong sheh
|okay / sure
|how much is it?
|duō shǎo qián?
|doo-oh show-chee an?
Fortunately, though, English is widely spoken too, especially among the younger generations who these days learn it in school. So if you need directions or want to ask something else, you can feel comfortable doing so. Even if they don’t understand you, they’ll either politely indicate this or, if it’s someone really kind and helpful, find someone who can answer you.
In most public places, such as the MRT (metro), signs are written in Mandarin and English, so you should be able to navigate your way around with ease. The only exceptions are local restaurants and other smaller shops, where the items and menus may only be in Mandarin. In these cases, you’ll either have to point to what you want or, if you’re looking for something in particular, consider buying a visual dictionary so you can show a picture to the staff member.
Currency / Money
The official currency of Taiwan is the New Taiwanese Dollar (TWD). It’s quite a stable currency, which means that its value mostly sticks around 1 USD to 30 TWD. This gives you a useful comparison point for working out your Taiwan travel budget while you’re here.
For example, if you’ve got a budget of, say, 50 USD a day, you can feel confident that that’s equivalent to roughly 1,500 USD, because the Taiwanese dollar’s value is mostly fairly stable.
The notes (paper money) in Taiwan appear in the following denominations:
- 100 TWD
- 200 TWD
- 500 TWD
- 1,000 TWD
- 2,000 TWD (although this note is less common)
Meanwhile, you’ll find the following coins:
- 1 TWD
- 5 TWD
- 10 TWD
- 20 TWD (that said, these coins are comparatively rare)
- 50 TWD
Officially, the TWD also divides into 100 cents although, in practice, you’ll never see coins below 1 TWD nor prices that include cents. After all, 1 Taiwanese dollar is already equivalent to just 0.035 USD, so to issue coins in cents too would be worth next to nothing! (That said, 1 Vietnamese dong is worth just 0.000043 USD, so there are definitely more devalued currencies out there!)
Taiwan Travel Tips: Use Cards or Cash?
Unlike many other developed parts of the world these days, cash remains king in Taiwan. You may be able to pay using your debit or credit card in major hotels, shops and restaurants, but in most smaller, local establishments you’ll be expected to pay with physical money. Moreover, if you try to pay with your foreign plastic, there’s a fair chance it may be rejected!
With this in mind, it’s worth calculating your budget for your trip to Taiwan, then shopping around to find the best exchange rate into TWD before you arrive. The advantage of exchanging currencies in advance of your trip is that you’ve got ample time to compare exchange rates, whereas once you’re in Taiwan you’ll need TWD immediately. So this is a nice tip to both save you a few bob and help you relax.
Fortunately, if you find yourself without cash in Taiwan or the TWD you exchange in advance runs out, there are ample ATMs dotted throughout the country, particularly in urban areas.
To minimise the fees you pay for taking out cash with a foreign card, it can be worthwhile to take out as much cash as you think you’ll need for the remainder of your trip. This way, you only have to use the ATM sparingly. Of course, if you take out a significant amount of cash, consider storing some of it in your hotel safe rather than carrying it all around with you!
Climate / Weather (Best Time to Travel to Taiwan)
Taiwan is a comfortable country to visit at any time of year. Even in the winter months of mid-December to early March, the temperature rarely drops below 12-13°C (53-55°F). Meanwhile, in the summer months of early June to mid-December, it’s unusual for the heat to exceed 30-31°C (86-88°F).
So depending on where you’re from, you may be used to far hotter or cooler climates. You may amaze the locals by walking around in a t-shirt in January, while they’re all bundled up in their thick coats and scarves!
That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s liable to rain in Taiwan all year round. In the driest months of November to January, you may still encounter rainfall of around 94mm per day. During the wettest period of June to August, the country’s monsoon season, rain levels can go up to 284.50mm per day.
As such, it’s worth bringing an umbrella with you on your trip. In fact, many locals are always seen outdoors with theirs and, if you find yourself caught in the rain without one, they may offer it to you!
As you’d expect, it’s best to plan your visit to Taiwan based on the seasons. If your goal is to spend several days exploring Taroko National Park, it’s common sense to come outside of the monsoon season. On the other hand, if you’re attracted by the idea of catching some rays on the beaches of Kenting National Park, in the very south, then the sun’s generally shining there at any time of year.
Even if you find yourself in a shower, never fear. Taiwan boasts a surfeit of shops, restaurants, museums and cultural experiences for you to explore and enjoy, all indoors.
Here’s a brief guide to what you can expect to enjoy in each of Taiwan’s 4 seasons:
- Spring (early March to late May). This is the island’s cherry blossom season. Meanwhile, the famous Spring Scream music festival is on April’s first weekend.
- Summer (early June to mid-September). This is when Taiwan heads to the beach! Meanwhile, in June there’s Taiwan Computex, the largest IT convention in Asia.
- Autumn (mid-September to mid-December). Autumn is the favoured season for cyclists on the island, while the Mid-Autumn Festival is a big traditional event.
- Winter (mid-September to early March). The Lunar New Year festivities take place in late January in early February, and you may wish to visit a geothermal hot spring!
Electrical Sockets (Taiwan Travel Adaptor / Plug)
To the surprise of many North American visitors, Taiwan uses the same plugs as the United States and Canada. Namely, these are 110 V / 60 Hz with 2-pronged A and B sockets. So if you’re visiting from the USA or (as Canada’s affectionately known) the Great White North, you can plug in your electrical devices right away without needing an adaptor, which is nice!
If you’re a visitor from elsewhere in the world, such as the UK or continental Europe, you’ll need at least one adaptor. You can buy this in your home country in advance, at the airport or when you arrive.
Useful Contact Numbers
So long as you use your common sense, you’ll enjoy a pleasant, stress-free time in Taiwan. That said, it’s always a good idea to know a few of the country’s contact numbers, like the tourist hotline or the police, just in case the unexpected should happen. Here they are:
|Tourist Information Hotline
|Taoyuan International Airport Tourist Service Center
|Fire Department and Ambulance Service
|Directory Assistance (English)
If you’re calling these numbers from outside Taiwan, the international dial code is +886.
Taiwan boasts an excellent public transport system, and the locals are famously proud of the capital Taipei’s MRT (metro), reportedly one of the best in the world. Here’s everything you’ll need to know about getting around, from obtaining a transport card to following MRT etiquette.
Pick Up an EasyCard
Wondering how to travel around Taiwan? Well, in most cases, the EasyCard is the answer. It’s Taiwan’s public transport card, compatible with the metro systems of Taipei, Taoyuan Airport and Kaohsiung City, plus most city and inter-city bus routes nationwide. What’s more, you can even use it to pay in franchise convenience shops like 7-11 and FamilyMart.
You can get the EasyCard either at the airport, at any MRT station or the aforementioned franchise shops. You simply obtain the card, top it up with the amount you wish, then use it as need be.
The chief advantage of the EasyCard is that it enables you to pay for and use Taiwan’s public transport instantly. The alternative is to pay for each journey individually, in which case you may spend a lot of time searching through loose change – which, on the buses, must be exact!
The card itself costs 100 TWD (a bit over 3 USD), and you can top it up with 100 – 500 TWD.
No Eating or Drinking on the MRT
If you’re visiting Taiwan from many other countries, you probably wouldn’t blink if you saw someone eating or drinking on the metro (although you might object if it’s something especially smelly). However, in Taiwan it’s illegal to consume foods or beverages on the MRT and you can be fined if you’re caught. This includes drinking water! One thing you’ll notice about Taiwan’s metro is that it’s spotlessly clean and the locals like it that way.
Don’t Talk (Loudly) on Public Transportation
Another thing you’ll notice when you catch the metro or bus in Taiwan is that people travel in virtual silence. It’s an unspoken (haha) rule, so as a visitor it’s best to follow suit. If you’re travelling with friends or family and you talk too loudly, you may well receive some dirty looks. This includes talking on the phone too. So the best bet is to wait until you’re back in the street to resume your conversation.
Leave the Reserved Seats for the Elderly, Pregnant or Disabled
Like many public transport systems around the world, Taiwan’s metro and buses have reserved seats for those who especially deserve a sit-down, like the elderly and disabled. In this country, these reserved seats are typically dark coloured compared to the other seats.
However, unlike in other countries, unless these seats are intended for you then you must keep them empty, even if the train or bus is otherwise full. If you have a disability that’s not obvious, you can ask at the MRT stations for a sticker so that you can use these seats.
Walk on the Left, Stand on the Right
As you may have gathered by now, a lot of the etiquette in Taiwan is to do with public transport! Another convention is that, when using the escalators on the MRT, you walk on the left-hand side and stand on the right.
If you’re holding a conversation with someone, you should both stand on the right one step next to each other so that people on the left who’re in more of a hurry can walk past. If you stand on the left, you risk causing a human traffic jam!
Follow the Yellow Lines, and Let Others Off First
On Taiwan’s metro, there are yellow lines that show you where to queue for your train, so be sure to follow these. When your train arrives, let others off first and move to the least-crowded part of the train. Follow these rules and you’ll be a true MRT hero!
On Inter-City Train Journeys, Consider Taking the Scenic Route
Many railway routes in Taiwan offer 2 trains: the fast one and the slow one. If your time on the island is limited, you should of course take the fast train to get to your destination as quickly as possible. On the other hand, if you’ve got time on your hands or you prefer a more contemplative form of travel, you can take the slower route. You’ll see more of Taiwan and save some money in the process, as the slower route is typically cheaper.
Taiwanese Food Culture / Restaurants
Taiwanese food is one of the things that foreign visitors to this country often rave about. It’s reportedly cheap and delicious. So to whet your appetite, and to make sure you dine according to the local etiquette, here are our tasty tips that won’t leave you gnashing your teeth.
Try the Bubble Tea!
Bubble tea, a sort of sugary iced tea, is the most famous of Taiwan’s drinks. It’s ubiquitous, cheap and tastes great, so you’ve got to try it — probably repeatedly if you’re like most visitors!
Most bubble tea establishments have English menus and, failing that, you can always point at the flavour you want. When you order, you’ll typically be asked 2 things: (1) how much ice you want, and (2) how much sugar you want. You may just wish to ask for ‘normal’ amounts the first time to see how the locals drink it, although be aware that bubble tea is usually very sweet, so if you prefer little sugar, ask for that.
Eat at the Night Markets
Taiwan’s night markets are another thing that tourists frequently speak highly of. Here you’ll find all sorts of stalls, from gift shops selling weird and wonderful souvenirs to a variety of food joints.
These are a great option to eat cheaply and try a large variety of things. Unlike in some other Asian countries, Taiwan’s food is typically clean and safe to eat, so you’re unlikely to suffer stomach upsets after eating it as a foreigner. Stand-out dishes include:
- Bao (a yeasty bun with lots of types of filling)
- Dim sum (a range of smaller dishes, ideal for eating alone or with others)
- Ice cream burritos
- Pepper buns (sesame seed buns, typically filled with meat and onions)
- Pineapple cake
- Snake (yes, snake!)
It’s perfectly acceptable to eat and drink while walking around the night markets.
At Restaurants, Order, Pay and Eat
When you go to restaurants in many countries, the convention is to order, eat and then pay. In Taiwan, however, it’s often the norm to order, pay and then eat. So keep this in mind! In practice, this way of doing things makes a lot of sense, as you don’t have to try and catch your waiter’s attention to ask for the bill after your meal. Instead, you can leave as soon as you’re done.
Don’t Stick Your Chopsticks Upright in the Bowls of Rice
When you eat at a restaurant here, it’s typically with chopsticks. As such, chopstick etiquette for Taiwan is as follows. You may be tempted to stick your sticks upright in the rice. It’s best to refrain though, as it’s a culinary faux pas. At best this will mark you out as a tourist and, at worst, might cause offence.
Don’t Tip Your Waiter
To answer the question “Do you tip in Taiwan?”, the answer is “No”. This is because the service staff here earn a living wage and, in fact, a tip could be considered rude. This may come as a surprise to you if you’re an American visitor, although, on the plus side, you don’t have to factor in the 15-20% extra that you’d normally add back home.
Try Food at the Convenience Stores
Unlike many countries, Taiwanese convenience stores such as 7-11 reportedly offer fresh, nutritious food and drinks. So if you’re trying to stay healthy, feel free to make a visit! You may find something delicious, surprising and nutrients-rich.
Most People Drink Bottled Water
The tap water in Taiwan is safe to drink only after boiling. As a result, most people drink bottled water and you should follow suit.
Interacting with the Locals / Fitting In
One of the best parts of travel here is the opportunity to immerse yourself in Taiwanese culture, meet the people and learn a little about how they live life. At the same time, in Taiwan, they have certain ways of doing things that it’s best to follow to ensure that you’re a responsible visitor. More travel tips, coming right up!
Hand Cash and Other Important Objects to People with Both Hands
This is one of the basic Taiwan customs. In much of South Asia, including here, it’s considered respectful to hand people important objects with both hands. For example, you do this when you pay with cash or debit/credit card, or when you’re exchanging business cards.
Don’t Start A Conversation About Politics
Taiwan’s political history with China is long and checkered. Although some countries officially recognise Taiwan as an independent country, others including the USA and UK only engage with its government on an unofficial basis. Meanwhile, China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, while Taiwan considers itself independent. This can be a tricky subject with locals, so it’s best to avoid it unless they broach it first.
Dress as You Normally Would, and Use Your Common Sense
If you’re wondering what to wear in Taiwan, you’ll be pleased to hear that this is a liberal country, so you can wear the clothes you normally would in your home country. It’s considered acceptable to walk around in sandals. Women can feel comfortable wearing shorts, mini-skirts, sleeveless tops or jewellery. In fact, young Taiwanese in particular invest a lot of time and energy in their personal style, as you’ll see!
That said, use your common sense too. If you’ve booked a table at an upscale restaurant, you should dress accordingly. If you wear a lot of leather, or have piercings and tattoos, you’re likely to stand out, just like you would in most places back home. What’s more, unlike in some other South Asian countries, it’s considered taboo to go barefoot in public here.
Keep a Polite, Friendly Distance when You Meet People
When you meet people for the first time here, it’s normal to wave or nod politely rather than to touch someone. This might be a culture shock for you if you’re used to a handshake, hug or, if you’re from a Mediterranean country like Spain or France, kissing the cheek(s)! It’s just the Taiwanese way so, as always, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”.
Wear Slippers Indoors
This is the case even in hotels and hostels. When you arrive, you’ll be offered slippers, so it’s best to remove your footwear and put these on. You’ll also need to take off your shoes when visiting temples and, particularly, when entering other people’s homes.
Taiwan Travel Safety
In general, you’ll experience no health and safety problems on your visit so long as you follow the tips set out in this article, such as drinking bottled water. To set your mind further at ease, here are a few more things that are good to know.
It’s Perfectly Okay to Travel Solo in Taiwan
If you’re thinking of visiting by yourself, or coming here first until your friends and family arrive, you can feel comfortable doing so. In general, foreigners in Taiwan feel very secure here exploring alone, whether you’re male or female. As a rule, the locals are polite and friendly.
Gay Travel in Taiwan Is Widely Accepted
This is one of the most liberal, progressive countries in Asia, and consensual same-sex activities are legal. There’s a lively, thriving gay scene of bars and saunas. In fact, many gay-focused websites consider the island the most LGBTI-friendly country in the whole continent, so you can feel fully at ease visiting here with your partner.
Taiwan Is Near a Tectonic Plate Fault Line
It’s worth noting that there’s a fault line off the island’s east coast separating the Philippine Sea Plate and the Eurasian Sea Plate. As such, this country is occasionally subject to earthquakes. Most of these are so small that you don’t even notice them and, in fact, Taiwan hasn’t experienced a major earthquake (measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale or higher) since 2006.
That said, it’s something to be aware of and, when you enter a building, you may wish to scope out the emergency exits. In addition, while booking flights, you may wish to check if there’s recently been a Taiwan travel advisory.
Vaccinations for Taiwan Travel
This is a developed country, so you’ll need relatively few vaccinations to visit, if any. You may want to consult your doctor to ensure that you’re immunised against tetanus and hepatitis A. If you’re arriving from a country at risk of yellow fever, you’ll require a certificate showing you’ve been vaccinated to be allowed to enter.
Other Miscellaneous Handy Advice
By now we’ve covered most of the cultural norms and Taiwan etiquette you’ll need to navigate a variety of typical situations as a visitor here like a pro. There are a few other things to keep in mind, so we’ll just stick these here under ‘miscellaneous’.
Keep Your Receipts, or Hand Them to Locals
This is an odd one! To encourage businesses to record sales transactions and so reduce tax fraud, every receipt issued here has a lottery number. The winning numbers are drawn every 2 months, and prizes range from 200 TWD up to 10 TWD million (some 350,000 USD) if you match every number.
So be sure to keep your receipts, as you could both have a great time on the island and, if luck’s on your side, wind up significantly richer! Alternatively, be sure to give your receipts to a local before you go, as they’ll surely appreciate it.
Wifi Is Readily Available in Most Places
This is one of the most advanced nations in the world when it comes to wifi availability. Particularly in urban areas, the public network called iTaiwan is in range wherever you go. To access it, you just create an account online and get surfing.
That said, be aware that using public wifi can expose your data so, to protect yourself, it’s worth signing up for a VPN (Virtual Private Network) too. This hides your IP address and other confidential details.
Of course, if you prefer, most shops and restaurants also offer wifi. Alternatively, you can rent or buy a 4G wifi pocket device to get your internet fix. In brief, there are plenty of options!
Taiwan Hot Spring Etiquette
If you’re visiting the island in the winter, a great way to heat up is by visiting one of the natural hot springs, most famously in the area of Beitou!
That said, be aware that in most hot springs men and women bathe together, so you’ll need to bring a bathing suit. In addition, many hot springs are out in the open air, so to protect your eyes from the sun, it’s advisable to bring a hat or visor. Also, feel free to bring some soap and shampoo!
Taiwan Traditions and Beliefs
There are 2 main belief systems, Buddhism and Taoism, although there are also followers of Islam and Christianity, plus a few other groups. Incense is widely used in temples to show respect to the various deities worshipped.
Many inhabitants follow both Buddhism and Taoism together, accompanied by some of the beliefs of Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher — just to ‘confuse’ matters!
Lastly, this country is steeped in folklore and omens representing good and bad luck. Here are some fun traditions and beliefs to be aware of for when you visit:
- White is not favoured as a colour, so certainly never give white flowers as a gift! White is traditional at funerals only.
- Red is the colour most predominantly used at weddings.
- ‘Stinky Tofu’ is the glorious name of the national dish, commonly served at night markets and street stalls. Believe us, the smell is unforgettable!
- If you hear Beethoven’s’ ‘Fur Elise’ music, there will be a rubbish or garbage truck nearby. They play music constantly to remind residents to put out their rubbish. At Christmas, the trucks are likely to play Bing Crosby’s’ ‘White Christmas’.
- This was the first Asian country to legalise gay marriage.
With the guidance we’ve provided here you’ll be navigating Taiwan with ease. We hope you’ve found this article useful and, most importantly, that you have an excellent time on your visit. To learn more, read our article about international embassies in Taiwan. Xièxie!