Want to take a vacation in Taiwan?

Often thought of as the world’s hub for the manufacture of electronics, Taiwan has much more to offer. It boasts sweeping, mountainous forests, wide beaches that border pristine waters, tiny island getaways, and a marine subtropical climate perfect for water sports. These factors, along with a unique and vibrant culture make Taiwan an up and coming destination for vacationers throughout the world.


Getting in, out, and around


For US residents, an up to date passport is required and good for up to 90 days. If your passport is less than six months old, you may have to present a current passport photo and pay an entry fee of $184 USD. You are not required to get any vaccinations, however if you travel into the more rural regions or plan to stay for a lengthy period of time, it is a good idea to make sure you are vaccinated against Hepatitis B and Japanese Encephalitis.


The main airport, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, is located outside of Taipei and provides buses directly to nearby cities. Other options include ferry services to and from Fuzhou, China to the city of Matsu. Star cruises offers travel by boat to mainland China, Hong Kong, and Japan.


Transportation from city to city on the island is readily available via two train systems or by bus. In addition, Taipei boasts an extravagant metro system that makes it easy to get around within the city. In addition, there are numerous taxis available in all the major cities.


In order to rent a car and drive around yourself, you will need an international driver’s license, which is valid for 30 days in the country. Be aware that driving in Taiwan can be somewhat harrowing, since lanes are optional, and drivers make sudden turns and lane changes. Another popular option is motorized scooters, but be aware of your surroundings when you drive.


How much will this cost?


Taiwanese money comes in the form of the New Taiwanese Dollar. Depending on variations in the exchange rate, one US dollar translates to approximately NT$30. The New Taiwanese Dollar is commonly referred to as the yuán.


Goods and services in Taiwan are typically cheaper than their counterparts in mainland China, and make for an inexpensive vacation experience for Westerners. If you want to experience luxury in Taiwan, with all the amenities, expect to spend $100 to $250 USD per day. Budget travelers will find Taiwan to be an inexpensive paradise, where $20 USD a day will allow you to get by comfortably by making use of midweek prices at resorts and staying at dorms, hostels, and campsites on the weekends. Travelers with moderate tastes can expect to spend approximately $65 to $70 USD a day.


Since Taiwan is known for its manufacture of electronics, you can take advantage of local prices at the Information Technology Market in Taipei, but be sure to shop around for English language keyboards and adaptors suited for US electrical requirements. Where prices are not displayed, haggling is not only acceptable, but encouraged. Jade products are also popular in Taiwan, but beware of fakes when prices are not displayed and fixed.


For most services in Taiwan, tipping is unnecessary, although small tips are appreciated. Two exceptions to this are for hotel porters, where a tip of NT$100 is appropriate (approximately $3 USD), and at restaurants and bars operated by expatriate Westerners, where tipping is often expected. Most restaurants add a 10% surcharge to your bill, making tipping unnecessary.


The traveler’s tongue


The most commonly spoken language in Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese, although many speak Taiwanese as well, particularly in the southern part of the main island. Our line of Traveler’s Tongue language reference cards features Mandarin Chinese, which will help you navigate your way throughout the island. Many residents also speak English, particularly the younger generation and in the more highly populated cities of Taipei and Kaohsiung. Taiwan has recently gained a reputation for being a haven for US travelers looking to make a living teaching English, given the high demand for English speakers with a North American accent.


Climate and landscape


Taiwan features a marine subtropical climate that is humid year round. During the summer months, the temperature stays in the upper 80 degrees Fahrenheit, although a typhoon season corresponds with the summer months, which run from July to September. Prior to this, from May to June is a rainy season known throughout East Asia as Plum Rain. The winters (January and February) get somewhat cold with temperatures getting down to the lower forties in the northern part of the island and snow being visible in the mountains that run through the middle of the island. Despite the snow at the tops of the mountains in Taiwan, there are no ski resorts there.


Taiwan includes beaches, mountains, forests and rocky terrain. The west coast of Taiwan is the most densely populated, and the eastern side of the island tends to be more sparsely populated. You can find numerous public beaches on the northern part of the island, and these are especially enjoyable in the late summer through autumn (August through November).


Legal and cultural concerns


In Taiwan you will find some cultural mores that are helpful to know about. It’s customary among the younger generations (under the age of 30) to exchange small gifts to each other. However, certain objects should not be given because they have symbolic associations you may not be aware of. These include umbrellas, which signify a breakup; knives or other sharp objects, because of their association with harming others; and clocks, because the sound of the phrase “give a clock” in Mandarin sounds similar to the phrase “perform last rites.” Giving shoes to the elderly is also taboo because it signifies sending them to the afterworld. Usually to counteract these taboos, the recipient will offer a payment so that the object is not a “gift.” If you are given a gift, reciprocation does not have to be immediate and simplicity and modesty are the norm.


As in many other East Asian countries, wearing shoes inside a house is a no no. Typically, slippers are provided for guest beside the entrance to a house. Another similar cultural aspect is superstitions surrounding death. Consequently it is considered disrespectful to point at graves or cemeteries or discussing things associated with death. On that note, the Mandarin word for the number four sounds similar to the word for death. Other death-related taboos include writing a person’s Chinese name in red ink and whistling or ringing a bell at night, since these latter actions are considered an invitation to ghosts.


One potentially off-putting aspect of Taiwanese culture is the proliferation of a symbol that looks like the Nazi Swastika. This symbol is actually a Buddhist symbol and is completely unrelated to racism or the Nazi party. In fact, the Buddhist symbol looks like a swastika in reverse.


While indulging in alcoholic beverages is common, over-indulgence and public drunkenness is frowned upon in Taiwan. The legal drinking age is 18 in Taiwan.


Eating and drinking


Taiwanese cuisine is similar to cuisine styles found in mainland China, with regional styles of Beifang, Cantonese, Hunan, and Szechuan represented, but different regions in the island are also known for their specialty dishes. Tainan is the city most notable for its gourmet concoctions and is a must experience for anyone who enjoys fine dining. Because of the heavy influence of Buddhism, many Taiwanese restaurants cater to vegetarians, although many vegetarian dishes are bland compared with Westerner’s expectations. Most people eat food with chop sticks, but it is considered bad form to use your own chop sticks to serve food from a dish for the whole table. Instead, most restaurants also provide special serving spoons beside each table setting.


Tap water and ice are generally safe to drink in Taiwan although it is a good idea to drink water that has been filtered and boiled. Because Taiwan is located in an area with frequent earthquake activity, underground sewage pipes can become damaged. You can also find bottled water readily available, and vending machines for fruit juices and teas proliferate throughout Taiwan.


Tea drinking is widely popular in Taiwan with a wide variety of specialized teas and tea-based beverages such as bubble tea. Recently, the coffee drinking craze has reached Taiwan as well, and you can find coffee shops throughout the island.


Alcoholic beverages tend to be on the strong side. A popular grain alcohol drink unique to the region is called Kaoliang. It’s typically drunk straight. Rice wine is also popular and readily available. Beer is served cold and similar to popular American beers, but draft beer is relatively rare.


Vacationing in Taiwan offers great opportunities for US travelers for a fun and inexpensive trip.