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Taipei is the capital of Republic of China and the largest city on Taiwan, an island some 120 kilometers (75 miles) off the southeastern coast of China in East Asia. The island of Taiwan is about 390 kilometers long from north to south and 140 kilometers from east to west; the East China Sea lies to the north, the Philippine Sea to the east, the Luzon Strait to the direct south, the South China Sea to the southwest, and the Taiwan Strait to the west.
Taipei has a subtropical climate. According to recordings for August in the past 3 years, the monthly average daily mean temperature is ~29 C (~85 F), the daily max is ~33 C (~92 F), and the daily min is ~27 C (~80 F).
See also: Chinese for travelers Mandarin is the official language of the Republic of China and is spoken by just about everyone living in Taipei. English fluency is not widespread, but most professional and school-age individuals can communicate in basic English. Subway announcements are made in Chinese languages of Mandarin, Hokkien (Taiwanese), Hakka, and English. Signs on subways and busses are in Chinese and English, but bus signs along the road are in Chinese only. Taiwanese is the de-facto language of the traditional produce markets, though it is spoken is much less frequency than in parts of Taiwan outside Taipei. People old enough to have been educated during Japanese colonial era (pre-1945) can also speak Japanese.
Chinese characters used in Taipei are in the traditional form (like Hong Kong, unlike mainland China). Street signs are rendered in Hanyu Pinyin. Certain places for children, such as the Taipei Zoo, also use the Mandarin Phonetic Alphabet, which is used to help children learn Mandarin.
Taiwan is probably the most religiously tolerant place in the world. Taipei is rich in beautiful, ornate temples housing Buddhist, Taoist, and Chinese folk religion deities. Xinsheng South Road is known as the road to heaven because of its high concentration of churches as well as a mosque (literally called “Pure Truth Temple” in Chinese). Several blocks away from Xinsheng South Road is the beautiful, pristine Mormon Temple as well as the Vatican’s representative office.
Visitors will find many religious leaders in Taiwan to be less dogmatic in doctrine and more supportive of interfaith dialogue based on the common goal of peace among humanity. The Falun Gong freely meditate and express their political viewpoints in Taiwan: expect to occasionally see their advertisements. One may also occasionally see Tibetan monks strolling on the streets of Taipei.
Taipei is the melting pot of Chinese cuisine, the result of refugees from all provinces of mainland China settling in Taiwan after the end of the Chinese Civil War.
Starbucks and its competitors are ubiquitous in Taipei.
If you really cannot adjust to Chinese food in Taiwan, there is Subways, Burger King, McDonalds, Dominos, Pizza Hut, KFC, Long John's Silver, MOS burger, and so on.
Food courts can be found in the basement of any department store in Taipei.
See also Attractions
Taiwan has arguably the world's highest density of 24-hour convenience stores, providing all the basic necessities. The most common franchise chains include 7-Eleven, Family Mart, and Circle K (called OK in Taiwan).
Major chains include Watsons and Cosmed. Toiletries, over-the-counter medicine, dental care, and basic beauty products can be found here. Consider them to be the US equivalent of Long's Drug Store and Walgreens. Typical business hours: 10am-10pm.
The largest chain store is Wellcome. High end, premium supermarkets filled with foreign goods include Jason's, which can be found at the Taipei 101 shopping mall and City Super, which is located at the Zhongxiao-Fuxing MRT Station Sogo Department Store. Business hours varies. Selected Wellcome stores open 24 hours.
Department stores have high-end supermarkets and moderately priced food courts.
Stores with the largest collection of English books include Caves, Eslite, and Page One. With the notable exception of Caves, most bookstores wrap most bookstores wrap most English magazines and certain English books in plastic, preventing the customer from browsing them. See also Attractions for specialized bookstores.
See: Local transportation
Currency and foreign exchange
New Taiwan Dollars (NTD or NT$; Chinese: 新台幣) are the official currency of the Republic of China used within the areas of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu. The banknotes are in denominations of $2000, $1000, $500, $200, $100, and notes of $1000, $500 and $100 are more frequently used. The coins are in denominations of $50, $20, $10, $5, $1, and $0.5, and coins of $50, $10, $5 and $1 are more frequently used.
In Taipei, most of the department stores, chain bookstores, chain supermarkets/hypermarkets, and many of the restaurants accept credit cards. However, some of the shops, for example electronics/computer stores in the famous Guang-hua market, charge extra 5% to 8% tax and operation fee since the shop owners usually offer a tax-exclusive price to consumers. VISA and MasterCard are the most popular and useful cards, while only a few shops accept American Express, Diner's Club, or JCB.
Debit card is seldom applicable in Taiwan and not recommended at all.
There are many ATM booths in Taipei offer 24 hours service. Alongside those ATM outside the banks or post offices, you can also find ATMs in many of the chain convinient stores. Just check out the special signs outside the stores. Most of the ATMs in Taiwan offer bilingual menu in Chinese and in English.
International money transfers
Sales tax and refund
Taiwan uses a receipt system for all purchases, called the Uniform Invoice Receipt. A five percent hidden sales tax applies to all brick and mortar establishments.
Tips are not necessary or expected in Taiwan as there is already a ten percent service charge added. (except for baggages at hotel?)
Regulations and customs
See Visas for information on customs and immigration regulations.
Prohibited or limited items
- Animals, plants, etc...?
- Drugs, weapons, wild animals, fruits, piracy copies, ...?
- Tobacco...? 200 cigarettes or 25 cigars or 454 grams of tobacco, for use by travelers of 20 or older
- Alcoholic Liquor...? 1 liter
- Cash and valuables...?
Recently several politicians got into trouble for smoking pot and had to make public apologies. Poppy seeds for baking purposes is strictly prohibited even though such seeds have been processed to make them unable to germinate.
For more information, consult
Minimal age for consumption of alcohol and smoking
No one under eighteen may purchase alcohol or tobacco. Taiwan does not have as strong of a beer culture as the United States.
Smoking in public space
Buses, the MRT Metro system, fast food restaurants, and most family-oriented establishments provide a smoke free environment.
Plastic shopping bags
Major grocery, convenience, and drug stores are prohibited from providing plastic shopping bags unless you pay a NT$1-2 penalty per shopping bag. Additionally, clerks and cashiers will assume that you brought an environmental bag. Bakeries and restaurants are exempted from this rule.
Pets from rabies-infested countries need to endure a minimum 21 day quarantine. Those from rabies-free countries need to present a health/quarantine certificate and may need to undergo some period of quarantine. Pets placed in special strollers (similar to baby strollers), minature kennels, or bags as well as guide dogs are tolerated in most public places, including the metro system. Make sure to bring bags and tissue paper if the pet relieves itself on the sidewalk or you will be fined. Pets in Chien Tan Youth Center, etc?
- Never give watches or umbrellas to others as gifts.
- Do not expect anyone to say "Bless you" or "excuse me" if someone sneezes.
- The English word "sorry" is now as commonly used as its Chinese equivalent. If you are Asian, do not be surprised if someone says "Sorry" in English.
Health and safety
Typhoons or tropical storms visit Taiwan between June to October. While typhoons should never be taken lightly, Taiwan's Central Mountain Range does shield Taipei from much of the dangerous winds if the typhoon enters Taiwan from the southeast and moves through Taiwan in a northwest direction. Consult Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau for typhoon trackings. Taiwan's only English-language station, ICRT FM100 also provides emergency typhoon anouncements.
Taiwan located on part of the seismically active Ring of Fire, meaning that it is prone to earthquakes. The last major earthquake in Taiwan was September 21, 1999, in which more than 2,000 people died.
When an earthquake occurs, hide under a strong table or brace yourself against a door frame. If you are outside, go to an open field without trees or electric power lines.
The southern part of Taiwan island has recently been hit by a new wave of the Dengue epidemic. The symptoms are the same as influenza's. No known treatment exists.
The Taiwan Center for Disease Control requires people from outbreak areas abroad to fill a questionaire form. Taiwan is a rabies free country.
Tap water in Taipei and Taiwan is treated, but it should be boiled before drinking.
Taipei is famous for its pedestrian signal, which consists of a timer and a green walking man. As the timer approaches zero, the walking man walks frantically faster.
Certain pedestrian crossings permit diagonal crossings; this is usually indicated by a gigatic X pathway on the intersection and by the fact that the pedestrian signals in both directions simutaneously turn green.
Be aware that cars and motorcyles often do not respect a pedestrian's right of way.
Accessibility for people with disabilities
Taipei does not provide excellent facilities for those with physical disabilities. People on wheelchairs or crutches may feel frustrated when crossing the streets on navigating through obstacle-filled sidewalks. However, Taipei's MRT metro system does provide elevators, fare gates, ramps, restrooms, and special riding space for those with physical disabilities.
- Fire: dial 119.
- Police: dial 110.
- Ambulance: dial 119.
Units of measurement
The metric system is used in Taiwan. Numerals on vehicle speedometers, highway markers and speed limits all indicate kilometers. In local trades/markets, Taiwanese weighing units are also used. One jin (kin) is equivalent to 600g.
Electricity is supplied at 110 Volts and 60 Hertz. Power plugs and sockets conforms to the xxx standars, which is equivalent to the Type B or NEMA or other national standards used in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Japan.
Embassies, consulates, and representative offices
In order to placate the Government of the People's Republic of China, most countries have only friendly, unofficial, de-facto relations with the Taiwan-based Republic of China. This means that most countries only maintain an "institute," "commercial office," "friendship association," "economic and trade office," and so on in Taiwan, which all function as de-facto embassies. While most of these representative offices provide full consular services as any other embassy or consulate in the world, and one should contact these offices if one gets in trouble in Taiwan, these representative offices have no diplomatic status and enjoy no extraterritoriality.
The lack of full diplomatic relations because of the One-China Policy has created occasional inconveniences, especially during natural disasters or epidemics. Recently, the ROC authorities had extreme difficulty capturing a white-collar fugitive because the lack of diplomatic relations with most countries in the world also meant the lack of extradition treaties. During the SARS crisis in Taiwan in 2003, the World Health Organization was initially forbidden by the PRC to help Taiwan because the PRC claimed that it provided with all of Taiwan's health needs; in reality, the US's Center for Disease Control provided most foreign assistance to Taiwan during the crisis. In the 1999 earthquake that killed at least 2,000 people in Taiwan, international help was initially delayed because the PRC demanded all countries to get its permission first before international relief teams were allowed to enter Taiwan.
The following link to This Month in Taiwan provides a list of foreign representative offices stationed in Taipei.
On a side note, the former US ambassador's residence as well as the former British Consulate have become tourist attractions in Taipei. See Attractions
Sunrise and sunset times
- Other Businesses:
- Department stores: 11am-9:30pm
- Convenience stores: 24 hours; Taiwan has the world's highest density of convenience stores.
- Drug stores:
- Grocery stores: Varies; Wellcome Supermarket has a few 24-hour stores.
Most museums are closed on Monday; however, the National Palace museum is open every day of the year.
There are two types of public phones: coined operated and card operated. If you plan to use an international calling card, you must insert a coin or card as temporary deposit. The deposit will automatically be refuned to you at the end of the call.
International roaming for mobile phones
Taiwan has a high-density mobile phone network in GSM 900/1800 standard. WCDMA 2100 is another useful standard but the total coverage is not as wide as the well-built GSM network.
- International calls
To place calls to numbers outside of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu, dial international call prefix first, and the destination's country code, followed by area code and the local number.
Although there are many telephone companies offering international call service in Taiwan, the most common one is 002 (Chunghwa Telecom). Other prefixes include 006 (Taiwan Fixed Network), 007 (Spark), and 005 (Asia Pacific Broadband Telecom).
- Domestic calls
Taipei enjoys citywide internet wireless access, including within its subway/metro system.
- The English bimonthly magazine Discover Taipei provides excellent information about the life and culture in Taipei. It is written mostly by foreign residents and is published by the Taipei City Government. Although new issues of this free magazine disappear quickly after they are available in most MRT stations, the city government has now made recent issues available in pdf format.
- This Month in Taiwan provides visitors comprehensive information about Taiwan including lists of hotels, churches, embassies, and restaurants as well as maps of the major cities in Taiwan.
- There are three English newspapers in Taiwan, which can be found in most island-wide convenience stores.
- Taiwan News is Taiwan’s oldest English newspaper and is owned by food manufacturing company I-Mei; its editorials have a pan-green tilt.
- The China Post has the largest circulation and an excellent comics page; its editorials support the pan-blues.
- Taipei Times is Taiwan’s newest English language newspaper owned by the pan-green Liberty Times Group. It has an excellent website with a database spanning all the way from the Septermber 21, 2006 earthquake in Taiwan.
For further information
- Customs of The Republic of China: http://eweb.customs.gov.tw/mp.asp?mp=21, +886-2-25505500 ext.2116