The comment we hear most often from visitors is that they are surprised at the friendliness
and of the people on Taiwan. We hope the information below will help make your trip
even better, whether you are coming to Taiwan for business or pleasure.
Rule #1: Bring lots of name cards!
You’ve probably heard this before, but we think it’s worth emphasising. During several
years in the brokerage industry, a common issue that arose with visiting clients
is that they were surprised at how many name cards they distributed, and then the
subsequent strain from running out. Bring a box.
Exchanging name cards in Taiwan is almost as common as shaking hands. Taiwan is a
very social place, and you’ll be introduced to many people. Taiwanese use the card
both as a way to break the ice and gain an understanding of who you are – which helps
the flow of conversation. You can save yourself some stress by coming well-supplied
with cards - especially on business trips, but also for pleasure trips.
Tipping generally isn’t very common in Taiwan, although it is appreciated. Taxi drivers
expect to return you exact change. Restaurants generally don’t expect significant
tips. Some restaurants add a 15% service charge, which one can consider as the tip.
If there isn’t a service charge, generally people will leave some of the change as
Taiwan is very much still a cash-based society. Major hotels and restaurants accept
most credit cards, but it can be more uncertain at smaller venues. Many restaurants
don’t accept American Express or other cards that charge a fee.
Carry adequate amounts of cash
Following on the comments above, it’s a good idea to have adequate cash on hand in
case the restaurant or other venue doesn’t accept your credit card. ATMs are widely
available in Taiwan, but small street-side currency exchange shops don’t exist. Currency
exchange can be conducted at airports, most banks, and at your hotel if it’s relatively
large. The Taiwan Dollar is a managed currency, and forms are generally involved
when currency is exchanged. Changing currency is not quite as convenient as in locations
such as Thailand and the Philippines.
Also carry change
You’ll tend to receive NT$1,000 bills (about US$32) when you change money. Taxis
and many Taiwanese businesses tend not to have a lot of change on-hand, so it’s a
good idea to have a supply of NT$100 bills in your wallet or purse. Taxis in particular
are frequently used, and very convenient, but often do not have much change available.
Places that are good for providing change for your NT$1,000 bill are Western fast
food chops, such as McDonalds, and the omnipresent convenience stores such as 7-Eleven.
Taiwan is rather good in terms of transportation convenience. Hailing a taxi quickly
is generally not a problem in the major cities, and the fare tends to be about NT$100
(US$3). Taipei has a good and improving Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) subway system with
three major lines at present. The system has Chinese as well as English maps and
announcements, and can be a useful tool for those travelling around the city. Kaohsiung
has also recently added a subway system.
Carry venue names and addresses written in Chinese
Although many Taiwanese know some English, you will find it very helpful in terms
of getting to where you want to go if you have the name of your destination written
in Chinese. Taxi drivers, in particular, will be very happy if you can just hand
them the address written in Chinese. One more taxi-related tip: although language
books often teach one how to say “Take me to” in Chinese, leave this part out! It
tends to only confuse things. The taxi driver knows you want to go somewhere, so
keep it as simple as possible. If you are using Chinese, when you board the taxi
just say the name of the venue, address or intersection to which you would like to
go. Always carry the name card from your hotel with you to help you return and in
the event you need any assistance.
The helpfulness of the Taiwanese
One important aid during your trip should be the Taiwanese themselves, who tend to
be very helpful to travellers in need of directions or other assistance. If you can
learn a few words of Chinese, that can help. If you look very lost, someone will
often come up to ask if you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, the people
are friendly and will often be willing to do their best.
A couple of points on culture
Like many places in Asia, Taiwanese culture is very social. People often eat in large
groups, and are generally very friendly. Another area in which Taiwan tends to be
like other parts of Asia is that angry public outbursts and indignant attitudes are
frowned upon. If you need help, it’s best to control your temper as much as possible.
If the person with whom you are talking does not seem to be able to help you, try
to politely find a way to perhaps start talking with someone else to see if they
have a different perspective. The Taiwanese tend to be flexible, and in the end problems
are generally solved. But it may take a bit of patience. If you become angry, people
tend to shy away. They will tend talk less rather than more, and it’s in your interest
to keep communication going and to have as many people trying to help you as possible.
Try to learn a few words of Chinese
Taiwan is a very social place, and you’ll likely discover this more successfully
if you can learn a few words of Chinese. “Xie xie” for “thank you” is a great starting
point. “Ni hao” is a typical greeting between individuals. “Hao” (pronounced like
“how”) means “good”, and can also be used for “ok” or “all right”. Saying “no” in
Chinese is more complicated and beyond the scope of this section, but you can use
a wince and a side-to-side shaking of your head to transmit your meaning.
If you are going to give a speech before a group of people, and you want to use a
little Chinese (which is not a bad idea), you may want to ask for a little help.
One suggestion is to work on the greeting in Chinese. The tendency is for foreigners
to use “Ni hao”, because it is kind of like “hello”. This is OK, and won’t offend
anyone, but you can score points with your audience if you dig a little deeper, as
Taiwanese wouldn’t typically begin a speech with “Ni hao” - it’s too informal and
generally a person-to-person greeting which is short for “Are you good?” One phrase
used to address a group would be “Da jia hao!” “Da jia” is literally “big family”
or “everybody”. “Hao” is good.
Good phrases that can be used as greetings either to a group or to people involve
the word “an” (which means “peace” and rhymes with “John”) combined with the time
of the day. “Zao” is a short way to say “morning”, and “zao an” is “good morning”.
“Wu” is short for midday/early afternoon, and “Wu an” is “good afternoon”. Likewise
“wan” is short for “evening”, and “wan an” is thus “good evening”. If you are giving
a luncheon speech and begin with “Da jia, wu an”, ie “Good afternoon to you all”,
it should make for a good opening impression. Do work a bit on the pronunciation
beforehand to improve your odds of success.