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Tips for visitors

Welcome to Taiwan!

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

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 a tip.

Credit cards

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.

Getting around

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.