When you live in Taiwan, chances are you will have to do a “Taiwan visa run” at some point.
A lot of the information in this piece is outdated.
I recommend you look at my February 2014 piece about Visa Runs.
I’ve lived in Taiwan, off-and-on, since January 2008. My total time in Taiwan clocks in at almost exactly four years. But I have only had a visa and ARC to legally work in Taiwan a quarter of that time…yet I’ve worked in Taiwan that entire time. For the last ten months, I’ve been working legally, despite not having an ARC – the way I do that is very clever and I’m not sharing that with you, here. But I will share how I do my visa runs. Visas can be quite complicated, when I lived in the UK I had a tier 1 entrepreneur visa. There’s so many different types!
If you haven’t read about how to get along in Taiwan without a work visa or an ARC, you should check out my blog about getting an ID number as good as an ARC number and my blog about how to legally drive in Taiwan as a foreigner. But, for the expat without an ARC, one reality is unavoidable: visa runs.
A visa run is when a person who resides in a country leaves that country before the expiration of his/her visa with the intent to return to that country a short time later and continue living in said original country. There’s nothing illegal about living in countries where you have entered legally and not overstayed your time limit. Here’s an excerpt from my blog about the basics of living/teaching in Taiwan:
“If you want to come to Taiwan, your first priority is to get a visa in your home nation. Most countries will give you a 60-day visa, though some now issue 90-day visas. Often, these visas can be extended two times, making the effective time 180-days, if you play your cards right. They are also good for anywhere from 3-5 years. My advice would be to call the issuing office and be super cool and ask them how to get the best visa – tell them you want to visit many times and don’t want to have to keep reapplying – they will usually give you a pretty good visa. I’m on a 60-day 5-year multiple entry visa, and it’s great.”
Now, being American, I actually get a non-extendable 90-day visa exempt stamp, upon entry. I don’t even need my visa, now, because getting a third extension on my 60-day visa as extremely annoying. In fact, just getting an extension on a 60-day visa can be a pretty big pain, after you do it once or twice. The Bureau of Foreign Affairs can deny you a visa extension for any reason, including, “You enter and exit Taiwan often.” So I’ve done a 90-day visa exempt stamp twice this year, and will probably do it at least two more times by the end of the year.
If I was flying to Hong Kong, a 1000mi (1600km) round trip averages NT$10,000 (US$330). Mile-for-mile, it’s often the most expensive flight in the world. With costs like that, getting as many visa extensions as you can, regardless of hassle, is worth it. But it’s still rare that you get to stay more than 120 days on a 60-day visa unless you can really spin a line to the visa office. Most inexperienced expats still do visa runs to Hong Kong, and it’s the most ridiculous tactic there is, because you can do an entire visa run to the Philippines for half the cost of a flight to Hong Kong.
One reason people used to go to Hong Kong and not the Philippines is that Hong Kong issues 60-day visas. However, the visas are not extendable, and only last six months (unlike a visa issued in the USA, which is extendable twice, and lasts for 5 years), so with the new 90-day visa-exempt stamps, getting a visa in Hong Kong is basically worthless, as long as you are from the following countries:
If your passport isn’t from one of those nations, sorry: you should get yourself a visa. And if you’re from Canada or the UK, you’re super privileged, because you can get that 90-day visa-exempt stamp extended to 180 days, thanks to your governments giving that same ability to Taiwanese people in your home nations. Reciprocity rules, for you guys. Anyway, back to the visa runs.
When it comes time for you to leave Taiwan, make sure you leave on time. I can not overemphasize this. If you are so much as a day late, the ROC will most-likely ban you from entry for a year. So, don’t be stupid: watch your calender. When you fly out, you should be flying to the Philippines. There are two discount airlines you should be using:
Personally, I recommend AirAsia over Cebu Pacific. If you buy at the right time, your costs will be significantly less, through AirAsia, and the travel is less of a hassle. Cebu Pacific only flies out of TPE on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and they fly out at 0125 hours and you don’t get back to Taiwan until 0040 hours. While getting a taxi in Manila at 4am isn’t hard, good luck getting a bus from the airport in Taoyuan at 1am. The price is right at only NT$4000 ($US130), but unless you’re desperate to check out Manila, I’d forget Cebu Pacific. AirAsia is who you want to dance with.
And I mean that quite literally. When you get on an AirAsia Philippines flight, you step on an Airbus, with steam blowing out of the vents and bad techno pumping out of the cabin’s speakers. It’s very funny. AirAsia doesn’t fly to Manila – they only fly to Clark – but they are ridiculously reasonable. Not only does the flight leave TPE at 1200 hours and return you back before 1600 hours (they literally land at CRK for less than a half hour before flying back out to TPE), but you can also get that round trip for a mere NT$1500 (US$50) if you book it at the right time; AirAsia’s “Economy Promo” offers are capacity controlled, which means they only offer them when they get to the point where they realize they will never sell out the flight at their standard rates, and it’s better to sell a seat dirt cheap than it is to have it go unfilled. A month before you fly is usually the right time to book it, otherwise, it can cost double that price (which is still a pretty good deal).
There’s more advantages to going to Clark instead of Manila, however. Terminal fees – a charge on anyone who uses the airport for a flight – is part of it. Manila charges NT$550 (US$18) for the privilege of passing through their terminal while Clark only charges NT$330 (US$11) for that same experience. Manila is also a larger and more annoying airport, laid out between 5 different terminals that require a taxi ride to get from one-to-the-next. Clark is a former US Air Force base: check-in and security is the easiest I’ve ever seen anywhere, and you walk on the tarmac to get to your plane, which I just enjoy because it feels “old school.” You’ll save money on taxis in Manila – if you exit MNL and walk upstairs, to arrivals, you can get a standard white “metered taxi” for normal rates, instead of paying triple the price for a yellow “airport taxi” down in departures – at 4am in Manila, you should be able to get anywhere for NT$210 (US$7). Clark, “airport taxis” are your only option, and will cost a minimum of NT$210 (US$7) – same goes for when you want to return to the airport.
In Manila, you can get a cheap room for around NT$1000 (US$33). In Angeles City, the closest city to CRK, you can get a cash deal on a cheap room for NT$730 (US$25). Food costs are going to be similar in both places, unless you’re looking to get really lavish – expect to drop between NT$200-NT$500 (US$6.50-US$17) per meal, depending on what you want. You can buy a whole roast chicken on the street for NT$110 (US$3.50) in either city; a couple-two-three BBQ pork skewers in a restaurant will run you close to NT$130 (US$4). Angeles also has a massive Go-Go scene, complete with lots of girls for rent, for around NT$1400 (US$50) a night, if that’s your thing; Manila, girls cost at least that much, per hour. If you’re not into that stuff, then you’re going to have to watch a lot of disturbingly unattractive white guys walk around the city trying to hump anything with a pulse, and get treated like you must be there for that same purpose, so be ready for that, in Angeles, as well. Regardless of which city you go to, remember this: New Taiwan Dollars do not trade in the Philippines (nor do Philippine Pesos trade in Taiwan), so buy American Dollars before you go and hold onto your leftover Peso for the next time you do a visa run.
Where you go is up to you, but my advise is simple: fly AirAsia to Angeles overnight, go to their grocery store to stock up on Western-style food you can’t get in Taiwan, and relax in a hotel that has a pool. I’m going there in a month and I’ll let you know if the Bluefields Alpha Hotel is still an OK place to go, or not. Bottom line is, on a budget, you can easily do a 1-night visa run from TPE to CRK for less than NT$6000 (US$200). If you budget NT$9000 (US$300) for that overnight stay, you can have an absolute blast in Angeles.
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