Beijing to Taipei Visa Run
by Matt Fox
Visas, visas, visas. The bane of the China expat’s life. Those lucky enough to have been granted Z visas or work permits can never understand the frustration, the bureaucracy, and the sheer exhaustion of perpetually trying to remain a legal alien in China. Never mind the cost of the whole sordid affair… Anyway, having just completed a visa run from Beijing to Taiwan myself, I thought I’d share a few tips and nuggets of information from the experience in case you’re entertaining thoughts of doing something similar.
First of all, if you need a new Chinese visa altogether then Taiwan might not be the best place to go. There is no Chinese embassy or consulate here. Although you can certainly get China visas issued in Taiwan via an agency, they send your passport off to be processed by an embassy abroad; most commonly in Hong Kong. So you’d need to allow 6-7 working days for the whole process. It isn’t the greatest of solutions if you’re looking for a quick visa fix, but saying that, if you did have the time to afford this option, then Taiwan Island is a lovely place to spend a couple of weeks, with plenty to see and taste at prices way below those of Hong Kong.
If you already have a multiple entry visa to China and all you need to do is exit the country and return, then a trip to Taiwan comes highly recommended as an extended border jump. I’d never really considered Taiwan before. The typical China visa run depends on whereabouts you’re based in the country. If you’re in the north, travelling to Mongolia has become increasingly common. If that’s a bit too rough and ready, or if you’re based further south, then Hong Kong is most likely your best bet. But as I’ve just discovered, Taiwan is a great alternative, and although the flight may be a little more expensive than getting to Hong Kong, the cost of living in Taiwan is way cheaper. Plus, you get to tick another country off your bucket list.
Regarding your flight, the cheapest places to look are Elong.net and English.ctrip.com. The earlier you book the better. Mine was a relatively late booking (only a couple of weeks before the flight) and I found the cheapest flights were those which involved a change someplace else. It’s an annoyance and it turns what should be a 3-hour flight into a 6 or 7-hour marathon including changeover time, but if you’re tight on cash then you just have to deal with that. It worked out about 1,000 RMB less (US$160) for me to fly Beijing- Hong Kong-Taipei than to fly Beijing-Taipei direct.
Something you should know when booking your flight to Taipei is that there are two airports: Taoyuan (桃園; formerly Chiang Kai-shek) and Songshan (松山). If you have the option, always opt for Songshan. It’s located conveniently within the Taipei city limits, so for your arrival and departure there’s less drama, time, and money involved. Although Taoyuan is the bigger airport and serves the majority of international flights in the country, Songshan does have flights for neighboring international destinations such as South Korea, Japan, and most importantly China, so keep an eye out when booking.
I was unaware of the two airports before I went, so I landed blissfully ignorant in Taoyuan about 40 km west of the city. It’s a pleasant and modern airport with decent free wifi, and the queues for immigration were faster than in the Mainland. It probably won’t affect you if all you’re planning is a short China visa-related trip, but it might be worth noting that the Taiwan visas issued on arrival can vary in their duration according to your nationality. If you’re from the EU, US, Canada, or New Zealand for example you receive a 90 day allowance, whereas Australians receive 30 days. Ahhh, a visa on arrival... such a refreshing experience!
The MRT (Taipei’s subway system) doesn’t stretch this far out of town, so to get to Taipei you have the choice of taxi or bus. A taxi will likely cost you NT1,000-1,200 ($35), depending on whereabouts in Taipei you’re heading. It’s quicker and more comfortable than the bus, but way more expensive. Unless you’re with a few people, incredibly pressed for time, or just gripped by total laziness, then one of the many buses is your best move. It will cost about NT150 ($5) per person and take about 40-60 minutes depending on traffic. Each bus company has its own counter so you should first try and work out which bus takes you closest to where you want to be, and then approach the corresponding company’s window. Don’t worry if you’re not sure which bus to take. All the staff I spoke with at the airport were friendly and happy to help.
If you’ve never been to Taiwan before it’s definitely worth a couple of days at least. In terms of what to do as a tourist while you’re in Taipei, I’d say there are only two things in particular you have to check off your list:
1. Visit the National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院; www.npm.gov.tw ). It’s open late on Fridays and Saturdays (9:00 pm), or 6:30 pm the rest of the week.
2. Go to one or more of the night markets: Raohe (饒河街) is the best for food; Ningxia (寧夏) is good eating also; Shilin (士林) is the largest; Shida (師大路) is good for young shoppers; while Huaxijie (華西街) has a seedier vibe.
Everything else you do and discover in Taipei is a bonus, but those two are the must-dos. You should also try and eat some xiaolongbao (小籠包) while you’re here - the original Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) restaurant remains in its original location on Xinyi Road (信義路). If you have time (and the air is clear) then former-tallest building in the world Tapei 101 could be on your list too. NT500 ($15) will take you up to the 91st floor for stunning views of the north part of the country. Bear in mind there’s generally an hour or two wait to actually get in the elevator to go up.
Din Tai Fung Restaurant
Back to visas: if you do find yourself in the position of needing a new China visa while you’re in Taiwan, then as mentioned, you’ll have to go through an agency and be prepared to wait it out. One of your best bets for this is Interlink Travel Agency (康喜旅行社) located on Kuangfu North Road (see www.Interlink.com.tw for latest visa prices and information). To get there, jump on the MRT and alight at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, exit 5 then walk north. Located on the 11th floor of building number 68, it might be worth noting that it’s closed on Sundays, and only open until 12:30 on Saturdays.
You can learn more about the delicious food which awaits you in Taipei here, and read the accompanying Taiwan visa run travel story here. To find out more about the current rules for China visas as well as your other visa run options click here.