Upon making Taiwan the next move, our first hurdle was figuring out paperwork and the mandatory two-week Quarantine. The Taiwanese border is still closed at this time (October 2020). Only Taiwanese passport-holders or those with a special permit are allowed entry. Fortunately, my Taiwanese passport saved the day, and we applied for a special family visit visa for my Frenchie.
This blog post is about our experience to apply for the visa and surviving the Quarantine as of September/October 2020. Rules likely have changed since, so please do your research!
How to Apply for a Special Visit Permit to Taiwan
Due to the strange diplomatic relations with China, Taiwan does not have Embassies around the world. The closest entity is the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO). I’ve had the great (mis)fortune of dealing with TECOs across the world – Hong Kong, Paris, Ho Chi Minh City, and Denver. We have learned that the process varies slightly for each location. This is a roundabout way to say – call or email your nearest TECO office first to understand the steps.
For us, Xav needed to first apply for a general visa online, print the application, and draft an explanation letter for the visit (in English). I needed to supply a copy of a Taiwan household registration that shows my name. We also had to provide both original and copies of our wedding certificate. At the time of application, our wedding certificate was not yet authenticated by TECO in Hong Kong (where we got married). As a result, TECO HCMC only issued a special one-time non-renewable visitor visa, not a spousal visa. This later became a significant problem.
In HCMC, we could drop off the application and pick up the visa within a week. Again, check with your local TECO office. I know in the U.S., you can complete the application all via mail. In contrast, in Hong Kong, you have to go in person or grant power of attorney to someone to apply on your behalf.
Note: Be sure that the visa does not say “not available for extension.” Xav’s visa had this, which means it’s not available to be renewed at the end of 90 days nor switch into another kind of visa. This one-liner has caused quite a headache for us. We’ve checked with both Immigration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conclusion is that Xav will need to return to France at the end of his 90-day visa period in January to reapply for a residency visa.
I recommend getting all of your paperwork in line before applying for a visa to enter Taiwan right now. For foreign spouses, the criminal record (less than one-year-old) and wedding registration must be authenticated at your home country’s TECO (or nearest one). If we had known what a pain it would be to switch visa types, we would’ve taken the time to have paperwork in line before arriving.
Choosing a Place to Complete Mandatory Quarantine
While we were sorting out the visa in August, I had booked flights and an Airbnb to complete the Quarantine. A few days after booking, our host canceled. Apparently, the government had instituted a new rule against Quarantine in short-term Airbnbs. Other than designated hotels, you can only quarantine at home, which means you need to either have a permanent address or a long-term contract of sorts. My sister and her family also entered Taiwan at the same time. They have a toddler, so they got dibs to my parents’ home.
It was frustrating to figure out where we could quarantine together. To ensure we wouldn’t get into any funky situations, we opted for the expensive but sure option of completing our Quarantine at a designated hotel. Every city has slightly different rules about Quarantine. I was able to get the most updated and clear guidance from the Taipei government, so we went with that option. The government has a list of quarantine-approved hotels to choose from in different districts. It was a real pain to figure out the pricing, size, and amenities. In the end, we again went with a certain yet expensive option of staying at the Aloft Beitou.
Beitou is on the outskirt of Taipei City, known for its hot spring tourism. I figured a stay here would undoubtedly be quieter than in the city center. I chose a Marriott property because I am familiar with their room size and layout. The last thing we need is to be trapped in some tiny windowless room for two weeks! I’ve stayed in various hotels in Taipei, and they are usually not big!
The Aloft offers a “quarantine package” with two meal options – the bento box option or the restaurant meal option. Also, they charge NT$100 per order for outside delivery. The rule for Quarantine was that two people can stay in the same room if they are family. The Aloft charges NT$1,500 for the extra person per night to the room rate. The illogical detail to add is that they would only give us a twin room, citing the quarantine rule. Not sure what difference that makes, but okay. Email the hotel and get the latest room rates and reserve directly via them.
Note: The quarantine rules are changing all the time as circumstances change. I’ve been informed that many hotels are only allowing only one person per hotel room now (December 2020). I found a post in Chinese saying there are six exceptions when you can quarantine together:
1. Minors under 20
2. Elders over 65
4. Unable to care for oneself
5. Pregnant women beyond 29 weeks
6. Situations approved by local government
We quarantined after the post, dated October 20th. So either we got lucky, or this rule is arbitrary. The source also states that this is from Taipei City Government. Each city does things a bit differently, so it’s worth checking. There was a surge of entries this fall, and the government seems to be making these requirements more difficult to deter entry.
Traveling to Taiwan During COVID-19
While we’ve been blessed to have done some traveling this year in Vietnam, moving to Taiwan was our first international flight. A week before we were due to fly, I logged into our flight itinerary to add additional luggage. To my shock, my flight status on Vietnam Airlines said, “Cancelled.” Yet, I did not receive an email informing me of this change.
Apparently, during COVID-19, airlines are now taking bookings knowing with relative certainty that the flights will be canceled. I’ve heard this ordeal from many people, who are then left to deal with airlines for refunds for months on end. Fortunately, we were able to re-book a new flight with Eva Air for the same day. My tip is to not book flights for more than two weeks in advance to avoid this ordeal.
Upon check-in, we were asked to complete an online health declaration form with the Ministry of Health in Taiwan. Individuals who do not hold a long-term residency in Taiwan need to provide a negative COVID-19 test within 3 days of travel. The process overall was very smooth. The airport, as predicted, was eerily quiet. (As of December 1st, everyone coming into Taiwan needs to provide a negative COVID-19 test. The test also can NOT be a rapid test. See the latest guidance. )
Our flight to Taipei from Ho Chi Minh City on Eva Air was far from full. Strangely, they sat all the passengers in the back section of the plane. There was no real distancing. I would have thought they would space us out more. Again, it’s unclear what the logic is… Since we were flying from Vietnam, we felt relatively safe. Nevertheless, we had masks on the entire time.
Arrival Process into Taiwan
I’m not sure if the process is different depending on the country, but our flight from Vietnam had a smooth arrival process. Before we were let into customs, each person had to have a local SIM card. There are booths selling SIMs if you don’t have one. We bought a one-month SIM with the plan to switch to a permanent number after.
Once the number was ready, agents were available to guide us to pull up the health declaration forms that we had completed at departure. The declaration is then linked to the local phone number. We are then tracked for the next 15 days. Quarantine begins at midnight of the day that we arrive and last 14 days. A green bar appearsed with a Q.R. code when the declaration and the phone number is linked correctly, and we were ready to go.
After passing through Immigration, we picked up our luggage. I had thought the bags were strangely wet but simply thought perhaps it’s raining outside. Turns out, the bags had been heavily sprayed with bleach, and my black shirt was sacrificed in this process. Better safe than sorry, I suppose. When we headed outside for the taxi, we were asked to show the health declaration green bar and Q.R. code. Before entering the car, we were sprayed head to toe (literally) with disinfectant.
Overall, it was a smooth process. Though I am unsure how other countries with a higher rate of COVID-19 infections are treated. At the airport, we saw groups of people in hazmat suits. One group was ushered to a medical unit with cleaning ladies following them, spraying disinfectant, and mopping as they passed.
Quarantine Experience at Aloft Beitou
The Aloft had instructed us to be dropped off in the basement rather than the lobby. I called the hotel upon arrival, and a lady came down in a gown and mask. She swiftly checked us in and took us to our room. We were not given a key since we weren’t allowed to leave. The reality of spending the next two weeks in this 30sqm room set in when we arrived.
Fortunately, the room is relatively spacious, very clean, and comfortable. The floor to ceiling windows looked out to the mountains. Having a great view definitely helped while in hotel jail. The one weird element again was that we had to sleep in separate twin beds. I still don’t understand the bizarre logic, but okay. At least we were able to be together and not pay for two hotel rooms.
We had purchased the “quarantine bento package,” which included 3 meals per day. There was an option to get the hotel restaurant menu package but at a significantly higher price. For lunch and dinner, the bentos typically consists of rice, some type of meat, a few veggies, and some pickled items. The novelty of the bento wore off pretty quickly. For the first few days, waiting to see what bentos arrive was the high point of the day.
By week two, the food got quite repetitive. We were crazy excited when pesto pasta showed up for lunch one day, and dumplings another. It’s the little things in life. As the days passed, we ordered more frequently via Food Panda and Uber Eats. Fortunately, the Aloft wasn’t very on top of tracking the NT$100 per order fees, and we were only charged twice at check-out.
Tip: I recommend making a big order of groceries from Panda Mart via Food Panda at the beginning of your stay. I was glad to have yogurt and fresh fruits in the fridge during our stay, not to mention some chocolate and other comfort snacks.
I came into this Quarantine with a lofty to-do list. I had planned on finished reading all these half-read books, edit and organize over 60k+ of photos in my album, and of course, write all these blog posts. Somehow, I ended up doing very little. One because I slept a lot. The Aloft in Beitou was incredibly quiet, a lovely change from Saigon. Oddly, it was nice to be forced to a standstill during an international move. I had time to breathe and reflect.
The U.S. Election took place during our Quarantine week, so I spent more hours watching CNN than I ever hope to do. We did a bit of Netflix binging and watched The Queen’s Gambit (I highly recommend it!), and I made sure to fit in a yoga practice daily. I thought spending 24/7 confined to a 30sqm room with my husband may be challenging, but we somehow managed to survive without a single fight! Having separate sets of headphones is vital to be apart while together. We spent daylight hours doing what we each wanted to do and spent evenings together watching tv, playing Uno, etc.
Tip: The centralized wifi connection was pretty awful in our room. Upon giving this feedback, the hotel gave us a router to plug into the Ethernet hookup in the room, which immensely improved the connection.
Daily Check-in by Quarantine Officers
We had read lots of stories of getting very encouraging messages from their quarantine officer. Ours were less enthusiastic but very consistent. We each received standard daily texts that required us to reply whether we were feeling fine. I also received a daily call from my officers to check-in. The conversation lasted no more than 10 seconds each time, “How are you doing today?” “Fine,” “Okay, thanks, have a great day.”
We had to leave our phones on the entire time to be tracked. I usually put my phone on airplane mode when I sleep, but I couldn’t do so here. Instead, I turned it on “Do Not Disturb.” On one of the days, I forgot to switch off DND and kept missing my daily check-in call. The next thing I knew, my officer showed up at my hotel room door with hotel staff to make sure everything was fine. They do not joke around with this Quarantine!
Each city does things slightly differently. Overall, I was extremely impressed by how well things were done. On day 2, we received a quarantine package, filled with cup noodles and snacks to get us through the two weeks. Sure, the quarantine process isn’t perfect, the I very much appreciate the Taiwanese government’s diligent effort.
Tip: To avoid a personal visit as we had, be sure to keep your phones on at all times and respond to messages promptly!
Freedom At Last
The Quarantine begins at midnight of your first night and ends at midnight on your last night. We decided to go for a midnight stroll as soon as the clock reached 00:00. We were most definitely not the only people who needed fresh air as soon as we could. On our elevator ride, another guy was clearly just freed from Quarantine and likewise headed for the front desk to get a room key.
It was a bizarre feeling to use our legs again to walk more than a few steps at a time, and the fresh air was most spectacular. Most places were closed, but as typical in Taiwan, the convenience stores were open. We were able to secure a celebratory beer!
The two-week mandatory Quarantine in Taiwan went by relatively quickly and painlessly. We are fortunate that we don’t have kids and have each other to keep company. The entire experience was also costly, totaling $3k USD for two (again, there were cheaper options not available to us). There is a phrase in Chinese that hit close to home. 花錢受罪 – spend money to suffer. It’s hard not to feel frustrated to spend that much money on what is essentially house arrest.
Yet, I consider it the cost of travel during COVID-19 and to be able to live in a society with relative normalcy. For most of us, no one is forcing us to come to Taiwan. We want to be here because it’s safe, and therefore, I think it’s fair to suck it up and shell out the money. It’s not fair, because obviously, it limits to people who can afford this experience. I count my blessings every day. If you are also lucky enough to get a visa and can afford to enter Taiwan, I hope my experience helps you.
UPDATE: Latest Taiwan Quarantine Rule as of January 2021
Due to Xav’s visa ordeal as discussed above, he was forced to return to France in late January to reapply for a visa. He is returning in February to go through another quarantine. I had to do some digging to find out the latest quarantine rules. Here are some updates info that may help you.
I found this PDF pack from Immigration in English, with the latest info on quarantine. The required time is still 14-days, and it is encouraged to stay at a quarantine hotel or a central facility. If you choose to quarantine at home, the rule is now one person per home/flat. The previous rule of an independent bath and room per person no longer applies.
It took some digging to find out which form is the affidavit required to indicate your home quarantine meets the requirement. Turns out, it’s included in the quarantine system form that everyone must complete before entering the border in Taiwan. I hope this helps! The rules are changing so quickly. Be sure to confirm with your district office (區公所) on the latest rules!
- Regulations for Entering Taiwan (as of December 1st, 2020) | Immigration.gov.tw
- Bureau of Consular Affairs Updates | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Quarantine Hotels FAQ | Taipei City Government
- Mr. Host – a booking site of quarantine hotels. The site is in Chinese, but supposedly customer service can assist in English.
- Epidemic Prevention – Quarantine Hotels | Taiwan Tourism Board