Last updated: 19 November 2015
Taiwan is one of those countries that doesn’t seem to get much love from Western tourists.
I’ll admit the only reason I ended up there was because my girlfriend had visited three years ago and couldn’t stop raving about the place. Now I understand why.
Wonderful food, buzzing cities, pristine beaches and natural parks and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met made visiting Taiwan a highly rewarding experience.
Readers of this site are likely to love it for another reason, too — it’s a geek’s paradise. I replaced my lost earphones and bought a new laptop while I was there, and enjoyed the fastest Internet speeds I’ve seen in three years on the road. That wasn’t limited to the Wi-fi, either — mobile data (3G, not even LTE) was also extremely fast, at least for downloads.
Getting a local SIM card during your stay shouldn’t be difficult or expensive, although I had to jump through some hoops due to my particular situation. Here’s what you need to know
There are at least three major cell companies in Taiwan, Chunghwa, Taiwan Mobile and FarEastone, with stores and service throughout the country.
I’ve used Chunghwa on two trips to Taiwan, picking up SIMs in both the airport and Taipei city. I was more than happy with the plan and costs I ended up with, but there are definitely differences between operators. Do check the other options, especially if you’re in the country for a particularly short or long time.
There are several mobile stores in the arrival hall of Taipei’s Taoyuan airport. You can find them near the escalators down to street level, on the right hand side as you exit. Purchasing there is straightforward, and unlike when you buy elsewhere, you only need one form of identification (your passport).
You’ll be initially offered various unlimited plans, but just ask to see the other options if necessary. Sign the form, hand over the money and you’re done.
If you don’t buy at the airport, there are mobile stores everywhere in Taipei. Even the convenience stores can sell you both a SIM and credit if needed. On my first trip to the country, I walked into a small store with Chunghwa branding near my hostel, and asked to buy a card.
All went well until I handed over my identification. Taiwan regulations require two forms of ID, in this case a passport and a driver’s license. Unfortunately I happened to be travelling with a New Zealand passport and an Australian license, which wasn’t well received despite the matching details.
The clerk suggested I may be able to go to a larger Chunghwa store 10 minutes away to resolve the problem. Instead, I opted to drag my girlfriend back to the store with me and use her passport and license to buy the card.
This particular problem is unlikely to affect almost anybody else. For the tiny fraction of travellers in a similar situation, though, you’ve been warned! Once that issue was dealt with, the rest of the process was seamless, albeit with a large amount of photocopying and signing of agreements in Chinese.
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The prices were actually lower than expected — my micro SIM cost 300 NTD (a little under $10 USD), but included an equivalent amount of credit. 1GB of data valid for two months used up 180 NTD, leaving me with more enough credit for the number of calls and texts I expected to make.
There were several other plans available, including unlimited data for a month plus some call and text credit for 1000 NTD. The option I chose seemed the best value for travelers with light to moderate use.
Once that data or call/SMS credit is used up, a quick trip to a convenience store will get you going again. You may need your passport, phone number or the registration number on the agreement you signed, so have any or all of them handy.
Coverage and Data Speeds
3G coverage was consistent throughout the country, only dropping out now and then during a train ride through the mountains along the east coast. Download speeds were fast (5-12Mbps), but upload seemed surprisingly slow (around 0.5Mbps wherever and whenever I tested it).
This means web browsing and downloads will almost never be a problem, but Skype calls will be a little choppy, especially on video.