The island of Taiwan measures 32,260 km2 (12,426 square miles) of total land area, less than half the size of Florida. As such, it’s possible to traverse the entire island. Before you make plans to explore all of Taiwan however, you need to know how to travel in Taiwan.
Generally speaking, these are the main methods of transportation in Taiwan (besides walking): cabs, mopeds, public transit (bus and metro), the high speed railroad, and the regular railway. Travel in Taiwan can be fairly straightforward, depending on the method you choose. Like anywhere, use caution and common sense, and have a general idea of where you are going, prior to entering transport.
See Also, Jenny In Wanderland article How to Safely Take Taxis and Ride Shares
Taiwanese taxis are a common form of travel in Taiwan. They are easy to spot in the street. Similar to cabs in the U.S, Taiwanese cabs are also yellow with black markings. Although it can be hard to hail a taxi in busier areas, it is still relatively easy to find one willing to take you. High traffic areas are tourist and shopper hotspots such as museums, concert stadiums, and shopping complexes during weekends and holidays. There are usually taxis lining up along designated curbs outside department stores, hotels, museums, airports, and train stations.
Most hotels will also call or hail cabs for you upon request at their front desks or entrances, regardless of whether or not you are a guest at that particular building. Department stores offer the same service, in which an employee stands by the entrance to call on taxis for customers that need them. Many apartment buildings in Taiwan have a front desk with a security guard. It’s also the norm for the guard to call taxi services for residents upon request.
Fun Fact: On rainy days, the same employees come up to cars dropping off customers and hold up umbrellas until the customers have safely entered the building.
Taxi fares vary drastically from city to city. Drivers don’t require (or expect) tips. See this chart for fare comparison between 6 Taiwanese cities: HsinChu, Kaohsiung, Taipei, New Taipei City, Taichung, and Tainan.
For Taipei specifically, starting fare is NTD $70 (for 1.25 kilometers), and an extra NTD $5 for every additional 200 meters. The overall cost increases by NTD $20 at night.
As with taxis all over the world, the cab’s interior quality, as well as the driver’s skill and friendliness comes down to the individual. It is not the case with all drivers, but do note that the majority of them do smoke or chew betel nut. No driver would smoke in front of passengers, but the smell may linger on the seats.
Taxi drivers’ English tends to be limited or nonexistent, though drivers in more metropolitan areas like Taipei city are accustomed to driving tourists. It is helpful to ask someone at a hotel, restaurant, or shop to write your destination on a piece of paper in Mandarin. That way you can hand it to the driver to avoid confusion.
Most taxis in Taiwan are part of cooperatives that raised the service and safety level of drivers by offering uniforms, the ability to utilize dispatchers to gain customers, and other benefits. If you see a taxi with logos of various taxi cooperatives, they tend to be bound by the rules of the cooperatives, including safe driving, dress codes, standardized fares, and hygiene. They are for the most part, quite safe. Cabs who are still “independents” may be riskier.
As with taxis all over the world, it is entirely possible for drivers to charge unfairly high prices at the end of the ride. If such an incident occurs, you can follow these directions to file a complaint.
- Easily distinguishable on the street
- Required to have a professional license to drive customers
- Cabs congregate around department stores, hotels, train stations, airports
- Hotels, department stores, and apartment desks can call taxis upon request
- Standard fares are preset
- Relatively Safe
- Daytime and nighttime pricing differs
- Many taxis are cash only and cash preferred, but some do accept a credit card
- Cab fare varies from city to city, and is dependent on what the driver reports out flat or the car’s meter
- Drivers speak little to no English
The Uber app was introduced to Taiwan in 2013 so it is still a relatively recent development. However, those who have used the app in Taiwan gave it favorable reviews. So if you prefer Ubering to cabs, rest assured that Uber works in Taiwan as well. Note that Uber is only available in Keelung, Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Changhua and Kaohsiung as of the time of writing.
General Uber fare is NTD $61 (with a NTD $40 cancellation fee) and again, drivers don’t require or expect tips. Note that if you choose Uber X or Black, you can pay with credit card, but the Uber Taxi selection requires paying with cash.
- Often cheaper than taxis
- Required in Taiwan to have the same professional license as taxi drivers
- If you already have Uber on your phone, you can use the same app in Taiwan
- In cities that use the app, you can request your own ride on the spot instead of hailing a cab
- You can follow the driver en-route to collect you
- The driver is clear on your destination from the app
- You are able to follow along on a map to know where you are while en-route
- For added safety, you can share your location through the app with friends and family
- Uber is not as widespread in Taiwan as it is in the U.S.
- Taxi drivers and Uber drivers do not always get along.
Travelers more accustomed to driving themselves can look into renting cars and mopeds during their stay in Taiwan. If you are considering this option, weigh the pros and cons of doing so. Contemplate how long you plan to stay in Taiwan and why you prefer driving yourself.
How to Rent a Car in Taiwan
Cars are structured the same way as American cars, so you can expect the driver’s wheel on the left side and passenger on the right. Cargo trucks and public buses aside, it’s rare to see individuals driving SUVs and minivans because of how narrow roads and streets are in much of Taiwan. It is even less practical to rent a large car during a visit to Taiwan.
The act of renting a car itself is quite simple. For tourists, the most convenient place to rent a vehicle is an airport or train station. For instance, the Taiwan Taoyuan International Aiport and most high speed rail stations offer car rental services. Many hotels can also help guests locate cars to rent.
In order to rent a car as a foreigner, you must be at least 21 years old and in possession of an International Drivers Permit (IDP), issued to you by your home country. Taiwanese traffic law requires all cars to drive on the right side of the road. See Taiwan’s traffic safety portal (English) for statistics and safety tips.
The average cost of a car rental in Taiwan is $102 USD per day. See here for a comparison of rental vehicle pricing and to rent a car. The price of gas per liter is generally NTD $28 (about $0.98 USD). For the record, most cars in Taiwan are automatic.
*Note: It is illegal to turn right at red lights in Taiwan. Most city streets also follow a speed limit of 50mph.
Car insurance is included in the rental price of most rental cars in Taiwan, but liability of 10000 NTD is still the deductible on car damages. Premium insurance is not available here (at the time of writing) from rental companies unfortunately. Some car rental agencies allow you to eliminate the insurance in the rental price if you have insurance from elsewhere, like a credit card, but some don’t. Generally larger companies are more sticklers to the all inclusive rental rates, while smaller companies are sometimes more flexible.
Pros of renting a car in Taiwan
- You are in control of your transportation and do not need to rely on taxi availability or public transit
- You can drive directly to your destination in your own timeframe
- Due to Taiwan’s size, the distance between each destination is manageable and can be reached within a day.
- Easy transport and storage of luggage between accommodations
- Several people can fit together
- English translations are on all road signs
Cons of renting a car in Taiwan
- Generally speaking, driving in Taiwanese cities can be messy. Cars (and mopeds) often break traffic safety rules, including, but not limited to running red lights, going over the speed limit, and disregarding pedestrian areas. Those unfamiliar with chaotic city traffic must be extra careful.
- Many, many locals drive mopeds, contributing to already messy traffic
- Traffic jams are frequent, and in metropolitan areas, street parking is extremely limited
- You will need car rental insurance
- Be aware that most highways come with unavoidable tolls.
How to Rent a Moped in Taiwan
For the local population, the most common form of transportation is the moped (though in Taiwan, scooters, mopeds, and motorcycles all go by the same name). It’s easy to drive, cheap to manage, and small enough to park practically anywhere. This is why so many apartment complexes in Taiwan have rows of mopeds parked in front of their entrances; Most residents own one or two.
If you are looking to provide your own transportation in Taiwan and don’t want to rent a car, renting a moped is another option to consider.
You can find moped rental shops nearby most train stations. Moped rentals come in gas and electric options, though gas is still the norm at the moment. Although some cities will allow you to rent with an IDP (International Drivers Permit), most require you to possess a local Taiwanese license or ARC (Alien Residence Certificate or work permit).
See this article on how to obtain a Taiwanese scooter license.
The cost of renting a moped ranges from NTD $350 per day to NTD $800 per day depending on where you rent from and the type of scooter you choose. Helmets are required by law and no more than 2 people may ride on a moped.
There are also vehicle sharing services wherein you can rent a moped through an app on your phone. This allows you to retrieve and return the moped at designated parking areas. Some examples of these services are WeMo and SKRT.
Note this article on scooter safety and additional rental details.
Pros of renting a Moped:
- As with a car rental, you are in control of your transportation and do not need to rely on others
- Mopeds allow more travel flexibility
- Easier to find parking
Cons of renting a Moped:
- You need a local driver’s license or ARC to rent a scooter
- Rental companies do not provide insurance so if anything happens to the vehicle, you must pay for all damages
- Mopeds cannot ride on freeways, highways, and (specific) inner lanes
- Only 2 people maximum can ride on one moped
- Difficult to transport luggage and purchases
- As mentioned above, driving in Taiwan can be chaotic, and there’s an additional danger to driving a moped due to the number of them on the road and their smaller size
*In my opinion, unless you plan to stay in Taiwan for a longer period of time, it’s safer and more convenient to use public transport or possibly to rent a car.
Taiwan offers bikers an extensive network consisting of over 4,000 kilometers of dedicated biking trails. Cycling in Taiwan is both popular and encouraged. You can find riding paths along the coast, in the cities, and in beautiful mountainous areas. The spectacular scenery of Taiwan combined with designated riding lanes and a cycle friendly culture, make Taiwan a cycler’s paradise.
To make things easier, most road signs are translated in English and if you are on one of the cycling routes, there are rest stops and services conveniently located along the way. If you do not want to bring your own bike, there are a plentitude of bicycle shops that rent quality and affordable bikes. Locals and tourists alike enjoy touring Taiwan by bike. You can actually complete a circuit around the island in 7-12 days, depending on your speed and how much you want to sightsee.
There is an unbelievably scenic approximately 1000km path that leads cyclers around Taiwan’s coast. The East coast is more rugged and less populated than the west coast, however the Sun Moon Lake trail is not to be missed. Each year there are at least 2 major biking events in Taiwan, The Tour de Taiwan and Taiwan Cycling Festival.
If you just want a taste of cycling in Taiwan, or need a quick transport option to go a short distance, consider taking advantage of the local bike-share system. YouBikes stations can be found on most streets, and riders are charged by the half hour. Renters can use the same EasyCard they use for the public transit system.
Public Bus Transit
Taiwan’s public transit is an extremely popular form of transportation among locals and tourists, especially in cities without subway systems. This is how most locals travel in Taiwan. The bus transit system is designed to require as few transfers as possible between routes, and most provide directions in both English and Chinese.
Each city has its own transit system, and intercity bus networks are also an option. You use the former to go from destination to destination within one city and the latter to travel between cities. See a guide to intercity buses here.
The average fare for a bus ride is $0.50 US (NTD $15).
Since the bus network is more complicated in the capital, see a guide to Taipei’s public bus system here.
Keep in mind that large pieces of luggage will be difficult to manage on public transportation. In tour coaches, there are luggage stowing compartments below deck but normal city buses do not have storage for your bags. There are often stairs or a step up to consider.
Pros of riding the bus
- Bus stops are available in every city and are easy to find
- Cheap fare
- Quick waits between buses
- Populated and relatively safe
Cons of riding the bus
- Limited seating
- Students tend to crowd buses that stop near schools
- There is still some distance to walk between the bus stop and your exact destination
- Transporting luggage may be cumbersome
Taipei Metro (MRT):
The MRT (mass rapid transit) system is only widespread in Taipei and to an extent, Kaohsiung and Taoyuan. However, it is an extremely popular form of transport and the most commonly used in Taipei. Known for its cleanliness and efficiency, the MRT is something travelers must take advantage of. You cannot know how to travel in Taiwan without knowing how to use Taipei’s MRT.
See the metro’s official website for routes and stations (English).
In Taipei, the MRT routes take you to virtually every corner of the city, through underground and above-ground railways. Every station has a clear map of the intersecting routes, with names labeled in both Chinese and English. The same applies to the trains themselves. Once on board, you’ll notice a screen above the train doors. The screen displays a scrolling ticker that tells you what the next stops are in Chinese and English. An intercom voice also announces future stops in Mandarin, Taiwanese (Minnan), Hakka, and English. And unlike the intercoms of the New York subway, this voice is fortunately crystal clear.
*Note that the Taipei metro does not allow eating or drinking on the trains. Smoking is prohibited on the trains and in stations as well.
Ticket prices range from NTD $20 to NTD $65, depending on the distance your trip covers. Each station has a service counter with an employee at the desk, and you may purchase MRT tickets from them if you wish. But the main method of purchasing is through ticket machines.
*The machines only accept coins, so if you only have banknotes, you will need to exchange them for coins at the service counters.
Your single-journey ticket comes in the form of a small blue token. You swipe it over turnstile sensors before your ride. At the end of your trip, you deposit the token at the ticket gate (turnstiles) before leaving the station.
You can also purchase a one-day pass at the counters or machines for NTD $150. The pass is a paper card that allows you to use the metro for the entire day, regardless of how many separate trips you take. Again, you swipe the pass over the sensors before each trip. There’s no need to return or deposit the pass when the day ends; Your daily validation will clock out by itself.
Pros of the MRT:
- Clean and fast
- Routes are easy to navigate and understand
- Cheap fare
Cons of the MRT:
- Depending on the time of day, trains can crowd easily
- Most widespread in Taipei
- As with public buses, there’s still some distance to walk between each station and your exact destination
- Luggage may be cumbersome as many stations only have stairs and trains are crowded and do not have luggage storage
If the metro seems daunting at first, get your feet wet on this ultimate Taipei sightseeing tour that packs tons of popular attractions into the day.
Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR)
For those looking to travel between cities in as little time as possible, I cannot recommend the Taiwan High Speed Railroad (THSR) enough. Knowing how to ride the THSR is crucial to knowing how to travel in Taiwan! The THSR train travels at 300km per hour between 12 stations along Taiwan’s west coast. The THSR stops at Nangang, Taipei, Banqiao, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Miaoli, Taichung, Changhua, Yunlin, Chiayi, Tainan and Zhuoying.
General THSR fare depends on distance traveled, ranging from under NTD $100 to almost NTD $3000. See here for a comparison of fares (click on the “more information” tab beside each category). The THSR offers discounts for students, children (50% off for children under 12, and free for children under 6), senior citizens (usually over 65), and groups of eleven or more travelers.
*In order to qualify for discounts, children under 12 must be under 150cm and children under 6 must be under 115cm. Otherwise, parents must provide legal ID.
For regular adults, there are 3 ticket categories to buy from (in order from most to least expensive): business class, standard class, and non-reserved seating. Purchasing the business class allows you to ride in business cars, which have larger seats and more space. Otherwise, you ride in standard cars. If purchased in advance, both types of tickets let you reserve seats. Those who purchase the non-reserved seating can sit in any unreserved seat on the day of the trip.
You may buy tickets on the day of the trip or beforehand at THSR station counters and through ticket machines (with directions available in Chinese and English). Most Taiwanese convenience stores also provide machines to purchase THSR tickets. Note that convenience stores only accept cash for THSR purchases (station counters also accept credit). Once you purchase the ticket at a machine, you must print it out within 10 minutes. All tickets are valid only for the date specified.
Before you enter the THSR platform, insert your ticket into the ticketing gate (turnstile). The ticket will return to you on the other side of the gate. Once you’re on the train, the conductor will check your ticket again. When you reach your destination, insert the ticket into the gate again and leave; the ticket will not return.
*Enter the ticket gate from the left before boarding. Leave the ticket gate from the right when exiting the platform.
A Passenger’s luggage shall not exceed 150cm in length per piece, or 220cm in total length, width and height per piece, and 40kg in total weight. Passengers can carry folding bicycles packed in carry bags which sizes are under the limit of the carry bags, and the folding bicycles should be placed in the Luggage Spaces at both ends of each car. Animals for the most part are prohibited, with few exceptions. No dangerous goods, trolleys without a brake, inflated balloons, poultry, or pet birds are permitted to be brought on trains.
Smoking and chewing betel nuts is prohibited on trains, as is smelly food. Phones and electronic devices must be silent mode and talk should be in a low voice during calls.
Pros of the THSR
- Often connect to metro stations
- The smoothest and fastest way to travel between cities
- Easy to navigate
- Opportunity to travel in business class (with free headphones and music)
- Luggage (although limited in size) can be brought and there are storage areas
Cons of the THSR
- More expensive than the metro and bus systems
- If you buy non-reserved seats, you may only sit in non-reserved seats and must give up your seat if a reserved ticket-holder arrives
- Wide array of fare prices
- Luggage may be difficult to maneuver in stations
- Limited sized luggage permitted
The regular railway system is also a popular form of travel between cities in Taiwan. Travelers can buy tickets at ticket windows or machines within train stations. They can also purchase from multimedia machines at convenience stores or post offices when available. Again, tickets must be printed within 10 minutes of purchase.
You can also book tickets online. If you book tickets two days or less prior to the date of your train, you must pay the day before the trip. If you book a ticket on the day of your train, you must pay for it 30 minutes before departure. You can book tickets as far as 12 days in advance.
*You will need a valid ID and order number to complete your ticket purchases.
*Ticket fares vary depending on distance, destination, and whether you purchase a single-journey or return ticket. Discounts are offered to children, senior citizens, and disabled passengers.
See here for fare calculation and ticketing differences.
Before you enter the train platform, insert your ticket into the ticketing gate. The ticket will return to you on the other side of the gate. When you reach your destination, insert the ticket into the gate again and leave; the ticket will not return.
*As with the THSR, enter the ticket gate from the left before boarding. Leave the ticket gate from the right when exiting the platform.
There is generally room for small backpacks or luggage at your feet or on some trains on an overhead rack. There is a luggage center in some stations where you can check luggage to your destination, but you must do this 2 hours in advance of the train. Many stations have baggage deposit rooms to store your luggage which may be a good option if you are returning.
Pros of the Railway
- Cheaper than THSR fare
- Runs throughout Taiwan instead of only on the west coast
- It’s part of an older network, so visitors can see historic train stations
Cons of the Railway
- More complex ticketing system than buses and MRT
- Slower than the THSR
- More crowded than THSR
If you are not sure about taking the train yourself, try this awesome day tour tour to the Taroko Gorge incorporates your train and ferry for you.
Last but not least, we need to discuss the Easy Card (otherwise known as a “yoyo ka” in Taiwan). This is the key for how to travel in Taiwan. Nearly everyone living in Taiwan owns an Easy Card. For tourists thinking about visiting for more than a few days, this might be a worthwhile purchase.
Instead of digging out change for bus fare every time, most locals use the Easy Card to pay for their public bus rides. They also use the Easy Card to ride the metro. With it, you no longer have to buy single-trip tokens or daily passes. Swiping the Easy Card is enough. The Easy Card also allows for train and THSR purchases, public bicycle rentals, parking payments, and museum and zoo admission in some cases.
You can also use it as a credit card in convenience stores. When you do, the store builds up rewards within your card and you can even exchange the points for prizes (think: stickers, free drinks, etc.). Other shops that allow Easy Cards in place of actual credit cards and cash will denote it with stickers at their cash registers.
Easy Card started in 2002, and since then, has become an indispensable part of Taiwanese life. Many have even linked it to their debit cards and phones. The Easy Card is rechargeable and you can replenish its funds when it starts running low.
You can buy an Easy Card for NTD $100 at convenience stores and MRT stations. Upon purchase, the card is empty, so you’ll need to add funds to it immediately. The standard card design costs NTD $100, but specialized designs tend to cost more.
*The Easy Card is the most widely used card of this sort in Taiwan, but the iPass is a similar card with the same functions.
So How to Travel in Taiwan?
In this article, we’ve sketched out the main modes of travel in Taiwan. How you travel always depends on personal preference and budget, of course. But now that you have an idea of how to travel in Taiwan, you can keep it in mind for future trips to the island.
Sometimes it is just easier and less stressful to take a tour. There is so much to see, including waterfalls and movie sets on this half day tour. Or check out any one of these tours that last from 2 hours to several days and help you to see some of the most beautiful and exciting parts of Taiwan.