Asia,  Health,  International,  Jenny's Journal,  Taiwan

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

Recently, I’ve been waking up at odd hours, listening for the high-pitched ping of a doorbell and the flow of traffic outside. When I look out the window, I see some mopeds and blue delivery trucks pass by a street lined with storefronts displaying Chinese characters. Then I remember that I am back in Taichung, my hometown in central Taiwan, and currently recovering from jet lag at an anti-epidemic hotel. Right now, this is the common experience of what it is like to travel to Taiwan during quarantine.

Current Covid-19 Mandates for Overseas Travelers in Taiwan

Taiwan has a mandatory quarantine procedure for all overseas visitors (including Taiwanese citizens) that has been in effect since it closed its borders during the pandemic. The policies have changed as Covid cases decline and as regulations loosen, but remain intense. The quarantine mandate used to require all travelers to quarantine in an anti-epidemic hotel for 14 days, plus 7 days of self-isolation at an empty home (for returning citizens). Currently, travelers must stay at a government-approved anti-epidemic hotel for 10 days, followed by 7 days of self-isolation at home for returning citizens (they can also self-isolate at home for the total 17 days instead).

*Note: At the time of writing this, only travelers with work visas or Taiwanese passports can enter the island.

Taiwan Cityscape in Spring - Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine
Taipei Cityscape in Spring

The intense quarantine process makes many reluctant to leave or return to Taiwan. However, the process is in constant flux and growing more lax as the global pandemic becomes more stable. Due to how long the quarantine procedure is, it is most beneficial to stay in Taiwan for at least 2 months post quarantine (in my case, at least 6). That said, traveling to Taiwan during quarantine is definitely an experience in itself.

Preparation

While preparing for travel to Taiwan during quarantine, there were some new regulations that we had to follow before the flight. There was no issue with booking a flight on an airline. In this regard, the process is the same as booking an air ticket to anywhere else. The airline itself, however does not allow passengers on board unless they can show proof of:

  • A negative PCR test taken exactly 48 hours ago
  • Confirmation of a booking at a quarantine hotel starting on the date of arrival

The airline accepts PCR tests from anywhere that provides them within the given timeframe, but the majority of travelers submitted PCRs from CVS Pharmacy (myself included).

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine - Covid-19 test
RT-PCR COVID-19 Virus Disease Diagnostic Test

Anti-Epidemic Hotels

As for the anti-epidemic hotel, you can book anywhere that the Taiwanese government recognizes as an “official quarantine” hotel. All that matters is that you do book a room, and have proof that your check-in and check-out dates correspond with your date of arrival in Taiwan, plus the following 10 days of isolation.

Most quarantine hotels only allow bookings from arriving travelers to avoid confusion between which guests must stay inside their rooms (incoming travelers) and which guests can leave the hotel (domestic visitors).

The former quarantine policy required every traveler to book an individual room for quarantine, even if they traveled into Taiwan together. The only exception was for a parent with children under 12. Now people traveling together can also stay in one room, so couples and families can quarantine in the same room.

Here is a list of some official anti-epidemic hotels in Taiwan by area. These hotels can range from luxury hotels to business hotels and modest inns. They can be booked by clicking the links below.

ZhongShan

Songshan

Zhongzheng

Datong

Xinyi

Beitou

Shilin

Da’an

Wanhua

Nangang

Neihu

LAX – Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

LAX Airport - Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

At Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), we went directly to the counter for our airline. There, we showed the airline staff our PCR tests and the booking for our quarantine hotel. In addition to confirmation of our booking, we also needed to have checked in online to the hotel beforehand. (After the online check-in, the hotel sends us an image that we can then use as confirmation to show the airline.)

Then the airline asked us to take an online health questionnaire with our phones via a link provided by Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare. The survey collects data as part of a “quarantine system for entry.” It asked us if we were feeling symptoms of Covid-19, if we received our vaccinations, if we had negative PCR results, and if we would be able to stay in a quarantine hotel. After seeing proof that we took the survey, the airline counter put a sticker on our boarding passes. This would allow us to board the plane.

The counter also reminded us that we would need a local SIM card upon arrival in Taiwan. We would need the local SIM to receive a text with a link to another health survey and passenger questionnaire once we landed.

You can compare low cost airfares and book your travel to Taiwan here.

On the Plane – Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

Fortunately, the airplane was relatively empty on our flight to Taiwan. With the exception of parents with small children, nearly all passengers were able to sit in a row by themselves. The flight attendants wore protective aprons, gloves, masks, and face shields. Passengers were only required to wear masks, though I saw many with face shields as well. Most of us also went to the bathroom with gloves as an extra precaution.

The attendants handed out alcoholic wipes at the beginning of the flight. As I recall, they also used to provide passengers with snacks (Ex. peanuts) at intervals throughout the flight. This time, they did not. They only served food and drinks during meal times (one dinner after takeoff and one breakfast before landing). However, we were able to individually request drinks and wipes at any time during the flight. Although hot coffee and tea were poured into open cups, water and juice were served in bottles and boxes.

Inflight Snacks - Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine
A Thing of the Past!

The attendants also told us that passengers could not sit anywhere except in the seat (or row, in the case of empty ones) that they booked. So we could not move to a different seat for the duration of the flight. This policy was in place so that the airline would be able to more easily identify and keep track of passengers if anyone tested positive for Covid-19 after landing or had health issues en route.

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine
Photo by Ahmed Syed

Also see Jenny in Wanderland article, Virus and Illness Prevention While Flying

Taoyuan – Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

Thirteen hours later, the plane landed at Taoyuan International Airport. In the past, international arrivals would go directly to customs control and then baggage claim. The new procedure directed all of us into a specialized gate instead, operated by airport staff in protective gear (full-body suits, face shields, gloves, and masks). We could sit in any available seat, as long as there was an empty seat in between each occupant.

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine - Airport Staff in Covid-19 Gear
Taoyuan staff at the front of the gate

Taoyuan Taiwan Airport Procedures

There was a designated PCR testing area towards the back of the gate, secluded by a screen. Next, the staff called (via intercom) each passenger’s name, accompanied by their passport identification numbers. Group by group, we lined up by the testing area for PCR tests on the spot. The airport staff assigned us testing numbers that corresponded to the order we were called, before they swabbed our noses. The swabbing here was intense! The cotton tipped sticks were harder than what I am used to, and they really went up there. I could still feel the swab as we returned to our seats to await the results.

While we waited, airport staff informed us that we needed to complete another official health survey before entering customs. (The captain had also made the same announcement on the plane after we landed.) This meant that everyone not carrying a local SIM card would need to purchase one at the airport. Then they could receive a text from the airport that linked to an individualized survey. This questionnaire would again ask for names, passport numbers, health status, vaccination status, and hotel address.

It took around an hour for the results to come in. Afterwards, the intercom announced the numbers corresponding to negative results. Again in groups, passengers with the summoned numbers were allowed to leave the gate.

Local SIM Cards – Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

There were several airport employees (in the same protective gear) standing outside the gate to guide travelers onward. Travelers who had already taken the second questionnaire with a local mobile number only needed to show a confirmation image to the staff. Then they could go onto customs and border control.

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine- Sim card
Photo by Brett Jordan

I initially planned to share a phone number with my mother, who had a local SIM with her. Since we flew together and would stay in the same room during quarantine, we registered her number for both of us during the first health survey at LAX. However, the Taoyuan employees told us that anyone over the age of 12 had to have their own phone. This is a measure that prevents people in quarantine from sneaking into crowded spaces, because the health bureau used our SIMs to track our movements and to keep in touch with us about any Covid-19 symptoms.

CDC County Health Inspectors

Depending on which area of Taiwan you quarantine within, you are assigned a county legislator from the CDC. This legislator doubles as a health inspector. They send daily texts asking about your health. You are also expected to take antigen self-tests and send your results to the inspector on a set schedule (more on this below). As such, your phone must stay on during the entire quarantine period. Therefore, they must be charged at all times.

Purchasing a New SIM

There were many people without local SIM cards on their person (myself included). We were able to purchase a Taiwan SIM card from a special stand right next to the gate, manned by airport staff. When buying the SIM, we had the option of purchasing a short-term or long-term card. We could dispose of, or replace the cards, once the quarantine period ended, but until then, they had to remain in our phones and active.

Once we inserted the new SIM into my phone, airport employees helped me find the website to take the online questionnaire. I entered my identification information, health status, hotel address, and local mobile number. The questionnaire registered my arrival and sent my number to our health inspector. Then we were permitted to pass.

Customs and Border Control – Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

En route to border control, we were given laminated cards that told customs officers that we had nothing to declare, and therefore had nothing that would require inspection for swine flu. We then put the cards into a bin that would recycle them for future passengers. Then the customs officers told us to take antigen self-test kits. At their instruction, we snapped a photo of the self-test schedule on display.

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine - Self Test Schedule in Taiwan
The Self-Test Schedule for Travelers in Quarantine

Although there was no set hour, we had to test ourselves and send an image of the result to our health legislator on assigned dates. In this case, it was once on the third day after arrival, then again on the fifth day, then the seventh.

We were told that a professional would perform a PCR test for us during the 10th day of quarantine at the hotel. If the result was negative, we could go home.

Once home, we would have to self-test again on the third day after coming home and then one last time on the sixth or seventh day after. So every antigen package included 5 total kits for each person. With every self-test, we needed to take a photo of the result and send it to our health legislator.

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine - Covid-19 Self Test
My (thankfully!) negative result, taken from the COVID-19 antigen self-test kitl.

After collecting our kits, recycling our cards, and showing airport employees proof that we submitted our second questionnaire, we finally went to border control. Due to the small amount of people on our flight, there was barely anyone in line at passport inspection. The windows for international travelers were closed, and there were only border officers at the windows for returning citizens and travelers with specialized visas. 

Language

Since most arrivals were returning citizens, there was more vocal instruction in Mandarin without a corresponding English translation at the airport. This was surprising to me, because before the borders closed, all vocal announcements came with an English counterpart. Written signs and online instructions were still available in both languages, however.

I felt that the complicated procedures could be confusing to travelers unfamiliar with Mandarin, but there were plenty of staff available to help each individual. Even though most passengers on our flight were presumably citizens, I also noticed several international travelers. In their case, the airport staff spoke English to them individually, and we were all ultimately able to successfully go to baggage claim.

Leaving the Airport – Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

There were no new regulations when it came to baggage claim, but after collecting our luggage, we had to go through a new ground transportation procedure. When we found the taxi area, we had to show the counter confirmation of our hotel booking and check-in. Then airport staff sprayed disinfectant on our bags and us.

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine - Disinfecting luggage
The Driver Disinfecting Our Luggage

Since we booked a room at a quarantine hotel, there was a designated driver to take us there. The driver specialized in driving international guests to the hotel from the airport. Once we were disinfected, we followed the driver outside. He pulled his van up to the airport entrance, and we loaded our luggage into the trunk before climbing into the backseat.

Like the rest of the airport staff, the driver was also decked-out in protective gear (gloves, scrubs, and mask). The driver’s seat was separated from the passengers via a plastic sheet, although we could still easily speak to the chauffeur.

The Anti-Epidemic Hotel – Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

Around two hours later, our van arrived at the Yong Yue Journey Hotel  where we would spend quarantine for the next 10 days. The hotel did not allow the driver to park at the front entrance, and instead directed him to a designated back door. From there, we entered the hotel with our luggage and showed the concierge our check-in confirmation. He asked us to “friend” the hotel on the LINE app via a QR code so that we could communicate with the staff through the app, as well as the front desk landline.

*The concierge, along with the rest of the hotel staff, also wore protective gear in the form of medical scrubs, gloves, a mask, and face shield.

*The pictures of the hotel online slightly differ from its current state, namely the lobby which has been converted entirely to suit quarantine needs.

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine
Exterior View of the Yong Yue Hotel

After receiving our key card, we took the elevator to our room on the sixth floor. The door only locks from the inside, but there is always someone on duty on the first floor so that guests can’t just walk out of the hotel before quarantine ends.

We arrived in Taiwan at 5am and made it to the hotel by 9am, 4 hours later. Then the quarantine experience began.

The Quarantine Experience

The hotel tried to keep each occupied room separated by at least one empty room, so that the guests could also stay apart from each other. Once we entered our room, we were required to stay inside for the duration of the following 10 days. We could open the window as we pleased. We could open the door to put out trash (which the staff collected at regular intervals) or to bring in the meals, but otherwise our activity was restricted to the room.

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine - hotel room
The Mist Comes from a Filter Cleansing the Air in the Corridor Outside Our Room
The Air Filter at Work

We booked a regular two-bed suite with a bathroom and shower (and a sink outside the bathroom). There is not much of a view outside the room, but it does overlook a peaceful street bordering a residential building and a local café. Although there is no closet inside the room, there are plenty of drawers and cabinets. Due to the limited space, we had to be creative with how we stored our suitcases (Ex. under the table). There is a box of water bottles in the room for our use. We can also ask the hotel to deliver more whenever we run out.

Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine - Yong Yue Quarantine Hotel
The view outside the room

Aside from cable TV, there isn’t much to do inside the room itself, so we spent the first day making sure our Wi-Fi connected. At first, the internet was unstable because the entire floor shared the same wireless Wi-Fi signal, as opposed to a single room. This hotel quickly resolved the issue by bringing us a cable to connect to the room’s Wi-Fi. (It’s been a good while since we used an Ethernet cable though!). You may want to just bring one with you in case.

Quarantine Meals

The hotel staff delivers three meals to each guest per day at set hours (8am, 12pm, and 6pm) though it sometimes arrives earlier. So far, the meals have been different each time. Guests who have dietary restrictions or preferences can tell the hotel at the time of booking. They can inform the front desk of these restrictions any time during their stay as well.

The hotel also allows deliveries such as takeout, though they must be left with the front desk. For instance, relatives could bring us items like fruit or cutlery. If they do, they leave the items with the concierge, who then brings them to the room. As with meals, the hotel leaves items on either the basket attached to our door or the folding chair next to it, so we essentially never come in contact with the staff. (The only exception to this was when the concierge, in protective gear, came into our room to help resolve our Wi-Fi issue.)

Boxed meals outside a quarantine room
Boxed meals sitting on the chair outside our room

*Note: The delivery policy is as follows. The hotel brings food directly to us as soon as possible, but everything else arrives depending on the staff’s set schedule.

Little Surprises

There were some special surprises that we did not expect to see. On the first day we arrived to the room, the hotel gifted us two mugs with Jeremy Lin’s face on them (featured in the images above), along with a package of towels, facial masks, and some extra tea and coffee packets. At one point, we also received a small gift bag from the Ministry of Health and Welfare consisting of dried nuts.

Sometimes the hotel sends up little gifts such as extra snacks for a miniature afternoon tea, or on one occasion, a bottle of red wine. These unpredictable little surprises have quickly become my favorite part of the otherwise monotone quarantine experience.

Choosing a nicer quarantine hotel can definitely enhance your experience, but these hotels can be costly.

Surprise Snacks in Taiwan quarantine hotel
“Afternoon tea,” as provided by the hotel: onion rings, grape vinegar, cracker snacks, and small cantaloupe cakes in the shape of Taiwan
Surprise treats in Quarantine hotel.
Surprise chocolates, along with a message describing the tradition of White Valentine’s Day
Complimentary wine in quarantine hotel
The most surprising dinner, accompanied by two bottles of complimentary wine
Seafood dinner in Taiwan Quarantine Hotel
An equally surprising seafood dinner on our last night, accompanied with white wine

Passing the Time – Travel to Taiwan during Quarantine

Thanks to jet lag, I spent the first half of my quarantine sleeping away a good part of each day. Otherwise, I am pacing around the room, working on my laptop, surfing the web, or trying the meals sent to our room. As mentioned before, we also answer daily texts inquiring about our health.

The most intense experience of our quarantine has probably been the antigen test. In accordance with the given schedule, we test ourselves, snap a photo of the result, and send it to our health inspector.

On the 10th day of quarantine (also the day we check out), a professional will come to our room so we can take a PCR test. If the results are negative, we will be free to go home to self-isolate, and if our antigen tests continue to be negative, our quarantine will officially end after 7 days.

A glimpse of the hotel room on the day we checked out

Although masks are still mandatory in practically every corner of Taiwan, establishments such as restaurants, malls, theaters, and museums are now open to the public. People can again dine inside restaurants, attend the cinema and live theatre, and so on.

For the purpose of contact tracing, most venues now have a QR code at their entrance that everyone must scan before entering. These codes appear at supermarkets, convenience stores, and even temples. If someone does not have their phone with them, they can also just write down their name and phone number on a clipboard beside the QR code.

Regardless of protocols, I look forward to being outside again, but for now, I will just rest, write, and make the most of my quarantine.

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