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Taiwan Driving Guide 2020

Taiwan is one of the most beautiful and exciting destinations in the world. Explore all of it with an International Driving Permit.

Lisa Brown

March 2, 2020

INTRODUCTION

Taiwan is a diverse and exciting locale about 100 miles away from the southeastern coast of China, and it is a great place to go on vacation by car. You’ll be able to see some of the most breathtaking views in the world as you travel on roads throughout the island. Read on to learn more about getting the most out of your driving vacation in Taiwan and to discover tips to help you have a safe and enjoyable time there.

China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory, and it consists of the main island, 22 Taiwanese islands, and the 64 islands of the Pescadores. About 23.6 million people live in Taiwan, most of whom live on the flatter western part of the island. There are numerous territory disputes with Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, and China over other nearby islands. The main island of Taiwan is about 245 miles long from north to south and is about 90 miles at its widest point. It’s roughly oval in shape and about the size of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut when put together. The Pacific Ocean lies to the east, and the Bashi Channel divides Taiwan from the Philippines to the south. Taiwan (Formosa) Straight is to the west, and it separates China from Taiwan.

Taiwan has volcanic soil and a lot of earthquakes, and some geologists think it was once part of mainland Asia. This is because of the age and formations of rocks on its western coasts, in addition to the way its coastline is laid out. Mountains grace the interior of the island and slope gently to the west and more sharply to the east.

Taiwan was independent but without a central authority before the 1600s, and it was a Dutch colony for 40 years in the 17th century. Later, it was independent again for about 20 years. China then ruled beginning in the late 1600s for about 200 years. Next on the list of rulers was Japan beginning in 1895, and it was returned to China’s control after World War II. The year 1949 saw the Chinese communist victory over Nationalist forces in mainland China. The People’s Republic of China was created, but the Nationalist army and government escaped to Taiwan. There is still no agreement on when and how the two will be brought together again.

You’ll love the subtropical climate of Taiwan, and, if you want more sun and warmer weather, just head south to where the tropical climate takes over. Summers last from about April to October, and winters are mild and short. You may see some snow in the mountains and in the northern areas of the island. The wet-dry wind patterns create winds that blow southeast in the rainy season of October through March in the north, but, during this time, it is dry in the south. In the summer, the conditions are the opposite. Nearby islands have similar climates, but they don’t have the added factor of elevation that Taiwan has. Taiwan experiences some of the strongest typhoons in the world from late summer to early fall, and they can cause significant problems, such as crop damage and widespread flooding.

Renting a car will allow you to explore not just the big cities but also those all-important towns, villages and landmarks in Taiwan.

Places to Visit in Taiwan

The Portuguese sailors who called Taiwan “Ilha Formosa” in the late 1500s were right: the island is beautiful. The island has a rich cultural history, including Japanese, Dutch, Chinese, and aboriginal influences. You can take in meandering gorges, hot springs, mystical mountains, and tropical beaches, all in one place.

Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, features many treasures, such as the National Palace Museum, which is the home of an amazing collection of Chinese art. The museum has almost 700,000 artifacts, but only a fraction can be shown at a time. You can also see the Chian Kai-shek Memorial Hall, which honors the former Republic of China president. The Shilin night market is the best place to experience the foodie vibe of the city.

Check out Maokong, south of Taipei, by riding the cable car that goes from the Taipei Zoo metro station. You’ll see stellar views of Taipei, especially at night. Beitou of the north features hot springs, and the Beitou Thermal Valley is the best place to go nearby for some breathtaking views.

Wind through Taroko National Park to see the Taroko Gorge. You’ll take the Taroko Gorge Trail to the Eternal Spring Shrine, which was built to honor those who passed away in building the Central Cross-Island Highway in the 1950s. Hike the 0.3 –a mile-long trail of Swallow Grotto to see the gorgeous view of the turquoise Liwu River. The Tunnel of Nine Turns provides views of white marble cliffs in the narrowest parts of the gorge.

For some impressive geological views, go to Siaoyeliou, full of rock formations marked by erosion, or go over the eight-arched bridge (made to look like a dragon) in Taitung on the east coast of Taiwan. You’ll get to Sansiantai Island on the other side of the bridge, which is a nature reserve well-known for its unique sunrise and sunset views. Take in the Caves of the Eight Immortals in Taitung to learn about Taiwan’s oldest civilization.

Kaohsiung is another great place to visit as it is Taiwan’s biggest port. You’ll enjoy colorful temples and pagodas on calm walks throughout the city. In particular, the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas on Lotus Pond are not to be missed, and neither is the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, which are dedicated to the gods of war and mercy. You can tour to Taiwan’s largest Confucius Temple at the north end of Lotus Pond.

The Maolin National Scenic Area is a jaw-dropping area with forests and hot springs, as well as waterfalls and gorges. Maolin features some of the best hiking trails, and the Purple Butterfly Valley is where about a million Euploeini butterflies stay for the winter. You can also take in the traditional Hakka crafts, like handmade paper umbrellas in the Meinong Fold Village not far away.

Also visit Tainan, which was the home base for the Dutch East India Company in the 1600s. The city was also the capital of Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty. The Chihkan Towers and Fort Anping were constructed by the Dutch in 1653 and are definitely worth visiting. Taiwan’s oldest Confucius Temple is also in Tainan.

Sun Moon Lake is open and pleasant to visit throughout the year. The Chi-En Pagoda features stunning views, and you can hike up the trail to the pagoda to witness fireflies lighting the way in the spring. You can also take cruises on the lake or explore it by renting a boat yourself.

On the west coast of Taiwan is Lukang, which is well-known for its traditional architecture. The Lungshan Temple was built in the Qing Dynasty and has a decorative wooden ceiling that was constructed without nails over its outdoor stage. You’ll also enjoy the Lukang Tienhou Temple, or “Queen of Heaven” temple, which was built for Matsu, goddess of the sea. The city also features the Lukang Folk Arts Museum in a large home from the time of the Japanese.

Drinking bubble tea, also known as milk tea, is an absolute must-do on the list of things to do while you’re in Taiwan. It originated in Taiwan in the 1980s, and it consists of tea with a base of milk, fruit, and fruit juices. The “bubbles” are tapioca pearls that are at the bottom of the cup. You can get hot or iced cold, and you get the drink in a cup with a fat straw so that you can get the tapioca pearls easily. The name of “bubble” tea also has to do with the shaking involved in its blending that makes the pearls float.

Finally, explore Taichung, a city that was an industrial center when the Japanese colonized the island. It is popular for its great weather and good universities. There are several shopping malls and nightclubs well-known by young people. Taichung also has a national fine arts museum and the Chun Shui Tang Teahouse, supposedly the first bubble tea shop.

If you forget or make a last minute decision that you want to rent a car while you are in Taiwan, it is possible to get an IDP through a premium fast track service, and it will be sent to you electronically in just a few hours.

Driving in the U.S. with a Taiwan License

If you are from Taiwan and you want to drive in the US with a foreign license, your Taiwan license must be valid. Some states require drivers to have an International Driving Permit as well as a valid license. You can find the motor vehicle department of each state in which you want to drive there to check its requirements.

On March 2, 2016, Massachusetts became the 16th state to create a driver’s license reciprocity agreement with Taiwan. This is good news for individuals who would otherwise have to save time, effort, and money to take another road and written exam. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it will allow those with Massachusetts licenses living in Taiwan to avoid having to take a written and road test as well. Massachusetts allows those over 18 and who are foreign citizens to drive for a year with a foreign license. As of 2018, the number of states with reciprocity agreements with Taiwan jumped to 21. Taiwan also has reciprocity agreements with other nations in Europe, Asia, and South and Central America.

You can also get an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) that will demonstrate that you have a valid foreign license. IDP is also translated into several languages, so it can be used in many countries. Both the United States and Taiwan are signatories of the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, so an IDP from Taiwan is good for Taiwanese license-holders in the U.S.

If you’re driving in California with a Taiwan driving license, know that the State of California does not accept IDPs as valid driver’s licenses. An IDP is essentially a translation of your original home-country license. California does, however, recognize a valid driver’s license that was issued in a foreign country of which the holder is a resident. You don’t need an IDP to drive a vehicle in California.

You should be at least 18 years of age, and your Taiwan license should state the type of vehicle you’re driving in while you’re in California. If you are 16 or 17 years old, you can drive in California for up to 10 days right after you enter the state. However, if you have a license that is valid from Taiwan and you have a nonresident minor’s certificate from the California Department of Motor Vehicles and “have filed a proof of financial responsibility in connection therewith,” you’re not under the 10-day limit. You should have your IDP. If you have one, and your original license with you whenever you drive. 

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Driving in Taiwan

Driving in Taiwan with US license is not going to work if you want to travel through the country by car or motorcycle. You will need to get an International Driving Permit or IDP. Your US license alone is not enough to allow you to drive legally in Taiwan. You can get your IDP online, and you will need a copy of your U.S. driver’s license to apply for your IDP. If you don’t get an IDP, you are not permitted to drive in Taiwan until you have obtained a permanent Taiwan driver’s license. With an IDP, you can drive for 30 days in Taiwan, but, after 30 days, you have to go to the Motor Vehicles office to get an IDP extension. You may be able to get your permission to drive in Taiwan extended until you leave or until your Alien Resident Certificate expires.

Driving in Taiwan with a UK license also requires you to get an IDP. You can obtain an IDP in the UK post offices throughout the country or online. You won’t be able to get an IDP once you’re outside the UK. You need to get it before you leave the U.K. It is also available online. Just visit internationaldriversassociation.com for more convenient way of getting an IDP.

You may find that you want to stay longer in Taiwan and need to drive longer than you originally thought you would. To get an IDP extension, you should go to the Motor Vehicles Office in Taipei to learn about the specific rules. It would be a good idea to take your IDP, your original U.S. driver’s license, passport or Alien Resident Card, a completed application, and a passport-sized photo of yourself.

Driving in Taiwan vs. the U.S.

As an American driving in Taiwan, you may be nervous about hitting the road in Taiwan, but, don’t worry because Taiwanese drivers drive on the right, just like in the US. That is the biggest concern many drivers have whenever they drive in another country. If you’re coming from Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia, UK, or Singapore, be careful when you drive as you’re used to driving on the left side of the road.

Traffic light sequencing is the same in Taiwan as it is in many other countries. If it is legal to turn right on a red light if the road is clear in your country, know that this is illegal to do in Taiwan. You’ll see many drivers do it in Taiwan, but avoid doing so yourself so you don’t get pulled over by the police.

Additionally, note that distance and speed limits are posted in kilometers and kilometers per hour, respectively. You may need to get used to a new way of thinking about how far and fast you drive if you’re from a country that does not use the metric system. Pay close attention to the signs as you drive as well as your speedometer to ensure you’re staying within posted speed limits.

You’ll also want to know that many signs for roads and streets are written in English and Chinese, but beware! The English spellings of towns, cities, and streets are often inconsistent. For instance, Zhongshan Road is also written in English as Chung Shan Road.

You will need a license to ride a scooter or motorcycle. To get a driver’s license for a motorcycle with an engine over 50 cc, follow the same procedures as you would for a vehicle driver’s license. You will need to take a written test to get a license to ride a scooter. You cannot exchange or extend your IDP or US license when getting your scooter license.

What is the Driving Age in Taiwan?

The minimum driving age in Taiwan is 18. If you’re asking, “What is the legal driving age in Taiwan for renting a car?” the answer is different. You need to be 21 to rent a car, but you can drive at 18. Be aware that you may have to pay fees to rental car companies if you are between 21 and 25 years of age and want to rent a car.

How Safe is Driving in Taiwan?

As a foreigner driving in Taiwan, you need to know what to expect. In general, it is safe to drive in Taiwan. Driving a car can help you reach some areas outside of Taipei, like Nantou, Taitung, and Hualien. If you are staying in Taipei, you are probably better off using public transit because finding a parking and driving space can be hard there. The cities are incredibly crowded with cars, and this is true throughout the day and night. Renting a car, though, gives you the opportunity to see the gorgeous countryside of the country.

Taiwan has many driving laws to help you stay safe as you drive. For example, everyone has to use a seat belt when they are in a moving vehicle. Also, the blood alcohol limit is 50 mg per 100 mL of blood. Driving under the influence comes with a stiff penalty, so only drive sober.

Speed limits are up to 110 km/hr on motorways, and they may be 100 km/hr. On open roads, the speed limits are 80 to 90 km/hr. In towns and cities, the speed limits are 40 to 50 km/hr. It is not legal to use a mobile phone while you’re driving without a hands-free kit. You’ll get a fixed penalty charge if you are caught.

Every highway features electronic tolls that are scanned with an e-tag prepaid account or photographing the license plate of a car. If the license plate is photographed, billing takes place later. If you rent a vehicle, you’ll pay the tolls when you return the car. Be aware that some charges may show up long after you return the vehicle. Expect speed trap cameras along the sides of the roads. You can see the cameras, and you’re warned about them on signs that are written in Chinese.

So if you’re asking, “Is it safe to drive in Taiwan?” the answer is generally, yes. The network of roads in Taiwan is somewhat dense, and road conditions are good in most places. However, the condition of roads in the mountains can be questionable as they suffer damage from typhoons and earthquakes and are often being repaired. Get information on real-time traffic and other information about driving in Taiwan from the Freeway Bureau website, which is written in English.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Modes of Transportation in Taiwan

While driving may be the most convenient form of transportation in Taiwan, there are also other modes of transport. First of all, there are six major airports: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Taipei Songshan Airport, Hualien Airport, Taichung International Airport, Tainan Airport, and Kaohsiung International Airport. So, getting into the country from anywhere in the world isn’t a problem.

Taxis are one way to get around within a city, and they are everywhere you look in large cities. However, they can be expensive. You can expect to pay between USD$33 and $45 to get from the airport to Taipei Main Station. Consider printing out the address where you want to go in Chinese or saving it on your phone. Uber is another option, but you’ll pay about the same price. Grab a Data SIM Card at the airport to get an Uber.

The MRT train is one of the best ways to get around cities. You can buy an Easy Card from any MRT station. You can ride the train without purchasing tickets. You’ll spend about USD$5 to get from Terminals 1 and 2 at the airport to the Taipei Main Station.

Each ride on buses in cities is about USD$0.50 in Taipei, and you can use the same Easy Card. You can ride the bus for free for the first half-hour in Taichung. Use Google Maps to plan out your route. Intercity buses are also available. There are buses that leave from Taoyuan Airport or from bus stops in other parts of the city. Find a list of intercity buses from the Taoyuan Airport here. If you ride the bus, you’ll either pay when you get on or when you get off. You’ll see a lighted sign on the bus which will say “Pay on Boarding,” (上車收費) or “Pay upon alighting” (下車收費). If both lights are lit, then you pay when you get on and off.

Buses between Taipei and Kaohsiung take 5-6 hours and will cost you between USD$13 and $23. At the low end of the price range on this route is bus operator Kuo-Kuang, while UBus is in the middle. Aloha Bus is one of the most expensive. Find route information here.

Check out YouBike to ride a bike in the city. Use the Easy Card to pay for it, and you’ll find bikes at MRT stations and other places in the city. It’s only USD$0.16 for the first half-hour of riding in Taipei. It’s free for the first thirty minutes in Taichung City, Chunghua County, and New Taipei City.
You can also ride the Taiwan High-Speed Rail to go from Taipei to Kaohsiung. Its maximum speed is 186 miles per hour, and it is 217 miles long. You’ll spend about 1 hour and 34 minutes to get from Taipei to Kaosiung, but driving can take 3.5 to 4 hours. However, if other destinations outside the areas along the mainline are on your list of places to visit, then renting a car would be a better option.

Besides the high-speed rail, you can use the rails from the Taiwan Railway Administration. You can get where you want to go cheaply and easily in many cases. You’ll pay between USD$26 and $30 to get from Taipei Main Station to Kaohsiung, and you’ll spend about 4.5 to 6 hours on the train. Write down the name of where you want to go in Chinese as the ticketing system is mainly in Chinese.

Should you want to rent a scooter, you’ll pay between USD$16 and $17 per day, and you need an IDP to get a gas scooter. With an electric scooter, you don’t need an IDP because they go slower and are for shorter-distance use. Scooters are great for use within a large city.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Driving in Taiwan without Alien Resident Card

You will generally need an Alien Resident Card (ARC) to drive beyond your first 30 days in Taiwan. After that time, your IDP will no longer be valid, and you’ll need to get a permanent Taiwan driver’s license. This will require you to have an ARC. However, you may be able to get your IDP extended if you have a reciprocity agreement between your home state and Taiwan. This would allow you to drive until the end of your stay on your visa OR the ARC expiration date. You can do this through the Motor Vehicles Office in Taipei.

For foreigners driving in Taiwan, getting a Taiwan driver’s license with a valid domestic driver’s license from your home country may be possible. If you have no Republic of China ID card, but you have an Alien Residential Card with over 6 months’ validity, you can get a Taiwan driver’s license the day after you arrive in Taiwan. Find more information about reciprocity agreements and similar information there. An original and a photocopy of your ARC are required. If you are from Mainland China, you’ll need to take the written exam at Shilin or Keelung Station.

If you have an ROC ID card, you can get a Taiwan license. You’ll need an original and photocopy of your ROC or Military ID. Your foreign driver’s license has to validated by an embassy or consulate of the Republic of China, Representative Office or another authorized office from the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs outside of Taiwan. It can also be notarized in Taiwan and validated by the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

You don’t need to have a Chinese translation of your foreign license if it is not in English. However, it should be notarized by the embassy or consulate from the ROC or a representative/liaison office or official notary public registered in Taiwan. It could also be validated in Taiwan by your country’s embassy, consulate, or other offices that the ROC Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorizes.

You can apply for a permanent Taiwan driver’s license if you have a Taiwan National ID card and a valid U.S. driver’s license or if you have an ARC and a valid license from certain U.S. states for the same class of license (without having to take a driving test). You’ll need an ARC that is valid of more than a year, according to the American Institute of Taiwan, your U.S. driver’s license that is valid, a current passport, a health certificate from a Taiwan public hospital, in addition to several passport-sized photos, a completed application form, and a fee. Your U.S. license has to have been authenticated in the U.S. by the jurisdictional Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, or your signature on a statement that your license is legitimate that is notarized by the American Institute in Taiwan will be sufficient.

Driving Tips in Taiwan

As a tourist driving in Taiwan, you need to know about the driving rules and etiquette to help you stay safe and to have a pleasant experience. Here are some of the most important things you need to know:

  • Use only a hands-free device while you’re driving. Cell phone use without one is prohibited.
  • If you have an emergency on the road, call 110 (police), 119 (fire), and ambulance (119). Calling 112 is another option if you have a mobile phone.
  • Carry your driver’s license, IDP, registration, and insurance from your car rental company at all times. Your passport is not required.
  • All passengers, whether in the front or back of the vehicle, have to wear seat belts.
  • Children must be in a secure child safety seat under the age of 12 in the rear of the car. They cannot sit in the front.
  • You need at least third-party insurance, but many Taiwanese drivers don’t carry it. Make sure you have yours from your rental company with you in case you’re stopped by the police.
  • The legal limit for alcohol in the bloodstream is 50 mg per 100 ml of blood.
  • You should make sure that any vehicle you’re towing is securely attached, and you have good visibility around your vehicle if you’re towing.
  • Observe speed limits.
  • Some highways in Taiwan have parts that are tollways. You’ll see a sign that you’re coming up to a toll gate. After the sign, though, there aren’t any exits before you have to pay the toll, which isn’t very expensive. The tolls free up the road to help avoid traffic jams.
  • Avoid parking in front of people’s homes or businesses unless you’re visiting them. You may find that people will act rashly and do something like key your car or slash your tires if you do.
  • Use secure parking in metered or ticketed bays, or large parking garages.
  • Parking police are serious about their work, and inconsiderate parking is frowned upon.
  • Taiwan has no disabled parking, but people will usually help you in an attended parking area if you ask.
  • If your rental car has a problem, you should call the number on the rental agreement or on the windshield of the car. If you’re driving your own car, contact the representative for your emergency assistance company.
  • Gasoline is sold by the liter.
  • Night driving in Taiwan is generally safe. Stick to areas you know are well-populated and lit, and try not to travel alone at night. However, if you do, just take common-sense precautions, such as ensuring you take your fully-charged phone with you, and taking a friend with you when possible.
  • Don’t move your car if you’ve been in an accident until the police get there.
  • Ensure your gas tank is full often as there are few gas stations in the countryside.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Driving a Rental Car in Taiwan

Renting a car and driving in Taiwan is not very difficult. There are several internationally-recognized rental car companies, and there are also smaller local rental companies. You can often find rental car counters at Taiwan’s international airports, and some will offer an airport pick-up service for which you have to pay. It may be more convenient for you to just use a company that has a rental car office at the airport, especially after a long flight.

To rent a car in Taiwan, you’ll need your original local driver’s license, passport, and an IDP issued while you were still in your home country. You’ll also need a credit card, and you’ll be charged for not just the rental fee but also any tolls or traffic infraction fees that may occur during your trip. Make sure that you do a thorough check of the vehicle before you leave the rental agency.

Get a copy of all of the documents, including any insurance paperwork. Ask the rental company to show you the phone number of the company that can help if the car breaks down. If you need a child safety seat, let your rental company know well before-hand so that they can tell you if they can accommodate your request. If you can, you might prefer to bring your own if you are traveling with a child. Remember that all children under 12 should have a safety seat of some type appropriate for their height and weight and sit in the rear of the vehicle.

Renting a vehicle can be a great idea if you want to travel on your own schedule and not have to follow a bus or train timetables. You can also get to more remote parts of the country and visit places like the Central Mountain Range. You can also bring more with you, which is important if you’re planning to go camping or hiking. On the other hand, if you’re planning to stay in larger cities and don’t do well in chaotic traffic, then renting a vehicle may not be the way to go. Public transport or hiring a private guide may be the best way to see the parts of the country that you want to visit.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Traveling around Taiwan

Traveling around Taiwan on your own schedule and visiting all the places you want to go to is best done by renting a car. However, there are other public transit options that might suit your needs, especially if you’ll be in a large city during the majority or all of your stay. Traffic rules are not always followed in Taiwan, so always make sure you’re aware of what is going on around you when you’re driving.

Taiwan has some of the most beautiful places in the world to see, and your trip there is going to be unforgettable. With a little planning ahead, you’ll be able to access some of the most gorgeous countryside and bustling big cities in the world. Take advantage of everything Taiwan has to offer, and visit as much of it as you can. It’s an overall safe place to drive and visit, so take on a new adventure, and visit Taiwan’s unforgettable scenery on your next vacation.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. Taiwanese drivers might have a few bad habits, but aggression is definitely not one of them, so drive with a smile on your face and enjoy the open road.