“Sir, do you have any drugs or illegal items that you are bringing into the country?” said the customs official, with a stern look on his face and a judgmental tone in his voice
Or at least that’s what I imagined was the case. It was just a beagle after all
As it turned out, what he really wanted was the banana shaped contraband stuck in the netting on the side of my backpack.
As far as run-ins with the law go, this was quite tame. Therapeutic even, since a friendly scratch behind the ear made us both feel that all was forgiven
Of the 50 or so times I’ve entered Taiwan for business and personal reasons, that occasion was by far the most challenging. Normally the immigration officials just stamp my passport with a 90-day visa exempt entry permit and customs smiles and waives me through.
So when we decided to stay in Taiwan for a few months for IVF treatments, there was really no compelling reason to apply for a formal Visa. I’d just leave the country every 90 days on a visa run to Hong Kong. It might be the most expensive Starbucks run in the world, but I’d only have to do it once or twice
But now that we’ve committed to a year of stability and nesting, it was time to reevaluate. My quarterly Visa runs would cost $250 each/$1000 a year, and as with all novelties, the allure fades
Enter Permanent Residency
Since Winnie is a Taiwan citizen, we can apply for permanent residency on the basis of our marriage (Sounds easier than it is, but that is another story)
First things first, I need a visa. Just leave the country, go to the nearest embassy, wait in line for hours, stay a night in a hotel, and pick up your visa at the end of the next business day. Easy peasy
I went a slightly different route. Details follow
The earliest possible flight from Taipei to Hong Kong is around 7 am, and the taxi ride to the airport at 5 am on a Tuesday is smooth as silk. Better yet, the airport is mostly empty of tour groups, families, and other travelers that don’t know how to get through airport security with a minimum of hassle
And best of all, there is almost no line at all to use the latest and greatest self check-in machines for Eva Airways. Be sure to check-in for the return trip and get the return trip boarding pass
Upon landing, I withdrew ~$2000 HKD from an ATM (~$258 USD.) This is by far the most convenient way to get cash and provides the best exchange rate.
I then took the Airport Express Train into central Hong Kong, purchasing a same day return ticket from the help desk (not the machine.) The price is $100 HKD with free return. Politely ask the staff to give you change for the subway on the other end, something the ticket machine can’t do.
There are cheaper ways to get into central Hong Kong, but the train takes only 24 minutes and drops you off at the Central subway station. Follow the signs to the trains (up the elevator one floor, down the looooonnnngggg hallway.) Purchase a 1-way subway ticket to Admiralty station at the machine for $4.5 HKD (~$0.60)
Did you know Taiwan isn’t a country? So says the UN. So instead of going to an embassy, we go to the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office (TECO.) This is located on the 40th floor of Tower 1 of the Lippo Center, which is located directly above Exit B of the Admiralty subway station, one stop a way
I arrived at the TECO office around 10:15 am and grabbed a number.
You might think that if the welcome page on the “TECO-guest” WiFi Access Point instructs you to request a password from the friendly staff, that you might pass the time productively. You would be wrong. Welcome to your typical government office.
Instead, I waited as instructed
When it was my turn, I slipped all of my paperwork through the hole in the prison glass. The woman that helped me was very friendly, and asked me to photocopy a few things. The photocopier in the office costs 1 HKD per page (~$0.15)
Then we had a conversation that went like this. You should be prepared to do the same
You: “Thank you so much. I would like to pay the expedite fee so I can pick up my Visa later today.”
Staff: “We don’t do same day processing, the earliest you can pick up your visa is tomorrow afternoon.”
You: “Oh! I just saw on your website that I could pay an expedite fee. What can we do?! My flight is later today.” (hand over your boarding pass)
Staff: “Oh my, this really is a difficult situation, let me ask my boss”
After which she returns and says they will make an exception this one time
Fees vary. I asked for a multi-entry visitor visa (just in case) and paid the expedite fee. In retaliation for the US non-embassy charging Taiwan residents a special handing fee, I get to pay the American tax (but provides multiple entry for no additional fee)
I was out the door by 11:00 AM, a little less than an hour after arriving
Congratulations. Have a nice lunch and walk along the waterfront before returning at 4 pm to pick up your Taiwan Visa. You can still make that 7:30 pm return flight
And that is how you get a Taiwan Visa with a minimum of expense and hassle. Or as the kids say these days, like a boss
RT Airfare from Taipei to Hong Kong: $212
RT Express Train from airport to downtown: 100 HKD (~$13)
1-way HK subway ticket: 4.5 HKD (~$0.60)
Taiwan multiple entry visa for Americans: 1280 HKD (~165)
Expedite fee: 400 HKD (~$52, less than the price of a hotel room)
Total: less than the cost of continued quarterly visa runs