Cash is still king in Taiwan, though credit cards are accepted in ever more places
The currency in Taiwan is the New Taiwan Dollar (NT$). Most establishments do not accept US dollars or other currencies, so you will need to exchange some local currency when you arrive. Denominations for bank notes are NT$2000, NT$1000, NT$500, NT$200, and NT$100, though the NT$2000 and NT$200 bills are rarely seen. Coins are available in denominations of NT$50, NT$20 (rare), NT$10, NT$5, and NT$1.
Taiwan is essentially a cash-based economy. While credit cards can be used in big stores and restaurants, and for online purchases, they are rarely used for the kind of smaller purchases that in the West are often covered with a credit or debit card. Fast food places, small restaurants, 7-Elevens; none of these places will take credit cards. There is some movement toward using the Easycard (originally intended for use on the Taipei MRT) as a stored-value medium for small purchases, and some stores and taxis now accept it.
Foreign currency exchange
It is generally easy to exchange certain foreign currencies in Taiwan – if you are carrying US dollars, British pounds, Euros, or another major currency, there is unlikely to be a problem. For less commonly seen currencies like the Mexican peso or the Danish kroner you may be better off exchanging before you arrive, either for New Taiwan Dollars (TWD) or US dollars, if Taiwanese currency is unavailable. It will still be possible to exchange these currencies in Taiwan, but you may have to travel to a major branch to do it. With major currencies one difference between Taiwan and other countries is that the airport is actually a good place to exchange your cash. Rates and commission charges are reasonable, and often better than the consumer banks.
If you do want to head to a bank for currency exchange, note that the government has authorised the following as Foreign Exchange Banks:
- Bank of Taiwan
- Cathay United Bank
- Chang Hwa Bank
- Citibank Taiwan
- First Bank
- Hua Nan Commercial Bank
- Land Bank of Taiwan
- Mega International Commercial Bank
- Shanghai Commercial and Savings Bank
- Taiwan Cooperative Bank
Travellers cheques are not usually accepted anywhere except banks. The banks listed above will also conduct travellers cheques exchange.
The banking system in Taiwan is a little peculiar. In contrast to many other places in the world, personal banking in Taiwan is not often done electronically; the norm is still standing in line to speak to a human cashier and process your transactions. Internet banking is now offered by most of Taiwan’s major banks, but the service can be clunky (though secure). Different banks and branches will have different regulations regarding unusual problems like a foreign national wanting to open a bank account. In theory, all the major banks in Taiwan allow foreigners to bank with them, but in practice you may need to speak with a manager or sometimes even try another branch, especially in rural areas. To open a checking or current account most banks require your passport and ARC. If you don’t have an ARC, you may need to visit the National Immigration Authority to obtain a “Record of ID Number in the ROC”, which can then be used with your passport to open an account. If you have applied for a new passport after entering Taiwan, you should also bring the old passport containing your visa. You will also require a small amount of cash to deposit (often just NT$100). Taiwanese customers are expected to both sign and “chop” any paper transaction they make using a personal stamp with their name carved on it. Foreign customers are exempted from this requirement, and just need to sign.
On opening your account you will receive a bank book and an ATM card. You can use the ATM card to make withdrawals of up to NT$30,000 at a time, or NT$20,000 if you use another bank’s ATM. You will also be charged a small fee for withdrawing cash from another bank’s ATM, usually around NT$7 per transaction. The maximum total withdrawal per day is NT$100,000.
It is common for employers to require all their employees to open an account with the same bank. This is done so the company can save on transfer fees, and can mean that people who have worked for many different companies have accounts with many different banks.
As a foreign national it is very difficult to obtain a credit card in Taiwan without either a local guarantor or a substantial amount of cash you can put on deposit to guarantee your credit. Even residents with a long credit history in Taiwan can struggle with getting authorisation, so as a newcomer this will be doubly difficult for you.