Having a smartphone can make life in a new country a lot easier. From finding your way around to getting your message across, we’ve picked out some of the best iOS apps for Taiwan expats.
The best English-language directory app out there for Taiwan. Contains thousands of places in dozens of categories, from restaurants to National Immigration Administration offices, with addresses in both Chinese characters and Pinyin. You can view your chosen location on a map, get directions, and even change your screen to a taxi driver-friendly set of instructions to get you to your destination.
Like Taiwanease, Taiwan Yo! is a directory of places, but it focuses more on the shopping, eating and drinking side of life. With a predominantly Mandarin-speaking user base, the reviews and user-authored content (like suggested trips taking in more than one location) are almost all in Mandarin.
Still the only map client to make a decent stab at romanised road names, Google’s offering includes a massive database of places and the most accurate mapping of the entire country. It’s not perfect, but for English speakers in Taiwan it’s the best out there.
The aforementioned Google Maps doesn’t offer turn-by-turn navigation in Taiwan, so you need a different app if you want to use your phone as a sat nav device. Papago’s input for place names and addresses is a major pain in the arse if you don’t read Chinese, and the rest of the menu options are not much better. It does offer an English voice for instructions, but road names are not included, so you just get directions like “in 200 metres, turn right”. The Mandarin voice includes road names. Despite all its drawbacks if you can puzzle out enough Chinese to make your way through it the navigation is really solid, and the database is kept regularly up to date.
Free, with in-app purchases for added functionality
For serious learners of Mandarin one app stands out above all the others. Pleco has a long and venerable history going back to the first version on Palm OS over a decade ago. With integrated dictionaries, a flashcard module, text-to-speech, stroke order diagrams and much more it’s a great choice for Mandarin language students. It also has amaze-your-friends potential with the OCR module, which allows you to point your iPhone’s camera at Chinese text (say, on a menu) and see the dictionary definitions of the characters pop up instantaneously.
Taiwan: The Beautiful Isle
Paid for by Taiwan’s Ministry of Tourism and created by Lonely Planet, the app is useful for gaining an appreciation of the kinds of things you can do during your stay in Taiwan, with some pointers of places you can look at in more detail. A few phrases and some useful tips for travellers round out this app, but unfortunately it’s rather superficial in its treatment of the attractions discussed within.
Taiwan for Culture Vultures
With entries by acclaimed travel writer Steven Crook, Taiwan for Culture Vultures offers something different to the ten-a-penny apps out there which scrape content from Wikipedia or are full of garbled Chinglish. Crook has a great eye for points of interest that will appeal to Westerners, and the app includes plenty of helpful descriptions, addresses, and opening times.
Taiwan’s High Speed Rail system is a wonderful way to move quickly between the major cities on the west coast. The quickest rail journey from Taipei to Kaohsiung was just under five hours before the HSR was introduced – that’s now been slashed to 90 minutes. The official THSR app offers the ability to buy tickets online, check timetables, and use the ticketless barriers on the train with your phone. A QR code shows up on your screen which you then swipe over the screen on the ticket barrier, the doors open and through you go: magic!
Taipei City’s YouBike scheme has been tremendously popular. Automatic rental stations all over the city offer bicycles for hire; great for a cross-town commute or a lazy spin along the riverside cycle paths. This unofficial app lets you see where the nearest station is and check how many bikes are present there. It also has a countdown timer for the thirty-minute free period before hire charges kick in. The official YouBike app (free) goes further and allows you to reserve and pay for hire through the app, but it’s only available in Chinese.
Taiwan’s train system is reliable and cheap; a great way to get around the country. This official app from the Taiwan Railway Administration has train times, journey durations, train types and ticket prices. When you’ve found the journey you want you can book your ticket right from the app and collect it when you get to the station.
Very simple app that displays a route map of the Taipei MRT system. You can tap any two stations to see the travel time, ticket cost, and interchange stations between the two. It has further options to see attractions around the stations, but this function is Chinese-only. You can also see station locations on a real street map, and find the closest station to your current position. Does a straightforward thing very well. There is an app for the Kaohsiung MRT by the same developers which does a similar job for that city’s system.
There are lots of different options out there for weather apps, but if you like your information concise, beautifully presented, and with a surprising depth of options behind it, the BBC’s app is an excellent choice. Sadly Taiwan’s own Central Weather Bureau app is a botched mess typical of what you might expect from something designed by a government committee. It does however include earthquake alerts and weather warnings (Chinese only).
Which essential apps did we miss out? Join the conversation on our forums!