Traveling to Taiwan from the US during Covid
As I mentioned in my previous post, I had been following the travel restrictions as well as how countries were dealing with Covid. While my first plan for my “post corporate America life” was traveling the world, I didn’t just want to get out of the US for the sake of it and get trapped in another country. I was flexible about my destination and I was waiting for the first country to beat the virus so that I could sit at a bar next to a human being who is in less than 6 feet distance and talk about random things without worrying about the viruses flying around. Of course, I also had to find a way to get in to that country since the borders were closed to tourists in most countries.
CDC in the US categorizes countries based on their Covid-19 risk on its website. So, who was winning the Corona race? Well the title gives it away. Here is a screenshot that I took from the CDC website as I was researching for my destination:
Taiwan was my preferred destination on this list. Life had been continuing more or less normal in this beautiful island since April 2020, and there hadn’t been a single local transmission reported for over 200 days. I had to find a way to get there.
Apparently, the universe was listening. As I started reading about Taiwan, I came across a blog post about the Gold Card and realized that I might actually be eligible for it. Gold Card is an employment and residency card which doesn’t actually have any employment or residency requirements. Say what? Yes, it means that you can live as much as you desire in the country with no strings attached. One of the few things in life that sounds too good to be, but actually is true!
I applied the day after learning about it, and got approved within just 30 days! Suddenly got intoxicated by this exciting news, I bought my flight ticket for the following week. Then I quickly realized that I still needed to figure out how to travel there during Covid 😬
I started my research, consumed every bit of information on the internet, read forums and watched countless YouTube videos of people who traveled to Taiwan during the pandemic. In the rest of this post, I will share my end to end travel experience to Taiwan that happened in October 2020.
Before leaving home, I was nervous because of a few reasons:
- When I got approved for the Gold Card, I picked the option to pick up my physical card in Taipei. In order to be able to travel to Taiwan, I had to take a printout of the approval notice of my Gold Card. Gold Card is a recent initiative by the Taiwanese government to attract foreign talent to Taiwan that started in 2018 and most people aren’t aware of it. The printout that I mentioned above is even a lesser known document and although it provides proof of my residency status, most people working at the airports were not familiar with it.
- I didn’t get a Covid test before the flight as it wasn’t required for Taiwan residents at that time (Gold Card members are considered residents), but since most people were not familiar with the document above, it could create a problem during the travel.
- My passport was going to expire in 6 months. I applied to extend my passport a while back, but it got delayed by a few weeks so I didn’t receive the new one on time. Therefore, I was worried about any problem this would create.
- Finally, I had a connection flight in Korea, which had its own travel restrictions. Plus, any of the bullets above could also create a problem during my connection in Seoul.
As a wannabe stoic, I decided just to focus on things that I can control, printed my approval notice and headed to the airport.
For the protection during the travels, I wore two masks. One was a 3M N95 mask with a valve, and a medical mask on top of that. Since masks with valves only protect the one wearing them, I wanted to put another mask at the top. Surprisingly breathing was not a problem at all, it was almost the same as just wearing the medical mask.
Pro-tip: This combo is highly recommended over a N95 without a valve which I bought a box of and never used. It was so hard to breathe in it for extended periods of time, I couldn’t bear wearing it more than 15 mins.
I also wore a face shield on top the masks, which turned out to be an overkill. It created some uncomfortable fog as I breathed and I had to take it off many times during eating and drinking stuff. Also, none of the places were crowded throughout my travel. I actually trashed it after my first flight. It may be useful during a busy flight but I probably won’t wear it again.
After packing hand sanitizing wipes and hand gel, I was ready for the battle.
I took an Uber to SFO and got there 3+ hours before my flight which turned out to be a good decision. I wanted to leave some buffer because of the reasons that I cited above. If any problems were to arise, I didn’t want to be in a time crunch to solve them.
When I got to the airport, Asiana Airlines counter was empty. I handed them my printout and the person at the counter had a wtf-is-this-paper look on her face. Before I could explain, she also asked where my Covid test result was. Feeling a tiny bit anxious, I took a deep breath and explained to her that Taiwan residents don’t need the test and the printed document was the proof of my residency status. Of course, she wasn’t convinced and said that she needed to find her supervisor and check with him.
As I analyzed every facial expression of the supervisor as they chatted, I knew that he was getting confused as well and I wasn’t going to receive good news.
It turns out that not only they have never seen that document before, they didn’t even hear about the Gold Card. I explained them that Gold Card is kinda similar to the Green Card in the US and that printout serves as a travel document since I will pick up my Gold Card in Taipei.
The supervisor took pictures of the document and said that he will get in touch with the people in Taipei to check it. They gave my passport and documents back and asked me to sit at the bench. At that point, I started to prepare myself to wake up from this dream and go back home.
After the lifelong wait (slight exaggeration here), they called me back and told me that everything looks good and I was good to go. Just like that. Along with the sudden rush of a warm feeling inside, I got my boarding passes for both flights!
I learned later that some people waited for hours until the airlines approved to travel with this printout.
Pro tip: If this situation applies to you, make sure to get to the airport at least 3-4 hours before your flight.
All lounges were closed in SFO therefore I waited at the gate while keeping as much distance from people as I could. Using one my favorite life hacks, I was able to get a business class seat for less than the economy price (I’ll create a separate page compiling all my favorite perks and life hacks). Thanks to that, I was able to get into the plane first. Only 3 more seats were occupied in the business class. I had one of my best flight experiences ever thanks to the amazing menu and service in Asiana Airlines. If you’re not familiar with it, they are the second largest airline of South Korea. My seat was designed like almost a separate room and I slept for over 8 hours on my bed like a baby. Food and drinks were top notch and the flight attendants went above and beyond to provide a great service. Highly recommended!
Once we landed in Seoul, I had three hours for my connection flight. I checked a few lounges as I waited for my flight (another life hack utilized here is the free access to many airport lounges around the world, thanks to Chase Sapphire Reserve). Before the pandemic, the lounges in Seoul Incheon Airport had an amazing selection of foods and drinks with multiple food stations as well as bartenders. This time, the food selection was drastically reduced and only a few unappetizing packaged foods were available. So I just found a lazyboy by the window and started dreaming about my upcoming months.
Connection to my next flight was frictionless. Since I got both boarding passes in San Francisco, no one asked anything about my residency status or travel documents.
Experience Upon Arrival at the Taipei Taoyuan Airport
Once we landed in Taiwan, everything was impressively organized and well-thought out. We were first directed to a cell phone counter where you get a local number. This enables the government to track your location during the quarantine period. You just pick a phone plan and give them your phone. They insert a new sim card and make sure that everything works properly. I got a one-month plan since I planned to use my Google Fi after the period.
After getting the local number, you need to go to a website to fill a form. There were a few people at the airport helping clueless foreigners like me to make sure that the form is filled properly. Once it’s done, you receive a confirmation message and walk towards the luggage claim area. Once you pick up your luggage, you get a taxi to your quarantine hotel. These taxis are specially designated as quarantine taxis. Like I mentioned above, everything flows nicely from the moment of landing until you get to your quarantine place.
When we got to the hotel, there was a specific drop off area. After I got off the taxi, I had to stand in an area as me and my luggage got sprayed with disinfectants. After we were sparkling clean, I took an elevator with my floor already selected, and when I got to my room, the door was open for me. I stepped into the room, closed the door and never left it for the next 15 days.
Here is what my room looked like:
Throughout the journey, everyone was very helpful. It has been one of the best travels that I had in a long time.
Here are a few tips to make the your travel during the pandemic less painful:
- Get to the airport early. Much earlier than usual.
- Check for business class seats (using miles) that may be even cheaper than regular economy class tickets. This provides some peace of mind since there is no one (or just a few people) in close proximity.
- Make sure that you are up to date about the flight requirements of your final destination as well as all transfer points. Requirements change often!
- All-stars of my protection gear turned out to be a medical mask on top of an N-95 with a valve and hand sanitizing wipes. I couldn’t breathe with N95 without a valve and didn’t use much of my face shield.
- Do your research like I did to avoid any surprises.
I am planning to be in Taiwan for the majority of 2021. Please feel free to send me a note if you end up coming to this beautiful country!