What to buy in Taiwan
If you’ve forgotten to bring any money at all, but have your credit or debit card handy, there’s no need to fret. Use any of the abundant 24-hour ATMs to withdraw cash from anywhere in the world using the Plus or Cirrus systems. Certain banks’ ATMs will even tell you your available balance in your own currency or in NT$. There is a per transaction limit of NT$20,000 for ATM cash withdrawals.
Most hotels and department stores accept credit cards, generally Visa and Master Card as well as JCB. Diners Club or American Express cards are seldom accepted. Most restaurants and small stores do not accept cards, and cash is the main form of payment. Because street crime is rare, it is common for people in Taiwan to carry large amounts of cash with them.
Tipping is generally not practiced in Taiwan, with the possible exception of bellhops in high end hotels. Full service restaurants typically impose a service charge, but this is typically not given to staff. Tipping is also not expected in taxis and drivers would usually return your change to the last dollar.
As in many Asian countries, night markets are a staple of Taiwanese entertainment, shopping and eating. Night markets are open-air markets, usually on a street or alleyway, with vendors selling all sorts of wares on every side. Many bargains can be had, and wherever prices are not displayed, haggling is expected. In the larger cities you will have a night market every night and in the same place. In smaller cities, they are only open certain nights of the week, and may move to different streets depending on the day of the week.
Every city has at least one night market; larger cities like Taipei may have a dozen or more. Night markets are crowded, so remember to watch out for your wallet! Shops selling the same items tend to congregate in the same part of the city. If you want to buy something, ask someone to take you to one shop and there will probably be shops selling similar things nearby.
For those who do not like the concept of haggling and fake goods, there are many shopping centers in Taipei where prices are usually fixed and goods are genuine. Otherwise, shopping streets in larger cities like Kaohsiung and Taichung can also easily get you what you want. And of course, there is the trendy Ximending in Taipei, where you can pretty much find anything associated with the youths, also at fixed prices.
Bargaining is OK and expected in night markets and small stores. Computer chain shops and department stores normally have fixed prices, but at least in department stores you may get a “registered member discount” if you’re shopping a lot. Anyway it’s always worth a try!
When bargaining at small stores, please note that the agreed prices are normally cash prices. If you like to use a credit card, the seller normally wants to add anything up to 8% to the price as a “card fee” etc.
What to buy
Popular things to buy include:
Jade. Although it can be hard to know for sure if the item you’re buying is real jade or not, some beautiful objects are sold. Most cities have a specific jade market dealing in jade and other precious stones.
Computers. Taiwan designs and produces a lot of desktops, laptops, and PC peripherals. Travellers might be interested in visiting the large Information Technology Market at Taiwan for the best prices. Desktop computers and components tend to be the same price in Taiwan as in other areas of the world, though peripherals such as cables and adapters tend to be noticeably cheaper and definitely come in lots of colorful varieties. If you’re buying domestic, it’s best to go to tourist hangouts to buy your stuff as you might be saddled with Taiwanese documentation otherwise. Also, notebooks are typically only available with a Taiwanese Bopomofo and English keyboard. When considering mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.) bear in mind that they might have differrent operating frequencies and might have restrictions built in that limit their use with sim cards from areas other than the area they are intended to be sold in. Also, warranty might be a factor to consider.
Lingzhi. A type of bracket fungus that is often used as a Taiwanese herb. It supposedly has many health benefits with an apparent absence of side effects, earning it a high reputation in East Asian countries and making it rather expensive. Taiwanese lingzhi is particularly famous for being of the highest quality.
Tea. Taiwan is particularly famous for its oolong tea and this is available in at many tea shops. Tea tasting in Taiwanese culture is akin to wine tasting in Western culture and you will find many grades of this same type of tea, with different methods of treating the tea leaves.
Iron eggs. Irresistible delicacy
Note: In order to protect the environment, a government policy rules that plastic bags cannot be given freely at stores in Taiwan, but have to be bought – bakeries being an exception as the items need to be hygienically wrapped. Re-useable canvas and nylon bags are sold at most supermarkets.