"Foreigners" Can't Buy Train Tickets On-line in Taiwan Anymore

Hualien (花蓮) Train Station

"Foreigners" won't be able to buy train tickets on-line anymore with a "foreign-issued" credit card. To buy tickets on-line now, they must use a credit card issued in Taiwan - which is basically impossible as "foreigners" are barred from applying for them at Taiwan's various banks.

This is a new thing; last month, on January 7th, I bought tickets on-line for Hualien with my "foreign issued" credit card, and it was not a problem. This one really makes me shake my head. I go to Hualien all the time. I'd say about 10% of the people in the Hualien Train Station are "foreigners". And it's almost impossible to get tickets for the fancy Toroko Tze-chiang (自強) Express, Taipei to Hualien in an hour and fifty-seven minutes, because of all the "foreigners" on it.

The media in Taiwan has recently reported that the government drained US$32 million to promote tourism, with a goal of attracting four million visitors in 2008. This is what the Premier said: "We will strengthen Taiwan's international promotion activities and create a high-quality environment to achieve the goal, which is expected to generate revenues of NT$192.1 billion (US$ 6 billion) for Taiwan" He goes on: "[32 million bucks] will also boost Taiwan's international image and increase foreigners' familiarity with the country."

If the "foreigners" can't even book a train ticket, how on earth are they going to get familiar with [the] country?


Todd said...

Can Taiwan ever take a step forward without also taking a step back?

Kerim Friedman said...

I didn't even realize it was possible to buy a ticket using a credit card. I've always reserved tickets online and then gone to the train station to buy it.

Here is a post about the old railway website. And here is where I keep a list of websites which prevent foreigners from shopping online (intentionally or not).

Anonymous said...

It seems that the implication is that foreigners (at least the desirable ones the Premier is referring to) should come to Taiwan on package tours.

I haven't tried it myself, but perhaps it is neither expected nor intended that short-term foreign visitors would be able to navigate and make sense of the website through which tickets can be purchased on-line.

The foreigners the Premier is talking about are perhaps not the ones who come to Taiwan and live long-term. He means foreign tourists, not foreign residents.

--scott in 士林

Patrick Cowsill said...

The Web site is English and not that hard to navigate (but now that English speakers can't use it to buy tickets, it looks like it's just another decorative waste of money to make Taiwan look international when it is not). It seems that one of the banks (I might be wrong here though) is running the ticket purchase gig; I imagine that the government isn't even really clued into what's happening here.

If all foreign tour groups must operate through local tour groups, this is going to hinder more than promote tourism, especially since they'll have to give a cut to the local operators. Who's going to want to do that? I agree with Todd: "Step forward and then a step back."

More than likely, this is just another example of incompetence, with no organization/cooperation between departments.

Patrick Cowsill said...


The more I think about this, the more I disagree with what you're saying. "Foreigners" who live in Taiwan long-term can still reserve tickets online. Only, now they have to get down to the post office or train station to pay for them, in cash, within two days. But how is a "desirable [tourist]", meaning someone in another country going to be able to get down to the post office/train station within two days?

I'm sure a lot of "desirable [tourists]" don't like to travel in tour groups, or don't even have access to a tour group. If these people can't guarantee hotel tickets and transport before coming to Taiwan, especially during busy seasons, they could opt for somewhere that's easier.

It would be interesting to know the percent of tourists that come to Taiwan that travel in groups vs. those that do not.

Boyd R. Jones said...

Yet another reason why we need some sort of "National Association for the Advancement of Foreign People" in Taiwan. Sure, this is a minor issue -- but there are too many of these minor issues. And lots of major issues too.

Yet another reason why Taiwan probably will never become an "international nexus" like Singapore, Hong Kong or Dubai.

Coyote Ma said...

Well, my husband can't use his China issued credit card in some of the stores here in LA either. It has something to do with the bank policy whom the store work with. For a few years, I had problem shopping at Taiwan Sugar(correct translation?). Last year they accepted my American issued Visa card. Apparently, they changed the cooperating bank. You can probably write to the bureau to complain. That might help. I do hope they switch to a bank that accepts foreign issued credit cards. May I ask you how you pay your foreign credit bills in Taiwan? Do you pay through a certain bank? Do they charge you finance or foreign transaction fee?

Patrick Cowsill said...

No, I have bank accounts overseas; that's how I take care of the payments.

I've had credit cards for 18 years, and traveled all over the world with them. This is the first time I haven't been able to use it at a place that accepts credit cards (and I've been all over the 3rd World too). Go Taiwan go!

Anonymous said...

You should write to your credit card company to complain. It might help.

Patrick Cowsill said...

OK, anonymous, I have written to my credit card company to complain. This was the response:

"My name is Véronique, and I'd be happy to assist you with your inquiry concerning your transaction via the web site of Taiwanese railways.

Following your message, we have to inform that merchants have the right to limit the access to online transactions to national [credit] cards. The reason for this restriction might be to stop an increasing amount of fraudulent transactions or simply the insufficient demand.

Please note that this restriction for online purchases is left to the merchants' discretion and can happen in any part of the world.

In order to proceed with your transaction we would recommend you to physically purchase your tickets at a counter. Indeed, in this case the rules are different since you can identify yourself as the cardholder. Should a transaction be refused based on your non Taiwanese [credit] card, we would kindly ask us to contact us with the name, address and full coordinates of the merchant so that we can put a complaint with [credit card] International. Please note that this only applies if you are physically present at the time of the purchase.

Thanks for contacting us. We'll be happy to help you again if there's anything else you want to discuss."

This is my thinking:

1. I should go to the counter and find out what happens.

2. I can't help but think that the only reason I have a credit card is so that I can reserve hotels or rent cars, or buy stuff online. If I were to go "physically" buy something, I'd want to do it in cash.

3. Insufficient demand? Isn't this what Taiwan hopes to remedy?

Patrick Cowsill said...

Following up on this, I wrote to the President of Taiwan to complain.

Here's his response:

"Dear Mr. Cowsill,
This is to acknowledge receipt of your February 25, 2008 email to President Chen Shui-bian, complaining of being unable to purchase train tickets online here with a foreign issued credit card.
We thank you for your interest in touring Taiwan and feel sorry for your unpleasant experience. As this office is not competent for matters of this kind, a copy of your email has been forwarded to our Executive Yuan, which is supposed to refer your case to related agencies for their attention. Your understanding is appreciated.
With best regards,
Sincerely yours,
Office of the President"

I figured the topic was dead, but I recently received this letter from the director of transportation:

"Dear Mr. Cowsill,
Thank you for your E-mail to President Chen Shui-bian, complaining about unable purchasing train tickets online here with a foreign issued credit card. Your letter has been forwarded to Transportation Department of Taiwan Railway Administration . Our department is cooperating with the online system contractor to make it improving.
We apologize for your inconvenience.
Yours Sincerely,
Jeng-De Yang
Director of Transportation Department
Taiwan Railway Administration
March 20, 2008"

jim halpert said...

i'm always shocked when i hear of malfunctions like these in the credit card processing system. it seems like things get more technologically advanced every day, but even as things progress there are problems. the whole process is brilliant... but these silly little mistakes just don't make sense.

Patrick Cowsill said...

The trains used to take "foreign issued" credit cards. For some reason, they decided to stop doing that two months ago. So, it doesn't seem like a malfunction or that it's getting more advanced. I imagine that somewhere a bureaucrat decided he or she could save a little inconvenience (five minutes work) for him or herself, without a thought for how it could hurt Taiwan's tourism industry.

The credit card company says they will act if I go to the ticket window and have my credit card denied.

Anonymous said...

Have you booked a ticket recently and did they reverse the new credit card regulations? I will take a train to Hualien when I visit from Germany in the autumn.

Patrick Cowsill said...

No, I haven't. I don't know what's going on now. I bet it's "as is", but I'll try again and get back to this post soon.

Anonymous said...

This is a great quote: "Thanks for contacting us. We'll be happy to help you again if there's anything else you want to discuss" at the end of a customer service response. The whole letter is not helpful at all.

You should cut up your credit card. You might also complain to Veronique's supervisor as she could be replaced by someone competent.

Anonymous said...

Hello Patrick greetings ... came across your posting while googling Taiwan train ticket. I have a slightly different problem where I can reserve a train tickets but I need to pick them up 2 weeks prior to departure but I will not be in Taiwan yet when the ticket-collection is due. I only plan to travel in Taiwan for a week and how do I suppose to collect the tickets 2 weeks before? Seems like they don't make it foreign-freely at all. Any suggestions? Thanks.

Patrick Cowsill said...

I'd pick them for you if you send me the information. Please write the president of Taiwan to complain.

Anonymous said...

Don't know when it changed, but it's not true now anyway. I've bought on line several times without any problems. And I never had to pick the tickets up early or anything either. I don't remember exactly when I did this last, but I think June/July 2009. I live here, and I use my foreign credit card (visa) for everything. I get my money from 7-11 without paying all too much in transfer rate either so... All in all, I'd say using a credit card in Taiwan isn't any harder than any other place. It's if anything easier to use it here than Japan. I lived there for a couple of years before moving here, and there the whole banking system is much much worse!

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Don't know when it changed, but it's not true now anyway. I've bought on line several times without any problems."

I will give it a try and see then. I hope you're right. But I still get letters from people who cannot book online, and I've posted on this quite recently: http://patrick-cowsill.blogspot.com/2009/08/15-years-later-and-foreigners-still.html

Anonymous said...

I just bought tickets today to Fulong Beach for the upcoming long weekend. The only problem is that the tickets need to be picked up the next day before 11:00pm.
All you need to do is give them your passport number.
It is open from 6:00am-10:00pm.

Anonymous said...

I want to go to hualien and I'm a foreigner. How do I go about it? What website?

Patrick Cowsill said...

"I want to go to hualien and I'm a foreigner. How do I go about it? What website?"

1. Go to this Web site:

2. Click on Guided Query (on the left)

3. Imput Taipei (or the city you're coming from) as well as the station. Then hit Next Step

4. Imput Hualien

5. Click on Hua-lien and then Hualien below and hit Next Step

6. Click on the date and time

7. Choose the train type (I recommend the fast train - the Tze Chiang). Hit Query

8. Choose the train you want. Remember the train number

9. Then click on http://www.railway.gov.tw/en/ticket/ticket-1.aspx

10. Click on Internet Ticketing (it's on the left-hand side)

11. Click on Order Tickets Using Train No. (it's the first option)

12. Put in either your passport no. or ARC no., the station of departure and arrival and the Train No. (From No. 8).

13. When the successful booking memo comes up, copy the page (I usually cut and paste it in Word).

14. Print it and take it, along with ID to either the post office or train station.

15. You'll have about a day or so to do this.