1.5 Years Later and "Foreigners" Still Can't Buy Train Tickets Online for Taiwan

I get people emailing from time to time, asking about buying train tickets online in Taiwan. Without exception, they're frustrated because they have planned to visit Taiwan and are trying to plan out an itinerary first. They're worried they could be stranded in Taipei, with no tickets to go anywhere, especially down the east coast, which is not serviced by the HSR. The reason I get the inquiries is I posted last year on how the Taiwan Train Administration was no longer allowing people with "foreign"-issued credit cards to make reservations online. Starting in February 2008, only those with Taiwan-issued credit cards have been allowed to make purchases online http://patrick-cowsill.blogspot.com/2008/02/foreigners-cant-buy-train-tickets-on.html Before that, no problem: anyone with a credit card could book train tickets, much the same way they'd reserve a hotel, buy some books, order a live action baseball streamer, get plane tickets or make any other transaction online.

Since "foreigners" are discriminated against in Taiwan when it comes to getting local credit cards (they can't get them), "foreigners" have now gone one year and six months without being able to purchase train tickets online. "Foreigners" coming from other countries as tourists are likewise unable to buy train tickets online. What I'm worried about is this: some of them will simply throw up their hands and go somewhere more sane.

The reason I originally posted on this topic was I don't accept the hypocrisy and/or incompetence behind the decision to no longer allow "foreigners" to buy train tickets online. It came less than a week after the government decided to dump $US30 million into promoting tourism abroad (and made sure every newspaper knew it). I remember writing to complain, but not getting a response other than they would look into it to make "my foreigner experience a lovely one in Taiwan".

I did eventually receive a couple of letters, but enthusiasm for fixing the problem seems to have petered out:

Letter One:
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

Letter Two:
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

Since March 20, 2008, nothing has been done to sort this out. I still can't use my credit card to buy tickets online.


As far as I know, there is only one way a "foreigner" can book tickets for a train now. He or she must go to this Web site and find the train number:

Then, he or she must plug it in here:
http://railway.hinet.net/etno1.htm He or she can use either a passport or an ARC. I just tried, and they both work. Here's the kicker. You only have two days to pick them up. What I do is print out the information and then go to the post office to get my tickets. I need to translate the details, as the printed copy is only in English. Plus I need to pay an extra NT$10 (about 40 cents US). I'm sure these advance tickets could also be picked up at any one of the train stations.

The reason I'm back on this topic is I just received an email from a prospective tourist to Taiwan. Here's his itinerary:

1. Airport-Keelung
2. Keelung-Badu-Rueifang-Shihfen-Jingtong-Rueifang-Hualien (day trip on Pingshi line)
3. Hualien-Taroko-Hualien-Taitung
4. Taitung-Chiayi
5. Chiayi-Alishan-Chiayi-Taipei (day trip on Alishan line)
6. Taipei-Airport

He also asked me this: "I have all the trains (numbers and arrival/departure times) figured out (I think), but can't seem to make reservations. Are reservations necessary?" I think some are definitely necessary. For example, if he goes from Taipei to Hualien directly. Or for when he wants to return to Taipei from Taitung. If I were him, I'd then grab the HSR to Chiayi. Which brings up another point: does the toy train up to Alishan have assigned seating? I can't remember.

When he called the Taipei Train Administration, they had nobody on that could speak English, so he didn't receive any help. This is never going to work if Taiwan is actually serious about promoting tourism. US$30,000,000 - you'd think someone would have gotten an English class.


nick said...

As of last summer, there were no assigned seats on the Alishan branch line.

Anonymous said...

As a banker, I'd like to give my opinions for your reference. It might be the settlement system of int'l credit cards that has not been built between Taiwan and other countries, so as to those credit cards issued outside Taiwain can't be accepted, and foreigners still can't buy train tickets online.

I don't understand why the problem is unresolved by government authorities. Perhaps, your suggestion letters shouldn't be sent to presidential office but to "Financial Affairs Management and Control Committee." BTW, English is very popular language spoken here in Tawain, why TRA doesn't offer a special English speaking counter to service those foreigners. I'm concerned about this.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"It might be the settlement system of int'l credit cards that has not been built between Taiwan and other countries, so as to those credit cards issued outside Taiwain can't be accepted, and foreigners still can't buy train tickets online."

No, no, no. I used to buy tickets online using my "foreign" credit card. I was able to do this up until January 2008. What I suspect is that they gave the responsibility to a new bank, and they instituted this policy. (Or, maybe I was told that - I can't remember.) But I don't like how the bureaucracy won't follow up on this. It smacks of laziness and incompetence, especially if they're dumping US$30 million of our tax money into promoting tourism.

Poagao said...

Just curious, but why do you put quotes around "foreign" and "foreigners"?

Patrick Cowsill said...

Who's not a "foreigner" here? I don't like the term.

In fact, I think it's ethnocentric to lump everyone non-Taiwanese into a single group. Plus I think it's weird: Aren't the Taiwanese always complaining that the world / UN / WHO disregards their presence and nation? By calling me a "foreigner", aren't they turning around and doing the same to me?

Poagao said...

Hmm, ok. But most people do make the distinction between citizens and foreign nationals, and in this case it does seem relevant to make such a distinction as that does seem to be the sticking point of the article.

Poagao said...

Oh, and btw it's not really ethnocentric as there are Taiwanese nationals of many different races.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"But most people do make the distinction between citizens and foreign nationals."

I wonder what most people here in Taiwan will call a citizen of Taiwan who has a white or black skin color.

Poagao said...

In my experience, a good portion say "Taiwanese". That's anecdotal evidence, however, not a proper study.

Patrick Cowsill said...

No, I don't believe you Poagao, not in the slightest. But I'd love to be wrong on this topic. Have you written about this? Is there a study to back you up? I've researched it in my cultural psych. class at NCCU. I even ran a survey on attitudes, and came away with an understanding that is absolutely to the contrary of yours, i.e. "good portion say "Taiwanese". I met one "foreigner" born in Hualien, Taiwan and raised by a Taiwanese "ah-ma". He speaks flawless Taiwanese and this is the land of his birth, and yet he is still considered a "foreigner" by other locals he meets. The last time I spoke to him, he was on an ARC. He had just called a government agency to try to clear it up. He didn't get far. The bureaucrat on the other end of the line told him "it's impossible that you're a 'foreigner' [meaning white man]" after listening to him speak. Then she just hung up.

My own experiences lead to believe an out-group is doubly so in Taiwan. In fact, the only place I've heard whites or blacks referred to as a Taiwanese is here on my blog, by two regular commentators - eyedoc and George. That's it.

Poagao said...

Ok, then.