A quick guide to cheap visa runs

2016/01/03 12:34:00
[R. Seth Corbett]

[R. Seth Corbett]

Your friends think you are going to end up on a watch list and your mother is afraid you are going to be locked up in a dark cell in a foreign land. Multiple, short trips across the border and hoping immigration does not notice, makes things sound pretty sketchy. In reality, all you are doing is a "visa run."

A visa run refers a short trip taken by a foreigner to a nearby country with the purpose of extending their stay in the nation they wish to return to. It is legal, but not something that immigration necessarily smiles on. Long-term residents are expected to get a visa and ARC (alien resident card).

There are a lot of reasons for doing a visa run. Maybe you are looking for work. Maybe you met someone and want to stay with them. Most likely, though, you are teaching English.

If you are from the U.S., Canada, Australia, much of Europe, or other select countries you can enter Taiwan without a visa. You are entitled to visa-exempt entry and you can stay for a maximum of 90 days without a visa. After that you are subject to fines and deportation.

There are two approaches to doing a visa run. The first is to do it as fast and cheap as possible. You can chose not to stay abroad if you do not want to, possibly heading back the same day.

The other option is to treat the visa run as a kind of vacation and try to have fun. Whichever approach you choose, most of the steps are still the same.

The main step is to book a flight out of Taiwan. Most likely this will be a round-trip flight, though some people may prefer to arrive at one destination and return from another.

There is no requirement on how long your trip has to be. A long-time American English teacher based in Taiwan made a visa run to Hong Kong where his return flight was less than an hour after landing. He nearly missed his return flight on that gamble.

Officially, you should already have a flight out of Taiwan booked before you land in Taiwan. This is a legal requirement. When you enter Taiwan without a visa, you are supposed to have an outbound flight to show that you are not going to be overstaying your visa.

The airline may ask to see your outbound flight ticket or itinerary before letting you board. If you do not have one you could find yourself trying to book another flight at the last minute with little time to spare before the plane leaves. Not booking an outbound flight is a gamble.

When you purchase your outbound ticket, you can plan for your next visa run or book a flight that you can cancel for free or a minimal fee. A 25-year-old Canadian English tutor said that she had an outbound flight that she could reschedule for free that she has used for every run. As she put it,“It's my emergency ticket.”

Most importantly, you just do not want to attract the airport's attention. Follow the rules and regulations. DO NOT try to smuggle contraband.

If they ask to see your bag, do not wave your hand and say, "These are not the droids you're looking for." They will not think it is funny. Do not ask for a selfie with the guards. The answer is no. The author checked.

The cheapest flights out of Taiwan tend to be to the Philippines and Hong Kong. Both have different benefits. The Philippines tends to be cheaper, but offers less quality and convenience. Hong Kong is safe and provides a lot of options, but has a higher cost.

The Philippines

If you are doing a quick, inbound and outbound trip, the Philippines is the best bet. Some airlines offer flights to Manila for as low as NT$1,950 (US$60) if you catch a deal. Of course by the time you add in airport taxes and the like you will be closer to NT$3,245.

You will not find a cheaper flight as long as you do not plan on leaving the terminal. The Manila airport has not been ranked as one of the world's most convenient airports, in part because its three terminals are not connected.

[R. Seth Corbett]

[R. Seth Corbett]

If you are staying in Manila, there are plenty of low cost hostels in the Ermita and Malate districts. You can expect streets near the hostels to be filled with cheap shops catering to tourists and hostess bars that will open up in the evening.

A 35-year-old woman from the Philippines surnamed Lu who teaches SAT and ACT advised that, "Serendra has lots to see and eat. It's kinda like a small town with lots of upscale residence buildings. The W Hotel is there too surrounded by strip malls and grass in the middle. Last time I saw an IHOP."

As a rule of thumb, know the price it should cost to get to your destination beforehand or expect to be overcharged by the cabbie. Stay aware of your surroundings.

Instead you might go to Cebu City, located on Cebu Island. It is considered much safer than Manila and has easier access to places outside of the city itself, though it is advisable to be on guard while downtown. Because of its beaches, Cebu City attracts a lot of vacationers, ensuring a wide selection of places to sleep and eat.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong works fine for a quick visit or a longer trip. A flight there costs around NT$3,830 if you book at the right time. Not too bad a price for a round-trip ticket.

One may find a visit to Hong Kong can come with sticker shock after living in Taipei for a while. While you can find a cheap local meal in Taipei for NT$60-70, it will be double that in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong can seem like a much larger version of Taipei. If you are going to be there for more than a day, pick up an Octopus Card to use with buses, the MRT, and stores. Prices are generally higher in Hong Kong, and you absolutely must haggle at the night markets.

There are a number of hostels to choose from along Causeway Bay. Chungking Mansions in Kowloon is infamous for housing the cheapest (in all senses of the word) hostels in the city. If you are looking to save money, this apartment full of hostels is your best option, but be prepared to face touts trying to "help" you find a room or other
services.

[H. J. Shih]

[H. J. Shih]

Overall, Hong Kong is a clean and safe city as long as you are not looking for trouble, or if you are looking, but do not know how to find trouble. It also has the advantage of being a ferry ride away from Macau. Some people claim it is cheaper to fly to Hong Kong, transit to Macau, and then fly out of there.

The conveniences of Hong Kong were best summed up by a Canadian English tutor who prefers to be named Laura, "I imagined that such a famously dense city would be sprouting line-ups from every service center, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I never had to wait for public transport; not even the classic tourist experience on the Star Ferry."

For many, visa runs are something of a necessary evil. They cost time and money. Most people staying long term in Taiwan would rather have a visa that allows them to stay without extra hassle. If you must make a visa run, you can minimize the costs with proper planning. A trip that you have to make can be turned into part of the experience of living abroad.

(By CNA Intern Seth Corbett)
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