All Hands On Deck: Visas in the Time of the Coronavirus
Updated: Jan 2, 2022
Update 3/21: The Taiwanese authorities are being very generous in granting a 30 day extension to visitors. Use the extra time to secure a job or a more stable visa situation.
More info on the announcement:
An automatic 30-day extension for foreigners entering Taiwan on or before March 21 with visa waiver, visitor visa, or landing visa (no application is required). The total period of stay cannot exceed 180 days. These conditions are subject to change and may be adjusted as circumstances require. For further information, please visit https://www.boca.gov.tw/cp-220-5436-37c0d-2.html.
If you are already overstaying your required departure date, unfortunately this doesn’t apply to you, but check out the latest updates regarding the Expanded Overstayers Voluntary Departure Program.
It’s All Hands on deck time.
Got a month left on your tourist or other visa and weighing your options? With foreign visitor travel into Taiwan suspended as of March 18, making a visa run is currently impossible. Only foreigners with ARCs can enter the country now. The good news is that healthcare here is probably better than what you’d receive in your home country. So if you want to ride out the coronavirus in Taiwan, here are some tips on what you can do in the current situation.
Who do I contact?
There are various departments you may need to deal with when getting a visa or ARC. If you live in Taipei, here are Taipei office locations for these departments. Bureau of Consular Affairs (BOCA) National Immigration Agency (NIA) Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)
If you want to talk to someone directly over the phone, you can call NIA’s foreigner immigration hotline, called the Life Advisory Service Hotline: 0800-024-111.
BOCA maintains a visa inquiry hotline with two numbers: 02-23432885 and 02-23432895.
If you’re getting on the phone, expect a long wait.
3/20 Update: See the overstay section below for more info on today’s leniency policy announcement by BOCA.
I have a tourist visa. Can I get an extension to stay longer?
According to BOCA: “Visitor Visa holders who are permitted to stay in Taiwan for sixty or ninety days and whose visas bear no such remark as “no extension will be granted” may apply at local service centers of the National Immigration Agency for a maximum of 120 or 90 days of extensions.”
For most people this will be better than leaving the country, so check with your local NIA office.
I’ve already extended my visa as many times as I can. Can I get special exemption due to the coronavirus?
According to English translations of March 18’s Public Statement regarding the coronavirus, “foreigners who are already in TW and wish to stay longer, have to provide details of serious medical issues with a relevant letter from a hospital to the authorities”, in order to extend their stay. So this is not looking good for those who want to stay longer.
I didn’t get a visa before I came to Taiwan. Can I stay longer?
03/19 Update: According to people on Facebook, “you can apply for a visitor visa and applications will be considered on a case-to-case basis.”
If you successfully apply and get a visitor visa, in as much detail as you can give about your situation, please comment below and share the info on social media as widely as possible, so that others know what viable options there are. Please include your nationality in that information.
If you are American or a citizen of another visa-exempt country, and they let you into Taiwan without you doing any paperwork, you most likely do not have a visa. If you are here visa-free, according to BOCA, you probably cannot extend your non-exempt status: “The duration of stay starts from the day after arrival and is not extendable. Foreign visitors must depart by the end of the said duration.” There are exceptions for Canadian and UK passport holders, who are “eligible for the visa exemption program with a duration of stay of 90 days which is extendable up to 180 days“. For more info, please refer to the Notice for British & Canadian Passport Holders Who Enter Taiwan Visa-Free and Apply for an Extension of Stay.
However, if you are here visa-free and cannot extend that status, it may be possible to convert to a visitor visa: “Foreign nationals entering the ROC on a visa exemption may only apply for conversion to a visitor visa within the permitted duration of stay at the Bureau of Consular Affairs (BOCA) or MOFA branch offices in the event of situations that prevent them from leaving the ROC, such as severe acute illness, natural disaster, or other force majeure reason. In addition, white-collar professionals who have obtained a work permit within their permitted duration of stay(Brunei, Philippines, Russia and Thailand are not included) may apply for a work visa together with their spouse and minors (under age 20) who entered the ROC at the same time.“
Does the current situation count as force majeure? That’s a governmental decision, and we haven’t yet heard any declaration on this.
Update regarding “Force Majeure”:
We are hearing that people who are trying to convert their exempt status to a tourist visa, are getting denied by MOFA: The current situation does not appear to be a “force majeure situation” in the eyes of the government.
When you go in search of answers to your visa extension inquiries, we recommend that you don’t accept ‘no’ as an answer from the first person who helps you. Politely ask to speak to their manager. If they tell you to go to another office, ask for the reasoning in writing, and ask them to put their employee ID # and name down as well.
Are there other visa options?
If your main focus is staying in Taiwan short-term, hopefully this info is enough. If you don’t see a solution for yourself listed above, you may need to look at other options, though these would take time and paperwork to acquire. These options may include student visas, the looking for work visa, the gold card, or the entrepreneur visa.
Estimated Application Time: Unknown
Cost: Standard Taiwan visa fees (less than USD $60) + tuition fees (varies)
Regarding the rules around student visas, see the details from BOCA here, which state: “Those who enter Taiwan under the visa-exemption program, with a landing visa or a visitor visa for other purposes than “studying Chinese” and those who have already resided in Taiwan for other purposes are not eligible for converting to a visa for the purpose of“studying Chinese” in Taiwan.” So this may not be an option in the current situation.
Looking for Work Visa
Estimated Application Time: 1 – 2 weeks
Cost: Standard Taiwan visa fees (less than USD $60)
This kind of visa is limited in who can apply for it. A general overview can be found here. Application materials are here. Go to your local BOCA office for more info. We at All Hands have had first-hand experience converting existing ARCs into looking for work ARCs. Go to your local NIA office for more info on converting.
Estimated Application Time: 1 – 2 months
Cost: USD $200 – 400, depending on what country you come from and other factors
There are a few ways to get the Gold Card, some of which require having very specialized experience. The easiest way to apply is via the Ministry of Economics requirements. Check approval method #1: If you earned a salary of more than NT $160K / month in the last three years, you are eligible for the Gold Card. This should be relatively easy for many Canadians and Americans who have professional experience in their home countries. You’ll need a copy of your tax forms that show this information, so a W-2 form if you are American. Be aware that this process can take a long time.
Estimated Application Time: 1 month
Cost: Standard visa fees (less than USD $60) + cost of co-working space ( Likely USD $1,000 or more for a year of rental)
The entrepreneur visa was created for the purpose of helping foreigners set up businesses more easily. It allows foreigners to live in Taiwan as they prepare to set up their company. According to government criteria, you must fulfill just one of the eligibility requirements.
Most of these requirements are pretty heavy-duty. However, one option can make getting the visa easy: “4. The business was stationed within one year before the application, or is currently stationed in, an international start-up park or registered under a project approved by the central government or any local government of the Republic of China.“
That means you need to work in a government sponsored co-working space. So you’ll have to pay a fee to a co-working space or start-up park, so that they’ll agree to sponsor your visa.
One good option is Futureward . They issued the very first entrepreneur visas, so they have the experience and know-how to help you get through the process. Futureward provides two options for applying for the entrepreneur visa:
Renting a desk at the co-working space
Working from home
Who should I contact about visa options?
Contact Futureward about the entrepreneur visa. EZPermit and ProJoy Immigration specialize in helping foreigners with immigration issues. Contact them as soon as possible if your initial contacts with the government don’t bear fruit.
If you want to start a company in Taiwan, 11th Fleet can help you work on your entrepreneur visa or gold card, among other small business services they offer. Check out their website for more info.
What happens if I overstay my required departure date?
3/20 Update: Today BOCA has announced reduced penalties for people who overstay their visa or their non-visa required departure date, and self-report their overstay status.
A quick summary of the policy:
Individuals residing in Taiwan on an expired visa or who have overstayed their visa-exempt departure date who self-report between April 1 and June 6 will be eligible for reduced penalties. Overstayers who surrender themselves to the authorities from March 20 through March 31, the policy promotion period, are also entitled to the same treatment.
To take advantage of this, you’ll need to call the phone number mentioned in the materials during the leniency period and arrange to turn yourself in. We would suggest you get your personal property ready for transit, sold, or otherwise in order before you make this call.
More info on the updated policy can be found on the NIA website.
If you are discovered to be overstaying outside of the leniency period, see below for the original penalties as stipulated by law.
Upon discovery on your overstay when exiting Taiwan, if you overstay, depending on how long you stayed in the country, you will have to pay a fine, and will probably be banned from returning to Taiwan for a period of time. There is a low level risk of detention as well.
According to Chinese-language law documents, it appears that the fine for overstaying ranges from around 1000 NTD (if you overstay by an hour) up to a maximum of 10,000 NTD.
<= 10 days: 2000 NTD
11 – 30 days: 4000 NTD
31 – 60 days: 6000 NTD
61 – 90 days: 8000 NTD
> 90 days: 10,000 NTD
From relevant English documentation on the NIA website:
IV. Any foreign national having overstayed his/her visit, residency, or having worked illegally, shall be banned from entry for a period prescribed below:
Overstaying the visit or residency for under one year, the foreign national shall be banned from entry for one year; overstaying over one year, the foreign national shall be banned from entry for a period equal to the length of the overstay, but the entry ban shall not exceed three years;
Working illegally, the foreign national shall be banned from entry for three years.
If you overstayed < 91 days, are enrolled in Taiwan as a student, or are under 18, you are exempt from the ban:
VI. Any foreign national overstaying his/her visit or residency under any of the following conditions may be exempted from the ban:
a. Having overstayed the visit or residency for less than ninety-one days; however, entry through the visa-waiver or landing visa shall be disallowed for one year;
b. Being under 18 years old;
c. Studying as a student at a public school, or a private or international school registered and established in accordance with the law;
There are additional ban exemptions for having a Taiwanese spouse or child; Check the contents of the law for more info.
Here’s an interesting video about the issue that might be worth your time if you want to understand overstay penalties.
If you cannot afford a ticket or there are no flights to destinations you can go, you may be detained until you or someone else can buy a departure ticket to get you out of Taiwan.
Hopefully it doesn’t get to this point.
About the Authors
Sean Wilson is a Partner at All Hands Taiwan.
Jung Chang is a private financial and immigration consultant.
Antonio Bolanos Casanova Jr. is a research assistant at NCCU (National Chengchi University).