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Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan

Taiwan Health & Safety

  
 
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Eating and Drinking

Westerners should be cautious of relatively undercooked food. Many Taiwanese restaurants offer plates of raw, sliced red meat and uncooked seafood that are brought to the table and either barbecued or simmered in a pot of stock (so-called "hot pot"). As this constitutes a staple of the Taiwanese diet, any bacteria that may remain doesn't affect the locals, but it can wreak havoc with foreigners. The best policy is to make sure you cook the food in a manner to which you are accustomed.

Don't drink tap water without boiling it, though it's safe for brushing your teeth.

Healthcare

Medicines are available for minor ailments at drug stores. You may also find common drugs requiring a prescription in the west (like asthma inhalers and birth control pills) cheaply available from drug stores without a prescription. Taiwan has both Chinese herbal physicians and Western-style doctors, both of which are taken equally seriously. However, as a foreigner, the assumption would generally be to direct you to a Western doctor. The quality of the hospitals in Taiwan is excellent and on par with those found in the West.

Taiwan's health care program is considered one of the best health care in the world. Legal residents with a National Health Card can avail themselves of the very convenient and efficient national health service, which covers treatment and medication using both Western and traditional Chinese medicine. However, this service is not available to short term visitors on tourist visas; nor does it cover major hospitalization expenses. Still, hospital visits and medicine in Taiwan tends to be far less expensive than in the west. For minor ailments and problems (flu, broken bones, stitches, etc). Note that outside the major cities, it might be difficult to find a doctor who speaks English, so try to learn some basic Mandarin before heading off the beaten track.

Mosquito bites

Watch out for mosquito bites when in rural areas around dusk. Especially in the summer, the humid and hot weather makes mosquitos very active. Most mosquito bites only cause skin irritation and itching, but in some areas of Taiwan it's possible to contract Dengue Fever or Japanese Encephalitis (both are rare, however). Mosquito/insect repellent spray can be found at convenience stores (such as 7-Eleven and Family Mart) and local pharmacies. If you are bitten, apply a small amount of ointment for relief.

Safety

Crime

Taiwan is very safe for tourists, even for women at night. This is not to say, however, that there is no crime, and you should always exercise caution. In crowded areas such as night markets or festivals, for example, pickpockets are a known problem. However, it is fair to say that the streets of Taiwan are generally very safe and that violent crime and muggings are very rare.

In addition, it is also very unusual to see drunks on the street, day or night.
Like anywhere else in the world, women should be cautious when taking taxis alone late at night. Although they are generally safe, it's a good idea to arrange to have a friend call you when you get home and to be seen making the arrangements for this by the cab driver. It also helps if a friend sees you being picked up as taxis have visible license numbers. As an additional safety precaution, tell taxi drivers just the street name and section instead of your exact address.

Police departments in most jurisdictions have a Foreign Affairs Police unit staffed by English-speaking officers. When reporting a major crime, it is advisable to contact the Foreign Affairs unit in addition to officers at the local precinct. Police stations are marked with a red light above the door and display a sign with the word "Police" clearly printed in English. For more information see the National Police Agency website

Foreign victims of a major crime in Taiwan are also advised to report the matter to their government's representative office in Taipei.

Also, remember that you call 110 for police in Taiwan, and 119 for Fire Dept. or Medical Help. Most of the public telephone booths will allow you to call 110 or 119 for free. See "Emergency Phone Numbers" section below.

Emergency Phone Numbers

  • Police: 110
  • Fire/Ambulance: 119

For those who need assistance in English, the government has set up a 24-hour toll-free foreigner service hotline at 0800-024-111, which you may call for assistance.

Natural hazards

Taiwan often experiences typhoons during the summer months and early fall, especially on the East Coast. Heavy monsoon rainfall also occurs during the summer. Hikers and mountaineers should be sure to consult weather reports before heading into the mountains. A major hazard following heavy rainfall in the mountains is falling rocks caused by the softening of the earth and there are occasional reports of people being killed or injured by these.

Taiwan is also located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which means that earthquakes are a common occurrence. Most earthquakes are barely noticeable, though the effect may be slightly amplified for those in higher buildings. While the local building codes are extremely strict, general precautions should still be observed during an earthquake, including opening the door for preventing it being jammed, taking cover and checking for gas leaks afterwards.

Taiwan's wild areas are home to a variety of poisonous snakes, including the bamboo viper, Russel's viper, banded krait, coral snake, Chinese cobra, Taiwan habu, and the so-called "hundred pacer". Precautions against snake bites include making plenty of noise as you hike, wearing long trousers and avoiding overgrown trails. Most snakes are scared of humans, so if you make noise you will give them time to get away. Walking quietly means that you may suddenly startle them around a corner when you appear, and trigger an attack. The Russel's viper, one of the most dangerous snakes in Taiwan, is an exception; it generally prefers to take a stand against threats.

Traffic

Local drivers have a well-deserved reputation for being extremely reckless and downright immoral. It is possible (even normal) to obtain a driving license in Taiwan without ever having driven on the roads, and this may be a reason (along with the overcrowded roads) why courteous or defensive driving is definitely not the norm. The guiding principles seem to be that the right of way belongs to the larger vehicle, i.e. trucks have the right-of-way over cars, cars over motorcycles, motorcycles over people, etc. Despite traffic's chaotic appearance, it is viscerally intuitive to yield the right-of-way to a much larger vehicle barreling towards you. It is advisable to use slow and smooth movements over quick or sudden ones. Local drivers regularly cut in front of moving traffic into spaces that seem too small, try to change lanes regardless of the fact their destination is already full, etc. Be aware that during busy traffic (i.e. nearly always) two-lane roads will spontaneously become three-lane, an orange light will be interpreted as 'speed up', and the smallest moment's pause in oncoming traffic will result in everybody that's waiting trying to turn across it. Drivers routinely enter a junction when their exit is blocked, and are therefore frequently still there long after the lights change, blocking traffic traveling in other directions. Many motorcycle riders also have a tendency to zip through any space, no matter how tiny. Also be aware that motorcycles often travel through areas typically considered as pedestrian-only spaces, like the night-markets.

If you happen to drive a car or a motorcycle, the obvious rule is that if someone turns in front of you, you should be the one to adapt. To avoid collisions, drivers need to be extremely vigilant for other vehicles creating hazards and always be willing to adjust speed or direction to accommodate. Do not expect drivers to yield way, or respect traffic lights in many areas, especially in central and southern Taiwan. Sounding the horn is the usual way a Taiwanese driver indicates that they do not intend to accommodate a driver trying to encroach on their lane, etc, and does not necessarily imply the anger or criticism, as it does in other countries. One bright side of Taiwan's chaotic traffic is that drivers tend to have an exceptional awareness of the spatial extents of their vehicle, so that even though it continuously looks like somebody is about to drive straight into you, it's relatively rare that they actually do so.

Be extra careful when crossing the road, even to the extent of looking both ways on a one-way street. When crossing at a pedestrian-crossing at a T-junction or crossroads, be aware that when the little green man lights up and you start crossing, motorists will still try to turn right, with or without a green feeder light. Even on roads where traffic is infrequent and the green light is in your favor, bike-riders are still strongly advised to check the opposite lane.





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