Taiwan to allow visa-free travel from certain countries in latest reopening step

Foreign Affairs

Taiwan has lifted visa restrictions on some incoming visitors in a bid to revive international travel, but has left Asian tourists from its most important markets off of the exempt list.

Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

Starting today, Taiwan’s borders are open for visa-free travel to certain regions, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, and the U.K. The decision was made to promote international exchange amid the ongoing pandemic, and as a result of other countries around the world reopening their borders and resuming pre-pandemic travel. Before this latest measure, Taiwan had maintained strict border and quarantine controls for entry, even as other countries in the region like Japan have opened to tourists.

Taiwan’s three-day quarantine plus four-day self-health management scheme and PCR test upon arrival will remain in place until further notice, and the cap on entering travelers will remain at 50,000 per week. Despite Taiwan’s popularity among East and Southeast Asian countries for international tourism, countries including Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines were not listed as eligible for visa-free travel.

The move comes only months before Taiwan’s midterm elections, which were initially expected to determine border reopening. Former Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中 Chén Shízhōng) stepped down from his position in July amid his run for Taipei mayor as the Democratic Progressive Party candidate and is now leading in the latest polls.

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Despite major infection spikes in recent months, including the largest outbreak to date this spring due to the spread of the Omicron variant, Taiwan has adopted a “living with COVID” approach that it calls the “new Taiwan model,” a strategy that has received mixed responses from the public.

Cases have been on the rise again in recent weeks, with another 41,000 logged last Wednesday and higher numbers expected after the weekend’s Mid-Autumn Festival holiday. Still, Taiwan’s government officials are avoiding harsh restrictions and instead telling certain populations — like unvaccinated children and elderly people — not to attend barbecues and to avoid large gatherings.

Since the start of the pandemic, Taiwan has logged more than 5.5 million COVID-19 cases and more than 10,000 deaths. Still, more than 99% of cases have been mild or asymptomatic and over 70% of the population has received three shots. New second-generation Moderna booster shots are expected to arrive by the end of this month. Pandemic restrictions are expected to continue to loosen, and some experts have suggested scrapping post-arrival quarantines altogether as the spread of the virus becomes difficult to control amid the constant appearance of new variants.