A few months ago I learned about an interesting visa option. Taiwan offers a specialized resident visa (like a US Green Card) called the Gold Card. The resident designation for this visa is an important distinction. While almost no country is accepting tourists at the moment, most all of them accept their residents. This includes Taiwan. My initial research showed that both Katie and I should meet the qualifications. The visa is a long term one, valid for up to 3 years. That means that we could stop doing the monthly “visa dance” here in Vietnam while getting to travel to a new country. Even the application price was very reasonable at ~$300 each. It almost seemed too good to be true.
How Does The Gold Card Work?
The purpose of this Gold Card program is to draw skilled workers to Taiwan. They offer the visa for people in the fields of “Science and technology, economy, education, culture, arts, sports, finance, law and architectural design.” I know what you’re thinking, because I had the same thought. How could I qualify for this? I’m not even a worker, let alone a skilled worker.
Luckily, the “economy” designation doesn’t require proof of any special skills. I’m assuming it must be named after the idea that the applicant is willing to show up and stimulate the Taiwanese economy, because it only requires that one provide proof of being a reasonably high earner. The entire qualification is simply to provide documentation that the applicant made at least ~$65,000 during a calendar year within the last three.
As such, I called up my mom and asked her to root around in the basement for our one box of stuff that we left there. She found our tax return file and emailed us our 2018 W-2 statements from our last year of full-time employment. We filled out Gold Card applications, paid our $600 in processing fees, and got the process started in mid-September. We used those W-2 forms as official documentation to prove our “economy” qualifications. (If you want to know more about the application process, we followed this step-by-step post by our friends, the Nomad Numbers. It’s very thorough and well done.)
After about two months, we were asked to verify our documents and passports at the nearest Taiwan consulate office. For us, that’s in Saigon, so we booked a quick trip to the big city to take the next step in the process. I’m not sure if we just picked a good day or they are normally not too busy, but we barely had to wait when we showed up with our printouts and passports. I was expecting more of a DMV-type situation, but we basically walked right up to the counter and got started.
The employee that we met with was hesitant to accept our documents because we were missing the normal items like employer recommendations, skill tests, and other things that all the other “non-economy” designations require. However, after some back and forth and a consultation with her supervisor, everything seemed okay-ish. It was a little hard to tell, but she sent us on our way without any further requests.
Approval And Taiwan Benefits
The next day, any uncertainty we had was put to rest as we received confirmation emails from the Taiwanese government telling us that we were officially approved. All that was needed now was a few weeks for them to print our Gold Cards and have them delivered to Vietnam. Nice!
We would soon have the option to enter Taiwan at our discretion. It’s currently a great place to be as residents have mostly returned to normal life after eliminating COVID spread. However in order to keep it that way, entry to the island is tightly controlled. All entrants must enter strict quarantine for 15 nights. So it’s not painless, but then we’d be free to explore the island at our leisure for as long as we wanted without worrying about visas or viruses.
While we like Danang for the most part, there are some things that are lacking. Most notably, there’s a distinct lack of nature. We have access to the ocean, but that’s about it. There are no parks anywhere that are bigger than a block, and even those are rare. For some inexplicable reason, there are also very few birds. Even the ubiquitous myna bird is a rarity here. Thanks to the recent typhoon preparations, most of the trees have been scalped so I doubt that’s changing anytime soon. And recently, the air quality has been poor. All combined, we were excited about the prospect of moving to Taiwan, as even in Taipei, there is a lot of green space. Outside of the capital, it’s even more abundant.
After talking about it and weighing the dates of our current apartment lease and Vietnam visa, we figured we’d look to depart in mid- to late-January. But then we had some issues on our latest monthly visa renewal. That convinced us to speed up our time line for departure.
Current Vietnam Visa Process
When we first entered Vietnam way back in January 2020, we had a 3 month tourist visa. We were able to extend that for another 3 months, taking us into July 2020. However, our next extension coincided with Vietnam’s second wave of COVID. Since then, immigration has limited visa extensions to one month only. So since July, we’ve had to go through the visa renewal process every single month. While we appreciate the fact that we are still able to get the extensions, it doesn’t make it any less of a hassle.
Here’s how that “visa dance” works in practice. Our current visa expires on the 26th of each month. Around the 23rd, we go to the post office and do our best helpless foreigner impression to get a worker to help us mail our passports to a visa agent in Hanoi. Our agent submits them for extension, which is a process that can take 10-14 days. Eventually they get mailed back to us. The result of all this is that in any given month our passports are out of our possession more than they are in our possession. In theory, that’s not that big of a deal, but it’s also not the most comfortable feeling.
For our November 26 extension, we sent our passports off as we had multiple times before. We were more anxious to get them back this time though, as we had received notification that our Taiwan Gold Cards were available for pickup. Our agent told us on December 7th that we would get them “tomorrow or next tomorrow”. (I love the phrase.) Past experience told me that we should expect a knock on the door about 8:00am on December 8th. By the evening of December 9th, we hadn’t gotten them yet so we reached back out again. Our agent told us that they were in Danang and would be delivered the next day, December 10th. We waited until 4pm and still nothing.
Now we’re starting to get a bit worried. The last thing we want to deal with are lost passports. We reached out again to our agent. She made some calls and let us know that if we can show up at a local postal branch before 5pm, we can pick them up in person. Yes please! After arriving there and having them look at us quizzically, some back and forth using Google Translate, and about 10 minutes of them searching, they found our envelope. Whew!
Some of this may not sound like a big deal, but we end up not sleeping well when expecting our passport deliveries. Any sound outside of our apartment is treated as one that could be a knock at our door, which makes it pretty hard to sleep in. We also can’t leave the house on days we’re expecting the delivery to happen, otherwise we might miss it. While not the worst thing, it’s something that’s not fun to deal with.
All this visa rigamarole got us thinking that maybe we do want to get out of Vietnam sooner. As mentioned, our previous (loose) plan was to extend our apartment through mid-January so that we could enjoy our Christmas and New Year’s holidays and then look to transit to Taiwan in the new year. But since we would shortly have our Gold Cards, we could make this our last visa extension and leave Vietnam before our current visas expire on December 26th.
Taiwan Travel Requirements And Plans
Flight schedules meant that we would be flying on Christmas day before being immediately put into quarantine, but after talking it over, it seemed to be worth it. Since we have the option to move on, we should take advantage of it. Waiting around just means things have time to change. It’s just the two of us anyway, so the physical date of Christmas isn’t really that big of a deal. We decided to go for it.
But there was some work that needed to be done. It’s not as simple as just booking a flight. One of the entry requirements is having a negative COVID test from a maximum of 3 days prior to departure. I started searching out hospitals that offer a test with a quick turnaround. One hospital in Saigon provides the results electronically within 8-12 hours of the test. Considering we’d probably fly out of there anyway, that box was checked.
Next we needed to find a hotel to stay at for our quarantine period. The list of government approved quarantine hotels in Taipei has 88 options. Each of them has their own Google sheet (in that link) that lists their current availability for each room type along with the price. Trying to decide where to book was going to be a challenge. Naturally, a logistical problem of that magnitude calls for a spreadsheet (the one professional skill that I do have).
On the morning of Saturday December 10th, I sat down with lots of caffeine and went to work. I looked up each hotel and recorded their name, price, and availability. I immediately excluded any rooms that didn’t have a window, because natural light is too important when you’re not allowed to leave. Then I converted the rate to USD and left any notes I thought might be relevant. After a few hours of data collection, I had them all in one sortable list. Next I filtered out the most expensive ones along with the sold out ones, and I was left with a list of about 30 potential quarantine hotels. From there, I started looking at setups. The rooms that I would classify as “the floor is lava” were out, since if we’re going to be stuck in a single room for 15 nights, we need at least some space.
After I had picked my favorites, I called Katie over and we compared them all. The whole process took 6-7 hours, but in the end, we emailed 8 different hotels that were somewhere between $100-$120/night and asked them to confirm availability and price. The price includes three meals per day during the quarantine period. Most of the prices listed seemed like they were only for one person, so we needed to make sure we knew the total cost for adding food for the second person before committing.
The Reality Of Quarantine Options
As it turns out, there was a very good reason that most hotels only listed the price for one person. Replies from these hotels informed me that Taiwan now has a rule that every traveler must quarantine separately. Therefore, if we wanted to travel to Taipei, we wouldn’t be paying a somewhat ridiculous $120/night, it would be twice that amount. It’s not just a cost issue though. Quarantine is hard enough when we’re together. At least we have some experience there. But separately, it sounds like a nightmare. I’m not ready to pony up $4000 or more to go into solitary confinement for two weeks. The pain wouldn’t be worth it, especially considering our current situation is mostly fine.
As is becoming a bit too common, our timing on this travel decision was unlucky. Taiwan apparently just implemented this rule of one person per room on December 1st. Prior to that, they were allowing family groups to quarantine together. One of our friends traveled with her husband to Taipei in late October and they were able to quarantine together. But because Taiwan is expecting a large influx of people for the Christmas season and Chinese New Year, they tightened the restrictions. (Link to the new policy in Chinese here and here. Google Chrome has a built in translation plug in if you’re looking to read them.)
After all that, we’re pretty much back to where we started. We do have our Gold Cards, but we aren’t willing to endure the pain of solo quarantine at this time. Instead, I guess we’re just sticking around Danang. We’ve considered moving to Saigon, but our recent visit somewhat soured us on that. It’s just so busy and such a poor pedestrian city. We’ve considered moving somewhere else in Vietnam, but there aren’t many larger cities that don’t have poor air quality, especially during the colder rainy season. Smaller towns without proper hospitals seem impractical during times of global pandemic, even if things are under control here at the moment.
If for some reason Vietnam decides that we can no longer renew our visas, at least we’ll have an option that we didn’t before. Being forced to leave would be bad, but having the US as our only destination would be worse. And while it’s disappointing that we can’t take advantage of our new visas, at least now we have a guaranteed option that doesn’t involve returning to the global COVID hot spot should it come to that. I’m also hopeful that after the Chinese New Year, quarantine restrictions could revert to their previous form and we’ll be able to make the trip to Taiwan at that time. All we can do for now though is continue to wait patiently.