Last week, I mentioned how I would be returning to Taipei for Computex this year and that I would be requiring some means of getting online in Taiwan. I’ve already signed up for the Taipei Free Public Wi-Fi service as a backup (the process is really straightforward, aside from the issues I had in receiving my SMS authorization code), but I really don’t want to rely on Wi-Fi access points that may be spotty and have painfully slow speeds.
At this point, I’m still undecided about how I want to go about doing this. That being said, it has been brought to my attention that getting signed up for a prepaid 3G service with one of the major carriers in Taipei has become a lot easier again. I have started the process of unlocking my primary smartphone for this purpose, even if I don’t end up getting a SIM for my Taiwan trip.
In a rather detailed post on TripAdvisor, user “cchanmen” of Singapore outlines the process for getting a prepaid SIM while at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. The post is almost two years old, but I’m hoping it’s still reasonably accurate.
1. Upon arrival and passing through customs, turn left and head all the way to the end of the arrival hall. Turn left again and you see a row of 3 telco shops selling pre-paid cards on the right of the wide passageway. For reference, this is the side of the airport closest to pillar 1 if you were outside the airport along the arrival pickup driveway.
2. The shops are Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile,far and one other small player. We bought the 10 day pass (Package B) from Taiwan Mobile for NT$800, which includes 10 24-hour blocks of unlimited 3G data usage and NT$550 worth of airtime.
3. SIM cards are available in both standard sizes and micro-SIMs for the iOS devices.
4. Other packages are also available, e.g. Taiwan Mobile Package A for 5 days. Chunghwa offers 3 and 7 day packages (3 days for NT$300; 7 days for NT$450).
5. You can top up airtime and data days at convenience stores like 7-11 but we haven’t had to try that yet. Perhaps someone could document their process and experience here?
6. You MUST have at least 2 official picture IDs (e.g. Passport and Driver’s Licence) to purchase a pre-paid SIM. The shop will make a photocopy of your IDs.
7. The counter staff offered to swop out my current SIM for the pre-paid SIM, and the whole purchase process took less than 5 mins (if you knew what you wanted).
8. However lines can be long, and be prepared to wait if the folks ahead of you have lots of questions. We waited about 20 mins for our turn at Taiwan Mobile, even though the Chunghwa counter had no queue, ‘cos we wanted the 10 day pass.
Comparing the rates and packages, I found this handy post that breaks down some of the differences between Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan Mobile and Far Eastone. What’s unclear to me is whether I can apply the airtime balance from buying a 3G Ideal Card from Chunghwa Telecom toward one of the 3G wireless Internet plans.
For instance, the NT$500 card (about $18 Canadian) comes with NT$600 of value and the 10-day unlimited Internet plan is 500NT. If true, this would mean I’d have 100NT to spare for talk and text. I don’t plan on making much (if any) phone calls and outbound texts are only NT$1.48 each, based on updated information. I’d use data-based messengers for conversations with friends and family back home.
Part of the challenge is that my flight arrives in the very early morning, likely before these cell phone shops open up for the day. It would depend on how long it takes for me to get through the customs process and collect my checked luggage. Of course, I could visit one of the many stores in the city itself, though it’d be fantastic if I could be up and running by the time I leave the airport.
Going with a prepaid SIM in my primary smartphone offers some advantages, like presumably having better coverage and overall speeds. On the other hand, there are some downsides too, like temporarily losing access to my Canadian number and falling out of my WhatsApp loop for those couple of weeks. I’m not sure if these plans (or my phone, for that matter) allows tethering either, though I imagine my Ultrabook will be used primarily back at the hotel where I have free Wi-Fi anyhow.
What are your thoughts? What would you do in my situation?