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Before You Go
Access to Medicines
In Taiwan it may be difficult to find some newer drugs, particularly the latest antidepressant drugs, blood-pressure medications and contraceptive pills. If you take any regular medication, bring enough with you.
Some insurance policies pay doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation. You may be asked to call (reverse charges) a centre in your home country where an immediate assessment of your problem is made. Check whether the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
Proof of Yellow Fever vaccination is required if entering Taiwan within six days of visiting an infected country. If you are travelling to Taiwan from Africa or South America, check with a travel-medicine clinic whether you need the vaccine.
Shots for hepatitis A and B are recommended.
Centers for Disease Control ROC (www.cdc.gov.tw) Latest news on diseases in Taiwan.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (www.cdc.gov) Good general information.
Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com) A good place to visit for starters.
MD Travel Health (www.mdtravelhealth.com) Provides complete travel-health recommendations for every country including Taiwan. Revised daily.
Availability & Cost of Health Care
Taiwan is a developed country with excellent universal medical coverage. Many doctors are trained in Western countries and speak at least some English.
To see a doctor costs around NT$400; medicines and tests such as X-rays are much cheaper than private healthcare in the West.
Most hospitals have a volunteer desk to help foreigners fill in the forms needed to see a doctor.
Taipei has the best medical care, but most major cities will have a decent hospital.
Dengue fever This mosquito-borne disease causes sporadic problems in Taiwan in both cities and rural areas. It is more prevalent in the south, particularly Tainan and Kaohsiung. Prevention is by avoiding mosquito bites – there is no vaccine. Mosquitoes that carry dengue bite day and night. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache and body ache (previously dengue was known as 'breakbone fever'). Use mosquito repellent and take precautions when outdoors, especially in rural areas in southern Taiwan.
Japanese B encephalitis Potentially fatal viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes, but rare in travellers. Transmission season runs June to October. Vaccination is recommended for travellers spending more than one month outside of cities.
Rabies Taiwan had its first rabies outbreak in 60 years in 2013. However, it's very rare, and so far only found in ferret-badgers and bats.
Air pollution Air pollution, particularly vehicle pollution, is a problem in all urban areas, including many smaller cities. Avoid downtown during busy hours.
Insect bites & stings Insects are not a major issue in Taiwan, though there are some insect-borne diseases such as scrub typhus and dengue fever.
Ticks Ticks can be contracted from walking in rural areas, and are commonly found behind the ears, on the belly and in armpits. If you have had a tick bite and experience symptoms such as a rash at the site of the bite or elsewhere, or fever or muscle aches, see a doctor.
Traditional & Folk Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is very popular in Taiwan. TCM views the human body as an energy system in which the basic substances of chi (qì; vital energy), jing (essence), blood (the body's nourishing fluids) and body fluids (other organic fluids) function. The concept of Yin and Yang is fundamental to the system. Disharmony between Yin and Yang or within the basic substances may be a result of internal causes (emotions), external causes (climatic conditions) or miscellaneous causes (work, exercise, sex etc). Treatment modalities include acupuncture, massage, herbs (usually in powder form in Taiwan), dietary modification and qijong (the skill of attracting positive energy), and aim to bring these elements back into balance. These therapies are particularly useful for treating chronic diseases and are gaining interest and respect in the Western medical system. Conditions that can be particularly suitable for traditional methods include chronic fatigue, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and some chronic skin conditions.
Be aware that 'natural' doesn't always mean 'safe', and there can be drug interactions between herbal medicines and Western medicines. If you are using both systems, inform both practitioners what the other has prescribed.
- Drinkable in Taipei without treatment but still best to boil or filter.
- Filtered hot and cold water from dispensers is available in every hotel, guesthouse and visitor information centre so it's handy to bring your own bottle.
- Ice is usually fine at restaurants. Shaved ice (with fruit) is usually fine but take a look at the conditions in the shop.