Taiwan Rail Passes

Introduction to Rail Passes in Taiwan

The Taiwan railways offer discount passes similar to the famous Japan Rail Pass and Eurail Pass, but with more options and flexibility and much smaller savings.If you intend to see the south of Taiwan, and do a lot of travelling in a short time (perhaps if you are here on business) then a rail pass will save you money and be more convenient.

As Taiwan is such a tiny island, however, with such extensive and inexpensive public transport (including the excellent  intercity bus system) the rail passes aren't for everyone. If this will be your first visit to Taiwan and you'll be here for under a week then I recommend staying in Taipei and the Northeast Coast (especially Jiufen and Jinguashi). And if want to go south and can reserve ahead on the High Speed Rail the 35% savings outweigh those of the rail passes.

If you are coming from a nearby country and only want to see the West Coast then consider purchasing a ticket into Taipei and out of Kaohsiung (or vice versa). Be very weary, however, of most LCCs from Japan.

Availability

These deals are only available for foreign visitors on a tourist visa (not Taiwanese or foreigners with work/resident visas). Although they are also available from travel agencies, by far the easiest way for most people to buy them is to order online (with a credit card). The Taiwan HSR company then email a voucher, which can be exchanged for the appropriate pass at most major stations in Taiwan.

Types of Trains & Rail Passes

The holder of all these passes may travel on an unlimited number of trains on the days for which their pass is valid.

Pass 3-Day Flexible 2-Day Standard Joint Pass Premium Joint Pass
Cost (NT/TWD):  NT$2,200  NT$3,200 NT$2,800 NT$3,600
What it Covers: Travel on HSR trains on three consecutive days. Travel on HSR trains on any two (not necessarily consecutive) days within a seven-day period. 1. Travel on Chu-Kuang (slow) or local trains (slower) for five days.
2. Travel on HSR trains for any two (not necessarily consecutive) of these five days.
Unlimited travel on all regular (non-HSR) trains, including
Tze-chiang, Chu-Kuang and local trains.
Unlimited travel on HSR trains for any two (not necessarily consecutive) of these days.  
Best for: a whirlwind tour of the populated West Coast. a longer tour of the West Coast with stopovers.  A whirlwind tour of the West Coast and lots of travel between small towns and cities. Neither of these passes, however, work out to be worthwhile for most foreign tourists and backpackers.  


1. High Speed Rail & Passes

The HSR is a high-speed train ("bullet train") down the populated West Coast, from Taipei to Kaohsiung. The two- and three-day passes cover these trains only. The HSR is the most luxurious way to travel in Taiwan, and it's by far the best way to travel between Taipei and Kaohsiung.

Unfortunately, however, most other stations are a long way from their respective city centres, because they are built for the cities of the future, not current cities. So,  when commuting times are taken into account, riding the HSR often doesn't save much time over conventional trains, it costs a lot more, and transferring between shuttle buses or local trains to and from the HSR stations can be more inconvenient than a longer trip on a slower train.

Most users of the 2- and 3-day HSR passes ride in non-reserved cars. It's possible to show the pass to staff at the ticket counter, and reserve seats (like with the Japan Rail Pass). There may be limited seats available, however, especially during peak hours and on national holidays (including and especially during the Lunar New Year period). The passes are not eligible for business-class seats.

If you would like to see Taiwan's most famous tourist attractions, including Sun Moon Lake and Alishan, then this pass might work out worthwhile (see below). But for many visitors it's cheaper to reserve tickets ahead of time with a 35% discount.

Conventional Trains & Joint Passes

The older conventional trains circulate almost the whole perimeter of Taiwan, opening up the beautiful East Coast. The Joint Passes allow two days' travel on the HSR in addition to three days' travel on conventional trains (all must be within five consecutive days). This allows travel right around Taiwan using whatever system is most convenient at the time, although five days is not a lot of time to see Taiwan.

Unfortunately, however, the Joint Passes aren't economic for most travellers. It's usually best to just use an Easycard for trains in the south and east of Taiwan (which are usually empty) and to reserve tickets at the ticket counter (and pay full price) for trains going to or from Taipei, which are often full.

With both Joint Passes, holders can reserve seats on the HSR trains as with the HSR passes (see above).

Differences between the Standard Joint Pass and the Premium Joint Pass

Standard Joint Express /
Premium Joint Express
Local Trains
(slowest)
Chu KuangRegular Tze-Chiang (express) Puyuma / Taroko (fastest)
Allowed to ride? Yes / Yes
All seats are non-reserved.
Yes / YesNo / Yes No / Yes
Allowed board without a reservation and either sit in unoccupied seats or stand?  Yes* / Yes*  No / Yes* No / No
Allowed to reserve a seat? N/A.  No / Yes No / Yes No / Yes

* It's okay to sit in a vacant seat until someone comes along with a ticket.


Please note that the Puyuma and Taroko Trains (the fastest and most luxurious conventional trains, which are officially classed as Tze-Chiang but are even faster) do not allow passengers without seat reservations. Holders of the Premium Joint Express may reserve seats in advance (for no extra charge) but must not board the train without a ticket.

Which Joint Pass Should You Buy? 

Probably none, in my opinion. If you will travel to the East Coast (for Hualien and Taroko Gorge) and want to buy a pass, then be sure to buy the Premium Joint Express Pass, because there are no non-Tze Chiang trains between Taipei and Hualien, so the (non-Premium) Joint Pass is of no use for this part of the journey. 

Train Comparison

The HSR (left) and conventional (right) trains.


Suggested Itineraries for HSR Passes

I only suggest passes for these two passes because it's usually not economic for tourists to use the Joint Express passes.

These itineraries both start and end in Taipei or Taoyuan (which is closest to Taoyuan International Airport / TPE).


Flexible 2-Day 3-Day HSR Station HSR/TRA Connection TRA Station Attractions Transport to Attractions
Skip SM Lake Skip Alishan
Taipei Main Station
Day 1

Day 1

Day 1

Taoyuan Free Shuttle Bus (~ 1 hour) Taoyuan Taoyuan Int'nl Airport Shuttle from HSR 25 minutes, NT30
1-2 days SM Lake 1 night SM Lake Taichung (Wuri) Train (NT15, 30mins)  Taichung Sun Moon Lake HSR – Sun Moon Lake 1:20, Hourly, Website
↓ Day 3/4 Reserve this bus to Alishan Day 2
 

Overnight at Alishan 1 night Alishan Chiayi Shuttle bus (~30 mins) Chiayi Alishan (mountain) bus to Alishan, NT$276 (Route A)
↓ Use TRA (see column third from right) Day 2 ↓ Day 3/4/5
1-2 days Tainan 1 day Tainan Tainan Bus Red 3 (free, ~ 30 minutes) Tainan Anping, Historic Dutch  Capital local buses and taxis around Tainan City
↓ Use TRA Day 2/3 ↓ Day 4/5/6
1-3 days Kaohsiung 1 day Kaohsiung Zuoying 20 mins MRT / 10 mins TRA Kaohsiung Kaohsiung City Kaohsiung MRT
↓ Day 5/6/7 Day 3 Last Train north (to Taipei, or stop at Taoyuan for TPE airport) departs 22:10. 
Taipei Main Station

Savings (If Any)

By far the cheapest and best way to travel down the West Coast is to purchase your HSR tickets in advance here (select 'discount trains only'), with early bird discounts of 35% off, but they must be reserved well in advance. Then I suggest using an Easycard for the conventional trains, which offers a 10% discount on the price of local trains, but allows holders to sit in unoccupied seats on all trains except the Puyuma and Taroko Express trains (these two classes cannot be boarded without a reserved seat ticket).

If you can't reserve in advance the 2-Day (HSR) pass is the only one which offers savings for people following a typical tourist route, and it allows the convenience of being able to get on and off trains at will. It's a good option for business people or anyone who needs to do a lot of travelling in a short time. No other passes offer any significant savings to those following the routes I recommend here. 

For most travellers neither of the joint passes are economic: it's better to just take the three-day pass (if any) and buy tickets for the conventional (TRA) trains when you need them, which allows a longer stop in Hualien (for Taroko Gorge) and the Northeast Coast (for Jiufen, Jinguashi and the Pingxi Railway). They may be good for business people who need to stop at many smaller cities not easily reachable from the HSR.


 Day of Pass Use 3-Day (skip SM Lake) Flexible 2-Day Joint Pass Premium Joint Pass
Day 1 Taipei → Taichung Taipei → Taichung Taipei → Taichung (HSR)
Bus to Sun Moon Lake (not covered by any passes)
Day 2 Taichung → Tainan Taichung → Tainan (TRA) Taichung → Tainan (HSR)
Day 3 Tainan → Kaohsiung* Kaohsiung → Taipei Kaohsiung → Taipei Tainan → Kaohsiung (TRA)
Day 4 Kaohsiung → Hualien (TRA)
Day 5
Hualien → Taipei (TRA)
Notes
For Chiayi → Tainan → Kaohsiung use conventional (TRA) trains (not covered). Total price riding  local + Chu Kuang trains. Total price riding Tze-chiang (express) trains.
Total Price 3260 3152 2780 3100
35% Discount (HSR) 2120 2190 2150 2500
Rail Pass 2,200 2,500 2,800 3,600



TRA = Taiwan Railways Administration (non-HSR trains).

More Time than Money? Go Local!

If you are happy riding slower local trains and don't want to be locked into ticket reservations, ride the local trains.  They are very cheap, so most visitors would be better just buying tickets separately as needed, or using an Easycard, but the cheaper 5-day joint pass (or the Taiwan Rail Pass - see below) also work. They're relaxing and generally quite empty outside main cities, so it's usually possible to get a seat - and sometimes a carriage - to yourself. But they are significantly slower, usually by a factor of about a half.

Local trains are the slowest rail option in Taiwan, but they are generally quiet and peaceful outside main centres, and they offer the flexibility of non-reserved seating.

Taiwan Rail Passes (not for High Speed Rail) 

Students and concessionaires could consider the 5-Day Taiwan Rail Pass, or others in its class. These older passes allow unlimited travel for five days on conventional (TRA) trains. It's an excellent deal for students at NT$600 (no reserved seats) and NT$1250 for concessionaires (elderly, children and disabled). It's open to foreign students living in Taiwan, but eligibility and other rules are complicated. Other time periods are available, but are less likely to compete with the HSR passes for short-term visitors or just an Easycard. Check the Wikipedia page for more information.

Personal Suggestion: Go East

If you have time, get off the HSR tracks, escape the crowds and enjoy the stunning East Coast, with a Joint Pass or just purchase the tickets separately. Taroko Gorge is breathtaking, and considered one of Taiwan's top destinations.

West Coast verses East Coast

See Also

Intercity Transport in Taiwan
A one-page comparison of train types in Taiwan


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  1. Hey, So do you have to stick to the suggested routes or can you decide on your own? It would be great to see your suggestions :)

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  2. Not at all - you can go anywhere you like. How long will you have in Taiwan?

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  3. we will have 6 nights, 13th - 19th June. Am finding a lot of the information confusing as seems to be in chinese english which isn't always easy to follow.

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  4. If this is your first visit to Taiwan, and you don't have any particular special interests then I wouldn't get the rail pass. I would just spend about two days in Taipei, on in Jiufen/Jinguashi/Houtong, perhaps one in Jiaoxi, and one or two in Taroko Gorge (not a weekend). If you have particular interests (eg history, or hot springs) please let me know and I'll think of another suggestion which might involve the rail pass. This makes me realise that I should add a note on this to the page.

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  5. Sorry again if this is another duplicate - poor signal area

    That's some great info and I'll start having a look at the places mentioned and figure out transport links. Really enjoyed the hot springs in Japan so they could be an option :)

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    1. You've probably already seen my page here, but I'll post it again in case you haven't (or in case it helps someone else). It's best to reserve the fast Taroko Express to Hualian, but for almost everywhere else buses are easiest (but not the only option).
      Unfortunately hotsprings in Taiwan are not nearly as good as Japan. You can still enjoy a soak at Beitou or Jiaoxi or several other places, but if you've enjoyed them in Japan you may be best to call that your hotspring experience and focus on something else in Taiwan. Just a thought.

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  6. Thanks for the info really appreciate it :)

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  7. foreigners can buy the 3 day pass in taiwan from HSR stations?

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    1. I've never heard of this, but it'll be great if it's true. Where did you hear this? I can check next time I'm at Taipei Main Station.

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