Renting a scooter in Taiwan

While bringing the license from home does give you the legal right to drive as a visitor in Taiwan for up to 3 months, you'll have a hard time renting a scooter anywhere in Taiwan with it. With limited exceptions, local renters only take local licenses. 

Only in Kenting or Hualian will you find someone willing to rent you a scooter without a local permit, and it's usually a matter of walking to every store in town until one says yes. If you go with a local friend, all things will go super smoothly because they have a local ID. If you go alone, or with another group of foreign tourists you'll end up paying modestly boosted prices and likely get a trashier machine. The fact that you have an IDL (International Drivers License) in your hands will mean nothing to anyone. 

Expect to pay between 400 and 500 NTD a day, and some stores may request you leave a credit card to pay for tickets which are issued after your rental ends. Some stores on the east coast will say you can only do 200km a day (or something similar) without paying more. Unless you plan to drive around the whole country you won't go over the limit if you rent for a few days.

The only time your IDL is going to help you is when talking to the police in the event you get pulled over or into an accident. The way the law and procedure for insurance tends to work you'll likely get treated as an unlicensed driver in the follow up to the accident anyway, so an IDL really only serves to save you from the driving without a license ticket.

A notable exception to the "no one takes IDLs" thing is car rental agencies. Yes, this article is for scooters, no we see no commissions for recommending anything from this site (we only use adsense for ads and $) but be practical while you're visiting. There are a few of the major car rental chains around in Taiwan, and you may find some willing stores near the HSR stations. A car can be a great way to travel around Taiwan, especially on the EXTREMELY dangerous mountain passes. Generally, cars are  a terrible choice for city driving, but parking infrastructure has improved significantly in recent years. If you're looking to do a trip where you travel between cities, east and west coast and into the high mountains a car is an amazingly smart choice.

In Taipei you won't need a scooter thanks to the MRT system, buses, and bike share programs. That means don't even bother with one unless you plan to drive it daily for years on end. Most of the winter months are quite rainy, and it can be quite chilly (winter) or flaming hot (summer) while riding on a scooter, so you're not really missing much experience wise. The roads are quite slick in places - anything with paint on it, for example - and if you're not used to the driving style you're more likely to get into an accident, held liable for damages, etc., even if you have the proper paper work. We drive, but we drive A LOT less than we used to, especially with the number of parking spaces shrinking so quickly.

You can do nearly everything famous in Tainan City on foot if you plan things correctly and make sparse use of taxis, but there is a new bus system there and you can find pedal bikes available for rent for far cheaper than scooters. As of late 2018 there is also a bike share system like you would find in Taipei, although the machines are a bit clunkier.

Taichung is more comfortable by car than anything else, but public transit can be combined with taxis if you budget your time right and stay in the city. Kaohsiung has an MRT system that works reasonably well, but driving is generally far faster and preferred by the locals. In short, in these larger cities you'll do well to plan your trip around the limited public transportation and taxis, or consider renting a car versus a scooter since you may spend a fair amount  of time just finding a shop which will rent to you. 

The only place you'll genuinely want to rent a scooter is on the east coast or down in Kenting. Traffic in these areas is also much much lighter, and if you're not used to driving in Taiwan it's a good idea not to get in over your head. This specifically means pay attention going up and down moountain roads, stay to the side, stay away from the median, don't drive too slowly, don't drive too quickly, look behind you, in front of you...well, just generally be safe. I wrote an article for on-road safety for bikers but its equally applicable for scooters in almost every sense, and if you've never driven on tight mountain roads at speed, good luck.

Here's the best practical advice for renting a scooter during your time in Taiwan.
If you live in Taiwan and hold an Alien Resident Card:
Get a local license when you get here and skip trying the IDL all together. There is a written test, in English, at the DMV and a simple driving test - if you actually know how to drive a scooter - and you can get up to a 150cc machine. Now you can rent scooters without an issue anywhere and you're covered by the minimal insurance policy it has! Bonus, extra local ID!

As a Tourist:
Bring your International Driving License with you, but be expected to get rejected everywhere. Yes you'll likely find a taker in Hualien, maybe, but policies change constantly and the trend is towards less acceptance versus more in places where it previously was normal to use one.
Taiwan is not like some places in other countries in Asia where the police are pulling over every foreigner, and the big reason for that is because it's so hard to rent a scooter to begin with, and so few people are actually doing it.
Plan to use taxis or bikes in the cities you visit. Bike share is everywhere, and between the public transit, taxi, and bike share you can get anywhere you want with minimal extra cost.As of April 2019 there were no stores accepting international documents near the train stations of any major city, except for the marked up places in Hualien and the deep south. Must be something about a lot of foreign tourists being irresponsible for the rented scooters and breaking the law that turned off all the vendors. Remember that renting to you may be putting their entire business at risk.

If you have NO license of any type and drive you're breaking the law and you're going to have to deal with the consequences . Just to repeat that driving without a license is VERY illegal even if a store does rent a bike to you. If you have an IDL and you get into an accident, you're still going to be held financially liable. That's just how it's going to go and if you can't accept it, don't ride.

The bottom Line:

What you need to consider is for the time you'll be on a scooter - a day, or two? - the hazy legality of IDLs in post-accident insurance/legal proceedings, it's main benefit being no ticket for no license, is it worth the hassle of finding a store to rent it to you? Is it worth renting the scooter at all?

After all the year's we've been here the answer is both yes and no. Yes you can get away from the city and see some cool stuff. You can also do that on your bike, perhaps by taking a week or two and biking around the entire island, the train, or a bus. The reality is that scooter culture has shifted to car culture in recent years, and the infrastructure to support car driving is far higher than it used to be. Think practically about what you want from your time here, and be safe. 

Best wishes for a fun ride, and remember to wear your helmet and bring a rain coat in the trunk of your bike. If you're going to rent in Kenting, as stupid as it sounds, bring a super light long sleeve shirt and gloves to keep yourself covered. Mega sunburn really, really sucks.

Comments

  1. Can you get a local license if you're on the tourist visa?

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    1. Although this article seems to indicate that you can get a local licence on a tourist visa, everything else I have read (including Taiwan government websites) indicates that you cannot get a local licence without an ARC or national ID card. If someone has managed to get a local licence on a tourist visa, I would like to hear from them!

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  3. I arrived on Monday morning - rented a scooter in Taipei on Section 3 Roosevelt - $250 deposit and then it cost me $2000NT - for 4 days. I loved it - Wish I was staying longer, it was so good and convenient to park! - - - - - and the guy at BIKEFARM (Jeremy) definitely know what to tell us foreigners to keep us safe and having fun! He did need to look at my passport. But that is all.

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    1. Very glad you could enjoy your time Joe! It's nice to know there are still stores that still rent without too much fuss in Taipei. Worth noting that how they choose to rent you the scooter is up to them. Having an IDL with you is up to you. Ticket + lost depost (if they impounded the scooter, etc) could easily run towards 500 USD.

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  7. Is it common that scooters have a passenger seat? (2 riders?)

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    1. Most scooters will have room for two people on a single seat. Some touring style scooters have a dedicated seat for a rider, even at the 149cc and below weight. They're no where near as popular as they used to be though.

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