Taiwan Etiquette Guide for Foreigners

I’ve made my share of mistakes regarding etiquette in Taiwan. And I want to help prevent you from making the same mistakes.

There’s a lot to consider regarding etiquette in Taiwan, which, if done wrong, could make you look ignorant or ruin your reputation. I’ve made many of these mistakes and want to help you avoid making the same ones.

General Etiquette

  • Don’t touch the top of anyone’s head or shoulder
  • Avoid nervous movements (e.g., tapping your foot): It’s considered rude.
  • * Hail a cab or wave someone over with fingers turned downward.
  • Always stand on the right side of an escalator: Leave the left side open so people can pass.
  • Be humble when receiving a compliment
  • Don’t use your feet to move an object or to point at something/someone: Feet are considered dirty.
  • Surnames come before given names
  • Bring a gift when visiting someone’s home: Expresses gratitude.
  • Many Taiwanese will ask, “Have you eaten?” as a greeting.
  • Queueing is popular here: Not etiquette, but prepare to wait patiently in many lines.
  • Place your hands in your lap when sitting: Considered polite.
  • Ask about someone’s family: Family is important here.
  • Avoid crossing your legs if you’re a man: Some might consider it disrespectful in a formal setting since you look relaxed.
  • Don’t face your palms outward in front of the person’s face: Could be considered rude.
  • Don’t talk about the “West Taiwan” meme: Many Taiwanese don’t care for it and it implies that Taiwanese people want China.

* Many Taiwanese may interpret waving someone down or hailing a taxi with upturned fingers as impolite.

The escalator rule seems to apply mostly to the MRT stations in Taipei/New Taipei, as well as some train stations. However, I recommend that you, likely a foreigner reading this, follow this rule.

Now that you know the basics, let’s discuss talking to Taiwanese folks.

Social Etiquette

Here are social tips you can use to become a socialite in Taiwan:

  • Don’t tip staff: Taiwanese folks often consider it offensive.
  • Don’t express anger in public: You’ll lose face.
    • If you’re an American who’s constantly angry like myself, be passive-aggressive like every other American does.
  • Don’t be surprised if people ask you about money: It’s a common discussion topic.
  • * Avoid refusing gifts when possible.
  • Blinking or winking at someone: Considered impolite.
  • Taiwanese prefer to entertain guests in restaurants instead of their homes.
  • Avoid comments or jokes about disasters or death: Some may believe the situation will happen if you bring it up. 
  • Take off your shoes when entering someone’s home.
  • Offer your seat on public transportation to old people or pregnant women: Unless you have a health issue and are pregnant or old.
  • Avoid discussing the China/Taiwan situation: It’s an often uncomfortable topic.

* If you’re not a smoker or drinker, tell the person offering you the gift that you don’t smoke. Or that your doctor said you can’t drink. Otherwise, refusing gifts will trigger the person to insist on you accepting said gift.

Take superstitions into consideration. In most cases, people may think, “Oh, they’re just a foreigner. They don’t know.”

Are you visiting Taiwan for business? You’ll need this next section.

Business Etiquette

  • For business attire, you will want to dress business formally and conservatively.
  • Instead of introducing yourself, wait for a third party to introduce you.
    1. If you’re meeting someone alone without representation, then ignore this tip.
  • Many Taiwanese will look at the ground when greeting you (shows respect): You don’t need to mimic this.
  • Greet the oldest person first.
  • Younger Taiwanese will often introduce themselves with an English name.
  • Be punctual.
  • Use slight bows or nods as a greeting for a first meeting.
  • Taiwanese love to bargain and may try to wear you down; be patient.
  • Ensure you have thorough knowledge when negotiating.
  • Don’t write people’s names in red ink: It signifies writing someone’s name in blood.
  • If someone invites you to an event outside working hours, accept it.
    1. This will help develop your professional relationship.

You will also want to read my etiquette lists for gift-giving and dining as a businessperson in Taiwan.

Taiwan has the concept of Guan Xi (關係). Meaning, they’ll want to know you personally before doing business with you. As they believe it’s vital for success in businesses.

The Taiwanese usually take a laid-back approach to meetings and don’t have a rigid structure.

Your actual meeting will vary. Listen to what your company says instead of a stranger on the internet.

During meetings or encounters, avoid saying anything that will embarrass the company. Doing so will cause the business associates to lose ‘face.’

‘Face,’ or mianzi (面子), plays an enormous role in Taiwan’s business atmosphere. It helps solidify reputations. Losing face could negatively affect the business’s (and the counterpart’s) reputation.

Taiwanese are stingy when it comes to negotiation. Ensure you’ve done due diligence and researched the company, its products, and other information that could give you an edge.

Business Card Exchanges

Here’s an “OK” video I found on business card presentation etiquette:

In short, follow these steps to present a business card:

  1. Exchange business cards after the initial introduction.
  2. Use both hands to present your business card to your counterpart.
  3. Ensure the typeface faces in their direction.
  4. When they pass off their business card, use both hands to grab it.
  5. Inspect the business card for several seconds.
  6. And avoid writing on it while you’re around your business counterpart.

If you offer business cards, provide information like your phone number, email, and name. If you have a Chinese name, opt for that alongside your English name. This isn’t essential, though. Just ensure you practice proper business card etiquette.

Banquet & Dinner Etiquette

Follow these rules when at a banquet in Taiwan:

  • Arrive on time for banquets.
  • Drink alcohol if offered during a toast.
  • * When toasting in Taiwan, raise the glass with your right hand and say, “sweiyi” or “ganbay.”
    1. The former means “as you please’ in Mandarin, while the latter translates to “empty your glass.”
  • Banquets can have as many as 20 courses.
  • If you must depart during a meal, do so during tea time.
    • It’s the most appropriate time to leave.
  • Don’t talk about business-related matters at dinner.

* Consider not saying these words since Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language. If you say “gan” with the wrong tone, it could sound like you’re saying the “F” word.

Speaking of dining.

Important Rules for the Dinner Table

  1. Don’t plant chopsticks in a bowl of food: Upright chopsticks look like incense; it could bring bad luck to the restaurant you’re at.
  2. Use chopstick rests: Placing chopsticks on the table is considered disrespectful.
  3. If no chopstick rests are available: Rest them across your bowl (like a chopstick bridge).
  4. Avoid using chopsticks as drumsticks: It’s considered rude.
  5. Use communal chopsticks and serving spoons: Don’t use your utensil to grab food in the center of the table.
  6. When inviting people out to eat, you must pay the bill: If your guest wants to share it, insist a little.
  7. When eating food, hold your bowl close to your face: It prevents chunks of your food from flying around the table.
  8. Avoid drinking soup directly from a soup bowl. Use a soup spoon instead.
  9. Hold the top and bottom of your bowl: Many consider it rude to hold bowls in other ways.
  10. If you’re full and people insist you keep eating, tell them you’re full: Don’t be passive-aggressive about it because people will think you’re shy.
  11. Hosts may place food on your plate without request: If you have food allergies, let them know beforehand.
  12. Let older people start eating first: In many scenarios, the youngest shouldn’t eat until the oldies start eating.
  13. When using a toothpick or floss pick, cover your mouth: Folks don’t want to see you picking at your teeth.

Now that you have finished eating, you may have gifts to give.

Gift Giving Dos & Don’ts

General gift-giving rules:

  • Give and receive gifts with both hands: It conveys a sense of sincerity and appreciation.
  • DON’T open gifts in front of the gifter: If you receive a gift and open it in front of them, that’s considered rude.
  • Refuse the gift a few times before accepting it: Immediately accepting a gift might be seen as presumptuous.
  • Give a gift of equal value (if applicable): When someone gifts you something, reciprocate with something with a similar cost.
  • DON’T give expensive gifts: Taiwanese may feel they’ll need to reciprocate such an expensive gift, which could become a financial burden.

Here are gifts to avoid giving people in Taiwan:

Gift To AvoidSymbolism
* ClockThe phrase “to give a clock” sounds similar to “attend a funeral.”
Umbrella When First Meeting Someone傘 (san) sounds like 散 (Sàn), which means “to separate.”
HandkerchiefSignifies bringing someone misfortune; since handkerchiefs wipe tears.
Scissors Or KnivesSymbolizes severing a relationship.
White FlowersAssociated with death.
** Gifts In 4s4 is an unlucky number that sounds like “dead” in Mandarin Chinese.
Shoes, Sandals, SlippersYou’re telling someone to “go away.”
Pears Or PlumsIn Mandarin, these fruits sound like the word for “leave.”
† Avoid Black & White Gift WrapBoth colors relate to death.
Gifts That Are ‘Made In Taiwan’Apparently it’s offensive.
MeatYou can’t bring meat into Taiwan.
Greeting CardsNot bad, but the Taiwanese don’t typically buy these.
Items to not give to Taiwanese people as gifts.

* Watches and smartphones are fine to give.

** E.g., 4 plushes or 4 smartphones. This would be considered as the worst “way” to give a gift. Giving 8 items is considered lucky. Since “8” is a lucky number in Eastern Culture.

† Also avoid blue gift wrap. It’s often associated with mourning.

Important: If you accidentally give people any of the above gifts, they may offer you NT$1 to “buy” the gift. Accept this. Because it will negate the bad luck of the gift since they bought it.

I’ve made the mistake of giving my wife one or more of these gifts and she gave me NT$1 to buy it.

“Safe” & Best Gifts to Consider

Consider giving Taiwanese colleagues, friends, or family members these gifts:

  • Food: If you know what type of food they like; otherwise, consider avoiding this gift in case they have dietary restrictions.
  • High-quality alcohol: Practice caution with this; as many Taiwanese don’t drink.
  • Hong Bao: Red envelopes filled with money (no specific amount)
  • Items made in your home country or that represents your home town: e.g., bourbon whiskey produced in Kentucky, U.S.
  • Knick-knacks: Large gifts can be a nuisance, but they’re more “personal” gifts.
  • Pink, red, and yellow are good colors: Many Taiwanese consider these lucky/auspicious colors.

For instance, I bought my Taiwanese dad trinkets like dog bobbleheads and incense holders. He liked them. I think.

Also, pay attention to the time of year that you give gifts.

For instance, don’t give someone a box of chocolates or wine on the Qixi Festival (Chinese Valentine’s Day) or the Valentine’s Day we all know. Otherwise, they might get the wrong idea. This same idea applies to other holidays.

I have a whole guide on superstitions in Taiwan. Use it as inspiration on what to not buy as gifts. Not all Taiwanese are superstitious, but it helps to practice caution.

Hot Spring Etiquette

Here are tips to remember when using hot springs in Taiwan:

  • Wear swimming caps & swimsuits in public hot springs
  • Don’t take photos or record video: respect people’s privacy 
  • Shower: no one wants to soak in your grime
  • Stay in public hot springs for 15 min. max
  • You can re enter hot springs 3 times max.

In some cases, public hot springs in Taiwan will have naked people. Check out reviews before visiting.

Pay attention to whether hot springs are unisex to avoid awkward encounters with old guys going commando.

Otherwise, drink water or electrolytes to keep yourself hydrated and relaxed.

If you’re attending a wedding in Taiwan, you’ll need the following tips.

How To Be the Best Guest at a Wedding


  • * DON’T give people money in increments of 4, 5, or 8 (e.g., NT$8,888).
    • “4” signifies death. “5” sounds similar to “dragging each other.” “8” sounds like bye.
  • If you notice a wedding occupying an entire street, don’t walk through it.
  • The amount of money to give varies by how long you’ve known the bride and groom.

* 8 is usually a lucky number, but I’ve had conflicting information on whether it’s a bad amount to give at weddings. Don’t do it just in case.

To offer the new couple good luck and prosperity, consider filling a red envelope (Hong Bao) with NT$2,000 – NT$3,000 (60 – 100 USD). From my experience, it doesn’t matter how high the quality of a lucky envelope you buy for the couple.

A Taiwanese person told me the most common amounts in Taipei are NT$1,600 or NT$2,200. To play it safe, give the latter. To play it really safe, ask your partner (if applicable) how much you should give.

Otherwise, arrive at the wedding, sit at an assigned table (if that’s the wedding type), and enjoy the show.

If you’re looking for a special someone, you’ll want to know how not to mess up your date.

Avoid Ruining Your Dates

General tips and rules to consider when in Taiwan for dating:

  • Family opinion may influence your relationship
  • Many Taiwanese girls are shy
  • Many Taiwanese men will take charge of dates
  • Don’t make the person you’re dating lose face
  • Don’t be a jerk
  • Avoid public displays of affection

There’s no common etiquette that you’ll need to follow when dating Taiwanese people.

Since everyone’s personalities differ, tailor how you act during dates based on the person you’re dating.

Sometimes, the person you’re dating’s family may disapprove of your relationship. Hence, the family may try to get them to break up with you.

Brace yourself in case this happens. In most scenarios, the person won’t likely break up with you. Unless they’re very traditional.

Practice common sense when on dates. The person you’re meeting isn’t an alien. Act the same around them as with other people.

You’re almost done. You just need to learn how to greet someone.

How To Greet Someone in Taiwan

  • Don’t hug people: Taiwanese typically don’t do this.
  • Greet the oldest person (or most senior) person first.
  • When greeting your counterpart (no matter the person), maintain eye contact.
  • Don’t initiate handshakes. Wait to see whether the person you’re meeting extends their hand before shaking.
    • And when shaking someone’s hand, don’t break their hand.
  • In formal and professional situations, slightly bowing your head will suffice as a greeting.
    • The degrees at which you bend your head doesn’t matter.
  • When addressing people in professional and formal settings, only use formal titles: Examples include ‘doctor,’ ‘Mr.,’ and ‘Mrs.’
  • Use surnames plus titles when addressing doctors and teachers: If your doctor’s name is Lee Long Zi. Refer to them as Dr. Lee.

If you’re greeting Taiwanese friends, there’s no need for special greetings.

Massage Etiquette

  • If possible, shower beforehand: It’s considered polite.
  • Tipping isn’t recommended: They may find it offensive.
  • Don’t strip down: They’ll tell you if you need to take your clothes off.
  • Avoid massage places without windows: These are often sketchy locations.
  • Follow the rules: Some places, for instance, will require you to take off your shoes before entering the massage room.
  • Don’t be loud: You’re in a peaceful place.

I’ve been to at least 10 different massage places, and they’ve only had me take off my street shorts. From there, they’d have me dress in specific shorts provided by the place. Afterward, they’d cover me in a blanket and massage me like that.