When I first came to Taiwan in 2009, I felt somewhat secure about being able to find basic necessities when I noticed all the 7-11’s here. In fact, there are a LOT of 7-11’s here. In fact, Taiwan was the highest density of convenience stores in the world. In addition to 7-11, there are three other chains: Hi-Life, OK, and Family Mart.
Now just to give you an idea of how many stores there are, a bus ride from downtown to the bus stop near my apartment takes about 20 minutes. Looking out the windows during that bus ride, I counted 23 convenience stores. They’re almost everywhere!
On my first morning waking up in Taiwan, I only had to walk half a block from the room I was staying to an OK convenience store on the corner, where I got one of the standards we expect from a convenience store–a nice cup of coffee. As that was all I had money for at the time — I was changing my money over later that day, I didn’t really notice anything too different about what the store carried compared to convenience stores in the US, with the main difference being things were in a language I didn’t understand. However, in Taiwan, some things are in English as well as Chinese.
Now that I’ve been in Taiwan for five years, I am amazed at what can be accomplished at a convenience store. Even when I think I’ve heard just about everything, someone will tell me about another thing that can be done at one of these stores. So I thought it would be fun to give you a list of ten things that make Taiwan convenience stores REALLY convenient. In addition, almost all of them are open 24 hours.
- When I wanted to get tickets for this year’s Shen Yun performance in Taiwan (Chinese traditional dance) in March, I went to our local convenience store (on the same block that we live). I used their electronic kiosk system called IBON to access the theater seating chart, typed in the two seats I wanted, and printed the seat numbers. I took it to the clerk and paid for the seats. She then printed the tickets and handed them to me in an envelope, all set for the night of the performance. I’ve also purchased train tickets that way.
- If you park a car on the street in Taiwan, their are traffic people who go around with an electronic gizmo that allows them to put in the license plate and print a ticket with the parking fee printed on it. Since parking is paid by the half hour, the ticket might be replaced later by a larger fee if you are there for a longer period of time. When you get back to your car, you take the slip from the windshield and treat it as a bill, which can be paid — AT ANY CONVENIENCE STORE.
- Utility bills (electricity, gas, water), as well as bills for cell phones and internet can be paid at any convenience store, as long as you pay before the due date. If you are late, you have to go directly to the utility office to pay. It only takes one time of forgetting to pay attention to due dates. haha.
- Convenience stores are a collection spot for dead batteries. You save up batteries and just take them with you when you go to the convenience store.
- Most convenience stores have ATMs. You may not think that’s such a big deal. But ATMs in Taiwan are something else again. Not only can you withdraw funds and check your balance. You can pay people if you have their bank account numbers. Now before you get all crazy, you can’t take money FROM people, but you can deposit money INTO their accounts. So, for example, when we go to pay our utility bills, we can also use the ATM to transfer money from our account to our landlord’s account and pay the rent. And you get a receipt. I’ve had people transfer money to me that way, too. It’s pretty awesome!
- For Chinese New Year, it’s customary to bring gifts when you go to people’s homes. The convenience stores provide a wide variety of such gifts. In addition, you can order meals for the Chinese New Year holiday (and Moon Festival as well). You order and pay in advance. Then you come in the day of your reservation and pick up your food. For Mother’s Day, you can do something similar with cakes. Pre-order and then pick up that weekend. (SEE NOTE BELOW!)
- Dry Cleaning. I kid you not. Take your laundry to your local convenience store, and return a day or two later and pick up your clean clothes.
- If you order something from an online vendor or an online auction, you can have it delivered to your local 7-11. You don’t have to do any money transaction online–you pay when you pick up your item at 7-11.
- Many convenience stores can provide photocopy service, as well as faxes and photo development.
- Top off your Easy Pay Card. (I will do a post about this card in my next Taiwan post, but there is a link for those who don’t want to wait.)
There you have it! Real convenience. However, you have to go to an actual lottery outlet to buy lottery tickets, but since I don’t buy lottery tickets at convenience stores in the US, I don’t notice that lack of opportunity. I have not taken advantage of all the services listed above, but I may try a few more in the next year. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into Taiwanese convenience stores. One last peek: here is a YouTube video about 7-11 in Taiwan.
NOTE: In Taiwan, Mother’s Day is celebrated the same day as it is in the US, but Father’s Day is celebrated on August 8. It has to do with the Chinese word for father and the Chinese word for eight. August 8 = 8/8. Eight in Chinese is ba. And ba ba (8/8) is father. I don’t get the tones in Chinese, so if I have this language stuff wrong, someone can correct me in the comments. ;-)