America has a McDonald’s on every corner.
Taiwan has a 7-11 on every corner. As well as a few scattered in between, or so it seems.
One thing that visitors will notice is that this small island nation has a disproportionate number of convenience stores.
The latest estimates show that there are roughly 10,000 convenience stores in Taiwan. Roughly 1 per 2,300 citizens – the highest density of convenience stores in the world!
There are two major chains of convenience stores in Taiwan:
- Family Mart
As well as two smaller chains:
- Hi Life
- Ok Mart
So, what makes convenience stores so popular in Taiwan?
Well, they are convenient – ridiculously so!
What can you do at Convenience Stores in Taiwan
Here is a list of just SOME of the many things you can do at Taiwan’s convenience stores.
- Buy a public transport card – Want to give Taiwan’s public transportation a go? The easiest way is to buy a reloadable EasyCard. These cards allow you to access Taipei’s MRT system and expansive network of buses. EasyCards require a 100 NTD ($3) deposit to activate and can be loaded/reloaded in any amount. The 100 NTD deposit is refundable at any MRT help desk – great news if you’re only here for a short time. If you plan on making a return journey you may want to keep your card. I still have my original card from my first visit to Taiwan nearly 8 years ago!
- Reload your EasyCard – Your card went negative last bus ride? No worries! Just pop into the nearest convenience store and top up your card with a few hundred NTD. The whole process is fast and painless!
- ATMs – Withdrawing cash in Taiwan is easy. Besides the numerous bank branches scattered liberally throughout the major cities, there are ATMs located in (nearly) every convenience store. Different chains have partnerships with different banks so it is a good idea to identify the bank with the lowest withdrawal fee. For example, I typically go to 7-11 as they usually have China Trust Bank ATMs. Union Bank and Taishan Bank ATMs can usually be found at Family Mart.
- Buy a cup of coffee – convenience stores sell some of the most budget friendly coffee in the country. Stores also run frequent promotions where the second cup of coffee can be purchased at a discounted price. But, what if you don’t want to come off as a wildly sleep deprived party animal double-fisting a pair of black coffees? Not to worry, the store can give you a voucher, or stamp your receipt, allowing you to come back later for your second cup. I have actually seen people prepay for 100 cups of coffee during the promotion so they could drink discounted coffee all year long!
- The coffee is actually good – 7-11, for example, is purported to receive its coffee beans from Starbucks. I haven’t confirmed this myself, but have heard it from enough people to believe it.
- Photocopiers – Printers located in every convenience store allow you to make quick photocopies of your important documents. USB drives are also supported so there won’t be any problem if your documents are stored digitally.
- Pay bills – If you’ve been in Taiwan for more than a day you have probably noticed the locals paying their bills in the store. It may be annoying if you are waiting in line, but it’s awesome if you have bills to pay! I used to be an ignorant foreigner who took a bus to the phone store – and waited 10 minutes in line to pay his bill. Now I proudly slap my monthly credit card bill and phone bill down at 7-11 and walk out in under a minute.
- Buy lunch (or a midnight snack) – Convenience stores in Taiwan have a ton of food! The items available range from the typical choices of candy and soda to hot plates of pasta and curry rice. It might not be the most delicious, but it will do in a pinch.
- Buy a gift box of snacks – Giving food as a gift is a common part of Taiwanese culture, especially when visiting someones home.Thankfully, convenience stores provide a large selection of gift packages during all the major holidays. This is great for those who don’t prepare a gift until the last minute.
- Buy a Sim card – Visiting for a short time and want to pick up a Sim card? You should, big surprise, head to 7-11. They offer cards with 5 days of unlimited data for roughly $10. You could get a similar deal at any phone store but won’t get the same speedy service that you do in Taiwan’s convenience stores.
- Mailing – In Taiwan you can use your local convenience store as both a P.O. box and as a mailing center! Sending online purchases to your local 7-11 or Family Mart is both safe and convenient. You can even choose to pay by C.O.D. if you wish. Mailing small packages is also simple. This typically works for small-time e-retailers, think online auction sites, who have printed shipping labels with pre-calculated costs.
- Discover the wonder of iBon – iBon machines are located in every 7-11 around the island and you may be wondering what they do. The answer – everything! Well, almost. With iBon you can,
- Send documents for printing from your home computer to the nearest iBon location
- Purchase concert tickets or event tickets. When I signed up for the Spartan Race in Taiwan I paid and registered through iBon.
- Pay for online shopping purchases. Because who has time to input credit card details online these days.
And There’s More!
In addition to a crazy amount of services, convenience stores in Taiwan tend to offer fairly competitive prices on snacks and other products. At least the prices aren’t over-inflated like convenience store prices in America. You can still grab a soda on a hot day for under $1.
7-11 and Family Mart also have their own rewards programs that reward their most loyal customers. Customers will receive 1 sticker for every ~$2.50 spent. There are monthly prizes and discounts up for grabs.
So, What do you think about convenience stores in Taiwan? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!