We added a new word to our vocabulary recently. And that is, Visa Run. Which can be explained with the help of a brief backgrounder.
If you are an expat on an extended adventure overseas — wherever you are — you’re going to come up against a hard and fast end-date for your stay, based on the visa you received on entry.
For US citizens visiting Japan, that’s 90 days. So for those of us tramping around Nippon with the intent of staying longer, what’s to be done when you bump up against that three-month window?
After looking at a few options the Japanese government presents — including a request to extend the 90-day visa or trying to qualify for a longer stay by claiming to be a researcher or instructor or journalist, for example — we decided to forgo the red tape and opt for, yes, here’s that word again, a visa run. Which is, simply put, an international trip outside the base country which, on return, resets the “visa clock.” For us that would mean another 90 days of unfettered and totally legal travel in Japan.
Our plan was simple. Find the cheapest international destination, go for a week of fun, and on return collect another coveted 90-day landing permit.
We started by trolling the Peach and AirAsia web sites (both are well-known discount airlines) looking for the cheapest fares and most convenient routes from Osaka. In late-February when we were planning our visa run, winter was still a force to contend with, so we were adamant about finding warmer weather (which meant Korea, the closest and cheapest visa-run option was out of the question).
Initially Bali looked good, as did Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia, as well as Penang, Malaysia. Fares to those destinations were in the $400-$500 r/t range, per person. Pricey, but not bad considering for years I’d wanted to see each of those cities.
On the down side, however, were the facts that the weather in Bali was nothing but rain, and the flights to Cambodia and Malaysia all required painfully long layovers. One possibility that kept popping up was Taiwan, especially flights to Kaohsiung, a city we had never even heard of until the chance meeting of a follow traveler a few weeks earlier. Turned out to be a giant no-brainer: there are beaches in Taiwan, transportation and food prices are notoriously cheap, the flights were non-stop and just a few hours in length, and the fares were rock-bottom. Round-trip tickets on Peach cost less than $500 (for us both!).
We booked our flights to coincide with the 87th day of our 90-day Japan visa.
We visited somewhat grubby Kaohsiung, grabbing food at the Liuhe Night Market and spending an entire day hiking in Shoushan National Nature Park. We then jumped onto one of the Kenting Express buses for the not quite three-hour bus ride south to Hengchun/Kenting. We hiked in Sheding National Park, swam in the crystal-clear waters of the Pacific Ocean and cruised town on our $5 a day, 125cc scooter.
We wrapped up our one-week stay in the country’s super-charming first capital, and now historically rich and incredibly friendly, Tainan City.
Here’s a bit of a travelogue that documents the trip — to a country I’d go back to anytime given its excellent and cheap street food (tofu pudding anyone?), low prices (lodging, bus and train, as well as said scooter rental), a boisterous night-market scene, and the open-hearted and chatty nature of the Taiwanese people. It all left an indelible impression on us.
Now, with our new visa good for another three months, we are back in Japan through late-May at least. At which time we’ll have to revisit this subject all over again. For now, we’re going to unplug our brains on the subject and go back to vanlifing!
Cheers for now! Curt and Meg