Note: all China-Taiwan ferries are suspended until further notice due to the pandemic
When I first visited Taiwan in 2008, I travelled there by ferry from Okinawa, Japan. Unfortunately this Japan-Taiwan ferry service ceased operations shortly after that, so the only way to Taiwan from Japan these days is to fly. There’s no sea connection with Korea either, but in recent years a few ferry routes with China have been established:
China – Taiwan ferry route summary
1. Fuzhou to Keelung via Matsu islands (Fuzhou-Matsu islands 2 hrs, overnight stay in Matsu, domestic Taiwan ferry Matsu-Keelung 10 hrs)
2. Pingtan-Taichung/Taipei (fast 3-hour hydrofoil)
3. Xiamen-Taichung/Keelung (overnight ferry)
4. Xiamen-Kinmen island (but no onward ferry from Kinmen to mainland Taiwan)
Due to port locations, train connections, and overall time taken, I don’t recommend option 1 unless you’re specifically interested in visiting Matsu. Coming from points north (Beijing, Shanghai etc) it’s best to take the bullet train direct to Pingtan, stay a night or two, then the hydrofoil from there. From Xiamen obviously you can take the direct ferry, and from points further south (Shenzhen, Hong Kong etc) the Xiamen and Pingtan routes are both worth considering – morning departure from Pingtan requires an overnight stay, so evening departure from Xiamen works out better if you just want to power through without stopping.
Fuzhou – Matsu Island ferry (and domestic Taiwan ferry from Matsu to Keelung)
In 2015 I took the ferry from Fuzhou, China to Nangan in the Matsu Islands, a group of small islands located just off the coast of China’s Fujian province but administered by the ROC (i.e. Taiwanese government). The ferry only takes two hours, running daily in the morning; you get stamped out of China before boarding, and stamped in to Taiwan upon arrival in Nangan. From there, it’s still quite a long way to the main Taiwan island; there is a ferry (8 to 10 hours) from Nangan to Keelung (a port city near Taipei, see below) but it’s a daytime crossing and leaves Nangan before the Fuzhou ferry gets in, making it necessary to stay for one night in Nangan if you don’t want to fly.
After disembarking at the port in Nangan I messed around for a while trying to work things out and buy a ticket for the next day, but the staff just said to come back at 8 (I think it was 8! Obviously make your own enquiries) the next morning and buy my ticket before boarding. I then found a reasonably priced hotel a short walk from the ferry terminal, and spending the night in Nangan is certainly no bad thing – it’s an attractive little island and I took an afternoon walk along the coast; you could also rent a scooter and drive around the island in a couple of hours. If you have a couple of days spare, you can also visit the other islands in the Matsu group, as there are ferry connections to each of the larger populated islands from the same terminal at which the Fuzhou ferry arrives.
As Matsu would very much be on the front line if conflict were to break out with China, there are a lot of military installations on the islands and a lot of military personnel stationed there; my ferry did the crossing via Dongyin Island (the northernmost of the Matsu Isands, and in fact the northernmost piece of Taiwanese territory), and a bunch of young military guys were onboard from Nangan to Dongyin. They, and most of the other passengers on board, disembarked at Dongyin and the ferry was mostly empty for the rest of the crossing to Keelung – I spent most of the day reading and snacking, and at one point went up on deck and was treated to the fantastic sight of a pod of dolphins somersaulting and surfing in the boat’s wake. Much more enjoyable than flying!
The Taiwan ferry terminal in Fuzhou is in Mawei, just outside the city to the south. It’s called the Fuzhou Port Mawei Passenger Terminal (福州港马尾客运站, Fuzhougang Mawei keyun zhan), and the address is Luoxing East Road 77 (罗星东路77, Luoxing Donglu 77). If you arrive at Fuzhou South station (the new bullet train station on the coastal high speed line) as I did after coming up the coast from Shenzhen, it’s a long way from there to central Fuzhou and then a long way back out to the ferry terminal. I arrived late at night and took a taxi into town to find a hotel, then woke up early to take a taxi to the terminal; each taxi ride was around 80 RMB, and it would be much more efficient to take a taxi from Fuzhou South station directly to the ferry terminal on the other side of the river, avoiding Fuzhou (which didn’t strike me as a very interesting place). For that to work though, you’d have to find a hotel near Fuzhou South station for the night – not something I investigated (and the Mawei port area definitely didn’t look like a place you could stay). On the other hand if you arrive at Fuzhou’s main station (as you will if coming from Beijing or points inland), it’s in the middle of the city and there are lots of cheap to midrange hotels in the side streets off the main road to the south of the station (which was where I stayed).
I took a taxi from the hotel around 7am and got to Mawei terminal around 7.45 I think, and bought the ticket on the spot at the ticket counter.
Note: the port in China has been moved from Mawei to Caoban, 40km out of Mawei on Langqi Island (Langqidao, 琅岐岛) at 26.120287,119.568565 (see this reader comment and this one). Allow at least an hour for a taxi, preferably more in case of heavy traffic.
Also there is now an afternoon departure at 4pm.
For more detail on the domestic Matsu-Keelung ferry see here (note that it doesn’t run on Wednesdays).
Pingtan – Taiwan hydrofoil
The Hai Xia Hao and Li Na Lun are fast hydrofoils connecting China’s Pingtan island to Taiwan’s Taichung and Taipei ports, and is by far the fastest Taiwan ferry option; see here for the schedule. It’s a morning departure from Pingtan to Taiwan, sailing back in the afternoon. So you’ll need to stay overnight in Pingtan when leaving China; going the other way, stay in Pingtan or Fuzhou on the day you arrive.
In 2015 I took it from Taichung to Pingtan; the scheduled departure time was 2pm, and it’s a 3-hour crossing. Upon arrival in Pingtan, if you don’t plan to stay on the island you need to get from the ferry terminal to the train station; the ferry gets in at 17:30 and the last train to Fuzhou is at 20:35 so if everything goes according to schedule you can get to Fuzhou shortly by 21:30. Though with that said, Pingtan is a nicer place to stay and if you’re heading on to Beijing, Shanghai or Xi’an you can take a direct train from Pingtan so I’d advise staying a night or two in Pingtan.
It’s quite far from the ferry terminal to the train station so you can jump in a taxi, or there may or may not be a local bus – I don’t know, because when I did this journey the train wasn’t built yet, but anyway the ferry departure was delayed by a couple of hours and by the time we arrived in Pingtan it was too late to make the bus so we were stuck there for the night…
We disembarked in the evening dark at a ferry terminal which was promptly closed up and locked once everyone cleared immigration, with nothing but a desolate concrete expanse outside. Luckily I’d got chatting to a Taiwanese-Canadian businessman on the ferry, and along with a group of Chinese students we clubbed together for taxis into town to find a hotel. Good thing too – I would’ve had no idea what was going on with the bus connections etc without their help and would’ve probably wasted the evening in a futile attempt to reach Fuzhou! We all checked into the same hotel, and in the morning over breakfast they made sure I knew how to get to the bus station; the students were staying in Pingtan for a few days, and my new friend from Montreal was heading south to Xiamen to go visit his uncle on Taiwan’s Kinmen Island (see below), so I said farewell, took the bus to Fuzhou, and then managed to get a same-day bullet train ticket from there to Wuhan with only a couple of hours to kill at the station (from Wuhan I continued on to Xi’an and Xining, as my ultimate goal for that trip was Tibet – though that didn’t work out in the end)
The high speed rail connection opened between Fuzhou and Pingtan in late 2020; the line connects to both Fuzhou main station (50 mins) and Fuzhou South station (35 mins). This makes Pingtan far more convenient than Mawei (where the Fuzhou-Matsu ferry departs from, see above). Pingtan Station also has direct bullet train connections to Beijing (12hrs), Xi’an (10h30), Shanghai (5h45), Xiamen (2h30), and Shenzhen (6hrs)
In Taichung, be aware that the ferry terminal is a long way from central Taichung. Bus numbers 308 and 310 connect the ferry terminal to Taichung’s main rail station, taking well over an hour. The terminal’s official name is 台中港旅客服務中心 (Taizhonggang luke fuwu zhongxin), which translates as Taichung Port Passenger Service Centre. Going from the terminal into town after disembarking from the ferry should be easy enough to work out; going the other way I suggest you go to the tourist information office in the station, as they can give you clear directions and can also call the ferry office for you to check the schedule (the online information for this ferry isn’t so clear, so I went to tourist info when I first arrived in Taichung (I stayed in the city for 3 nights) and they confirmed the sailing dates for me). With the ferry leaving at 2pm, allowing time for the bus and for buying a ticket and clearing immigration means you want to be getting moving in good time – the bus isn’t all that regular, so really you want to be aiming to get the bus before 11am (again, ask the tourist info office for the bus schedule). The buses run from the main bus stand at Taichung Station. You could always take a taxi of course which would be way faster, around 50 mins in good traffic, for I’d guess around a thousand NTD.
Another thing to be aware of is that Taichung’s HSR (High Speed Rail i.e. the bullet train) station is in Wuri on the edge of the city, miles from Taichung main railway station. Local trains connect Taichung HSR and Taichung main stations, but if you plan to head straight to Taichung port from the HSR without visiting Taichung itself, you can ride the Taichung MRT Green Line 9 stops to Taichung City Hall Station, which the 308 & 310 buses stop at on the way to the port. Allow plenty of time to work out the bus transfer at Taichung City Hall, because I haven’t done it! Bus should take about an hour from there once you’re on it (or jump in a taxi, around 35 mins in good traffic).
In Taipei, the Port of Taipei is located outside Taipei proper in Bali District, on the opposite side of the Tamsui river mouth from Tamsui District. Bali is connected by bus to Luzhou Station at the northern end of the Orange Line, and Guandu Station a few stops south of Tamsui on the Red Line.
They presently do three sailings a week (see here) from Pingtan to Taichung & back and four per week from Pingtan to Taipei & back, departing Pingtan in the morning and returning in the afternoon.
Xiamen – Kinmen ferry
Like the Matsu Islands (see above), Kinmen is an ROC (Taiwan) island immediately off the coast of China. Kinmen is connected by multiple daily ferries to China’s Xiamen city; however, unlike Matsu there’s no domestic ferry from Kinmen to mainland Taiwan. This means if you want to head to (or leave) Taiwan via Kinmen, it’s necessary to take a domestic flight to / from mainland Taiwan itself. You could of course just visit Kinmen and then go back to Xiamen (as long as you have a double-entry Chinese visa, see below).
The ferry terminal for Kinmen is Wutong Passenger Terminal, 五通客运码头, “Wutong Keyun Matou“. You can see the exact location here, ferries leave hourly until around 5pm.
This ferry may be a useful option for those wanting to do a visa run out of China and back, but for those wanting to travel from Xiamen to Taiwan proper overland, take the Keelung/Taichung ferry instead:
Xiamen – Taiwan ferry
This overnight ferry connects Xiamen and Taiwan twice per week, sailing once to Keelung (near Taipei) and once to Taichung; I haven’t used this one yet, so I’ll just refer you to Seat61 for the details.
Keelung port access
Keelung is the largest port in the vicinity of Taipei, located on the northeast coast of Taiwan; it’s just 40 minutes or so from Taipei main station to Keelung on the TRA line, and the Keelung ferry terminal is conveniently located a short walk from Keelung station. For anywhere in northern Taiwan or the east coast, Keelung is far more convenient than Taichung’s port.
Visas for China – Taiwan ferry trips
If you intend to travel from Taiwan to China, be careful with your visa situation; I say this because there are no Chinese embassies in Taiwan (due to the political situation) so it’s impossible to obtain a Chinese visa after arrival in Taiwan. In other words, you need to have your Chinese visa in your passport before you reach Taiwan; if you want to go from China to Taiwan and back to China again, you’re going to need a double-entry visa to do so. This is true even if you’re only planning to visit Matsu or Kinmen, even if only for a few hours; when boarding any of the ROC-bound ferries, to any of Matsu or Kinmen or mainland Taiwan, you will be stamped out of China and your existing entry will finish then and there.
If you’re already in China and wanting to take the ferry to Taiwan & back but you only have a single-entry China visa, you can head down to Hong Kong to get a new double-entry visa. I’ve done this twice, using Forever Bright Trading on each occasion; I found them to be reliable and convenient. (However, do note that the Chinese visa office could potentially deny you a new visa, especially if you’ve already been in and out of China too much recently – if this were to happen, you’d then have no choice but to fly out of Hong Kong. It’s a slight risk, but one you should be aware of if thinking of picking a new visa up in Hong Kong)
China train tickets: buying train tickets in China used to be a complete pain in the ass, but thankfully it’s become easier in recent years. You still have to line up to show your ID and collect your tickets, but at least now you can search, book, and pay for the tickets online; you’re given a booking code which you just need to show at the ticket widow (along with all passengers’ IDs) in order to collect your tickets. Obviously it’s a good idea (if you know your dates) to book a bunch of journeys in advance and collect all the tickets at once. Without a Chinese ID you can’t use the official booking site, but 12go Asia is a foreigner-friendly alternative.
Taiwan train tickets: in Taiwan there’s no need for ID checks, you can just buy a ticket at the station from a machine or ticket window, or book online on 12go. It’s all very user-friendly, pretty much the opposite of China.
Also make sure to sign up for a VPN service before heading to China so you can use the internet as normal (what’s a VPN and why do I need one?). I always use Express VPN:
Have you taken the ferry to/from Taiwan? How was it? Any changes future overlanders should be aware of? Do you have any questions? Leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you.