Credit cards and other important information routinely go missing as many letters to Taiwan end up in China. This is due to an old standardization that makes Taiwan appear as a ‘province of China’ in many postal systems. But there are actions you can take to ensure safe delivery of your letters.
Earlier this month I received a letter from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. It was sent to my new Taiwan address I had reported to the agency. But one detail was wrong: The destination country read “Taiwan, province of China.”
Upon reporting my new address to the Agency — also made by post — I declared “Taiwan (Republic of China)” as my new country of residence. The mishap is most likely due to the agency using the country codes issued by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an NGO with 162 member countries, based in Switzerland.
After repeated requested changes, to no avail, Taiwan in 2007 filed a lawsuit against the ISO. The organization then argued that its list of destination countries was created in 1974, in accordance with the United Nations’ practice of referring to Taiwan as “Taiwan Province, China.”
Some pundits would argue that “Taiwan, province of China” is perfectly in order, because according to the “one China” framework, the governments on both sides of the Strait claim all of China, and therefore Taiwan would in either case be merely a province.
But this can be disputed without having to dig deeper into “one China” or the so-called “1992 Consensus.” That’s because “Taiwan province,” according to Taiwanese jurisdiction, is just one of two administrative divisions of Taiwan. And Taipei is not included in “Taiwan province,” whose capital is Zhongxing New Village in Nantou.
Therefore, a letter sent to Taipei with “Taiwan, province of China” as the destination country can only be correct from the perspective of the Chinese Communist Party.
But even more important than bureaucratic details is the risk that letters referring to Taiwan as a province of China might not reach its intended addressee. After having asked around among some expatriates in Taiwan, it turns out that this problem is as common as it is unfortunate.
One expat from the U.K. told me that a credit card issued from his British bank was lost twice on its way to Taiwan by mail. The second time he was able to track the letter by using registered mail, and found that the credit card “got as far as Beijing,” where it was apparently being held.
Third time’s a charm, but to make sure the credit card reached Taiwan, he first had the bank send it to his mother, whom he had already equipped with ready-to-print labels of his address in English as well as traditional Chinese characters. Since then, he added, no post has gone lost.
An American expat also saw a letter from the state of Georgia go missing. As he was suspecting that that the state was using ISO standards, he called the authorities to ensure they entered the address manually in future, and not let the destination country say China.
When talking to yet another American expat, it became clear that the destination country when sending post to Taiwan differed not only between states but also among senders. When receiving her voter registration from the state of Virginia some years ago, the letter said “Taiwan, province of China.” But after contacting the authorities in Virginia, her next letter was labelled “Taiwan” only.
Receiving post from her political party, it was originally written as “Taiwan, PR China” when from Virginia, but “Republic of Taiwan” when from New York.
And after the same American expat changed her household registration to the state of New York, her next voter registration was sent with “Taiwan” as the country. She explained that voter registration in the U.S. is handled at the state level, and that different states seem to apply different standards. Receiving post from her political party, it was originally written as “Taiwan, PR China” when from Virginia, but “Republic of Taiwan” when from New York.
Another expat from Australia remembers how he noticed that his old university had changed from “Taiwan, Republic of China” to “province of China.” He contacted his alma mater and within a couple of weeks succeeded not only in bringing about a change, but also received an apology from the university.
Meanwhile, an expat from India said he never experienced any problems with the post. This is thanks to the fact that India Post, which is operated by the government, changes the destination country to “Taiwan” only before dispatching any letters or parcels from India.
Indeed, this is a problem that goes far beyond misplaced letters. One expat from Germany said that when he and his Taiwanese wife went to register their residency in Germany, the authorities’ database only had “China” as the choice for his wife’s nationality. After they refused to register under such conditions, the authorities eventually added an alternative for Taiwan.
His wife also said that many Taiwanese students in Germany are experiencing similar problems with the mandatory registration of their home address at German universities.
But let us return to the post. After my own travails with the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, I decided to give them a call.
My call was forwarded to three different administrative officers before I was connected with someone who could possibly do something about my problem. Not surprisingly, this government clerk was not familiar with modern Chinese history at all, and had a hard time grasping what my problem was. But when I explained the actual risk of letters “disappearing” in Beijing, she opened a file for my case and said she would forward the matter to the agency’s IT department.
So hopefully, my next letter from the Swedish Social Insurance Agency will not be addressed “Taiwan, province of China.” Instead, I suggested “Taiwan,” or to be even safer, “Taiwan (Republic of China),” since letters only marked “Taiwan” also carry the risk of ending up in…Thailand.
In sum, to receive your post safely in Taiwan, either contact the “relevant department” (pun intended) of your home country, state or province, or make labels for friends and family that can be affixed to the envelope.
Top illustration courtesy of Chunghwa Post (中華郵政)