Similar to Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Seoul, you can find all the Western brands in Taipei with crazy markups (in comparison with the US), so it’s best to stick to Asian brands. I hang out mostly in the Eastern side of Taipei so this is my point of view. Some places I mention are chains and have locations throughout the city. I shop mostly for beauty and housewares in Taipei and don’t go near the cutesy little things I used to find at the nightmarket that were since thrown out.
- Tax Refund: With a foreign passport, you can apply for a sales tax refund if you spend over 3000 NTD (~$93) at an authorized retailer (details). Often the refund isn’t worth the trouble of remembering your passport.
- Pay in local currency: All the places I mention are credit card friendly. If you’re not paying with an Amex or Discover and using Visa or Mastercard, you may be asked if you want to pay in USD or local currency. Always chose local currency and I hope you have a foreign fee free card. More reading: What is dynamic currency conversion, which card to use
The yellow road running East/West is Zhongxiao E Road. There are many boutiques, cafes, and restaurants in the alleys around this road. I’m using the MRT stations for reference but if you’re pressed for time, take a taxi.
- Starting with the Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station, you can find Japanese department store, Sogo, at the SW and NE corners. The NE corner is the original Sogo and I like to browse/meet people there beyond the It’s a Small World clock. There is also a large Watsons next to it and more boutique shopping and eating in the alleys behind it. The SW corner is the high-end luxury Sogo — with a Din Tai Fung in the basement.
- Walking East, you get to the Dunhua S Road intersection which has the Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station. Look two blocks SE and there is an office building with an Eslite bookstore at the lower and basement levels. This houses the 24/7 bookstore. I also like Eslite for their boutique/stationary — which isn’t 24/7 but still open pretty late. On either side of Zhongxiao E Rd east of Dunhua, you’ll find local Taiwanese department stores and lots of retail stores like Daiso, Zara, Uniqlo, etc. I normally come here for the Innisfree, a Korean skincare brand (more on this below). There is also a Mos burger and Cosmed in the alley.
- If you go further east on Zhongxiao E Rd, you enter the new Xinyi district (Taipei City Hall MRT Station) which has Taipei 101 and many standalone department stores — Breeze, multiple Mitsukoshis, Uni-Hankyu (check out their food court – Tim Ho Wan, ramen, bakeries, etc.), 101 Mall, Bellavita, and ATT 4 Fun (Totoro). There are walkways that connect these buildings either under or overground, which is helpful if it’s raining outside.
On to the shopping.
If you’re used to the modern American chain drugstores and how they have elevated the presentation and brands in recent years, that’s pretty much what Taiwanese chain drugstores are like. Watsons and Cosmed are two chains that you will see often and the ones I go to. The stores near major train stations are usually much bigger and multistories. Since they are high traffic, the small stores may have a better selection. Also, stores often have their own promotions and anniversary sales — which are all in Chinese signs. Since I walk by stores all the time, I normally do price comparisons for brands that are covered by both stores and buy stuff the day before I leave. They also charge for bags, so bring your own bag if you want to save the environment
pennies. The standalone locations open early and close late.
- What I buy at Watsons: Naruko products (their US boutique with English explanations), Biore sunscreen, Japanese mascara (Fiberwig and Heroine Make), Dr. Wu skincare
- What I buy at Cosmed: Sheet masks from My Beauty Diary, Lovemore, My Scheming, Deerpacker; Biore sunscreen (I found more varieties here than at Watson’s), Dr. Wu, other random stuff like job’s tear or red bean water packets and oil rollerballs. I find Cosmed to have more value sets than Watsons. They also carry Korean products, but prices are comparable with US online prices. You’re better off buying in the US direct from Korea or from a stateside retailer on sale. I also use my aunt’s phone number for membership to earn her points and sometimes I get freebies for hitting a certain threshold for my purchase.
Department Store: I mentioned some department stores above. I don’t shop much at department stores since everything is imported, but will check it out if they have food I want, a store I want (Uniqlo/Muji), or have an attraction such as the Totoro store at ATT 4 Fun (below). Once in a while I find a piece of clothing that I like, but it’s pricey! so I try to stay away.
The sheet masks from L’Herboflore are only sold at a counter (aside from the airport) and most of them are in the new Xinyi district — I’ve gone to their Eslite Songgao and Taipei 101 counters. If you want their masks and want variety, you’re must better off stopping here than the airport.
Retail Stores: I like Innisfree and their flagship store near Zhongxiao E Rd/Dun Hua S Rd. I highly recommend their volcanic clay mask with the latest mousse form being my favorite (reviewed) and hard to find in the US. I also like browsing there in general since they have newer products than whatever’s sold online but I don’t love everything.
Other than Innisfree, Eslite is my favorite store in Taipei (locations). I’ve gone to the Dunhua S Rd, Songyan, and new Xinyi Rd locations and each location has a different selection and appeal. If you like MT tape/stationary/little things, it’s definitely worth a stop. The Songyan location is a Spectrum store and has a glass blowing studio, arts and crafts for kids, and an arts cinema. They have made in Taiwan goods from all over Taiwan including Taiwan grown coffee beans. As mentioned above, the Dunhua location’s bookstore is 24/7 and great for battling jetlag. They also had a sizeable Rifle Paper Studio corner.
I also love Muji. They have done a better job at bringing more Muji selection to the US, but Taiwan still has more selection, like Muji Labo, cafe, etc. Prices are similar so if you want something that is available in the US, you can buy in the US and save the trouble of bringing it back to the US. My favorite Muji locations? The one at the Far Eastern Plaza mall because of convenience. But the one at Uni-Hankyu and Breeze on Fuxing are way bigger (and busier) and located near other points of interest.
There are two creative parks that are former factories that have since been converted into a cultural area. You can find offices, cafes, shops and exhibitions if there are any going on. They are open fairly early but shops open in the late morning and close pretty early. Overall, they are neat but can be boring if nothing is going on.
On a scale of 1 to 10, airport shopping at TPE is a 6.
Pre-Security: You can find L’Herboflore and Naruko sheet masks at the TPE airport in T2. If you buy it before security, it’s not duty free, but there may be less options post security. Despite the liquid in each sheet mask packet, sheet masks aren’t considered liquid by most airports. (Japan has an official stance on this.)
It’s not bad for a transit area, but it’s also not as great as, e.g. Seoul. Aside from the normal duty-free stuff, you can find Kavalan and a few local Taiwanese beauty brands that are hidden with other lower end brands and purses. I will point out that they have Shu Uemura, which doesn’t have any retail counters in the US, and Korean brand Sulwhasoo. If you’re transiting in Tokyo and have time to look for Shu there (it’s not at all duty free counters), don’t bother with the Shu here. Once again, know your rights as the sales ladies will not know the transit/liquid rules of other airports.
If you want to shop efficiently, you can place an order on the duty-free site, Everrich, 7 days to 4 hours before your flight. I’m not sure if there is a English site because I cannot find it. Most of the Asian airlines also post their in-flight duty-free catalog online so you can compare prices there as well.
I picked up some Sulwhasoo the last time I was in TPE. I was running numbers on Sulwhasoo masks for a while before boarding, it was a last minute splurge and not a premeditated purchase. I had been using the travel sized Overnight mask and it’s amazing, not to mention the travel sized one has lasted a long time. TPE had the EX versions, which hasn’t been released in the US yet, and the Radiance Energy mask, which was just released in the US. I got nice deluxe samples from the salesperson as well.
- Overnight Vitalizing Mask EX duo — 2420 NTD/$75 USD, single mask 1345 NTD/$42 USD (Sold in US for $52 each, $10-14.50 difference/19-28% less)
- Clarifying Mask EX duo — 2120 NTD/$66 USD, single mask 1175 NTD/$36 USD (Sold in US for $41 each, TPE is $5-8 difference/12-19% less)
- Radiance Energy Mask — 2190 NTD/$68 USD (Sold in US for $85 USD, TPE is $17 USD difference/20% less)
In addition to pineapple cakes and Kavalan mentioned here, Terminal 2 is used by Eva Air and has a sizeable Hello Kitty store. This is their very thorough water bottle selection.