Being mistaken for Chinese and stopped by immigration officials when travelling abroad is an experience many Taiwanese travellers are probably familiar with. Even airport ground staff and border police seem to be surprisingly unaware of the difference between the People’s Republic of China (PRC, China) and the Republic of China (ROC Taiwan). When they see a passport with the word ‘China’ written on it, many foreigners automatically assume that it is the PRC.
Last month Kevin, a Taiwanese netizen, wrote a post on the website Taiwan Passport Sticker. The website promotes the ‘sticker movement’ that began in 2015 when Taiwanese travellers started putting ‘Republic of Taiwan‘ stickers on their passports. Some travellers were denied entry into mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and other countries for altering their passports. However, the movement continued and in April 2016 the Taiwanese government decided to lift punishments for citizens who modified their passports.
Kevin had not altered his passport, but a bad experience with immigration officials and airport staff in Europe convinced him that the ROC must change its official name to Taiwan and remove ‘China’.
Kevin wrote that one day he went with his older sister to Weeze Airport, located in a small German town near Dusseldorf. Before boarding the plane to London, however, he was stopped by a member of the airline ground crew. She took his passport and asked to see his visa. Taiwanese passport holders do not need a visa to travel to most European countries, while Chinese citizens do.
Kevin replied that he was Taiwanese and didn’t need a visa, but the staff member “looked at me with a fierce expression and said: ‘You obviously come from China. This is a Chinese passport.'” His sister was worried because the boarding procedures had been almost completed and there was no other scheduled flight to London for that day.
His sister explained to the crew member that they had already passed through the immigration control and that they had had no problem. She took out her own passport and her German residence permit and showed them to the crew member. “Look,” she said, “this is a Taiwanese passport. Mine is the new version with the name ‘Taiwan’, but my brother has the older version without ‘Taiwan’ written on it. But inside they’re the same.”
The crew member replied: “We are an airline, if you arrive in England and get rejected, what are you going to do? We might be forced to pay for your return ticket.” After hearing that, Kevin “somewhat understood why she had been so rude” to them. Kevin’s sister opened her passport and showed that she had been to England before. “In 2011 I was admitted without a visa,” she explained.
Later a senior crew member intervened. She examined Kevin’s passport and said: “We don’t often see this kind of Taiwanese passports, but it’s also on the list of visa-exempt passports.” After showing the list to the other crew members, Kevin and his sister could finally board the plane. However, they encountered the same problem once they arrived in the UK. After the misunderstanding had been cleared, one immigration official said to them: “Taiwan is Taiwan, why do you use ‘China’? It’s really confusing.”
“If you don’t want this kind of thing to happen to you,” Kevin wrote at the end of his post, “please share and support the cause of Taiwan being called Taiwan.”
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