If you have an ARC or other Taiwan residence document, will be staying in Taiwan for a few years or more, and are looking to get a new phone, then a very good option to consider is to sign a contract with a mobile phone company for a certain duration of time. This period is usually 24 months. In return for this commitment, the phone company will pay for a portion of the price of a new phone.
How exactly this works in Taiwan has caused a lot of confusion, particularly with the cryptic rate tables presented by the cell phone retailers. Often, the plan that features a "Free" phone ends up being worse than other options. In some real cases, moving up to a "more expensive" plan actually costs less in total over the life of the contract. So here is a sticky. Hopefully it answer some of the questions there are often asked. We'll do our best to update it as things change.
[UPDATE 12/15/2011] For convenience, here is a link to an Excel spreadsheet that models the most current Chunghwa Telecom plan sheet for the iPhone 4 and 4S: dl.dropbox.com/u/6720670/CHT_iPh ... kdown.xlsx [/END UPDATE]
The Basic Mechanics of a Taiwan Cell Phone Plan (with a subsidized phone):
1) You sign a contract for a certain monthly plan and commit for a certain period, typically 24 months. The cell phone company will subsidize the cost of a new phone in exchange.
2) At the time of signing, you pre-pay an amount that represents about 11-14 or so months of service, where the amount depends on the carrier and specific phone. Essentially, this covers the phone, but the amount is applied towards your total contract.
3) For those first 11-14 months, you will receive a monthly bill that is 0 TWD plus overages. After that, you will receive a monthly bill equal to the amount you agreed to in the contract, indefinitely until you revise or cancel the plan after end of the contract term.
In Taiwan, as in some other Asian countries, the concept of credit and credit checks is still nascent, particularly for foreigners. While one can sign into a true credit-basis contract with a Taiwanese cell phone carrier (i.e.: no initial cash outlay), this is the exception rather than the rule, particularly for foreigners. So expect to pre-pay for those 14 or so months, especially if you've only recently arrived in Taiwan.
Total Cost of Ownership and the Tricky Rate Tables:
When comparing one cell phone plan with another, the only thing that matters is total cost of ownership (TCO). What will the contract cost for the entire 24 month period? TCO, TCO, TCO!
This is a place where the carriers will attempt to lure consumers to a higher total-cost-of-ownership plan by offering a phone for "Free". This is known in marketing and psycholgy as "anchoring" and the cell phone companies execute this with exacting precision using a few simple tactics:
1) Focusing the phone displays to highlight "what you will pay for the phone with a contract"... with a small print of "what the phone costs without a contract"
2) Putting contract rate tables together using non-round numbers for pricing, arrangement of rows that make tallying harder, and other features that make them hard to navigate at a glance.
3) Not presenting the contract rate table until the customer has already stated interest in a particular phone model, thus anchoring the discussion around the "price" of the phone.
4) In places where credit contracts are more typical such as the USA, this is even more powerful because in this case, the only up-front outlay when signing the contract is the subsidized "price" of the phone. This means people who are cash-flow sensitive (and who isn't these days) will tend to focus even more on the subsidized "price" of the phone.
Of course, we're smarter than this. The math is simple.
Basically, just multiply the monthly rate for the plan by 24, add the listed subsidied price of the phone for that specific plan, and there is your TCO.
24M + S = TCO.
M = Monthly Rate for the Plan
S = Subsidized Price of Phone
Some carriers (ie: Chunghwa Telecom) will complicate this by stating that the deposit, D, will go towards an amount of plan, P where P > D. This is just another way of both obfuscating the total amount and making the deposit seem less objectionable. "Oh, that big deposit you have to pay actually buys more than you are giving us." In this case, simply take P-D and subtract that from the TCO you get from multiplying the rate plan by 24 and adding the subsidized price of the phone.
24M - (P-D) + S = TCO.
D = Deposit amount that is applied towards plan
P = Amount of plan that the deposit amount buys
Now you can pick the plan that fits your needs for voice and data usage independent of the "phone" price. Just ignore the sales person when they start talking about phone price, bring out a calculator and do the TCO calculations from the table. When they see you doing this (and they've definitely seen it before) they will likely give up on any upsell attempts and just sell you what you want.
Here's an example and some further explanation on looking at deltas between plans:
From: [forumosa.com/taiwan/viewtopic.ph ... 2#p1286542](http://tw.forumosa.com/t/help-taz-with-iphone-or-smartphone-suggestions/64464/7
Capped Data Overages:
Some carriers, notably Chunghwa Telecom and Taiwan Mobile will offer a data plan that has a pricing band. The way it works is you pay a minimum amount per month for a certain amount of data (currently 699NT for up to 500MB). If you go over this, overages apply per KB until a cap (currently 800NT). This basically amounts to an 800NT unlimited data plan. If you choose a plan with this feature, simply subtract 699 and then add 800 to the monthly rate to get what you'll pay if you decide to actually use the data plan, which will indubitably amont to >500MB per month with even light use.
These days, it is very difficult to walk into a major carriers store and find a phone or a contract plan for a phone that is not a smartphone, so this post will focus on the plans offered with smartphones. The mechanics are the same for other phones, so the same arithmetic applies.
The data show that people are leaning more and more on data plans for communication using services like WhatsApp, Skype and other instant messaging and voice-over-IP (VOIP) services and less and less on traditional cell phone voice "minutes". This trend will not reverse, so this post also assume a data plan.
Are They Really Subsidizing my Phone Much at All?
Depending on ones needs, it might make sense to buy a phone outright and buy a plan the phone company offers without a subsidy. This is easy to work out using TCO.
As an example:
A new iPhone, bought outright sells for anywhere from 25000-28000 TWD
A typical data plan is about 900 TWD per month before voice usage
A typical month-to-month voice + data service, post-paid monthly averages around 1200-1700 TWD per month
So if were to buy the phone outright and pay for 24 months of service seperately, you would pay somewhere in the range of
25000+900*24 = 46600
28000+1600*24 = 66400
Compare this to the above rate table calculation to see what the subsidy is. In short, if your are going to need a phone plan anyway and you know you will need it for 24 months or more, you may as well get a phone with it.
One approach people who prefer not to have the 24-month commitment have taken is to buy a phone outright, then sign up for a post-paid plan with basically data-only. Then pay overages for phone and text. Depending upon how much you can lean on the data as a primary mode of communication, this may be a good option.
Historically, rates have increased over time for the same features, or so that the same amount of money buys a lesser plan. Many phone companies will honor whatever rate you locked in when originally signing your contract indefinitely. This is a good to look at when choosing whether to renew a contract or sign a new contract in order to get a phone subsidized.
The Thing That Every Phone Salesman Wants to Hear: "I am a new customer".
Sales people at the phone stores either have a quota or get a commission for each contract they sell, and the biggest commission is on signing up a new customer. If they have a hot, limited availability product, they are going to want to get as much as possible from each one, i.e.: new sign ups.
If you are going for a very popular phone, that may have a waiting list, a good tactic is to simply say "I am a new customer". Simply stating this will turn a lot of no answers into yes. It is not a guarantee, but is worth a shot.
Example, this spring my girlfriend did exactly this:
Her: Do you have a white iPhone 4?
Sales: We have iPhone 4, but only in black.
Her: You don't have in it white?
Sales: Sorry, no.
Her: I'm a new customer and I'll be signing a new contract.
Sales: Let me look.
A minute later, the sales person emerges with a white iPhone 4 and a contract sheet.
Example, last fall, my experience:
Me: I'm here to pick up the iPhone 4 I reserved.
Sales: OK, here is the contract sheet.
Me: No, I want to buy it outright.
Sales: Um, we can only sell it to you with a contract.
Me: I reserved it, can't I just buy it outright?
Sales: We can only do contracts.
Me: [realizing what was going on] Can I sign a new pre-paid plan and load it with nothing?
Sales: Let me see.
A few minutes later, the sales person comes out with the iPhone and the sheets for a pre-paid plan.