Constraining the timing of initial collision is critical for understanding how long-term plate convergence is accommodated at collisional plate boundaries. Reevaluation of the age of collision from orogenic thermal evolution requires distinguishing the onset of submarine continental accretion from earlier oceanic subduction and subsequent subaerial orogenic evolution. We present new thermochronological constraints from the first age-elevation relationship transect in Taiwan and zircon and apatite fission-track ages from sediments in the western foreland. Our data reveal the onset of cooling from at least 7.1 ± 1.3 Ma, at a minimum rate of 21°C/m.y., in the submarine sedimentary wedge followed by a marked acceleration of subaerial exhumation after ca. 3.2 ± 0.6 Ma at an average rate of 1.7 km/m.y. Our data reflect the effect of margin architecture as Taiwan evolved from submarine accretion of the distal extremely thinned continental margin to crustal thickening of the proximal margin and orogenic development.