Only In Asia (OIA)

Published on May 18th, 2013


Sheer Lunacy: Vietnam Visa Fun


It’s times like this when you truly have to have a HUGE leap of expat faith.

Nuts I tell ya. Sheer LUNACY!

It’s time for my quarterly Vietnam visa renew and it’s never a dull moment.  This will be my 6th go at it, and every blessed time it’s a little bit different.

Indeed, pretty much ever a crapshoot as the gubberment rules change daily here and nobody, but NOBODY really knows just how it’s suppose to be done.

The truth is, many folks are amazed that I’ve managed to muddle my way here for more than 18 months without a work permit – simply renewing my 3 month tourist visa repeatedly, combined with my several dashes out of the country to milk yaks in Mongolia, gawk at a Rock in Oz, and hang out with a few dozen pachyderms in Laos.  Oh yes, I could get a work permit via the school I teach at but… that would require that I sign a full year contract and… suffice this committment-phobic lass just ain’t too keen on tying herself down for 12 full months.

So instead, I play the visa game.  I’ve halfway figured out that I generally can renew my 3 month tourist visa (either single or multi-entry – the latter costs a bit more) twice before I have to leave the country and return to start another 9 month cycle.  Though each renewal is a little bit different – at first I renewed it by personally going to the immigration office in HCMC, but more recently, via a travel agent there – and cost has ranged from $60 to $150 depending on if it’s a single or double entry and how fast I want it done.

As I can’t renew it here in Dalat, I’ve always renewed it in Ho Chi Minh City (either because I happened to be living there, else the last renew I had a Vietnamese friend here hand carry it to my trusty contact in Saigon).  But this time – because I last restarted the 9 month out-of-country cycle by flying into HANOI (as opposed to HCMC) apparently – according to my agent in Saigon – that’s a “problem”.  At first she said that I could only get a 2 month single entry and it would cost $145, but… then she checked and… turns out that if she sends my passport to Da Nang (a beach town about halfway up the coast of Vietnam), I can get a 3 month single for just $115.  Go figure.  Apparently the previous Hanoi connection means we have to send it to a more northern “province” or some such.  Whatever.

passport-heartsBut that’s not the LUNACY part.  The Cuckoo-cuckoo-cuckoo part is… this time I have to send my passport to Ho Chi Minh City by BUS.  Not by any sort of s.e.c.u.r.e. means like say… Fed Ex or even tracked priority postal for that matter.  Nope.  Here in Dalat, apparently everything – both people and freight – goes to ‘n fro HCMC by overnight bus.

So I tucked my precious passport into an envelope, with my agent’s name on the front along with her phone number.  Uh, but what about her ADDRESS you might ask?  Nope.  Apparently the bus depot folk in Saigon will simply call her when my passport arrives and she’ll skip on over and pick it up.

This, in a city of but a mere six MILLION people.

In any case, off I trotted today, to the freight bus depot, and… handed over my (did I not mention P.R.E.C.I.O.U.S., my one-and-only, my sole I.D.E.N.T.I.T.Y here in a strange foreign COMMUNIST country?) passport – to be stashed with all the other various ‘n sundry boxes ‘n bundles on tonight’s overnight bus to Saigon.  I was advised to say “passport, passport, PASSPORT” when I handed it over – which I repeatedly, duly did.  But for the princely sum of 15,000 dong (about 60 cents) the last I saw of it – it was sitting on the counter amid a decidedly untidy array of paper, receipts and packages.

Seriously.  g-help me.  Living in this g-forsaken (albeit beloved) rice paddy requires a HUGE leap-of-faith.

Nonetheless, I must say, in the year and half that I’ve lived here now, things DO seem to all work out somehow in the end.  I’ve found the Vietnamese people to be meticulously honest and conscientious.  It all seems like utter chaos to we Westerners, but by some miracle, it all seems to somehow work out.

Leastwise fingers-crossed here.


About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

16 Responses to Sheer Lunacy: Vietnam Visa Fun

  1. nemrut says:

    It’s amazing how chaotic everything seems when you first come to Vietnam, but as you said, by and large it works and things get done — and rather efficiently for a developing, communist country no less.

    Just go with the flow and don’t expect special treatment.

    • Dyanne says:

      Absolutely, nemrut – it’s all about “go with the flow”.

      Also, I must say – it’s been more than 2 years since I wrote the post above, and it amuses me to recall those zany days of wtf? 😉

      Curiously too, I now live in Ecuador which by comparison, is ever so much saner, yet… many of the expats here (most have otherwise traveled little outside the u.s. cocoon) claim that Ecuador is nutso. lol, this is NADA compared to many of the bureaucratic nightmares in other parts of the globe.

  2. Mary Moss says:

    That’s one “joy” I’ve not yet experienced. My school took care of the visa renewal process (and the fee) for my 3 month multiple-entry renewal even though I only signed a 6 month contract. Of course I’m not asking any questions on that one. I know when it’s my time to figure out what to do, I’ll be referring back to my primary source of information (your blog:-).

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yes Mary, ILA took care of my 3 mo. visa renewals too when I was likewise on but a 6 month contract teaching in HCMC. But they simultaneously were pushing through getting me a 1 yr. work permit (a process that apparently can take 3-6 months!)

      Indeed, when I opted to leave my teach position there (only ‘cuz I favored the coool, greeen mountains of Dalat where alas, there is no ILA center) – my ILA work permit had finally come through. But of course it would only have been valid had I signed a new year-long contract with ILA.

      I don’t presume to know but my own little slice of experience w/ the visa game here in Vietnam. I just take it visa, by 3 months visa (and cross fingers each time my passport is out of my hands – winging its willy-nilly way ’round the country, gulp!

      Do let us know how the visa carnival goes with you – especially if you’re able to get a year-long work permit with less than a full year contract.

  3. WoW! You are very brave!!! I had a hard time letting go of my passport even to the State Department here in the U.S when I renew it!! Did I say you are brave? 🙂 Keeping fingers cross for you. Post the good news when it safely come back to you.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yes TC, “brave” perhaps. But not really so brave because… the alternative (i.e. hand carrying it on an 8 hr. overnight bus, spending 1-3 days in sweltering Saigon waiting for it to be processed and then enduring yet another 8 hr. overnight bus ride back to Dalat) uh, was simply too painful. 😉

      And yes, still crossing fingers here, but I should have word that my agent in HCMC is sending it back today or tomorrow. Will definitely update here when (if???) it arrives safe and sound.

  4. That was a leap of faith all right! I think I would have booked myself a seat on the overnight bus to hand deliver it. Having resided in another Communist country for some time now, I wouldn’t be keen to be without identification. (Last summer the authorities here were cracking down on tourist visa overstays and checking foreign passports.) Good luck to you!

    • TravelnLass says:

      Indeed cH, saying bye-bye to my Precious surely made my heart go pitty-pat. But (as Ruth, who’s likewise lived here in VN a goodly while, previously said), apparently it’s a fairly common and reasonably safe thing to do here. Plus… the alternative of a 16 hr. rt. bus (not to mention likely at least another day or two in sweltering HCMC, uh…

      As I said, sometimes you just gotta take a great big ol’ gulp of FAITH!

      Meanwhile, I just spoke with my agent in HCMC this morning, and she expects to shoot my passport (with shiny new visa) back to me tomorrow. Nonetheless, fingers remain tightly crossed here. 😉

  5. Ruth says:

    You know those other envelopes and packages you saw, well some of them will contain money. Bonefide VND. Many country folk don’t use bank accounts so when their kids studying or working in the city need some extra cash… to the bus station it is. Your passport should be ok hopping around the country, and good luck getting the visa sorted.

    • says:

      Really Ruth? That does give me some small comfort. And actually that doesn’t surprise me. I’ve honestly never been in a country where folks are so amazingly honest and straight forward.

      Can you imagine – sending cash in an envelope with but a phone number scribbled on it, on a Greyhound in the U.S.? No way, you can’t even send cash through the U.S. postal system, for heaven’s sake. And people think it’s so “dangerous” to come live here in Asia.

      Still… I’ll feel a lot better once my passport is back in my hot little hands. 😉

  6. Yes, living in a foreign land requires leaps of faith. To those who’ve never left their home country, such leaps seem like something only a fool would do. I’ve seen expats land from those leaps in two different ways. The first is to walk away unburdened, emotionally freer, with more comfort in their country of choice and with a better understanding of themselves. You’re in that category, IMHO. The other type of expat walks away from the leap figuring he got lucky so there was nothing to be learned.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yes FLN, it took a great leap of faith to sell everything, leave my beloved Seattle and buy a one way ticket to Vietnam. That turned out to be among the best things I’ve ever did.

      And now, daily it continues to be dozens of little leaps of faith and trust – in my fellow global citizens. So far, that too has been working quite nicely. 😉

  7. Ching-hua says:

    Yay! Faith and human ‘kindness’ prevail.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Well blind faith, to be sure. And yes, human kindness is alive and well here in Vietnam.

      But of course, there’s still a multitude of (bureaucratic and logistical) hoops to get through if I am to ever gaze upon my navy blue precious again (much less with an extended visa in it).

      Still crossing fingers…

  8. Gulp. Wow. You are a brave soul
    The people here were up in arms when we had to turn in our passports to our employer, a big government body.
    Funny enough, like you said, things always work out (mostly) in the end.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Yup, adapting to life in a foreign land surely takes one big fat, giddy leap of FAITH! And I dare say – not so much a “brave soul” here, as: whaddya gonna do? My only choice was to drop in on that bus else hop on the 8 hr. overnight myself to personally safe-guard it.

      That said – GOOD NEWS UPDATE: My passport arrived in HCMC just fine and is now in the hands of my visa travel agent! Stay tuned to see if it makes it safely to/fro Da Nang and eventually (hopefully in this century) back to me here in Dalat with a shiny new 3 month visa stamp in it.

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