So, today was my first visa run for Vietnam. Originally, I intended to use my experience to write a very helpful blog on what the best ways to get a visa in Vietnam are. However, after my disastrous day I’ve decided that I’m absolutely not qualified to be giving tips! Sooo, instead I’m going to tell you what not to do and hopefully you won’t make the same mistakes as me.
If you don’t have a working visa in Vietnam, you have two options: getting your visa extended every three months or doing a visa run every three months (just popping in and out of the country).
I was quoted $390 for a visa extension and I don’t know if that included everything. So, I decided to do a visa run instead.
I got return flights to Bangkok for about $150 return. (I believe you can get even cheaper flights if you’re a skilful flight scanner, but I’m not.) I could have flown to Laos, South Korea or Singapore but Bangkok was the cheapest, closest option. You also have to keep an eye out for visa costs for you visa run country of choice. Bangkok has no cost to enter the country for UK passport holders and a long list of other nationalities.
Getting Your Visa
I booked a visa approval letter online, which basically means the immigration team are all set for you to arrive. I used Vietnam Visa Pro for the third time and they’ve been pretty good every time. It costed me $22 for a three month visa letter and then I paid $45 for the actual visa. The cost varies depending on your nationality, how long you’re staying and what the embassy has decided that week (I gather prices change fairly regularly). The alternative for me as a Brit was paying $200 if I arrived unannounced, so getting the letter was essential!
So, I thought I’d done a pretty good job at preparing for my first visa run but apparently not. Here were my mistakes…
Mistake 1. Not Checking The Airports
It turns out there’s two airports in Bangkok (Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi) and I was arriving at one and departing from another with little time to spare. Uh oh. They’re not close to each other either, they’re about a 40min taxi journey. I only realised this the night before (of course – so prepared) so thre was no chance of changing my flight. I only had two hours to get through immigration, get some Thai currency and jump in a taxi.
Mistake 2. Leaving Important Stuff In Silly Places
So, after finding out I had a very tight schedule, things started badly when I found out my flight was delayed… However, despite being ten minutes late to depart, my flight to Bangkok arrived ten minutes early! The universe was clearly on my side. However, did I trust the universe? Nope, I continued to freak out…
So, I dived out of the plane, casually power-walked past everyone else who was going to immigration (yup, I was that person) and swooped through security. I managed to get to the nearest cash point and get out some Thai Baht out with time to spare! But, I also managed to leave my bank card in the ATM… That’s what happens when you don’t trust the universe, I guess. Or when you’re freaking out and flapping about madly. Fortunately, a kind (mildly patronising) woman handed me my bank card back.
Mistake 3. Spending Too Much Dolla
As I was in a rush, I had to take a taxi. It’s not a short ride so it costed 1000 Baht ($30) to the other airport and I paid an extra 145 Baht ($5) for the toll booths on the highway, so that I’d definitely get there in time. I was hoping this would be a cheap trip but the taxi fees plus my nervous eating didn’t make it work out that way…
For anyone who is more organised than me, there is a free shuttle bus and another regular bus between the airports if you’ve got an hour to spare.
Mistake 4. Not Researching Visas (Recently)
As I said, visa requirements, costs and rules change fairly regularly. So, when I arrived at the check in desk for my return flight, I was told I couldn’t go back to Vietnam for another 30 days… Again, freaking out followed. I didn’t know if this was right or just a misunderstanding.
If I had done my research I would have known that they meant I couldn’t go back if I was applying for the 2 week free entry, that has just been introduced in Vietnam. However, I could enter on the three month tourist visa I had applied for. Phew!
I’m not the only person of my friends who has had this problem, so if you find yourself in this position, make it really clearly you live and work in Vietnam!
FYI, if you bring something along with proof of your Vietnamese address or job then I’m sure you’ll find it much easier to explain than I did.
In the end, I think I pulled off the biggest miracle of the century by actually making it there and back. However, in future, I would do everything differently… I hope any other Vietnam visa runners that read this don’t make the same mistake as me – good luck!