Many foreigners are fretting over their legal status in Vietnam amid uncertainty over visa extensions and the pandemic risk of traveling.
“I’m just sort of hoping the government would pardon those who overstay [their visa],” Eva* said.
The 29-year-old American citizen, who has lived in Saigon for two years, said she has no idea if her business visa could be extended, which will expire in three weeks.
Eva, a digital nomad working for an overseas tech company, said a three-month extension would cost her between $170 and $350, according to quotes from different agents.
“It is expensive, but cheaper than heading home. And going home would be horrible too,” she noted.
“Many flights are being cancelled leaving helpless tourists stranded with no alternative but to extend visas. I spent this morning researching visa extension options. I was quoted between $350 to $370 to extend a 3 month tourist visa by another 3 months or $170 for a months extension.” Mark Double told Vietnam Insider.
In a message sent to Vietnam Insider, Mimo Osman said “Why there is no mercy with the visa help and Extension in Vietnam who been there for long time. I am 75 year old pensioner no work live on my pension have two Vietnamese children in my name no one to help now i am stuck here’
The U.S. publicly advised its citizens to immediately return “unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period” on March 19.
Eva is not the only foreign resident who’s been kept awake at night by the visa limbo. In the past week, several expat groups on Facebook have been flooded with threads about visa extension for foreigners in Vietnam, with many complaining about agencies charging exorbitant fees.
As boarding a plane home is not a safe option with the risk of being exposed to the virus, many who are nearing the end of their current stay in the Southeast Asian nation are getting increasingly anxious about their immigration status.
Their distress is compounded by the fact Vietnam has shut its borders with the world by suspending all international routes starting Wednesday and halting the issuance of new visas for all nationalities starting March 18.
Previously, Vietnam had decided no more visa waivers would be issued for South Koreans and Italians of Vietnamese origin, and nationals of Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, Spain, and the U.K., as well as Belarus, Russia, and Japan.
Visa regulations for those already residing in Vietnam have also fluctuated, according to several visa agencies.
Vietnam-based Domicile Corporate Services company wrote on its website on Wednesday: “We did see a period last week where visa extensions were being denied to some, but as at the date of writing we believe everyone can get an extension.”
Those in Vietnam with existing visas are able to extend them. However, the process and extension period, ranging between one to three months, depends on the visa type and original sponsoring party.
In practice, according to the company, Vietnamese authorities have temporarily stopped accepting new applications for work permits and only approve a limited number of renewals. For temporary residence card holders, the company said there were some approvals for extension before and that the authorities will now issue the cards “for valid cases again.”
Legal status uncertainty has put Holland in a bundle of nerves. The former English teacher who has lived in Hanoi for three years will only know if his tourist visa can be extended two weeks before the expiration date on May 20.
“I want to extend my visa for another three months. I’m not a hundred percent sure if I am able to. My agency has explained that between now and then it’s very possible that many policies could change,” the American citizen said.
Holland is deeply concerned if he were to be forced to return to the U.S. “where the situation becomes worse every day” and leave his Vietnamese girlfriend.
For Paolo*, an Ecuadorian citizen in Saigon, the fee he has to pay to get his three-month tourist visa extended is VND9 million ($385), four times more than what he usually paid and more expensive than his monthly rent.
“I don’t know if it’s reasonable. But I don’t have too many options. I have to suck it up,” Paolo said.
The temporarily out-of-work English teacher paid the fee for the application 10 days ago but there has been no good news from his agency. Time is running out for him as his visa expires on April 6.
From March 16, his home country Ecuador officially closed its borders to everyone, including its citizens and residents, for 21 days.
The ambiguity of the situation also puts a weight on Anna*. The Filipino teacher at an international school has called Saigon home for over two years where she lives with another expat partner.
Anna was applying for a work permit but since her school suspended operations, just like hundreds of others in Vietnam since the Covid-19 outbreaks emerged following the government’s directive to protect students, her school had halted her application.
She does have a business visa, but whether it can be extended is unclear.
“My business visa expires on May 1. I can still extend it for another three months but am just hoping there won’t be changes in getting it,” she said.
The visa limbo has also alarmed foreign diplomats in Vietnam. On Tuesday, the Australian Embassy in Vietnam posted on its Facebook page it is working with the Vietnamese government to clarify arrangements for those Australians whose Vietnamese visa is due to expire and will provide updated information as soon as possible.
On the same day, the British Embassy in Hanoi voiced their concern on social media, saying “it is unclear whether work permits for foreign nationals in Vietnam will be extended and the mechanism or timeline for doing this.”
In an emailed response, the embassy said it is seeking clarity on wider policies on the extension of work permits and visas so that British nationals can be informed of the mechanisms and timelines.
“We have asked Vietnamese authorities for continued flexibility when British nationals have flights canceled,” an embassy spokesperson said.
In another emailed response, Rachael Chen, spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, said it and the U.S. Consulate General in HCMC will provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in need and provide information via its website and through messages sent to those registered in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (step.state.gov) on entry restrictions, foreign quarantine policies, and urgent health information provided by local government.
Spokeswoman of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Le Thi Thu Hang said a press conference on Thursday that amid the pandemic, foreigners in Vietnam can still extend their visa at the Immigration Department under the Ministry of Public Security.
As the pandemic continues to ravage countries, Anna has made up her mind about not going home to the Philippines.
“Although I know it is good to be with my family right now, it’s better not to go anywhere. I don’t know if I go to the airport, I will get the virus there. So, it’s better to stay. I am safer here.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
How to apply for visa extension:
You can apply for a visa extension on your own or apply through a local agency in Vietnam. Steps to apply are as follows:
Prepare the renewal/extension application form NA5 (download it here) a long with your passport.
Hand in the documents above to the Immigration office below, with the fee if required
- Immigration office in Hanoi: 44-46 Tran Phu, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi
- Immigration office in Da Nang: 78 Lê Lợi, Thạch Thang, Hải Châu, Đà Nẵng 550000
- Immigration office in Ho Chi Minh city: 196 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Ward 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh city
- Working hours: Monday-Friday (Morning: 7am – 11h30am; Afternoon: 1h30pm – 5pm) and Saturday (Morning time only)
Wait for 5 working days for the result. Normally it takes 5-7 working days for a 1 month visa and 10 working days for a 3 month visa.
Visit the website of Vietnam Immigration Department for more information.