Vietnam Visa Extension Nightmare

We enjoyed traveling around the South of Vietnam so much that we failed to notice that our one month visa-free stay was expiring. We thought of doing a visa run either to Cambodia or Laos but we finally decided to just apply for one while in Vietnam. We figured the cost would be same with less hassle. How wrong we were! We were in Dalat when we thought of having our visas processed in Buon Ma Thuot, the capital city of Dak Lak province. When we got to the Immigration office there, we were informed that extensions of social visit visas are temporarily on hold due to tensions with the minority. I honestly don’t understand the connection. Maybe they thought we intend to stay long-term in Buon Ma Thuot and may get in the middle of a conflict if in case it happens.

After a few stops on some towns on Central Vietnam, we have finally reached Da Nang, the third largest city in Vietnam. We knew we’d probably wait a while for visa processing so Da Nang isn’t the place for staying put for at least a week. Not that we didn’t like the city, in fact I was surprised by how developed yet surrounded with natural beauty and clean the city was. It’s just that we didn’t find a place to stay that fits our budget.

We hopped on a bus to Hoi An after an overnight stay in Da Nang. Hoi An is a better choice to stay for a week or more according to some travelers we’ve met and of course, according to Lonely Planet guidebook too. We weren’t disappointed. More on Hoi An in future blog post.

The old town of Hoi An.


Upon reaching Hoi An, we wasted no time and asked several travel agencies on visa extensions because our visa was expiring that day. Price range was between US $60 – $110 for each visa. Too expensive. We thought it would be cheaper if we extend it ourselves in Da Nang.

Then the beginning of the nightmare… the next day, we took a local bus to Da Nang. While waiting for the bus to leave the terminal, I asked an old woman sitting beside me the fare cost for the 1 hour trip. She showed me a 10,000 Vietnam dong bill. Suddenly, the bus ticket woman seated at the back hurriedly went to where we were seated and started talking to the old woman and a young man in front of us in Vietnamese. One of the first thing I forced myself to learn in Vietnamese is saying numbers the local way so listening to what they were discussing, I knew what’s coming up next. When the bus left, there were only 4 passengers including us. The bus ticket woman started collecting money for the fare. As I expected, the young man passed her 30,000 dong. Then the old woman passed the same amount too. When she asked for our payment, I gave her 20,000 for 2 people. Again, as I have predicted, she started arguing in Vietnamese, that the fare is 30,000 dong then pointed to the 2 other passengers who paid same thing. Calmly, we told her in broken English and Vietnamese so she could understand us, 10,000 dong from me, 10,000 dong from my friend, nothing more. End of discussion. She still won’t give up and raised her voice so we told her we want to get off the bus. She sighed and motioned to us with her hands that we stay on the bus. A few minutes after, I saw her passing money to the 2 other passengers, which of course is the excess 40,000 dong that they both paid.

I cannot believe the incident that just happened! For a very small amount, the bus ticket lady made accomplices out of the 2 strangers to cheat us! I felt sick and remembered the restaurant stall owner in Lak Lake. But deep within, I felt victorious for not allowing myself to be cheated.

Back in Da Nang, we went straight to the immigration office. We were surprised when the officers told us that they cannot extend the visa then referred us to a travel agency. Is this one big conspiracy? How and why can’t they extend our visa? The immigration office should be the only place to do that legally! So out of curiosity, we waited for the representative of the travel agency. She told us the cost would be US $80 for each visa. Forget it! We asked other travel agencies around Da Nang. The cheapest that was quoted us was US $65 and the highest was US $100 for each. We gave up and we decided to either exit Laos for US $25 bus fare or have the visa processed in Hoi An for the same amount as Da Nang. At least we don’t have to travel all the way to pick up our passports.

The next day was Friday the 13th, (March 13). Believing it was a sign not to push our luck in Immigration if we cross Laos with the possibility of being charged a crazy amount by Vietnam Immigration officials for over-staying, we had our visa extended at Mr Hung’s in Hoi An for US $80 each. Ouch! A big burn on the pocket. Travel agents were inconsistent too. Some say over-staying up to 3 days won’t really raise alarm bells, some say Immigration officials may charge up to US $100 for each day.Also, we won’t really save a lot if we exit to Laos instead. At least, we got the visa concern off our backs and now can explore Hoi An without worries.

After 8 days of eating well, walking around, biking, cooking class, shopping for tailored pants, taking photos in and around Hoi An, we finally got our passports back. We were surprised to see that the visa extension actually cost only US $35 for each as stamped on the visa sticker. More than twice the amount we have paid. Oh well, no wonder I notice these travel agents toting the latest mobile gadgets. When we asked why the price quoted us was way too high, the travel agent won’t even bother to explain but just threatened to cancel the visa if we want. I don’t see anything wrong with asking for at least a breakdown of how we were charged when we clearly see on the visa sticker that the cost was only US $35. I would understand a few dollar commission, but more than double the cost? Clearly a rip-off.

The only good thing was we got more weeks to explore Vietnam which in the end, was all worth it.

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24 thoughts on “Vietnam Visa Extension Nightmare

  1. Glenn says:

    Hi! I think my visa extension nightmare is about to begin. Last week the hotel I’m staying at quoted USD70. Now there are saying it’s USD100 because I entered Vietnam without a visa (because I’m from an ASEAN country)… In your case, did you have a visa in your passport before coming to Vietnam?

    • Hi Glenn! Thanks for visiting my blog. Just like you, I only have an entry stamp when I flew in Saigon since we both are from an ASEAN country. So the extension is actually buying a visa. How much longer do you intend to stay in Vietnam after your 30 day visa-free stay is up? If you have reasonable time before your visa stamp expires and you intend to stay for a maximum of 30 days more (Over-all stay would then be equal to or less than 60 days), I suggest crossing either Laos or Cambodia borders for a visa run. However, if you intend to stay more than 60 days in Vietnam, make sure to make it clear with the travel agency which visa category they are getting for you. I’ve met 2 German girls who can’t extend their stay even if they have the visa sticker before flying to Vietnam. Turns out the visa sticker got categories with various restrictions.

      If you don’t have enough time and just want another 30 days to explore Vietnam, just like what happened to us, try to negotiate the visa fee. As of March 2009, the cheapest quotation we got was US $60, that was in HoiAn. Check Lonely Planet’s ThornTree forum on the latest info =) Where exactly in Vietnam are you in? Stay safe and happy travels!

  2. The Mystic Traveller says:

    Good for you Marniejan! You did the right thing by standing your ground with that bus conductress in Vietnam. But that was pretty weird. You could also have that woman who told you the price of the bus ticket as your “kakampi”, by telling the bus conductress that she informed you about the price.

    Of course, the language problem might be a contributing factor there. I had similar experiences in Vietnam of being ripped off — and this is for larger amounts, like electricity bills that are tripled in value by your landlady.

    In these incidents, the best thing to do is to get your own local, Vietnamese accomplice. Even if it’s just the receptionist at the hotel or guesthouse that you’re staying in. The hotel or guesthouse receptionist — or anyone who has a kind heart there in Hoi An – which I still believe there are still a lot — might have helped you with the visa extensions.

    The problem here, according to a close Vietnamese friend, is that a foreigner is always seen as a walking $ sign by most locals. And if you like Caucasian, Japanese, Korean and some of the more developed Asian neighbors of ours, you get even overchaged by 3-5x! And I agree: being overcharged by 10-20% would still be okay. But being overcharged by 50%-100% is a rip-off!

    Personally, I think those Vietnamese individuals who lead much simpler lives are much more honest and straightforward in dealing with foreign tourists than those who actually have had better education or were schooled overseas.

    Anyway, let not this incident dampen your spirits in making a repeat visit to Vietnam. Happy traveling!

    By the way, what was the name of that Vietnamese travel site that you linked this article to? It would be interesting how the Vietnam Tourism Association and their Immigration Department will react to such a story.

    • Hi there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It was difficult to look for ‘accomplices’ while in Vietnam, mainly due to the language barrier. Well, the old lady beside me just kept quiet and wouldn’t even look at me. The whole bus ride felt really awkward. However the incident won’t stop me from re-visiting Vietnam in the future =) Also, I don’t think I linked this article to a travel site.. maybe someone else did? I’m not aware though as I didn’t receive any trackbacks.

  3. long time world traveller says:

    got off the train in danang, had a plate of pho then jumped on a hoi an bus, ticket lady said 80000 dong to hoi an so i immediately got off the bus, went straight back to the train station and caught the next train to hanoi. where the rip-offs continued unabated. went to Chinese embassy to get the hell out of there asap and the Hanoi Chinese embassy says no visas given to foreign tourists. jumped a train and went non-stop back to Cambodia asap. most common phrases used in Vietnam “i am leaving as soon as i can, i am very sorry i came here, i wont come here again. never ever.”
    vietnam is perhaps the most difficult destination i have ever been to and i have been to many.

    • Aww sorry to hear about your nightmare… Too bad you missed the opportunity to see Hoi An and Hue. You surely had a really hard time and I won’t blame you if you choose to leave right away. I’m an Asian traveler and though I had my share of rip-offs, I’m pretty sure it’s not as bad as what a Caucasian might get. More happy travels for you and a great holidays!

  4. i’d perfectly understand if they charged a percentage. but double? that was a major rip off already!
    i’ve heard from a fellow traveler who stayed in vietnam for a long time that vietnamese are really an enterprising lot. at any rate, charge mo na lang yan sa experience πŸ˜€

    • Hi! Thanks for visiting my blog =) Ya, the Vietnamese are indeed very enterprising! As I’ve always said, the experience won’t stop me from visiting Vietnam in the future. Have a great holidays!

  5. thanks for this information… ive been checking out blogs about visa extension in vietnam…

    they mark ups are ridicuous for almost everything…i remmber when i was there last 2009, i paid for $35 for the hop on and off bus to find out that another tourists just paid $28… i felt cheated and then another tourists on the bus was horrified because she paid $100 for the same ticket…

  6. Tu says:

    Hi,

    As an Australian/Vietnamese I’m sorry you had to go through that ordeal. At least in my case, I’m fluent in Vietnamese and was only charged $10 for a 3 month extension. You should go straight to the immigration office and only speak to young officers there, as yhe younger educated generation will not try and rip you off. Plus they can speak english!

  7. Thanks for sharing your experiences with this process. I’m impressed that you avoided the bus ticket scam and will keep that in mind for my travels here. I think the visa pricing is pretty standard at $80 and up because they know you need it and are willing to pay the price. The best way to avoid this for future travels in Vietnam is to get a 3 month re-entry visa. That’s my plan for a return visit!

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