The expat visa saga continues in Vietnam. I guess it is improving slightly
When I moved to Vietnam over 2 years ago I didn't intend to be here as long as I have been. Like a lot of people, I was trapped here because of the global reaction to Covid and now it's been so long that I kind of feel like this place is home to me for the time being.
When the government cut off all visas for those of us that were in the country already back in January, it created a real problem for those of us that were here and paying for visas. Neighboring countries were either still closed because of Covid or they were really difficult to get into and required a ton of paperwork and testing and what not.
Therefore, a lot of people weren't going to chance it and simply decided to not renew their visas and just overstay. Overstaying isn't really a big deal in any of the countries that I have been to and the penalties are only financial provided you have the resources to pay. The only stories about people getting put in jail for overstaying were in situations where a flight couldn't be arranged right away and the person spent a few days in a holding cell until such time a flight could be arranged. The people that are currently ignoring visa rules are not going to face jail time. It is considered a violation of international law to imprison someone just for overstaying a visa, especially if that person has the resources to pay the fine and quickly exit said country.
While things are getting better at the moment there are a lot of people that are now turning themselves in for their overstays because it is now very easy to get back into Vietnam on a new and legal visa.
The government here is extremely aware of the fact that the long-term expat community simply goes to a neighboring country for a day, or maybe just a couple of hours, and then flies or drives directly back into Vietnam on a new visa. The entire process seems very counter-productive and pointless to me. It seems to me like since they are letting basically anyone back in even if they only just left a little while ago, why not just let them renew the visa in the country?
Hell, they could charge money for the service and make a ton of cash for municipal projects with it.
There are a lot of people that I personally know that are technically here illegally. I am one of them. Recent stories of people that have decided to go legit and turn themselves in reveals an extremely inefficient system that Vietnam has in place for dealing with this.
I don't know what the hold up is but the process is extremely time-consuming. For the 3 people I know that have done the process of turning themselves in here in Da Nang, they have had to go back and forth to the immigration office half a dozen times and their passports had to be mailed to Hanoi or Saigon. The entire process takes around 3 weeks. I used to speak about how immigration in Thailand functions in a rather convoluted way but I gotta give them some points as far as this is concerned: In Thailand there is a very clear chart about overstay fines, which max out at around $800 and there is also a very clear timeframe about how long you will be blacklisted if your overstay was egregious.
Here in Vietnam it seems to be someone throwing a dart at a dartboard to determine how much you are going to pay. Thankfully, the max overstay fine here is also capped at around $800. However, this is all information gathered from 3rd parties so who knows how much truth there is to it.
That last one might seem kind of scary but this only applies to people who have already received their Exit Visa (the one where you are instructed to GTFO in a certain amount of time- normally 14 days) and then do not exit. It seems really silly to me that someone would go through the entire rigorous process of obtaining an exit visa only to not exit.
Some of my friends had the idea that they would go turn themselves in at a major Immigration office in Saigon or Hanoi to hopefully expedite the process. This has not ended up being the case and now they are stuck in an unfamiliar city and are forced to make the same number of trips to and from the office to get the visa processed.
No offense if you like Saigon or Hanoi, but I find both of these places to be absolutely terrible because they are dirty, extremely crowded, and also noisy 24-hours a day.
One of the rather silly paper requirements is that you have to provide a flight ticket proving that you will depart the country but of all of my friends that have done this it has taken immigration so long to process whatever it is they are doing on their end that they ended up needing to cancel the flight. These days people are simply providing bogus flight receipts or are booking a fully refundable flight, printing out the ticket, then immediately cancelling the flight.
I'm hoping that whatever the holdup is can be sorted out soon because I am still in the mindset that I am simply going to not do visas anymore until they come and find me. As of yesterday I was already at the 90-day threshold which puts me in the maximum fine category anyway so I don't really see any reason to rush to get it done. I figure I will stay here another year or until they come and get me - whichever happens first. I don't like breaking the law. I would prefer to be here legally but they didn't really give me much choice especially since it is quite complicated to move a doggo from country to country and if they tried to force me to leave my dog behind, well, they would have to put me in jail because that isn't going to happen.