Vietnamese Tourist Visa

Immigration for a Vietnam tourist visa…

Nothing is impossible in a developing country when you have a little money…

I was in Ho Chi Mihn City, Vietnam, and my passport had been at Vietnamese immigration.  My friend Phat-Man was going to arrange an extended visa for me.

I was originally on a Vietnam tourist visa.

In the meantime, I had been hired for a job in South Korea and they were flying me into Seoul so I needed the passport back.  Vietnamese immigration had my passport for ten days and they never got around to extending the visa as nothing runs smoothly or on time in Vietnam.  Phat-Man had to go back to immigration to retrieve it the night before my flight out of the country.  He got into a heated argument with the Vietnamese officials just to get my passport back from them so that I could fly out.  I had been sweating a little in anticipation until I had the passport back in my hands.  When he handed me my passport he told me to arrive at the airport plenty early for my flight and to fix the situation there.  He said it would cost me a little money, but anything can be done in Vietnam.  Phat-Man told me that a 500,000 dong bribe should be enough money to fix the over-stayed visa.

I had all of my possessions with me in my backpack and I headed to the Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport.  I found an office that said ‘Immigration’ on it, went in and approached a table where two Vietnamese officials sat.  I did not speak, but just showed one of them my Vietnamese visa inside of my passport and I pointed at the date that showed my visa had been expired for nine days, and then I pointed to the date on my flight e-ticket I’d had printed out that showed the day’s date.  The official left the room to get another man.  When another man came up to me, I did the exact same routine with him, showing him the dates on both documents.  He pointed at a chair for me to sit down in and then left with my passport and e-ticket.  I was alone in the office with my backpack for about 10 minutes when the man came back and motioned for me to follow him with all of my belongings.  We walked through a hallway and then took an elevator to the top floor of the airport.  I followed him out of the elevator and to an office he pointed for me to enter.  A man who seemed to be of notable importance sat behind a desk inside.  He told me to sit down.  My passport and e-ticket had arrived before me and was sitting on his desk.

He man asked me, “Meesta Harris, why have you overstay your visa?”  I told him the story of how I had come to Vietnam to live and I was going to work in Ho Chi Mihn City and Vietnamese officials had my passport for 10 days but had not bothered to extend the visa in that time.  They would have eventually got around to it, but in the meantime I was hired to work in South Korea and they were flying me out ASAP to start a job.  So, I had to get my passport back and when I did, I found out that Vietnamese officials had not done their job.  So, it had made it seem as though I had overstayed my visa by nine days, though though immigration efficiency would have prevented this from happening.

He said, “Meesta Harris.  This is big problem.”  I told him that I understood, and that I was sure we could work something out.  I was sitting in the highest room in the Ho Chi Mihn, Vietnam, airport, about to attempt to bribe someone who was likely the highest official on the entire site.   I told the man that I could pay him and asked, “How much is it going to cost to fix this problem?”  He told me, “Ah, this big problem.  This will cost one million dong for fix.”  I told him that was too, and that I did not have that much money.  I counter-offered him with 500,000 dong.  He repeated that it would cost one million, got up from his desk and briefly left the room.

I took advantage of the moment alone and as quick as I could I reached for my money belt tucked inside of the crotch of my jeans.  I hurriedly unzipped the pocket where my cash was stored and I pulled all of the money out.  I counted 500,000 dong as fast as I could, put it back in the money belt, re-zipped it, stuffed it back in my pants and shoved the rest of the cash as deep as I could into the left front pocket of my jeans.  When the man came back in and sat back down across the desk in front of me again I took a moment.  Then while he was watching me I reached into my pants and pulled my money belt out in front of him.  I unzipped sitting there and took all of the cash out of it as he watched me.  I then counted the cash in front of him.  Amazingly, there was exactly 500,000 dong in cash!  I set it on the desk and then I went into the front right pocket of my jeans and grabbed all of the coins and small bills from there.  I put the scrunched up bills on top of the 500,000 dong and I put the coins I could find in my pockets on top of that.  Then I pushed the money towards him.  He asked me, “What is this?”  I said, “It is 500,000 and some change.  To fix this problem…”  He told me again that he wanted one million.  I told him, “This is all I have.”  He asked, “This is all the money you have?”  I said, “Yea, this is all of the money I have to my name.  Why do you think I am leaving Vietnam to go to Korea?  I am out of money.”

He exhaled a disappointed breath, took the money and put it in his pocket.  Then he took a paper and a pen and he wrote a small note on it in Vietnamese, and signed his name on the paper and put the paper inside of the pages of the passport next to the expired Vietnamese visa.  He told me to show it to the girl behind the counter when I went to check in for my flight, handed me back my passport with the white paper and told me to go.  I picked up my backpack and excited the office, heading back down the way I came up.

I found the KoreanAir flight check-in desk and walked up the counter.  I handed the girl my e-ticket and my passport.  I did not even have to tell her as she caught it right away and set my passport back on the counter in front of my nose with an inquisitive look and pointed at the expiry date on the Vietnamese visa.  I pointed to the white piece of loose paper inside of the passport.  She took it out, read it, nodded in approval, checked my bag and sent me away to catch my flight.  Incredible.