Saturday, January 17, 2009

Vietnam -- dealing with customs.

Vietnam was the first country I've been to where I was not granted a visa upon entering the country.   For US nationals, you can either apply for a visa in person before leaving, or get a Vietnamese travel agency to arrange a visa for you upon arrival.  For the later option, you also have bring two passport photos and $25 US for cash as a processing fee.  

I tend to be a bit sloppy when it comes to these types of regulations, so I decided this time I would be anal retentive.   For once, being a bit anal paid off.  When we landed in Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, whatever you want to use) I went to the visa window that is separated from the main immigration line.  What I encountered there was a clucking mass of bodies all gesticulating in front of a bunch of bored Communist officials sitting behind a thick glass.  After I dropped of my forms, I took an inventory of what was going on.  The groups of frustrated visa applicants included;

- An older American couple who had flown in from the US via Tokyo but who HAD NOT read the visa regulations,  and were stuck in airport while Vietnamese immigration guys figured out what to do with them.

- A frustrated Russian couple that tried to pull rank on the immigration guys, calling a heavy hitter from downtown on their cellphone, and having that heavyhitter yell at the immigration guy over the phone;

- A half a dozen down on their luck Vietnamese-American, probably in their 40's, who alternated between nagging and joking with the immigration guys.  At one point I think one of the Vietnamese-Americans might have tried to bribe the immigration guy.

It took them about 20 minutes, but I got my visa, and left.  The American couple were taken to a local hotel for an overnight stay while Vietnamese customs expedited their visas for them.  The Russian's were still stuck there when I left, as were the Vietnamese Americans.

I had read stories about how the Vietnamese government doesn't completely trust ethnic Vietnamese from abroad, particularly those from the US, and put them through a tougher screening when granting visas.  Now I now what they are talking about.      


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