5 year visa exemption
It used to be that anyone wanting to stay in Vietnam for a long time. And could just get a 3 or 6 month tourist/business visa and extend it indefinitely. Many expats have stayed in Vietnam for years using this method. However, in the past year there seems to be a concerted effort by the Vietnamese Government to crackdown on “undesirables”. Which includes “backpackers”, illegally employed Chinese/non-Vietnamese Asians, and Africans that are accused of propagating drugs and prostitution.
There seems to be two goals for this recent crackdown:
1.) To control (and get an accurate count of) the number of foreigners in the country by forcing them to the border checks.
2.) To get rid of foreign workers/cheap labor that take jobs away from the local people and money out of the country.
Nowadays, most people entering Vietnam can only obtain 1 month/3 month tourist visa’s. Which they can at most renew twice from within Vietnam for a maximum 9 month stay in Vietnam. This is a major issue for retired expats that have chosen to settle in Vietnam. And for foreign English teachers without a work permit. I have heard that it may be possible to get a new tourist Visa once you are out of the country….but it is a risky proposition since there is no guarantee that once you leave…you will be able to get back in. As such…many people that have lived in Vietnam for years suddenly have to think about possibly having to move somewhere else.
Of course, If you have a work permit, you can stay as long as your permit allows…however work permits are not easy to come by. If you are employed in Vietnam, it is the responsibility of your employer to obtain a work permit for you. Many employers are not willing to go through the trouble. And expense (about $500) of filing for a work permit, except for their most valued employees. I am not going to delve into the process of what it takes obtain a work permit since many other expat blogs have already expounded on this issue. Work permits are only valid for 12 months…so you will have to go through the entire process yearly.
If you or your parents were born in Vietnam or if you are married to a current or former Vietnamese citizen. You do have another option if you wish to stay in Vietnam for an extended period of time…..it’s called the 5 Year Visa Exemption (Mien Thi Thuc). In an effort to boost the number of overseas Vietnamese that come to Vietnam and infuse the country with money and investments….in 2007, the Government of Vietnam passed a bill which allows people who meet specific conditions to stay in Vietnam for 5 years (90 days continuous) without being required to have a Visa. This is akin to having a 3 month multiple entry Tourist Visa that is valid for 5 years. If you meet the criteria, the cost to obtain a 5 Year Visa Exemption is only $20 for the first certificate and only $10 to renew it thereafter.
I’m not going to regurgitate all the information on that website, but I will give a brief summary of the steps I took to get my certificate. If either you or your parents were born in Vietnam you only need to mail the following items to the Vietnam Embassy in San Francisco or Washington D.C.
1.) Completed copy of the Visa Exemption Application
- ) U.S. Passport (still valid for at least 6 months) + 1 copy
3.) 2 recent (4 x 6 cm) photos —– notice the size!! These are NOT the same size as U.S. passport photos.
4.) 1 form (Giay Bao Lanh) filled out by a Vietnamese Citizen vouching for me. I had my cousin fill out the form and include a copy of her Vietnamese Passport.
5.) $30 money order ($20 for the certificate, $10 processing fee) – update February 2013!! According to a couple of readers the fee is now $70…but I would call and make sure before mailing in your application.
6.) A Self-Addressed/Stamped Envelope
If you are a foreigner married to a current or former Vietnamese citizen or the child of one, you also need to include some sort of proof of relation to your Vietnamese spouse/immediate relative.
It was a relatively painless process. It only took about a week after the Vietnamese Embassy in the U.S. received my package before I got it back. Make sure that you send your package via Express Mail to guarantee the quickest service.
The 5 Year Visa Exemption is great if you regularly travel to Vietnam to vacation or visit relatives and you don’t want to apply for Visas each time. The only problem is that the certificate states that you can only stay 90 days continuously in the country….which means that you must leave the country at least 4 times each year….or so I thought. A few people I know with the Visa Exemption have been taking short “vacations” every few months due to the 90 day stipulation. I, myself had planned on taking a trip to Cambodia via the Moc Bai border crossing to satisfy the 90 day rule…but that was before I found out that there was a way to extend your exemption from within the country.
Application for visa renewal, replacement or modification, length of stay extension (Don De Nghi Cap, Bo Sung, Sua Doi Thi Thuc, Gia Han Tam Tru(1))
When you get to the Immigration office, just walk straight to where the cashier’s are and ask for the above form. You will have to fill out the form and then sign it. You also need to get 2 other signatures before you can turn in the application for an extension. In my case, I just needed the signature of my Aunt because I live in her house. And the signature of the police in the ward where I live. If you are staying in a rental property you will most likely need the signature of your landlord.
After you get all your required signatures….go back to the immigration office and turn in your form. You will need to also hand over your Passport with your application. You should get a receipt that shows the date that you can pick up your Passport. And pay the $10 fee for the application. It should only take a week for you to get back your passport with a red and blue stamp approving your extension. I was told that they used to allow extensions for up to 1 year….but recently due to the crackdown on foreigners in Vietnam, the maximum extension allowed is capped at 90 days. So you will have to repeat this process 4 times a year unless you leave the country before your 90 days are up.
The entire process I described above is from the perspective of a U.S. Citizen applying for a 5 Year Visa Exemption and Extension…however I believe the steps for overseas Vietnamese (Spouses/Children) from other countries should be similar. Contact the Vietnamese Embassy in your respective countries to find out the exact steps you may need to obtain the 5 Year Visa Exemption.