How to do a Visa Run in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Every Vietnam expat dreads having to spend a whole day doing a visa run. The process is confusing, stressful, and full of scammers. Or maybe that was just because it was my first visa run. Personally, I made a bunch of mistakes during my first visa run (even though I had a Vietnamese girl I met on Tinder helping me), so here is a guide on how to properly do a Vietnam visa run.

What do I need to bring on my Vietnam visa run?

  • Visa approval letter. Get this at least 7 business days before you plan to leave.
    • You have a few options for this:
      • You can do a 1 or 3 month single entry.
      • 1 or 3 months multiple entry.
      • 1 year tourist (have to leave the country every 3 months). UPDATE: This is only available to Americans.
      • 1 year business letter (don’t have to leave the country every 3 months).
    • Get your visa letter through an agent:
      • Mrs. Jane at SNVI gets good reviews in the Facebook expat group.
      • Chi’s Cafe on Pham Ngu Lao is my preferred option. She is very fast and speaks great English. She got my 1 year visa letter in one day.
    • PRICE: $18-$35. This changes frequently, so speak to an agent.
  • 3 passport sized pictures. The travel agencies on Bui Vien should be able to do this for you.
    • PRICE: $2-4
  • $100 in US currency (minimum). I prefer carrying $5 bills because everything seems to be priced in multiples of $5. Bring 5-10 $1 bills too in case you have to do some convincing.
    • You can convert VND to USD at any gold shop in HCMC.
      • Kim Mai Gold Shop (84 Cong Quynh, District 1) was where I did it. They gave me an extremely good rate.
    • PRICE: $100 minimum. It will be higher for a 1 year visa.
  • 500k in Vietnamese Dong. Three 100k notes and four 50k notes should be good.
    • PRICE: 500k (about $22).
  • Bus ticket.
    • This costs 40k ($1.67) each way.
    • Alternative option: Buy a bus ticket to Phnom Penh (240k), but don’t get back on after clearing Cambodia.
    • After entering Vietnam you can pay for a seat to HCMC on any bus at the border. It should cost 50k-100k.
  • A black or blue pen.
  • Visa application form.
  • 7-8 hours of time.
  • Passport… duh. You can’t do a Vietnam visa run without a passport.
    • PRICE: N/A

How to do the visa run?

Step 1: Go the bus station

You’d think this would be easy, right?

This is Vietnam. Everything is needlessly complicated. The bus we want is located at the end of 23/9 Park.

The bus number is #703 and the name is “Ben Thanh-Moc Bai” (even though it isn’t at Ben Thanh). It leaves the station every 30 minutes starting at 6AM. I’d recommend leaving before 1PM because the last bus to leave Moc Bai leaves at 7PM.

The bus will park near the entrance on the side near Nguyen Trai St.

Step 1 (Alternate): Private Bus

You can also take a private bus to Phnom Penh, but then get off at the border. It’s a lot faster because it doesn’t make any stops. Cost is $10-$15.

Look for any of the bus companies on Pham Ngu Lao. Mekong Express, Giant Ibis, and Samco (?) are all fine.

The bus guide will collect your passport and $35 during the ride and handle the exiting Vietnam and entering Cambodia part. It makes things so much easier.

Getting back to HCMC is easy too. I explain how to do that at the end.

You can skip to step 5 if you use this option.

Step 2: Arrive at the border (Bus 703)

The bus ride takes about 2-3 hours depending on traffic. You can just take a nap and you’ll wake up near the border.

You’ll walk off the bus, but you won’t see the border. Again, this is Vietnam and everything is needlessly complicated. You’ll have to walk 5-10 minutes to get to the border. Or you can pay one of the 100 motorbike taxis 20k (haggle hard) to take you to the border gate.

Here is a map I drew in MS Paint in case you feel like walking. You start at point #1 and walk to point #2:

Step 3: Exit Vietnam (Bus 703 option)

You’ll get to the big Vietnamese building. Walk in and walk all the way to the right and keep walking until you see a big wooden booth with a Vietnamese official sitting in it. You’ll see a bunch of people waiting in line. You can wait in that line, but it will probably take like 30 minutes.

Alternatively, you can go the far left or middle lane, cut all the people in line (they’re just waiting for their passport, not actually in line), put 50k in your passport with a little bit pointing out, place your passport on the government official’s desk, and take a step back.

Trust me. They know what’s up. Only people that pay can use those lanes.

Either way, the guy will stamp your passport and you can walk out.

Step 4: Enter Cambodia

Everything is much easier on the Cambodian side. Walk up to the booth outside (#3 on the map) and give the guy your passport. He’ll ask for $30. Give him $30 and he’ll glue a visa into your passport.

If you pay him $5 more, then it will be much faster.

Walk inside and give your passport to guy #2. He’ll ask you to put your fingerprints on some scanner and stamp your passport.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not giving Cambodia my fingerprints. I put $2 in my passport and he “forgot” to scan my fingerprints.

Guy #2 will give you a departure card. Fill this out.

Step 5: Exit Cambodia

If you took the private bus, then this is the part you do yourself.

Walk outside, go left, and walk toward the exit booth. Hand your passport, filled out departure card, and Vietnam visa letter to guy #3 in the booth.

He’ll stamp your passport and you can exit Cambodia. No bribe necessary.

Step 6: Enter Vietnam

Walk back to the Vietnamese building. As you walk into the building on your right hand side you’ll see a small aluminum building with a little glass window. Inside the window is a Border Guard.

Sometimes he is on lunch break, talking to his wife, or just not doing his job.

I had to wait 1 hour for this jackoff to get back from his 3 hour dinner break.

Anyway, once he gets back you give him your Vietnam visa letter and passport. He’ll ask for the stamping fee and (maybe) an extra $10.

Don’t bother arguing with him. Just give him his tea money and get your passport with a fresh Vietnam visa.

Now you need an entrance stamp.

This time the left side is for those that don’t want to pay a bribe; mostly Vietnamese people.

Go the middle lane that says “For Tourists” or VIP. Stick a 50k note in your passport with the end pointing out, place your passport on his desk, and step back to the line.

Don’t worry about cutting people in the line. It isn’t really a line. It’s just people waiting for him to stamp your passport.

Step 7: Walk Back to the Bus Station

Now just walk the way you came back to the bus stop. Hop on the bus and get back to Saigon.

Step 7: Alternative (Private Bus)

Alternatively, pay one of the private bus guys 50k for a bus to HCMC. I did this last time and it was so much faster and more comfortable.

The guy originally wanted $10. I said no.

He dropped the price to 100k. I said no.

He dropped the price to 50k, which I paid.

Moc Bai Border Crossing: Video

This video isn’t mine, but he does a good job explaining the whole process for those of you that are visual learners.

Final Thoughts

The Vietnam visa process for those of us living in Ho Chi Minh City sucks because of Moc Bai. However, Cambodia does have a simple visa process despite being such a poor country.

The Vietnamese just do not have a good visa process.

 

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