When the pandemic started, expats from all over the world didn’t know what to do. Should they go home and hope it’s safer, should they stay in Vietnam where their job is located, should they catch the last flight to Vietnam and be with their family before the border closes? No one really knew what was the right thing to do.
Many were locked out of Vietnam, some decided to stay in Vietnam and ride it out regardless of their visa status and situation here. Fast forward, we are almost a year and a half into this pandemic and it’s not clear where is the end of this tunnel.
Due to the decision of the immigration office of Vietnam to stop extending tourists visa either the free pass (people who enter on tourist visa after March 1, 2020), paid tourist visa extension, and restricting the paid extension of business visas, many expats and tourists who decided to stay in Vietnam now have to plan their way out.
This is a guide on how to leave Vietnam during Covid-19. Many expats here have their own reason for staying. It could be because they have built their life here or was planning to, maybe their home country was not handling the pandemic response so well and Vietnam made them feel safe. Whatever your reason for staying, you did because that was the right decision at that time.
For those who still have a valid visa and legit visas but decided to move on anyway, this article is also for you.
I understand how hard it must be to say goodbye to the country you have called home for the last year or so, you are probably at the crossroads again and have to make a tough decision that it’s time to move on and leave Vietnam.
Enough of the sentiments, I know how emotionally and mentally exhausting it must have been these past months. Let’s get on the business and walk you on how to properly leave Vietnam, what are the requirements, and possible costs.
AUTOMATIC FREE EXTENSION FOR TOURISTS VISAS + PAID EXTENSION
Many expats who are leaving are on automatic free visa extension, they are the people who arrived in Vietnam after the 1st of March, 2020. The automatic free extension means you don’t need to go and pay for your visa extension, the immigration office normally announces this a few days before the end of the month or the first week of the month. It’s been like this for over a year and expats that are on this type of visa expects this to happen every month.
In May 2021, news about automatic free visa extension paid tourist visa extension, and even business visas are not allowed to be extended anymore. Which sent many expats in Vietnam in chaos.
The reason for this announcement or news, we don’t know. However, at the end of May 2021, the immigration office once again extended the free tourist visa automatically until the end of June. However, as of writing this article, there has been no official news on the immigration site if the free extension will be available again for the month of July.
Some visa agents claimed the free extension is available in July again, while others say you can extend your visa if you show proof of flight to leave Vietnam. There is no official information from the immigration office regarding this.
While those are paying for tourist visa extensions, meaning you arrived in Vietnam before March 1, 2020, you have to pay for your visa extension and are not eligible for automatic free extension. Extension for this type of visa has also stopped according to visa agents.
For this reason, people who are in this situation decided that the uncertainty is too much it’s time to make arrangements for their departure from Vietnam.
BUSINESS VISA EXTENSION
It’s not news that some expats in Vietnam enter the country on a business visa while looking for a job and once they do, they can convert to a work permit and temporary residence permit. While other people use this visa while working online or living and working as digital nomads.
However, many business visas are hosted by a shell company. Meaning, the hosted company are often non-existent or are they are existing but are only being used to host business visas to tourists.
At the same time as the news of the immigration office stopping the automatic and paid tourist visa extension broke out, it also came along with the news that business visas can only be extended if the applicant can prove the company who hosted their business are legit and that they are working for the said company.
Again, for this reason, expats who are on this type of visa decided to leave Vietnam.
HOW TO LEAVE VIETNAM DURING COVID-19: Requirements
Travel changed since the pandemic started, now we can’t just book a flight, pack our bags, and head out to the airport. The system is now different, the list of documents to prepare for your departure is much longer and has to be timely. Here’s a list of the documents you should prepare for leaving Vietnam, I will explain each of them later:
TOP TIP: Hold off booking your flight ticket before getting your PCR test. Not only because of the test result validity but also because if you do test positive, then, you can’t take your flight. Eye for the flight ticket you want and contact the airline to make sure it’s an active/confirmed flight, perhaps you can pay for it to be held for you before paying the full price until you get your negative PCR result.
- Your passport and valid visa (Vietnam and/or destination)
- Negative PCR test 48/72 hours validity
- Active/confirmed flight ticket + pet passport (if applicable)
- Confirmed connection/valid connection
- Hotel quarantine to your final destination (optional/depends)
- Pet passport (vaccination according to your destination) and pet ESA certificate*
- Pet flight ticket*
- Maximum cash allowed to be taken out of Vietnam – $5,000 and/or 15 million VND
Your Passport and Valid Visa
Your passport must be valid at the date of your departure from Vietnam and your arrival at your destination. If you are not going home, your passport must be valid for at least six months. If your passport has expired and you are heading home, check with your Embassy if the Vietnamese government will allow you to leave Vietnam with an expired passport or get an emergency passport from your Embassy.
Regarding a valid visa, we are talking about your visa in Vietnam and visa to your final destination if it’s not your home country.
For visa in Vietnam, if you are on an automatic free extension tourist visa, meaning you arrived in Vietnam after March 1, 2020, remember that you have not overstayed your stay as long as you leave before the automatic free visa extension is over. There are some expats who claimed that the immigration officer will insist that you overstayed, stand your ground and explain that you arrived after March 1, 2020, and have been on the automatic free extension, you can find the immigration announcement here.
Negative PCR Test
A negative PCR test is a requirement both for leaving Vietnam and entering your final destination. This certificate should show that you have tested negative against covid-19. This will be required to be shown at the check-in desk since this is a responsibility carried by airlines. The certificate must be in English and has your passport number.
The validity of this test is either for 48 hours or 72 hours. Flights nowadays last longer than pre-pandemic due to a lack of options. Connections or lay-over takes longer, hence, planning for your test, its validity, and duration of the flight is important.
First, you should check with your airline the validity of the PCR test they accept and then look for a hospital or clinic that can do the test.
Many passengers make mistakes about this because some will count the hours from the time they get the test instead of the duration of the flight. Meaning, your certificate should still be valid the moment you land in your final destination not only after you leave Vietnam. It should be 48/72 hours beginning your flight out of Vietnam.
The cost of a PCR test ranges from $50-$150 (1.200.000 – 3.000.000 VND) depending on the clinic or hospital. The result should be available either in 24 hours to even within a few hours, hence the price range varies widely.
Make sure you have the phone number of the hospital/clinic in case you run into some problems at the airport and you have to contact them.
Active/Confirmed Flight Ticket + Pet Ticket
I added this section after the negative PCR result because if you book your flight and your result shows positive, you will not be able to take your flight and are likely to waste your money. One of my friends who left Vietnam decided to look for a flight, contact the airline to confirm the flight exists (I will explain this later), got the negative PCR certificate, then book the flight.
This might sound too tight for those who like to plan things ahead, but we live in a pandemic right now. If you speak to the airline, you might be allowed to pay to have the seat/ticket on hold for you. Once you get your PCR certificate, contact the airline and pay for that flight.
Regarding the word “active/confirmed flight”, there are rumours that there are “ghost flights” being sold on third party sites/flight booking sites, meaning the flight looks like they exist and are on schedule and can be bought. But then, later will be cancelled and the refund will either be a nightmare or will turn into a “travel fund”.
This is why I only recommend you do the transaction directly with the airlines. If you plan to book your flight before your negative PCR test, make sure you can rebook or get a refund.
If you have a pet to bring with you, during your call with the airline, you can ask if they accept pets in a cabin or cargo and if they have specific required documents except for the pet passport and shot certificates. Usually, the pet ticket is between $200-$500.
Confirmed Connection/Valid Connection
The same goes for booking your flight, make sure that your connection is confirmed and valid or that the airline is operating especially if you have to change airlines during your connection. Also, if you are connecting to a country where you might need a transit visa, that is something you have to look into.
Moreover, layovers last longer than usual (12-24 hours) and this could mean you want or need to leave the airport or connection area, so, double-check if you have to go through customs, security, or immigration during your layover.
Hotel Quarantine To Your Final Destination
Depending on where your final destination is, check if your need to hotel quarantine or home quarantine and for how many days. For hotel quarantine, you will more likely have to book with the hotels that the government of your destination approved, so don’t go around booking random accommodation, instead, check the eligible hotels to host you.
This hotel quarantine booking proof will be asked to show to the airline crew when you check in to your flight from Vietnam.
Pet passport and/or ESA certificate
And of course, expats who have planned or decided to build a life here and now have a pet who they either brought into Vietnam or fell in love with during their stay, don’t leave without your lovely furry friends.
If you want to fly with your pet in the cabin, you will need to certify them as ESA (emotional support). This is recommended if the flight is longer than 12 hours. If you don’t need it, make sure the pet is updated with its shots and have a pet passport ready.
You are allowed to bring your pet with you, while the process might be more complicated now, it’s still possible. First, you should check with the airlines if they still accepting pets as cargo or cabin before booking anything. You should also check with your destination the documents you need to prepare when importing a pet.
If you can’t travel with your pet for any reason, you can reach out to companies and even government animal relocation centres to assist you in this process. They will find someone who will be leaving the same country where your pet is and accompany them to your destination. Then, you can pick up your pet from the airport once they are cleared. Here’s an expat in Vietnam’s experience moving their pet to the UK during COvid-19.
ALSO READ: Pets in Vietnam – this is for importing pets to Vietnam but some tips might also be useful for you
There is some news that the US will stop accepting import pets especially dogs due to rabies concerns, hence, some expats decided to leave as soon as possible as well.
There was a Twitter thread regarding a dog that was able to get out of its crate, the dog was later found running around the runway. So, make sure to double zip ties your pet’s crate and check in with the airlines during a connection if your pet was transferred properly.
HOW TO LEAVE VIETNAM DURING COVID-19: Flight Day
As usual, masks will be required to be worn at all times at the airport, cabin, and during the connection. Wearing protective clothing, face shields, and gloves are not required, feel free to do so but if you wear a belt under the protective clothing, you will have to remove them during security checks.
Once you have all your documents ready, I recommend you arrive at the airport at least three (3) hours before your flight. While the airports are currently pretty empty, from check-in, immigration, and up to security check, it might take about 90-120 minutes. It’s just better to safe than sorry.
If you bring a pet or are travelling with children or group, you might as well get to the airport four (4) hours before the flight to make sure any bump you might meet along the way have some wriggle room and can be solved in time.
Show your PCR certificate, passport, and ticket at the check-in desk. Your PCR certificate will be checked and your baggage will be tagged. You will also be checking in your pet here.
Next will be immigration. Hand in your passport and wait until they add your exit stamp. You will be asked how much cash you have in you. You are not allowed to take more than $5,000 and/or 15 million VND. They are more likely not to check but if they do, these are the amount of cash you are legally allowed to bring out of Vietnam.
If the immigration insists that you overstayed but you did not, explain your situation. If you did overstay, the fee is about $10 for the first day and goes up day-by-day (not sure of the exact amount). After immigration, the security check is as usual.
During your connection or layover, you will be asked again to show your PCR negative certificate.
TIPS ON LEAVING VIETNAM
- International Airlines – Emirates are more likely to cancel their flights, Qatar, ANA (Japan) or Singapore Airlines are better
- Domestic Airlines – Vietjet more likely to cancel flights, use Bamboo or Vietnam Airlines
- Baggage – additional baggage is expensive right now, $40-$50 per kilo
I have lived in many countries, leaving is never easy, I cannot imagine how hard it would be during this time especially paperwork makes it more complicated. Whatever your reason for staying in Vietnam, I hope you had an amazing time here and whatever your reason for leaving, I hope you enjoy your new home.
While the chaos about visas in Vietnam took many of us by surprise and brought anxiety and uncertainty, we had to evacuate our apartments, say goodbye to our chosen family and friends, we cannot deny that Vietnam provided a safe environment in the past year. The government did so well managing their covid-19 response compared to other countries allowing us to live as normal as possible with very minimal lockdowns, cases, and deaths. With that, we should be grateful.
You can now head somewhere else, Vietnam provided you with a safe home and shielded you from this nasty disease. Now, you can get vaccinated and build a new life. While you make your way to your new home, I hope we see you in Vietnam again when it’s safe and possible.
I really hope you found this how to leave Vietnam during Covid-19 article helpful. I might not be able to cover as much as I could or provide the most details, I hope I was able to bring a little light during this chaotic time. If you have more tips to add here, let me know in the comment section below.