Are you planning to stay in Vietnam longer than expected and your visa is about to expire? If you're not working in Vietnam and don't have a work permit/TRC, the best bet to stay longer is by doing a visa run. At first, the whole process might sound complicated and scary but believe us, it's very straightforward to do successfully do your visa run. We did quite a lot of visa runs crossing to Laos and Cambodia on our motorbikes without experiencing any problems.
Keep reading as we've included all the details required for a successful Vietnam visa run.
Article Update: We've completed the last visa run in October 2019. This version differs from the last one as you we've included more border crossings and details about each crossing. For now, it seems effortless to do a visa run and there is no limitation on the number of visa runs you can do. There are some talks about setting the limitations, but nothing actual still.
Getting All Required Documents on Time
Before heading to the border, be sure to obtain all the documents for your new Vietnam visa. Here is the list of required documents and costs:
#1 Visa approval letter
Be sure that you acquire a visa approval letter at least a few days before doing a visa run. The easiest way to get your letter is by contacting local visa agents who'll send you a letter in 2 - 3 days. We always use services from Lynn in Da Nang, a lovely lady who always sends us letters in 3 days! The price for a 3-month single entry approval letter is $25.
Be sure to bring an original letter since, on the land border, the immigration asks for the original letter with the red stamp and signature. Check if the dates and passport numbers are matching.
UPDATE: If you're planning to do a visa run by flying out/in Vietnam, having a copy of the invitation letter is fine.
#2- Passport-sized photos
Don't forget to take a few passport-sized photos with you. Even if you don't have photos that match the format, the immigration officer will hand the scissors to make the correct size (they aren't strict about the size). If you don't have photos, there is a penalty of $2 which differs depending on the border and 'mood' of immigration officers.
Also, you have to pay at the border for a passport photo, which costs around $10 for a single photo! You can get photos everywhere in Vietnam, and it typically costs around 50,000 - 100,000 VND.
#3- Valid passport with at least four blank pages
Check your passport and be sure that you have at least four blank visa pages and six more months before passport expiration.
Vietnam Visa Run - A Step-by-Step Process
We've never experienced any problems during visa runs. Immigration officers tend to be very friendly (we even had a coffee with officers who were practicing English in Ha Tien) and helpful. A visa run process is the same for every border crossing, so no need for worry.
Since we're traveling around Vietnam and always coming back, we've completed quite a few visa runs:
- Lao Bao (Vietnam)
- Moc Bai (Cambodia)
- Nam Phao (Laos)
- Ha Tien (Cambodia)
#1 - Get your invitation letter on time
Get an invitation letter from a reputable agency or someone affiliated with these agencies. Usually, it takes up to 3 working days to get the invitation letter from the agent. We pay $17 for a 3-month single entry and $25 for a multiple-entry approval letter.
UPDATE: You must have an original letter (red stamp) for land borders, but a printed letter is fine for international airports.
#2- Plan your transportation
Book a visa van or a bus or drive on your own to the border. We recommend driving on your own since the scenery is always stunning as you’re passing through breathtaking passes in the middle of Highlands to reach the borders. The van services usually cost around $50 - $100 depending on your location and how far is the border.
It’s a convenient option since the people will support you during the whole visa run process. We've never done a visa run without driving our bikes. The scenery is beautiful, you meet new people, try new food and experience different provinces around Vietnam. There are a few agents in Da Nang who charge $100 for a whole visa run process including the cost of letter and visas.
3- Stamp out of Vietnam (Vietnam Exit Formalities)
Once you’re on the border, you need to show the passport and the invitation letter. The immigration officer will check out everything, and if everything is okay, they will stamp you out of Vietnam. After that, you’re officially not able to stay in Vietnam anymore.
#4- Apply for a Lao/Cambodian visa on arrival (Laos/Cambodia Entry Formalities)
At the border, you pass one more passport control, and then you head to Laos/Cambodia immigration office. There are always a few cafes and local restaurants where you can fill yourself up. Once you reach Laos/Cambodia immigration office, you need to show your documents, including a passport, two passport-sized photos, and the invitation letter.
Then you will get a few forms to fill up with your information, and after you’re done, they will ask you to pay for a 1-month visa that costs around $35 (depending on your nationality). Once you acquire a new visa sticker, you have to stamp out from that country. Always check the dates on the stamps since there were stories of people overstaying because immigration officers messed with their stamps.
#5 - Stamp out of Laos/Cambodia and enter Vietnam again (Vietnam Entry Formalities)
Once you reach the Vietnam border, immigration will check your passport and visa again and point you in the right direction. A 3-month single entry visa costs $25, and you get it by showing the invitation letter and filling the forms. The immigration officer will stamp your passport (be sure to check it yourself) and point you in the right direction where another immigration officer will do the final check of your passport.
There are many steps, but usually, it goes like a charm, and you spend about 1 hour for the whole process once you reach the border. Even if you're going to do a visa run alone and don't know Vietnamese, don't stress yourself as immigration officers work with foreigners on a daily basis.
Tips to Make a Vietnam Visa Run Effortless
#1- Bring passport-sized photos with you
Don’t forget to bring photos since immigration will charge you like $10 for a single photo. Also, there are penalties for not having a passport photo (usually $2). You can take photos everywhere in Vietnam. Head over to the nearest Photocopy (or PhotocoPPy) shop and ask for passport photos. The bunch of photos costs about 50,000 - 100,000 VND.
#2- Always check stamps and don't forget to stamp out before entering Vietnam
Don’t forget to stamp out of Laos/Cambodia if you don’t want to walk twice. It happened to my friend once during the crazy high temperatures, and you don’t want that. Be sure that you check all the stamps in your passport before heading back to the Vietnam border. If you’re traveling by bike, there is parking before the Vietnam border, where you can park your bike for free and pick it up later.
#3- USD is a king
Pay in dollars! Exchange money before heading to the border as paying in local currency is always more expensive since officers like to get some money due to adverse exchange rates they give you.
#4- Bring the original visa approval letter
If you're planning to pass through land borders, it's required to have an original approval letter with a red stamp. You can have a printed letter if you're planning to fly in Vietnam through international airports.
How to Do a Visa Run Through Land Borders
A beautiful nature, a lot of small lakes and wild rivers will be your company along the way to Laos. This landscape can quickly add up a few hours on your trip if you're traveling on your own since it's so easy just to stop and wonder.
As we already mentioned, you need to get out of Vietnam and enter another country to get your brand new Vietnamese visa. The most convenient countries to do so are Laos and Cambodia. You need to go to the international border crossing as these are the only places that will be able to issue a new visa.
Visa Run to Laos
- Tay Trang
- Chalo - It’s a bit busy border crossing in Quang Binh province, and it wasn’t possible to get a Laos visa without a prior arrangement. Right now, it’s possible to get a Laos visa with only filling the necessary forms.
- Lao Bao - we wrote a detailed guide on doing the visa run from Da Nang to Lao Bao!
Visa Run to Cambodia
- Moc Bai - it’s one of the busiest border crossings since the border is on the route from Saigon to Phnom Penh. It’s very convenient to do the crossing there as the officials are very knowledgeable about the process and they are speaking English (well, some of them!). We've crossed from Vietnam to Cambodia on motorbikes through Moc Bai. It was effortless, but be aware of scams on the Cambodian side.
- Vinh Xuong
- Tinh Bien - Locals usually use this border crossing, and it’s not a busy one, so if you don’t want to spend so much time on processing your visa, this might be the right crossing for you!
- Ha Tien - The westernmost border crossing which isn't usually busy. We've crossed from Cambodia to Vietnam through Ha Tien on our motorbikes without any problem.
Pick the one that is the nearest to the place you’re currently staying at, as the visa run usually takes a whole day.
Now you have every detail for doing your next visa run. Always do the cost and time analysis of your options and pick the best one for you. If you have any questions or any dilemmas, feel free to hit us up, and we will be more than happy to help you out!
Have a great time in Vietnam! ;)