Separated from their loved ones in Vietnam for two years, some foreigners have been desperately seeking to reunite with them, overcoming administrative hassles along the way.
Le Vinh, 40, a university professor in the U.S., thought he would not be able to visit Vietnam again after the Covid-19 pandemic subsided.
“For personal reasons I have not been vaccinated, but now I’m relieved,” Vinh says with happiness, referring to Vietnam’s earlier plan of requiring foreign visitors to be vaccinated before entry which, along with other cumbersome proposals, was jettisoned as of March 15.
Since March 15, the country has re-opened its borders and simply required international visitors to show proof of a negative Covid test at the time of arrival.
Vinh has booked three round tickets to Vietnam in May for himself and his parents on Qatar Airways, which cost him over $3,000.
The family plans to stay in Vietnam for two and a half months, he says. Some of his friends are also very excited about returning this summer, though they have not booked tickets yet.
As for his parents who last visited Vietnam during the 2020 Lunar New Year before the pandemic broke out, Vinh says they dearly want to visit their family and relatives now.
“My parents usually visit Vietnam once every year. This is the first time they have stayed away for two years,” he says.
Like Vinh’s family, many other foreigners are also hoping fervently to reunite with their loved ones in Vietnam after more than two years of separation.
Some have even grown so eager that they have planned with great expectations, only to become frustrated by administrative hassles.
Great expectations, dashed hopes
Anticipating that Vietnam would re-open on March 15, Indonesian Grace List, 25, had booked a ticket on Jetstar Airways for $210 in late February to fly from Indonesia on March 14 and arrive in Ho Chi Minh City on March 15, precisely.
For List, who isn’t a tourist but is planning to get married to his girlfriend in Vietnam, the expectations for reunion are tremendous.
Last year, wanting to visit badly, he even tried to apply for a business visa through an agency that asked him for a $5,000 fee. He pulled out, suspecting it to be a scam.
So, this year, to make sure he would travel smoothly, List diligently checked all possible sources for the latest rules from Vietnam before booking his flight.
He asked travel agencies in both Indonesia and Vietnam as well as the Vietnam embassy in Indonesia, read VnExpress and Vietnam Briefing, and watched YouTube to find out about the country’s reopening plans.
Every source assured him that, as a citizen of an ASEAN country, he did not need to apply for a visa and could fly right away.
List renewed his passport, got a PCR test, and went to the airport.
At the airport, he produced all the necessary documents except one: an approval letter for applying for a visa on arrival. It was paperwork required during the pandemic that had not been rescinded as of March 14.
List had to go home, cancel the ticket and pay another $112 for another.
“My partner was so excited when I told her I’d already booked the ticket,” he says. “She told her friends, colleagues and extended family because all of them have been waiting to see me for so long.”
Geoff Elwin (R) and his fiancée. Photo courtesy of Elwin
In Australia, Geoff Elwin was also excited that he was going to meet his fiance and her extended family in Vietnam again after over two years.
They, too, had planned to get married, and he had booked a flight on March 16, intending to stay in Vietnam for three months.
He was to arrive in HCMC and his fiance, who lives in Da Lat City, was to come and pick him up.
But Elwin says he canceled his flight in disgust.
“I’m totally confused and frustrated,” he says, referring to delays and Vietnamese authorities’ failure to clearly spell out the rules for foreigners seeking to visit the country from March 15, when the country lifted all restrictions.
“I kept trying to get information from the Vietnam embassy and Vietnam Airlines. But every time the answer was that they had no information yet from the government.”
Simple, albeit overdue, rules for foreign visitors
While eager foreign visitors may have planned to arrive in Vietnam exactly on March 15 and expected policymakers to set out clear rules by then, even as late as the evening of the 15th Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam, head of the National Steering Committee for Covid-19 Prevention and Control, was still discussing specifics.
At the meeting held by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Culture, Sports and Tourism, he said the government had considered various reopening options — like the April 30 – May 1 holidays, at the end of March and on March 15 — very cautiously.
He then instructed the Ministry of Health to issue detailed guidelines for international visitors.
Only then did the ministry issue its much-anticipated rules for foreign arrivals.
International visitors receive a warm welcome as they land at the Da Nang International Airport, March 27, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
Everyone must furnish a negative Covid-19 test result. Those who cannot take a test before arrival have to be tested within 24 hours after entering Vietnam.
Other requirements include a health declaration, use of the local PC-COVID app, following safety measures like mask wearing and hand washing, and monitoring personal health for 10 days.
All visa requirements have returned to their pre-pandemic status, and for many foreigners, teething paperwork troubles been resolved.
After rescheduling his flight, List has managed to arrive in Vietnam without further ado. Since March 20 he has been in HCMC, happily reunited with his girlfriend and busily planning for their wedding party.
As for Elwin, he has also booked another flight and been in Vietnam for three days. After a lot of frustration, he can hug his beloved again.
“I’m very happy now because I’m now in Vietnam with my fiancé,” Elwin says, adding that his visa only allows him to stay here for one month. He will need to extend it to three months but at the moment, he isn’t worried about paperwork. “I don’t care so much as now we can get married,” he says.
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