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Travelers: Visas are Important!

The accompanying (rather unrelated) photos for this article are street scenes from Hanoi, Vietnam (particularly motorcycle sights, which never cease to amaze me) and views of Hanoi’s Temple of Literature.

Shaun’s head was hung low over his coconut juice when I met up with him at the restaurant. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Did your lady friend fly in yet?”

Shaun shook his head in woe. “She woke up this morning and realized she couldn’t take the flight to Vietnam because she’d forgotten to apply for her tourist visa.”

BUMMER.

I didn’t realize until I started this worldwide jaunt that a traveler must always keep visas in mind.

Some regions are easy. Americans can enter the European Union for three months without a visa. In Thailand, American tourists can enter for free, but be careful: you get 30 days if you come in by air, but a paltry 15 days if you arrive by bus. Some tourists to Thailand combat this by doing “visa runs” to a bordering country every time their visa runs out (cross the border and come back to get another 15 or 30 days).

Others (like me, today!) go in advance to the Thai embassy in their current country to arrange for a 60-day extended visa. You do need to leave them your passport, a photo, and your proof of onward travel (ex: flight itinerary), but it’s free! I did a nice little jig today when I realized I could re-pocket the $40 I’d budgeted for the visa. Fancy haircut time!

Other countries offer 30-day visas for a charge on arrival at their land borders and airports, but this is not without its snags. For a fun Cambodia border visa scam story (replete with fake border guards trying to steal money), click here!

This type of visa can also be arranged in advance, but it’s easy enough to get them on arrival if you do it right. Research beforehand, but most cost $20 to $40.

And then there are those tricky countries like Brazil and Vietnam. True to its proud, protectionist style, Vietnam demands that you arrange your visa in advance. There ain’t no wimpy visas-on-arrival, punk– Vietnam only wants visitors who plan ahead!

This planning can be done online if you’re arriving by air at www.myvietnamvisa.com , or at a Vietnamese embassy in another country if you’re arriving by land, usually in its capital city.

Apparently, Cambodia is one of the easiest places to get your Vietnam visa. In Sihanoukville, I handed my hotel clerk-who-is-also-a-travel-agent-like-all-Southeast-Asia-hotel-clerks-are my passport and $45 (it was a steeper price because it was one day rush service), he ran it to a special office, and the next morning he handed my passport back to me with a shiny Vietnamese visa pasted within!

So now you have your visa and you have now entered the country. Woo hoo! But don’t rest easy yet! Clearly mark on your Google Calendar (or other planning device) the date your visa expires, and ensure that you will be out of the country before then. Your passport will be checked when you exit and you’ll have to fork out a fine for each day you overstay your welcome. Verily, that money is better spent on seafood hot-pots.

In short: make sure to research the visa requirements of your destination country well in advance!

If you don’t, your studly Australian love interest will be left all alone and crying into his coconut juice.

Vietnam’s Spunk!
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