Overstaying vs. doing visa runs: Some economics on Vietnam


When Vietnam changed the visa rules for this country back in January it put a lot of people in a tight spot. For years many people had been staying and working here as digital nomads and everything was going just fine. Immigration and the people that were using the rules of this country to live and work here seemed to all be on the same page and nobody was ever getting in trouble for endlessly getting tourist visas even though they were not tourists anymore. The officials were very aware that when you came back for your 11th 3-month tourist visa that you were not still checking out the sites. Nobody cared because it was money for everyone and the digital nomads were not working jobs that are meant for Vietnam people.

Then the tap got turned off in January without any notice or reasons given. People had a choice at that point: Get out and take your chances at being let back in, or simply stop obeying visa rules and then face the financial music when they do finally decide to leave.


I'll give credit where credit is due: Vietnam Immigration has always been the most straight-shooting and friendliest of all Immigration officials I have ever encountered anywhere in the world but sometimes the answer is simply "no" when you want another visa. The person behind the counter doesn't have an ounce of malice or bad intention to the applicant when they are denied, it is just a "matter of fact" situation and then they offer advice as to what the person's options are next. This is much better than other countries where they just treat you like a criminal no matter what you are trying to do.

But there were 2 camps after this ruling went into effect

  • The people that were going to try to pay by the rules
  • The people that were simply going to not do visas anymore until they eventually decide to leave

I am in the 2nd category.

In that time I have 2 sets of friends in my condo building that are doing the 1st thing and thus far they have been on one visa run each and I want to look at the economics of all of this.

The first couple decided to take a 2 day (it's possible in one day but it is grueling situation) trip to Laos and back and the costs go like this.

  • around $60 per person for the taxi
  • $45 for the Laos visa where you only stay in Laos for an hour or so
  • $25 for the re-entry visa to Vietnam
  • $25 for the hotel at the border (this was optional but they chose to sleep instead of doing the trip in one day)

So the grand total for one person for this visa run is $155 and at least in my mind I would be considering how much I feel my time is worth because that would be 2 days of wages lost by work I cannot do

The second situation was where another person was NOT granted an E-visa before departure which simply means he is not likely to receive a re-entry visa at a Laos border crossing. Fearing that he would get stranded in Laos far away from civilization and separated from his taxi driver, this guy decided instead to fly to Phnom Penh in Cambodia and I may have spelled that wrong but it is the Capitol of the country.

His expenses were considerably higher.

  • $150 for round trip airfare (which is a really good deal)
  • $300 for a 6 night stay in a Cambodia hotel
  • $25 for the Vietnam visa
  • whatever he spent on food and drink while there - he is a bit of a high-roller so I'm going to guess he spent about $40 a day = $240

His grand total for the 30-day visa run was $715 and it took a week for him to get back. This is NOT what i consider at to be an economical method of staying in any country especially when he has to do it again in a week or so.

Those of us that decided to simply stay until we feel like leaving are going to be facing a maximum fine of $800 regardless of how long we stay. That is the max fine that anyone can be charged by law.

Looking at these costs the guy who is flying around is obviously getting the shortest end of the stick here because as soon as he goes to get his 2nd visa renewal he will have already surpassed the maximum fine that anyone can face. The people who are doing the van visa-runs to the Laos border are going to take 5 months before they reach the $800 threshold.

So for me I think I made the correct choice in simply not doing visas anymore. It remains to be seen if there are going to be any extra consequences such as potential blacklisting when myself and hundreds of other finally decided to turn ourselves in and leave but for most of us, we aren't worried about it since none of us can find any instance where anyone has ever been blacklisted or gotten into any sort of trouble beyond the $800 fine.

So from a purely financial standpoint, those of us that just started to ignore visa rules are going to see the greatest financial benefit from all of this. I don't like breaking laws, even when they are arbitrary laws regarding visas. However, I never would have done this if we had been given reasonable choices at the start of all of this.

Soon I will have surpassed the amount of money I would have spent on visa runs and once I cross that threshold I will be even more secure in the feeling that I made the correct choice here.

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