A comprehensive and simple guide to extending your Vietnam visa from Ho Chi Minh City, including the process details, travel, costs and other tips.
Saigon is a glorious concrete jungle undeniably enriched with food, culture, nightlife and opportunity. It transports many travelers who visit Vietnam into a wonderful world that never sleeps, ultimately growing a desire to extend their Vietnam stay. Although flying out of Vietnam to return seems like an obvious solution to visa extension, it’s both costly and time-consuming. Hence, the money-friendly and accessible alternative is the visa run to the Moc Bai border.
Visa Letter of Approval
Unlike its neighboring countries like Cambodia and Thailand, traveling to Vietnam requires a visa letter of approval. This must be applied for online and generally takes 2 working days. However, at an extra surcharge, you can get the visa letter of approval within 4 hours or 1 day depending on the traveler’s urgency.
A very common misconception amongst travelers is that the visa letter of approval is the actual visa itself. This is incorrect: the Vietnam Visa and Vietnam letter of approval are two separate things. The visa letter of approval is merely Vietnam allowing a foreigner enter into the country. All travelers must present it to the customs agent at the Vietnam checkpoint. It’s mandatory to have it in order to retrieve the actual visa. Depending on what type of visa (1-3 months; single/multiple entries; business or tourist; normal or urgent), the visa letter of approval costs between 12 USD to 89 USD.
Travelers already in Vietnam would have previously obtained a visa letter of approval prior to entry. Those looking to extend their visa will require a new visa letter of approval. For this, they need an agency. It generally takes up to 7 working days at a cost up to 310 USD. Most agencies will simply need a photo of both your passport and original visa stamp, with a payment upon collection of the letter.
All foreigners traveling to Vietnam require a tourist visa with the option of a single-entry visa (25 USD stamping fee) or multiple-entry visa (50 USD stamping fee). Both of which are valid for a duration of 1 – 3 months. A single-entry visa allows visitors to tour Vietnam only once and is canceled at the point of exit even if the visa itself is yet to expire. A multiple-entry visa allows travelers to come and go as they please without having to pay additional visa fees upon return.
Visas are obtainable and payable when entering Vietnam and can be paid either in Vietnam dongs or US dollars. 2 passport size photos (4x6cm) are also required for submission at the visa entry port. Travelers wishing to extend their stay in Vietnam by doing the ‘Cambodia border run’ will receive their visa at the Moc Bai border. Similarly to their initial entry into the country, they must pay a fee of 50 USD and provide 2 passport size photos. The new visa is valid from the date of entry, not from the expiry date of the former visa. However, overstaying even for one or two days may result in a penalty fee of 500,000 VND per day. So, it is better to schedule the ‘Cambodia visa border run for the very day of the former Vietnam visa’s expiration.
Traveling to and from Cambodia
Traveling to and from the Moc Bai border form Saigon is a seamless bus journey. Although the map says the trip is only 1.5 hours, Vietnam’s heavy traffic and frequent bus stops make it roughly a 3-hour journey. Depending on what time of the day, the bus can range from being completely empty to jam-packed. Once again, it is Vietnam, so aisles and seats may be filled with passengers, boxes, fruit and even standing fans. Anything is possible in Vietnam. Some vendors even will hop in to sell drinks and snacks to border runners.
The Saigon to Moc Bai bus service is the blue #703 bus and runs every half an hour between 08:30 and 19:30. This bus is caught at an unnamed bus station located at Cong Vien 23/9 Nguyen Trai and Pham Ngu Lao intersection. The bus departure point is at the back at Nguyen Trai street, so it never passes in front of the station. Commuters hop in while it is parked near the restrooms at the back. The cost per journey is a bargain, only 40 000 VND (< 2 USD) is payable on the bus and does not require a reservation in advance.
Getting the Vietnam Visa at the Moc Bai Border
Upon getting off the bus at the end of a dirt road, you’ll find yourself to be at the Moc Bai border, what seems like in the middle of nowhere. Many tourists fret at this point because there is absolutely no signage or direction. There is a deserted car park to the right of the bus stop. It is a matter of simply walk straight through this car park and the Vietnam border center will be to the right. Following the row of trucks in line for clearance, it is an easy 5-minute walk.
Inside the border center, there will be a standard security clearance check through an X-ray security machine. Exiting Vietnam does not require any forms and is a simple, general customs check of passport and identification.
Once receiving a Vietnam exit stamp, the 5-minute walk to the Cambodia border is directly ahead. Upon arriving at the Cambodian border, fill out a simple form with an attachment of 1 passport photo. The entry fee is 35 USD. You must pay this to an agent prior to walking through customs to retrieve a Cambodian visa stamp. The customs agent well keeps one half of the form and return the remaining half required to exit Cambodia.
Once exiting the building, adjacent to it is the border exit, in the form of a customs booth. Exiting at customs is simply a submission of both the passport and the form that was returned at point-of-entry.
Entry back into Vietnam is through the rear entrance of the initial Vietnam entry center. Complete an entry form and submit it to a customs agent in a booth to the right, along with 50 USD for the visa, 2 passport photos and passport. Once the agent attaches the visa sticker to the passport, travelers may re-enter Vietnam by going through customs and retrieving the entry stamp.
At the bus stop and all border points, there will be taxis and motorcyclists waiting for passengers. At a small fee, they drive travelers to and from the borders. However, drivers coerce foreigners into believing that the distance to and from borders is quite far and not walkable.
Scammers at the Vietnam exit border are the most worrisome and aggressive. Dressed in blue uniforms with name tags and lanyards to appear legitimate, these scammers will approach all foreigners walking into the Vietnam customs center.
Recommendation to travelers: only engage with government officials dressed in khaki and disregard those in blue. They will offer to either assist or fill-out the entry form and then aggressively charge a fee.
Another common scam is that if the official customs agent is absent (lunchtime), scammers will attempt to convince travelers that an additional fee (20 USD – 30 USD) is required in order to gain immediate entry. If you decline the bribe, the scammers will lie in suggesting that if the fee is not paid, travelers will have to wait a further 2-3 hours in order to obtain the visa sticker. In such cases, it’s best to disengage and patiently wait for a government official.
Moc Bai Bus
Although the Moc Bai Bus is certainly safe, travelers should keep watch of their belongings. Additionally, passengers should absolutely avoid getting off the bus at any point in the journey. This is a local public bus, therefore there are no bathroom stops whatsoever. Getting down at any given stop before arriving Moc Bai means having to wait for the next bus, that may come in no less than half an hour. After such a long day, the last thing necessary is to be abandoned between Saigon and Moc Bai. Or much worse, getting left behind by the last bus returning to the city, which is at 7 pm, when it’s already dark.
Is it worth it?
It may seem daunting to pursue a visa extension via the Cambodian border run. But the best approach is to be aware and calm. The visa run is safe and many travelers complete it every single day. Locals are so used at this sight that they can be very helpful once they catch the situation. Although it requires a bit of effort, it gets the job done in less than a day, easy on the pocket and ultimately, allows travelers to remain in beautiful and exciting Vietnam.