Our plane was scheduled to land in Ho Chi Minh at 10:30 PM and we were planning on taking a low-cost shuttle to our hostel. Unfortunately, we were flying from China, so naturally, we got in at 2 AM.
We had filled out our visa papers in advance and we only had carry-on luggage, so all we had to do was pay $25 each for the visa fee. Although we expected to haggle with the drivers for the price of a taxi ride, we did not expect to do it with the border police…
Since the exchange rate for dollars is pretty horrible in Asia, we decided to pay the fee in CNY. The officers looked up something on the computer, nodded at each other and typed 500 into a large calculator. Our jaws dropped to the floor because 500 CNY is almost $75. Defeated, I was ready to hand over the cash when Isaac spoke up.
Isaac: “No, that’s too much, $50 is 330 RMB.”
Officer: “Go to the exchange office then.”
Isaac: “Come on, it’s 2 AM, I don’t want to go to the office.”
Officer: “Then pay 500.”
Isaac: “I’ll give you 400.”
Officer: *stink eye*
Isaac: “Here’s 400″ *hands him 400*
Officer: *accepts money and gives us our passports”
Me: “Run before he changes his mind!”
I don’t know how common this is and I definitely wouldn’t recommend trying it. We probably got lucky because it was 2 AM and the officers wanted to get to bed as much as we did. We did not arrive in Vietnam with the intention of underpaying for the visa and probably risked deportation for arguing with them.
We were also told in advance to bring the exact change in US dollars. The issue was that the exchange office in China also charge closer to 500 RMB instead of the fair 330. The reason the guards asked for so much in the first place is because they themselves will have trouble to get a fair exchange rate. Anyway, haggling for our visa was a fascinating way to start our trip to Vietnam!