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If you are reading this prior to your first visit to Saigon, or just need an update, the following travel tips may assist you in preparing yourself for your arrival.

Before you leave home

  • Make sure you have plenty of business cards (in Vietnamese if you are really serious) with a Vietnam contact address if possible
  • Ensure you have a least a dozen passport photos – you’ll need them for all sorts of applications
  • Photocopy your passport and visa – you may need the copies from time to time
  • Check your immunisation status
  • Make sure you have US dollars (plan to change at least USD50 at the airport for taxis etc.)

What to expect at the airport (Note: these comments relate to Ton Son Nhat airport in HCMC)

On the plane you should be given 4 forms:

  • Arrival/departure card – white/blue duplicate form (complete this on the plane, the immigration officer will take the white copy and return the stamped blue copy to you) – when you check into hotels they will want to see the blue form.
  • Baggage declaration – white/yellow duplicate form (complete this on the plane and hand to the custom’s officers who will stamp it and return the yellow copy to you). If you are bringing any CDs or video tapes you must declare them and may have to hand them over for 3 – 4 days “cultural approval”
  • Visa application – you should already have a copy of your visa application form (white A4 size with your photo on the top right hand corner). If for some reason the travel agent has not returned this to you, take another copy from the airline staff and complete it. Hand the form to the immigration officer with the photo attached, who will keep it and stamp your passport. Note that the visa application is only needed if this is your first visit on a new visa. For subsequent arrivals on the same visa, you do not need to complete the application form.
  • Health declaration – yellow form. You may not receive this as it is not given out consistently. Fill it in and have it in your hand as you enter the immigration hall. If someone asks for it, hand it over. However, they rarely ask for it and while you are rummaging around for it, everyone else is rushing ahead for the immigration queues.
  • When you get off the plane, they will put you on a bus and bring you to the immigration hall. If for some reason you have lost your passport photos, you can have some taken in the immigration hall (about USD5).

After immigration you will see the baggage carousel. You will not see the trolleys as these will be about 150 metres ahead at the far end of the hall. The walk up to the trolleys will be useful to stretch your legs and also to check out how the customs counters work. You will also be able to see the crowds outside which can be fairly thick. Please note that baggage carousel 1 – 3 are before the trolley and carousel 4 is beyond them.

After collecting your bags you catch the eye of the customs officer nearest to a working scanner. As there is no marked lines for queuing travellers tend to mill around in a disorganised press. After stamping your baggage declaration, you will have to put all your luggage on the conveyor belt and it will be scanned for videos/electronic equipment etc. If you successfully get through the scanner, they will return the yellow form to you and you are almost finished.

If they spot something of interest, they will ask you to open your bags for inspection. If an item is removed (typically videos) for cultural approval, they will give you a receipt and instructions on when and where to pick it up (usually 3 or 4 days later).

BEFORE leaving the relative comfort of the customs hall put your passport etc away safely – as the press of friends, family, touts, taxi drivers and pickpockets can be daunting.

If you are not being met, catch a taxi – it should be about 20mins and about 60,000 dong (about USD4.50) to the down town area (in Hanoi about 40mins and about USD20). There is a currency exchange counter outside the arrivals hall – near where the taxis are. Watch out for pick pockets while you are hanging around the area.

When you arrive

  • Check that your valuables are held safely
  • Make sure that the blue immigration form and the yellow customs form are safely kept with your passport – you’ll need both when you leave
  • If you are not staying at a hotel, make sure you register with the police (your landlord would normally do this)
  • Register at the Consulate or Embassy if you will be a permanent resident
  • Find out when the next Sundowner’s is on and just turn up
  • Buy a new sim card for your mobile phone so you can use it in Vietnam

General survival tips

  • Don’t attempt to bring in or take out any illegal items (pornography, subversive materials, weapons, etc.)
  • Don’t drink snake wine if you have an ulcer (probably best not to drink it anyway)
  • Expect to be asked to hand over your passport when checking into a hotel anywhere in Vietnam (it will be returned when you check out)
  • Watch out for pickpockets in the main tourist and shopping areas
  • Avoid drinking ice other than in upmarket restaurants
  • Don’t drink tap water

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