Last week, Viet Nam News asked its readers about anticipated visa fee reductions, which will lower the price by half for foreign passport holders and overseas Vietnamese. Here are some of their comments.
W.A. Arrindell (Willem), Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Viet Nam's plan to cut visa fees is a good idea. This will quite likely encourage more visitors to Viet Nam. The question as to whether this cut will also lead to greater investments overall is a complicated matter that involves several microeconomic and macroeconomic factors that are difficult for me to grasp because I am not an economist.
However, besides lowering visa fees, Viet Nam should also take into account that experiences and observations made by visitors who are presently in the country could influence the number of foreigners who will likely visit Viet Nam in the next couple of years. I will address only three in this brief contribution: poverty, criminality due to poverty, and hygiene in the food industry and on the streets.
Despite serious efforts that are being made by the Vietnamese authorities to alter their poverty-reduction strategy by focusing on long-term sustainable results (following 23 years of success in reducing the poverty rate), this alteration has proven to be unsustainable. The poverty that remains is visible on the streets to tourists: underfed mothers with or without underfed children, and underfed schoolchildren who walk through tourist streets begging for money or any small contribution in order to satisfy their hunger; street vendors who harass tourists over and over again, over days or weeks, with the same products, some of whom claim to have an empty stomach; motorbike gangs who operate during the nighttime and daytime trying to obtain I-Phones, I-Pads, cameras and other valuable possessions of tourists. It isn't safe to walk with anything of value in one's hands on the streets of HCM City, where I'm staying in a hotel (in District 1) for the eighth week. It seems to me that the police are not very forthcoming in dealing with these aggressive thefts, but they should if insurance companies abroad are to deal with and compensate for the losses that tourists suffer.
In addition to communicating to potentially new travellers to Viet Nam that this country is very beautiful, with very nice people and a splendid cuisine, we as tourists also tend to communicate the extremely unpleasant or bad experiences and observations that I have described above following our return home. This could influence decision-making of potential visitors to Viet Nam.
Perfect countries do not exist. But, to tackle the problem, Vietnamese authorities may want to send civil servants to countries like Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland to have a look and learn how to combat poverty, criminality and problems related to the management of food safety and public hygiene. These countries may serve as nations that could inspire Viet Nam on the relevant issues. As to combating poverty, for instance, the aforementioned countries all maintain a welfare state (a set of government programs) designed to provide economic security. Denmark, for example, provides universal health care, college education is free and students receive a stipend. Day care is also heavily subsidised.
Stan Fenwick, Australian, Bangkok
The news that the visa fees will be reduced is excellent. However, I would also urge the Government to change the way in which the visa process is carried out. Currently, it is a complicated process compared to other ASEAN countries where you arrive, purchase a visa and proceed to immigration - very quick and welcoming. To have to apply online then queue for a long time when you land to enter your wonderful country is very painful.
David Wood, English, Nha Trang
The lowering of the visa fees will help but it does not go far enough, for a start it should be a 30 day visa not 15, in fact it could be that the 15 day visa is forcing people to leave when they actually want to stay which is crazy and defeats the whole object.
Also why the approval letter on VOA, what purpose does it really serve other than to cost the tourist money and is it really needed, every foreigner in Viet Nam is registered each evening through their hotel or by a landlord if in a private house, it is just one more thing to deter tourists and it does deter them from coming.
As a long term resident of Nha Trang I have watched in dismay at their efforts here to put things right, they have built nice new toilets on the beach but have allowed people to set up shops selling food and snacks in the toilets, I have seen people look down into the toilets and just walk away.
One of the biggest problems Viet Nam has is the non return of tourists and people trying to cross the road to the beach in Nha Trang is reason enough to never return, they now have men stationed at various points along Tran Phu Street to assist the tourist but more than half the time they are either not there or can't be bothered, what's needed is either bridges and underpasses or traffic lights, it really is a major factor for people not returning especially families.
Gary, Australian, Western Australia
I don't think the visa reduction will increase tourists. First they need to get rid of the stupid approval letter and make the 30-day visa free like it is in Thailand. I have only just returned from my first visit to Viet Nam 3 weeks ago, and although I loved it I will not return for further visits because of all the hassle. Australia is on your doorstep and would probably visit Viet Nam in droves if all the visa hassles were removed.
Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi
I have a "friend" who is overstaying his visa. He plans to pay the fine and (hopefully) end up saving money on expensive and inconvenient visa runs. He has taught English here for a long time.
Foreigners enjoy rock-star status here. We ride motorcycles without helmets, go through red lights and don't carry a valid driver's licence. As long as they don't make trouble and the police are not called, why not let foreigners in with free visas? More tourists mean more hotel rooms rented, more tour buses filled and more souvenirs bought. This hard currency far outweighs any money charged to administer the visa itself. Look to Thailand and copy their visa policy.
Open your borders to showcase your unique culture, beautiful landscape and great food. I personally guarantee they'll be back, and they will bring friends. Viet Nam also needs to examine and revamp the foreigner spouse registration system and make it easier for people to retire here.
If that is done, my "friend" might never leave.
Ville, 27, Finland, Hoi An
As a European traveler, I think this is good news. I entered Viet Nam for the first time a couple of days ago.
It is hard to say whether reducing the cost will bring more tourists to Viet Nam or not, but for many budget-aware young travelers visiting southeast Asia, it just might tip the scale towards entering your country. Tourism brings money and encourages entrepreneurship, providing locals with more income and well-being.
So, it is a good-for-you-good-for-me deal.
Also the "return home visa" for $5 is a great idea because the return flight tickets are usually a lot cheaper compared to, for example, arriving to Ha Noi one-way and departing one-way from, let's say Vientiane. This would certainly serve many travelers well and help Viet Nam's economy.
Steven Fuyer, Thu Dau Mot City, Binh Duong, Viet Nam
Encouraging tourists to come to Viet Nam is a nice effort to boost the economy. But what about those who are foreigners and their spouses are Vietnamese and live in this country?
I am a European holding an EU passport and married a Vietnamese woman in 2008. We also have a 7-year old daughter. Since 2009, I have lived and worked in Viet Nam. I received a 5-year Marriage Visa, which must be extended every 3 months.
I am not against this – aside from it being a bit embarrassing to make unnecessary trips to the Immigration Office – but can be married couples and families be treated with less discrimination? What if we want to live in Viet Nam? Not every woman or Vietnamese national wants to live in a foreign country or in their spouse's country. I think the Vietnamese Government should increase the 3-month extensions for families (with a foreign spouse) to 6 months, or even to 1 year on a renewal basis; make it easier to live in Viet Nam, if the married couple decides to, and make the Temporary Resident Permit easier to get after 6 months of stay and/or 1 year of marriage.
I hope the Vietnamese Government and authorities will look into this issue as soon as possible and process Visa requests for foreign husbands/wives to make it easier to stay in Viet Nam if they choose to. Otherwise, it sends the message that tourists are welcome, but families are not. — VNS