Vietnam Visas and Getting the Real Answer
October 1st, 2009 by Jeff

One of the visas that we didn’t get in the U.S. that we were going to need before we arrived in country was the Vietnamese visa.  If you fly into Vietnam you can get it done on the internet and pick it up in the airport as you arrive; but since we plan on taking the train into Vietnam from China this doesn’t apply.  Therefore, I planned to get the visas in China while we were there.  Since Vietnam has a consulate in Shanghai and it just happens to be right down the street from our host’s apartment, I planned on venturing out one morning to drop of the paperwork and then going back in two to three days to pick it up.  Once again our best laid plans get derailed by a national holiday.  With the celebration of 60 years of communism to commence on the 1st of October, the Vietnam consulate has decided to take off the 1st through the 11th to celebrate with their consulate host and neighbor.  We were planning on leaving Shanghai on the 5th and not coming back to this area, especially not wanting to leave our passports behind.

 This new visa scheduling predicament led to one of my first lessons in Chinese culture.  Often times you only get the answer to the exact question you ask, so be sure to phrase the questions properly (and if you don’t get the answer you want, ask the question again in a little different manner).  An abbreviated version of my conversation with the Vietnamese consulate is below:

Q: How long will it take to get a Visa?
A: It will take three days.
Q: So if I bring it in today, Sept 28th, I can have it the Oct 2nd (since the 1st is a holiday)?
A: No
Q: What date will it be ready?
A: October 12th.
Q: Can I get it sooner?
A: No, we will be closed?
Q: Do you have an expedite service?
A: Yes.
Q: If I pay expedite, how soon can I have it?
A: With expedite the passport will be ready tomorrow.

Tom Callarman, our host – and a professor at an international business university here -tells me this communication issue is a challenge he often faces in the business world here and it is definitely a frustration for those of us used to a customer service attitude of “we’ll find a way to help you – and will try to anticipate your every need”. (Also, please don’t take this that all the Chinese are not willing to help – many people have been delightful and have gone out of their way to help, but typically in a non-business setting).

Once I found out that I could get the visas overnight, I went forward with my original plan to get visas for Vietnam in Shanghai.  The only new wrinkle was the timing of Vietnamese embassy office hours.  While on the phone I had asked if I could bring in the passports immediately to get the visas and if they would they be open.  I was told that yes they were open.  When I got there at 12:15 they were closed (for a 2 ½ hour lunch 11:30 – 2:00).  I should have asked for their exact hours (see lessons supposed learned above).  In the end however, all went well.  We have visas in hand and are ready to at least get into the next country!



3 Responses  
Arber writes:
October 4th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

American passport holder, no need visa to enter Philippines you have 30 to 45 days to stay.

Auntie Krissy writes:
October 5th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Are you sure you are not in the Bahamas? Nice to know that there are other places in the world where you have to ask the right question. Story of my life.

Theresa writes:
October 7th, 2009 at 12:44 pm

WOW, Jeff this is so interesting and thanks for sharing. Sounds like we are spoiled with the level of customer service we recieve in the states. However in retrospect to customer service via the phone, I can empathize as with all of the out-sourcing large corporations are doing, it is hard to get anyone to assist the simplest of questions. You do have to ask, ask, ask, and ask some more. Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable travel!

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