Two days ago, we arrived here in Hanoi, in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, after an overnight flight from Cairo via Bangkok. We departed Cairo at midnight and arrived at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport at about 14:00 local time. After a four hour connection, we then proceeded to Hanoi.
Before we embarked on this journey, I went online to learn more about the entry requirements for the various countries I planned to visit using my Commonwealth of Dominica passport for entry, which I have used to visit dozens of countries worldwide. After consulting the entry guidelines posted there, I confirmed that Vietnam remains a "visa on arrival" with respect to Dominica passports. That means it's possible to obtain a visitor's visa with very few advance formalities.
After searching for "visa on arrival," I found a number of companies that could assist. After choosing one of them, I entered my name, and then chose "Dominica" for my nationality. I then entered my flight details, my passport number and paid a US$20 fee. Two days later, I received an email letter written in English from the Vietnam Immigration Department giving me permission to enter the country. The email instructed me to present that letter upon arrival, along with a passport photo and US$25 for single entry or US$50 for a multiple entry visa.
Upon arrival in Hanoi, my wife and I proceeded to a window designated "Visa on Arrival." We handed our passports and photos over and completed a brief application form in English. After about five minutes, the clerk collected the visa fee and placed visas into our passports. After clearing passport control with our newly issued visas, we reclaimed our luggage and took a taxi to our hotel.
Vietnam is a country in the midst of profound change. It is "socialist" in name only; there is a largely unbridled market economy with many opportunities for business and investment, especially if you can adjust your western expectations to more of an Asian framework.
Historically, Vietnam had an agriculturally based economy. This is rapidly changing as multinational corporations set up factories to take advantage of Vietnam's friendly, relatively well-educated, and hard-working population. Tourism and energy production (especially oil) are also becoming increasingly more important.
Wages remain low by global standards, making Vietnam an exporter of labor, both skilled and unskilled. A good friend here is a government licensed overseas recruiter. He sends hundreds of Vietnamese citizens abroad annually to the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia, among other countries. Vietnamese law strictly regulates the recruitment process. Mandatory licensing requirements exist for all recruitment agencies and each prospective employee must undergo training in a government approved training center.
Whenever I travel internationally, I try to interact with locals to understand better the cultural, political, and economic environment of the country I'm visiting. Here in Vietnam, I found that most people are grateful for what they have, but aspire for more. Older Vietnamese who remember the war with the United States that ended in 1975, are especially thankful for peaceful conditions that have prevailed for the last four decades. Anyone under the age of 40, of course, has no memory of that war.
Vietnam is a long narrow nation oriented roughly north to south. Traveling south, I found people to be somewhat less supportive of the government than their northern counterparts. I recall a visit I made to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) a few months ago where almost everybody I spoke to reminisced about life "back in the days of the old Republic" as they knew it or their parents or grandparents knew it.
One fact of life in Vietnam to which locals must adjust is foreign exchange control. It's not uncommon to see black-market currency exchanges in the street, although the exchange rate at commercial banks isn't that different from the "street" rate. Gold imports were banned for a time, although that prohibition was relaxed in 2011.
However, an article in yesterday's edition of Viet Nam News, the national English language daily, stated that transporting gold out of the country may soon be banned. The government has also proposed that Vietnamese as well as foreign travelers wearing gold jewelry weighing more than 300 grams would have to declare the jewelry to customs and pay an export tax before leaving the country. Exceptions would be made for emigrants, who would be permitted to export up to 1 kg of gold, but only upon applying for a permit issued by the State Bank of Vietnam. Current law allows gold to be exported, but it must be declared to customs upon departure. An official of the State Bank justified the proposal by saying it was required to "strengthen the management of gold bullion and raw gold to keep the market stable."
Some wealthier Vietnamese residents are interested in obtaining a second passport. The desire for a second passport exists to obtain better travel opportunities, because the Vietnamese passport offers visa-free travel to less than 30 countries. These are mainly the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with a few others—including Dominica. Most other countries require visas for entry by Vietnamese passport-holders. Because of Vietnam's status as a labor exporter, many countries routinely deny visas to Vietnamese citizens, unless they already have a job offer in the destination country.
Of course, improved options for travel is only one reason to consider acquisition of a second passport. There are many more, as my colleague Mark Nestmann discusses here.
The Nestmann Group, Ltd. are government appointed and licensed agents for second passports and citizenship in the Commonwealth of Dominica. We also assist clients in obtaining a second passport from the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. If you're interested, just let us know.
(P.T. Freeman is a former U.S. citizen and a friend and business partner of Mark Nestmann.)
Copyright © 2012 by The Nestmann Group, Ltd.
P.S. You can meet P.T. Freeman personally at The Nestmann Group's upcoming "Escape from America" seminar Oct. 26-27, in Scottsdale, Arizona. P.T. will be speaking on his experience expatriating from the United States as well as practical strategies to travel on a second passport. Click here for more information and special early-bird pricing.