In the early and mid 90s, when Vietnam first opened its doors to foreign visitors, the two-price system was a given. It was not just grocery shop owners who would quote a price 10 or 20 times higher to a foreigner than to a local, but even train and flight tickets would cost twice as much. The rationale was that all foreigners were far richer than Vietnamese, and if they had enough money to travel around, they must have been able to afford the price difference. The official system was abolished in Vietnam about a decade ago, but I recently discovered that it actually just moved abroad.

When I was at school, I tried without success to renew my passport because the Vietnamese embassy would not pick up my calls. This time, being in San Francisco, I could just walk to the consulate to hand in my application. Before I set out, I spent a whole evening listening to horror stories about the consulate from the Vietnamese family I’m staying with – they’ve dealt with the consulate on several occasions, having lived here for more than 15 years. Anyways, the bone of the story was not although the official price is $50 and the process time is 5 days (as listed on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), if you indeed pay $50, you will have to wait at least a month. If you want to get your new passport faster, be willing to fork out a couple of hundred bucks. And the more urgent you need it, the more they’ll charge you. They’re ruthless (không có tình người). All the while, I was asking myself: Should I bring with me a print-out from the Ministry’s website and argue with them, because I can’t let them do whatever they want? Or should I just give in to this system; it’s not worth getting in troubles, especially when I need to get this done, and it’s not in my power anyways? I decided on the former. But truth to be told, it was more because there was no way I could throw away $200 to renew my passport. To hell with that.

In the end, I was lucky to get my passport within the same day for $90. I told myself that the difference was tolerable, considering that it’s “rush” though I well knew that it was not true. It would have cost $180, but I got a 50% “student discount” (yes, it does sound like they were being really nice). They actually wanted to charge me the full price since I already graduated, but I managed to talk them out of it. I really did not have a job, and I was still under my school’s sponsor.

Anyways, I was waiting for my passport at the consulate, I talked to a cute half-Vietnamese guy who was there to apply for a tourist visa. They made him pay $115 for a –hold your breath– 1-month visa. He asked me sheepishly: “Don’t you think it’s rather uhm steep?” And I was like: “What do you mean “rather uhm steep”? That’s outrageous.” Do some comparisons: My 6-month visa to India cost $40, to Peru $30. To the U.S. it was $131, but for a whole year. I didn’t have internet there to check the official price for him. But this is what I found later:
less than 1 month: $40
1 month – 6 month: $70
6 month – year: $110
This is what I’d call steep, but at least not outrageous.

Btw, my friend Trang renewed her passport in Vietnam and it cost 200k VND (about $12). Do they really think that people living and working abroad are all uber-rich? Bullshit. There are dollar millionaires in Vietnam, and what about those living and working in countries whose standard of living is comparable to, or even lower than that of Vietnam?

Go Vietnam go!