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Step by step: what to do if your passport is stolen in Vietnam and how to exit the country (in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon)

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6 days ago my daypack was stolen out of my hands by a motorbike rider in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Here's why I was robbed and how to avoid it. But my biggest resulting problem from the theft was this: my passport with my tourist visa to enter/remain/exit Vietnam was gone. I've just completed the process or reapplying for both missing documents, making lots of errors along the way. To help you, here's what to actually do, where to go and what to bring to get your passport and visa back so you can remain in and then exit Vietnam.

Please note: My experiences are based on having a German passport stolen with a 30 day tourist visa in it. There may be reasons specific to your case that mean getting a new passport/visa differs to mine.

Rules of engagement

  1. You are not alone. This is happens to tourists around the world every day. Your consulate has very specific procedures to deal with this. In many ways, this is what they are there to do
  2. If you were legally in the country to start with, then you don’t have to worry about getting a new passport and visa. It’s not if; it’s when
  3. The only organisations you need to have on your check list of places to visit are 1) the police 2) your embassy or consulate and 3) the Vietnamese border immigration authorities, in that order
  4. The only thing that can go against you is weekends and public holidays now. Apart from the police, the key organisations you’re visiting are shut at the weekends and public holidays. There’s no way round it. So check public holidays in your home country, and the country you’re visiting, to avoid bitter disappointment at a time when you’ll already be less than happy

How long does it take to get a new passport and tourist visa to exit Vietnam?

About 3-7 working days, not including weekends. I was robbed at 13:30 on a Saturday. The police did a report on the Saturday. Nothing could be done on Sunday. Monday - Thursday I waited with no news. On Thursday late I got my new passport and went straight to apply for a new visa. Friday morning it was all sorted. I missed my first set of flights. But I’m booked to leave tomorrow (Saturday). So, in total, 7 days from incident to flying.

Things you'll need to collect along the way

  1. A stamped police report stating that your passport (and everything else) has been stolen 
  2. Two (or more - get more) new passport photos (I recommend Saigon Photo Centre, 114 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, phường 8, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam +84 28 3825 8735. They took 8 professional passport photos to biometric standards, ready in 20 minutes, cost 70,000VND)
  3. A new passport or temporary travel document which acts as your passport
  4. A new visa to remain in, and then leave, Vietnam

What to do and the order to do them

A - Go to the nearest police station first

Things you need with you:

  • nothing. Just go and tell them what happened

You are going to the police to report the crime and get a police report. The stamped police report will allow you to start the process of getting a new passport. Only with a new passport can you get a new visa and leave the country. It will also be vital for your insurance company.

Don’t go to the Embassy first - it wastes time when time is of the essence. I went to the embassy first. It was the wrong move. They cannot help you without the police report.

  1. In Vietnam, you can only report crimes at the closest police station to the incident. There are loads of police stations but if you go to one further away, they'll won't help. They also don't seem to know the right one to go to. As soon as it happens, Google the nearest police station - or get someone else to tell you where the nearest police station is - and go straight there
  2. Explain what happened. It’s possible that the local police won’t speak good English. But they are police, so they know people only come to them with problems. They just need to work out which one
  3. They will ask you to fill out a police report form stating exactly what happened, when it happened and exactly where (find the approximate address on someone’s phone) and sign it
  4. They might ask you to hand write another form - I can’t tell you why - with all the same details
  5. They need to “investigate” the crime, i.e. log it in their system. In order to get the stamped report, you may have to go away and wait until a more senior officer from a more central station comes to sign and stamp it
  6. My experience with the police in Vietnam: In my case, I was met with understanding and empathy. They were caring: let me use the bathroom, plug in my laptop to charge and helped with translations using their mobiles. I’d read comments online saying that some police ask for money at this stage. I didn’t experience this. The theft of my belongings took place at 13:30 on a Saturday. The police handed me a stamped police report at 20:00 that evening. They were great
  7. Tip: every new document you receive in this process should be copied. Whilst days seem slip away fast, the evenings will help you to regroup. These are the times to take stock, try to rest, find a local internet cafe, print out photos of your passport and photocopy your police report

B - Go to the Embassy

Things you need to bring:

  • police report
  • passport photos
  • local currency for your new travel document

What is the nationality on your stolen passport? That’s the Embassy or Consulate you need to go to. They cannot help you until your have a police report. You don’t need an appointment; you have an emergency. They are here to help citizens of your country and they have seen this situation before. They work Monday to Friday. Their office hours are often 8:30am-4pm with a pretty decent break for lunch.

  1. Take your police report and passport photos to the consulate or embassy on the earliest working day possible. Take photocopies of your police report, planned flights and if you have the details or copies of your old passport, that will help
  2. Let them know your travel plans. They take it seriously if you’ve got a flight to catch. But they can’t go faster than their systems allow
  3. If you’re travelling straight back to your home country, the type of replacement document you require may be different to the one you need if you’re travelling to another country afterwards 
  4. The embassy will explain the process ahead. They will most likely ask you to fill out a form to get a new, temporary passport
  5. The next step takes time. Since you have no official ID, the embassy will send your request for a new document to your home country for verification. The home country must receive this request, confirm your identify and then your consulate or embassy can proceed. Remember, you’re often in a different time zone from your home country. This can count against you. It certainly did for me. So try to expect that this takes a few days and don't let it get you down even more
  6. As you might sense: this all takes time. Getting robbed on a Saturday isn’t the worst thing. It means you can get your police report by the Sunday, head to the embassy on Monday and you have the highest number of consecutive days ahead of you to get your applications through. If you're robbed on a Friday, there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ll have a couple of extra days to try to regroup - do your best to calm down, for your own sake - and then start the process on the Monday
  7. If there’s a public holiday in either your visited country, or in your home country, your embassy or consulate will not be open. And they will not process anything on those days. I experienced this and it meant I missed my flights out of the country. That is just super bad luck and nothing can be done, as I found out
  8. Pay the embassy’s fee for processing and giving you a new document: I had to pay £65 for my temporary passport which will last a year but lets me fly on to another country, other than home. Bring cash in the local currency. They’ll let you know when and how to pay
  9. My new temporary passport was applied for on Monday this week and I got it today, Thursday - 4 days later. That was partly because of a public holiday getting in the way and partly and time zone issue
  10. Tip: take a photo of your new document immediately. You may need this passport number for booking new flights and you’re about to give it to the Vietnamese authorities to get a new visa. So take copies of some sort. Thinking about it, your embassy might even do it. But I totally forgot to ask
  11. I got frustrated with the German consulate. They suggested everything would go really quickly. But it didn’t. The reality crushed me because I missed my flights to leave and I didn't have enough time that week to get a new Chinese visa either. I was really frustrated with them (but basically with myself for having got into this situation). There’s no point in getting upset at the embassy people. You need them on your side - because there’s a chance they can do things just a little quicker if they feel for you. They can also slow things down, just a little, if they want to

C - Go to the Vietnam Border Immigration Authority

You can only get a new visa if you have a new, valid travel document.

 Things you need:

  • police report in original and a copy
  • a copy of your old passport and visa if you have it
  • your new travel document from the consulate
  • cash to pay for your new visa
  • form NA5 which you can pick up and fill in when you arrive

Note for people with dual nationality: Can I enter Vietnam on a passport of one nationality and then leave on passport of a different nationality?

No. I have dual nationality. I travelled into Vietnam on a German passport. That’s where my visa for Vietnam was. That’s the one that was stolen. My British passport wasn’t stolen. I thought, since I had another valid travel document, I could get a visa in the British passport and get out on time. It’s not the case. Under Vietnamese law you must enter and leave the country using the same nationality. 

The following instructions to get a new exit visa for Vietnam are specific to Ho Chi Minh City but the general process may help in other cities in Vietnam.
  1. The new border immigration authority building is at 333-337 Nguyen Trai, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Google will point you to 254 Nguyen Trai just across the road but it’s this big new shiny building at 333
  2. It opens at 07:30 Monday to Friday but the staff start working at 08:00. They have a long break between 11:00 and 14:00. But again they again open the doors at 13:30
  3. Take your new travel document, original and copy of your police report and a copy of your old passport and visa if you have it. Go to the building, go through the gates and up the steps
  4. Look for the man on the left by the entrance. He’s meant to greet people and help them take a number and fill in the right forms. He’s got the forms in his tiny desk. Ask for form NA5 Application form for Visa Issuance, stay Extension. Fill in form NA5 and have it ready with your other documents
  5. Wait for your number to be called and hope you have a super nice person. Explain the situation and wait 3-4 days for them to give you a new visa. If they take pity on you, they can do it quicker. My super helpful staff member processed mine in 24 hours 
  6. They will take your new passport (that’s why you need a copy of it, just in case) and process your new visa application. You pay for your new visa at the time you make the application (I paid $10 in Vietnamese Dong) after a little wait at the different window
  7. Take your receipt and return on the required date to pick up your new passport and visa when they tell you - possible the next day or definitely in the next 3-5 working days. You need to rest your receipt behind the glass of the counter 11 at the time they specifically tell you. When they have your passport and visa, they will call out your name over the muffled tannoy
  8. The visa you receive acts as though you've entered the country on that day and gives you an extra 15 days in the country 
  9. Receive your new passport and visa. Take a photo of it and your visa immediately. Put it in a safe place on your person
  10. Go and live your life again

The end. You’ve done it.

A few final thoughts

I made a lot of mistakes along the way, all of which cost me time: going to embassies on a Saturday, going to the embassy first, calling the UK, calling Germany, then going to a police station near the embassy - all wrong - only to finally head back to the closest local police station to the place it happened.

As I am accustomed, I hatched too many plans to try and get round the system, try and travel out on my other passport and was dismayed every time my ingenious plans didn’t work. There’s one process, basically, and this is it.

Since the theft took place, I’ve been pretty crushed by the whole thing. I felt ashamed, guilty, panicked and like a heavy weight was balanced on my shoulders. I also felt like a failure because I actually design secure travel backpacks for a living - more thoughts on that here.

For the first 5 days there was no way of ascertaining when I was allowed to leave the country. I really felt like it might never end. And this fear stressed me the hell out. But you’ve got to remember: if you were legally in the country to start with, then you will get a new passport, your visa application will be processed. It just takes time. So don't put yourself through extra difficulty thinking it might not work. It will. It's just a matter of time.

6 days ago it happened. Today, I have a temporary but valid travel document and a visa to get out of here. And soon, so will you. 

I hope this helps you. Please share as a reference point for friends travelling to Vietnam.