We did a visa run from Vietnam to Laos recently, and everything was fine - except the weather. We happened to do the visa run in the middle of a typhoon, so we had to quickly change our plans and convert our motorbike road trip into a one-day trip to the border and back. Read on to find out how our visa run from Da Nang to Lao Bao turned out.
This time, because of the weather, I had to rely heavily on Shutterstock for photos, including the featured image.
What is a visa run?
A visa run means that when your tourist visa to the country you are staying at expires, you leave the country before the expiration and come back in a short period of time with a new visa.
It can be different in every country. In some places it’s easier, other countries make it more difficult. Most of the time, countries have some kind of regulation in place about how many times you are allowed to do this.
Preparing for the visa run
What do you do before a visa run? Of course, you spend hours on the internet, going through all the posts you can find on Google. And of course, you spend some time in the local expat Facebook groups too, reading about everyone’s experiences.
Then you do your itinerary, book your accommodation (if any) and your transport. In case you need to use the services of a visa agent, contact them as quickly as you can.
I found an excellent post about how to do the visa run from Da Nang to Lao Bao. It is an in-depth description; you can read it here. I definitely don’t want to repeat all the information that’s already available in that post. My mini-post is more like a “we tried it and managed to do it” kind of quick check-in.
Alone or with an agent?
When doing a visa run, most of the time, you have two choices. Either you do it alone, or with an agent. We only ever did visa runs with agents, but I know quite a few people who do it alone.
This time, researching our possibilities it turned out that the cheapest way is to do a visa run to Lao Bao, the Laos land border closest to us. And since we were to re-enter Vietnam on a land border, we needed an invitation letter, specifically for this border. And this was the point where we needed a Vietnamese visa agent.
We planned to rent two bikes and do a short, three- or four-day-trip to the border and back. Although it’s not the most secure thing to do, especially in Vietnam, we like to ride. We made a five-day motorbike road trip from Da Lat to Hoi An, following the coast. It was quite an experience.
In comes mother nature. A typhoon reached Vietnam right before we were to go to the border. It was hard to convince ourselves to cancel the motorbike project, but - as it turned out - it was the only wise thing to do. On the day we left it wasn’t raining in Hoi An any more, but some 100 kilometres further we met the typhoon, and it wasn’t fun.
Thanks to the weather, I don’t have many pictures. It was raining so hard that it didn’t make sense to stop on every corner to take photos.
The visa run
We booked a private car through the visa agent and met with the driver early in the morning, in Da Nang. With three stops, we reached the border in 6 hours. The process itself took a bit long, almost 2 hours, probably because it took us some time to find the right queues. On the way back we stopped twice and reached our home base earlier than expected, around 8 pm.
The process was easy. Ask your agent in advance about the Laos Visa on Arrival price since there’s no written chart or whatever about it at the border in English. Also, in our case, I found different information online about the Laos visa price for our nationality.
The cost of the visa depends on your nationality. Try to google your country’s official websites. In case you don’t find useful info, or it doesn’t look trustworthy, double-check with your visa agent.
You’ll have to pay for:
an invitation letter for the exact land border at which you intend to do the visa run (in this case, for Lao Bao) - you pay the agent
Laos Visa on Arrival fee - at the border
stamping fee on re-entering Vietnam - at the border, Vietnam side
transport - you usually pay in advance
passport photos - in advance
food and drinks on the way
A short sum-up of the process
You will need:
an invitation letter for the exact land border
the required number of passport photos (check the size requirements!),
the required application forms, both for entering Laos and then re-entering Vietnam, filled, and your passport photo attached,
the price of the Laos Visa on Arrival and the Vietnam stamping fee in cash. At the time we went, they accepted both USD and VND at the border.
Once at the border, first, you have to get a Vietnam exit stamp. Then, find the place and the officers where you can enter Laos. Here you give them your filled application form, then the money for the Laos visa. You get the Laos visa and the Laos entry stamp.
Then you go back to the Vietnam side and first get a Laos exit stamp. Then look for the Vietnamese officers. Give them your application form and the stamping fee. You get your new Vietnam visa. Look for the other Vietnamese officers, who check your new visa and give you the Vietnam entry stamp.
After you’re done, leave the main building. At the gate, there’s another passport check before you leave the border and that’s it.
Please note that you can pay both for the Laos visa fee and the Vietnam stamping fee at the border in VND, but the exchange rate they use won’t be the best. On the Laos side, they did not accept three of our USD banknotes, because they were stained slightly. On the Vietnam side, the officers took it.
If you plan to make the trip alone (by bus, motorbike or car), your visa agent can explain to you what you have to do at the border. Or you can read the post I found useful (it is linked above).
Another alternative is to use the regular visa run service of the visa agent. Our agent, for example, offers a whole package, including invitation letter, one-day minivan trip to the border and back, lunch and snacks on the way.
Our visa agent
We were absolutely happy with the services of our visa agent. I found her through the post I mentioned before. Lynn and her husband took care of everything with a very professional and friendly attitude.
I only had to send them our passport details. They provided an invitation letter for the Lao Bao border, filled the required documents for us and attached our passport photos before we left Da Nang. We only had to hand it over to the officers when we reached the border.
They were quick and precise with communication, before and while we were on the way to the border and back.
When we changed our mind in the last minute due to the typhoon and cancelled our motorbike trip, they were still able to arrange a private car to take us to the border and back.
They kindly arranged pick-up and drop-off for us in Hoi An.
No, we’re not affiliated with them, and I don’t get paid for writing this post, I’m just super nice. Joke aside, I like it when someone has a well-working, well-priced service, and I like to support small, family businesses.
As usual, don’t hesitate to put your questions or your own experience in the comments below.
Have a beautiful day, everyone!