Visa Run - After getting New UK Passport

If your passport expired or run out of pages while in Vietnam, you can apply for new passport through UK Visa Application Centre, resco building, saigon.. See my previous post here. But what if you want to extend the stay by doing a visa run (with your new passport). Read on for my experience.

Bit of background. I entered Vietnam at Saigon Tan Son Airport on 12 September with a single entry three month tourist visa. It was expiring on 12 December. On entering Vietnam My passport had 1 full page + 0.5 page + 0.5 page. 1 page was used for Vietnam visa. Nearly 0.5 page used for entry stamp. So applied for new passport at Resco building.

Around 01 December I got a visa approval letter from Chi's Cafe, again single entry 3 months, starting 12 December. Booked Airasia return flights from SGN to KUL for 12 December. Flight leaving SGN at 01:45. Return flight from KUL 14:35. Before going to airport, On 11 December I checked in using mobile. However, boarding pass was not issued for mobile, instead message popped-up saying print them using machines located at the airport. On arriving at SGN airport, found that there were no self-check-in machines. Went to the airasia counter for check-in.

Handed new passport. She looks at passport and say's "where is your visa". Handed her my old passport. She say's "Okay, you have to go to immigration and get the visa transfered". I walk to the immigration office, just two minute walk. Spoke to a nice lady, who seemed to consult a senior officer, Then say's to me. "no need to transfer". The senior officer say's "your visa expires tomorrow" (it was still 11/12 when I spoke with them). I walk back to check in counter tell the same airasia staff member "immigration said no need for visa transfer". She say's "can you ask them to write on a piece of paper that there is no need", and hands me a piece of paper.

I then tell her "Do you mind writing exactly (in Vietnamese) what you want them to write". She is not keen about this. Speaks to her boss who was nearby, shuts down her counter, then walks with me to immigration and speaks to immigration in Vietnamese. The same two officers confirm no visa transfer is necessary. So we (the counter girl and I) walk back and she check's me in. One thing (quite significant to what happens later in KUL) she asks me while checking-in "so you are returning tomorrow?", Obviously, she can see my return flight, as both flights were booked within the same booking.

Okay, so  far so good!. There wasn't much of a delay, except the walking back and forth to immigration counter a couple of times. Flight to KUL extremely pleasant. In fact we arrived 10-20 minutes earlier than expected. Return flight is at 14:35, and I wasn't going to hang around the airport for something like 8 hours (when the check-in for return flight would start). So, head to Kuala Lampur Sentral on Sky Coach to do some shopping then return to KUL Airport at around 12:00pm.

While arriving at the airport I check-in via mobile. I ask the information counter if I need to check-in at the counter if I've already checked-in via mobile. He say's proceed to gate if I've already checked-in. So I do exactly that. After 2x security checks (one where I was rudely told to finish the water bottle even though it was clearly below 100ml), and what seemed like miles of walking to the correct gate, it turned out to be only 13:30hrs. At this point I'm starting to feel extremely tired without any sleep (the huge coffeee I had at Sentral Station is starting to wear off) and miles of walking around.

A good 45 minute wait afterwards, our flight is ready for boarding. I approach one of two air asia staff and show boarding pass (on smartphone) and new passport. She asks "where is your old Vietnamese visa". I show her the old passport with the "old" Vietnamese visa and tell her that when I left SGN her colleague had spoken to immigration and they said no need to transfer visa.

She is suspicious. Say's she needs to speak with supervisor and walks away to a distance. Meanwhile, only one AsirAsia staff is checking other passengers now, so a queue has started to build-up. After a wait of about 15 minutes she returns and says her supervisor needs to speak to his boss. The supervisor arrives and looks at both passports, he seems to understand the situation a bit better than the staff member, because she really struggled with the entry and exit dates. Supervisor asks if I have an invitation (visa) letter. I show him. He takes photos of both passports (entry exit stamps) and visa letter and sends them to his boss through WhatsApp. While we wait, I ask him if the flight would leave without me. At first he says "we have to sort this, until we do, we cannot let you board", which to me sounded like it could well leave without me. Afterwards, during the questioning, I ask him again, then he says, we have to give the all clear from this station, until then the flight won't leave. Which puts my mind at ease. Soon afterwards, his boss replies on Whatsapp saying "everything is okay".  I'm allowed to board.

Walk toward the boarding area and I meet a team of three airasia staff, again wanting to see passport and ask questions. I've encountered these guys before on previous flights. This time, because I had already been questioned (by supervisor), they only ask me about three questions, none of them visa related.

After that I see the same female staff member from before. One thing I did notice before (when she was checking boarding passes) was that she was checking the smartphone ones extra carefully. If you were to repeat this, I don't know if check-in through the check-in counter would have made things smoother. No idea if check-in counter would have taken the same time to verify everything. Anyhow, it's something you can try and maybe report back.

After all this, there was another slight delay after boarding. Flight was not the best, and we arrive 1 hour late in KUL.

In summary, would I recommend?. Not really. If you can transfer the visa one week before departure (from outside the airport). Get it done that way, then do visa run using a non-budget airline or do land border run (With land border there is no going through security scanners, taking shoes off, having to put up with the attitude of security staff (both at SGN and KUL). Remember, you cannot rock-up to land-border without getting the transfer done beforehand.

After the trip I was pretty exhausted. The hassle at KUL airport was part to blame. One good thing the supervisor did was that he offered me a chair when I told him I was really tired. However, his (lack of) explanation at one point did have me wondering if I wouldn't be allowed to board the flight. Then you start thinking, does this mean I have to stay in Kuala Lampur until it's sorted, do I need to purchase another ticket (with another airline) etc.

I believe airlines can (and do) refuse boarding, and it has happened to me once in New York about 20 years ago. That was due to a visa problem. I had to stay in New york for 3-4 days extra, visit the British Consulate, get a stamp on my passport then take a different flight (with the same airline though) I think it was Kuwait airways (haven’t flown with them since). Because of what the supervisor said to begin with, it made me feel, "this could go either way". This is how come I say try and get the transfer done before doing visa run.

Oh!, by the way, While waiting for the boss to get back to supervisor, I told the supervisor “AirAsia counter staff at SGN had already checked with immigration”, his reply was “may be she didn’t know you were returning”. Then I told him “Yes, but I had purchased a return ticket”. He then said “we still need to check”. Which I thought wasn’t really a convincing answer. Perhaps AirAsia Check-in at SGN can tell their colleagues at KUL they've already checked with immigration? (by putting a note on the system?). would save a lot of unnecessary delays.

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