A Guide to Moc Bai Border And What You Should Know

practicalities - Vietnam: Oct. 16, 2018

The “border run”, as dodgy as it may sound, is an experience that many expats in Vietnam are familiar with. For expats living in Saigon or other nearby southern provinces, the thought of the long ride up to Moc Bai in Tay Ninh Province on the border of Cambodia could evoke anything from a disgruntled groan to a fair bit of excitement. It depends on how you feel about burning at least half a working day going somewhere you’d rather not be, just to ensure you remain in the country legally.

Typically, most expats will have to wait a few weeks or months to get their official work permit sorted out. This means if you’re the proud owner of a 1, 3 or 6-month tourist or business visa, you will need to ensure you get a new visa on the day the current one expires.

Buying a Visa for the Moc Bai Border Crossing

Depending on which country you’re from, the process starts with finding a legitimate and reputable visa agent to obtain a letter that you’ll need to submit to the immigration officer. You can easily find a visa agent amongst the many expat groups on Facebook. All you need to do is ask, and you’ll either get a private message from one, or a referral from another expat.

Vietnam allows visa-exemptions to citizens of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, The United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan and fellow ASEAN member states, excluding Timor Leste and Cambodia, for limited periods ranging from 14 to 30 days. If you’re not from any of these countries, or if you need a visa for more than a month, you’ll need to find that visa agent regardless of where you’re from. It’s best to seek this information directly from the visa agent as the immigration rules are constantly changing and it can be quite confusing and challenging trying to keep track.

The countries that do not enjoy visa-exemptions are categorised into different “tiers” that determine how much you will need to spend for the letter and what kinds of visas you are eligible for. This letter typically costs anywhere between US$25 to US$40 and will be e-mailed to you within 2 working days. Then the fun starts.

Getting To The Moc Bai Border

There are many ways to get to Moc Bai Border, either via private transport through your visa agent that might cost quite a bit but will save you lots of time or public transport. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the latter as that’s the most commonly used and also the cheapest.

It’s always good to start your border run bright and early in the morning, preferably before 9:00 a.m. because it will generally take anywhere between 5 to 8 hours depending on how familiar you are with the process and the traffic situation during the journey. It’s also a good idea to pack some small snacks and a bottle of water and have plenty of VND in small denominations. Alternatively, you may also bring USD with you, either currency is fine. Don’t forget to bring along a printout of the visa letter, plus 2 passport-sized photographs and cash for the stamping fee either in USD or VND.

The cheapest way to get to the border is by bus number 703 that you can board at Saigon Bus Station at Pham Ngu Lao street in District 1. You can find these buses parked near the entrance facing the Cong Quynh Street roundabout. The buses, run by SAPACO Tourist are usually blue or silver with Moc Bai written on the front display. The 3-hour journey will cost you only VND40,000 each way.

Mộc BàiImage source: foxtravels.net

For those of you who have never taken a public bus in Vietnam, all you need to do is board the bus, take a seat and a few minutes later, the bus conductor will collect the fare in exchange for a paper ticket. As your bus streams across the city, you will be joined by a whole bunch of other passengers, mostly locals. They will not be doing the border run with you. At some point, the erratic swarms of motorbikes and incessant honking will be replaced by vast fields with grazing buffaloes and half-completed skeletons of bridges, highways and roads as you make your way out of Saigon.

The Actual Visa Run

Once your bus reaches the destination, it will be fairly obvious to you because the driver will yell something in Vietnamese. Then you will see a group of xe om drivers circling the bus, congregating near the exit and you will see a whole bunch of trucks lined up along the road, waiting to cross the border. At this point, you have two options.

The first option, or what I call, the ‘express package’, is to get on the back of one of these bikes and for a fare of VND100,000, the xe om driver will drive you through the checkpoints at the border and back to the bus station. This option can be very tricky for the first timer because there is a very high chance you might end up spending much more than the VND100,000 quoted to you.

These additional charges include simple tasks such as filling out forms for you or helping you join ‘express queues’ at the various checkpoints. The good thing with this option is you will most likely clear the whole process within an hour. However, if you prefer doing this entire border run without spending a single dong or cent, then option two is for you.

Mộc BàiImage source: flickr.com

Once you disembark from the bus and politely decline the swarm of xe om drivers, walk towards the large line of trucks. Here, you will realise that you’re on a road that’s about 500 metres long that leads directly to the border. The walk itself will take about 10 minutes until you reach the complex. There is a high chance you will see multiple lines which all seem the same. However, since you didn’t get the ‘express package’, you’ll have to join the ‘normal queue’, on the extreme right. This queue is usually the longest.

Once you’ve gotten your exit stamp, you can proceed to walk towards the Cambodian immigration complex about 200 metres away. Upon arrival, a couple of guys may approach you, offering to fill out the immigration form for you. If you’re not in the mood to hold a pen, these guys will do it for you for a small fee, not more than VND50,000. If you require a visa to enter Cambodia, these guys can help you with the process.

Once you’ve cleared Cambodian immigration, you can proceed towards the exit ahead of you, turn around at the rear parking lot and head towards the exit queue, which is outdoors and also doubles up as a checkpoint for vehicles. After you’ve gotten your exit stamp, you’ll have to walk back towards Vietnam to sort out your Vietnamese visa, the reason why you’re even here in the first place.

When you enter the complex, you will see a bunch of guys wearing blue uniforms. They work at the border and will insist on helping you fill out the application form, then help you submit the form to the immigration officer once you’ve paid the stamping fee. This amount depends on which visa you’re getting. You can always refuse this service and do it by yourself but it’ll take longer.

After a 15-minute wait, you’ll get your passport returned to you with the new visa in place and you can then proceed to the final phase of your border runre-entering Vietnam. Don’t forget to check the visa before you leave to make sure you got what you paid for. Once you’ve cleared the exit queues, congratulations. You’re now legally back in Vietnam. Now you just have to sit through the arduous 3-hour journey back to Saigon Bus Station.

Mộc BàiImage source: vietnamtravel.guide

What You Need to Remember When Doing a Visa Run

There are a few important things you need to know to ensure a safe and smooth border run. The first thing is to make sure you have the required documents with you. These include the visa letter, photographs and cash.

The latter is the most crucial. It is advisable to bring a slightly higher amount than you expect. As a foreigner, and especially if you’re a first-timer, you’re going to be bombarded by service providers you don’t really need and you might end up forking over some extra cash. In addition, there is no ATM at the border. The nearest one is a 15-minute bike ride away courtesy of a xe om ride that will probably cost you another VND100,000.

Another important thing to remember is to check the expiry date of your current visa. If you’ve accidentally overstayed your visa, the immigration officer will point it out to you and you will be required to pay a fine depending on how long you have overstayed. You will also be required to sign some documents as part of the paperwork process. Once again, an inconvenience that could easily be avoided. Also ensure your passport has a minimum validity of six months or you might not be allowed to enter Cambodia, effectively wasting your time and effort getting there.

If you need more information, feel free to reach out to visa agents who are mostly bilingual.

Video source: Edges Of Earth

Banner Image source: fee.org