- Peter Scott & Monica Kong
LEAVING VIETNAM : Why we finally decided to head home due to COVID-19
Updated: Aug 28, 2020
What a year 2020 has turned out to be for the world. We were only supposed to be in Vietnam for two and a half months. Somehow, in the midst of riding out this covid 19 pandemic for as long as possible, our visit turned into 8 months! During that period, we endured 3 weeks of lockdown in Danang, followed by 99 blissful days, free of community transmission nationwide. While global numbers were still barely peaking, we were fortunate enough to safely enjoy traveling in Vietnam within closed borders. From going to an empty amusement park in Vinpearl Land Nam Hoi An, to visiting the mountainous, northern town of Sapa, we got to see and experience a lot more of Vietnam than we had intended.
But why leave now, and not then? We had our reasons to stay in Vietnam when the pandemic began. What has changed our minds? Vietnam has been good to us through it all and we have felt very safe here. They successfully controlled covid when many developed countries with far greater resources could not. If there was any doubt on their transparency, we would have left this country a long time ago. The reasons for going home have little to do with feeling unsafe in Vietnam and more to do with the following:
1) OUR TRAVEL INSURANCE WILL EXPIRE SOON. There are very few companies who will cover covid-19 while there is a global pandemic and a travel ban in place. The cost of those who do provide coverage, are too high for us to consider worth staying abroad, especially when we have free, quality health care awaiting us back in Canada. Needless to say, being in a foreign country uninsured during a pandemic, does not seem like a wise idea.
2) Outbreaks are re-emerging in countries where covid was previously under control, Vietnam included. Back in March in Danang, we were still holding out a sliver of hope that things might improve by late summer or fall. However, it is now clear that COVID IS HERE TO STAY for a long time. Waiting out a few months was realistically feasible. Potentially waiting years requires a lot more than just patience...and perhaps an income. We contemplated finding temporary jobs here, but it made more sense to return home and find work in our own field.
3) VISA WAIVERS MAY OR MAY NOT LAST. We were able to obtain a letter of assistance from the Canadian government, which allowed us to stay in Vietnam without extending our visas. We paid $130 USD per person = $520 USD for a one month extension back in April, but have since not had to pay. However, staying in a foreign country with an expired visa, even while legally abiding to the laws, there is always that risk of overstay fines or other immigration issues. With ambiguous wording and untimely last minute announcements, these waivers still puts us in a vulnerable position.
4) Although there have been no repatriation flights from the Canadian government, there have been several Vietnam Airlines flights bound for Canada to repatriate their citizens, offering Canadians direct flights home at a cost of $1500 - $2000 USD per person. It was a steep price to consider for a family of 4. However, non-government FLIGHT OPTIONS ARE NOW AVAILABLE, with more frequency and less cancellations. Prices have dropped to a more reasonable number. Several countries are allowing layovers as well. You can book all kinds of tickets via google flights, but they don't tell you whether or not you will be able to make your connecting flight, if there are any restrictions pre-boarding or when transiting. You HAVE TO do your own homework. Cancellations are still a high possibility, so checking the airline's refund policies is crucial.
5) The few countries that are open to international tourists are also opening themselves up to more risk. When there was a window of improvement back in mid June, we contemplated heading to Europe as a base to "wait it out". We even went as far as booking a flight to Serbia, one of the few countries that was allowing tourists without restrictions. Thankfully, it got cancelled within 5 hours, as by July, cases there began to surge and political unrest followed. We dodged a bullet and learned our lesson. Moving forward, we decided either we continue to stay in Vietnam or go home. Right now, GOING ANYWHERE ELSE IS STILL TOO RISKY.
6) Finally, when we decided to leave family and friends to travel long term, we did it always knowing that should anything happen back home, for instance if a family member were to fall ill, we could easily be able to fly to Canada and be there in a moment's notice. This is no longer possible. Booking flights has become a very complicated process without the guarantee of actually flying or even refunds, not to mention the logistics of leaving and entering a city or a country, such as mandatory 14 day quarantines, negative covid-19 test results, etc. NOT BEING ABLE TO COME HOME QUICKLY FOR ANY FAMILY EMERGENCIES has weighed heavily on our minds.
It was not an easy decision. We hold no regrets staying here for as long as we have. However, we don't want to push our luck either. Vietnam has taken very good care of us. Sure this family trip didn't go quite as planned. In the grand scheme of things, with all the uncertainties the world is facing today, if the worst thing that happened to us was that we got stuck in this incredible country, then we consider ourselves very lucky.
So, what next? STAY TUNED...our adventures are far from over!