Passports and Hotels

There is a lot of controversy and discussion by travelers on what in fact the Passport policy is in Vietnam. I have encountered travelers that angrily argue red faced with receptionists that the Passport is the property of their government and that a photocopy would have to suffice. The receptionist is simply doing her job and fulfilling the local authority’s requirements.

All hotels are required to register you in a government database for your protection and theirs. It used to be (and still is for some) That the original passport be taken to the local police station to be recorded and then returned to the hotel to be kept on the travelers behalf for the duration of their stay. Nowadays, many hotels are computerized and the information as of 2010 can be entered via an online web site. Many of these hotels are located in larger cities and tourist areas where the local authorities would be overwhelmed by the amount of registrations so the local municipality and police district have adopted the process of the hotel copying your passport, recording the information and submitting the information in bulk. Often your passports will be returned to you after copying. Many of the smaller Guesthouses and B&B will want to retain your passport for assurance that a person will not check out without paying. (It happens more than you think) So…. In most tourist areas you will find that a photocopy of your documents will be enough to satisfy the authority’s requirements BUT……

If you are the type to adventure away from the main tourist areas and see a bit of “Real Vietnam” you will find in many cases that the local wards will still require the original passports be presented to the police for recording purposes The hotel will then be required by the police to keep your passports on hand to be presented whenever they decide to pop by for a late evening inspection to check the occupied rooms against the guests. If for any reason the hotel does not have them on hand, the establishment will be fined the equivalent of 250 USD, and with the inexpensive rates the guesthouses charge, that fine would wipe out a months profits. In areas such as District 1&3 in Saigon, the old quarter in Hanoi along with the tourist areas in cities and locations such as Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Hoi An, a person may be able to retain their passport and leave a photocopy with the hotel (usually 3 star or better). Non computerized Guesthouses may require passport. Outside tourist areas and in places such as Tuy Hoa, Buon Ma Thuot, Kom Tum, Quy Nhon and other more out of the way places will be required to hold onto your passport….. End of story. The hotel has no say in the matter.

Arguing red faced with a receptionist or pointing at the property of line in your passport makes no difference. Save yourself the frustration and if you want to stay, be prepared to leave your passport with the front desk. Believe me that it is in the best interest of the hotel not to lose your documents. Hotel owners (in my province) were recently forced to attend a mandatory seminar on the security for travelers that included the handling of passports. The authorities take this matter very seriously (so it would seem). Please ignore the people who tell you photocopies are ok….. They are mistaken. There are also those that worry about not having identity cards with them……. No problem, the government knows who and where you are through this same system. As long as you have a bank card, or even your name sewn on your underwear, you can be identified. Most people have something else with them…. ie a credit card, also, if you need to rent a motorcycle, you are probably already in an area where they can return your passport without fear of liability.

There you have it…. Vietnam’s passport game. You want to stay? You got to play.

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Tour designer and Guide specializing in off the beaten track tours of Vietnam

24 thoughts on “Passports and Hotels

  1. “As a hotel owner, I would like very much to return your passport, however, on the one instance I accepted a photocopy, the police dropped by and issued me a 250 usd fine.”
    So the one time that you didn’t take details to the police the police attended and issued a fine. Nothing to do with photocopying.

    We arrived at a town of some 130,000 people and the police would not initially accept a photocopy f

    1. It was coincidence that the police was checking hotels that night. Had I had her the day before or after, nothing would have happened. It has been a couple of years since I wrote that piece and still it is true. I now run a guesthouse and if you will not let me hold you passport, I will not let you stay…………

      1. I’m with you Owee. What is wrong with these people? In these days of TripAdvisor, etc any hotel that was careless with passports etc would soon get a reputation & lose business. Best they stay in the Hilton or similar or maybe even stay home.

  2. I’m of the mind that I’ll do my best to comply with requirements when abroad but when it comes to my passport, unless you are an immigration authority, and Im not in trouble, you dont get to keep my passport. So, I’ve comprised with telling the hotel staff I will go with them to the police station…Sometimes this ends with me receiving my passport back and not going to the station and other times I go with them…both ways Im ok with.

    1. You might get away with that in mainstream tourist areas. For more off the beaten track that will still not satisfy a late night police raid demanding the documents of all hotel guests. IT cost me 250 usd for a 1 night stay in a 15 dollar room because a woman from New Zealand refused to leave passport but a very good photocopy instead. Until laws change NEVER AGAIN!!!! I am sorry…. If you want to go on one of my tours or stay in my Homestay, I will have to hold your passport (Vietnamese have to leave ids also) In 16 years I have never experienced an issue……. My passport (now resident card) is safer with them than the chance of getting it lifted on the streets….. Tourist areas attract all the opportunists and I encounter people who had passports stolen more than I would like.

  3. Hi
    Could you please tell me if it is worth travelling to Thalong Bay in January for a cruise. I believe it could be quite misty. Thanks

    1. I have cruised Halong bay 2 times in January. Both times visibility was very good however, it was very chilly when the boat was moving with temperatures about 16 degrees.

  4. Hello Owee,

    I am a Canadian travelling in China for business. I was thinking about coming to Vietnam for a bit of beach relaxation during the October holiday. Do you have a rental property? I am a female travelling alone, will I feel safe there? I really just need some rest and a beach.

    Your help is appreciated!

    1. Unfortunately October is a bad time of year for beaches. Vietnam is very safe. I suggest Mui Ne or Phu Quoc for the beat climate. Look at my weather chart page. Sorry I can not give you better news.

  5. Your article certainly clears up the confusion as to why some places insist on keep your passport and others don’t. It is also very convincing 🙂

    My passport does contain that part where it says the whole thing about it is property of my government blah blah.

    For me there are two options:
    1 – Take a gamble and surrender your passport and stress about the potential consequences, which could be breaking my own governments law and having to go thru the whole process of file police report explain/lie to my embassy. Or even being scammed to pay more money on a bill I did not initially agree to.

    2 – I refuse to surrender passport and potentially not stay at the hotel/resort.

    At the end of the day I would just like to enjoy a resort for a holiday to relax and unwind with peace of mind. However for me personally I cannot have that peace of mind if I am constantly worrying in the back of my mind that my hotel is holding my passport. In fact i’d rather the police bang on my hotel door and ask to see my passport at 2am, I’d consider that less stressful.

    This is really a lose-lose situation. The client looses because he/she cannot have peace of mind. If clients aren’t happy they don’t return. So bookings are damaged and the hotel/resort loses revenue.

    I do acknowledge that not every one feel so strongly about this but everyone is entitled to their own. If there are others who agree/disagree they should speak up. If enough people made a stink about it, they would change the law. At the end of day If there was an online database that whitelists hotels/resorts that don’t insist on surrendering your passport then I would pay to use that. I would buy that peace of mind.

    1. I have no issues turning in mys apassport. It can be a touchy issue for some. In the end, it is much safer to leave it with the hotel even if the have the return policy as snatch and grabs, or pickpocketing is not uncommon in poor countries. The proare very good at gettig even hidden loot from money belts. The hotels have to follow laws and are in a world of pain if they lose a passport. As a hotel owner, I would like very much to return your passport, however, on the one instance I accepted a photocopy, the police dropped by and issued me a 250 usd fine.

      1. I agree with Adrian.

        I have my own personal travel safe that I use to store my passport in my hotel room for safekeeping. It has been invaluable in giving me peace of mind while travelling in Asia. I’ve heard stories of passports being left in bundles on the reception desk of the hotel. For me, this is unacceptable.

        As a foreigner in a non-English speaking country, it is very intimidating to have to navigate the police system to go about to organise the retrival of my passport. I also would have to travel to the embassy and organise exit papers. I would have to go straight home instead of flying on to another destination.

        Why would I take the risk of going against my Governments’ law, putting my passport in the wrong hands, and facing having to navigate the police system, just to stay in a certain Hotel, or a certain region?

        I wouldn’t.

        1. where they can return your passportIn the end it is your decision. Even the Vietnamese have to leave their Id at the desk. Sad that you will only be able to stay in the very touristy areas….. Traveling beyond those limits will require you to comply with the Vietnamese law.

  6. Dear Owen:
    I just discovered your blog and find it is most interesting and helpful. Maybe this is not the place to post this topic but I don’t know where else to ask youa bout it. We will be travelling to Nha Trang in July and have heard many good things about Doc Let. I search online and not much is on it. How far it is from Nha Trang. Is there anything worth seeing there beside the beautiful white sand beach? If we want to spend a day there to swim, is there any resort that we can pay a fee to spend some time on the beach there?

    Is there any chance bumping into you in Nha Trang since you no longer at the Tide?

    1. Doc Let is about 50 km drive north of Nha Trang. There is a nice public white sand beach with BBQ huts that I sometimes take people to for Day tours. There is not much else. Jungle Beach resort is also up in that area with very primitive lodgings. No problem finding me. I have opened an even better alternative to the Tide Hotel. We are calling it the RipTide Nha Trang Homestay. We are quietly open already, but not all rooms are finished, so we are slow to announce we are in business. You can find me there.

  7. Thank you for your reply Owee, you were a great help,we now know what to pack. Unfortunatlywe will not be visiting Nha Trang this time, would liked to have had a few days here@ a beach resort but we have booked our flights from Da nang to HMC [ from reading your blog it sounds great ] next time!!!

  8. Which brings up an obvious question: why not force visitors to pay for their rooms when they check-in? This is the policy in most countries in the world and if I ran a hotel or guesthouse in Vietnam, I too wouldn’t accept a guest who couldn’t pay for their room immediately upon check-in. Similarly, if you’ve pre-paid for your room via an online booking site such as Agoda, you won’t have a bill upon checking out.

    1. A person could ask for pre payment but that still does not alter the fact that the government requires hotels to hold them

  9. Hi Owee,
    thanks for the great explanation on the passport policy. I have been to VN a number of times & did get the impression that a lot of people checked out of hotels without paying the bill.
    Methinks the same people who argue with receptionists about their passports wouldn’t dare do it in the Middle East!
    And I love the final line “You want to stay? You got to play”. Very witty.

  10. Hi Mr. Owen,

    I tried looking for your email, but I cant find it anywhere. I have a few questions to ask! I hope you can reply to me~

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