The international airport of HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City) is Ton Son Nhat International Airport. It was built by the French back in the 1930s and later on it was used as a military airfield during the Vietnam war (renamed to Tan Son Nhut), and it became famous after footages of refugees trying to escape towards the end of the war….
Even today you can still see the remnants of the war along the taxi way and it can send hair standing and the realisation that you are indeed in Nam for real!
There are two terminals here, an international terminal and a domestic terminal. The domestic terminal was still being used as international terminal back in early 2000s when I arrived in Vietnam and that terminal was really a shocker!
At the point of writing, there is no need to fill in any arrival/landing card. They did away with that, reinstated it again, only to do away with for good some years ago.
Tan Son Nhat airport is not big in today’s standard. The walk from the aero bridge to the immigration should take you about 5 minutes.
Budget airlines will get the furthest gates while flag carriers will get the gates nearest to the middle and nearest to the immigration counters. Vietnam Airlines’s short haul flight on their Airbus A321 on the contrary always gets NO aero bridge!
Instead they get tarmac parkings. Passenger boarding stairs will be sent and passengers will be transported to the terminal by buses.
Ready! Get Set! Go!
After exiting the plane and walking to the end of the aero bridge, most people will hunt for the first toilet they came into sight.
My advice is don’t. No yet! The queue for the toilet will be long because the toilets are small and have limited capacity (especially the ladies). Be prepare to queue. By the time you finished your business the queue at the immigration will even be longer! So hang on to your urgency if you can. If not, there’s more toilets nearer to the immigration which have shorter queue.
I hope you have already applied your VISA (if you need one) before traveling. If you need VISA and have not applied for one, you can get it upon arrival. The VISA upon arrival office is on the left of the immigration counters. You will most likely see people queueing up all the time.
As of 2019, you can apply VISA online. Read about it here.
Clear Immigration Fast
Clearing immigration is average. They will open additional counters if the passengers arrivals are high. The immigration officers are not paid to greet you or give you any sense of welcome, which is quite typical.
Try to head towards the far rear end of the row of immigration counters towards the RIGHT. Most people especially locals like to crowd at the first few counters. The rear end are usually less crowded.
Queue behind Asian
Pick a queue that has the most Asian. Most Asian do not require VISA and the clearance speed is way faster than those queues with Europeans, middle-east, or Africans.
The entire process should take about 10-15 minutes if you did not visit the toilet and already have your VISA or if you don’t need any.
Clearing Customs Fast
After having your passport stamped, the luggages belt is just downstairs. It takes a short while just for the luggages to reach the belt. If you have oversized luggages then it will be at either ends of the hall. Sometimes they will trolley it to your belt, sometimes they just left it sitting on the floor at the end of the hall.
Now is a good time to look for a toilet while waiting for your luggage to arrive on the belt.
Also, keep your eyes open for other people taking your luggages be it intentional or by accident.
Once you have all your luggages, proceed to clear the custom. All luggages and hand carry bags regardless MUST pass through the x-ray machine, even if you have nothing to declare.
This is not the time and not the place to be funny. If you have any electronics in unopened boxes you will be asked to justify their purposes.
Here, a quick “settlement” will be accepted in order to avoid the lengthy paperwork. From where I come from such practices comes with a strong consequences but it is perfectly “normal” here. Just do what Romans do when in Rome.
You can use any of the channels including RED channel even if you have nothing to declare!
All customs officers can speak English but they like to speak to you in Vietnamese just to intimidate you.
This will take just 5 minutes if you are ahead of the mob.
Once you have cleared the immigration, it is time for you to take a rest. From here onwards there is no need to rush. And don’t exit to the main arrival hall just yet!!