Chit chat at an expat coffee table

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Foreign tourists in Hue Town. Many foreigners wanting long-term stays in Vietnam are not sure about regulations that apply to them.

I have lived in Nha Trang for more than eight years. Over that time I have married a wonderful Vietnamese woman and built a very comfortable home for the two of us with plenty of room for the occasional visit from family or friends. My life here is better than I could have hoped when I first decided to try Vietnam as a retirement destination.
For most of those years I have spent some part of my days visiting with other expats, including Viet Kieu and also with English speaking natives. In our current coffee group we welcome a wide range of short-term visitors who see us on the veranda of our coffee shop and drop in to visit. Our conversations range over a wide selection of topics from US politics to films and music. With the help of iPads and similar devices, Wi-Fi and Google we are usually able to resolve any question that arises before it becomes an argument. It is so easy now that it is almost boring.
But over the years we have always found that one of our most frequent topics of conversation has to do with day-to-day living as a foreigner in someone else's country. These are not so easily resolved with our usual resources! Frequently it comes down to a round-robin of shared ignorance.
The most popular current topic under review has to do with maintaining a legal status here.
Over the years the visa policy has changed repeatedly and often several different policies may be cited by different sources. Many of us are married to Vietnamese and we are able to obtain a five-year visa exemption. Once this document has been approved and affixed to our passports we no longer need to pay US$100 or more for a visa renewal but we are required to visit the local immigration office every 90 days and pay $10 to get a stamp extending our stay.
However, for those not married to locals who wish to remain here long-term, in some cases years, the requirement is for a renewed visa. Recently the fellows in this situation have been discussing the regulations that presently apply to them. I don't listen as carefully to this but it seems that some of them have journeyed over to Cambodia for new visas because they can get one of longer duration and for less money than they can from the local office. I've also gotten the impression that in some cases, they have been obligated to go outside the country as a condition for a new visa?!
Almost a year ago some of the Viet Kieu told us that they were getting their Vietnamese citizenship restored without surrendering their US passport. A great deal for them but no help to us. However, those of us with local wives learned we can now get a "permanent residence" status with an application and a document from the police in our native country vouching for our lack of a police record. In addition, one of our unmarried friends recently was told that he could also get a similar status and he's in the process of applying so we'll see what the outcome is for him.
Yesterday a question arose as to whether applying for and being granted permanent residence might result in the termination of government paid retirement benefits in the expat's home country. Now some are trying to get the answer to this knotty question.
There are a number of other questions that both expats and tourists are not necessarily informed about. For example, it's a common practice for tourists and some expats who don't want to make an investment in their own vehicle to rent a motorbike from one of the many vendors that offer this service. I rented one for two months before I acquired my own.
Unlike renting a car on a trip to a western country, there is no need for any form of deposit nor is proof of insurance requested. The vendor turns over the keys and frequently a helmet and off you go. It is amazing, given the chaos of any city's traffic, that there aren't more accidents involving foreigners.
This leads to the question of what a foreigner does if a policeman decides to stop him and there is no common language. It is common for a motorbike to be confiscated if the policeman decides it is warranted. What a predicament to be in!
For us expats we have the issue that has been mentioned in recent weeks in Vietweek and other English language papers that motorbikes must be registered in the name of the driver (or his family, I would imagine?). For years motorbikes have been bought and sold with just the original owner's card handed over to the buyer. Some bikes may change hands in this way from owner to owner and to another city. The original owner of one of my friend's bikes has been dead for several years.
There have also been some articles about a road use tax going into effect on all vehicles. Where does that stand?
In writing this and raising these issues I am suggesting that a forum, perhaps in this newspaper or possibly on-line or both, could be of inestimable value to all of us. If such a source does already exist I would like to hear of it. I do not have the skills to create such a website but it could generate advertising revenue for someone who does.
Unfortunately, as an added problem, we have the fact that making expats and tourists aware of such a resource is a daunting task in Vietnam. In Nha Trang we have the Khanh Hoa daily paper but when I ask my students if they learn anything about what's going on in Nha Trang from the paper, they all say they never read it. There are frequent performances and public events here but unless you happen to stumble on them at the time or see it mentioned on KTV, the local channel which has occasional English language news, you remain unaware.
If other readers have ideas (or answers), I look forward to hearing them.

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