Truth about passport surrender rule in Vietnam

The question about is it right and legal for hotels in Vietnam to hold your passport has always been discussed among world travelers. Many visitors coming to Vietnam were surprised when the receptionist asks to keep your passport during the entire time of your stay. Unfortunately, most of the hotels did not explain the policy clear enough therefore in some cases, this simple action of security raised controversy and often mistaken as hostility.

Passport is not an individual property but the government’s property. And technically, you don’t have to surrender this very important document to anyone when traveling. Another fact is that passport surrender is only compulsory to cheap hotels and hostels. The resorts, 3-star up hotels are not following this practice and only ask you to show your passport to check the information. So if you don’t want any trouble with the passport issue, you can just always book with the big systems.

The cheaper hotels, hostels, homestays are just doing their job and in fact they have no say in this matter. And actually even as locals, we have to provide our identity card as well whenever we use accommodation service. So this shouldn’t be a concern when you travel in Vietnam because the hotels surely is the one to remember to give this much important document back to its owner unharmed when you check out.

Why and how is it done?

UK has the same tradition
UK has the same tradition

Vietnam is not the only country doing this for security. The UK has the same law since 1973 which allows the government keep a strict control on hotel records. But this policy is often misunderstood and taken advantage of. The guests are usually told by many hotels that they might be turned away if refuse to give the passport and in Vietnam, there are indeed accounts from tourists of the difficulties they had to struggle with when trying to go against this unofficial rule.

All tourism accommodation establishments have to register guests’ information every night to the police. This is for them to keep track on the foreigners staying in the country and make sure that their visas haven’t expired.  This was the only way until many hotels in big cities were computerized. Many hotels now can submit the guests’ information through internet. Therefore they often borrow your passport for 10 minutes then return it after copying or you just can give them a photocopy of your passport. However, in some remote areas, the cheaper hotels or hostels still ask to keep your passport because the authorities often drop by to check if the hotels have the guests’ passports at the front desk. In case the hotel doesn’t have the guests’ passports or any equivalent records on hand, they will be fine around $250USD.

Another reason for an establishment to keep passports is to make sure that the person won’t check out without paying. If you really don’t want to surrender your passport, you can just pay up front.

Is it really necessary to hand it over?

lost passport vietnam visa on arrival1
Loosing passport is always a serious problem

It is the responsibility of the holder to take care of the passport. Loosing passport while traveling can put your self at risk and cause many trouble.

And it is not really necessary to leave the passport at the front desk when the personal information and passport’s details are already recorded for any reason. There is no such rule that states the otherwise in any country. In case the hotel insists to keep your passport, you can give them a copy instead and let them verify.

As long as you book with reliable accommodation establishments in Vietnam, you can relax about passport’s security even if you hand them yours until you check out. Recently, this infamous tradition is loosen a bit so it’s definitely possible to prepare some copies of your passport, most of the time, they will accept that.

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5 comments

  1. Just checked into a budget guesthouse on Phu Quoc island. They asked us to surrender our passports for 5 hours to take to the police. We refused, offering to copy our passports so they had our information to give to the police. They refused our offer. It was only once we had put our bags
    back on our backs to leave that they agreed to take a photo of our passports. This was after 30 mins of standing firm. We didn’t have to surrender them and my partner followed them to reception to ensure our passports didn’t leave his sight. We always keep our passports in sight. Motto of the story is to find a different hotel who will accept a copy or photograph of your passport. I would never trust the keeping of such an important document in the hands of another.

    • Nguyen Mĩ Ngọc

      Dear Rebecca,

      Glad to know your experience. Most of hotels in Vietnam often give in if you offer a copy of your passport.

      Wish you have a great time in Vietnam.

  2. Dear Mr Nguyen

    a stilly question perhaps but do I have to give my passport to the tour guide? Will they keep it? You see once i had a very bad experience in another country where the passports and tickets were collected and given to the group leader by the tour guide even before we reached the hotel. Another time when I got it back to go to a checkpoint I gave it to the hotel to mind and it walked to the group leader!! This leader kept monitoring our passports and ensuring he had them. I don’t like that. Now I prefer to hand it myself or rather show the hotel a photocopy

  3. I checked into an upmarket hotel in Da Nang last night. The first thing they asked for was my passport, which is pretty standard, they then invited me to sit down and brought me an iced tea. Then one of the desk clerks came and had me sign some documents. All pretty standard so far…
    This is a business trip and the company that I am here for already has other guests staying in the hotel.
    The clerk then told me that they will hold my passport until I check out. I told him that I need my passport to use as identification and that Australian law stipulates that I should have my passport on me at all times when travelling outside of Australia. He then said that they would take a 500,000 VND security deposit instead, which I still don’t agree with but I was unfortunately left with no choice. At least they gave me a receipt for the 500,000 VND. It’s disappointing. I’ve checked into lesser hotels with less fuss, this is also a business trip and they know that, they have all our details should one of us break something in the room. It feels like I’m being blamed for something that I haven’t even done and I find it extremely disrespectful and offensive.

  4. My partner and I are coming to the end of a stay in a low-budget ‘resort’ in Phu Quoc and we had the same difficulty checking in, and being asked to hand over our passports for ‘safekeeping’ for the duration of our visit. I resolutely refused, even after being told that “if the police come, we can prove you stay at this hotel”. I told them a photocopy should be fine in this instance as similar to Gus above, UK law stipulates that your passport must remain in your possession at all times while overseas. The excuse was that “we don’t have a photocopier”, so I said I’ll take a picture and email it to you then so you can print it on the big printer behind you shall I? “Sorry, no email at reception”… This perplexing standoff lasted for about twenty minutes and before I can dig my heels in even further, my travelling companion handed over his passport as safekeeping, thereby disarming any argument I could have against it. I’m worried now as there have been two issues, not of our making that the receptionist has brought to my attention that make me think, despite pre-paying for a full two-week stay (regrettably, I won’t elaborate but it’s one for a well-known review site), they’ll try to hang on to the passport for some kind of recompense. Under Vietnamese law, I’m fairly certain this practice is disallowed but we’re in Phu Quoc and enforcement of any kind of law effectively here may be difficult. We won’t return, and I’m considering moving to better establishment for the last few days of our trip.

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