Hmm…How About That?! Border Stamping Fees in Southeast Asia

Travelers looking to cross one of the many borders in Southeast Asia (specifically, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and parts of Thailand) will be met with one of the most confounding yet simple cash grabs on the face of the planet; the stamping fee. After you’ve paid for your transportation to the bus stop, paid for your bus ticket into the country, paid for your visa, paid for a “tourist priced” meal along the road, paid for use of the bathroom after your meal, you would expect that you had done your duty and paid for your right of passage in full. You’d be wrong!

Before crossing the border, an employee will collect your passports for processing at the border, and then ask for the $2-5 “border stamping fee” (also known as the “water fee”, “processing fee”, “local environment fee”, “the weekend fee”, “iPhone 4 fee”, etc.), which assures the person at the border will place the entrance stamp into your passport. Apparently this is a rather difficult process that involves lifting your arm, grabbing a stamp, pressing the stamp into an ink-pad, raising your arm again, lowering your arm, and pressing the stamp into your passport. It’s pretty demanding, and obviously above and beyond the normal day-to-day duties of an immigration officer.

For those (like me) thinking this “stamping fee” sounds a little bit like a “brilliantly conceived” scam, or cash grab, you might be onto something. Border crossing busses may not even try to hide the fact and welcome you to exit the bus and perform your own border crossing process, sans “stamping fee”. However, when you have finished your immigration procedure and find that your bus has left without you, you might find yourself looking at the $5 you saved while muttering to yourself, “hmm… how about that!?”