With the implementation of GST and the general downtrend of our currency, more and more Malaysians are opting for more budget vacation locations. Goodbye to the Great Singapore Sale, but hello Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam.
I took it one step further. I married a Vietnamese wife.
Also, they have hawt chicks. Like the one I married.
However, before you rush to a certain budget airline’s website for your next ticket to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and book your ticket to your future beautiful blushing bride, take a look at this article and learn about exactly what it takes for a Malaysian to marry a (beautiful) Vietnamese bride.
1. Vietnamese girlfriends aren’t cheap
First off, please get this straight. You will be spending money. A lot of money.
Chill – it’s not because your brand-new girlfriend is demanding (though it might happen). It’s actually the cost of transportation and accommodation. I used to fly at least once per month, and sometimes twice to visit my wife in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Each flight would cost me at least RM300 with promos, and it hasn’t gotten cheaper. Add that to the cost of a reasonably clean and comfortable hotel and the very natural desire to maintain as much physical contact as possible in a long-distance relationship, and you had better have a reasonably solid balance in your bank account.
And that’s assuming your better half is in HCMC. If she’s in Hanoi? Please double all associated flight costs, and select a suitable pillow in which to cry your destroyed dreams before you fall asleep.
Another unfortunate truth is that a lot of Vietnamese girls (and their families) do view any foreign marriage as an American Express Centurion Card, with no credit limit. The wedding dowry expected to be paid by a foreign husband is much higher than that of a local (approximately RM10,000 or above), and even though you are no ang-moh you are still considered as being able to afford it. In addition to the cash dowry, Vietnamese tradition demands that the husband must make a gift of a pair of earrings and a necklace, preferably in 18k gold. Finally, the groom is expected to pay for the wedding dinner. Yes, you have to have a wedding dinner in Vietnam as well as in Malaysia, you lucky guy, you!
So with all that in mind, please do use your wisdom to select a partner who does not view you as the foreign moneypot of her dreams. I have no advice on how to do this. I basically got lucky with my wonderful wife and her amazing family. #jealous
2. You’d be married, but separated
Be prepared for the bureaucracy. A LOT of bureaucracy. Think Kafka’s wet dream.
The problem originates from the human trafficking industry that is a problem in Malaysia, among other countries. Locally, Vietnamese prostitutes feature high at this point in time compared to those from other nations. According to the Ant Daily, the number of prostitutes arrested in Malaysia who are Vietnamese are double that of other nationalities. And that number itself has doubled between 2013-2014. In a more recent raid on the industry in Selangor, FMT reports that out of 1313 female prostitutes arrested, 717 of them were Vietnamese.
This has a direct impact on the process for you to marry a Vietnamese lady. The first step is to get a certificate from the Vietnamese government stating that she is ‘single and unmarried’. This can only be issued in her district of birth, which means that she has to travel back to her hometown. And to add salt to the wound, she has to undergo an interview by a local state official determining that she is marrying out of her free will and not because she’s sold as a bride or coming here for more… ah… unsavory activities.
After that, she has to bring said certificate back to either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to certify the certified certificate (Certifi-ception?). Once that was done, she will finally able to fly into Malaysia. As Vietnam is a member of ASEAN, Vietnamese are permitted to stay one month from time of entry without requiring a visa.
In other words, you have only one month to marry her and get her a spouse visa before she becomes termed an illegal immigrant.
So off you go! First of all, you have to ensure that your permission to marry will be approved by the Home Ministry via Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara (JPN), also known as National Registration Department (NRD) in English. But not any simple JPN/NRD branch. For Malaysians marrying foreigners, you must head to the one in Putrajaya.
But not yet! According to JPN, the person who you will be marrying must be a resident of your district for minimum 7+1 days. In other words, she has to stay at your place for 8 days. Basically JPN is stating that a person can fall in love within 8 days, but no less.
There’s lots and lots of other rules to getting the approval for marriage, and you can find it in JPN’s official website here. I won’t go into too much detail as the website explains it all very well (well done, JPN!), but do note that you will need a legalized public notary to stamp and sign all your documents and checklist, and that there will be a fee for the work (it cost me RM600). The good news is that the notary will help you fill out all your documents and ensure there are no mistakes.
After JPN says you can go ahead and get married, you have to wait 21+1 (seriously, what’s with the +1 days?) days in order to actually marry. The good news is that you can request for the registration to take place at the JPN office in your district, make sure to ask JPN Putrajaya when applying. Note that thanks to this looooooonnnnggggg wait, you will need to visit the Immigration Department of your state while waiting, in order to request for a Special Order extension permitting her to actually stay until the wedding registration is signed.
Finally, the whole shebang is done. You have your marriage certificate. You are together, forever, at last!
Now you have to take your wedding certificate BACK to Immigration, and request for a Long-Term Social Visit Pass for Spouses of Malaysian Citizens (phew!). And this leads to my next point…
3. Malaysia wants her to stay a housewife
… even if she used to be a professional, like my wife.
Guess what? According to the problem with human trafficking as mentioned above, Vietnamese women are limited to an initial 3-month pass only upon first application of the Long Term Social Visit Pass. This will be renewed to a 6-month pass, and only after completion of the 6-month pass will she be eligible to apply for a 1-year pass.
And the unwritten rule in Immigration is that you can only apply for a work permit after a one-year visa has been approved. As far as this writer was able to determine, this applies only to women who were both young and Vietnamese. It is not written anywhere where I can find, but this was the personal experience me and my wife went through.
As far as what it meant for me and my wife personally is that she, as a professional prior to marriage, was unable to find a job for the first 9 months of her moving here. This meant more burden on me as the sole breadwinner. Worse, it also meant that my wife faced a host of self-esteem and mental challenges, being a strong, independent woman prior to our marriage, and now having to rely almost completely on me to live her life. Fortunately we were able to get through this phase, but not before a couple of really unpleasant surprises.
Surprise number 1, the Home Invasion.
Immigration officers will do a surprise visit/spotcheck on the address of the residence that was declared in her visa’s application. You may or may not be at home for this happy event (I wasn’t) but regardless, they will need to be admitted into your home if you don’t want to be standing at the airport and waving bye-bye to your wife at the end of her current visa. Fortunately for me, we were staying at my mum’s place and our neighbor was on hand to help observe the visit/spotcheck. Otherwise my wife would have been alone with 5 strange men in our house.
They will ask to see your sleeping arrangements, your wedding photos, wardrobes, basically anything and everything that can prove to them that you are living together and that she did not get married to you for convenience. She was interviewed in English and Malay, and fortunately for my wife, her English is good. And for Malay, our neighbor was there to help translate.
The next unpleasant surprise happened only last month.
She had reached the end of her 6-month visa, and we were assured by officers that since Surprise #1 had occurred, she is now eligible for a 1-year visa. Imagine our surprise when she got issued a 6-month one again. We had to spend the afternoon appealing the decision, and fortunately for us our case officer was a very nice, helpful, friendly AND courteous man. He recognized the error and took steps to fix it. Which is how my wife is now holding her 1-year visa. Despite the reputation of our civil service, there are heroes out there.
As of the time of this writing we are awaiting the approval of her work permit, which is a supplemental approval allowing the holder of a Long Term Social Visit Pass (phew again!) to work.
4. You’re gonna get interrogated
OK, now for a break from the tiring issues of government. Let’s deal with the social side.
You and your wife will face a number of questions. Starting from the auntie next door all the way to your nosy relatives, (and heck, even strangers sometimes!) be prepared to answer them. All of them, if you want to live. Seriously, I was half-considering recording standard canned answers on my smartphone and playing them back to everyone who asked. Some of the more common ones include:
“So how did you guys meet?”
“Where did you have your wedding?”
“Can you speak Vietnamese now?”
“So how do you communicate with her side?”
“Vietnam very nice ar?”
“Can introduce a nice Vietnamese girl/guy to me also? Hehe!” (<— this is by far the most annoying. Do I look like a dating agency?)
Then there are the more sinister, and downright offensive ones.
“Wah, Vietnamese wife? You buy one ah?“
“Hey, why you marry a Vietnamese, local girls no good meh?”
“I heard they like to ask for money, motorbike, your wife or her family got ask ah?”
“You married a Vietnamese? Why, are they that good a ****?” (<— actual question asked to my best friend who also married a Vietnamese wife. Almost started a major fistfight. And no, the guy asking wasn’t drunk, it was a smoke break in the middle of the day in the office.)
While I don’t mind answering the tiring questions, these questions really make me boil up as it shows a level of ignorance and racism which even if intended as a joke, reflect the maturity level of the person themselves asking the question. So please, if you do know someone who married anyone foreign, refrain from these questions as well as the ones above. They’ll thank you for it.
5. Vietnamese wives aren’t cheap
After marriage, things settle down into a more comfortable rhythm. You are happy-happy with your wife, she is happy-happy with you, and everything seems good and easy… until a certain writer comes along and sinks your lovely dreamboat.
Don’t forget, you still have a wedding dinner here to plan, among other things. What about getting her a car? A driving license even before that? Insurance, whether life or medical or accidental? She’s alone at home all the time for 9 months and has no friends, surely the least you can do is get her a dog? Now the dog needs food, medical care too? OK, I can do that. But now she will need an allowance while she’s not working, and…
Suddenly, you realize that you’re broke.
The fact of the matter remains that while she is now your wife, she never had the opportunity to build up much of the personal infrastructure that we Malaysians take for granted on an almost daily basis. For example, she probably has a grand total of zero friends who aren’t your own friends, and loneliness requires distraction lest it turns into depression. This is much more true for people like my wife, who was a professional with tons of friends and contacts in Vietnam and zilch in Malaysia.
Distractions cost money. All the other factors stated above are also a constant drain on your household finances, of which you are the sole breadwinner for at least 9 months unless you and your wife are fortunate enough to have other means. And while some of that can be sacrificed or replaced for the time being, some cannot (insurance being the most obvious).
6. It’s not easy for her, either
The culture shock and problems she will have fitting in are something that you both as husband and wife will have to deal with. This easily translates into household tension, and bear in mind it is highly likely that neither of you will have the advantage of a single mother tongue to help talk things through efficiently. Sometimes this leads to misunderstandings and arguments, speaking from this writer’s painful experience.
This isn’t limited to just you and her. My wife has had trouble initially trying to cope with people speaking to her in Malay and Chinese and expecting her to understand, as she does look Chinese. This was funny at the beginning, but quickly turned stressful, especially with a large number of staff in shops not being able to speak English well, regardless of whatever the Government chooses to fantasize about.
She will also face pressures from unexpected places. For example, my mother-in-law was sick, and my wife was unable to be by her side due to lack of finances for the plane ticket. Another example is that Vietnam celebrates their own version of Chinese New Year which is known as Tet. You will have to decide between the both of you whose family to visit first, how much ang pao to give, and so on.
Things like these are going to play a major part in your first few years so please do be prepared to bend over backward, be understanding, and most of all be loving to your wife who has sacrificed everything she had in her homeland to be with you here in our wonderful Malaysia.
7. Despite it all… It’s worth it
At the end of the day, ask yourself this question? Is it worth it?
For me, the answer to that question is most definitely yes. You see, Vietnamese women are usually brought up in a more traditional family environment that was common 30 to 40 years ago. The Vietnamese culture and lifestyle is a curious mix of modern and traditional, and this spills over into the ways and mannerisms of its people. While this is somewhat detrimental when it comes to modern thinking in terms of gender equality, it does mean that Vietnamese girls are brought up to be very loyal, loving, protective and dedicated to the family.
They also strongly believe in the value of being filial to parents, loyal to their husband, and guess who benefits from that? To top that off, you as a foreigner have the advantage of courtship, as described in this article by a local Vietnamese website.
This does not mean that taking advantage of them or their attitudes is a good idea, as seen by this somewhat horrifying example:
For me, personally, the best decision of my life was to go ahead with a long-distance relationship with my wife even though it seemed like a bad idea at the time. Eventually, our hard work to make it successful paid off, and today we both believe that we have each other in this world till the end of our lives, and that all these obstacles you have just read in this article actually strengthened our relationship.
By going through such hardships and experiencing it together, it adds a such a strong dynamic of appreciation for your partner to the relationship that is rarely experienced by other, less fortunate couples. For me and my wife, this truly is a blessing that was disguised as an initial curse, and the fact that we would be willing to jump through all these hoops to marry each other demonstrates a level of commitment that words just cannot buy.
So go forth, fellow Malaysian, and marry the Vietnamese woman of your dreams!