Skyrocketing airfare disappoints Vietnamese students returning to China

By Binh Minh, Thanh Hang   August 26, 2022 | 04:45 am PT
Pham Tran Truc Linh was overjoyed when China finally reopened its doors to foreign students, but was shocked to see ticket and quarantine fees of VND100 million ($4,268).

After 2.5 years of Covid-19-induced border restrictions, China has allowed international students to return starting Aug.24.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Linh was excited thinking that her dream of studying abroad in China is about to come true.

"I'm overjoyed. International students like me have been yearning for this news for so long," Linh, 25, said.

She applied for a master's degree in International Economics at Zhejiang University. She had been wanting to apply for a long time, but the pandemic forced her to wait until things are under control. Linh was even more stoked to enroll in the beginning of the new school year as China re-opened its borders.

Just as delighted, Do Phuong Uyen, a 25-year-old pursuing a master’s degree from a university in Beijing, also informed her family and relatives of the news.

However Uyen, Linh and other international students' excitement about going to China quickly faded when they discovered that the airfare and quarantine costs were expensive.

At the moment, Vietnamese students can travel to China by air, but are required to be isolated for 4-10 days before and after the flight.

According to Uyen, the total cost to stay four days in quarantine in Vietnam and for a one-way ticket from Hanoi to Nanjing City exceeds VND70 million, which is ten times higher than the figure before Covid-19.

When arriving in China, she will have to be isolated for 10 days before testing for Covid-19 and moving from Nanjing to Beijing. She estimated that the cost would range from between VND10-30 million, depending on the quality of the isolation facility in China.

"I'd have to spend up to VND100 million. I still need money for visa renewal and daily expenses," Uyen sighed.

She came to China in September 2019 on a full scholarship to pursue a master's degree in Forest Biotechnology at Beijing Forestry University. She returned to Vietnam for the Lunar New Year holiday in early 2020, not expecting the trip to last more than two years.

Do Phuong Uyen (R) poes for a photo in China in October 2019. Photo courtesy of Uyen

Do Phuong Uyen (R) poes for a photo in China in October 2019. Photo courtesy of Uyen

When Covid-19 broke out, China shut down its borders and implemented a "zero Covid" policy, making it impossible for Uyen and hundreds of thousands of other international students to continue their paused education.

She asked the school to put her academic results on reserve in early 2022 though she has one semester left to go. Later, she must do an internship for six to 12 months in order to graduate.

Uyen studied online and worked part-time while in Vietnam, but her earnings were limited.

Meanwhile, the 3,000 yuan ($437) living expenses included in her scholarship package was cut after she returned home.

If she returns to China at this time, she would have to rely on her family for nearly the entire cost.

"That's what makes me nervous and scared," Uyen explained.

According to Doan Ba Toai, a 27-year-old a PhD researcher at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University who now runs a study abroad counseling center, students' biggest concerns are airfare, rent, and living expenses in China.

Previously, international students could travel to China by road for VND5-6 million or by air for VND7-10 million. China has recently reopened air routes, but fares have "risen about tenfold."

He speculated that the high costs could be due to China's continued restrictions on entry due to the unstable Covid situation. New cases are still being discovered, despite the country's "zero Covid" policy.

Foreign students with valid visas may return to China. New students or those with expired visas must wait for an email from the school to determine whether or not they want to come and accept the cost of quarantine. Later, the school sends information to the embassy for international students to apply for an admission visa. International students will apply for an X1 or X2 visa in Vietnam, but once in China, these will be changed to a residence permit.

He stated that he did not intend to return to China right away, but instead will wait until the international border is fully opened, at which point the cost would be reduced. His school in China also sent out surveys, but only a few people confirmed they want to return immediately.

"There is no point for me to go there now because my school still offers online classes for students.

Foreign students will also be limited in their travel. They'll have to get permission from the school if they want to leave the province. Meanwhile, I returned to Vietnam after more than two years and have found a good-paying job," he stated.

After giving it some thought, Uyen concluded: "I still have to go back even though it's expensive."

On Aug. 24, Beijing Forestry University notified all students that online instruction would be discontinued beginning with the spring semester of the following year, effective Jan. 20, 2023.

"That means I need to return to China before this time," Uyen explained, hoping that during the visa application period, airfares would drop and quarantine costs be reduced.

"I had no idea the journey back would be this difficult and expensive."

Linh, on the other hand, has applied and is waiting for her visa. She stated that even if she returned to China, she would not be able to arrive in time for the new school year. She made the decision to keep studying online as long as she could. She plans to travel to China in September or October, with the help of her family and savings.

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