Sky-high airfares and strict quarantine rules are making the journey from Europe to Vietnam too expensive and complicated for the vast majority of Vietnamese expats in Germany.
Flights from Europe to Vietnam have become extremely expensive since the coronavirus pandemic began last year
When Nga Nguyen inquired at a travel agency about flying from Germany to Vietnam with her family to visit her gravely ill grandmother, she was shocked to discover that it would be far more difficult and expensive than she had imagined.
"They told me that it's €4,300 ($5,090) per person," Nguyen told DW. The 31-year-old said she had expected the price to be around €1,500 maybe even €2,000, which would be around double the airfare for a round trip from Europe to Southeast Asia before the pandemic hit.
The package the agency offered included a one-way ticket to Vietnam, a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a hotel and a fee to process administrative documents with the embassy.
On top of that, Nga Nguyen was told she would also have to pay another €600 or €700 to fly back to Germany at the end of her stay.
The exorbitant cost has put the family off flying back. They are now pinning their hopes on the unlikely prospect of relaxed COVID travel restrictions and praying that her grandmother's health doesn't deteriorate further.
"After learning about my grandma's health condition, we really wanted to go back home. But it is not as easy as we thought. The quarantine takes so long, and we don't know what will happen," said Nguyen.
Any Vietnamese citizen who wants to go home has to get their name on a waiting list, which they can do by contacting their embassy and filling out a form. However, only those with urgent needs, like holders of expiring residence permits or visas, or graduating students, are given priority.
"It is easier for students or those who travel and work in Germany for a short period of time to get a flight," said Nguyen, who has been living in Germany for a decade. "It's much more difficult for those with permanent residency," she added.
With only one or two repatriation flights per month from Germany to Vietnam, the wait can take several months, making planning ahead another headache for people stuck abroad.
Those returning to Vietnam must also bear in mind the cost of the mandatory 14-day quarantine, which can range from €700 to €2,600 depending on the quality of the hotel — although it's only around €70 at army-run quarantine camps.
Vietnam, an international success story in combating the virus, began its vaccination program in early March
The cost and wait have deterred other Vietnamese from going back home. That includes people like Linh Pham (name changed), who hasn't seen her family and friends in Vietnam since coming to Germany to pursue a master's degree almost three years ago.
Her plan to visit family in March of last year had to be scrapped when the pandemic hit. Like many, she couldn't foresee just how long those plans would be shelved.
She thought she would be able to visit over Christmas but by then the price for a one-way ticket had skyrocketed to €2,000. That's not counting the cost of the quarantine, which she'd have to pay for herself.
"I miss home a lot and really want to go back. I have this constant fear everyday, of 'what if something happens but you really cannot go home?' … 'What if you lose someone and can never see them again?'" Pham told DW.
It's been a year since the 28-year-old started working from home. While Pham enjoys not having to commute, she says not being able to meet people face to face has become a bore, and has instead watched from afar as her homeland has navigated the pandemic with relatively few restrictions on public life.
With the number of coronavirus cases in Germany on the rise amid a third wave of infections, nationwide lockdown measures have been extended here until mid-April.
Still, despite the worsening COVID situation in Europe, Pham holds on to the hope that she might finally go back to Vietnam to see her family this summer — as long as she doesn't have to fork over several thousand euros to make the trip.
"I will make sure I do all the necessary tests. I don't care if I have to go through quarantine for two or three weeks. I really just want to go home."