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Vietnam Visa 101: How to Get your Vietnam Visa Hassle-free
Since joining a couple of Facebook groups dedicated to Southeast Asia travelers, I’ve noticed that one of the most common (if not THE most common) question always has to do with getting Vietnam visa. Indeed, there seems to be a lot of confusion, and the dozens of third party visa affiliates makes getting clear information that much more difficult. So I’ve decided to put together a roundup of Vietnam visa-related information for those who can’t make heads or tails out of what you’ll find online.
Vietnam Visa types for short-term travelers
So let’s start with the basic point of distinction when it comes to visa for Vietnam. As a tourist, you have a choice between two things: visa on arrival or e-visa. The latter is a rather recent development, and might be better-suited for travelers from particular countries.
So what actually is a Vietnamese e-visa? It’s simply a pre-approved visa that enables you to skip lengthy visa on arrival lines at immigration, as well as any hassle with cash payment. It can be used at :various (but not all) entry points in Vietnam, both by air and overland. It wasn’t until 2016 that the country decided to enable an e-visa option to a list of countries. To find out whether you’re eligible for a Vietnam e-visa, check out the list below.
Despite the fact that you may find several ‘official visa websites’ with a simple Google search, there is only one ACTUAL, legit website that issues the Vietnam e-visa – and that is the official Vietnamese e-visa website. It looks kind of like a high school coding project, but it is, in fact, the one and only official e-visa issuing website. All the rest are third parties who actually have nothing to do with the Vietnam e-visa, but rather supply invitation letters which you go for the visa on arrival option, while making a quick buck off of this service.
Applying for an E-Visa
So if you’re eligible for a Vietnam e-visa, simply visit the official website and apply by filling our some personal data. Be careful to spell everything correctly. If there are any discrepancies, you’ll get notified once the application reaches processing (so a day or two later) and will be asked to make a correction. The difference can be as minute as mistaking a zero in your passport number for an “o” – which actually happened to us.
You’ll also be asked to upload an image of your passport data page (i.e. the page with your picture and all the personal information on it) and one passport photo. The processing fee is 25 USD, and the website accepts a variety of credit/debit card types. After payment, you’ll get a confirmation of receipt via email.
IMPORTANT: Apply for a Vietnam e-visa at least a week in advance, to be sure. The processing times are 3 business days. However, it’s not guaranteed, and, if you make a mistake and are prompted to correct it, the processing time will be restarted again from whenever you send off the correction. For instance, if you receive a notification about an incorrect passport number two days after you applied, you have to allow the same 3 business days after you submitted the correction for the e-visa to be processed. In most cases it runs smoothly, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Using your Vietnam e-visa
When your application goes through, you can use your personal processing number to check the status of your application. You can check the status whenever you please or wait for an email notification that says your application has been processed (the email won’t tell you whether the e-visa was granted or rejected, though, so you’ll have to check in any case).
Once you put in your processing number (and hopefully find out that the e-visa has been granted), you’ll be able to access the visa document and print it – WHICH IS MANDATORY.
When you arrive and proceed through immigration, there’s not need to pay any other fees or anything – just present your passport and the e-visa document and you’re good to go!
Vietnam E-visa Caveat
Since the e-visa is issued before your arrival, you’ll be asked to provide (on the application form) the start of your stay in Vietnam. The e-visa will have a validity for 1 month FROM THE DATE YOU ENTERED. If your plans change, and you end up arriving in the country later than the intended date, that is fine. But be aware that the e-visa validity will have the same expiration date as was issued originally. Meaning, if you already have your e-visa, but arrive on September 18th instead of September 10th as intended, you will still only be allowed to stay in the country until October 10th, since that’s the expiration date on your visa. So try not to screw yourself over by last-minute postponing of your arrival date.
Vietnam Visa on Arrival
Visa on arrival is a good choice for the following short-term travelers:
- Visitors from countries other than the ones eligible for the e-visa
- Visitors who don’t have enough time for the processing of an e-visa before arrival
- Visitors coming in through ports of entry that don’t accept e-visa
Same goes for anyone who would like to stay in Vietnam longer than the typical 1 month tourist allowance – if this is your case, you will have to research different types of your Vietnam visa on arrival options that apply to your situation.
Applying for visa on arrival
I realize that the phrase in the headline above sounds a bit silly: why would there be any preparation needed for visa that is issued on arrival, right? Well, unlike in Indonesia or Thailand, it’s not as straightforward in Vietnam.
In order to receive a Vietnam visa on arrival, you have to present a letter of invitation at immigration – and only then will the visa be issued. This gives you 2 options: request an invitation letter beforehand or request it at your point of entry, WHICH WILL BE RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE. As of September 2018, immigration officials were charging fresh-off-the-plane clueless tourists in Ho Chi Minh City a whopping 160 USD for an invitation letter, photo, and Vietnam visa on arrival combo. Don’t have money to burn? Then do the following:
- Request a letter of invitation through a reliable and not extremely overpriced third party immigration affiliate
- Have an actual, physical, passport photo ready, along with 25 USD in cash
- Apply for the Vietnam visa on arrival directly at immigration
My recommendation would be VietnamVisaPro, who had a standard fee of 6 USD for standard, 2-day processing, with options to get your invitation in a shorter window of time if you are running late. Of course, the faster you need it, the more you’d pay. However, as of Sept. 2018, the payment for expedited 4-hour processing was 10 USD on top of the base 6-dollar fee – which is a fair price if you’re in a pickle.
You’ll need this at immigration.
Fill out a form, provide a passport photo, and pay the 25 USD visa fee to have you application processed. After a short wait, you’ll receive your visa and can pass through to immigration check to enter the country.
If staying for 1 month, your Vietnam visa on arrival will be valid from the day you arrived.
Vietnam visa on arrival caveat
While giving you a bit more flexibility, the downside of this visa type is that it will be more expensive than the simple Vietnam e-visa. While the processing fee stays the same, you’ll have to pay for the invitation letter – which can double or triple your overall cost depending on how far in advance you’re dealing with Vietnam immigration. Also, many of the third party affiliates who provide invitation visas range from unnecessarily overpriced to straight-up scammy. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen an unofficial website present itself falsely as an e-visa or instant visa provider – when, in fact, they would never be allowed to issue any visa to begin with.
Vietnam Visa Troubleshooting
Since not everything in life goes smoothly, you might find yourself having to solve an immigration-related issue. This can seem akin to solving a Rubik’s cube. Though I’m not an expert on all things Vietnamese immigration, here are a few situations we dealt with directly and gathered information on:
You entered on a 15-day visa waiver, but want to stay longer than that
Nationals of a select few countries are allowed to enter Vietnam visa-free for up to 15 days. So if you happen to be from the countries on this visa exemption list, you can get yourself a complimentary and hassle-free entry with a 2-week validity. But what if you decide that that’s too short, and you want to extend? Well, in that case your option is to:
- Apply for a Vietnam e-visa, physically leave the country, and enter on the freshly-issued e-visa
- Obtain an invitation letter, physically leave the country, and then use your invitation letter to get visa on arrival
- Pay an immigration affiliate (nothing more than slightly more sophisticated travel agents who will handle the bureaucracy for you) to request an extension
The last option may cost anywhere from 75 to 200 USD.
You had an e-visa, but the immigration officer put an incorrect expiration date in your passport
Sounds far-fetched but this has actually happened to us! Be it a momentary lapse of awareness, or whatnot, the immigration officer put a 2-week validity date, as if for a visa waiver option. Not noticing until it was too late, the best and most effective option was to go to the official immigration office. However, the result of this largely depends on the immigration officer dealing with your case, and how he/she may feel about it.
Frankly, it’s probably your best shot to go straight to the source. The downside of this is that you’ll only find this office in major cities. We happened to be in Ho Chi Minh City, which has a major immigration office directly in District 1. After waiting for about half an hour (there was a ticketing systems, but we were told we didn’t need one – yet there was no one at the designated counter number 14), Flo got to speak to an officer and explain the situation. After running back and forth to (presumably) cross check some things, the officer came back with an ‘extended’/corrected visa date.
You applied for an e-visa, but it didn’t come through in time for your arrival
This is why I recommend applying for the e-visa well in advance. If caught in this conundrum, you have two choices:
- If you qualify for a visa waiver, enter on a 15-day allowance and do a border run once the visa comes through
- Make a last-minute invitation letter request, print the invitation letter, and get your visa on arrival processed when entering
For any other visa-related troubles, you should contact the official immigration bureau, your embassy or one of the third-party immigration office for advice, as our experience is limited to the situations described above. Still, I hope this Vietnam visa guide has been helpful. Happy travels!