If you are one of the lucky few countries that have visa free travel into Vietnam (I’m looking at you, Singaporeans!) then you can skip reading this. But for ignorant Australian’s like myself that believe that we can enter all countries without a tourist visa by just flashing our shiny blue passport, then you might want to continue reading..
Vietnam requires a visa before entrance. For me, this was the first time I ever had to apply for a visa to enter a country for travel (the exception being the United States, which has a visa waiver program).
Option 1 to get a Visa
So option 1; you can apply for a visa at your nearest Vietnam consulate. My understanding of this process is that it takes about a week from the application time, in which you either leave your passport with the consulate, or you go back at a later date to get a visa sticker applied to one of the passport pages.
Option 2 – Visa on Arrival
Option 2 if you are in a rush, or do not have a Vietnam consulate in your home country, is to go through the Visa On Arrival process (VOA). I went through this because 3 days before my trip, i realised that i needed a visa to enter the country! What this involves is:
a) Apply for a Visa letter; this is not your visa, but a document from the Immigration department giving you permission to enter the country (well the airport anyway)
b) Fill out a Visa on Arrival (VOA) form. You can do this at the airport, or pre-fill it before you arrive.
c) Submit this to the VOA desk after you enter the country (but before the immigration control). Then wait patiently while they apply a visa sticker to your passport.
d) Head to the immigration control as per usual.
This page on Tripadvisor provides a very very detailed guide to this if you are on the cautious side
FAQ – Visa on arrival (VOA) Please, do not add any VOA agent details to this article (or in the comment box) as they will soon be removed (read Trip Advisor’s T&Cs on advertising). Also, if you have any questions, or wish to share your experiences on VOA, please do not use the comment box attached to this article.
A couple of tips for anyone researching about this process
Bring a passport photo to avoid being ripped off
Bring a 4 x 6 cm passport photo of yourself. This will be attached to your VOA form. They say to bring 2 copies but i only had to attach one to my form. If you don’t, they can take a photo for you for $5USD. The speed in which the officer pockets the $5 USD you hand over makes me think that they are keeping this for themselves.
Prefill your forms
Pre-fill the VOA form before you arrive. It means once you jump off the plane you can walk straight to the counter (or line) to get your application processed. The agent you use to get your visa letter should provide a copy of the form
Use a trustworthy Visa on Arrival (VOA) agent
If you Google “Vietnam visa” you will find a ton of websites offering a cheap visa letter. The problem is that the visa letter is issued by the Government via an agent. This agent could be anyone; a travel agent, some guy with a computer at home. Theres alot of posts on Tripadvisor about scams, and even the Vietnamese immigration website lists some dodgy visa provider websites.
Because I was short on time and needed a guarantee that the site was legitimate, i went with an expensive option listed in a Lonely Planet guide. Definately on the pricier side. I hear you can get these letters as cheap as $10USD, though i paid around $30 for mine.
All in all, it took about an hour and a half to get my visa issued at the Airport. Immigration control was about 20 minutes. Mind you this was mid day on a Thursday. Im sure it is much crazier on the weekends. For next time, i’ll just make sure to go to the consulate in advance to get my visa. Not worth the trouble.
Some other things that may be of use for new travelers to Vietnam
1. You can pre-book a car to pick you up to take you to your hotel. I used Suntransfers which is a UK based company. They called me twice when i arrived in Vietnam; once to see if i had gotten through immigration yet, and again to make sure I was with the driver. This will cost about 3 times more than a normal Vinasun taxi would, but I guess you are paying for peace of mind. Otherwise be prepared to be hassled at the airport for car services.
2. You can pickup a SIM card at the airport. I paid 200,000 VND for a 3.5GB Internet Data only SIM card ($12 SGD) from Viettel.