The Vietnam visa process has changed several times in the last two years. We have tried to keep this article as up-to-date as possible. As always, you need to get a visa (or documentation for a visa on arrival) before you arrive in Vietnam.
Update 2/16/2017: You can now obtain an e-visa through the Vietnamese government if you are a passport holder from one of 40 countries (yes, USA and UK are on the list). You're able to get a 30-day, single entry visa for $25 USD by applying through the Vietnam e-visa page.
It's supposedly a 2-year pilot period, so the process may change again in the future. If your country is not on the list or you are looking to get a mulitple entry visa or one for longer than 30 days, continue reading below.
You've decided to travel to Vietnam. Great choice! There's so much to experience throughout this vast country, you'll never be bored! We even have a month-long backpacking itinerary for Vietnam filled with all the great things you can do, so you're planning is all done!
There's one problem though... Getting in. The Vietnam visa process is one of the most complicated (and kind of screwy) diplomatic systems we've ever experienced abroad. In fact, we met many people who avoided Vietnam altogether solely because they thought obtaining visa was too difficult.
But it doesn't have to be that hard. There are basically three ways to get a Vietnam visa: 1) within your home country's Vietnam Embassy, 2) at a foreign country's Vietnam Embassy, or 3) online with a Vietnam visa on arrival.
One of these processes is far cheaper and more convenient than the other two. Keep reading to find the best Vietnam visa process for you.
Did you know Vietnam is a great place to teach English? Find out how to get certified to teach English abroad.
1. Mail your passport to your home country Vietnam Embassy
You're a smart traveler and you like to plan ahead for everything before you leave home. You follow the instructions on the Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website and send your passport with the application in the mail to the closest Vietnam Embassy.
They'll process it, place the visa sticker in your passport and then a few days later they'll send it back to you. Seems simple enough, right? Well it is, but you end up paying double or even triple the amount a normal Vietnam visa costs.
For example, a single entry, one-month visa will cost $100 USD. The price for a single entry, three-month visa will set you back $140 USD! This is far more money than the other two methods. Additionally, you'll have to part with your passport while they process it.
2. Travel to a foreign country's Vietnam Embassy
This process is only for travelers who will be in a neighboring country prior to entering Vietnam (aka Cambodia, Laos or China).
Let's say you've already started traveling in Cambodia or Laos and your plans are to travel by land to Vietnam. To get a visa, you must travel to the capital city of the country you're in, taxi to the Vietnamese embassy, fill out the forms, leave you passport for one to three days, then come back for the embassy and pick up your passport with the visa attached.
You can choose how fast you want the process to take, but you'll pay more for a quicker processing time. For example, here are the costs for a 1-month single entry tourist visa:
Standard 3-Day processing time: $40 USD
Expedited Same Day processing time: $50 USD
It may seem like a reasonable price to pay, but you have to factor in traveling to the capital city, taxis to and from embassy and the invaluable price of parting with your passport for a few days in a foreign country. So in total you could tack on at least an additional $20-$40 USD in extra expenses.
3. Purchase your Vietnam Visa Online (Visa on Arrival)
Getting a Vietnam visa online is the most popular of the 3 options, because it's the most convenient and the cheapest. Doing the Vietnam visa process online means that you will get your tourist visa on arrival (VOA).
Basically, you'll get your visa placed in your passport when you land at the airport during immigration. For this option, you must fly into Vietnam. You cannot arrive by land or boat (But if you Google the horror stories of traveling to Vietnam by bus, you might just choose to fly!).
It may seem strange, but in order to get a Vietnam Visa on Arrival, you must have a travel agency "sponsor" your time in Vietnam by writing an invitation letter of sorts. In reality, you have no connection with the tour agency except for them assisting you in obtaining this visa.
Once you pay a service fee online, you'll receive an email a few days later with an attached visa approval letter.
When you land at the airport in Vietnam, go to the immigration counter with your PRINTED visa approval letter, passport, and the exact amount of money (in cash) for the visa stamping fee. Once the officials stamp the visa in your passport, you're free to explore Vietnam!
Warning: There are many sleazy individuals who saw an opportunity to take advantage of naive travelers and have created fake online visa services. Even the U.S. Department of State has sent out warnings about these thieves.
How to Choose an Online Vietnam Visa Agency
Truthfully, it's hard to tell the difference between real companies and the fake ones. That's why we created this post and want to share a real and reliable site we trust and recommend: Vietnam-Visa.com.
How much does the Vietnam Visa On Arrival (VOA) cost?
No matter what online company you go with, there are two fees associated with a Vietnam Visa On Arrival: 1. Stamping fee and 2. Service fee.
1. The stamping fee is the same no matter which company you go with. It is $25 USD for a single entry visa or $50 USD for a multiple entry visa. This amount is paid at the Immigration counter at the airport in CASH (preferably with crisp bills).
2. The service fees are what vary between the online companies. Vietnam-Visa.com has reasonable service fees shown below:
1-month, single entry visa: $21 USD
1-month, multiple entry visa: $26 USD
3-month, single entry visa: $34 USD
3-month, multiple entry visa: $55 USD
There are some tourist agencies that charge more for this service, and others that charge less. The thing is that when going through a process like this, you want to be sure you're going through a reputable company who'll get your papers to you in a reasonable time and filled out correctly.
We heard stories of other travelers who never got their approval letter, or who had to wait longer than the time they had agreed upon. We always choose to go with trustworthy companies, even if it is a few dollars more. And we only recommend companies we truly trust.
Vietnam-visa.com has a standard processing time of only two days (while many companies are three to four, or even longer). If you need your approval letter rushed in one working day it will cost $10 USD more. If you're really in a rush, you can even get your approval letter within 4 working hours for an extra $25 USD. Feel free to check them out and make sure to take a look at their testimonials of real travelers.
Note: Be sure when you apply to request your information be sent privately. We recently found out, due to the high volumes of visas applicants, immigration typically groups applicants together on the same approval letter (up to ten different names). If you want to keep you information private (i.e. passport number) you can ask Vietnam-Visa.com to send your approval letter seperate.
Once you're ready to apply, simply follow the directions below:
Fill out your information on Vietnam-Visa.com, pay the service fee and submit your application. Make sure to include arrival airport, processing time, and length of stay (1 month or 3 months).
Once your application is processed, check your email, verify all the information is correct on the approval letter and PRINT out your approval letter.
Fly to Vietnam
Go to the Immigration Counter with your passport, approval letter and stamping fee ($25 USD cash for a single entry visa or $50 USD cash for a multiple entry visa).
Wait for immigration to call your name, receive your passport with visa stamped inside, and welcome to Vietnam!
Now you're ready to explore Vietnam! Be sure to check out our Complete One-Month Vietnam Travel Itinerary, which you can use as your guide.
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Have you been to Vietnam? How did you obtain your tourist visa? Please share your experience in the comments below.