IMPORTANT NOTICE – For US Citizens only! As of 30 Aug 2016, the Vietnam Immigration Department has increased the stamping fee for Vietnam visa on arrival at the airports. It is now USD $135.00 per person for a multi-entry visa valid for 1 year and valid for both tourists and business travelers. Other types of Vietnam Visa including: 1 month single and multiple entries, 3 months single and multiple entries, or 6 months single and multiple entries are NO more available for US passport holders at the moment. See Vietnam Visa for more information.
I almost screwed this up recently, but here is a summary of how to get a visa for Vietnam while you are still in the USA. It’s actually pretty easy.
In the USA, the Vietnam Embassy is in Washington DC and for a Vietnam visa they ask you to send in your passport (plus a trackable express mailer from USPS or FedEx) for a 5 business day turn around (or a 1-2 business-day express turnaround). But I needed my passport for something else and I couldn’t do it. What to do?
The Loose Leaf Visa. The Vietnamese embassy understands the inconvenience of being without your passport so they provide the option of having a loose paper visa sent in the mail.
This loose leaf visa is presented at your port of entry in Vietnam, stamped by the immigration official, and kept in your passport until your departure. At that time they take it back (so obviously you mustn’t lose it). This also means for passport-stamp collectors you won’t get to keep the visa. Never mind, it uses up a whole page otherwise.
The cost of the application for Americans is special – see warning and link at the top of this post. Email the Vietnamese consulate in the USA (dcconsular [at]gmail[dot]com) for the current fees. The Vietnamese visa application is online and in PDF format. Do note that the loose-leaf visa requires TWO passport-sized photos rather than the one required when you send your actual passport in with the application.
For other travelers, here are the Vietnamese visa fees for visa on arrival.
quoted to me valid as of January, 2016:
A. Single entry, 30 days: $80USD (with 3-5 business day processing)
B. Single entry, 90 days: $110USD
C. Multiple entry, 30 days: $135USD
D. Multiple entry, 90 days: $160USD
Normal processing time 3-4 days. Expedited service is $30USD extra for 24-hour service for single-entry visas. Double check this information as these things can change at any time.
You do not need proof of a flight but the application does ask for the address of a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. So get on a hotel booking site, Trivago will work and use a likely address (you don’t need to book just yet).
That’s pretty straightforward, but I had a small snag. (Read the full melodramatic story on my blog.) In short, I mailed the application and forgot about it. It never got there.
Three possible solutions, the third one miraculously worked and was best but perhaps not always repeatable:
1. Pay a private travel agency to prepare a pre-arranged visa. (Some often call this Visa on Arrival even though it is not, technically.) Pay part of the fee up front and the visa will be waiting at a sort of will call window at the airport (only at airports, not land borders). I’ve done this before in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the first time a few years ago when I had already booked a Halong Bay cruise. It is a fee up front (about $25USD via internet using a credit card – a few dollars cheaper and cheaper for multiple people at Vietnam Visa online) and $25USD on arrival paid in cash to the immigration official for the “Stamping Fee” (with a fairly long but not entirely unreasonable wait). Take note: This method only works when arriving by air. Land borders do not allow for pre-arranged visas/visa on arrival.
2. Do it directly at a Vietnamese Embassy in another country along the way. For example, at the Vietnam Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand you can get same-day visas — drop off your passport in the morning, pick it up in the afternoon. (There is an express fee, of course, but if you have the time you can get it in 1-4 business days for the normal fee.)
3. (Have a panic session) then call the “emergency” number at the Vietnam Embassy (also at the bottom of the visa application) during business hours. They gave me a gmail email address and told me to email the application, a copy of the passport, a copy of a passport photo, and my credit card number and address. I was charged $100 for the application and $20 to overnight the loose leaf visa to me. It arrived on Saturday just over 24 hours later. I wasn’t even charge the expedited fee. I don’t believe this is standard procedure and I feel a bit lucky. But it was nice to see how helpful this embassy was.
This whole drama could have been avoided had I 1) updated my passport sooner rather than trying to get a full 10 years out of it, 2) tracked the original package to the embassy, 3) remembered to contact them if I hadn’t gotten my visa within the 7 business days.
Full story of my recent idiocy in nearly blowing this easy visa process.