Getting a Visa for Vietnam: Rules, Snafus, Solutions

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Visa on Arrival or E-Visa for Vietnam

It has become so much easier to get a visa for Vietnam since I first did it myself several years ago and wrote this post. The rules changed a few times, and I used to either contact an embassy at home or use the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok. But now you can get an e-visa for Vietnam, but ONLY if you are arriving at one of the five international airports of Vietnam (Noi Bai in Hanoi, Cat Bi in Hai Phong, Da Nang in Da Nang, Cam Ranh in Khanh Hoa and Tan Son Nhat in Ho Chi Minh City)

This is not exactly a Vietnam visa on arrival – you do need to make arrangements and pay a processing fee before you arrive. Then when you pass through immigration at the airport in Vietnam, you must fill in a visa application form (again! so you can do this before you arrive to save more time) and present the application form, your two passport photos, and the visa approval letter you receive from the e-visa service via email. You will wait then be called up to the counter to pay the stamping fee.

So the price of your Vietnamese e-visa is a combination of a processing/service fee from an e-visa service provider, which you pay online, and a stamping fee, which you pay in cash, USD and exact change, at the airport. After this process, then you can pass through immigration. This is much easier (and cheaper) than going to embassies as we did in the past.

The stamping fee depends on the type of tourist visa: 1 month single or 1 month multiple entries, or 3 months single and 3-month multiple entries, or a business visa which is totally different. See Vietnam Visa for more information. At the time of writing, the stamping fee for US, UK, Australia and most European passports was $25 for one month visas, or $50 for three month visas. Expect two business days to receive your visa approval letter by email. Some nationalities can pay an extra fee to expedite the e-visa in one business day or even in four hours! I’ve done both before.

The processing or service fee for a Vietnam e-visa varies, but is in the neighborhood of $21 USD, payable with a credit card on a reliable e-visa service. I have personally used the Vietnam-Visa.com e-visa service for my last three trips and have found them reliable, fast, and responsive when I had a question. Additionally, they offer discounted service fees when more than one traveler applies together.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Be sure your passport is valid for at least a month past the end date of your intended stay. That’s the current official rule according to Vietnam authorities. However, many airlines may enforce a six-month validity on your passport beyond your intended return date. Six months is a wise practice in all international travel. We’ve seen travelers rushing from O’Hare airport to the passport agent in Chicago after being denied boarding due to a soon-to-expire (less than 6 months) passport. Don’t be that guy (or gal). (But if you are, we’ve seen new passports issued in Chicago in a matter of hours.)

 

Why Wouldn’t I Get an E-visa for Vietnam?

While the Vietnam visa on arrival is definitely easy and some e-services offer discounts for people who apply together or in groups, you might consider getting the visa ahead of time at your local Vietnamese embassy or consulate. Why? Firstly, because maybe you are choosing to arrive by land or boat. The e-visa is only available for travelers arriving at one of the international airports. But even then, you may prefer a pre-arranged visa. Because when a plane or multiple planes unloads at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, for example, a fair number of the passengers have likely also purchased the e-visa. The result may be a waiting area filled with travelers watching with impatience as the e-visa passports pile up behind the counter — in no particular order and likely with no sense of urgency. I waited nearly an hour for mine in June 2017. Anyone with a pre-arranged visa will bypass this waiting area and go right through customs. But be aware that visa fees are higher than the combined e-visa service and stamping fees.

Pre-Arranged Visas

Visa fees at the Vietnam Embassy in USA as of 2017:

  • 1 month, single entry: $80USD
  • 1 month, multiple entries: $135USD
  • 3 months, single entry: $110USD
  • 3 months, multiple entries: $160USD
  • 6 months, multiple entries (available for US passport holders only at this embassy): $170 per person
  • 1 year multiple entry visa (available US passport holders only at this embassy): $190 per person

**The visa is valid from the proposed date of entry on the application form. Fees may be different in different countries.

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.

vietnam-loose-leaf-visa

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 has changed frequently over the last couple years, at least for Americans, so be sure to check the embassy page for updates (you may need to call or email them), though the e-visa service provides its own information already. Email the Vietnamese consulate in the USA (vnconsular@vietnamembassy.us) for the current fees. The Vietnamese visa application is online (you will go to a Vietnamese page but you can click English and that might work) 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.

You may not need proof of a flight but the application does ask for the address of a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. Some applicants may be required to show both, either here or in Vietnam, so get on a booking site (I typically use Agoda.com because most properties have easy cancellation or changes if I am merely using the reservation to satisfy a visa requirement) and use a likely address (you don’t need to book just for the visa application). Regarding an onward ticket, while immigration may not ask for it, some airlines may ask you before your flight to Vietnam. I’ve been hassled for this in several Asian countries and the airline wouldn’t give me my boarding pass without something as simple as a flight itinerary showing my departure date from Vietnam.

 

 

Get a Visa at the 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.) Again, this is a more expensive route to go and the waiting here will be more than if you had just done the e-visa. Though on arrival you might get to your hotel faster by an hour, and for some travelers that may be worth it.

 

And finally…

The visa process is pretty straightforward, but I had a small snag once. (Read the full melodramatic story on my blog.) In short, I mailed the application to the embassy in DC and forgot about it. It never got there.

One possible last resort that may work in such a case: Hyperventilate a bit, then call the “emergency” number at the Vietnam Embassy (also at the bottom of the visa application) during business hours. They gave me an 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 the Vietnam embassy in DC 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 idiocy in nearly blowing this easy visa process.

Vietnam Hotels



14 thoughts on “Getting a Visa for Vietnam: Rules, Snafus, Solutions

  • Pingback: My Visa Emergency and the Next Big Trip

  • March 9, 2013 at 10:15 pm
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    Thanks for posting this! It is very helpful for my future trip to Vietnam.

  • July 27, 2013 at 1:57 am
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    Thanks! Good stuff!

  • November 28, 2013 at 1:01 am
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    Thank you. Your post really helped.

  • July 24, 2014 at 9:11 pm
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    How much postage is needed for the return envelope? I assume it is just a simple visa sheet that will need to be mailed back and only a single stamp would be enough. Right?

    • July 24, 2014 at 9:58 pm
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      That’s true I suppose if you are not sending the passport in, however, I used the full-on trackable mailer from the USPS so I could find out if it had been sent and I could track it.

  • Pingback: Passports, the USPS, and the Aftermath - ABenAbroad

  • May 1, 2015 at 4:30 pm
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    Hi! Im not sure if you will get this but I am having the hardest time figuring out how to get this visa and stumbled upon your blog. It for sure has the most helpful info but somehow I am still confused. I live in NYC and looking to get a 1 month tourist visa. From what I understand I will fill out the online PDF, print it, and mail it to the Washington DC Vietnam consulate with my passport (??) and a check. Is that correct? I am nervous to send my passport in the mail, especially because I am traveling June 1! Sorry this is random but I just have no idea what I am doing!

    • May 1, 2015 at 4:40 pm
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      Yep, that’s what I did. Be sure to use trackable service. Double check their site to see if they prefer one method or the other. Give yourself lead time to get it back just in case (but honestly they rushed mine and were very accommodating when I called). Also, you can now get it online and pick it up at the airport. A bit of wait there possibly, but now possible.

  • August 19, 2015 at 9:31 pm
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    I just called the embassy and they gave me a “gmail” account also. Is that okay to use? It sounds fishy. Especially with all the personal info that I will be submitting. Unfortunately, I am traveling at the last min due to my father being ill. Any guidance you can provide will be helpful. Thank you

    • August 19, 2015 at 10:20 pm
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      If you called the embassy in the US and they gave you a Gmail account email, then I would trust it, strange as that may sound. They were so personal with me when I was having trouble, it didn’t at all feel like I was dealing with a governmental agency. It was nice.

  • August 29, 2015 at 5:30 am
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    Hello Kevin,
    I will be traveling overseas (Vietnam) for the first time next month. I have my passport and loose leaf tourist visa in hand, but when I was reading over my Vietnam tourist visa, I noticed what I think may be an error and thought maybe you could shed some light on it. I have just emailed the Vietnam Embassy in DC as well. I see on the visa where my passport number is listed in 2 places; on the bottom (which is correct) and on the middle-right side (which is short a number). Is this common to not list the whole passport number in this section, or do you think this may be an error. i would hate to get turned away after that long flight, so I would like to make sure if this is in fact an error. I enjoyed your passing of the wisdom on the loose leaf visa and decided to go the same route. Thank you for whatever help you may be able to give as I am ready to begin my adventure with international travel and hope to do much more.
    Thanks

    • August 31, 2015 at 1:38 pm
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      Hi Robert,

      Interesting. I only have an old one here from 2013 as lately I’ve been either getting one in Bangkok or doing the visa on arrival thing. The old one only had one place for my passport number. Have you gotten a response from the embassy yet? I think if the full number is on there already, they’d have to be pretty silly to insist something is wrong on such an official document. Let me know what you find out though. Cheers! K.

  • November 27, 2015 at 2:29 am
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    Hi Kevin,

    Please be informed that the new lower Vietnam visa stamping fee took effect from November 23rd, 2015. “Instead of having to pay US $45 and US $95 as stamping fee for a single entry visa and a multiple entry visa valid for up to 3 months respectively in the past, VOA applicants now only need to pay US $25 and US $50 respectively. It is slightly over 50% of its past amount.” (according to http://www.Vietnam-visa.com) Kindly check review and correct it for all readers.

    Best regards,

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