Getting a Visa for Vietnam

See the Exact Process for Obtaining a Visa on Arrival for Vietnam

Visa for Vietnam
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Getting a visa for Vietnam is slightly more involved than getting one for other countries in Southeast Asia. Aside from a few, lucky nationalities that are exempt, you'll certainly be denied entry if you turn up without a visa. In fact, most airlines won't even let you board the flight to Vietnam without a prearranged visa or approval letter.

How to Get a Visa for Vietnam

You have two choices for obtaining the visa for Vietnam: apply for a visa at a Vietnamese consulate in a different country or get a Visa Approval Letter via a third-party travel agency. You can obtain the Visa Approval Letter online for a small fee, then present it for a visa on arrival at one of Vietnam's international airports.

Your passport must have at least six month's worth of validity left to receive a visa for Vietnam.

Note: All travelers can visit Phu Quoc Island for 30 days without a visa for Vietnam.

Vietnam E-Visa System

Vietnam implemented an E-Visa system on February 1, 2017. Although the system was buggy at first, travelers will be able to take care of their visa online before arriving, greatly simplifying the process.

You'll need a scan/photo of your passport as well as a separate, recent passport-size photo of yourself. After uploading images, you'll pay US $25. Three days later, you'll receive an email with your Vietnam E-Visa attached. Print this and bring it with you to Vietnam.

Note: A myriad of websites claiming to be the official E-Visa site have sprung up. These are all middlemen sites that simply forward your information on to the official site, but they keep a fee. Some even fake government domain names to look official!

Vietnam Visa on Arrival

The most common way for travelers to get a visa on arrival for Vietnam is to first apply online for a Visa Approval Letter through a third-party travel agency. The Visa Approval Letter is not to be confused with an e-Visa; they are issued by private companies rather than the government and do not guarantee entry into the country.

Warning: The visa on arrival only works for arriving in one of the major international airports: Saigon, Hanoi, or Da Nang.

If crossing overland into Vietnam from a neighboring country, you must have already arranged a travel visa from a Vietnamese embassy.

Step 1: Apply for your approval letter online

Travel agencies charge around US $20 (payable via credit card) to process your online application; processing time usually takes 2 - 3 working days or you can pay more for rush service. Applying for a stay longer than the standard 30-day visa takes 7 - 10 working days to process. On rare occasions, the government may ask for more information such as a scan of your passport. The travel agency handles all communication with you, but a request for more information will certainly delay your approval processing.

Err on the side of caution and start the online process well in advance of your flight date.

Technically, you do not have to have your flight to Vietnam booked yet, however, you cannot arrive before the arrival date you chose on the application. The field for flight number on the application form is optional.

Step 2: Print your approval letter

Once approved, the travel agency will email you an image file of the scanned approval letter which must be printed clearly and legibly. Print a couple of copies just to be safe. Don't be surprised when you see lots of other names on your approval letter -- it's normal for your name to just be included on a list of approvals for that day.

Step 3: Book your flight

If you haven't already booked your flight to Vietnam, do so after receiving your visa approval letter. Flights can be booked without proof of visa, however, you'll need to show either a Vietnamese visa in your passport or the printed approval letter before being allowed to board your flight.

Step 3: Arrive in Vietnam

Upon arrival, you should approach the visa on arrival window to receive the visa application form. They may ask for your passport, Visa Approval Letter, and passport photo(s) to expedite processing as you complete the visa form. Write down essential information such as your passport number, issue date, and expiration date before handing it over.

You will take a seat to complete the small-but-confusing application form then present it at the window. Once your name is called, you'll receive your passport with a one-page, Vietnam visa sticker inside. Depending on the queue, the entire process takes around 20 minutes.

Visa Fees: You will have to pay a visa-on-arrival fee when presenting your paperwork. For a 30-day, single-entry visa on arrival, US citizens now pay US $45 (the new fee went into affect in 2013). This is entirely separate from the US $20+ already paid for an approval letter. A visa will then be added to your passport and you are allowed to enter Vietnam.

Note: Although two passport photos are officially required, the airport in Saigon only asks for one. It should be recent, on a white background, and loosely conform to the official size of 4 x 6 centimeters. If you do not have photos, some airports have kiosks where you can take them for a small fee.

Getting a Visa from a Vietnamese Embassy

If you intend to cross into Vietnam overland from a neighboring country, you'll need to have already visited a Vietnamese embassy and arranged a tourist visa in your passport. The process can take up to a week, so don't wait until the last minute to apply!

Unfortunately, the processing times, procedures, and visa fees vary greatly from place to place, depending upon which embassy handles your application. Americans have the option to apply in either Washington DC or San Francisco. You can also apply for a Vietnam visa in countries around Southeast Asia, however, they all have their own procedures and restrictions.

To be certain, check for up-to-date visa rules on each embassy's website or give them a call before planning your trip. Remember: embassies will be closed for all Vietnamese national holidays as well as holidays for the local country.

If you'd rather throw money at the problem than work through the bureaucracy, a visa for Vietnam can also be arranged online by mailing your passport to third-party agents who handle the process.

Countries with Visa Exemptions

  • 30 Days for Free: Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia, Cambodia
  • 21 Days for Free: The Philippines
  • 15 Days for Free: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Russia, Japan, South Korea
  • 14 Days for Free: Brunei

September 2014 Update: France, Australia, Germany, India, and the UK have been added to the list of countries with visa exemptions.

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