Until 2017, getting a visa for Vietnam was slightly inconvenient for travelers. You had to apply through a third-party service and pay for a Visa Approval Letter, then exchange that document once in Vietnam (and pay again) for a visa-on-arrival stamp.
Now, citizens from 81 countries (including the United States, Canada, and European Union) can apply online for an e-visa. As usual when applying for a travel visa, this has to be done before you land in Vietnam. Without proof you'll be allowed into Vietnam upon arrival, your airline probably won't even allow you to board the plane.
Note: Visa processes and rules for different nationalities change frequently. Information you see online can end up outdated. If unsure, check directly with the Vietnamese embassy.
How to Get a Visa for Vietnam
You officially have three choices for obtaining the visa for Vietnam:
- Apply and pay online for an e-visa (this is the easiest option).
- Apply for a visa in person or online at a Vietnamese consulate outside of Vietnam. This is not the same as an e-visa.
- Go through an agency to secure a "visa approval letter" that will be exchanged for a visa upon arrival in the airport.
Regardless of which method you use, your passport must have at least six month's worth of validity left to receive a visa for Vietnam.
Citizens from 13 countries (including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Scandinavian countries) actually have a visa exemption for 15 days. If your visit to Vietnam is brief, you may not need to bother with a visa at all! This list of exemptions can change, so check in advance.
All travelers can visit Phu Quoc, the largest island in Vietnam, for 30 days without a visa.
Vietnam E-Visa System
Vietnam implemented an e-visa system on February 1, 2017. Although a little buggy at first, the new system has greatly simplified the process of getting a visa for Vietnam.
You'll need a scan/digital photo of your passport as well as a recent, digital photo (4 x 6 cm) of yourself on a neutral background (no hats or glasses). After uploading images, you'll pay the US $25 fee online. Three days later, if all goes well, you'll receive an email with your e-visa attached. Print this and bring it with you to Vietnam!
Warning: Many fake e-visa websites have popped up. These fraudulent sites claim to be official but are actually involved with identity-theft rings. Ensure you are applying on the official government e-visa website (the domain ends with gov.vn); don't trust search engine results or the ads at the top.
Vietnam Visa on Arrival
Before the e-visa system was rolled out, the most common way for travelers to get a visa for Vietnam was to first apply online for a Visa Approval Letter through a third-party processing agency. This is still an option if you are having trouble applying for an e-visa.
The Visa Approval Letter is not to be confused with an e-visa; these official letters are issued by private companies rather than the Vietnamese government and do not guarantee entry into the country.
The visa on arrival only works for arriving in one of the major international airports: Saigon (HCMC), Hanoi, Nha Trang, or Da Nang. If crossing overland into Vietnam from a neighboring country, you must have already arranged a visa either online or from an embassy.
The process for obtaining a pre-arranged visa for Vietnam is as follows:
Step 1: Apply for an 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 requires more time (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—start the visa process well in advance of your flight date.
Choose your visa agency wisely; some of the websites are unsecured and offer hit-or-miss service. www.myvietnamvisa.com is one of the longest-running, most reliable online agencies for processing approval letters.
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 if you see lots of other travelers' 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 proof of a visa 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 request 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 paperwork in the waiting area. Write down essential information such as your passport number, issue date, and expiration date before handing it over.
Two passport photos are officially required, but the office may only ask for one; these should loosely conform to the official size of 4 x 6 centimeters. If you do not have photos that meet the requirements, some airports have kiosks where you can take them for a small fee.
You will take a seat to complete the short-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.
Step 4: Pay the Visa Fee
You will have to pay a visa-on-arrival fee when presenting your paperwork. For a 30-day, single-entry visa on arrival, the fee is typically US $25; paying the exact amount with U.S. dollars is preferred, otherwise you may be issued change in the local currency (subject to a bad exchange rate). This is separate from the fee paid to an agency for the approval letter.
After paying at the window, a visa will then be added to your passport and you are allowed to enter Vietnam.
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.
Embassies will close the office for national holidays in Vietnam as well as holidays in the local country. During that time, you won't be able to get your passport back!
Unfortunately, the processing times, procedures, and visa fees vary inconsistently 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.
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.