Visitors going to Vietnam must show a valid Vietnam visa before being allowed into the country. That’s easier said than done: compared to getting visas for other Southeast Asian countries, Vietnam is a tougher nut to crack.
The rules and costs vary widely depending on the issuing embassy or consulate. The Vietnamese consulate in Battambang, Cambodia, may charge about US$35 for a single-entry visa with 2-3 days processing, while the Vietnam embassy in Washington, DC, takes up to 7 days and US$90 to do the same thing.
The information presented here may change without prior notice, so double-check with the nearest Vietnamese embassy before applying for your visa.
Three Ways to Get a Vietnam Visa
Most travelers to Vietnam – including American citizens – can apply for a Vietnam visa using three different channels: Vietnamese embassies; online through the e-visa; or written approval letter for a visa upon arrival, which you can get from a travel agency prior to departure.
1) Vietnamese embassies. Go to a nearby Vietnamese embassy prior to travel to secure a visitor’s visa good for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, six months, or one year.
In the United States, you may apply at the Vietnamese embassy in Washington, DC if you're on the East Coast, or at the Vietnamese consulate in San Francisco if you're on the West Coast.
For contact details on these and other Vietnam embassies, consult this official page for a full list (offsite).
To get a Vietnam tourist visa from your nearest Vietnam embassy or consulate, download the visa form from the local embassy's website and fill it up.
At the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate in the U.S., you'll be required to present:
Your original passport – valid for six months more after the planned trip, and with vacant pages for the full-page visa stamp
One completed visa application form
A money order, certified check, or Cashier's check payable to the processing mission. The Embassy asks that you call them to ask for the current fees.
Prepaid return envelope, if you want the visa to be returned by mail (use USPS or prepaid return FedEx label)
More details are available on their website: "Visa Application Process", Embassy of Vietnam in Washington, DC.
1) Online for the Vietnam e-visa. Save yourself the long queue – apply for an online-only 30-day Vietnam e-visa. The e-visa option is available to citizens of 46 countries, including United States citizens.
Vietnam e-Visas are valid for the same terms as tourist visas - thirty days' maximum stay or 24 hours' minimum stay, valid for 90 days from date of issue. E-Visa holders can enter through the following points of entry:
Seven sea ports – Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Nha Trang, Haiphong, Hon Gai, Da Nang, Quy Nhon and Vung Tau
Five Laos border crossings – Bo Y, Cha Lo, Cau Treo, Lao Bao and Nam Can
Five Cambodia border crossings – Ha Tien, Moc Bai, Song Tien, Tinh Bien and Xa Mat
Three China border crossings – Huu Nghi, Lao Cai and Mong Cai
To apply for a Vietnam e-visa , visit the Vietnam e-visa government website (evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn) where you’ll be asked to upload a scanned image of your passport data page, and a separate head shot. You’ll be sent a registration code (a reference number you can use to check if the visa has been approved) and asked to pay US$25 for the e-visa fee. (The fee is nonrefundable.)
You will not be emailed the resulting approval – you’ll need to visit the site again to check the status of your application using your registration code.
Once your e-visa is approved, print this to present to the immigration authorities when you enter Vietnam.
3) Visa on arrival. A knowledgeable Vietnam travel agency may be able to secure a Vietnam visa on arrival for you at an additional cost, with minimum headache.
Ask a travel agency for a “visa approval letter”. (Check out this article on how to find a travel agent before searching for an agency to help.) You can complete the relevant forms and pay for them online, receiving your visa approval letter in your email inbox a few days later. Print the letter out and present this as proof to the airlines and the visa on arrival folks at the airport.
When you touch down in Vietnam, look for the visa on arrival office, and go there prior to queuing up for immigration. Show your visa approval letter, pay the visa processing fee (in US dollars or Vietnam dong). A visa stamp will be put in your passport after payment.
Vietnam Visa Exemptions
Certain classes of tourists do not need to secure a visa prior to visiting Vietnam.
Citizens from ASEAN countries are permitted to enter without applying for a visa, and other countries have made similar arrangements for their citizens.
Citizens of the following countries may stay, visa-free, for no more than 30 days: Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore
Citizens of the Philippines may stay, visa-free, for no more than 21 days.
Citizens of the following countries may stay, visa-free, for no more than 15 days: Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Sweden
Citizens of Brunei may stay, visa-free, for no more than 14 days.
Vietnamese-American citizens or foreigners married to Vietnamese citizens may apply for a 5-Year Visa Exemption, which permits entry and up to 90 days continuous stays even without a visa. The document is valid for five years.
Downloadable forms and more information can be found at this site: mienthithucvk.mofa.gov.vn
Extending your Stay in Vietnam
Previously, travelers were permitted to extend their visas while within Vietnamese borders. Not anymore - to apply for an extension, you must leave Vietnam and apply for your extension at a Vietnamese embassy or consulate.
If you are not sure how much time you'll need to travel through Vietnam, apply for a 90-day visa at the outset.
Travelers who enter Vietnam through visa-free access may not enter Vietnam again visa-free unless 30 days have elapsed since their last visa-free visit.
Vietnam’s Strict Enforcement of Visa Rules
Jason D. of Vietnam Visa Center warns that the authorities in Vietnam are quite strict about overstaying tourists. “Overstaying your visa is a big problem here,” explains Jason. “Even overstaying your visa by a day will involve a costly fine.
“If someone overstays their visa and tries to exit the country overland, many travelers will be asked to go back to the airport and sort out the issue with the immigration authorities there,” warns Jason. “The immigration officers may be lenient but others may charge anywhere from US$30 - US$60 a day.”
If you’re not sure how long you’ll need to travel around Vietnam, Jason suggests that you get a longer-term visa to begin with. “Getting a three-month visa - multiple or single - would allow travelers plenty of time to get around Vietnam without worrying about overstaying,” he explains.
Vietnam’s Visa Fees
The fees charged for a Vietnam visa vary widely from embassy to embassy; the Washington DC embassy advises that you call them to inquire as to the visa fee at present.
Confusingly, Vietnam visas are levied two different fees: the visa fee and the visa processing fee. The visa fee varies from embassy to embassy, but the visa processing fee is covered by Circular 190, issued 2012, which prescribes the following rates:
US$80 for one-month, single-entry visa
US$135 for one-month, multiple-entry visa
US$110 for three-month, single-entry visa
US$160 for three-month, multiple-entry visa
US$180 for six-month, multiple-entry visa
US$220 for one-year, multiple-entry visa
If applying by mail, enclose a self-addressed postage-paid envelope for your passport's return trip. (The Vietnamese Embassy recommends you use a self-addressed pre-paid FedEx Shipping Label with effective FedEx account number, or a pre-paid US Postal Office service envelope).
Vietnam Visa Tips
Want to get a Vietnam visa faster and cheaper than you can get it in the States? Get it from an embassy at a neighboring Southeast Asian country. If you're entering Vietnam from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, that country's Vietnam embassy may be able to process your visa quicker and more cheaply than you ever could in the U.S. The Vietnamese embassy in Bangkok, Thailand is a popular source of Vietnam visas for many travelers.
Take note: the rules are different from embassy to embassy. While the consulates in the U.S. permit you to apply for longer-term visas, that’s not necessarily true of every Vietnamese embassy or consulate. “Some consulates in Southeast Asia only provide a two-week visa for Vietnam,” says Vietnam Visa Center’s Jason D., “and prices from consulate to consulate vary a great deal.”
Don't start the application process until your travel plans are are sure to push through. The official forms require you to state your ports of arrival and departure, and it's far too much trouble to change this at the last minute.
Allow plenty of time for the embassy to process your visa. Don't file for your visa at the last minute.
Vietnam embassies and consulates are closed on Vietnamese holidays too, so take that into account before visiting.
Visitors to Vietnam must finish an entry/exit form and a customs declaration in duplicate. The yellow copy will be given back to you, and you must keep this safe with your passport. You will be required to present this when you leave.
If you're departing Vietnam overland, get a visa that sticks to your passport, not a loose-leaf visa that is only lightly attached to your documents. The latter visas are often removed by Vietnamese officials when you cross the border, leaving you with no evidence of exiting Vietnam. This has caused trouble for passengers, particularly those making the crossing into Laos.