Essential Vietnam Information for First-Time Travelers

Vietnam Visas, Currency, Holidays, Weather, and What to Wear

Tourist overlooking Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

Katrin Engel/EyeEm 

Visiting Vietnam for the first time? Before jumping in feet-first into Hanoi’s traffic and Mai Chau’s magic, you’ve got to learn a few ground rules to make the most out of your Vietnam vacation.

Visas for Vietnam Travelers

Vietnam, unlike most of Southeast Asia, does not give away visas that easily. There are three ways of getting a visa, for citizens of countries not entitled to visa-free entry to Vietnam.

(The latter is a pretty short list.) You can either:

  • Get a visa from a personal visit to a Vietnam embassy;

  • Get a Vietnam e-visa online; or

  • Get written approval letter for a visa upon arrival from a reputable travel agency.

The most common (and cheapest) form of tourist visa is valid for one month from date of entry. Visas can only be extended by leaving Vietnam, then renewing at an Embassy beyond the country’s borders.

Your passport should be valid for at least six months after arrival and at least one month after the projected expiration of your visa.

For more complete information about your options, read our explainer on getting a Vietnam Visa, and find out what to expect.

Entering by Land or by Air

Vietnam has three major international airports: Tan Son Nhat Airport at Ho Chi Minh City; Noi Bai Airport at Hanoi; and Sihanoukville International Airport. Direct flights are available from major Asian and Australian cities, but Bangkok and Singapore are still the primary embarkation points for entry into Vietnam.

Airport Tax. You will be charged an airport tax of US$14 (adults) and US$7 (children) upon departure on any international flight. Passengers of domestic flights will be charged US$2.50. These taxes are payable in Vietnam Dong (VND) or US$ only.

Overland from Cambodia: Travelers can use five Cambodia border crossings – Moc Bai (from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh), Ha Tien (to Kep and Kampot), Tinh Bien (near Sihanoukville), Song Tien, and Xa Mat

Overland from China: visitors can cross into Vietnam from Lao Cai, Mong Cai, and Huu Nghi. Two direct train services leave from Kunming or China’s capital Beijing to terminate at Hanoi.

Overland from Laos: Travelers can use five Laos border crossings – Bo Y, Cha Lo, Cau Treo, Lao Bao and Nam Can.

Health & Safety in Vietnam

Vietnam travel is safer than you'd expect – the government has done a good job on keeping a lid on civil unrest in Vietnam, and violence to tourists has remained thankfully rare. Which isn't to say that crimes of opportunity don't happen: in Hanoi, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City, tourists may be targeted by pickpockets and motorcycle-riding purse snatchers.

Despite the feeling of change in the air, Vietnam is still politically a Communist country, so act accordingly. Don't photograph any political rallies or military buildings. As a foreigner, you may be watched by the authorities, so avoid any kind of activity that may be misconstrued to be political in nature.

For more information, read about tourists behaving badly in Southeast Asia for tips on what not to do. You can also check out the US State Department’s Consular Information Sheet on Vietnam for more information.

Vietnamese law shares the draconian attitude to drugs common in Southeast Asia. For more information, read: Drug Laws and Penalties in Southeast Asia - by Country.

Immunization requirements. You'll only be asked to show health certificates of vaccination against smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever if you're coming from known infected areas. More information on Vietnam-specific health issues are discussed at the CDC page on Vietnam and at the MDTravelHealth webpage.

Money in Vietnam

The Vietnamese unit of currency is called the Dong (VND). Notes come in denominations of 200d, 500d, 1000d, 2000d, 5000d, 10,000d, 20,000d and 50,000d. (Tourists often joke about becoming “instant millionaires” when changing money in Vietnam.)

ATMs and credit cards: 24-hour ATMs are available in most major cities in Vietnam, top among them Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Major credit cards like MasterCard and Visa are also accepted nationwide. (For a small commission, Vietnam banks may advance cash against your Visa or MasterCard.)

Daily expenses: Easily available budget options throughout the country mean that tourists can easily get by on US$25-40 a day. Choose hostels and hawker centers for stays and food respectively, and you can expect to spend little more than US$8 for a night at a hostel solo room, or US$3 for a meal at a restaurant serving Vietnamese food. (Tipping is not required nor expected, but appreciated nonetheless.)

Don’t fly in blind, read about the local currency, the Vietnam Dong (VND), or find out how far your $100 takes you in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Climate

Because of its geography, the climate in Vietnam, while largely tropical, varies greatly from region to region. Consequently, the best times to visit may vary from place to place. Keep the local climate in mind when planning your trip.

Typhoons affect the country from May to January, bringing extensive rainfall and flooding to Vietnam's coastal region stretching from Hanoi to Hué.

What to wear: Consider the weather in your intended destination, not just the time of year – the weather can vary drastically in different parts of the country. Bring a warm coat when traveling in the North or Central highlands in the winter months. Wear cool cotton clothing in the hot months. And always be prepared for the rain.

Vietnamese are rather conservative when it comes to dress, so avoid wearing tank tops, sleeveless shirts, or short shorts, especially when visiting Buddhist temples.