Traditionally you need to get a Vietnam visa in your passport from a local embassy before entering the country. However, it’s also possible to apply for a Vietnam visa online and collect it at the airport on arrival in Vietnam, as Russ Brooks explains.
While a bit more involved than other countries, Vietnam does allow foreign travelers to obtain a “Visa on Arrival” or VOA at the airports in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang. It’s important to note the visa must be applied for in advance online BEFORE arrival in Vietnam. Since the process to obtain approval is performed by local travel agents and not the Embassy, Vietnam hasn’t publicized the availability of this service, and frequently travelers don’t know how to obtain a Vietnam “Visa On Arrival”. It’s also important to note that this process will NOT work for those arriving at any other airport or at a land border – you will need to get a visa from an embassy in the traditional way.
There’s been a major change in the Vietnam visa system – if you’re from Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain you no longer need to apply for a visa before you arrive in Vietnam. You will be allowed to stay 15 days without a visa. If you want to stay longer, you’ll need to apply for a visa as normal. Read this separate post for more info on the visa change.
Why Get A Vietnam Visa Online?
Having been to Vietnam previously and remembering the the country’s strictness about obtaining a visa I was skeptical of Internet advertisements for a “visa on arrival” approval letter. However, my travel plans for this trip forced me to seek an alternative solution since I wouldn’t be arriving from my home country (the USA) or be near an embassy long enough to get a traditional visa in person. It turned out that getting a VOA was quicker, cheaper, and easier than getting one at home and especially easy for someone traveling and not being in a steady location.
Which Company To Use?
While there are a few different companies advertising this service, I choose My Vietnam Visa after reading through a few forums chronicling people’s experience with different providers and their costs. While you can look at their website for the fees charged for different visas, a 1 month, single entry visa, My Vietnam Visa charged me $19.99 to obtain the approval letter. In addition, the VOA will cost you $25USD at the airport when you arrive.
Getting The Visa Approval Letter Before Arrival
What you’re really paying for isn’t a visa, but an approval letter that allows you to receive a visa when you arrive at either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City airport. My Vietnam Visa will email you (in .jpg format) a copy of that approval letter within 2 working days. I happened to apply over the Tet holiday and received an email promptly telling me that there would be a delay since it was a national holiday. I was impressed that I not only got an email informing me of the delay, on Tet no less, but still got the visa in 2 working days.
Using their website is easy, just follow the prompts listed after clicking on “apply online” and fill out the fields for your information. You’ll need to know your passport number and it’s very important to know your exact arrival and departure dates as the visa will only be valid for 30 days from your listed arrival date. While you may arrive after your specified date, you will have to leave by the departure date listed on your visa. You can apply for as many visas as you’d like at the same time and I think it’s a good idea to have everyone in your traveling party listed together on the same form to ease any possible confusion upon arrival.
Paying For The Visa Online
Once you fill out the appropriate information, you’ll be prompted to pay for the visas and can pay using Visa, Mastercard or PayPal. I choose to use PayPal to avoid using my credit card and the fees associated with using it overseas and it offers another level of security, and frankly I appreciated having that option as other companies didn’t offer it.
Collecting The Visa Once At The Airport In Vietnam
In addition to your approval letter, you’ll need to bring $25USD and two passport photos when you arrive at the airport. (Remember to keep the passport photos and cash on you during the flight, not in your checked in luggage!). In Hanoi, after arriving and descending the staircases from the gates you’ll see all the immigration counters to your right. Instead, go straight ahead to the Visa on Arrival window/counter. Don’t go to the normal immigration lines as you’ll just be sent back to the VOA counter. (I haven’t been to the location at the HCMC airport, but am told the visa on arrival counter is on your left as you approach the main immigration counters.) At the counter, you’ll hand over your passport and photos and be given a simple form to fill out. Walk around to the other side of the counter (it’s a double sided booth basically) and fill out the forms and wait for your name to be called. After they call your name, pay the $25USD fee and pick up your passport with your new visa inside. With about a dozen people applying at the same time, it took me about 15 minutes to go through the process. However, be aware that sometimes there can be large queues to collect visas and it can be somewhat chaotic.
Afterwards, head back to the regular immigration counters to be processed with everyone else and enjoy your visit to Vietnam. See Travelhappy’s Vietnam section for lots more tips on how to make the most of your time in Vietnam.