The visa application process in Vietnam is fast-changing and complicated: citizens from certain nationalities are required to apply for a visa in advance for any visit, while others are exempt (for limited period stays).
The visa situation for Vietnam travel is fluid with regular changes in requirements, so it makes sense to look up the latest regulations before planning the holiday. The Vietnamese government has put in place the less restrictive rules for certain countries and reduced the fees for applying for the visa in an attempt to promote tourism.
For the tourist from a Western country that is planning to stay in Vietnam for 15 days or more, there is a need to apply for a visa (or get an approval letter from an official agent) in advance. For certain nationalities (see below), there is a visa exemption in place for visits into the country lasting less than 15 days.
While a lot of travellers may plan to visit on the Vietnam holidays for less than the 15 days, many go on to regret their decision after realizing how many things there are to see and do in this magnificent and varied country. Travelling in Vietnam is quite cost-effective so it may be worth investing in a visa to permit the longer stay and really appreciate the scenery and ancient relics.
For the travellers that choose to make use of the short-term visa exemption it isn’t possible to extend the stay in Vietnam once the 15 days are up, and must immediately leave the country. Plus, it is not possible to return to the country using a visa exemption within a period of 30-days.
So, for those travellers wishing to visit Vietnam for a period that exceeds the exemption period, plan to enter and leave the country on several occasions, or reside in a non-visa exempt country (New Zealand, Australia, USA), it is necessary to officially obtain a visa for the duration of the stay.
The cost of the Vietnam visa (tourist) is $20 for a 30-day, single entry visa or $70 for a 90-day, multiple entry visa.
Any traveller to Vietnam must hold a valid passport that still has at least six months remaining on arrival in the country. Many nationalities are required to obtain a visa before arriving in the country, although travellers from certain countries are permitted to buy a visa on arrival.
Applying for a visa
There are two permitted methods to apply for a visa: via a Vietnamese consulate or embassy, or via an online visa agent.
Consulate or embassy
The visa to enter Vietnam is easily obtained from a Vietnamese consulate or embassy across the world. However, this method of obtaining a visa is usually higher than using a specialist agent, and in certain countries the process is quite slow. In a country like Cambodia a visa can be issued in 2-3 days, while in North America and Europe the time-frame is closer to 7 days.
Online visa agents
The most favourable method to apply for the visa for tourists arriving by air on the Vietnam travel packages is via the online agents for a variety of reasons, such as being faster, cheaper and there is no need to post the passport to the embassy. But, this type of visa is only able to benefit the traveller that is planning to arrive at one of Vietnam’s international airports, and not passing through a land crossing. The process of applying for the online visa is quite quick and effortless. It is simply a process of filling in an application form and paying the appropriate fee (approx $20). On return, you get an emailed letter issued by the Vietnamese immigration service which can be printed and shown on arrival. It is at this time that the visa fee is paid.
There are a variety of online visa agents offering this type of service, and it is just a case of finding a well established service that is efficient and professional.
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Citizens that are arriving from certain countries aren’t required to apply or buy a travel visa in advance for entering Vietnam. This applies for both land and air entries into the country. But, there visa exemption periods are only agreed for a certain period of time, so it is important to check the most up to date policies before visiting Vietnam.
For citizens from Brunei and Myanmar there is a visa exemption period of 14 days.
For citizens from the UK, Sweden, Spain, Russia, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Denmark, Finland and Belarus there is a visa exemption period of 15 days.
For citizens from the Philippines there is a visa exemption period of 21 days.
For citizens from Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Indonesia and Cambodia there is a visa exemption period of 30 days.
A multiple-entry visa gives the opportunity to travel from Vietnam to neighbouring countries like Laos or Cambodia and return without needing to apply for separate visas. But, in order to complete the Indochina tour package, it is essential to hold this type of visa before leaving the country.
It is possible to upgrade the visa after arriving in Vietnam with the best places to organize the multiple-entry visas being in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. This type of work is completed by a local travel or visa agent and costs in the region of $50 for the issue of the paperwork with the cost of the visa on top. This process isn’t immediate and can take up to 7 days to complete.
Visa on arrival (VOA)
For the travellers that are planning to reach Vietnam by international flight that lands at Nha Trang, Da Nang, Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City airport it is possible to forgo the need to obtain visa in advance from a Vietnamese Embassy, and instead organise a Vietnam visa on arrival. This type of visa is usually cheaper and gives the exact same conditions and limitations as the visa issued by a consulate or embassy.
But, it is still necessary to contact an agent to get an official letter that is needed to present to the visa on arrival counter at the airport. Once the fee is paid and approved, you get back your passport with the appropriate visa attached. However, one issue with this arrangement is that the process can be quite slow, especially if there are a lot of people queuing at the airport (Ho Chi Minh City airport is usually the most chaotic).