When I was thinking of going to Vietnam, I was intimidated (or just lazy) about needing to get a travel visa. I knew it was something I would have to deal with, but I left for SE Asia without actually looking into it. When I met up with a friend at the start of my trip, he was saying it can take up to 3 months to get the visa. What?! I wanted to go to Vietnam within the next month and a half. Was I going to have to skip the country that I wanted to see most?
Not long after, I met some Canadians who explained how they did it. They didn’t apply ahead of time and instead secured a visa on arrival. I didn’t know that you could for Vietnam, but as long as you complete your visa on arrival application beforehand, you most certainly can. So, that’s what I did.
The process may be different for other countries, but for American citizens, here is what you need to know for a visa on arrival when arriving by plane:
1. According to the US Embassy, one of the visa requirements is that your passport must be valid 6 months beyond the date of your arrival.
2. You may obtain a single entry or multi-entry visa. When I went to Vietnam in February 2016, a single entry was $25 and a multi-entry was $50. With my multi-entry visa, I could only re-enter the country by air. Make sure you know your visa restrictions before you try to re-enter by land (for example, don’t re-enter on a bus from Cambodia into Vietnam if your visa states that you can only re-enter by plane).
3. There are two fees to obtain the visa: 1. The visa fee and 2. The visa processing fee. What this means is that you have to pay ahead of time for your visa approval letter which states that you are eligible for the visa, and you have to pay again at the airport for the actual visa that is inserted into your passport upon arrival in Vietnam.
Even though it seems hectic, it was actually a really simple process. Here’s how you can get your visa approval letter in one day:
I googled “Vietnam visa on arrival for Americans” to find the company that I went through to get my visa which was https://vietnamvisa.govt.vn/.
Since I wanted my visa approval letter that day, I requested an express delivery via email. I had to fill out some basic information online, and then I just needed to wait. It was stated that I would receive it within four hours (because I selected “super urgent”), but I had to consider the time difference. Since I was in Singapore and that office is in the US, I had to wait a lot longer.
Also note that, at least with this company, they are only open Monday – Friday. I was very lucky that it was a weekday when I needed my express visa.
This company charged me $40 USD. It would be cheaper if you don’t request it for the same day. The website says the cost starts at $17, so if you do this further in advance, you shouldn’t have to spend as much as I did.
Once I received the email, there were three attachments which was the length of my approval letter. This letter just showed my name, passport number, and a note that I was “granted permission to enter Vietnam.” I had to get two copies printed (my hostel front desk did this for me). I also had to click a link in the email to print two copies of my Entry/Exit forms. I had to complete the information on these forms and have them ready before I flew to Vietnam. These forms are very important!
While I was in Singapore, I found a passport photo booth in a train station and took my required passport photos for the visa. As a traveler, it’s probably smart to carry some extra passport photos just in case. Get them ahead of time so you don’t have to scramble around looking for somewhere to take your picture like I did.
Once I had my forms printed, completed, and my photos ready, I booked my flight (you can book the flight before you get your visa but since I was doing this the day before, I wanted to make sure everything was in order with the visa before I paid for the flight). When I arrived at the airport to check in for my flight, I had to show the airline all of my documentation. You aren’t able to get on your flight to Vietnam unless you have everything ready to present. You may be asked questions about your trip as well.
As for the cash, even if you aren’t arriving from the US, you can go to a money exchange before you get on your flight to Vietnam to get the exact amount in US dollars. If you don’t have it upon arriving in Vietnam, the only way you’ll be able to get in is if someone at the visa counter allows you to exit the airport to an ATM and come back with the right amount in Vietnamese Dong. This can take longer, or they might not let you at all and you would be totally out of luck. Remember the cash!
When you land in an airport in Vietnam, before you go through customs, you must go to the visa counter. You will give your passport, 2 passport photos, your money (in US dollars cash… don’t forget this!), your completed entry/exit forms, and your approval letter at the counter. You are told to sit and wait until you are called. Once you are called, you will be given your passport which will now have your visa in it, and then you can go through customs. You will then, finally, be starting your adventure in Vietnam!
The process is a bit of a pain, but that’s mainly because I did everything so last minute. I was lucky that everything worked for me, but I suggest doing it further in advance. This guide, however, is for those of you who haven’t planned ahead and want to get your visa last minute like me 🙂
If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below. I hope you love that beautiful country as much as I did!