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Vietnam’s visa process is just a little stranger than most other countries, because of course it is. Because of course it is. Overall, though, the Vietnam Visa on Arrival is easy to understand and apply for, and only requires a little patience.

My mother visited last year, and prepared my sister some instructions for when she prepared her trip to visit (she’s arriving TODAY!!!!!).

Since it’s all such good advice, I’ll post it here. Easiest blog post ever? Yeah, probably.

Thanks mom!

Vietnam visa” by Alex Steffler – originally posted to Flickr as Vietnam visa
Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Click through for the gory details (ha ha, just kidding! It’s actually pretty easy. The waiting is the most obnoxious part)!

Here is the company I used.
You will need $45 USD cash to pay at the airport.  And they like the bills new-looking (no tears, not too folded – insert eye-rolling here).  I started putting things like that in a pocket folder (like a school folder) when I thought of them or got them ready.  I kept a post-it note on the cover to remind me of the things I needed to gather.  Just my way of organizing, but it worked great.  I had copies of my flights (including layover times, places, Airlines “operated by” other companies, etc), itinerary, Ben’s phone number and address, emergency contacts, etc.  I also had 2nd copies in my suitcase just in case.                                                       

It literally took only 24 hours for the visa e-mail, although I wouldn’t count on that.  I think I read that a couple of weeks ahead is sufficient.

I’m attaching my doc with stuff I copied from the internet (? travel site)  Not sure if there is anything there of interest.

I’m shocked that it is $100 through the embassy!  Crazy!

She also attached a very helpful FAQ from that company, which I’ve reproduced in condensed form here:

FAQ – Visa on arrival (VOA)

NOTE: While Visa on Arrival companies might mention months, it is the number of days that the visa is valid for that should be of concern, especially if you have a one month multi entry approval letter. To avoid paying more than necessary, do follow the tip: choose a One Month Multiple Entry Fee, as detailed below and check the pricing to avoid a shock on landing.

If you are planning to arrive in Vietnam by AIR at Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, or Da Nang airport, a legitimate alternative to obtaining a full visa stamp from the Vietnamese Embassy in your own or another country is to opt for a very simple and cheaper, visa on arrival (VOA). Once issued, this visa is exactly the same as a visa issued by any Vietnamese embassy/consulate, with the same limitations and conditions attached to its use.

The VOA paperwork is not a full visa. Rather, you employ an agent (before you arrive) in Vietnam to obtain an official letter of approval that you present at the VOA counter when you land.

  • VOA Processing Fees
    • USD $45 for a one month (30 day) or 3 month (90 day) single entry visa
    • USD $65 for a less than 30 day multi-entry
    • USD $95 for a 30 day or more multi-entry)

Most agents ask you to state your present nationality as part of the application process and you can apply for a one or three month visa, single or multiple entry. The fees charged by VOA agents for their service varies from $9 and upwards, depending on the type of visa and the agent in question. Some tour operators and travel agents may even offer cut-price VOAs approval letter fees in the hope that you will book tours with them. Do be aware that 3 month multi entry visa are still sometimes subject to restrictions, so check if you can get a visa for the required dates first.

One disadvantage of the VOA system is that the process at the airport can be slow.

HCMC airport (Tan Son Nhat) in particular. HCMC airport is Vietnam’s busiest and handles far more traffic than the other two airports. In the high season, it is not uncommon to have to wait for an hour or two if you are stuck behind a large tour group. In Hanoi and Da Nang, and even in HCMC in the low season and during quiet times of the day, it can take less than 15 minutes to get your visa and pass through immigration – indeed you are likely to arrive at the baggage carousel before your bags do.

How to obtain your letter of approval.

Applying for a VOA letter of approval on-line is very easy and there are many reputable agents (use a search engine – Google, Yahoo etc. – to search for ‘visa on arrival Vietnam’). They accept all major credit cards and with some you can pay through PayPal.

On the agent’s web site or by email you may be asked for the following information:

  1. Your full name (some agents specifically require the names to be in the exact order they appear in the passport, so surname first)
  2. Present nationality
  3. Date of birth
  4. Occupation
  5. Passport number
  6. Passport date of issue
  7. Passport expiry date
  8. Proposed date of arrival (this is the date you want your visa to start from. The start date of the visa itself will be the day that you arrive – you may enter Vietnam at a later date – up to your exit date – but not before this date, so be sure to take time zone differences into account)
  9. Flight reference
  10. Arrival time
  11. Airport of arrival
  12. Purpose of visit

NOTE: If you have children travelling with you and they have their own passports, you will be required to apply and pay the same fees as if they were an adult.

After entering the information on-line or following confirmation by email you will be directed to a secure web site to pay the agency fee. In 2-3 days the agent will email you the approval letter. Don’t be alarmed if there are other people’s names on the letter (it is common for agents to make bulk applications for up to 30 persons and all applicants’ names are printed on one letter, consisting of one or more pages), together with their nationalities, dates of birth and passport numbers, but if you have concerns about privacy or security you should instead consider applying to an embassy/consulate for your visa. Alternatively you can ask your agent for a private approval letter that bears only your name, and if applicable the names of family members or friends who are travelling with you. If an agency does not mention a ‘private’ or ‘separate’ service on its site, then it will be processing the applications in bulk.

What the approval letter looks like

Please make sure that your surname, given names and required entry / exit dates are 100% correct. If you have applied for a multi-entry visa check that it states ‘Is permitted to enter and exit Vietnam multiple times’.

You will not be allowed to enter Vietnam before the entry date shown. The approval letter is valid at any of the three named airports but cannot be used at any land border crossing. If entering via a land crossing you must already be in possession of a valid visa.

Print out the entire letter of approval (color preferred but not essential) and don’t forget to take it with you! Some airlines will ask to see the letter before they allow you to check in or board the aircraft and you will need it at the VOA desk when you arrive at the airport in Vietnam. The agent might also send you an Application for Entry and Exit Visa form (this form is available upon arrival but you will have to queue to obtain it). Some agents also have this form available for download on their websites. It is recommended that you fill in this form in advance (ignore the instructions about printing out two copies – only   ONE is needed, irrespective of whether you’re applying for a single-entry or multiple-entry visa).

Airport Visa Procedure and Payment Process (Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Da Nang)

VOA is handled by the immigration service at the airport. It is absolutely vital that you have your visa processing fee(s) on you, in cash. There are no money machines (ATMs), money changers or any other way of withdrawing money in the immigration hall and the authorities do not take plastic. Until you can pay in cash you won’t get into the country and you could end up having a wonderful holiday camped on the wrong side of the barrier until your return flight leaves. If you have a bank card, an immigration officer might offer to escort you to an ATM to withdraw some money. Meanwhile you might starve to death (slight exaggeration, but you get the point) as it might be many hours before that happens. They have been known to accept payment in currencies other than US Dollars but are not obligated to do so. If they choose not to, you will have a problem if you haven’t brought US Dollars with you. The latest news is that an ATM has appeared at Tan Son Nhat Airport (HCMC) – adjacent to the landing visa counter.

While this might be of help to those arriving without cash, it is still advisable to bring the correct money to pay for the visa. ATM’s do breakdown / run out of cash and the inevitable lack of clarity regarding the Dong / USD exchange rate conversion (it would be issuing Dongs), plus additional card charges, means it should be thought of as the option of last resort.

At Ho Chi Minh City (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) the VOA window is situated over to the left as you enter the immigration hall, at the far end. Do not join any queues for Immigration Control. The counter itself is sign-posted –   LANDING VISA.

  • At the Landing Visa (VOA) window, hand over:
    • Your passport
    • One completed copy of the Entry and Exit form
    • The entire letter of approval
    • One passport size photo (the officer will staple your photo to the form if not already attached). 

You should then go and sit down. Even with few people being processed do not expect passports (with the visa attached) to be returned in the order that they were presented at the window.

When your visa is ready, your name will be called and at the same time your passport held up to the window with the photo page showing. You then pay the processing visa fee. The notes should be in good condition (no marks, nicks or tears) but it is not necessary for them to be brand new. At HCMC, people have also had Australian Dollars, GB Pounds and Euros accepted as payment instead of U.S. Dollars but no change is given for currencies other than U.S. dollars or Dong.

However, to avoid payment problems, U.S. Dollars are preferable as there have been occasional reports of other currencies not being accepted. Once you have paid, your passport will be returned to you, along with a receipt for your payment. Be sure to check the newly issued visa for any errors while still at the window. You then go to the immigration control posts to be processed in the normal way. Baggage reclaim and Customs are downstairs.

At Hanoi (Noi Bai International Airport) the procedure differs slightly.  The VOA office is situated to the left of the escalator that takes you down to the immigration hall.  Hand in your passport and VOA approval letter at the counter, and pick up an Application for Entry and Exit Form if you haven’t downloaded and completed one beforehand. If necessary there are desks where you can fill in the form. Then walk along the right-hand side of the office to the counter at the opposite end and wait for your name to be called. Because foreign names can be difficult for the immigration officers to pronounce they usually also hold up the passport with the bearer’s photo facing outwards.

When you have handed your payment, the completed Application for Entry and Exit form and passport photo to the immigration officer he or she will give you a receipt and return your passport to you, complete with the visa stamp. Check that the exit date on the visa is correct (that is, in one month’s or three months’ time), then retrace your steps along the side of the office and proceed to Immigration Control, and then to baggage reclaim and Customs, which are situated on the same floor.

Tip. If there are two or more of you obtaining VOA it would be prudent that once you’ve handed in your paperwork, that one of you stands in line for immigration control. That way you won’t be at the back of a long queue.

Note: Public holidays in Vietnam, e.g. Tet (Vietnam’s New Year), can seriously delay not only VOA applications but also embassy issued visas as well. Apply for either in good time.

Additional Notes:

While there are various Visa Exemptions i.e. for travel to Phu Quoc Island (subject to the 15 day rule), such travel invariably has to be booked through authorized Vietnamese travel agents.

Extending a visa is a simple process. However, do it through an agent because there are many rules and the passport will have to be sent to HCMC or Hanoi. In general, all extended visas are single entry (they will be cancelled on departure) and the duration can be for 1 month or 3 months (1 month visas are not usually eligible for a 3 month extension). The cost starts at 35$ for 1 month extension and the application can only be processed during the last week of the current visa’s validity and it usually takes 3 to 10 days.

Thank you, http://www.vietnamvisacorp.com/apply-visa.html! A truly helpful document. I’ve edited briefly for clarity.

I hope this helps! Please leave a comment if you have further questions…