Are you dreaming of drifting past the limestone cliffs of Ha Long Bay on a red-sailed junk boat? Would you love to traipse the green hills of Sa Pa, or descend into the Củ Chi tunnels, the underground home of the Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War?
Before you can start your trip to the fascinating, complex country of Vietnam, you may need to get a visa. This guide will go through the full process of getting a Vietnam visa, step by step, to make it as easy as possible for you. Then you can get back to planning the fun parts of your trip!
To start, let’s go over who needs a visa to enter Vietnam and who doesn’t.
Do You Need a Visa for Vietnam?
Exact requirements vary by country, but most visitors from most nations will need a visa. If you’re a citizen of the US, Australia, or Canada traveling to Vietnam, then you must get a visa. You can’t enter the country without one.
As a US citizen myself, I have the privilege of entering over 100 countries with nothing more than my passport. When I was planning my trip to Vietnam, this visa requirement felt like a big roadblock. As it turned out, getting a Vietnam visa for US citizens is not all that complicated. Once you know the Vietnam visa requirements, you can get one easily!
Citizens of other countries may be able to enter Vietnam without a visa for up to 14 to 30 days. (Any longer than 15 to 30 days, though, and you’ll need to arrange a visa.) Check the list below to see if you can visit Vietnam without getting a visa first.
|Max. Number of Days
|Max. Number of Days
So, do you need a visa for Vietnam? If you’re not on this list and do need to get a visa, how can you go about getting one?
How to Get a Vietnam Visa
For citizens of most countries, there are two ways to get a Vietnam visa. You can get one before you leave from a Vietnam embassy in your home country. Alternatively, you can apply for a “visa on arrival” through a legitimate tourism agency (suggestions below!). Let’s go over both options in a little more detail before diving into each step of the visa application process.
Option #1: The Vietnam Embassy or Consulate In Your Home Country
If your country has a Vietnamese embassy or consulate, then you can obtain a visa from it before you depart for your trip. Don’t worry about the difference between an embassy and consulate. Either one will grant you a visa.
Most embassies or consulates allow you to apply in person or by mail. You’ll need to gather the required materials – typically an application form, one or two recent passport-sized photos, and the visa fee – and allow 3 to 5 days for processing. If you’re sending your materials by mail, then you’ll also need to include a pre-addressed, prepaid envelope.
If you don’t get a visa from the embassy, then you can arrange to get a visa on arrival.
Option #2: Visa on Arrival at the Airport
You can only get a “visa on arrival” if you’re flying into Vietnam. You can’t get one if you’re traveling over land (sorry, backpackers). You can get a visa on arrival at four airports: Hanoi airport, Ho Chi Minh City airport, Nha Trang’s Cam Ranh Airport, or Da Nang Airport.
It might be better to think of the visa on arrival as a pre-arranged visa. You still have to spend some time applying for the Vietnam visa online and gathering the required materials. You can’t just fly in and get the Vietnam tourist visa stamped on your passport.
There are several legitimate companies that help you get a visa on arrival, and I’ll list the best ones below. Before diving into the process, let’s consider the pros and cons of both of these options. What are the advantages of getting a visa before you leave, and why might you choose to get the visa on arrival instead?
Where to Get Your Vietnam Visa: Pros and Cons
You may have heard conflicting reports about the best way to get your Vietnam visa, and there’s a lot of confusion out there about the process. How can you sort through the mess of information to make the application as easy as possible?
The truth is that there are pros and cons to both options. Read on for the advantages and disadvantages of getting your visa at the embassy versus getting it at the airport on arrival. With this understanding, you can choose the best method for you!
Method #1: Getting Your Visa from an Embassy
- You can rest assured that you have your visa before departing for your trip.
- You don’t have to wait in line for a visa at the airport when you arrive.
- You don’t have to worry about the privacy of your personal information.
- You’ll likely pay between $30 and $60 more for a visa from the embassy.
- You’ll be without your passport for anywhere from 3 to 11 days while the embassy processes your visa application.
- You can’t pay with a credit card. You’ll have to pay with cash, money order, or a cashier’s check.
Who Should Choose this Method?
This option is a good one if you’re still in your home country and have plenty of time before your trip, just in case of delays. While it’s a little more expensive, the extra cost may be worth the peace of mind of having your visa all set and ready to go before you leave for Vietnam.
Method #2: Getting a Visa on Arrival
- You’ll pay anywhere from $30 to $60 less for a visa on arrival.
- You can pay for the application online with a credit card (still need to pay in cash for the stamping fee at the airport).
- You can apply just 2 to 3 days before you arrive in Vietnam.
- You don’t have to part with your passport except for the period of time you wait at the airport.
- You may have to wait a long time at the airport. I had to wait hours, but I’ve heard that this was unusual.
- You have to fly into Vietnam; you don’t have the option of overland travel.
- Other travelers might see your information. (I’ll explain this issue in more detail below, but here it is in brief: travel agencies issue letters of approval in batches, so your name, phone number, date of birth, and passport number may be visible to other travelers. I’ve never heard of any identity theft from fellow travelers to Vietnam, but you may not feel comfortable having this information out there for strangers.)
Who Should Choose this Method?
You should get a visa on arrival if you’re arranging your trip to Vietnam last-minute or want to get a visa as cheaply as possible. You also need to be flying into Vietnam.
I mentioned that the visa on arrival tends to be cheaper than the visa from an embassy or consulate. What can you expect to pay for your Vietnam visa?
What’s the Cost? Vietnam Visa Fees
The costs of a Vietnam visa depend on the type of visa and your home country. Be aware that the costs vary depending on how long you plan to stay (one month or three months) and on whether you want a single-entry or multiple-entry visa. If you’re using an embassy from another country, then you may look on its website or call directly. A lot of embassies ask you to call about the fee, as it can change from year to year.
Below are the current prices for a visa from the Vietnam embassy or consulate in the US. These prices are not listed on the websites, so you should call before applying to make sure they haven’t changed!
Vietnam embassy or consulate in the US: $100. This is the current price as of July 2016. They don’t post the fee on the websites, instead telling you to call for this information. You can pay by cash, money order, or certified check.
Next are the prices for the visa on arrival, of which there are two: a fee for the letter of approval and an additional fee at the airport for the visa stamp.
Letter of approval: $8 – $20 for one month; $30 – $65 for three months, depending on the agency you use. You can pay this fee with your credit card or Paypal online.
Visa stamp at the airport: $25 for single entry, $50 for multiple entry. You’ll pay this fee at the airport. The preferred currency is USD. You can’t pay the fee in VND (Vietnamese dong).
If your plans are open, I’d suggest applying for the longer visa, just in case. When I got my visa on arrival, I wasn’t exactly sure how long I wanted to stay in Vietnam. I went with the three-month, single-entry visa to give myself flexibility.
Now that you have a sense of the options and costs, let’s look more closely at the Vietnam visa application process.
Applying for a Vietnam Visa in Advance: Full Process
The application process is pretty much the same whether you’re applying in person or mailing your materials. You have to fill out the Vietnam visa application form online, and then download and print it out. Alternatively, you could print out a PDF of an application form and write in your information by hand.
If you’re a US citizen, then you have three options: the embassy in DC, the consulate in New York, or the consulate in San Francisco. For some reason, only the DC embassy and San Francisco consulate offer PDFs of their application form. You can access the DC PDF here and the San Francisco PDF here. The New York consulate just directs you to the online form.
Either way, you’ll have to print out an application form, whether it’s blank or filled in electronically with your information. I’d recommend that you fill in your details electronically (neater and easier) and then download and print it at the end.
The form is straightforward. To help you prepare, I’ve included some screenshots of the application below.
Filling Out the Application Form, Step by Step
Below is the form that you can fill out to apply for your Vietnam visa online. Again, you can’t submit it online. At the end, you’ll be prompted to download and print the form. Then you’ll either bring it in person to the embassy or send it by mail.
Go the Vietnam visa application website here. If it shows up in Vietnamese, set the language to English. You can also set it to French or German.
You only have 15 minutes to fill out your form, so make sure you have your passport on hand.
Click on “Fill Form.” You’ll get a pop-up telling you that you have 15 minutes to fill out the form and that any parts marked with an asterisk (*) are required.
The first prompt will ask you your reason for travel. Most visitors will opt for the first one, Tourism. For whatever reason, you may have to retype “Tourism” in the box below the drop-down menu.
The second prompt asks you where you’ll apply for the visa. If you’re in the US, you’ll see three options: Consulate of Viet Nam in New York (USA), Consulate of Viet Nam in San Francisco (USA), or the Viet Nam Embassy in the United States of America (this is the one in Washington, DC).
Then you’ll select the place where you plan to pick up your passport with its new Vietnam visa stamp. Presumably, you’ll fill in the same place where you’re dropping it off.
After choosing the places of “submission” and “collection,” you’ll go on to fill out your personal information.
Then, you’ll enter your passport information.
Finally, you’ll fill out your visa information. Make sure that you know when you plan to enter the country and when you plan to leave.
The last part of the form will ask you to add a contact in Vietnam and an emergency contact. These asterisk-free parts of the Vietnam visa online form are optional.
Once you’ve double checked everything, you can download the form and print it out. At the end, the site will remind you about the checklist of required materials. They are your,
- Completed application form
- Cash, money order, or certified check of fee – currently $100 for US citizens
- A passport photo taken within the past 12 months
- Visa approval / reference number if you already have one
- Self-addressed, prepaid envelope if you’re mailing in your application
Once you’ve applied for the visa, how long will you have to wait to get your passport back?
Processing Time: How Long Does It Take?
Processing time varies by embassy and consulate, but it shouldn’t take more than a week. Let’s look at the processing times for the embassy and consulates in the U.S.
Washington, DC Embassy: 5 business days. Applicants can request 1-2 day expedited processing.
New York Consulate: 3 – 5 business days. Applicants can request expedited same-day or next-day processing.
San Francisco Consulate: 3 business days. Applicants can request 24 hour expedited processing.
If you’re mailing your materials, remember to add in a few days on either end to account for the time your application takes to get there and back. As you can see, getting a Vietnam visa doesn’t take very long, but it still requires some planning. Getting it done early will take the pressure off as you prepare for your trip. You can apply for your visa up to 6 months before you plan to enter Vietnam.
I highlighted the visa application process for US citizens, but it’s mostly the same for citizens of other countries that have a Vietnam embassy or consulate. Everyone can use that online form, or at least, anyone who speaks Vietnamese, English, French, or German or has access to Google Translate.
Now let’s look at the second option for getting a visa for Vietnam – the visa on arrival.
How to Get a Vietnam Visa on Arrival
As I mentioned above, it might be better to think of this as a pre-arranged visa; you can’t just show up in Vietnam and get the requisite stamp on your passport. You have to do some preparation beforehand. The process, actually, is pretty similar to the visa application process at the embassy. You just need to enlist the help of a tourism agency.
Before listing the best agencies, let’s go over the materials you need for your Vietnam visa on arrival.
Vietnam Visa Requirements: What to Bring to the Airport
- Letter of Approval from a tourism agency (the agency will email you this letter about two days after you apply)
- Two recent passport-sized photos
- Cash for the visa stamp (USD preferred, but airports should take other strong currencies. It’s best to bring the exact amount.)
- Your passport.
To get your letter of approval, you’ll need to apply through a tourism agency. Below are my suggestions for the most reliable ones.
Best Tourism Agencies for a Visa on Arrival
These agencies have a good reputation, as well as competitive prices. There are rumors about Vietnam visa scams, so I’d definitely recommend using one of these agencies. I’m not sure how substantiated the scam rumors are, though, since it’s possible embassies send out warnings to protect their own revenue streams.
Regardless, here are my top recommendations for agencies that grant letters of approval for a Vietnam visa on arrival.
- My Vietnam Visa
- Vietnam Visa Govt
- Vietnam Visa Pro
- Vietnam Immigration and Visa Services
- Vietnam Visa.org
I personally used My Vietnam Visa and found the process to be really easy! That being said, it poses the highest fees of the five options, so you might be better off going with another one on the list. Below, I’ll show you the application procedure that I went through, step by step.
Applying for a Vietnam Visa on Arrival, Step by Step
As you’ll see, the form is similar to most others. It asks for your personal information, passport details, and proposed date of entry and departure.
Choose how many visas you want (if you’re applying with a friend or group) and what type, whether it’s one month, three months, single entry, and/or multiple entry. If you’re applying with a group, you might get a discount.
Type in your personal and passport information. This form also asks for your date of entry and date of departure. You can fill in the flight details if you’ve already booked your flight.
Pay. When you finish filling out the form, you’ll fill in your credit card information to pay for the letter of approval. Note that you’ll still need to bring cash to the airport to pay for the stamp fee.
Finally, you’ll submit the form and wait for the agency to email you the letter of approval.
While you don’t have to worry about scams with any of the above agencies, there is one privacy concern that you should know about. I briefly mentioned it above, but let’s look at it in closer detail to make sure you know what you’re getting into when you apply for a visa on arrival.
Read This Important Privacy Concern
Agencies tend to send letters of approval to government officials in batches. Your name may be just one in a long list of other travelers arriving to Vietnam on the same day. Typically, these letters contain your name, date of birth, nationality, dates of entry and departure, and passport number. You might see this information of other travelers on the list, and the other travelers might see yours.
If you’re worried about sharing your personal information with strangers, then you might not want to go through with the visa on arrival process. For my part, I wasn’t too concerned, and I ended up getting a letter with just my information on it, anyway.
I’ve never heard of any problems that resulted from these letters of approval, but it’s an important fact to be aware of. That being said, are there are any other steps you need to take to obtain a Vietnam visa on arrival?
Getting Your Visa On Arrival: Final Steps
Once you’ve submitted your form, you’ll wait for the agency to send your letter of approval. It should come in 2 to 3 days. When you get it, you should print out the letter. You’ll need to hand it in at the visa desk in the airport.
You’ll also need to gather the rest of your materials before you leave. As far as I know, you’ll be hard pressed to find a printer or an ATM that gives you cash in USD once you land at the airport in Vietnam!
When you get to the airport, follow the signs for the visa desk. This should be pretty clear and close by when you get off the plane, as you can’t go through Customs until you get your visa.
I landed in Hanoi and handed in my passport, approval letter, photos, and fee on the righthand side of the visa desk. Then I waited until my name was called and picture came up on a TV screen above the desk.
Once you’re called, an official will give you back your passport with the visa stamp. Double check the dates to make sure they’re correct. Finally, you’ll be free to go through customs and enjoy your trip to Vietnam!
As you can see, the process of getting a visa is pretty similar whether you’re getting it at the embassy in your country or on arrival. In closing, let’s distil all this information into the most important points.
Getting a Vietnam Visa: Just the Essentials
The most important point to remember about getting a Vietnam visa is that you can get one at an embassy or on arrival when you land at the airport in Vietnam. You’ll need to fill out an application, get passport photos, and pay a fee.
If you’re applying for a visa on arrival, then you’ll need to use a tourism agency and print out your letter of approval. Both processes require some planning and prep, but they’re relatively straightforward once you’ve gathered all the materials.
Once you apply, you should have your Vietnam visa within the week. Then you’ll have a cool new visa stamp in your passport, along with the freedom to travel in Vietnam for one to three months!
Planning Your Trip to Vietnam: Final Thoughts
Before you can hop on a motorbike or explore the ancient streets of Hoi An, you need to sort out the legal requirements of entering Vietnam. If you’re a US citizen, then you’ll need to get a one month or three month visa stamp in your passport before entering the country. Several European and Asian countries have visa exemption agreements, but you may still need to go through the process if you want to stay longer than your given number of days.
To make your journey as smooth as possible, try to plan out your visa at least a month before you leave. If you’re a more last-minute traveler (like me), rest assured that you can apply for a visa on arrival just a few days before you fly into Vietnam. While you’ll need to be in your home country to get a visa from the embassy or consulate, you can apply for a visa on arrival from anywhere in the world!
Hopefully, any confusion you have around the Vietnam visa application process is now cleared away. Now you can focus on planning your trip to beautiful Vietnam.