Vietnam, Look For Me Cause Here I Come: How to Get A Visa

Yes, travel is exotic and life-altering and profoundly moving. Yes, you encounter new environments, new people, new customs, and in that way, also encounter some new piece of yourself. Yes, you become more cultured, more able to pepper cocktail conversations with ledes like, “Well, when I was learning tango in Buenos Aires…,” and “There’s really no comparison to actual Italian gelato…”

But there’s also the nitty-gritty, the laborious and unglamorous, the tedium of trip planning. It’s not fun, there’s no scene cred, and no one likes to talk about it.

So, with twelve days left until my departure to Southeast Asia, I’m taking a pause in the string of earth-shattering lyrical narratives to discuss the oh-so boring details necessary to Vietnam travel: visas.

The first step to any obligatory activity, whether it’s commuting or house cleaning, is to get yourself a killer soundtrack to lessen the annoyance. For this, I suggest listening to Abner Jay on repeat.

Having to obtain a visa before visiting a country is a strange and confusing process to those of us native to countries of privilege. As an American, you’re more or less used to waltzing up to a customs window, flashing a smile that gleams of tourist dollars, and getting your stamp. Some countries, like Chile and Brazil, charge you of reciprocal entry fee, a kind of fuck-you I can appreciate. But needing to arrange a visa prior to arrival? What kind of criminal do you think I am?

Once you get over the indignity that the majority of the world’s other citizens are subjected to, you’ll need to actually procure the said visa. Here’s what I learned, thanks to research and Thorn Tree, one of my all-time favorite travel resources.

There are no “visas on arrival” for Vietnam.

Other countries in Southeast Asia, yes. Vietnam, no. It’s pretty simple.

There are different types of visas.

For your basic Vietnam tourist visa, there’s a few options. You can go for a one- or three-month visa; you can also opt for single- or multiple-entry. There are no longer six-month tourist or business visas. This means that, if like me, you’re planning on cruising in and out of Vietnam for a period longer than three months, you’ll need to get a visa extension while you’re there. That’s a beast I’ll tackle when the time comes…

Visa costs aren’t fixed.

Figuring out exactly how much a Vietnam visa will cost is an adventure in obscurity. The Embassy and Consulate websites conveniently don’t tell you how much visas cost. Through poking around, I discovered that if you go directly through official channels—that is, the Embassy or Consulate—you can expect to pay anything from $70 for a one-month single-entry, to $150 for a three-month multiple-entry.

There are several companies (like this one) that facilitate visas, and their prices are far from fixed. Discounts apply for groups; the larger the group, the deeper the discount. Prices for these service range from a $20-$50 discount from official prices.

Going through the Embassy or Consulate is expensive, time-consuming and worrisome.

In most situations like this, I’m skeptical of companies with cheesy websites that offer deeply discounted prices on official services. So I’d decided to stick with getting a visa from the Consulate. But this meant handing over my passport. I’d either have to mail my passport to the Embassy and wait for it to be returned (hello anxiety), or get up early one morning and head out to the Vietnam Consulate in San Francisco. Here, I was told I’d need to give them my passport for processing, which would take around 5 days, and then come pick it up again. It sounded like a pain, but preferable to mailing my most sacred of travel possessions.

The night before I was to roust myself and cram onto the train with all the suit-and-ties, I discovered that…

There’s a way around all this. Kind of.

So, you can actually negate the visa process, in a way. You can get what’s called a Visa Approval Letter, an official document that allows you to get what is essentially a visa on arrival. The pluses are that it’s much cheaper, your passport doesn’t have to leave your possession, and you can do it from your computer. The two big catches are that you need to be arriving into one of the international airports (Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh), and you need to be ready to pay a $25-$50 “stamping” fee.

I used Vietnam Visa Pro, and while the actual entry into Vietnam remains to be experienced, I’m so far super happy with them. I paid $30 for an approval letter for a three-month multiple-entry. I paid via Paypal, which I liked since I’ve heard horror stories about stolen credit card numbers from shady foreign websites (incidentally, just had my credit card number stolen, but that’s another story). I heard back from the company promptly, and had my approval letter emailed to me in 2 business days. Printed it out, made copies of my passport photo, and am ready to roll!

Now all I’ve got to focus on is amassing some more exotic-sounding stories.

20 Responses to “Vietnam, Look For Me Cause Here I Come: How to Get A Visa”

  1. 1 Anh January 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this information! I’ve been to Vietnam several times and it’s always such a pain to go to the consulate for a visa. After the first couple of trips, I found out that if you’re using a travel agency, they will usually get the visa for you without charging an extra fee. However, that does mean having to give up your passport (not fun).

    I’m actually looking to get a visa now but Tet (Vietnamese/Chinese new year) is next week and pretty much the entire country (consulate included) is on vacation. I’m going try going your route.

    Thanks again!

    • 2 Tina February 16, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      So how did you go in the end? No problems?

      we are travelling as Australian’s and we are getting such mixed answers from everyone about the appropriate way to enter the country. By using on the the websites people have mentioned it is going to save us a massive ammount of cash in comparison to sending our passports to the consulate etc.

      We’re just concerned that these websites may be on the dodgy side!

      • 3 laurenquinn February 17, 2011 at 3:42 am

        It worked great! The only drawback is that you have the hassle of waiting when you arrive, instead of going straight through Immigration. There was a crowd of about 20 people with Visas on Arrival, and it took about 20 minutes to get through. Hand your forms over at one window, walk around to another, wait from the forms to be returned to you, pay the fee. Watching the agents is actually a good introduction to Vietnamese efficiency (or lack thereof). Everyone’s forms and passports are thrown into a big pile and there seems to be no order to the madness whatsoever, but in the end it all works out. Like the traffic.

        One tip: Make sure to have your passport size photo ready!! If you arrive without one, they can take your picture on the spot but it costs $2 and, more importantly, you’re tossed to the back of the “line.”

      • 4 Tina February 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm

        Thank you so much for your reply. Very informative.

        PS. You’re blog is great, finding this yesterday made my work day go by just a little quicker and the excitement of travelling to Vietnam kick in.

  2. 5 Scooter January 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    A really easy (and cheap) way to get a Vietnam visa is at the very lonely and quiet Vietnam consulate in Sinoukville (sp?), Cambodia. Go in, and a few minutes later you will have it, for much cheaper than you would pay elsewhere. It is a hidden secret. Happy travels to you!!

  3. 6 Lauren January 28, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I had a completely different experience getting my visa for Vietnam. I FedEx’d my passport, application and check to the Embassy in DC, along with, a pre-paid and pre-addressed return FedEx envelope and had the entire thing turned around in 4 business days. I did the same the following week with the Cambodian Embassy. You can take your chances and get one at the border but I’m glad I didn’t, the line was at least 100 people long in Siem Reap. Took the person I was traveling with over an hour to get through. I’m sure it would be longer in the Phnom Penh.

    Have fun! You’ll love it!

  4. 7 vicjat January 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Just a small correction: US citizens must obtain a visa prior to arrival in Brazil. Good article though. 🙂

  5. 9 Rajasthan Tours January 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Thanks for the information buddy. Visa procedure is really so confusing

  6. 10 Jock Mcstay January 28, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Entry itself with an approval letter is easy. You go to a processing counter, make sure you take about 6-10 passport size photos of yourself (you’ll need one on entry to Vietnam, Cambodia etc) otherwise they charge you up to US$5 for a digital photo!

  7. 11 Ekua January 29, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    I’ve used A Briggs for a lot of my visas. Maybe about 6 of them. With my Vietnam one, they screwed up and charged me multiple times. They were great about fixing it and I actually only ended up paying for the shipping costs on that one. Unless you live in DC or NYC, it’s hard to avoid the angsty situation of mailing your passport. But certified mail has been reliable for me so far. I’d be interested in trying this method someday though.

    U.S. citizens definitely need the Brazil visa before they go. Brazil is actually pretty strict about it. At the airport, if an airline sees that you don’t have a visa for countries that require you to have one before they go, they have the right to prevent you from checking in and boarding. I’ve seen it happen and know people it’s happened to. That’s definitely something you’ll want to double check before you go!

  8. 12 friv April 5, 2011 at 2:31 am

    Thanks for giving me the useful information. I think I need it. Thank you

  9. 13 Lin July 9, 2011 at 12:24 am


    What do you do if you are already out of your home country and decide to go to Vietnam? Iv extended my trip and will be traveling overland through SEA. How do I get the visa for Vietnam? In a neighbouring country?

    • 14 laurenquinn July 9, 2011 at 9:02 am

      Vietnam visas are super easy to get from a neighboring country; pretty much any travel agency can do it for you. Seemed like the going rate for a one-month single-entry was $30-45, depending on how quickly you need it.

  10. 15 Joe January 23, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Hey there, so you used without any issues? I am organizing everything right now for Vietnam in March now 🙂

  11. 16 friv April 28, 2012 at 12:00 am

    thank you very much

  12. 17 Tor August 3, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Just want to recommend another website.
    I used their vietnamese pre-arranged visa on arrival with the private approval letter service. Don’t like to share my passport details to stranger on the same approval letter.

    Recommended if you would like to get a own & separate approval letter.

  1. 1 Why do sunglasses come labelled with a warning that they are not to be worn at night? Trackback on January 29, 2011 at 8:16 am
  2. 2 Call for Submissions: Getting Visas / Crossing Borders Trackback on February 18, 2011 at 1:26 pm
  3. 3 How to Get a Tourist Visa for Vietnam Trackback on April 23, 2011 at 12:25 pm
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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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