Getting a Visa to Vietnam (Don’t Make the Mistakes I Did!)

Posted by Krista on April 1, 2014

Vietnam PhotographerAlthough I loved my time in Vietnam, I learned a few hard lessons. Lest you make the same mistakes I did, let me tell you about my visa situation first and then share some of my other mistakes in other posts.

Should I get a visa on arrival in Vietnam? Or should I apply in advance for a Vietnam visa?

U.S. citizens, U.K. citizens, French citizens, German citizens and it would seem all sorts of nationalities need a visa to enter Vietnam. There are two main ways to obtain this visa: apply in advance to a local embassy or consulate, or go the “visa on arrival” route. Because I had to leave my passport at the Chinese consulate in Chicago for a few days to get my Chinese visa, I figured that for Vietnam, I would go for “visa on arrival.” I did some research, but apparently not enough. Because…


Have you ever tried to buy a train ticket at the train station in Italy while the Italians are striking? Go to a U.S. grocery store the morning of the Superbowl? Visit any post office around the world three days before Christmas? This is what it’s like to get a visa on arrival in Vietnam. Do not do this to yourself. Really. Don’t. Let me give you the logistics of my experience.

Firstly, IF you go the “visa on arrival” route, you apply for your Vietnam visa online in advance through a 3rd party provider. I used and I had a good experience.  It cost me $18 to use I submitted my application online at 8:28 a.m.m on Sunday, February 16th. I received my visa approval letter on Monday, February 17th at 4:26 a.m.  which was earlier than they told me to expect a response, which was nice. (They had said  Feb/18/2014 at 18:00 GMT+7)

No matter what, you will need two passport photos. Get those in your offline world.

The Vietnam approval letter is a bit strange in that you will get a letter that includes your name and a bunch of other people’s names from all over the world. My inner stalker kinda wanted to try to find them all on Facebook. OK, no problem. I can print all that. HOWEVER, also in the e-mail was something I missed. It said…

This link is for you to download and write down visa form at Airport:

Yeah, I didn’t do that. So when I finally got to the window (more on that in a bit), I got sent to the side because I hadn’t filled out the stupid form. But here’s the thing…because I had filled out a form on, I thought I didn’t need to fill out another form that included similar information. Call me a dumbass. I am a dumbass.

Here’s the part that I totally regretted later. On Monday, February 17 at 2:29 a.m., emailed me and said this. (This is their English, just to be clear.)

Dear Sir/Madam:

Thanks for choosing

After taking a long flight, do you feel very tired to get the line to get visa stamp at arrival airport?

You do not want to wait a long time at arrival airport to get line visa stamp, you want to get it ASAP and go to hotel to relax?

Many customers said that it is very uncomfortable to wait for a long time to get visa stamp because there are many people also get visa on arrival like them and it is also very hard to take back their passports because the differences about pronunciation

Many people is very confused at arrival airport in the first time they use visa on arrival because they don’t know where the Immigration Department counter to get visa stamp is

To avoid wasting your valuable time, especially after having a long flight or other personal reasons. We establish additional services to assist you at the airport when you arrived, and will bring to you with the  highest satisfy. You are welcome as highest VIP person, and you don’t need to get line for pick up visa stamp at the airport, let our staff do it for you.

We offer 2 options for you to chose, and let us do the rest for you:

A. Fast Track at the airport  

·         Fast Track: Welcome and help to get visa stamp without get line. More details

·         VIP Fast Track: Welcome and get visa stamp without get line at Immigration checking desk, then staff will escort you to luggage lounge and help you passing the customs checking counter, and after that we will take you to the car park. . More details

*** OK, back to me again ***

Yes! I was very tired! No, I didn’t want to get the line to get the visa stamp! No, I don’t want to wait a long time to get line visa stamp! Yes, I want to go to my hotel and relax! I want highest satisfy!!

But no…I didn’t pay for the Fast Track. I wasn’t highest VIP person. I did not use my personal reasons. I WAS NOT HIGHEST SATISFY!!!

Instead, I chose to STAB MYSELF IN THE EYES.

OK, so I got off my flight from Singapore in Ho Chi Minh Airport and me and a million elderly French hikers and a dozen or two total stoners in flowy pants and flip flops from all over the world all tried to get visas on arrival at the same time. Just like in Italy during a train strike or at a U.S. grocery store before the Superbowl or that day when you decide to go to the post office THREE DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS. It was chaos. I was lucky in that I had most of my information ready and got up to the window relatively quickly…but that’s when I learned I didn’t have that stupid form so I had to go fill that out, bring it back and wonder how the two guys behind the window kept track of everything.

And then I had to wait. And wait. And wait.

Then I had to listen to the poor Vietnamese woman try to pronounce all these Western names. And you know, the French only respond when you pronounce correctly, so that worked REALLY well (sarcasm font).

Tip: Make sure the back of your passport is easily recognizable. I’ve been a member of Global Entry for a long time, so I have the old CBP sticker on the back of my passport, along with a lot of general airline security stickers. The only thing that kept me sane was seeing my passport there on the desk and knowing that I was just waiting for them to call my name.

90 minutes later, I had everything I needed and the immigration queues had died down enough that I slipped quickly through. But they were a very painful 90 minutes and I really regret not paying the $40 for VIP Fast Track or even just the $20 for regular Fast Track. Also, by the time I got through to baggage claim, my suitcase was one of five sitting next to our baggage claim. Everything else — and everybody else — was gone.

So…Should you get a “Visa on Arrival” in Vietnam? NO. Apply in advance!! If I give you nothing in life, let me give you this. UNLESS YOU WANT ME TO STAB YOU IN THE EYES. (That is a joke. I would never stab anyone and especially not in the eyes.)

Or, well bring a good book.

8 Responses to “Getting a Visa to Vietnam (Don’t Make the Mistakes I Did!)”

  1. s
    Apr 02, 2014

    Long time lurker, but never commented before. I have to say I was sorry to hear about your experience with not reading the fine print and the subsequent cost to your sanity, but I was laughing so hard reading this post that I almost peed my pants.

    • Krista
      Apr 03, 2014

      Hah hah! I live to entertain! Thanks for lurking!

  2. ToDeCo
    Apr 04, 2014

    Sorry for what you have experienced in getting visa on arrival. But it is not always like that. The situations are diefferent on different days. Many customers of my company got visa on arrival very quickly with no problem.

    • Krista
      Apr 07, 2014

      No worries! It was all part of the experience!!

  3. Catherine
    Apr 10, 2014

    I booked with to and didn’t notice that link in their email either!! Have just printed it now for my trip next week, you’re a life saver. Also just purchased their fast track service cos it sounds like hell otherwise :P
    Thanks again, Cat

    • Krista
      Apr 18, 2014

      Glad I could be of service! Enjoy your trip!

  4. Vegetarian Tourist
    May 15, 2014

    Krista- I did visa on arrival as well, but I don’t remember my experience to be quite as horrible. I do remember having to wait a bit for my passport, but I was sweating bullets for another reason. Read my visa story here!!!

    • Krista
      May 26, 2014

      Ah, the dreaded “must have four blank pages” in your passport rule! I just ran out on my 2nd set. Chicago’s passport office fixed me up with a 3rd set same day!! Also good to know…if your passport is going to expire within six months of traveling, some airlines may not let you on.