Getting a Vietnam Visa
**Please note that Vietnamese visa rules and visa service prices have changed since I originally wrote this post. BUT! A lot of the below about fast track and VIP service still applies so please keep reading! If you don’t want to read all this and just need help with your visa on arrival in Vietnam, I used Vietnam eVisa and recommend them so just head on over there and make sure you get Fast Track or VIP Fast Track and prepay the stamping fee. They also offer extra services like airport cars, hotel reservations, and tours. (If your hotel doesn’t offer airport pickup, book a transfer to avoid the Saigon airport chaos!) Another visa service that comes highly recommended is Vietnam Visa Online; they offer Fast Track services and airport pickup, and if you email them, they respond very quickly. If you need tour help, check out my friends at Urban Adventures who offer some great tours in Hanoi, Saigon, Hoi An, Hue, and Nha Trang. Also, you may find my other Vietnam posts helpful — I love the country!
Bear in mind that I applied for my Vietnamese visa as an American and so if you are of any other nationality, getting a visa for Vietnam 1. might not be necessary or 2. might be harder OR easier than what I describe below. Also note that visa rules for Americans have changed since my visit in 2014!**
Although 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?
There are two main ways to obtain a Vietnam 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…
GETTING A VISA ON ARRIVAL IN VIETNAM IS LIKE STABBING YOURSELF IN THE EYES. UNLESS YOU PAY FOR FAST TRACK OR VIP FAST TRACK.
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 without paying for fast track. 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 approval letter online in advance through a 3rd party provider. I used Vietnam-evisa.org and I had a good experience and they seemed to be legitimate. It cost me $18 to use Vietnam-evisa.org; consider this my online review of their services. I submitted my application online at 8:28 a.m. on Sunday, February 16th, 2014. I received my visa approval letter on Monday, February 17th, 2014 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. (Note that you can pay extra to get a private letter with no other names on it.) 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. (To see the form, go to Vietnam-eVisa,org, click Download Forms on the top right of the screen, and then look at Download Immigration Form entry and exit at the 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 Vietnam-evisa.org, 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 2014 at 2:29 a.m., Vietnam-evisa.org emailed me and said this. (This is their English, just to be clear.)
Thanks for choosing http://www.vietnam-evisa.org/
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.
Why You Should Pay for VIP Fast Track
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? YES! BUT…please please please pay extra for Vietnam E-visa Fast Track or VIP Fast Track — get the full visa services at the airport from Vietnam Evisa, plus pre-pay the visa stamping fee for Vietnam Government. Alternatively, try Vietnam Visa Online. This way, when you get off the plane, it is all taken care of and all you need to do is get your luggage. 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.
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