In search of visas

passports

Before traveling to India, we never had to contend with obtaining a visa for any country we visited. All the countries we’ve been to in the U.K., Europe, Central and South America, as well as Morocco, offer visa-exempt entry to U.S. citizens for a limited period of time (typically 90 days).

With our upcoming adventure, however, we have had to contend with something even more confusing, if not more complicated, than the Indian visa process: the Vietnam visa.

I don’t think there has ever been a topic we have researched more before a trip. We’ve read through many blog posts, watched several YouTube videos, consulted both the US and Vietnam consular pages–all to figure out not only how to obtain a visa to travel to Vietnam, but just which visa to get.

Part of the problem is that the different methods for obtaining a visa are often mixed up with the different types of visa available to travelers. There are one month and three month, single-entry and multi-entry, stamped visas and loose leaf visas, extendable and non-extendable. Then there are the multiple ways to request a visa: from a visa agent, or from Vietnamese Immigration directly, or from one of the Vietnamese consular offices in the U.S., either in person or by mail or possibly by an online form. Terminology is also key: visa on arrival (or VOA) is not the same as an e-visa, despite the fact that both are applied for online.

No wonder we were confused.

But we persevered, sorted through the information and finally made a decision. If you are considering going to Vietnam, perhaps what we learned in this process may help you, too. (Please note, we have only researched requirements for U.S. citizens, so that’s what we reference here.)

Do you need a visa for Vietnam?

All U.S. citizens entering Vietnam do need to plan ahead for a visa. You cannot just get on a plane and fly to Vietnam without making prior arrangements, whether obtaining an approval letter or an actual visa.

Methods for getting a visa

There are basically three ways to obtain a visa for entering Vietnam: e-visa, visa on arrival (VOA), or applying to the Vietnamese Embassy.

For visits of 30 days or less, the e-visa appears to be the easiest option. It has only been available since early in 2017, for citizens of about 45 or so countries, including the U.S. You apply directly from the Vietnamese Immigration website, and it costs $25. Note that the e-visa is ONLY available as a 30-day single-entry visa, non-extendable. There are also restrictions on which ports you can enter by. Because we wanted the option of staying in Vietnam for longer than 30 days, we decided against the e-visa, though it certainly seems like a great choice for anyone planning a shorter single-entry visit to the country.

For visits longer than 30 days, you have two options: apply directly to the Vietnamese Embassy for an actual visa before you travel, or obtain an approval letter for a Visa on Arrival (VOA).

Initially we assumed we would apply for our visas directly from the Embassy, but there were drawbacks. There is no Vietnamese consular office in Boston, so applying in person was not an option. Reluctant to send our passports through the mail this close to our trip, we looked into alternatives. The Washington D.C. office described both an online form and a PDF you could download and email to them, but the process for either was a bit confusing. Applying this way also got you what is called a loose-leaf visa, a piece of paper you need to be sure to keep with your passport until you leave Vietnam. Losing it apparently causes a lot of problems. In addition, this method was much more expensive than the e-visa, anywhere from $85 to $110, depending on the type of visa you want.

We finally settled on the Visa on Arrival. You apply for this online with a visa agent authorized to obtain an approval letter from Vietnamese Immigration. We only needed to provide our names, birthdates, and passport info. Upon landing in Vietnam, we will go the VOA desk, turn in the letter with an application form, and pay the visa fee ($25 for single-entry, $50 for multi-entry). There was also a fee for the agent’s services ($20 per person). Visa agents set their own rate, and we have read of unscrupulous agents, so be sure to do your research to find a reliable one. We used visa4vietnam.com and had a seamless experience so far. We had our approval letter within 24 hours, with a link to a downloadable application form to complete prior to traveling. As this is only half of the process, we will update this post in a couple of months on how the process worked once we get to Vietnam.

What about other countries?

As for the other countries we’re planning to visit (details to come), it looks like we can either purchase visas at the border, or be stamped in on a 30-day visa-exempt entry. Whew!

So, one more item crossed off our pre-trip to-do list! Seven and a half weeks and many more items to go…

***

Have you traveled to Southeast Asia and encountered visa confusion, or simplicity? If so, and you have any tips to share, please comment below.

 

 

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