The Visa Conundrum in Vietnam
Like most countries Vietnam requires that all arriving travelers have appropriate travel visas and a valid passport with at least 6 months to run. Entering Vietnam used to be something of a bureaucratic nightmare but has become much more straightforward in recent years.
Formalities at Vietnam’s international airports are generally smoother than at land borders, as the volume of traffic is greater. That said, crossing overland from Cambodia, China or Laos is now relatively stress-free.
Tourist travelers should apply to the nearest Vietnamese Embassy within their home country for an appropriate visa. If you are travelling to other countries before arriving in Vietnam you can apply for a visa there. Many travel agents in Bangkok and Singapore will be able to assist with the application process. Visas available will range from standard 30 day single entry tourist visas, multiple entry visas, and a variety of 3 month travel visas for tourists and business purposes. (see below)
Visa costs vary and are often more expensive than other country’s visas. (in Australia a 30 day tourist visa costs $120 AUD from the Vietnamese Embassy in Canberra) If you are travelling from Thailand, to Cambodia then on to Vietnam, the best place is to get a visa from the Vietnam Embassy in phnom Penh, Cambodia. It takes 24-48 hours and usually costs only $35 USD.
Visa On Arrival
Vietnam visa on arrival works perfectly for tourists and business travelers who would like to enter Vietnam but have no time to visit an embassy in their country or just wish to avoid visa procedural delays. Note that visa-on-arrival system is not available via land borders.
The Visa on arrival service is available at HCMC airport but operates differently to many other countries. In many places, depending on your nationality and inter-country visa agreements, it is possible to simply arrive at the airport and get your tourist visa as you go through immigration formalities. In Vietnam the visa-on-arrival system works differently.
You must first apply for a visa-on-arrival through a travel agency either in your home country or online. Online is usually best. They will apply on your behalf (usually along with many other applicants at that time), and you will receive confirmation of acceptance and an email copy of the documentation within 48 hours. You will pay about $50 USD to the travel agency for this service. On arrival at Tan San Nhat airport in HCMC you will see a visa office immediately to the left, and before, the usual immigration entry desks. Present your documents and passport there. You will have to fill out another form, supply a passport sized photo, and pay your visa fee ($50 for 3 month). All this should only take about ten minutes unless there is a long lineup of applicants. Thereafter you go through immigration as normal.
NOTE: Your travel agent or online agency will apply for your visa on arrival according to your travel itinerary. If your arrival arrangements do not exactly match the original details it will cause processing problems with the bureaucratic officials at immigration, you can be sent back overseas if you arrive early or late, and be charged a lot more if you arrive at a different time and/or date to your original application details.
If you are visiting Vietnam on business you should apply for a business visa. This will be valid for 90 days and will usually allow for multi entries into the country. Officially you will require a company in Vietnam to provide the necessary paperwork and details to the immigration authorities before the application can be processed, though some travel agencies and online agencies seem to be able to provide business visas without the Vietnam company requirement.
Visa regulations are subject to change so check with a Vietnamese embassy before you apply.
Recent changes to visa regulations mean there are fewer types of visas available. Short stay tourists normally get a 30 day tourist visa ($25 USD), or 90 day tourist visa($50 USD). 90 day tourist/business visas are also available for multiple entry($50 USD). There are no longer any 6 month visas.
For foreign workers you can get a 12 month resident visa but only after you have got an official work permit, so you will need to get a 90 day business visa first. Your employer will then need to do the required documentation, register you as a foreign worker, then you can apply for a 12 month visa.
For foreigners who are married to a Vietnamese national, have a business in Vietnam, are a director of that business, are all able to apply for 12 month, or 3 year resident visa. If you can satisfy all of these conditions you can sometimes get a 5 year residental visa. This is much easier to get if you have a family here.
There are other types of business visas but these generally require significant and very specific business criteria.
Eg1: A 3 year resident visa ($275 USD) is available for representatives of an overseas company. You must be a director of an overseas company wanting to do business here, have sufficient income to live here, and require an official work permit if you want to work and earn money here! Also requires company documents and accountants financial report to verify your criteria.
Eg2: If you buy into a business in Vietnam thereby becoming a company director, and invest significant money into the venture, then you can get a 3 year resident visa and work permit very easily.
Once in Vietnam it is easier to get your visa extended or renewed as most travel agencies offer this service. It can take from 48 hours to 5 days to get this done but the agency will handle everything for you. Prices can vary so ask around but typically a 3 month visa renewal costs about $85 USD. Travel agencies are not officially entitled to issue any visas other than 30 day or 90 day, though some will try and tell you different. Also 90 day visas can cost anything from $85 to $185 USD through a travel agency, (although they only officially cost $50 USD) so they try and get as much as possible as their “service fee”. So it is advisable to check around for current prices.
In most cases now (May 2010) you can only get a 3 month visa extended once for another 3 months while in country. Thereafter you are expected to leave the country and go through the whole process again. In actual fact, any good visa agent, rather than any old travel agency, can get renewals for you.
When you arrive in Vietnam you must complete a customs declaration form usually given to you before you leave the aircraft. You should complete the form and hand it to the customs officer as you pass through a customs post or leave the airport arrivals hall. Customs formalities are straight forward and the duty free allowances are printed on the customs declaration form. If you are bringing in prescription drugs ask your doctor for a note detailing the drugs you are taking. Music CD’s and DVD’s may be subject to inspection. Fire-arms, pornography and narcotics are strictly prohibited, and the penalties for drug trafficking are very severe.