How to Get a Visa to Vietnam

Getting a Visa to Vietnam can be a draining and all around difficult process. From choosing the correct visa category, duration and fee, to arranging the right documents, checking your passport and finally beginning the application process itself, for so many travellers entering Vietnam can seem almost impossible. Where do you even begin?

Woman searching info for her visa

Do I Need a Visa?

If you're Australian or America then sadly the answer is still "yes", but for some lucky nationals of other countries the answer may well be "no". If they fly directly into Phu Quoc (which is designated a Special Economic Zone), anyone who fancies a beachside vacation can spend up to 30 days on the island without a visa. However, this is only valid in Phu Quoc, so if you plan to travel through Vietnam then buying a visa is the best plan. Learn more about the Phu Quoc visa here.

The Vietnamese government has recently issued visa waivers for trips lasting up to 15 days in Vietnam, for the nationals from the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Here is a list of all the other countries.

Finally, visitors from the ASEAN bloc (which includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and Vietnam) receive a 30 day visa waiver, aside from Bruneians who receive 14 days.

For countries that get an exemption for the first X amount of days, travellers can instead buy a tourist visa the first time around, and any time they come into the country again, they can get their free visa. Alternatively, exempt travellers who take the free visa option the first time around must wait 30 days out of the country once their free visa expires, before coming back into Vietnam; they will still have an option to enter for free for the allotted number of days.

What Visa Do I Need?

As of 1 January 2015 Vietnamese immigration law was amended to include a much more specific array of visa categories. To some this may seem scary! But never fear, it's actually very useful since you're now bound to find an exact fit for your purpose of entry. Check out this handy table for a list of visa categories, the appropriate applicant for that category, and how long that category allows you to stay in Vietnam.

Visa categories

Who is it for?

Duration of visa

NG1 - NG4

Diplomats and guests of the government, and their relatives or assistants

Up to 12 months

LV1 - LV2

People who work with the Vietnamese authorities

Up to 12 months

DT

Foreign investors and foreign lawyers operating in Vietnam

Up to 5 years

DN

Working partners of Vietnamese Businesses

Up to 12 months

NN1 - NN2

Chief's and head representatives of representative offices of IOs and foreign NGOs in Vietnam

Up to 12 months

NN3

Staff members of NGOs, representative offices and branches of foreign businesses in Vietnam

Up to 12 months

DH

Students or interns coming to study in Vietnam

Up to 12 months

HN

Conference/seminar attendants

Up to 3 months

PV1

Journalists with permanent residence in Vietnam

Up to 12 months

PV2

Journalists with short term residence in Vietnam

Up to 12 months

LD

Foreign workers/labourers coming to work in Vietnam

Up to 2 years

DL

Tourists

Up to 3 months

TT

Dependents (wife, husband, or child under 18 years) of someone with an LV1, LV2, DT, NN1, NN2, DH, PV1, LD

Up to 12 months

VR

People who will visit their relatives, or enters Vietnam for other purposes

Up to 6 months

SQ

People who enter Vietnam under special circumstances, for market research, tourism, visiting relatives or medical treatment

Up to 1 month

What About the New One-Year Visa for US Citizens?

A new 12-month visa only for American citizens has been put into practice. For several months, there had been problems because the one-year visa had become the only option US citizens were given. However, this is not the case any more, and they can apply for one-month and three-month visas again.

American holding his passport

US citizens can get the new multiple-entry, one-year tourist or business visa on arrival or at a border for US$135. As with all other visas, you need an invitation letter, which an agent or your local Vietnamese embassy can set up for you. For the one-year tourist visa, you must get out of the country every 90 days. If you get the business visa, you don't have to go out every three months, but the paperwork required is a hassle and usually an agent is your best bet for this option.

What Documents Do I Need?

When applying for a visa in any category you need a range of documents. Some categories require more specifics than others, but for most visas including tourist visas the following apply:

- Application form for your visa category (you will find this at your Vietnam Consulate, or fill it out as part of your visa on arrival process).

- Passport that is valid for at least 30 days longer than your visa, but many airlines require an even longer validity! Check before you book.

- Visa approval letter (your agent or embassy should arrange this for you).

- Passport style photos sized 4 cm x 6 cm.

- Cash for a stamping fee if you are making a visa on arrival.

How Do I Get My Visa?

There are a variety of ways to get a visa to Vietnam. The processing time is generally from one to three working days, but we advise allowing at least a week for your visa to be ready. Preferably a lot longer! Urgent visas are available but are more expensive.

Make absolutely sure you have the appropriate photos when applying for your visa. If you apply online you can check your photo at the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vietnam website, and if you apply in person be sure to have a stash of pics measuring 4 cm x 6 cm. Stashes like this are useful when traveling, and let's face it, those small passport type pics are fun anyway.

You can apply for your visa online, via the Vietnamese Embassy in your country, through an agency, visa on arrival, or at a land border.

Embassy: To buy a visa from your embassy, make sure you have the correct documents and simply turn up. Easy as pie.

Agency: The advantage of going through an agency is they can do a rush visa if you need one last minute. They can also organise all those nitty gritty details for you that just make you want to scream. Visit a travel agent in the neighbouring country that you’re in before you cross the border to Vietnam, or use an online service. We can recommend a few good online agencies, including the Vietnam Visa Corp and Viet Dream Travel.

On Arrival: Visas online can be cheaper upfront since you don't pay a processing fee, but you will need to pay a stamping fee between US$25 and US$135 depending on your visa category, once you arrive in Vietnam.

If you want to go with this method make sure you apply for your visa through a reliable website, since there have been a lot of reported scams. Lonely Planet travellers recommend Vietnam Visa Pro and Hotels-in-Vietnam.com, and we recommend Viet Dream Travel because have never let us down.

Note that online visas can be irritating once you reach Vietnam, as you'll probably be waiting a while in a queue for a visa stamp! A visa through your embassy can also involve queues, but from our experience it's generally a smoother process all around.

Border: Finally, if you're entering Vietnam from Laos or Cambodia, a visa at the border is the best and cheapest option. Most bus operators will organise this for you as a part of their service, but it can help to know a bit about official documents before you go gallivanting across foreign countries.

Your best bet is to ask about visas when you book. Should your bus not offer a visa service, visit the Vietnamese Embassy in Cambodia or Laos and secure your visa and letter of approval before you get on!

Visa approved

Fees

Here are the fees you'll be paying for your stamping fee:

- One-month single entry: US$25

- Three-month single entry: US$35

- Three-month multiple entry: US$50

- One-year multiple entry: US$135

How Do I Extend/Renew My Visa?

This is not a problem, as far as we know. There are two options. One is to make a trip to a nearby land border and have your visa extended at the border (bring your passport and cash to make the stamp), and the other is to go through a local travel agent. You can extend within the country once after you get an initial visa – that means you don't have to leave Vietnam for your second visa. The rule is, if you have a one-month visa, you can extend for one month. If you have a three-month visa, you can extend for three. After this, you have to go out of the country and come back to extend your visa.

In HCMC there are many agents who offer reliable visa extension, such as the above-mentioned Viet Dream Travel on 112 Bui Vien, District 1. Lac Hong Tours on 305 Pham Ngu Lao is another option.

Helpful tips

- Keep in mind, during the Lunar New Year (falling sometime in late February and March), agencies will tack on an additional US$100-200 because of the holiday season no matter what type of tourist visa you’re applying for. Once the Lunar New Year celebration passes, the prices once again fall to standard rates.

- Check with more than one or two agencies in order to get the best deal

- Keep that stash of small selfies handy

Some other useful visa websites:

vietnam-immigration.org.vn

myvietnamevisa.com

vietnamvisa.govt.vn

Contact: Vietnam Immigration Department Head Offices

Hanoi: 44-46 Tran Phu, Ba Dinh District, Open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. & 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Telephone: 04 3825 7941

Ho Chi Minh City: 254 Nguyen Trai, District 1, Open Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. & 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Telephone: 08 3920 2300

GALLERY


5 Tips to take pictures of fireworks in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi

With Tet Festival just around the corner and fireworks displays in the works in the major city centres in Vietnam, we thought it best to give you some pointers on fireworks photography. This type of photography is very technical but we have to broken it down to you in five easy steps. The fireworks displays are organized annually as part of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration. When the clock strikes midnight on February 9th, 2013, fireworks displays lasting up to 15 minutes will be fired up throughout the country. Therefore, be prepared for capturing these endless moments.

Bring a tripod

Getting those streaky light bursts takes long exposure times and can be tricky to take if you don’t have a sturdy tripod. If you don’t have a tripod handy, look for a place to set down your camera. You probably won’t get the flexibility that the tripod has but at least you’ll get the shot.

Local insight: Don’t try to hand hold the camera. All you will get are shaky images

Location, location and location

Once the fireworks show starts, you aren’t going to have the time to move around. Start looking for a spot early and try to find one with an unobstructed view of the sky. Also, be careful of crowds as it will be dark and they could knock into your tripod.

Local insight: Try getting higher than the crowd. Hotels, rooftop bars and the like are great vantage points.

Frame your shot

Shots of fireworks are boring unless you have some context behind them. Is there a famous building in the distance that could lend a frame of reference for the viewer? Also, is there anything in frame that can block the fireworks display?

Local insight: Try to get an unobstructed view of the rocket’s launch.

Go Manual

Play with your settings to get it right. Keep an aperture to f/8, focus to infinity (look for the double helix symbol on your lens) and use the lowest ISO your camera has to offer. The shutter speed will usually be the only variable in this equation.

Local insight: If you want to shoot multiple rockets exploding, use the Bulb setting.

Use your LCD screen

The best aspect of digital photography is the instant review of your image. Never is this more relevant than in this type of photography. After each shot, take a look at the image and adjust your camera settings accordingly.

Local insight: Don’t rely on the histogram to review exposures of this type.

I hope we have given you some great tips to make better fireworks photos!

Photo by: phatfreemiguel


Other articles:

Top 5 tips for crossing the street in Vietnam

Top 5 photo tips for travelers in Vietnam

Top 5 tips to rent a motorbike in Vietnam

5 tips to manage your online reputation on Tripadvisor

5 tips of preparation for better score at golf

5 tips to take pictures of fireworks in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi

Top 5 tips for preventing theft in Vietnam

The art of bargaining in Vietnam

Tips to spot and avoid scam and pick pocket

GALLERY


Top 5 tips for preventing theft in Vietnam

Travelling in Vietnam can be a life changing experience with its beautiful scenery and rich cultural history. The main hassles you’ll encounter will be the milder sort, such as pushy vendors and over enthusiastic touts. Nevertheless, petty theft is on the rise.

Travellers tend to be targets not just because of the cameras or money they carry but also due to their unfamiliarity of their surroundings. These circumstances can make you vulnerable and put a bulls-eye on your back for thieves.

While the country is assuredly a friendly and safe place to travel, a little common sense and a few precautions can make your trip smooth and trouble-free.

  1. Use your camera strap. It might get uncomfortable wearing it in the heat and humidity but it’s easy for a cướp giật (thief on a motorbike) to grab onto your brand new Canon or Nikon DSLR and drive away.
  2. Use your front pockets. The back pocket of your shorts or trousers is an easy mark for any experienced pick pocket. Even better, use a money belt!
  3. Put your stuff away. Most thefts experienced by travellers are crimes of opportunity and leaving your iPad or credit cards out is a big welcome sign for a thief. If your luggage has a lock, use it.
  4. Put away your jewellery. Thieves on motorbikes love necklaces as they are easy to grab and small enough to pocket afterwards.
  5. While walking in the city, wear your bag across your shoulder. Also, switch the bag to the inside of the sidewalk to make it harder for a would-be thief.
  6. When checking Google Maps on your iPhone or other smartphone, hold it with two hands!

I know there is supposed to only be 5 but I just saw #6 happen to someone so I had to add it in! We hope these tips help make your trip to Vietnam as safe as can be and hope these tips can keep your trip as enjoyable as possible.


Other articles:

Top 5 tips for crossing the street in Vietnam

Top 5 photo tips for travelers in Vietnam

Top 5 tips to rent a motorbike in Vietnam

5 tips to manage your online reputation on Tripadvisor

5 tips of preparation for better score at golf

5 tips to take pictures of fireworks in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi

Top 5 tips for preventing theft in Vietnam

The art of bargaining in Vietnam

Tips to spot and avoid scam and pick pocket

GALLERY


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