Vietnam Visa Vexation

Visas are so stupid. I just can’t fathom how a piece of paper can determine whether I am allowed to go into the country or not. When I went to Thailand last year, I didn’t even check to see if I needed one. I think living in the EU has made me a tad oblivious to crossing borders or something. This blog covered a lot of ground to wrap my head around it all.

You more than likely will need a visa for Vietnam. There are some exceptions so check your government website to be sure. For the remaining 90% of suckers who have to get a visa, there are usually three ways to do so (again, check your country’s official government travel websites). Just so we are on the same page, the three types are below.

  1. Visa on Arrival (VOA) this visa I will explain this in detail since I am currently choosing a website to use. For the VOA you must be flying into a Vietnamese international airport in order for it to work. If you are arriving by coconut boat, train, bus etc. this is not the visa for you, you are on your own
  2. Visa from the Vietnamese consulate/ embassy in your country (in most cases, they’re crazy expensive and since there aren’t many Vietnamese consulates in each country, it is quite tedious)
  3. E-visa- not for every country but I read that since this is relatively new (2017) the process isn’t squeaky clean, in some cases people have been turned away upon arrival in Vietnam for having a typo in their application

Visa on Arrival (VOA)

Now, this is not fact-based but I think what happened was the Vietnamese government required visas and then opened the doors for any Joe Schmuck to issue them. Consequently, there are thousands of “legit” visa issuing agencies, none of which is regulated. Classic Asia.

I checked out the official websites of the Canadian- Vietnamese consulate, Dutch- Vietnamese and Australian- Vietnamese pages. All of them mentioned that you need a visa, but none actually recommended any online VOA websites. I found out that this is because VOA’s compete with their visa market so the embassy/ consulates don’t endorse VOA’s. In some cases, I read that the government workers had intimated people to not use a VOA due to various (made-up) reasons. Again, from what I have read and from all the people I know who have gone to Vietnam, the VOA is completely legitimate, you just need to be cautious of which agency you choose to issue it.

I have read loads of Trip Advisor forums, travel blogs and other sites and the VOA situation is an absolute mess. When I type in Vietnam visa agency reviews, or best Vietnam visa VOA I end up getting the agencies reviewing themselves, so they aren’t exactly trustworthy. Some other agency sites give you seizures when you arrive on their landing page, what with all their colours, fonts and unprofessional look to them. Those I steered clear from. I read on countless sites to not be fooled by the whole .gov, .govt, . org, .whatever the heck they feel like putting to make it seem legit. These are just paid for domain names, that have no association with the institution/ governing body. After 6 hours, I narrowed my choices to three.

I found a Lonely Planet article that listed two:

And, seemed to have links to notable newspapers where they were mentioned.

Since you are required to give your passport information along with other personal details, I would recommend not being cheap. I think that was the first time I have ever thought that in my life. I, Corrine, for once, did not choose something based on cheapest price. I expect people are applauding me now, so thank you.

I heard some hotels that you plan to stay at or travel agencies that you book tours with will also be able to issue the VOA for you. But I can’t confirm or deny this since I have no idea what I am actually doing.

To get a private letter or normal letter, that is the question.

Another thing that seems to come up to make this sketchy process even sketchier is the whole private letter or regular letter. On the regular letter, apparently, up to 10 full names, passport numbers and birth dates are shown of randos. I assume the Vietnamese immigration does this to make less work for themselves, because it is certainly not because they care about saving trees. I will opt to spend 10 USD more and get the private letter.

Apparently at the airport you need to follow the Landing Visa signs in order to get your visa authorized. Also, you need to bring the following:

  • two passport sized photos in colour
  • the documents: printed with the instructions the agency said along with a form filled out by hand which you can print off online or fill it out once you arrive there
  • 25 USD the exact amount in cash. You can apparently pay in Vietnamese Dong but they charge you slightly more

My Decision

An hour later- EEEEKKKKKK I decided to go for and do a private letter. It cost me 26 USD (18 USD for the visa, 8 for the private letter add- on). I applied on a Sunday night with an expected delivery date of the following Friday (5 business days). By Tuesday, I had the email confirmation with my visa approval letter attached, along with more details on what to bring/ print out for the airport. Very speedy service. My private letter was indeed private with only my name on it. There may be an Asian Corrine walking around Vietnam but I will say hello to her if I see her when I am there.

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