Applying for a Vietnamese Visa as a US citizen
If you’re from the US, you may or may not have applied for a visa to visit another country. Before I decided to go to Vietnam, I had never applied for a visa in advance and I had been to 11 countries at that time. Before Vietnam, I had merely arrived at a country either by land or by air and had my passport stamped when I got there (believe me- I recognize how utterly privileged that sounds!). Vietnam is a bit different in that respect, as you will need to take some steps to make sure that you can enter the country legally and safely (or you risk being deported before your trip even begins). Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after your arrival in Vietnam so if you need to get a new passport to meet this requirement, try to get one ASAP to avoid any complications here. Additionally, you will need at least a full page for your visa sticker so make sure that you have a free one for when you arrive. If you plan on visiting neighboring countries (Cambodia or Laos), you will also want to keep pages free for these full-page visas, as well. It should be noted that the visa regulations for Vietnam change frequently- often with little notice- so this article will need to be updated regularly to reflect the most current information. Check back regularly for any updates!
So, what are my options?
Per the map below (thanks again, Wikipedia!), US citizens can obtain a 30-day eVisa if they would like to stay in the country for up to a month. This seems to be the simplest option if you want to visit Vietnam, although there are other options at your disposal. While I have never personally obtained an eVisa, I can try to walk you through the process as described on the US State Department website in the relevant section of this article below. In addition to the eVisa, you can apply for a visa directly through a Vietnamese consulate or embassy located in the US (i.e. 30-day, 90-day, 1 year, etc). If you’re getting your visa through a business or travel agency, you MAY be eligible for a visa on arrival. However, if you decide to go this route, keep in mind that you may be overcharged for this at the airport for the stamping fee so it may be better to simply apply for a visa in advance.
As a tourist, these are the only options you have if you’re a US citizen so choose whichever one you feel the most comfortable with. Full disclosure: I have only done a 90-day visa directly through the Vietnamese Consulate in New York City, as I also needed to get my working papers legalized. This is the only option that I have tried so far so much of the information provided in the below sections is not based on my personal experience. It has been collected from interviews I’ve conducted with other American travelers and through google searches. Note: regardless of which visa option you choose, I would highly recommend having approximately 100 USD or 2.3 million VND on your person before you fly to prepare for any unexpected fees that may be charged at the airport. More on that later.
30-day eVisa (single entry only)
The eVisa application process is relatively straightforward. The visa can be obtained by filling out the online application. This can be done on the Vietnam immigration website (https://www.immigration.gov.vn). Note that there are many websites that you can go to for a visa but it is extremely important that you go to this website rather than the others- there are many imposter sites out there and they can steal your credit card and/or other personal information very easily. Actually, some of these websites will look more legitimate that the true immigration website (which honestly looks like it’s straight out of the 1990s and contains many typos) so don’t be fooled by more aesthetically pleasing sites! Your computer may tell you that this is not a secure website but this really is the correct one per the US State Department website. You can generally trust websites with a “.gov” extension as a rule of thumb, although it’s quite possible that a scammer may have access to a “.gov” website. It’s wise to be very skeptical unless you can verify the validity of any other site.
The eVisa will cost 25 USD through the website. Note that if your eVisa application is denied, your application fee cannot be refunded. It should take a maximum of 3 business days to be processed so please plan accordingly. To start your application, go to option 1 (“eVisa issuance”) on the homepage. You will then select the option called “for foreigners” and read the steps on the page that comes up:
When you’re ready to proceed, you should check the box that reads “Confirmation of reading carefully [sic] instructions and having completed application.” On the next page, you will be asked to upload a passport-sized photo (2” x 2”), as well as scan of your actual passport photo page. There is also a personal information section to fill out and you will be asked for the requested dates of your visa. After filling out the form and having the website autocheck your information, you should be prompted to enter in your credit card information on the next page. You will then need to enter your registration code for your request (you should receive this via email) and your date of birth. You will be notified if/when your eVisa application is approved. Please print the confirmation so you have it to present to customs when you land in the airport.
When you land in Vietnam, you will go straight to the customs office and you will be asked to fill out an immigration form. The form will ask you for personal information like your date of birth, hostel/hotel address, etc. so it’s wise to screenshot the address at which you will be staying so you can easily fill out the forms. You will likely not be allowed to pass through customs if you don’t know or don’t have an address so please book your accommodations ahead of time- this is not the time to be winging it. Note that even if you’ll be traveling to multiple cities within Vietnam, you only need to put down the address of your first hostel/hotel. The immigration officials don’t really care about any information you have beyond that point. You will not regret having taken USD or VND with you, as there are no ATMs in the customs office. If you need cash, you will be escorted out of the building to go to an ATM across the street. You will then need to go to the back of the line in customs so it’s better to be prepared ahead of time to avoid stress at the airport. After waiting in line for a while (could be minutes, could be an hour depending on the amount of foot traffic), you will get a full page sticker in your passport. You can now collect your checked bags (if applicable) and you’ll be good to go!
Visa on Arrival (VOA)
For the VOA, the process is much different. It should be noted that this option is only available if you’re flying to Vietnam- the VOA is not possible at border crossings from Cambodia and Laos. Before your trip begins, you must obtain an approval letter through a company like Tripadvisor in order to process your visa when you land. Tripadvisor is my best recommendation for this route, although there are other companies that can assist you with this. Please do research on a site like Reddit before you trust a company, as again, there are many scams out there that hope to steal your credit card information. In order to get a letter, you will be asked to provide some personal information (i.e. your name, date of birth, passport number, etc.) on the website. Tripadvisor (or whichever company you choose) will then work with a third party company in Vietnam to actually obtain the letter. Processing for the letter can take as little as one hour but you should expect that it will take approximately 2-3 days business days total to prepare for the worst case scenario.
When you receive your letter via email, you may be surprised to see that the letter does not only contain your information- it will contain the passport numbers of whomever else requested the letter at the time of processing. This is because the company does all requests in bulk, as it is assumed that no one will have enough information from your passport to do anything sketchy. For an extra fee, you can obtain a letter which only contains your passport number if this worries you, but keep in mind that everyone whose information is in the letter is in the same boat as you so it’s unlikely that anything will happen with your information. In addition to the letter, you should have two passport-size photos (2” x 2”) of you handy so you won’t be charged high fees for these when you land at the Vietnamese airport. You can get these taken at pharmacies like CVS or Walgreens, a store like UPS, or even at some post offices. The VOA should cost 25 USD at the airport for a single-entry visa (both 1-month and 3-month) and 50 USD for a multiple entry visa (both 1-month and 3-month), as of July 2018. The extra cash is for incidentals, as many SE Asian countries will accept USD as payment for visas (it’s actually the preferred currency in Cambodia so if you plan on heading there, you can save yourself some stress by having USD on you). Additionally, it cannot be guaranteed that airport officials will actually charge you these prices. The US State Department website states that many travelers have been overcharged for VOAs in the past. If this does occur, it’s wise to simply pay whatever price they ask for. You obviously don’t want to be deported for putting up a fight with an immigration official so it would be my recommendation to just go along with it (even if you feel that you’re being wronged).
When you land in Vietnam, the customs process is exactly like the last paragraph of the eVisa section of this article states. Please refer to that paragraph to see a full description of the process.
Visa Applications through the Vietnamese Embassy/Consulates in US
This visa option is definitely the most conventional. Sometimes it feels better to interact with an actual human being rather than doing everything online. This would be my recommendation if you plan to eventually work in Vietnam, as you can get your working papers legalized at the same time as the authorization of your visa. You can begin this process by going to the Vietnamese embassy or consulate website that is closest to your state. Below is the contact information of all consulates/embassies located in the US:
1233 20th St NW, Suite 400 - Washington, DC 20036, United States (USA)
Hotline for Consular Affairs: 202.716.8666 or202.739.1666
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org (for general information)or email@example.com (for consular affairs)
Website : www.vietnamembassy-usa.org
4th floor of 866 UN PLAZA, suite 435
Phone : 1-212-644-0594; 1-212-644-2535
Fax : 1-212-644-5732
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Website : http://www.vietnamconsulate-ny.org/
Office hours: from 09:00 to 17:30 on all weekdays
5251 Westheimer Rd, Suite 1100, Houston, Texas 77056, United States
Tel: 713-850-1233 | 713-840-0096
Fax: 713-840-0159 | 713-871-0312
Website : www.vietnamconsulateinhouston.org
1700 California Street, Suite 430, San Francisco, CA 94109, California, USA
Tel: 415-922-1707 ext. 115
Fax: 415-922-1848; 415-922-0307
Web address: www.vietnamconsulate-sf.org
Any consulate outside of this list (i.e. Boston) does not have the capacity to issue a visa for you so you will need to apply to one of the above sites. You can apply to whichever location is the closest to your state (i.e. someone from Massachusetts would apply to the Vietnamese Consulate in New York) but I believe that you can technically apply to any location and have them process your paperwork. You can choose to either go to the consulate or embassy in person or you can send your application and passport via US mail. Naturally with the latter option, you run the risk of losing your passport but the likelihood that this will happen is very slim. The consulate or embassy, however, cannot claim responsibility for any materials that are lost during mailing or processing, so please keep this in mind when you’re preparing to send away your materials.
You can specifically request that a loose leaf visa be sent to you rather than having to send your passport away but you should check the requirements of the consulate/embassy to which you’re applying to ensure that this is possible. Per the NYC consulate website, you will need to send an additional passport photo in your mailed application so I believe that this would apply to all consulate/embassy locations. You can also request a Vietnamese visa by email but I believe that this involves sending your credit/debit card information via email which I would strongly discourage. I won’t discuss that option in detail, as it seems far less secure than the other available methods.
Regardless of whether or not you apply for your visa in person, you will need to fill out the application form of your embassy or consulate (you can find this on the websites listed above). It’s a one-page form and it asks you for basic personal information, passport information, and the requested visa type/visa dates. You will need a passport-sized photo to glue (not tape) onto the top righthand side of the form, so make sure that you have one of these handy. For sending your request via US mail, please include the following in your envelope:
If you want to go to the embassy or consulate in person, you should bring the below materials with you:
Here is the pricing information for each type of available visa (as of July 29th, 2018). Note that this information may be subject to change based on the Vietnamese government’s requirements:
When you land in Vietnam, the customs process is exactly like the last paragraph of the eVisa section of this article. Please refer to that paragraph to see a full description of the process. I understand that there will be more red tape for applying for a Vietnamese visa than what you may be used to in your travels to other countries. Please don’t let this deter you from coming to a truly amazing place- it really is worth the effort and cost to experience all that this country has to offer. Should you have any questions regarding this process, do not hesitate to contact the embassy or consulate to which you’re applying. It’s literally their job to assist you through the process so use them as early and as often as possible. Reddit is also a great resource (subreddits like r/backpacking can be a useful tool for you). Best of luck with your visa processing and safe travels!
About the author:
I’m an American backpacker who has been traveling in South East Asia for the past 2.5 months. I left a job in finance to see more of the world and to teach English abroad. I’ve loved my experience in HCMC and beyond and I hope to share some of my experiences with prospective and fellow travelers.