*UPDATE 2/16/17* Vietnam recently introduced an e-Visa system for U.S. citizens. The process for obtaining a 30 day, single-entry visa is much easier and cheaper now. Click here for more information on how to obtain a Vietnam e-Visa.
When I sat down to write this post, my original intention was to show you everything you needed to know about how to obtain a Vietnam tourist/travel visa but the more research I did, the more I found out Vietnam doesn’t really want you to give you a visa. Seriously, I don’t think Vietnam wants you to visit there as the Vietnamese government has made the visa process entirely cumbersome, convoluted and expensive. Let me explain.
Currently, there are two ways for U.S. citizens to obtain a Vietnam tourist/travel visa (and one way to obtain a visa exemption).
The first way is to obtain a visa on arrival to Vietnam. This route requires you to work with a visa/travel agency to obtain a visa approval letter prior to travel. You can easily Google “Vietnam visa” and a list of visa/travel agencies will be able to process your application online. Once you have your visa approval letter (usually emailed to you within a couple days of your online application), you can then travel to Vietnam and use your visa approval letter as proof of your pending visa. The second step to this process requires you to obtain a visa stamp upon your arrival into Vietnam. You must proceed to the landing visa office (before immigration), pay the visa stamp fee and obtain your visa stamp in your passport before proceeding to immigration.
Now, here’s the problem with this route. Vietnam recently changed their visa rules and increased their fees. You can read my entire post on Vietnam’s new visa changes and fee increase here. The gist of my post is that Vietnam made an unannounced change that affected a bunch of people that planned on obtaining a visa on arrival. As of August 29, 2016, Vietnam no longer offers a one or three month, single or multiple entry visa for U.S. citizens.
All tourist visas for U.S. citizens will now be one year, multiple entry visas. On the surface, that sounds fine and dandy but here’s the kicker – the new Vietnam one year, multiple entry visa stamp will cost you a whopping $135! Yes, that’s U.S. dollars, not Vietnamese Dong. And that’s just the price of the visa stamp upon arrival into Vietnam. That’s not even including the processing fee charged by the visa/travel agency to process your visa approval letter.
So why is this bad news? Well, it’s because this new rule affects everyone even if you have already obtained a visa approval letter (but have not traveled yet). If you are holding a visa approval letter for a one or three month, single or multiple entry visa, expect your visa application to be automatically changed to a one year, multiple entry visa upon your arrival to Vietnam. And yes, expect to pay $135 for the new visa stamp. Your anticipated one month, single entry visa stamp fee of $25 will NOT be honored. And one more thing, the visa stamp fee needs to be paid in cash.
If you want to go this route for obtaining a Vietnam visa, you can find many visa/travel agencies online to get a visa approval letter for you. But keep in mind two things. First and foremost, many of those online agencies have NOT updated their websites yet to show the new visa change and increased fees. Don’t get excited if you see a website that shows you a one or three month, single or multiple entry visa for Vietnam. You won’t be able to get it. Just trust me on this.
The second thing to keep in mind that I have found their prices to vary greatly. Some agencies are charging $35 for processing and others are charging up to $300 for the same service. There’s a huge discrepancy in prices so shop around. The price you are paying the agency should only be for the processing of the visa approval letter only. The price of the visa stamp upon arrival will be additional and paid upon your arrival to Vietnam.
So that’s the first way of obtaining a Vietnam tourist visa. The second way is the traditional route of obtaining a visa stamp in your passport prior to travel. This can be done through the Vietnam Embassy in Washington DC or through any of the Vietnam consulate offices across the U.S. (San Francisco, Houston, New York) and can be done in person or via the mail. If you obtain a visa stamp prior to travel, you will not need to pay any additional fees or take any other steps when arriving into Vietnam.
If you want to go this route, complete an online application, include your required documents and fees and mail them all to the Embassy or consulate office. The required documents include:
- Visa application form
- Original passport (or a color copy of your original passport). If you submit your passport, your visa stamp will be placed in your passport. If you send a color copy of your passport, you will receive a loose leaf visa stamp. Both are valid visa stamps.
- Two 2×2 passport photos.
- Visa processing fee in the form of a money order, cashier’s check or certified check.
- A prepaid return envelope. I would recommend either FedEx, UPS or USPS certified express mail with tracking.
- The standard processing time is approximately three days but expedited processing is available for an additional fee.
But did you guys notice what was missing from that list of required items to be sent in? That’s right. How much is the visa processing fee???
If you look at the Vietnam Embassy’s website here, San Francisco consulate office’s website here, Houston consulate office’s website here or the New York consulate office’s website here, you will see they have all neglected to tell you what the price of the visa processing fee is. How transparent (or not) is that?
To find out how much it will cost for them to process your visa, they make you either call in or email them. Good luck if you decide to call them as you won’t reach anyone and if you decide to email them, you will get different answers. It really is an asinine process and couldn’t be more convoluted.
I contacted all of them via email and all but the Houston consulate office emailed me back. The San Francisco consulate advised me the visa processing fee would be $185. The Vietnam Embassy advised the fee would be $220 and the New York consulate office advised me to call their office for the fee. Are you kidding me?? I emailed you because I couldn’t get anyone to answer my calls!
So after a week of going back and forth with all these offices, I can’t find out why the San Francisco consulate office charges less than the Embassy does for the same visa stamp. It makes no sense to me but I wouldn’t pay more if I didn’t have to and I would probably process my visa application through the San Francisco consulate office to save a few bucks. You can contact the San Francisco consulate office and find out more information by clicking here.
And lastly, if you are of Vietnamese decent, married to or are the child of someone that is Vietnamese, you may qualify for a five year, visa exemption. You can click here for more information.
So I wish I had more information for you guys but I don’t. This is the best info I could get and I hope it helps. If anyone else has any tips or can share any of your experiences, please do so in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!
The other related posts in this series include: