The Vietnamese government recently made some very negative tourist visa changes for U.S. citizens a few months ago. Along with eliminating single entry, short term tourist visas, they also raised the visa stamp fee for U.S citizens from a very cheap $25 to a whopping $135! I recently wrote about those outrages changes in detail but luckily, it appears the Vietnamese government has received so much flak, they have reversed course on their negative changes for tourist visas. If you need to get a Vietnam tourist visa, keep reading as I have detailed step-by-step instructions below.
But first, let’s recap the last couple of months.
Vietnam used to have a relatively cheap tourist visa stamp fee for U.S. citizens. You could get a one month, single-entry tourist visa stamp for $25 USD and the entire process could be done online without having to send in your actual passport. That was great for students, backpackers and those who wished to add a side trip to Vietnam as part of a much longer Asia itinerary. But on August 29, 2016, Vietnam changed their visa process without notice and increased their visa stamp fee significantly for U.S. citizens.
For those who traveled to Vietnam during that unfortunate time, they had to pay $135 for a one year, multiple-entry visa stamp (in addition to the visa processing fee). Even though their visa approval letters were approved for the one month, single-entry visas prior to the fee change, the moment they landed in Vietnam, their one month, single-entry visas were “upgraded” to the one year, multiple entry visas and the more expensive visa stamps were required to be paid in cash.
Well, apparently that didn’t go so well for Vietnam and they have since reversed course. As of October 15, 2016, Vietnam now allows several visa options for U.S. citizens from one month, single-entry tourist visas to one year, multiple-entry visas. U.S. citizens now have the following tourist visa options:
- One month, single-entry: You are allowed one entry into Vietnam and your stay may last up to one month.
- One month, multiple-entry: You are allowed to enter and exit Vietnam several times within one month.
- Three months, single-entry: You are allowed one entry into Vietnam and your stay may last up to three months.
- Three months, multiple-entry: You are allowed to enter and exit Vietnam several times within a three-month period.
- Six months, multiple entry: You are allowed to enter and exit Vietnam several times within a six-month period. You may only stay up to 3 months per entry.
- One year, multiple-entry: You may enter and exit Vietnam multiple times within a one-year period. You may only stay up to 3 months per entry.
Currently, there are two ways of obtaining a tourist visa for Vietnam. The first way is the traditional route of obtaining a Vietnam tourist visa from the Vietnam Embassy or Consulate Office PRIOR to arriving in Vietnam. The second way of obtaining a Vietnam tourist visa is obtaining one UPON arrival into Vietnam. There are pros and cons to both options and I will detail them later on in this post.
Getting a Vietnam tourist visa prior to arriving in Vietnam
You may apply for a Vietnam tourist visa in person or through the mail with the Vietnam Embassy in Washington, DC, or any of the Vietnam Consulate Offices around the United States (Houston, New York, San Francisco). I have added direct links to their respective websites for your reference and convenience. You will need the following documents for a Vietnam tourist visa:
- Vietnam tourist visa application form.
- One 2×2 passport size photo (two for loose-leaf visas).
- Visa processing fee in the form of a cashier’s check or money order made payable to “Embassy of Vietnam” (or Consulate Office name). Applicants applying together may submit one combined check/money order for all applications.
- A pre-paid, self-addressed stamped envelope for the Vietnam Embassy to return your documents to you. The Vietnam Embassy recommends FedEx, UPS or USPS tracked mail but does not recommend DHL (unknown why).
- Include your actual passport if you want them to put the visa stamp directly into your passport or a color copy of your passport page if you want a loose leaf visa stamp. Both are valid for travel to Vietnam.
Standard processing time takes approximately 2 to 3 business days to process once they have received your documents. Expedited service is available for an additional fee of $30 per visa and will expedite your application to 24 hours from receipt.
The visa processing fee for U.S. citizens are listed below. These fees are all-inclusive for both the visa processing and for the visa stamp. You will not pay any additional fees upon your arrival to Vietnam. All fees are listed in U.S. dollars.
- One month, single-entry: $80
- One month, multiple-entry: $135
- Three months, single-entry: $110
- Three months, multiple-entry: $160
- Six months, multiple entry: $180
- One year, multiple-entry: $220
Note: For some reason, the San Francisco Consulate Office charges less for a one year, multiple-entry visa. Their cost is $215.
The pros to obtaining a Vietnam tourist visa prior to travel include having your visa officially approved prior to travel and expedited entry upon arrival. There are no hassles, further issues or additional fees and you can go straight to the immigration queue upon arrival. The cons include a higher processing fee and the risk of losing your passport in the mail (if you decide to mail it in).
Getting a Vietnam tourist visa upon arrival into Vietnam
Call me paranoid but I don’t like obtaining a visa on arrival when I can get it beforehand. I just like knowing that everything is in order BEFORE I arrive into a foreign country but I will detail it here for those of you who are much braver than I am. The Vietnam Embassy and I both strongly encourage you to obtain a tourist visa prior to travel.
To obtain a visa stamp upon arrival into Vietnam, you must first obtain a “visa approval letter” before travel. This can easily be done online with any travel agency/visa service. The Vietnam Embassy does not issue visa approval letters. Just Google it and several companies will show up. When searching for the different companies, make sure to shop around as their visa processing fees can vary greatly from company to company. Also note that a lot of these companies have not updated their websites yet to reflect the new visa changes stated above. Just look for one that has been updated or call them for more information. Generally speaking, you should be paying less than $25 for single-entry visa applications and under $60 for multiple-entry visa applications. If the company charges more money than that, you’re overpaying.
Once you find a company, complete their online application form and pay their visa processing fee. You will then receive an email a couple of days later with your visa approval letter. Your letter may contain the names of several other random people that have also processed their visa approval letters that same day. That’s okay. Just make sure your name is listed somewhere on that list. Keep this as your proof of approved travel to Vietnam for the airlines.
Upon your arrival to Vietnam, exit the plane and head towards the immigration checkpoint but do not get in line. Just prior to immigration, follow the signs for the “visa on arrival” office. They may also call it the “landing visa” office. Just make sure to go there before getting in line for immigration. At the visa on arrival office, present them with your visa approval letter and pay them for the visa stamp fee. This fee needs to be paid in cash (either U.S. dollars or Vietnamese Dong). The visa stamp fees varies from $25 for one month, single-entry visas to $135 for one year, multiple-entry visas. The customs official will then place the visa stamp in your passport. *WARNING* I am getting reports that people are being charged $135 for a visa stamp upon arrival into Vietnam. See the comments section below.
The pros to obtaining a Vietnam tourist visa upon arrival include an overall easier experience and cheaper overall fees. You do have to pay an online company to process your visa approval letter and pay the government of Vietnam for the visa stamp but combined, they should still cost less than processing through the Vietnam Embassy. This process is also more convenient and requires less work. The one con to this method is your tourist visa is not guaranteed, meaning if the visa service makes a mistake, or some other error occurs, your entry into Vietnam may be denied upon arrival. I understand that is a very slim chance but like I said, I’m pretty paranoid about this stuff.
And lastly, if you are of Vietnamese decent, married to or are the child of someone that is of Vietnamese decent, you may qualify for a five year, visa exemption. You can click here for more information on visa exemptions.
*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.
So that’s the process. Vietnam is an incredible country and I highly recommend everyone visit at least once. The beaches are picturesque, the people are amazingly friendly and the dollar goes a long way. I know the process sounds a little cumbersome but it’s really not that bad. If you guys have any further questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!