If you are planning to arrive in Vietnam on an international flight landing at either Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi or Da Nang airport, a legitimate alternative to obtaining a full visa stamp from the Vietnamese Embassy, in your own or another country, is to opt for a very simple and cheaper, visa on arrival (VOA). Once issued, this visa is exactly the same as a visa issued by any Vietnamese embassy/consulate, with the same limitations and conditions attached to its use.
The VOA paperwork is not a full visa, rather you employ an agent ( before you arrive) in Vietnam to obtain an official letter of approval that you present at the VOA counter when you land. Upon payment of a visa processing fee at the airport ( US$25 for one month and three month single entry visas, $50 for one month and three month multiple entry visas) you will receive your passport back with a full visa inside. Most agents ask you to state your present nationality as part of the application process and provided you qualify you can apply for a one or three month visa, single or multiple entry. The fees charged by VOA agents for their service range from $9 upwards, depending on the type of visa and the agent in question. Some tour operators and travel agents offer cut-price or free VOA approval letters if you book tours with them. Be aware that three month multiple entry visas are sometimes subject to restrictions, so before finalising your plans in respect of entry to and exit from Vietnam it would be prudent to check whether you can obtain a visa for the required dates.
One disadvantage of the VOA system is that the process at the airport can be slow. HCMC airport (Tan Son Nhat) in particular, where things can become chaotic if people do not form an orderly queue. HCMC airport is Vietnam’s busiest and handles far more traffic than the other two airports. In the high season, it is not uncommon to have to wait for an hour or two if you are stuck behind a large tour group. In Hanoi and Da Nang, and even in HCMC in the low season and during quiet times of the day, it can take less than 15 minutes to get your visa and pass through immigration – indeed you are likely to arrive at the baggage carousel before your bags do.
How to obtain your letter of approval.
Applying for a VOA letter of approval on-line is very easy and there are many reputable agents (use a search engine – Google, Yahoo etc. – to search for ‘visa on arrival Vietnam’). They accept all major credit cards and with some you can pay through PayPal or Onepay.
On the agent’s web site or by email you will be asked for the following information:
1. Your full name (it is required to be the same as shown on your passport)
3. Present nationality
4. Date of birth
5. Passport number
7. Passport expiry date
8. Proposed date of arrival (this is the date you want your visa to start from. The start date of the visa itself will be the day you arrive – you may enter Vietnam at a later date (up to your exit date) but not before that date, so be sure to take time zone differences into account)
9. Airport of arrival
10. Purpose of visit
11. Type of Vietnam visa: 1 or 3-month single/multiple entry visa
If you have children travelling with you and they have their own passports, you will be required to apply and pay the same fees as if they were an adult.
After entering the information online or following confirmation by email you will be directed to a secure web site to pay the agency fee. In two to three days the agent will email you the approval letter (see image). Don’t be alarmed if there are other people’s names on the letter (it is common for agents to make bulk applications for up to 30 persons and all applicants’ names are printed on one letter, consisting of one or more pages), together with their nationalities, dates of birth and passport numbers, but if you are concerned about privacy or security you should instead consider applying to an embassy/consulate for your visa. Alternatively you can ask your agent for a private approval letter that bears only your name, and if applicable the names of family members or friends who are travelling with you. If an agency does not mention a ‘private’ or ‘separate’ service on its site, then it will be processing the applications in bulk.
Please make sure that your surname, given names and entry/exit dates are correct. If you have applied for a multiple entry visa be sure that the approval letter states ‘Is permitted to enter and exit Vietnam multiple times’. You will not be allowed to enter Vietnam before the entry date shown.The approval letter is valid at any of the three named airports but cannot be used at any land border crossing. If entering via a land crossing you must already be in possession of a valid visa.
Print out the entire approval letter (colour preferred but not essential) and don’t forget to take it with you! Some airlines will ask to see the letter before they allow you to check in or board the aircraft and you will need it at the VOA desk when you arrive at the airport in Vietnam. The agent might also send you Mẫu (Form) N1 – TỜ KHAI ĐỀ NGHỊ CẤP THỊ THỰC VIỆT NAM – application for a Vietnamese Visa, which is a two page document ( this form is available upon arrival but you will usually have to queue to obtain it ). Some agents also have this form available for download on their websites. It is recommended that you fill in this form in advance (ignore the instructions about printing out two copies – only ONE is needed, irrespective of whether you’re applying for a single entry or multiple entry visa).
Airport Visa Procedure and Payment Process (Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Da Nang, Cam Ranh [Nha Trang]) .
VOAs are handled by Department of Immigration staff at the airports and if the airport is operating, so is the VOA office. It is absolutely vital that you have your visa processing fee(s) on you, in cash as the authorities do not accept credit or debit cards. Unless you can pay in cash you won’t be allowed into the country and you could end up having a wonderful holiday camped on the wrong side of the barrier until your return flight leaves. If you have a bank card an immigration officer might offer to escort you to an ATM landside to withdraw some money. They have been known to accept payment in currencies other than US dollars but are not obligated to do so and therefore it should not be counted on. Recently an ATM has been installed at Tan Son Nhat Airport (HCMC) adjacent to the landing visa counter. While this might be of help to those arriving without cash, it is still advisable to bring the amount required. ATMs do break down or run out of cash and the inevitable lack of clarity regarding the dong/ US dollar exchange rate applied at the landing visa counter (the ATM issues dong), plus additional card charges, means it should be thought of as the method of last resort.
At Ho Chi Minh City (Tan Son Nhat International Airport) the VOA window is situated at the far end on the left as you enter the immigration hall. Do not join any queues for Immigration Control. The counter itself is sign-posted – LANDING VISA. When you get to the Landing Visa (VOA) window, be prepared to hand over your passport, ONE completed copy of Form N1, the entire letter of approval and ONE passport size photo (the officer will staple your photo to the form if not already attached). You should then go and sit down. Even with few people being processed do not expect passports (with the visa attached) to be returned in the order that they were presented at the window.
When your visa is ready, your name will be called (do keep your ears open) and at the same time your passport held up to the window with the photo page showing. You then pay the processing fee – US$25 for single entry visas (one and three months); $50 for multiple entry visas (one and three months). The notes should be in good condition (no marks, nicks or tears) but it is not necessary for them to be brand new. Once you have paid, your passport will be returned to you, along with a receipt for your payment. Be sure to check the newly issued visa for any errors while still at the window. You then go to an immigration control post to be processed in the normal way. Baggage reclaim and Customs are downstairs.
At Hanoi (Noi Bai International Airport) the VOA procedure has changed with the opening in January 2015 of the new international terminal. The VOA counter is situated opposite the immigration posts – the signage can be difficult to see if there are lots of people milling about. You must hand in your passport and documents at THE RIGHT-HAND SIDE. Then proceed to the left-hand side (or if busy, take a seat) to wait while your application is processed. There is large-screen display to the left of the counter, and when your visa is ready your passport photo, name and country will be shown and your name read out. At this point you pay. If you are processing multiple passports you will receive one pink receipt for all of them. Your visa(s) will have been affixed to a page your passport(s) and should be checked for errors while you are still at the counter. You can then proceed to the ‘Foreigners’ immigration queue. The entire process can take as little as 10 minutes or as much as an hour if there at lots of applicants and/or other flights have arrived at more or less the same time so the queues for immigration are long.
At Da Nang follow the exit signs. As soon as you enter the huge hall it is very easy to find the VOA window – it is on the left hand side and is clearly visible. The process is reasonably quick (approximately 15 minutes with all necessary paperwork completed before landing) but do bear in mind there is no guarantee it will be always be the same. After receiving visas / passports back, progress onwards to immigration control. Immigration Control can be slow, sometimes 3 or 4 long lines. Everyone queues up together going through the same check-points and there are no separate checkpoints for Vietnamese passengers and other nationalities.
Tip. If there are two or more of you obtaining VOA it would be prudent that once you’ve handed in your paperwork, that one of you stands in line for immigration control. That way you won’t be at the back of a long queue.
Note: Public holidays in Vietnam, e.g. Tet (the Vietnamese New Year), can seriously delay not only VOA applications but also embassy issued visas as well. Apply for either in good time.
Citizens of some countries do not need a visa for short visits – for how this might affect your travel arrangements and the documents you will require, check with your travel agent or with a Vietnamese Consulate/Embassy in your own country.
If you are travelling direct to Phu Quoc Island and remaining there for the duration of your trip you do not need a visa. However, if you will be going to mainland Vietnam afterwards you must obtain a visa beforehand.
Extending a visa is no longer the simple process it once was. The rules have changed somewhat, so if you are thinking about extending your stay it would be wise to make enquiries in good time. It is certainly not something that should be left to the last minute.
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