August 2016: For US citizens, check out the new rules for tourist visas here.
Looking to extend your visa from Vietnam? Read about visa runs here.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Vietnam is not friendly to tourism.
That stance is mainly coming from my saltiness that, of all the countries in the world a US passport can get you in for months at a time visa-free, ‘Nam isn’t one of them.
Not to mention the fact that if you plan on staying more than a few months, the government’s policy is basically this:
- You can pay a lot of money to stay, or;
- You can pay a lot of money to leave, get another visa, and come back.
We don’t want you here, but please come back.
-The Vietnamese Peoples’ Bureau of Tourism
I’m going to turn into your great-grandfather for a minute.
Back in my day—the good ol’ days—I only had to pay $90 for a 3-month visa! And Fisherman’s Friend only cost a nickel at Gus’ General Store!
I arrived in Vietnam last August on a 1-month tourist visa, which I later extended—for one month in September and another 3 months in October. I came back to America for Christmas, then got back to Vietnam in January on a 3-month visa…extended again for 3 months in April and this month.
At some point, the visa policies went horribly, horribly wrong.
First of all, it’s almost impossible to find accurate and up-to-date information about visas here.
On one hand, you have the “official” stance. You can only stay in the country for X months before you have to leave and re-enter, visas cost $Y for Z months and $Q for K months. I’m not going to bother looking up or posting those actual numbers here, because they’ll be both outdated and disregarded by the time you read this.
Basically, back in January the codes for all of Vietnam’s visas changed. The official explanation was that streamlining the visa codes would make it easier for the government to issue and keep track of visas. What actually happened was that now travel agents have many, many more excuses to charge you more money to overcome various “problems” with visa renewals.
Let me walk you through the process of entering and staying in Vietnam, to the best of my knowledge of the current situation.
First you’re going to enter the country, unless you’ve been abducted and shipped here to work in a sweat shop sticking the Ys on Yankees jerseys.
Depending on where you live, it might be easier to request a visa from a Vietnamese embassy or consulate. Although I didn’t use the embassy for a visa, I did use the DC embassy to authenticate several documents last year and they were VERY fast.
Here’s the website for DC’s visa and consular services. You can email them and see how much they charge—the rate most likely changes frequently. Says they require 5 business days to process visa requests. Not bad.
Your other option is to obtain a visa-on-arrival, which means you don’t get your passport stamped until you arrive in Vietnam. VOA seems pretty convenient if you don’t want to mail off your passport. It’s also relatively inexpensive. I paid $20 bucks for the VOA service, plus you owe $45 at the airport as a stamping fee. Bring only crisp, new US dollars. There are other documents that you have to bring with you, but I’m going to assume you can read—the website I used is My Vietnam Visa.
One caveat with VOA—depending on how many other people on your flight are getting a VOA at the airport, you can expect to hang around for anywhere up to 45 minutes while your papers get processed. There doesn’t seem to be any order to how names get called, either.
The price will vary depending on whether you want to stay for 1 or 3 months, and if you require single- or multiple-entry (multiple-entry lets you leave and re-enter Vietnam, while single-entry is exactly what it sounds like).
Also of note is how the Vietnamese government has extended 15-day visa-free travel to some (non-US) countries—the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy—for a limited time. Other countries may be on the horizon. Read more here.
Once you’re in the country, things change. You’ll need to use one of the plentiful travel agencies (Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien street are chock full of them) to renew your visa. Thanks to the “confusion” of January’s visa laws, agents can and will charge you an arm and a leg to do so.
I really tried to get some solid info for this section—a sort of “you should definitely do such-and-such and this place for this much money” kind of deal. But it’s not possible.
Check TripAdvisor or any expat forum. I did. Ask locals. I did.
Some people say you have to leave and re-enter the country after 6 months, some 9, some 12. Others say you can’t use land borders to do so. Others say you can’t even renew visas anymore (definitely false). Some say you can renew indefinitely if you’re willing to pay (probably true).
This is what I know for sure. I paid $190 this month to extend my visa for 3 months. I was quoted as high as $300. I suspect the longer you stay, the more you pay—I only paid $130 in April. I’ve seen people paying around $100 or $110 in cities like Vung Tau or Da Nang, but I suspect those were first-time renewals.
Also, making border runs is hardly any cheaper, although it does “reset” your visa. I did the math a few days ago when I was mulling a trip to Phnom Penh, and it comes out to around $150. Also, I can’t find the blog where I read this but you can no longer get a Vietnamese visa at the Cambodian border.
One last thing before I forget. You will always get a receipt when you drop off your passport with a travel agency, and they will always ask if you want to pay then or after picking up your new visa. And you will always pay after getting the passport and verifying the stamp and dates are correct.
Not when you drop it off, not before it’s in your hands. Some agencies have been known to charge up front, then process an inferior/cheaper visa (1-month renewal when you wanted 3-months, or single-entry instead of multiple-entry). Then you’re SOL.
That’s really all there is to say about Vietnamese tourist visas. I suspect most people aren’t going to stick around for months on end like I am, so you won’t hit any snags with the convoluted visa process. Just thought I’d let you know that not every country is like Mexico with its 6-months-no-visa-required-if-you-have-a-US-passport and bottomless margarita pitcher malarkey.