Vietnam has one of the most confusing tourist visa systems in Southeast Asia. Attempts to make things easier in recent years have only added more complexity.

If you’re unsure how the Vietnam visa system actually works, let me try to clear things up for you.

The flowchart below includes all the visa options available. Use it to find out the best option for you, or read on for all the wondrous and tedious details.

Most visitors from Western countries can usually just show up and get a visa-on-arrival at the borders of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and many other countries, but it’s not always so simple with Vietnam.

You may well have to get a pre-approved visa, and your visa options will also depend on whether you’re flying into Vietnam or intending to cross a land border.

If you are planning a route through Southeast Asia and intend to enter Vietnam overland, make sure you read things carefully. Your options will be different than for those flying in directly to Vietnam. (Pay attention to the final section in this post regarding your arrival date!)

Option 1: Visa on Arrival (easiest)

IMPORTANT: you still need to get pre-approved for this before going to Vietnam! You can get pre-approval here.

  • Visas for up to 3 months, single or multi-entry
  • Get pre-approved online, then get stamped at the airport
  • You can ONLY use this if you fly directly into Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang, or Nha Trang. NOT for land borders!
  • NOT necessary for certain Western passport holders if you’re traveling under 15 days (see option 2)

Getting a visa-on-arrival is the easiest way to get a visa if you are flying into Vietnam.

You have to submit an application online, which then gets approved within a couple of working days. Once approved, you can fly to Vietnam and show your paperwork at the airport at immigration, after which you’ll get your visa stamp in your passport.

You can’t submit your application for this directly to the Vietnam government; instead, you fill out an application online via a recognized third party agency.

Many of these agencies have outdated websites seemingly designed in the 1990s, so it can be difficult to know which one to trust. I’ve personally used Vietnam-Visa.com which has a modern site with a smooth process, and transparent visa information based on your nationality.

Get pre-approved online now

The process is this:

First, you submit an application via this agency (I recommend Vietnam-Visa.com). You can choose either a single-entry or multi-entry visa, and go for either 1 month or 3 months. You can the agency a fee for their work (currently between $14 and $33).

Once approved, you fly to Vietnam, you show your papers at airport immigration, and you’ll get stamped. Keep in mind you still have to pay $25 at the border for the visa itself (the service fee you already paid is just a processing fee for the agent).

 

Option 2: Visa exemption

  • Available only to travelers from certain countries
  • Use at any border, i.e. airport or land
  • Single-entry only
  • ONLY for stays of under 15 days (in most cases)
  • After you leave, you can’t re-enter Vietnam for 30 days

The visa exemption program was recently introduced to give tourists from specific countries an easier option for entering Vietnam. It’s a pilot program that might be expanded in the future.

With this option, all you have to do is show up at the border, no prior approval needed. You may be asked to show proof of onward travel, such as your return flight ticket out of Vietnam.

The visa exemption is only available if you have a certain nationality. As of January 2022 there are 25 countries that have this exemption. You can view the full list here. If your nationality isn’t listed on this page, above, you cannot enter on a visa exemption.

The Western countries that are part of this exemption, such as France, Germany, the UK, are only given a 15-day visa.

If you need a longer maximum stay than allowed under this exemption, you should go for a different visa option.

 

Option 3: Regular visa from embassy

  • Visas for up to 3 months, single or multi-entry
  • Use at any border, i.e. airport or land
  • Apply and collect from a Vietnamese embassy (not online)

This is the traditional way of getting a visa for Vietnam.

Check if your home country has a Vietnamese embassy. For example, I’m from the Netherlands, so I can go to the website of the Vietnam embassy in The Hague and make an appointment for a visa application. (At some embassies you may send in your passport and application by post.)

Alternatively, if you are already traveling through Southeast Asia, you could visit the Vietnam embassy in a nearby country. For example, you could get your visa in Vientiane, Laos or in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. In these cities, you can often also find third party agencies that will take care of the paperwork on your behalf.

You’ll need 2 passport photos and you’ll also need to fill out an application form. Once approved (this can take a few days) a visa paper will be stapled or glued onto a page in your passport. I once did this in Vientiane and had to wait 4 days for my passport with visa to be delivered.

The cost is either $25 or $50 depending on which type of visa you request.

These are the most flexible visas as they can be single or multi-entry, up to 3 months, and can be used at airports or land borders. Do read the section below regarding entry dates.

 

Option 4: Phu Quoc exemption

  • Up to 30 days, but ONLY for Phu Quoc Island

Sigh… we’re not done yet…

If you ONLY plan to visit Phu Quoc island in Vietnam, you can make use of the Phu Quoc island visa exemption. You can stay for up to 30 days without a visa. All you have to do is either fly directly to Phu Quoc airport or fly to another international airport and directly transfer to Phu Quoc.

Vietnam is trying to develop Phu Quoc as a special tourism zone with the hopes of one day turning it into a resort island similar to Phuket in Thailand. That’s why it has a special visa.

You can’t travel anywhere else in Vietnam when using this exemption.

 

Important: check your arrival date!

One last thing: make sure you consider your arrival date carefully.

Your visa does NOT start from the date you enter Vietnam. It starts from the date you specify in your application.

This is not such a big deal if you’re going on a holiday to Vietnam and have some specific dates for your trip already set.

However, it’s a real pain for backpackers or digital nomads who are traveling around the region and who might like to improvise instead of planning everything in advance. In fact, you may need to exactly anticipate when you’ll arrive in Vietnam.

Example: suppose you have a 30-day Vietnam visa with a start date of February 1. Except… you’re having so much fun traveling in Laos that you change your plans and stay in Laos for a while longer. You end up crossing the border to Vietnam only by February 15. This means you now only have 15 days left on your Vietnam visa, NOT 30 days.

If you are traveling long-term and like to have some flexibility then be sure to pick your entry date wisely, OR pick up a visa from an embassy while you’re traveling, OR get a 3-month visa so you have a generous window within which you can enter Vietnam.

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