Happy New Year! My start to the new decade was spent doing some additional preparation for my upcoming trip back to Southeast Asia. As I’ve written before, Mr. Chuckles and I are in the midst of planning a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam that is fast approaching.
Now that flights are booked and the itinerary is set, we need to get our visas sorted out. Vietnam has the reputation of having a confusing tourist visa system, so I thought I would outline my experience organizing this for myself; maybe it will be helpful for some other future travellers out there.
Who needs a visa?
I am writing this from the perspective of a Canadian passport holder, so check with your local consulate as to requirements for your specific nationality.
Based on my cursory research, countries that are visa exempt include members of ASEAN: Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos. Furthermore, as of 2016, nationals of France, Germany, Spain, United Kingdom, and Italy also do not require visas for stays of less than 15 days.
The rest of us will need a tourist visa. The standard single entry option is valid for 30 days.
Who is eligible for the e-visa?
The e-visa system in Vietnam is relatively new, having just been established in 2017. Prior to this, tourists could apply for a visa through the Vietnamese embassy or get a visa on arrival (VOA). The VOA process is a little cumbersome, requiring an approval letter from a ‘sponsoring agency’. There are several private agencies that will prepare this approval letter for you – for a fee, of course.
The e-visa is now available for nationals of 80 approved countries, which includes Canada and the United States. Based on my reading of other travel blogs, the e-visa application process was initially a bit finicky, but my recent experience was relatively straightforward so it seems that issues have been smoothed out over the past couple years.
The e-visa can only be used at international airports and a select few land and sea ports. See this list for the accepted ports of entry. Otherwise, you will have to go with the VOA.
How do I apply for the e-visa?
When you’re ready to get started, the first step is to make sure you access a legitimate website, as there are lots of fakes out there. The official website for the Vietnam Immigration Department and portal to the e-visa application is here:
Once you click through to the e-visa application page, this is what you will see.
You will need to upload a copy of the first page of your passport and a portrait photo. The photo should be passport style, looking ahead without eyeglasses and against a white background, but does not need to be edited to specific passport dimensions. I scanned a leftover passport photo that I had on hand, and Mr. Chuckles used a photo that we took using my phone camera.
You will need to select your ports of entry and exit. The entry port is most important as it is actually listed on the visa as the checkpoint where it will be accepted. For local address, I listed our first hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.
The rest of the application is self-explanatory. There is some odd personal information that they request, like your religion. It’s unclear why this is a mandatory field, but the safest thing to do is probably to just fill it in as ‘none’. People who declare a religion may be questioned as to whether they are entering the country to proselytize, which is generally restricted or illegal without government approval.
How much does it cost?
The single entry 30 day tourist e-visa costs $25 USD, payable via the online system Payoo. There was an additional $0.96 USD processing fee that appeared to be added on when I checked out. Domestic bank transfer and international credit cards (MasterCard, Visa, American Express) are accepted.
Once you’ve filled out the application and paid the fee, you will receive a confirmation email with a registration code that can be used to track the status of your application on the website.
When will my application be processed?
This is the part that made me a little antsy. The website states that the e-visa application will be processed within 3 working days. Mr. Chuckles received his visa approval in a mere 18 hours, but I ended up waiting 5 days, which included the weekend and 3 business days. This was on par with the predicted wait time, but I was initially a bit concerned when I did not receive mine at the same time as Mr. Chuckles given that we both applied within an hour of one another. I guess the applications are simply not processed sequentially.
Based on my research on travel forums, most people successfully obtain their visa within those 3 business days, but some waiting periods have extended up to 7 days. You’ll want to keep in mind statutory holidays like New Year day and the week of Tet (usually late January or early February) when the immigration office is closed.
We both received an email notifying that our visas were ready to download and printed off a copy on the website. The visa itself does not look super official but it should work! It is to be presented and stamped at customs upon arrival. Hold onto it for exit as well.
And that’s it. Fairly easy process other than a brief period of anxiety while waiting for the application to go through. The e-visa is definitely a convenient alternative to the slightly more convoluted and pricier visa on arrival option. Hopefully my entry to Vietnam will be seamless from here. I’ll update this post if things turn out otherwise!