Updated: Sep 17, 2019
You've been searching the internet, but now you're more confused than ever. Sound familiar? You're not alone!
The first time I visited Vietnam was in early 2012 and I travelled on a then-updated visa on arrival service. Although some of the tribulations I faced then were unique to my living and working situation, some of the same general issues persist today and remain a universal nuisance to my Vietnam-bound clients here at Odyssean Travel.
Some of today's strife comes from the vernacular “visa on arrival” vs “evisa”, although in best practice, they are both requested in advance of your trip. There's one scenario in which a legitimate entry process may be achieved during travel, that's when taking part in an organised tour or river cruise which features a service from a local fixer at the time you join or board. This is not uncommon and can be both convenient and cost-effective, at the time of writing, US$36. Typically in cash only.
Again, the Vietnam visa on arrival / evisa are best achieved by arranging online and in advance
Different visa categories exist and there may be further confusion therein, for the purposes of this highlighted article we’re talking about 30-day, single-entry tourist visas for Canadian and US passport holders, although I’ve detailed some quick contact links for UK passport holders toward the end of the article (keep scrolling!).
Flash back to 2012
I was still in the army and about to deploy again to Afghanistan. My unit at that time was a bit different from regular service and I found myself at a loose end with several weeks of unplanned holiday. What a bonus! If you’ve ever served, you may be used to the idea of not planning any trips in advance but also aware how profound an experience it is to be gifted any such additional leave!
I'd been visiting Southeast Asia for years and never thought twice about making plans to visit, I found a comfortable flight to Ho Chi Minh departing only 5 days later and off I went on a night out with friends. About half-way through the evening it dawned on me that I hadn’t considered my visa needs for Vietnam.
Visiting Vietnam is not yet as simple as neighbouring SE Asian countries
Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore… I had good familiarity with these places and had been enjoying several years of just showing up and receiving a stamp and more time in-country than I would require at the time.
Vietnam was different then and remains so today, not only in terms of visas. That’s part of why you want to visit, isn’t it?
How did I sort my visa in only 5 days?
Without panicking too much, I tried to quickly rectify my visa situation or lack thereof, but this is where I hit a wall.
The process today is not only painfully familiar, I might even argue that it is more difficult. Everyone and their dog is able to create and manage an ecommerce site these days, that means there are plenty of visa services featured at the top of the list on popular search engines. They tend to sound official, but their official status and even business intent are often confusing at best.
While the long arm of the law has yet to catch up with cyber-deception, it’s caught out several people I’ve encountered since Odyssean Travel’s inception; they have, without exception, ended up purchasing a second visa in order to preserve their vacation!
Returning to 2012, now with only 4 days between my evisa epiphany and my imminent departure to former Saigon, I didn’t have a lot of room to breathe and make a good attempt at due diligence in a service. This timeline required an expedited service, but to this day I’m unsure what the true cost should have been then.
The visa-on-arrival service employed then was relatively new and there was delay and confusion at the airport at the time of my entry, I’ve since had several run ins with evisa services in Southeast Asia and would strongly recommend against trusting a trip to an untested visa service. Sage advice I'd give to anyone seeking a visa under any circumstances.
More than anything, if you are in need of up to date advice and support in acquiring your visa, you want reliable information, no?
Which Vietnam embassy site is the real site?
The main issue plaguing today’s US and Canadian passport holders, in particular those of us in Canada seeking an evisa, is the veneer applied to the various service sites we find in popular search engines.
The unofficial sites look official
I am truly bewildered just how this issue has persisted and for so long. I just don't know how they get away with it! If you've come across a site under your own search parameters, make sure you seek out any disclaimer on the landing page or elsewhere toward a submission button or payment confirmation, perhaps in the terms and conditions. Typically something to the effect of, “we [insert official looking website address] are a non-government website…”
Sites such as "vietnamvisa.govt.vn", for example. What about "vietnamvisa.org"? I’m sure they are all capable of procuring a visa* but is it just me who feels a little odd about their official sounding title and domain name?
*PLEASE NOTE Odyssean Travel does not advocate any of the aforementioned visa services but simply recognises that there may be valid third-party means for acquiring a visa.
The “real” site looks fake
The actual portal is somewhat obscured and looks like it’s straight out of the 90s. So much so, it appears as a fraudulent copy-site. Here in Canada, the actual embassy email looks too casual to be official. Not to mention they use reviled internet provider Rogers firstname.lastname@example.org
It is also a bit unsettling for many people to carry out a business transaction via email and to use a bank account transfer. Two things that should send off loud alarm bells when it comes to transactions on the internet!
The Canadian Government’s own site for Canadians at travel.gc.ca has only recently updated a link. I'll be honest in that it doesn't give me warm fuzzy feelings when reading through the application process. Find it here at: https://www.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/
Otherwise would-be visitors are directed to Diplomatic Missions and Foreign Representatives in Canada. Thanks for the help!?!
Which Vietnamese embassy site is the real one then?
For Canadian passport holders:
Vietnamese Embassy in Canada
+1 (613) 236 0772
For American passport holders:
Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC. United States of America
1233 20th St NW, Suite 400
+1 (202) 861 0737
And because we love you, for our friends in the UK:
Note – until 30 June 2021 “British Citizen” passport holders (not “British National”) travelling for business or tourism may enter for up to 15 days, inclusive of entry & exit days, without a visa. I’ve used this once myself successfully entering Vietnam without a visa during a weekend visit overland from China.
Please visit the UK Government’s Foreign Travel Advice page on Vietnam for more detail.
Vietnamese Embassy in London, United Kingdom
12-14 Victoria Road
London W8 5RD
+44 (0) 207 937 1912
Other important notes when applying for a Vietnam tourist visa (non-exhaustive)
Technically the visa application only requires a validity period of 60 days beyond the date you plan to exit Vietnam. However, I always recommend 180 days in order to avoid being denied boarding by any airline. Click here to learn why
You should be clear about your needs and apply in time, most visitors only require a single-entry visa with a 30-day validity.
You should know your dates of arrival into and exit from Vietnam.
You should know where you're going to stay, typically for the duration of the trip but at least for the initial period after you arrive. You may be denied a visa or denied entry if you don't have a place to stay, there is an enforced policy which requires hoteliers and other accommodation providers in Vietnam to register the passports of foreign visitors.
There are other visa categories, but unless you’re performing a circular journey of the neighbouring nations or popping out to Lao for a night or two during a larger trip within Vietnam, you’ll not likely need the added entries.
I’m still unsure, can you help me?
Whether it’s your first trip to Southeast Asia or your 100th, it’s always nice to have a helping hand. I started Odyssean Travel with mind to help people have less stress in planning their trips and in feeling better about their travel purchases!
I normally check entry/exit requirement updates on the official government site but end up directing bookings to the Sherpa tool for its simplicity of use.
The tool will help you quickly review your visa needs and will then walk you through available visa applications, even walking you through the photo-taking stages.
Don't be afraid to ask a question in the comments! Better yet, join our exclusive Travel Club and get involved in the conversation around visas and more travel tips from a community of fellow enthusiasts and qualified professionals.