Posted by: adventuressetravels | March 23, 2012

Vietnamese Visas

I decided to buy a ticket to Cambodia.  The decision was spur-of-the-moment: I had a month before my flight to India and wanted see Angkor Wat, one of the wonders of the world, explore a new country, and learn about a different culture.  I mean, I’d wanted to go, I want to go everywhere, but the actual decision to go, it just came to me.  Minutes later I was on my favorite low-cost-airfare search engine, looking for tickets.

I found $70 tickets through Air Asia, one the most popular low-cost airlines in Asia.  Sure I could have gotten tickets for a $20 if I’d booked a few weeks in advance, but sometimes you’ve just got to follow your whims.  So after debating for a good 5 minutes I ran my credit card.  It didn’t go through.  I ran it again.  Again, no luck.  Just then an email from American Express appeared in my inbox.  Their fraud protection wouldn’t let the tickets go through.

Now I like fraud protection, but it can make things difficult when you are out of the country.  The internet speed was so slow, a skype call was almost impossible.  All I could hear was unintelligible tinny series of electronic noises.  I could barely understand the person on the other side of the phone was using words, let alone was human.  It took 45-minutes of standing right next to the router before I could get enough bandwidth that the garbled jumble sorted itself into voices and I could explain that I actually was buying the tickets myself.

When I hung up I started thinking, since I had a month before I flew out of Bangkok, and I was traveling west from Cambodia to Thailand anyway, why shouldn’t I just fly into Vietnam?  I’d spend a couple of weeks there, a couple in Cambodia, and then make my way to Bangkok.  It couldn’t hurt to check ticket prices anyway.

To my delight, flights to Cambodia and ones to Vietnam were almost the same price.  Sure, $70 was a lot more than if I’d gotten the tickets a couple weeks in advance, but I did want to see Vietnam and Cambodia.  A few minutes later I’d booked my flight.  No time to waste – I was buying the ticket late enough already, I didn’t want the price to go up any higher.

There wasn’t any time to waste.  I got online and started to research visas to Vietnam.  Vietnam is one of the hardest countries in Southeast Asia to get a visa for.  Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore don’t require a visa, you can get your visa for Laos on arrival, and the list goes on.  Vietnam, on the other hand, you need to get a visa from the embassy before  coming to the country.

In no time I had ascertained that it took 10-days to get a visa.  You could pay to expedite the process, but you’d only cut it down to 3 days that way.  All of this would have worked out; I could pay a little extra to get my visa in a couple of days.

There was a Thai embassy, in Penang, where I was staying, and an Indonesian one, I had just assumed that there was a Vietnamese one as well… and you know where assumptions lead you.  Much to my chagrin, I soon discovered that the only Vietnamese embassy in Malaysia was located in Kuala Lampur (KL).

It was late on Thursday.  I flew out on Wednesday, and even if I took a bus to KL the next morning the visa office would be closed.  I couldn’t mail my visa anywhere:  there wasn’t time, not to mention the fact that I really didn’t like letting my passport out of my hands when I was in a foreign country.  And Vietnam definitely didn’t have a visa on arrival.  I was getting the sinking feeling that I might have to eat my ticket and just skip the trip to Vietnam.

Friday morning I redoubled my efforts to find a way out of this mess I’d gotten myself into.  The longer I looked the more hopeful it became.  Though Vietnam does not offer visas on arrival, a couple websites claimed that they could help travelers get pre-arranged visas through certain travel websites. It sounded a bit sketchy at first, but as I looked into it further, my confidence rose.  I was leery of using my credit card in unsecured networks in Malaysia, but I was desperate.

It worked like this:  tourists pay a travel agent to get a “Letter of Approval” from the Vietnamese Immigration Department.  When the agency receives the letter they email it to the client.  The client must print the document, out, show at the airport to board the plane, and then again at immigration in Vietnam to get the pre-arranged visa glued in the passport.

The next day the email with the pre-arranged visa file was in my inbox.   I was pretty impressed – it was a Saturday!  They hadn’t been kidding about the 24-hour turn around.  The pre-arranged visa was $20 USD and an additional $10 USD to put a 24-hour rush on it.

Tourists must pay $25 USD at the airport of arrival for the visa (for a 30-day tourist visa) in addition to the visa arrangement letter, but this is actually a deal – to get a visa at the embassy ranges between $50 and $80 depending on the embassy, and I have talked to travelers who paid as much as $200 to get a Vietnamese visa through a travel agency.   $45 USD total, even $55 total to rush it, doesn’t sound half bad when you could be paying more than twice that.  It sounds even better when you can do it without having to arrange an appointment at an embassy, or even send your passport away.

I was still a little nervous at the airport:  the deal really did sound too good to be true.  But to my relief the agent at Air Asia waved me right through after a glance at the printout.  When we reached Vietnam I did have to fill out a visa form, but everything went smoothly at the prearranged visa office.  Just be sure you carry crisp $1 bills, they made me change one because it wasn’t quite new enough.  Luckily had a spare.

If you’re heading to Vietnam I highly recommend getting a pre-arranged visa.  It’s easier, faster, and less expensive.   It just makes sense.


  1. […] Vietnam was the first country I visited to require a visa in advance for US citizens.  If you are flying in you can prearrange a visa as I did the first time I went to the country: […]

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