If you are planning on going to Vietnam for your next holidays, the visa application process should seem pretty straightforward. However, watch out!
- If you are the holder of one of the following passports with an expiration date no less than 6 months, you are free to enter Vietnam for 15 days (some countries will allow more, so double-check the requirements): Belarus, Brunei, Cambodia, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Norway, Panama, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.
- For a few passport holders, like Chinese nationals, you will need to contact an agency to get a visa invitation. Expect to pay between 10 and 30 USD for this invitation if you do it more than 2 weeks before your trip. Don't forget to print this invitation and bring it to the Vietnamese border, together with cash (to pay for the visa at the border) and two printed square photos.
- You can apply for your e-visa here for most other countries. This government platform promises (as of 2023) to process the application in 3 days, charging you 25 USD. This was the path I went through, so I will report on it!
Easy, right? Wait a bit! We have seen reports of many fake visa websites where users are paying exorbitant amounts, thinking they are on an official website, and they either don't get their visas, or they get them but for much more than what they should have paid. Also, be careful when picking agencies if you need an invitation. And always check their reviews!
Ok, but if you are still reading this, and you are planning on doing an e-visa, you already have the link for the legitimate platform... So nothing to be concerned about, right? Again, not so easy!
I applied and paid for my eVISA online, but started getting nervous as the days went by and I didn't hear anything about it. I started writing to email@example.com, saying that the 3 days had passed and I didn't have any news from them. All of my emails were just ignored.
When I arrived at the Da Nang International Airport, I explained my situation to the border agents. I gave them the e-visa reference and passport and only then started understanding the trap I got myself into.
Some of the border guards conveniently own a recommendation agency. Remember those visa invitations? Well, they are very ready to help you on the spot. The guard quickly established the price and communicated it to the "agency representative": 200 USD. I protested as I had already paid for my e-visa.
"Well," the guard said, "your e-visa application has problems; it cannot go through."
"But I have the application here; it says pending, and all the information is correct," I replied.
"The price is now 210 USD! The alternative is to sleep here at the airport; it costs 125 USD per night!"
Naturally, I had to pay. The "honest" advice from the agency guy is to keep resubmitting e-visa applications when this happens (an application is "stuck on being processed"), and naturally, keep paying 25 USD until you are approved!
But paying did the trick! Surprise, surprise, I received a notification for my old application - exactly the same reference, the one stuck on "processing" - your application has been accepted!
The border guard followed me to the ATM, to make sure I would pay in cash to his agency. They refused to give any kind of invoice, so after a lot of discussion, they promised to email it later. Nothing ever arrived.
lking with a young Vietnamese airport staff, I learned that this situation was a mirror of what is going on in Vietnam. From getting into the best universities to having a consultation at the doctor, bribing, and corruption is a huge problem affecting Vietnam and its people. Also, later, I learned that I was not the only one with the problem. I heard accounts of visa applications being sabotaged so that mistakes appear, and you have to open your wallet.
So, lessons from this?
I would say apply 1-2 months before entering and contact an agency if your e-visa gets stuck with at least 2 weeks before your flight. Be extremely careful with the data you have entered and document the whole process. I have also read cases where the border agent pretends the application was wrong, just to rip you off.
And, if after all of these ordeals, you make it to Vietnam, enjoy the country! I have found everyday people to be extremely honest and welcoming to tourists. And Vietnam needs tourists: Tourism has become one of the major sectors within the Vietnamese economy, and this young country has a lot to offer in gastronomy, budget traveling, sightseeing, beaching, and history!