Visas are still an expensive and rather tiresome aspect of traveling to Vietnam. DO ensure that you apply for a visa well in advance.
And if you do so from outside Asia, it may take even longer. Ask for a multiple entry visa (same price, but not always granted) or at least a double entry visa.
DON’T forget to arm yourself with a sheaf of passport photos: vital for visa applications and useful for other official dealings within Vietnam, where the photo booth is still a convenience of the future.
DO check for up-to-date information: regulations change frequently, as do visa lengths and prices. For example, there is talk of tourist visas being issued on arrival in Vietnam, falling in line with Cambodia and Laos, but at the time of writing, there is only an emergency possibility of having a visa delivered to the airport in Vietnam where you arrive. If avoidable, this is not recommended, as it is expensive and risky: many airlines refuse to fly passengers without valid papers, because they will be held responsible for flying you out again if there is a hitch and you don’t get your visa. Once you’re on your way to Vietnam, usually on the flight or when you arrive at the airport, you will be asked to fill in an entry/ exit form and to keep a (yellow) copy.
DON’T lose this form, you may need it to open a bank account or show an officious hotel receptionist and if you do mislay it, you may have to fill out another one before you can leave the country.
Do beware of the double dating system. Your visa will contain a termination date and your passport will most likely be stamped with a permitted to stay until date. These two dates are rarely identical! And, of course, the earliest of the two is the one that counts.
Extending your stay
It is possible to extend tourist visas from within Vietnam. Contact the Immigration Police in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. A long-term visa must be renewed, although, in special circum stances, it can sometimes be extended for a few days. However, if you need to change visa category (for instance, from a tourist visa to a business visa or vice versa) you will have to leave the country in order to get the new visa issued.
There are now quite a few Vietnamese land borders open to foreigners traveling to and from Laos, Cambodia and China, no doubt with more to follow. If you know where you wish to enter or exit Vietnam (other than at the three international airports in Hanoi, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City), BEFORE you apply for your visa, DON’T forget to specify these border crossings so that they can be added to your visa. Otherwise, you can have them added from within Vietnam, but with a little more hassle – and money, of course.
If you plan (to leave Vietnam during your visit, for example to visit a neighboring country and then to return to Vietnam, DO make sure that it says multiple entry or double entry on your visa, or you will not get back into Vietnam without a fresh visa!
Working in Vietnam
More and more foreigners are working in Vietnam now. If you fall into this category or at least have paperwork to indicate that you do, it is possible to get one-year visas (though the first one may be a ‘probationary’ six-month visa). Your employing agency or Vietnamese counterpart will help you with the visa deliverance or renewal. A copy of your employment contract or an official letter from the company or agency is required for issuance and extensions.