Getting a Vietnam Visa: an experience that left us feeling the most lost we felt during our entire time abroad.
Before coming to Asia, we never bothered looking up if we needed a visa to enter a new country. We were used to just showing up, getting our passport stamped and moving on. We quickly learned that this was not the case. Nearly every country in Asia requires a visa.
This can be acquired on arrival, or in some cases—and depending on the country your passport is from—your tourist visa needs to be accepted before entering the country. For us as US citizens, we were able to enter every country with a visa on arrival or a simple passport stamp on every country of our travels (Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, New Zealand, Fiji, Germany, Italy) except two: Australia and Vietnam.
Australia was easy—even though we were unaware the first time so we lost a potential six hour layover to wander around the city. You just fill out a form online with your personal information and as a US citizen, you are approved within minutes. Vietnam was not so easy. We did research and knew beforehand that we would need a visa. We were not going to show up at a border crossing and get turned down. Our research led us to Vietnam’s newest form of tourism visas, a Vietnam E-Visa. As we had done with Australia, we filled out a form online and expected a quick response. Little did we know, things do not work that way in Vietnam.
What We Did
We went through the US government website which redirected us to the Vietnam E-Visa site. However, after filling out our forms, we realized there was some fine print. The Vietnam E-Visa would take three working days to be sent back to us. It was Friday when we filled our forms out, so we were hoping in the best case scenario we would get them Monday. This extended our stay in Cambodia by at least two days. Clearly, not the worst thing in the world—we love Cambodia—but it was a bummer as we were ready to move on to Vietnam.
Monday rolls around after not getting updates throughout the weekend. We check the E-Visa site and saw our status had changed! Yahoo! Scratch that, the message we received was that our applications were NOT accepted. Both of the pictures that we submitted were not what the E-Visa site required. Rejected. We had to re-apply.
Is it even worth it?
We began to rethink our entire trip plan. Is this too much of a hassle? Should we even go to Vietnam anymore? Should we fly to another country instead? We did some more digging online and found a Vietnam Consulate in Sihanoukville—roughly two hours from where we were staying in Kampot. So our crazy plan to save our trip to Vietnam began to take shape.
The plan was as follows: take the first bus to Sihanoukville in the morning, get our visa right away, and then head back and make it to the Vietnam border that night. A day that would entail over 6 hours of traveling but something we thought was worth it. After a long, winding bus ride, we arrived at the consulate. We walk in, fill out all of the forms and think we have finally done it, let’s get this visa and move on! Scratch that. Even with my offer of extra money, the man working the consulate said the earliest we could get our visa was 5:00. We were not getting to Vietnam that night. Big time letdown.
Forced To Stay
Sihanoukville was a town we planned on completely avoiding in Cambodia. It is over-populated, dirty, and has become too much of a party scene for the town to handle. We did not have a choice, we had to stay. After doing some research, we headed to the outskirts of the town to stay in a quieter area. After looking around, we found a great little hotel on the river, Sok Sabay Resort. This place was exactly what we needed on an exhausting day, it was nice, clean, and comfortable. We checked in, and almost immediately left to go back to the consulate. We were told to get there for 5:00, but we arrived at 4:15 in the hopes of getting our visa early.
As soon as we walked in the same man we’d spoken to earlier took one look at us and repeated “no visas until 5:00”. Ok, no big deal we will wait. While waiting, we noticed that the man working behind the glass was not working on visas, but instead looking at YouTube videos, playing a game on his phone, and looking for dinner recipes on his computer. Lovely. 4:45 rolls around, the man picks up the pile of passports from his desk—once again, these did not move during our entire time there—and calls us up, we have our visas!
We head back to our hotel and are so excited to go to Vietnam. We even book our trip to Phu Quoc and find the most perfect resort to stay on while there. After booking our next days plans, we found a brick oven Italian pizzeria which was exactly what we needed. In a very roundabout and long way, when everything went wrong, it somehow worked out for the best. And after you read about our Phu Quoc experience, it was worth all of the trouble.
Time and Cost for Vietnam E-Visa:
Time: We started this Process on Friday, December 8th and did not arrive in Vietnam until December 14th. It took us 6 days to get our visa.
Cost: Our E-Visa–that we did not even use–cost us $52, the hotel in Sihanoukville cost us $50, and the same day visa from the consulate cost us $100. In total, it cost us over $200 without even factoring in food and drink. Crazy. If we had applied through other companies, we could have gotten two visas in four hours for under $75!
Tips For Getting a Vietnam E-Visa:
Plan ahead: If you know the exact date when you are going to Vietnam, it is much easier to plan when you have weeks or months to work with.
Consulates: Vietnam has consulates in Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Batambang), Thailand (Bangkok and Khonken, or the USA (Washington DC, Houston, San Francisco). As we learned, you can get your visas quickly in these places. So, if you know you want to go to Vietnam, you can save yourself some stress by bringing your passport to one of these consulates.
Pay the extra money and get it through a private agency. Whether you are getting the Visa on arrival—only an option if you are flying into the country—or an E-Visa. The private companies do all of the leg work the we did ourselves and also can expedite it for same day visas. Worth the extra money. Let me say this one more time, pay the extra money and get your visa through a private agency.