Getting a Vietnam Visa: an experience that left us feeling the most lost we felt during our entire time abroad.
**Originally written in 2017, Updated April 2019
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.
Getting a visa for 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.
Getting a Vietnam visa for US citizens is, however, not so easy. We did research and knew beforehand that we would need a visa before entering Vietnam from Cambodia. 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.
How we Tried (and failed) to get Vietnam E-visas
Here was our timeline…
- Step 1 – Apply for Vietnam evisa on a Friday, April 8
- Step 2 – Realize that it takes 3 business days…
- Step 3 – We hear back from them on Monday, April 12. That we were REJECTED because our pictures were not right.
- Step 4 – Re-apply
- Step 5 – Decide screw it, we’re taking action. Plan hatches for impulse trip to consulate to try to buy an expedited visa.
- Step 6 – Show up in Sihuanoukville, Cambodia at the consulate for our same day visas.
- Step 7 – We try to get the visa ASAP to catch a bus right to Vietnam. We get denied and told we need to wait until 5PM.
- Step 8 – We come back at 5PM to get our visa, but it’s too late for the bus. We spend another night in Cambodia.
- Step 9 – It is now, Wednesday, April 14. 6 Days since we started the process that should take 1-2. Many 100’s of $ later.
- Step 10 – We get the f outta the country and into Vietnam!
Epic fail, right? So here’s what happened.
After planning an impulse trip to Kep to eat absurd amounts of pepper crab, we had a route planned from Cambodia to Vietnam: a few days in Kampot, then a bus to the border of Vietnam. 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. Status? Vietnam visa rejected. We had to re-apply. Getting a Vietnam visa was proving to be very difficult.
We started to wonder, 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. And 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. When we arrive we 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 ended up being the perfect place to stay in Sihanoukville. The hotel 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 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, you’ll see that it was worth all of the trouble.
Vietnam E-Visa Facts
|Evisa Processing Time||3 business days|
*Ours was never approved
|Cost for Evisa||$52|
|Private Agency||Cost of visa plus private charges|
Time and Cost for Vietnam E-Visa:
Vietnam Evisa Processing 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.
Vietnam EVisa Cost breakdown for US citizens: 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!
Vietnam Visa Consulates (For Same Day Visas)
|Thailand||Bangkok and Khon Kaen|
|Cambodia||Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Batambang|
|U.S.||Washington DC, Houston, San Francisco|
Tips For Getting a Vietnam 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.
- Follow Directions: This probably goes without saying, but be sure to follow the directions costly. We were rejected for
- Consulates: As we learned, you can get your visas quickly in these places. Potentially even the same day. 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 legwork that 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.
Want to know exactly what we brought for 5 months abroad in 3 very different climates? See the complete breakdown of what we brought here.
Out of curiosity, what was wrong with the pictures you submitted? I recently applied through the old system and got no reply. Then I contacted the VN embassy about which system I need to apply for a visa. They recommended the e-visa, so I did. I’m worried they will reject my visa application because of something stupid, like my hair is not pulled completely back or the background isn’t the right color. I did notice in the original application I submitted, that my passport image might have been too blurry.
Hmmm yeah it’s such a weird system. The pictures need to be high quality, like passport pictures. They can’t be a picture of a picture, which is what we did. They should be real scanned images, at least I think that would fix it! I would say if it would pass for the passport of your home country, then it will likely pass for them. Good luck! Let us know if and what works.
My e-visa was accepted, the problem is, nearly 2 months later, they’re still taking money from my account for no valid reason. I’ve had to request my bank to dispute all additional transactions and to block all future transactions. Never again!
Sounds like a nightmare! It’s definitely not an easy process.