Vietnam is the only country in mainland south east Asia where you cannot get a visa on arrival, except for a few exceptions. At time of writing (December 2015), many countries can get a 15 day visa on arrival through an airport (not land borders) or 30 days for Phu Quoc island. For many travelers, however, that is simply not long enough to spend in Vietnam, or not a practical way of arriving.
You can get a 30 day visa or a 90 day visa in advance for Vietnam. We paid $65usd for 30 days and were quoted $120usd for 90 days. That was in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. You can get the visa anywhere with a Vietnamese embassy or consulate, including Siem Rep, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Bangkok and Vientiane. Most travel agents will be able to do it for a small fee (which is probably easier than trying to do it at the consulate yourself) and in only a day or two (we got ours back the next day).
You will need to provide
- Passport photos. In theory one, but provide three as they seem to vary!
- Two free pages in your passport. The visa takes a whole page and the stamp will need another.
- The cost of the visa. $60-70usd for 30 days, $120-130usd for 90 days.
- A date to arrive in Vietnam. The visa will, normally, be valid from that date, so if you’re late, you’re losing time.
Extending in Vietnam
In a word, don’t. It is cheaper and quicker to get the three month visa in the first place if you think you’ll be in Vietnam over 30 days.
We opted to renew in country on the suggestion it would be only $30usd. On arriving in Vietnam, we discovered that regulations had changed and costs had risen. We ended up paying $80usd in Danang to extend for just one month, more expensive than the original visa. Again, this is through an agent – we heard stories local office will not do it and cite that an agent has to act as intermediary. This is to facilitate a bribe, but is practically unavoidable unless you speak fluent Vietnamese.
Basically, the cost increases the further you get from your point of entry. As we came into Vietnam at the Le Thanh checkpoint (an obscure border in the central highlands near Pleiku), Danang was the closest place for us to extend. We were quoted $120usd in Ho Chi Minh City.
The extension also takes 5 working days and requires another passport photograph and page in your passport.
So, best practice is to get a longer visa first. However, if you cannot, try to extend in the same region you arrived in, or you’ll be hit for a huge amount, and also have to stay around for the best part of a week to wait for the passport to be returned, or trust in the postal service.