Surviving the Vietnamese Visa on Arrival – VOA
“Where’s the line for customs.”
“I think it’s that mass of people over there…”
Vietnamese Visa on Arrival | VOA tl;dr
- Involves paperwork processing at the airport
- Not the smoothest way to get into the country
- 1 of 3 Visa methods into Vietnam
- Visa on Arrival (VOA) paperwork
- Visa from your local embassy
- Visa Online
As our plane pulled up to the Noi Bai International Airport I was truly impressed with how modern, clean and large it was. From the moment we stepped off the plane, it looked like things were going to be efficiently organized. We figured we’ll be out of the airport and exploring everything that Hanoi has to offer in no time. Unfortunately a few more steps into the terminal and we realized we were wrong.
Visa Through the Embassy Method
First off, let me caveat this by saying after doing much research online, we decided to go for the VOA process (a visa is required for all US citizens to enter Vietnam) versus getting the visa directly from the Vietnamese embassy in San Francisco. If you go and try to get the visa in SF route (if you’re from the Bay), you’ll be in luck because the lines are short, there are a lot of immigration officers working and you’ll be in and out in no time.
Visa On Arrival Method
Prior to arriving in Vietnam, we ordered a VOA letter from an online Vietnamese Visa Company (not all are the same, make sure you go to one with 3rd party reviews) and got a letter with a stamp by the immigration office stating who we were and when we were going to be arriving in Vietnam. This was a fairly simple process though a bit funky feeling as you are sent a letter with a lot of other traveler names on it, but don’t worry, it’s legit and it works. And it was relatively inexpensive as it cost $18 USD for 2 people.
They also prepared us by sending us the visa form that we would have to fill out prior to arrival. All we had to do was fill it out and hand it to the Vietnamese Immigration officer when we arrived in Vietnam. Luckily we did that and brought along a required passport photo (also mentioned by the agency who helped us with the letter). Ultimately our first step in the process went smoothly, where you hand the man behind the visa counter your passport, completed form, and photo.
Growing Pains with New Immigration Technology
After handing him the aforementioned items, we were told to move to the second line (the really really long one) and wait… and wait…… and wait some more. This part was probably the most confusing since we didn’t know what exactly the line was for, nor did we know why the guy in the front was holding up passports and mispronouncing names. So ultimately we decided to split (one in line and the other standing where the names were called) and we waited for our passports to be returned.
If you have everything already completed beforehand, it can make a world of difference. Although you’re still waiting, I feel like I was able to get through it a bit faster than others who were waiting around. The passport photo was also key since I think it may have helped with our process. Although I completely understand with the airport being new that it can be utter chaos. What could have made a world of difference was better signage and/or a sign with details on how this whole process works. If you were to just look at it from the outside, it’d look like 3 different lines; 2 short ones, and 1 extra long line with no rhyme or reason.
By standing in the front, I immediately saw when the immigration officer had our passports in hand so I ran over to him and quickly handed him my already prepared money for the visa fee ($45 USD each, $90 USD for both). We were finally directed to head over to the final exit immigration line and were soon on our way into Hanoi.
There’s Got to Be a Better Way
While I was waiting, I made friends with a couple of other foreigners who have been here before and basically they said in the old airport, it was max 30 minutes and it was way more efficient despite the smaller office. However, here, they have a much bigger space which makes for more room for people to get confused especially with so many people standing around.
All in all it took about an hour or so. Would I do it again? Maybe, but I’d consider how much time I have beforehand. If I have to go to San Francisco Airport maybe it be worth the effort to head to the Vietnamese Embassy first. Though I can say from my experience today, if you have a visa in hand, you will definitely save yourself both time and headache from trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
Crossing my fingers that when you go, they will have sorted out the kinks of this new airport and the VOA process goes significantly faster for you.
The next time we go to Vietnam, I’ll try the online process and hope that they figured out all the bugs.