Photo: Burning incense at a Cholon pagoda.

Compared to other Southeast Asian countries, getting into Vietnam is slightly more difficult, requiring most foreign travellers to apply for a visa weeks before visiting. Instead of visiting their nearest Vietnamese embassy, many fliers opt for Vietnam’s visa on arrival. However, the visa on arrival process at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat can be confusing, especially for first-time visitors — and even if you’re getting one, you’ll need to apply ahead of time.

This is where the magic happens.

This is where the magic happens.

Before any travel, you’ll have to apply for your visa on arrival. Several companies (roughly 23,654,234) offer online services and we’ve used Phat Man Visa and Vietnam Visa without problem. Regardless of who you use (and do shop around because prices can vary) they all purport to offer services to help you apply and secure an entry visa. This part of the process is mostly painless, requiring you to pay them a service fee (extra for an express service for the unorganised) and do little more than send a copy of your passport to the assisting agency and to choose the length of visa you wish to obtain, either one- or three-month single or multiple entry.

Once your application is approved, you will receive a letter, accompanied with a form requiring basic information about you and your visit from the Vietnamese government granting you entry. Before flying you’ll have to gather your documents. Print out a copy of your letter, a copy of the form and one passport photo.

Keep going to the left!

Keep going to the left!

Once you land in Saigon, documents in hand, your adventure truly begins. First, you have to find the visa on arrival desk. Upon exiting the plane, follow the arrows leading to “Arrival.” This will lead you to the immigration visa lines but you do not want to enter these lines yet. Instead, you must go to a small area to the far left of immigration, labelled as “Landing Visa”. Here you will find a window, a handful of booths for the less prepared to fill out forms, and a waiting area of about 20 seats.

Unless you are lucky, you will see what can sometimes be a large line queued in front of the window. This is the first taste some get of standing in line in Vietnam. Although an orderly line may be formed, some will simply bypass the line and walk straight to the window. Nobody on the other side of the glass will call you up. When you finally get to the window, you will hand one of the nice men or women on the other side all of your lovely prepared paper work, your photo and your passport.

This is the shortest I've ever seen the line.

The shortest I’ve ever seen the line.

Take a seat and get comfortable; depending on the length of the line, this process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour. When your visa has finally been processed they will call your name over the intercom to come back to the window. Once there you will pay your visa fee, which varies depending on the length and type of visa – a three-month multiple entry visa is currently $95. The only accepted currency at this window is United States dollars; no other foreign currency is accepted. After paying the fee you will be given your passport, now complete with your Vietnam visa, and you are free to go through the immigration line, retrieve your luggage and catch an airport taxi into town.

Phat Man Visa
91 Bui Vien, District 1
T: (09) 0831 1294
C7/D6, Cau Giay Urban Area, Tran Thai Tong Road, Hanoi
T: (04) 379 25078


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Further reading

General ideas

Health & safety

Money & costs

Phones & technology

Visas & immigration

Weather & climate

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Ho Chi Minh City? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Vietnam.

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