Vietnam visa on arrival
The Vietnam visa on arrival consists of two parts: the approval letter and the stamping fee. Only if you apply for an approval letter before departure can you purchase a the visa on arrival in Vietnam. Before departure you pay the application costs of the approval letter to a visa bureau (usually about £20) and after arrival you pay the stamping fee ($25 to $50 per person) to the immigration service.
Update 01-02-2017: Starting in 2017, it is possible to make use of the Vietnam e-visa, which replaces the visa on arrival. The embassy discourages making use of the Vietnam visa on arrival any longer.
Applying for the Vietnam visa on arrival
For most countries that work with the visa on arrival, it is not necessary to make preparations before going on your trip. You usually only need to bring a valid passport and you can purchase the visa after arrival at the airport at the country of your destination. This is arranged differently in Vietnam. While you are able to purchase a visa on arrival after arrival (after landing, but before leaving the airport), this is only possible if you bring an approval letter. You therefore need to possess that approval letter before you go on your trip. This can be applied for at various visa bureaus, but not at the embassy of Vietnam.
First the approval letter, then the stamping fee
If you want to make use of the Vietnam visa on arrival, you need to purchase an approval letter before departure. When you have arrived in Vietnam (take note: this is only possible at a number of locations), you need to report at a special desk. This desk is positioned between the arrivals hall and the passport check. You need to join the queue at this desk to pay for the stamping fee. The costs which you paid before departure are only the processing costs of the visa bureau (which functions as an intermediary). The stamping fee can therefore be seen as the ‘real’ cost of the Vietnam visa, which you can pay for with your credit card in Vietnam. When you have acquired the stamp you can join the queue for the passport check, where travelers with a regular visa also need to report.
Entry and exit forms
When applying for the Vietnam visa on arrival, you don’t need to provide a lot of information. For instance, you won’t need to provide a passport scan or passport photo. The immigration services does need this information. You therefore need to bring your passports on your trip. You also need to fill in a lot information, like your passport information, on the entry and exit forms which you receive with your visa on arrival. Filling out these forms and providing the necessary passport photos is an extra step in the application process, which you have to arrange yourself between the moment you receive your approval letter and the moment you report at the desk to pay the stamping fee.
Traveling with a visa on arrival is only possible if you arrive at a small number of airports, being: Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh and Da Nang. Do you want to arrive at a different location? Then you need to make use of a different type of Vietnam visa.
The Vietnam visa on arrival has more strict requirements than the other variants of the Vietnam visa. For instance, your passport needs to be valid for 6 months instead of 2 from the moment that you arrive in Vietnam.