Vietnam has a strict visa requirements, meaning that most international travellers going to Vietnam need a visa to get in. However, the country has also implemented exceptions to this visa requirements, and on top of that also has a number of different types of visas which grant you permission to enter at specific border crossings, or under specific circumstances. This can make it complicated to get a good image of how you can best travel to Vietnam.
Visa exemption for European countries
For starters, some European countries are exempt from needing a visa in the first place to travel to Vietnam. These include Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom and a number of other countries, both in and out of the European Union. The major benefit of this exemption is that travellers from these countries can enter Vietnam wherever they want. A downside is that this exemption only applies to trips lasting less than 15 days. This is generally not enough for your average holiday. Some countries are not included in this list, despite being part of the European Union. This includes Ireland. As such, Irish citizens still need a Vietnam visa if they are planning a trip to this country.
Visa on arrival and visas that are stamped in your passport
The visa on arrival, as the name says, is a Vietnamese visa type which you receive after you land in Vietnam. While in the past, this visa type allowed you to enter Vietnam via every border crossing and airport, this is no longer the case. Only the visa that is stamped in your passport at the embassy grants you this privilege. For both the visa on arrival and the digital e-visa for Vietnam, specific rules apply, such as where you are allowed to arrive. A consequence of this is that you are not allowed to change the location of arrival after applying for your visa. Once the application has been sent out, you are required to enter Vietnam at that location. Try to enter anywhere else, and you’ll be sent straight back, even if you possess a valid visa.
Both the Vietnam e-visa as well as the visa on arrival allow you to enter the country at the 8 international airports of Vietnam. If you want to land at a different airport than the one you filled in on the visa form, you will need to apply for a new visa. The e-visa also grants you permission to enter and leave Vietnam through a number of seaports and border crossings (but not all!). The visa on arrival, however, only allows you to enter Vietnam at the 8 international airports. You cannot arrive at a seaport or border crossing. Experienced backpackers say that you can get a so-called Approval Letter in the villages and cities in Laos and Cambodia that border Vietnam, allowing you to enter Vietnam through these borders. However, this makes it so you need to be physically present at these locations, which can prove difficult for foreign travellers.
E-visa or visa on arrival
The Vietnam e-visa is only fit for a single entry and for maximum stay of one month. The benefit is that it is very cheap and easy to apply for. The visa on arrival, on the other hand, can be used for multiple entries and has a validity period of one month or three months. The downside is that the visa on arrival is a fair bit more expensive. The decision of which to choose for can therefore be a difficult one. Are you going to Vietnam for a short holiday lasting a maximum of 30 days? Then you are better off getting the e-visa. Do you plan on going to Vietnam multiple times in the span of a few months? Then you will likely want to get a visa on arrival with a validity period of 3 months. If you get an e-visa, you will need to renew it multiple times. This can only be done outside of Vietnam, so you would be forced to leave the country each time.
Vietnam’s varied and inclusive visa system is one of the reasons it is among the most popular holiday destinations in southeast Asia. Depending on what you’re looking for and how long you’ll stay, there is a visa for everyone.