Warning: this is going to be a short, informative and potentially boring post. I'm owning it now, so I'm not even gonna bother with any pictures or GIFs.
After that one.
What is a "visa run"?
Most teachers in Vietnam operate on self-acquired visas. Vietnam, still coming to terms with the fact that people actually travel here now, is pretty anal about visas and is constantly changing it’s rules. The bad news for me is that it has recently discontinued visa extensions. This means that in order to continue working in Vietnam, every 3 to 6 months I have to leave solely for the purpose of coming back with a new visa. So the good news for you, reader, is that I get to talk to you about how to get a visa for Vietnam.
Visa runs are a pretty common practice amongst expats all over the world, past, present and future. At one point, in the 1980s, my parents lived in Mexico and had to make visa runs to Brownsville, Texas. When migrants tried to sail across a portion of the Gulf of Mexico to make it into the U.S. they were called “wet-backs”. Going off of this, people like my parents were jokingly called “jet-backs”. Every country has slightly different procedures, all of which are subject to change over time. So in this moment, here is what your options are in Vietnam….
Options for Vietnamese Visas
You can choose to get either a 3-month visa or a 6-month visa. With that you can choose either “single entry” or “multiple entries.” The 6-month is almost double the price of 3-month so most people choose 3-month. Likewise, “multiple entries” is more expensive than “single entry.” You can also choose between getting a “tourist” or “business” visa, the ladder of which is more expensive. Visa regulations in Vietnam continue to shift like the dunes of the Sahara, but at the moment, here are the prices for the two most commonly purchased visas.
3-month single entry tourist visa: 45 USD
3-month multiple entries tourist visa: 95 USD
If you have some business related endeavors that require an extended stay in Vietnam, you will have to check with the latest policy changes.
What is the real difference between “business” visas and “tourist” visas?
Apart from the name, and cost, there is no material difference. Although I think that if you plan on opening a bank account in Vietnam (I did, but many people operate on cash quite easily) you might want to consider getting the business visa. The procedures are different for every bank so do some research on the requirements of the one you like best. I use HSBC.
How do you get your “letter of invitation”?
The tricky thing about Vietnam is that in order to enter the country you need to be “on the list.” How do you get yourself on the list? There’s lots of routes to take – there are entire companies devoted to doing this for you – but this is the person I use:
This woman saved my ass once, and that was before she even knew me. But that is a story for another post that will come later. The bottom line is that she’s the coolest person you could ever hope to meet, so if you have a visa inquiry shoot her an email – she responds pretty promptly. She’s reliable, honest, 100% fluent in English (a rarity here in Hanoi), and her fee is quite reasonable. Hit her up.
How long does it take to get your visa?
It will take 5 business days to secure your entry into Vietnam so plan accordingly.
After you’ve got your letter of invitation, what then?
After you’re “on the list” you’re good to go. Print off a copy of your letter of invitation and head to the ‘visa application’ desk when you get off your flight.
Besides your letter of invitation, they will ask you for:
- The money, which is a function of which visa you are getting. They take USD, don't worry. Make sure you hit the ATM before you get on your flight to Hanoi. There is no ATM between your gate and customs. If you forget (like I have) then you will need to sit there and wait until officials are available to escort you out to an ATM outside and then back to customs. Depending on the time of day, you could end up waiting for a long time.
- The visa form. If you want to save some time at customs, you can fill out the form ahead of time – you can find it here ---> Form On Arrival.
- A head shot of yourself that is 4x6cm. You can get this done at places like Fedex, Kinko's or camera stores around the world, so no matter what your last stop before Vietnam is, you should be able to track something down (the last time I did it was in Kuala Lumpur). It doesn't really matter if it's 4x6cm, as long as it fits reasonably well into the box on the top right hand side of the visa form that I've attached above. If you forget this, no worries, they will make you pay a small "fine" (aka bribe) to get through customs. I have a room mate who does this regularly.
- Of course, your passport. They will take it for about 15 minutes and stick their fancy, communist visa into it.
I will be going to Bangkok, Thailand for my visa run. Although it was never a place I dreamt about visiting, it’s pretty much always the cheapest flight you can get out of Hanoi. I paid about $130 for it, round-trip, and that was a pretty average price. I am lucky to have a friend from university who is a Bangkok local and can show me around, so stay tuned for that lil’ adventure.
It is also worth noting that this will likely be my last visa into Vietnam for the foreseeable future.