The Vietnamese pre-approved visa process
Replies: 26 - Last Post: Jun 29, 2012 12:14 AM Last Post By: mooslie
Jun 24, 2012 12:26 PM
The Vietnamese pre-approved visa processA lot of people have trouble with the Vietnamese pre-approved visa process, leading people to believe it is complicated. It is not, in fact, complicated. It's fairly simple. It is, however, insane.
Here's how it works.
You go to a website like myvietnamvisa.com. The site looks it's selling maple syrup or home-made sex toys or something eccentric like that, but no, it's legit; go ahead and enter your name, passport number, and credit card. They'll bill you $19.99 and in return they will call the passport people, who put your name on a list, and fax that list back to the people at the website.
(Seriously, who faxes in this day and age? Even for the Third World, that's retro.)
The website people scan the fax and email you a JPEG of the whole list. It's the list of every tourist who is entering Vietnam on a pre-approved visa that day. So the names of fifty people or so with your name halfway down the list. You print this out and put it in your backpack.
(BTW, carry a backpack. It's really the only sensible way to travel. You start using a suitcase and in a little while, you've filled the suitcase and start thinking about... another suitcase. Pretty soon, you're shlepping every promotional t-shirt and pair of socks you own across Indochina. With a backpack, you know: you're carrying one and you're carrying on your back, so you'll pack smart.)
When you land, after what feels like a four-day flight, at Tan Son Nhat Airport, in a corner the big hall before customs is a window for the visa office. Get in line behind six other people, each clutching the same print-out you have, all held up behind a 45-year-old Romanian woman who looks 60 and doesn't understand the visa process and is arguing through the window with a uniformed 25-year-old clerk who looks 15. They will be arguing in English, a language neither of them speaks.
(If you get bored in line, you can try to match names from the long list with faces from the long line. Is that chunky blonde girl in the flannel shirt and crocs "Ursula Muller"? That subcontinental guy in the proto-turban, "Anandan Ramanathan"?)
Eventually, you'll get to the front of the line and hand over your list, your passport, and a $25 "stamping fee" to the clerk, the only one of the eight or nine people in the office who has any duties beyond chatting with each other and smoking cigarettes. You go and slump into one of the plastic chairs by the window, dazed by the long flight, the time-shift, and the buzzing fluorescents. That funky odor you notice? That's you.
(During your wait, you can contemplate the purposelessness of the whole process. Wouldn't it have been easier and more profitable just to charge you $45 -- or $65 -- and wave you in?)
The clerk supposedly compares your list with their list and who knows, maybe she does. Is there a big problem with people sneaking into Vietnam? In any case, she stamps your passport and then, to celebrate, goes and has a cigarette of her own and discuss soccer with her colleagues. At some point, she'll remember you and your passport, and come back to the window and make a truly sincere effort to call your name.
I want to be fair here. The Vietnamese language is written in Latin characters, but has no other connection with any Western language. If you asked any Western person to pronounce a Vietnamese name, he'd mangle it badly. For example, given Trang Nguyen, he would say "Trang Nguyen" (when the correct way would be by asking the question "Trah Ween?")
So, tired though you may be, listen carefully when they call out names. If your name runs heavily to letters that by sheer coincidence have the same pronunciation in Vietnamese, like M, N, and of course V, it shouldn't be too difficult. If you're Frederick or Gerald or Larry, well, consider Canada as a vacation destination. My own name, Michael, was -- no joke -- pronounced with surprising (and I assume accidental) fidelity to the original Hebrew: "Meek-ha-yell".
When they do call you, remember to check that they did in fact give a fresh visa stamp and more important, they gave back the right passport. If you want to, you can thank the clerk ("Cảm ơn, chị"), but she'll already be off smoking another cigarette.
Now, except for immigration (where they look at the stamp the visa people just applied and then glare at you as if you were in a shirt reading "I ♥ molesting Asian children", and then grudgingly let you through), customs (where they ignore you completely), and the taxi (where they charge you between $8 and $50 for cab-ride that would cost you $4 if it started anywhere in Saigon except the airport and $50 if it started in any US city), you're practically in your hotel room now.
If you don't believe me that this process is insane, compare it to the visa process for Thailand:
1. Show up in Thailand with your passport
2. Be white
Works like a charm.
Jun 24, 2012 1:21 PM
1Well, most of the information above about the pre-approved/pre-arranged visa process (often incorrectly called "visa on arrival") is true. But, the linked site charges double what http://www.vietnamvisapro.com charges for the same service. And, the editorial comments are just strange.
BTW: Thailand gives most people a "visa waiver" on arrival not an actual visa, and has struggled for years with immigration issues.. Vietnam doesn't do that, it's their choice, of course.
Jun 24, 2012 1:54 PM
Okay, price war, yay!
(But my point about eccentricity stands. Why would VietnamVisaPro be decorated with silhouettes of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, plus a map of Madrid?)
They aren't just strange. In addition to being strange, they're filler, to make the post look more substantial and better researched than it as, and they're an effort to reduce the stick-to-butt ratio of this site.
tl;dr I'm being called strange by someone who named himself after a minor Simpsons character. I should change my handle to Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon.
Jun 24, 2012 2:18 PM
Jun 24, 2012 5:42 PM
4A highly entertaining report, thanks. Mind you, not all check-in chicks are as bad as your example. Back in 1993, my Immigration official was good looking and wanted me to take her out on a date. I should have, too, because on my next trip I got the male Immigration Official From Hell, who processed six incoming passengers while his underlings processed the rest of the plane.
Jun 24, 2012 7:03 PM
Jun 24, 2012 9:46 PM
Jun 24, 2012 9:50 PM
Jun 25, 2012 12:51 AM
8Op thanks for an honest report!
I have been flamed umpteen times for advising travelers to Vietnam to get a visa from their country's Vietnamese embassy before they travel.
However there are those on this forum who have vested interests in visa application online websites and they vehemently protect them.
Therefore the cr*p you have been through is dumped onto other travelers, who receive biased advice.
While you were waiting and getting stressed in your visa queue, to pass time, you could have spared a thought for all those travelers who just breezed through immigration and were already in their taxis to their hotels.
You have just outlined how not to start a relaxed, stress free trip to Vietnam.
Jun 25, 2012 2:41 AM
Jun 25, 2012 4:00 AM
10Well, in addition to the fact that nobody's going to read this post once it passes onto page 2 of the TT, I am lost on the fact of all that non-factual commentary in your "report". I'm also lost on the fact of having indicated it's complicated when it's not. Simply put, if people actually used the search engine when wanting to know about something so common, they'd realize that it isn't complicated. And by the way, I've gone through the process twice and they've always treated me well.
Jun 25, 2012 4:54 AM
11Mooslie, I don't think OP's report discourages people from using those services. I will still be using them and consider the airport experience part of travel - those are the kind of things you remember years after :-) Maybe people would get visas ahead of time at the Consulate if its website specified basic stuff such as how much the fees are! I have a feeling applying through the Consulate is more expensive and it is cumbersome to send your passport away. So for many people, myself included, the process described by the OP is actually preferable.
Jun 25, 2012 5:52 AM
Jun 25, 2012 6:06 AM
13@#11 I see your avatar has a picture, of someone, presumably you, hanging upside down.
That way you see things from the wrong perspective.
By all means use the online services-it's a free world and personally I don't have shares in Vietnamese consulates around the world so basically I don't give a rat's *rse what service you use for visa! You welcome to sweat it out in a queue as did OP while others breeze through customs and whisk away in their taxis.If waiting in queue is the highlight of your trip and something you will always remember the trip must be boring.
When I traveled here from overseas, which was many times, I always used the Vietnamese consulate and found their service to be prompt and reliable-not one hassle.
The great thing then was to fiddle around with the computer controls on my seat in the plane, put it into lying down position, enjoy the champagne and relax knowing my visa was in place already and all I had to do was breeze through customs.
It ain't rocket science!
Jun 25, 2012 2:13 PM
14Mooslie, there is a difference between describing your experience / recommending a service and attacking others for their opinions. You have attacked 2 people here already - the OP and me. I'm flattered that you're so concerned about me sweating in a queue, but accept the fact that not everyone will do things the way you want and childish attacks will not change that. Chill out and enjoy your champagne. Btw, "part of travel" does not mean a "highlight." Maybe work on your reading comprehension and sense of humor.
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