Quick logistical tips about travel in Vietnam


South East Asia has some extremely beginner-friendly travel destinations.  For instance, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Cambodia all essentially have visas on arrival for US citizens, (or e-visas).  Not to mention tourist infrastructures that are fairly easy to navigate.  Heck, even Myanmar has an eVisa that’s fairly simple.

But Vietnam is a little different.  In practice, it seems quite like getting an eVisa, but it’s technically a little more complicated.

How to get a Vietnam Visa online


The last time Drew and I visited Vietnam, we totally screwed up our visa and ended up arguing our way out of Cambodia, before scurrying around the no-man’s land between Cambodia and Vietnam while a friendly border agent printed a visa for us from some ancient Compaq-style computer in some weird barracks.  The entire endeavor took probably 3 hours and I did not want to repeat that miserable mistake again this time around.

So, I actually did my research ahead of time, asked around a bit, and found out the following for getting a “visa” online:

  1. Instead of applying for an eVisa, you basically apply for a visa pre-approval letter. (I used this site, recommended by other travelers on the “Every Passport Stamp” facebook page.)
  2. Upon approval, you’ll receive two things that must be printed.  The first is your approval letter, and the second is the visa application form.  Print them both and fill out the latter.
  3. Attach a 4x6cm passport photo to the application form with a paperclip.

Upon arrival: Here’s how it works at the Hanoi airport…

  1. If you haven’t already stocked up on Vietnamese dong, head over to the ATM and get $25 worth of dong (around 580,000 dong).
  2. Then, go to the Visa Application counter to submit your application and passport.
  3. Shuffle to the side of the counter to wait for your name to be called and projected on the screen above the Visa Payment counter.
  4. When they call your name and project your photo on the tv screen, go up to the visa payment counter to pay for your visa and collect your passport.
  5. THEN you can go through immigration, as you normally would.


Using the ATM in Vietnam

One other quick note about travel within Vietnam. I spent about two hours trying to get money from an ATM this morning. Here’s what I learned.  It seems that many ATMs are programmed to ask for a 6-digit pin for debit cards, and therefore don’t really know how to process American debit cards with 4 digit pins.  We got an array of error messages saying everything from “We can’t find your card” to “You’ve exceeded your limit.”

Finally it occurred to us to return to the tourist district in old town Hanoi and look for a more internationally branded ATM.  For instance the ANZ bank ATM.  After almost 2 hours, it finally worked.

Basic lesson for me is that if my debit card is getting rejected, I need to look for a tourist district that has ATMs equipped to read 4 digit pins, and at the very least, I know that ANZ bank ATMs work just fine.

I’m kind or surprised that I’ve never confronted this before. Or maybe I have, and mistakenly attributed withdrawal failures to something else.


What are your obscure logistical trips for Vietnam?

As I confront other logistical oddities, I’ll add them to this post.  But in the meantime, what are some of the logistical absurdities you’ve confronted in your Vietnam travels?

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