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So I’m going to preface this with the fact that we are total and complete idiots… in more ways than one. We completely botched everything about getting visas for Vietnam. I pride myself on being a smart traveler most of the time but…. Not this time.
Getting visas for Vietnam requires lots of prior planning, visa websites, and a visa fee to get a Vietnam visa on arrival. But, we got too complacent thinking the rules of countries in the same area would be the same, and put too much faith in taking the word of other travelers without doing the proper research ourselves.
But anyways, here we go.
The Best Way Not to Get Visas for Vietnam
So. We had always planned on going to Vietnam after Laos. We had heard of people pre-applying for their visas for Vietnam, which scared us a little, but we had also heard of and talked to tons of people who got their visa upon arrival after flying in, so we assumed we could too. How hard could it be? In Thailand we didn’t need one, in Laos we just waited in line… How different could Vietnam be?
Really damn different.
In our defense, we went online a lot and made the effort to speak to as many travelers that we could who had been to Vietnam.
‘Oh yeah, if you’re flying you can get a Vietnam visa on arrival, they said. You will be fine, they said.’
We took their word for it.
The night before our flight, my travel partner Zoe was doing some last minute research online to make sure we were all good to get visas for Vietnam on arrival.
“Shoot… It says here you need to get an approval letter BEFORE you get your visa on arrival.”
Before? Doesn’t the term ‘visa on arrival’ literally just mean you get it… When you get there? On arrival?
The guy sitting across from us piped up.
“You guys seriously didn’t get your approval letters?!?”
We looked at each other, wide eyed. Shit.
What even is this approval letter, and when we went out of our way to ask other travelers about getting their Vietnam visas, why did not even ONE person mention this tiny-little-super-ridiculously-important thing?!
Shit shit shit.
I have a British passport, and we had talked to a ton of Brits (I mean at least four or five different groups) who said that you were allowed fifteen free days in Vietnam if you were British. So I figured that would be chill for me at least, getting a visa for Vietnam on arrival and all. But we hadn’t confirmed anything, since we had just found out about this whole approval letter thing.
Cue an hour of freaking out, surfing all sorts of visas for Vietnam websites and blogs to recommend the best ones to use, and asking everyone sitting around us in the hostel. We found a few websites that said they could get the visa approval letters expedited, within a half day, two working hours, or four working hours. We also found multiple websites that confirmed that you could get in for fifteen days for free with a British passport. So I was okay, but Zoe still wasn’t. We found an apparently reputable Vietnam visa website, entered all her information, and selected the ‘4 working hours’ option, because our flight was at 12:50pm the next day and we figured it would be alright.
Mind you, it was 10:15pm the night before… we should have chosen the 2 hour option as we soon found out.
- Read More: Getting a Vietnam E-Visa: More horror stories and important tips
Hey. While you’re at it… wanna pin this to Pinterest? 🙂
Just When You Thought We Couldn’t Get any More Idiotic Getting Visas for Vietnam: The Morning of Our Flight
The morning rolled around, and we figured if Zoe’s email didn’t come in by noon we would start to worry. We knew they would ask for the visa upon arrival in Vietnam, but why we didn’t realize we would need our visas for Vietnam to check in for our flight is beyond me. Literally, it is beyond me. Hindsight: 20/20.
Anyway, these two American idiots rolled up to the check in counter after taking a bumpy tuk tuk 4 km from our hostel to the Vientiane Airport in Laos. We handed them our passports. They flipped through them.
“Approval letter?” They asked Zoe.
We looked at each other. Oh God.
“Well, its on the email,” we cringed. “Is there wifi?”
They laughed. No, but there were computers upstairs. And we needed to print it out. I mean what kind of airport these days doesn’t have wifi? Apparently ones in the capital city of Laos.
Cue sweat starting to accumulate on our brows. I had given the guy my British passport because I was going to of course use that one to get into Vietnam. He looked confused.
“Do you have a Laos visa? Another passport?” he asked.
Ah, yes. I had used my American passport to get into Laos. I got it out. He asked if I had an approval letter.
“No, you can go to Vietnam for 15 days for free with this one!”
The man looked at me and narrowed his eyes. He asked if I was sure, and I said yes although there was more panic accumulating in my chest. He said he would go ask the airline.
By this point Zoe had sprinted upstairs to check her email and hope, pray, and beg that her Vietnam Visa came through on time. It was now 11:10am and we were freaking the hell out.
My guy came back with another guy who told me that he wasn’t sure if this was okay. He said they didn’t know what to do with someone who has two passports because I needed to show proof of exit of Laos and that people usually just use one passport… or something like that on the scale of scaring me half to death. I told them I was sure I could use my British one to get in, but now I was super worried about this whole exiting-one-country-and-entering-another-on-a-different-passport deal.
The second guy brought back another guy. In broken English, they brought out this form for me to sign basically saying that Air Cambodia Angkor had no responsibility for me if I was denied at the border of Vietnam and sent back to Laos because of this whole two-passport ordeal.
He asked me if I had $400 American Dollars in cash on me in case I had to immediately purchase a return ticket to Vientiane should they not let me in.
Even MORE chill!
I told him I didn’t, but had enough money in my account should I have to withdraw money at an ATM. He seemed uneasy, but apparently this was enough for him, because he had me sign this cover-your-own-ass form and I was apparently good to check in – but potentially not cross the border.
So, back to Zoe.
I found the sketchy internet area in the middle of a strange gift shop, surrounded by stacks of Laos-branded shirts and dark wooden walls. She had tons of tabs open on the computer and was quite panicked, and had been refreshing her email, bank account, and her visa application status on the website for the last 25 minutes.
I also want to point out that we had both eaten a questionable street kebab the night before and were also feeling quite, er, questionable. A street kebab… in LAOS. We have made SO many better decisions in our lives. It tasted damn good but it ended up being as sketchy as it sounds. Both halfway between stomach cramps and nausea, with beads of sweat on our foreheads and anxiety in our throats, we stared at this 1990’s computer screen and pressed on.
11:35 rolled around. She decided to say screw it and call her bank to possibly request that the charge be approved on that end. So, she bit the bullet, turned her data roaming on her phone, and called.
Apparently, the bank had approved the charge at 10:30am. Cool. Now to call the actual visa company.
After some searching, we found the number and called it. Someone answered in broken English. We explained the situation and that our gate was closing soon, and asked about the status. We gave her Zoe’s application number. She said she could get it through in five minutes! We looked at each other very relieved, and went back to refreshing all of the web pages.
Five minutes went by. Six. Seven. It was almost 11:50 and our international flight departed at 12:50… something had to happen, and fast.
We called her back and asked what was going on. She seemed very out of it, although trying to be helpful. We told her how soon our flight left, how badly we needed out visas for Vietnam, and asked if there was anything we could do to get it sooner. We begged. The minutes ticked by as we watched, feeling farther and farther away from making it to our much-anticipated Vietnam, where my father and her grandpa fought in the war.
After assuring us she was getting it through, she told us 30 minutes. Thirty? We NEED it sooner. PLEASE.
All of a sudden there was a change on the other side of the phone, like someone had grabbed it. All of a sudden there were loud cries of a child coming through the speaker, and a strange male childlike voice saying inaudible things in the foreground in what was probably Vietnamese.
Hello?! HELLO?! We yelled. This was basically our worst nightmare- especially between stomach cramps, anxiety, and sweat- a crying child interrupting our very important phone call and racking up our international charges even more.
We yelled into the phone to put whoever-it-was back on. We could even hear the sound of the yelling child with our phone sitting on the desk in front of us, not even on speaker. On the verge of vomiting half from anxiety and half from the shawarma, we hung up. It was 11:56 and I thought our gate closed at 12.
I went down to make sure, and it was 12:10. That was good. I asked if we could switch to a later flight, feeling quite defeated. He said we could, but we had to do it ourselves and probably pay full price. So, we had either ten minutes to get the visa, or to spend double the money on another flight, not even sure if I was going to make it past the border with my passport situation.
So, pretty much greeeeat odds.
I went back up, panting. I took a big swig of water and a deep breath. Zoe had been refreshing the page to no avail. We called back again, so desperate. This time I called.
“Hi, we have been on the phone with you and then there was a child on the line… what is going on?! Can you help us out?”
“Yes, yes. I work on it. Five minute.”
It was 12:03.
“Okay,” we said. Please do. thank you.
Now to wait. Refresh refresh refresh. More refresh. No new emails, and the status of the application still said “processing,’ and it was supposed to say ‘received.’
Sweat. Nausea. Exhaustion.
12:07 rolled around. Should we call one more time? Could we possibly be that annoying?
In fact, we could. One last hurrah to save all our money. We called back.
“Hi, sorry, our gate closes in two minutes. How is it going?”
“Any minute now!” Came from the other side of the phone. There was nothing more we could do.
12:08. Refresh. Processing.
Shit. It’s over. We’re done.
12:09. Refresh. Processing.
Tears? Vomit? I don’t know, maybe both. Time to start planning another flight.
12:10. Refresh. Received.
Wait. RECIEVED?! We both sprang into action. Holy shit. Oh my god. Oh my GOD.
She opened the email and the forms. We ran to the lady to get the printer on.
“Oh, it no work.”
NO WORK?! What do you mean no work? The printer doesn’t work!? But the guys at the desk literally told us to come up to use this printer!
We were both up and running around the room aimlessly.
She embarrassingly smiled and looked down; her english wasn’t the greatest. She was definitely not going to help us out with any of this.
I grabbed my bag and ran to the gate so Zoe could figure out this printer situation. With a small backpack on my front and a huge 15 kilo pack on my back, I sprinted down the stairs and through the airport back to our gate.
The guys at the gate knew us by now. It was definitely like 12:13 but we were on Laotion time thankfully and I don’t think they were extremely strict.. They looked at me like the idiot that I looked like and listened to me huffing and puffing, telling them we had the approval letter but the printer was broken. Can we take a photo? Show them our phone?
Chuckling at me, they said if I had a phone or computer I could take a photo.
YES. Yes, we do. We can do that. We will do that. We’re gonna do it right now. I will be RIGHT BACK. Literally right back. Is that ok? Can I come back?
Clearly very amused by my panic, they told me that was fine. I sprinted up to the internet gift shop thing.
Zoe had already taken photos of the approval letter, and was ready to high-tail it out of that little hellhole of a room.
I still had a backpack on my back and front, and she was carrying both her backpacks by the little top straps very awkwardly. But god damn it, we were going to make this flight.
The two of us ran together back down the stairs and through the airport to the gate. Someone definitely should have been playing “The Final Countdown” or something, because this was definitely my mental soundtrack as we ran seemingly in slow motion as awkwardly and sweatily as possible past everyone in the airport, being THOSE tourists who had none of their shit together and messed up their visas for Vietnam as much as possible.
And that was it. We got to the checkin, and the Vietnamese guys judged us even more as they gave us our boarding passes and took our bags. Stupid Americans.
We forgot to fill out a departure card and had to go back to the passport control twice, and struggled through security as Zoe’s bug spray was confiscated. But nothing could deter us anymore, we had made it to this damn flight and could not believe it.
The flight hadn’t even started boarding when we got to the gate, to our disbelief. We put our hands on our knees, panted for a little bit, and laughed pretty uncontrollably at our turn of events. We couldn’t believe it as we sat on the plane, and kept having many holy-shit-what-just-happened moments.
But there was still that underlying suspense of whether or not I was going to make it past the border if I was exiting Laos and entering Vietnam on different passports. We weren’t sure why it would be a problem, but hoped it wouldn’t.
An hour later, we landed in Hanoi. Slightly worried but quite confident, we went up to the visa counter to get Zoe’s visa paid for and returned. Basically our suspicions were right, because there were signs up that said certain countries could enter for 15 days for free, and England was one of them.
We took the precaution to book a hostel in Cambodia for fifteen days away, because sometimes they make you show proof of exit. We got in the departure line and… I gave them my passport and…. he stamped it and sent me on my way.
And there it is.
I know, not as much suspense here, but I think we have had enough for one story. Zoe came through as well, we jumped for joy, clicked our heels, and had another twelve good laughs in the airport at how dumb yet lucky we were to get into Vietnam. In need of an immediate beer, bowl of Pho and nap, we happily went into the city in search of new friends, food, and adventures, and that is what we got.