August 17, 2022

My Vietnam Visa #Fail. Don’t fall into this trap.

Do not upload your matching passport photo if it is older than six months.

Many of us would have had experiences with the vagaries of the visa system in many countries and here’s one I didn’t see coming.

Vietnam’s tourist e-visa is quite simple and straightforward on the surface, but underneath lurks many traps waiting to ensnare the unwary.

I’ve made numerous visits to Vietnam in the past without too much hassle, but I do know the communist country is pretty strict when it comes to dotting I’s and crossing T’s, so I was meticulous to follow the instructions. Or so I thought.

As part of the process, it asks you to upload a passport picture. Sure. It occurred to me the easiest and most secure one would be the same picture that is in my passport - just like the instruction photo above. Oops! No.

After the mandatory three days wait, I was asked to supply another picture. Why? Because apparently the uploaded picture must be taken within six months of the application. NOWHERE in the process does it make this clear, 

The instant I received this request, I sent off a new picture and resubmitted the application. “No further fees required”. Thank you.

BUT what it doesn’t tell you is that you are sent to the back of the e-queue and need to wait a further three or four days. Shit. My flight is tomorrow and no matter how many times I click the application status query, I am met with a stonewalled “In Processing”. 

Frantic enquiries to my Vietnamese host and a lightning trip to the embassy ensues without success. I am met with a deadpan response. A finger jabs at a well-smudged phone number I know will not answer and the attendant simply states “I cannot help you”.

As my learned colleague and Asiaphile, Stu Lloyd, would say, “a classic case of disempowerment-by-process.”

Oh, and for those who are wondering about the so-called "Visa On Arrival" - it's another classic Asian misnomer. You cannot arrive in Vietnam without prior approval like, say, Thailand. So, it's a matter of "collection on arrival" only, not approval. And yes, it also takes several days.

Other visa fails reported to me include citing the wrong entry point. The e-visa only allows you to enter through the port indicated on the application form, whereas the confusingly-named 'visa-on-arrival' can be used at any of the international airports without having to nominate which entry point prior. And our American friends love to put the month, then the day. Yep, #FAIL.

So, my trip to Vietnam is off. My luxury hotel stay is cancelled, my budget airfares are lost forever and I have some red-faced explaining to do with my editor. Lessons learned.

EDIT: As several sensible readers were kind enough to point out, I should have applied well enough in advance to allow for such eventualities. Sadly, that was not possible in my case, but yes, ideally so. It was also noted that as of this year 25 countries have a bilateral, visa waiver agreement with Vietnam. Unfortunately for me (again) Australia is not one. 

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