At the moment citizens from the following country can get access to the Visa Waiver program: Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK. For France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK the Visa Waiver is valid until the 30.06.2017.
They are now allowed to stay for up to 15 days without the need of a Visa. They can enter Vietnam by air or land, and just get a stamp at immigration.
Please be very careful when checking the days you stay in Vietnam. Arrival date count as day one, and departure day as day 15. This is very important when having an early flight meaning you will pass immigration after midnight. Do not overstay. Based on current reports it is not cheap, and you might be not allowed to re-enter Vietnam. Unlike other countries in that area Vietnam is very strict about following the Visa regulations. The hassle of overstaying a day is not really worth it.
Apparently you can extend the 15 day Visa Waiver once by 15 days. However, thsi option can be more expensive (some reports mentioned $50 upwards) and can take longer (again, one report mentioned 7 days processing time). If you have experienced this extension process please le tme know so I can reflect this on this site.
Also, when entering Vietnam via the Visa Waiver you cannot re-enter the country through another Visa Waiver for the next 30 days. You can still re-enter with a normal Visa though. So plan ahead if you want to enter Vietnam multiple times (for example to get the flig back home that departs from Vietnam).
Please note that you have to show proof of leaving the country. If you have a flight itinerary showing the flight out of Vietnam print it out and hand it over at the passport control. You might not be able to go through immigration without proof.
One Month Single Entry
This Visa allows to stay in Vietnam for a month (usually 30 days). You cannot re-enter Vietnam with this Visa, you need to apply for a new one.
One Month Multiple Entry
This Visa options allows to stay in Vietnam for a month, and you can re-enter Vietnam within this duration as often as you like. Usually, the best option when adding a short trip to the neighbouring countries.
3-Month Single Entry
This Visa allows you stay in Vietnam for up to three month, without being allowed to re-enter with the same Visa. Please note that 3 months might not actually mean 90 days. If getting the Visa via VOA the duration could be between 85-90 days. Though my three month Visa I got from the consulate in Luang Prabang was 3 full month. So if in doubt, apply for a Visa first before finalising flights.
3-Month Multiple Entry Visa
This Visa options allows to stay in Vietnam for three month and you can re-enter Vietnam within that period for as often as you want. Please note that 3 months might not actually mean 90 days. If getting the Visa via VOA the duration could be between 85 and 90 days. So if in doubt, apply for a Visa first before finalising flights.
1-year Visa (US citizen only)
Since September 2016 the Vietnamese government implemented a new 1-year visa for US citizen. You can stay in Vietnam for 3 month, but have to re-enter after the three month (so this visa is actually a multiple entry visa). The costs are also higher – the visa stamp at the airport costs now $135 pp. The VOA fees vary from agency to agency, but apparently starting from $30. The cost of Visa from embassy can vary between $180 and $240.
Methods to obtain a Visa
Unlike its neighbouring countries Vietnam does not really have a process where you can arrive at the border and apply for a Visa there.
Instead you have to apply for a Visa via one of numerous online agents who will deal with all the paperwork for a fee, and will send you an invitation letter by email. With this letter, a passport picture, another form you fill in and a fee of $25 (1 month & 3 month single entry)) or $50 (one or three month multiple-entry) head to the VOA desk prior to immigration and you get your Visa Stamp at the airport. Due to the waiver program the waiting time is not bad. At HCMC airport I waited 30 minutes, and at Hanoi airport 20 minutes. Both time the luggage just came out after I was pass immigration. For me this is the best option to get a Visa – and the cheapest. Please note this option is not available if you enter Vietnam via one of the overland crossings.
I used www.vietnamvisapro.net twice now and I got my letter in my mailbox within 24 hours. The fee was only US$10 for One-Month-Single-Entry VOA.
Advise I: For the VOA at the airport use US$ only. Otherwise the fee will cost more.
Advise II: Fill in the immigration form prior to arrival (you have plenty of time on the plane). It will shorten the waiting time.
Advise III: Do not listen to the advise from Vietnam embassies about VOA. They are concerned loosing the revenues from Visas, and therefore claim that VOA is not a legit solution. This information is not correct. It is a legit and cheaper option
Embassies or consulates
You can get any of the different Visa options from any Vietnamese embassy or consulate. This will allow you to enter Vietnam by land or air. However, prices at the embassies are usually high and if you do not live in a town with one you need to post your passport, something I do not like due to the risk of loosing the passport. If you mail your passport make sure you use courier services with additional insurance.
I would only use their service if you decide to enter Vietnam by land, and then get the Visa when already in SEA. The main reasons are: it is cheaper, you can decide when to enter Vietnam (in case you decide to stay the full period of your Visa), and you do not have to risk posting your passport to the lal embassy. So if you stay a few days in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Vientiane or Luang Prabang, use the time wisely and get your Visa there.
Here is a description about the process at the Luang Prabang consulate.