Before the pandemic, most people could travel to Vietnam without obtaining a visa in advance and simply obtain a visa on arrival. This is no longer the case, even after the reopening of the borders. Many travellers are unaware of this, which has caused some chaos and has even been associated with the slow recovery of tourism in Vietnam.
Silent removal of visa on arrival
For years, Vietnam offered a visa on arrival (VOA) which travellers could apply for once they landed in the country. The requirements for the VOA were easily met by most travellers. Because this visa was such a common option, travellers were allowed to board their flights without having a visa. The only requirement needed beforehand was a visa approval letter, but even this was just a formality which could easily also be arranged last-minute.
Since the global outbreak of COVID-19, the visa rules to travel to Vietnam have changed quite significantly. , this has changed. Currently, business travellers, as well as tourists, must apply for their visa several days in advance before leaving for Vietnam. Since many travellers and even some travel agencies are unaware of these changes, this often leads to problems for many.
Not only can you no longer obtain a visa on arrival, the maximum length of stay with a Vietnamese tourist visa has also been shortened to 30 days. The VOA had a validity period of 3 months. What did remain unchanged is that travellers with some nationalities do not need a visa for short stays (up to 15 days). The Vietnam Immigration Department never officially announced that the VOA would be phased out. None have simply been granted since the reopening of the borders. The immigration department has also neither confirmed nor denied whether the VOA will return, but it does not appear that it will happen soon.
Disgruntled travellers left without answers
It is common practice for certain visa agencies, like e-Visa.co.uk, to provide a service of processing urgent visa applications for an additional fee. There seems to be an increase in the sheer number of visa applications being ordered with urgency. As Joran, a traveller from the Netherlands, stated, "I didnʼt know the VOA was no longer available, and Iʼm afraid I wonʼt get my eVisa in time."
According to Pleun Leijten, manager at e-Visa.co.uk, people are regularly caught off guard: "Not a day goes by that we don’t receive last-minute phone calls from customers applying for rush-order visas, informing us that they did not know about the VOA’s discontinuation”. She adds that travellers not being informed and urgently needing visas, leading to increased wait times, especially compared to before the pandemic.
Vietnamʼs neighbouring countries seeing quicker recovery
The Vietnamese governmentʼs decision to abolish the VOA has had a major impact on the tourism sector. In 2022, Vietnam welcomed only 3.6 million tourists, an 80% drop from 18 million tourists in 2019. Other countries in the region, such as Thailand and Cambodia, saw the number of incoming tourists rebound much faster after the pandemic-related dip in numbers. By 2022, the number of tourists in Thailand was already at 28% of the number in 2019 and in Cambodia, the figure was 35%. In many cases, travellers can travel to Thailand without a visa, and can obtain a visa on arrival once in Cambodia.
Decrease in the number of incoming tourists in 2022 compared to 2019:
- Vietnam: 80% (from 18 million to 3.6 million)
- Thailand: 72% (from 40 million to 11.15 million)
- Cambodia: 65% (from 6.6 million to 2.3 million)
Although tourism in Vietnam experienced unprecedented growth from 2015 to 2019, there was not quite as much growth in this period for Thailand and Cambodia. The number of international tourists to Vietnam more than doubled during that time, whereas the number of international tourists to Thailand and Cambodia “only” grew by 30-40% during the same period. These numbers have led several parties and businesses in Vietnam to urge the government to relax the visa rules so that the tourism sector can finally recover from the negative effects of the pandemic.