Vietnam Visa On Arrival: Complete Application Guide (+How To Get A Teaching English in Vietnam Visa)
In this post I'm going to break down how to get the correct visa for teaching English in Vietnam.
I'll explain the "visa on arrival" method which is a quick and easy way to get started by flying into Vietnam without going through the painful process of applying for a visa at the embassy.
After explaining this I'll also talk about how to get the correct visa to teach English in Vietnam for an extended period of time.
Please note, this is not legal advice. I'm simply laying down what I've observed over the years of helping people get started teaching English out here.
Okay so let's crack into it.
Below is the video I made that breaks down the overall process. I then break down the process further in written form below. Finally, I have a second video on how to apply for a work permit.
One update to the video on BOOKING AN ONWARD FLIGHT: some people have reported issues with booking a one way flight into Vietnam. This is typically not from Vietnamese immigration but from the airlines - they may not let you board if you don't have proof of onward travel. While you may not have any issues with this, we recommend booking a cheap onwards flight or better yet - book a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh online for about $18: BOOK HERE
Vietnam Visa On Arrival Method
Step 1) Apply For 3 Month Tourist Visa "Approval Letter" Online
This is the first step whether you're planning on a short stay or if you want to stay in the country for a year or more teaching English. I'll cover getting a work permit from a school a little later.
An approval letter for your Vietnam visa on arrival is essentially just an "invitation" from a visa company in Vietnam that you can apply and pay for online. It's just a piece of paper with your name and details which you print out and fly in with.
You use a approval letter company to apply for it. I've used this company and referred hundreds of our teachers to them too and haven't had any issues to date.
Cost of Visa
It costs around $30 and it's emailed to you in a few days. Double check your name is correct and then print it and fly in with it. Then you pay the visa fee when you arrive at the airport which is usually around $25. You're then issued your 3 month visa for Vietnam!
I recommend you just apply for the 3 month single entry visa which allows you to enter the country once and stay for up to 3 months. There is also a more ecpensive 3 month multiple entry visa which means you can go in and out the country during that period. However, it's likely that you'll be getting settled during that period so there isn't a benefit to this unless you know you'll be leaving the country in the first 3 months.
For US citizens:
If you're a US citizen there is also the option of a 1 year tourist visa instead of a 3 month visa. The approval letter cost is the same but the stamping fee is about $135. This is due to a reciprocal agreement between the US and Vietnam to offer each other 1 year visas.
The downside of this is the extra cost. Also, you still need to leave and re-enter the country every 3 months on the 1 year visa, you just don't need to reapply for a visa approval letter each time you do so. For a period of time in 2016 and 2017 you could only get a one year visa as a US citizen which became a nightmare for people visiting Vietnam for a short period, because they had to pay about $165 for only a few days or weeks. However, it seems as though US citizens can now get the 3 month tourist visa again.
Should you get this 1 year visa? The upside is that it may give you some valuable extra time to secure a job and process your work permit - 3 months is usually tight to complete that whole process. It also gives you multiple entries into Vietnam so you can leave and come back in. So if you're up to spend the extra cash it's not a bad idea.
What about a business visa?
As an English teacher you should aim to be lawfully employed in Vietnam. This is often easier said than done as the process to get to that point is long and complicated.
To break it down as simply as possible, you need to process two main things:
- A work permit that your school helps you apply for with the correct documents (explained in the work permit section.)
- A business visa from a visa agent.
Typically, you'd follow the order of:
a) Enter the country, interview in person with schools and get hired.
b) Get your work permit processed.
c) Get a business visa.
Because you ultimately end up on a business visa, some people recommend that you just get a business visa to start with rather than arriving on a tourist visa to search for a job. While we've heard of this working for some people, the approval letter for a 3 month business visa is over $100 (plus $25 stamping fee) or for a 1 year costs as much as $250- $500 for the approval letter (plus $135 stamping fee) depending on your nationality. The issue too, is that if you arrive on this, your school MAY require you to get a new business visa (and pay again) because you didn't do the above steps in that order.
That's why we recommend getting the cheap tourist visa for step a) and then only apply for the business visa after step b). The work permit is the most complicated and time consuming part of the process by far, so worry about a business visa after that's done.
But Why Do I Need An Approval Letter?
I know this method sounds a little weird... But don't worry too much about it - it's not a scam or anything. It works perfectly and there's even a specific counter at the major airports in Vietnam for people arriving through the approval letter route.
Step 2) Staying Longer Than 3 Months
If you are planning to stay in Vietnam to teach English longer there are two possible scenarios.
Option 1: Work permit from your job
The first step is to be hired for a teaching English job in Vietnam with a school that will sponsor you a work permit (step A mentioned above). Then you apply for a work permit (step b.) After this you can apply for a business visa (step c.)
Here's a video I filmed that breaks down the work permit in more details:
For this you *typically* need to:
- Be a native English speaker from the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia or South Africa.
- Have a bachelors degree in any subject. Bring the original certificate with you to Vietnam. You need to have an authenticated copy, which can typically be done in Vietnam (unless you are from the UK.) However, it's a good idea to have it authenticated in your home country.
- Have a TEFL certification. You can also have a copy authenticated in Vietnam.
- Have a criminal background check from your home country (sometimes a criminal background check from Vietnam can work.) Again, this can usually be authenticated in Vietnam, but if you have the time and resources it's a good idea to have it authenticated in your home country.
UPDATE for UK Citizens: you should have the above documents authenticated in your home country as we've been advised it's no longer possible to have them authenticated in Vietnam.
Non native speakers and non degree holders: We have seen both non native speakers and non bachelor degree holders get work permits, but this is rarer and more expensive for you / the school. Whether a school can get you a work permit depends on many factors, including how connected the school is, varying costs, whether you're committed to staying long term and other qualifications. I know this sounds vague but the truth is that the process is very "flexible" in Vietnam - while you may often read about "requirements" for work permits, each case is different. If this describes you, check out option two.
Option 2) Doing Visa Runs
As mentioned before, you goal as an English teacher in Vietnam should be to aim for lawful employment. However, due to the complicated and time consuming process of getting a work permit, as well as cases where a school you are working for is struggling to get you a work permit for a variety of reasons, it may be necessary to extend your stay in Vietnam.
This second option involves either extending your 3 month visa in-country or doing a border run to get a new visa - leaving the country and re-entering on a new visa.
Flying: To do this you'd apply for a new 3-month (single or multiple entry) tourist visa approval letter. You'd then exit and re-enter the the country with your new approval letter by flying to Bangkok, Thailand (or another cheap flight destination.) You can usually re-enter immediately (same day if you like.) There currently do not seem to be any restrictions to how many times you can do this each year. With cheap flights and the cost of the new approval letter and stamping fee, this can be done for as little as $150.
Bus: Another option for a border run is to take a bus to Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh City, pay the $30 fee for the Cambodia visa and then come back into the country again with a visa approval letter. Some just go through the border and turn around and head back into Vietnam. This can be very cheap as buses to Cambodia are as little as $18. In most cases, the approval letter is only supposed to work for flying into Vietnam but many have reported it works at this border. I'd speak to your visa agent about about whether you can do this option with your approval letter.
It's important to note that while many people do use this method and stay on tourist visas while teaching, a work permit as well as a business visa is required to work legally in Vietnam, so this method should be used as a temporary solution and does not mean you are lawfully employed.
Option 3) Extending visa in the country
Another option, instead of getting the 3 month tourist visa when you first arrive in the country, is to get a 3 month business visa as described earlier that can be extended in the country. This is considerably more expensive at over $100 for the 3 month business visa (plus $25 stamping fee) or for a 1 year it costs as much as $250- $500 for the approval letter (plus $135 stamping fee) depending on your nationality.
However, it's usually possible to extend your business visa without leaving the country. You would go to a local visa agent who will take your passport and send it in to get a new visa. You need to be willing to hand over your passport for this method, which not everyone is comfortable doing.
It typically costs over $100 for each 3 months you extend it, and more for 6 months or 1 year, so it's not the cheapest option. However, if you really don't want to leave every 3 months this might be a good way to go.
It's important to note that while you CAN get a business visa without a work permit, a work permit as well as a business visa is required to work legally in Vietnam, so this method does not mean you are lawfully employed.
I've laid out all the options available for Vietnam visas to the best of my knowledge.
To summarize, I recommend the 3 month single entry visa to fly into the country and search for a job, and then aim to get lawfully employed with a word permit and business visa after you are hired.
Please note, that this information does change regularly and this is by no means legal advice. I'm simply laying down what I've observed over the years of helping people get started teaching English out here.
I've also spoken to dozens of the top schools in Vietnam and they're all frustrated by the constant changes and exceptions to these rules.
Come to Vietnam as prepared as possible (document wise) and speak to schools you interview with about what they can and can't offer when it comes to getting you a work permit and take it from there.