Vietnam exempts the citizens of a few Western countries from visa requirements if they plan to be in the country for 15 days or less, but most visitors will need to prearrange a visa. All Westerners must have a visa for any stay longer than 15 days.

Applying for a visa through a Vietnamese embassy or consulate is the most common way to satisfy the visa requirement. You’ll need to submit your passport with at least six months validity, the visa application form, one recent passport photo, and the fee. The fee for the visa varies according to the location of the embassy or consulate that is issuing the visa, but will usually be between $185 and $240. It usually takes less than a week from the time that you submit your application to the time that your passport and visa is returned.

You can also enter Vietnam with a visa approval letter. There are many visa agencies and hotels that provide this service. The approval letter eliminates the need to send your passport to an embassy. It is also less expensive. The agent will need some basic information and will then send you an email with an approval letter that has been certified by an immigration official and authorizes your entry.

Most agents charge between $10 and $25 for the visa approval letter, which you’ll need to print out and take with you to the immigration counter at the airport when you arrive in Vietnam. You’ll be asked to fill out a short visa application and present your passport, the visa approval letter, and a passport photo. Within a few minutes, you’ll be called to the counter to pay the stamping fee $135. The fee is only payable in U.S. dollars or Vietnamese dong. Once the fee is paid, you can collect your passport with your new visa and pass through the immigration and customs counters.

Visa approval letters are only valid for individuals entering the country through an international airport. If you intend to enter the country by land, you’ll need to have the actual visa already in your passport.

U.S. citizens are offered a one-year, multiple entry visa, but they are required to leave the country at least once every 90 days. This visa cannot be extended, so at the end of one year, the person will need to exit the country and arrange a new visa. Other Westerners are offered a choice of a one-month or three-month single or multiple-entry visa.

Most foreigners take a trip abroad—a “visa run”—before their current visa expires. You can make an unlimited number of visa runs, and there is no requirement stating how long you need to be out of the country before re-entering Vietnam.

Several budget carriers offer inexpensive flights to popular visa run destinations such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur. You can arrange for a visa approval letter before you go to simplify your return to Vietnam.

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