The Philippines and Vietnam are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Because of this regional economic and political grouping, holders of passports issued by both countries do not need visas when they visit each other’s countries. For Philippine passport holders, we are given up to 21 days visa free stay in Vietnam when the purpose of our stay is leisure/tourism. When our stay exceeds 21 days or when the purpose of our stay is for other purposes other than leisure/tourism, we need to get a visa. Here is how to get a Vietnam visa from the Philippines.Things to remember before applying for a Vietnam visa:
- You need a pre-approval letter. Before flying you must have a pre-approval letter because the airline will check it before they print your boarding pass. The pre-approval letter must be in printed, hard copy (not in e-file). We flew CebuPacific and the airline ground crew took time to process our pre-approval letter and had it counterchecked by his supervisor. The agency who processed our pre-approval letter said some airlines won’t allow you to board without the pre-approval letter. The pre-approval letter was not checked by the NAIA immigration officer though.
- The date of arrival in the letter must match your actual date of arrival. This means you have to have definite plans and have booked a plane ticket already before applying for a pre-approval letter. The date on the pre-approval letter must match the date that you will arrive in Vietnam. You have to be careful with this — our departure date in Manila is Aug. 2, while our arrival date in Hanoi, Vietnam, is already Aug. 3, 12:10 A.M. So, when I applied for the pre-approval letter, I choose Aug. 3 as the date of arrival.
- Pay in dollars. There was a Filipino couple who did not have US dollars with them when they were paying for the visa. The Vietnamese officers were kinda strict but, like Filipinos, after several prodding, and because there was no foreign exchange shop open at that time in the airport, the Vietnamese officer (a woman) allowed the couple to pay in Euro.
- Your photos are a must. Have your photos taken before you fly. And make sure they are the same size as the visa requirements, which is 4×5 cm.
- Apply for the pre-approval letter at least four working days before actual date of travel. I applied for our pre-approval visa on July 18, Wednesday, and the agency said I would receive the letter on July 20, Friday, at 6:00 P.M. There was no pre-approval letter on that date and time so I sent them a message through their website. I received the pre-approval letter at 11:43 P.M. on July 20. So, give yourself time between the day you apply for the pre-approval letter and your departure date. Don’t apply for the pre-approval letter on the last minute.
- On-arrival visas are only allowed when you arrive in Vietnam by plane at either of these airports: Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, Than Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Cam Rah airport in Nha Thrang, and Da Nang airport in Da Nang city. This means that if you arrive by bus or by boat, you will have to go through another process to get a Vietnam visa. You have to either stay only within the allotted 21 days, exit Vietnam before the expiration of the 21 days and enter Vietnam again, or apply for an extension of your visa.
We used http://visa-vietnam.org to process our pre-approval letter because they were clear in their instructions when I chatted with them using their customer support services and they charged only $8.00 for the processing fee. Some agencies charged $11, and some as high as $18. I believe the pre-approval letter is free because if you are in Manila, you can get a pre-approval letter at Vietnam’s embassy in Malate.
We arrived at the Noi Bai airport in Hanoi at 12:45 A.M., Hanoi time (delayed from our expected 12:05 A.M. time of arrival). After deplaning, we just followed the signs to immigration, and across the immigration cubicles, there was the visa processing office. You need to sign up the Form NA1. Our agency already sent us the form and we already filled it our before flying. We were one of the first passengers to submit the form but, unfortunately, we were one of the last to be called for payment and processing.
When lining up for the visa payment, you need to be patient because there is no number system. A PA system will call out your name and a screen in front of the visa processing office will flash both your name and your picture. Maybe because it was late and we had a driver waiting for us, so we were kinda itching to have our visas approved immediately. We spent a total of 1:15 in the visa processing procedure and another 15 minutes at the immigration (because the immigration officer decided to receive a call from probably his wife or girlfriend and order his dinner from another immigration officer). When in Vietnam, you have to be patient.