ProTip: Visas are necessary to enter many countries
Mr. X and I were about 2.5 weeks into our 4 week long trip through Southeast Asia when we checked out of our AirBnb in Penang, Malaysia at 4am and took a Grab car to the airport. We were booked on a 7am flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and were immediately going to get on a train to Da Nang for our next 4 night AirBnb stay. We arrived bleary-eyed to the airport, went to check in for the flight, and were smacked in the face with our own American privilege.
It turns out, as an American, you need a visa to enter Vietnam. *facepalm*
Through all my travels, I have never needed a visa to go anywhere! Mr. X has traveled extensively, and has obtained many visas in the past. But they were always arranged well before the trip, using a travel agent or with his brother, his frequent travel companion. It wasn’t even something I considered. The gate agent very nicely explained to us that you do, in fact need a visa to Vietnam, we could not just go and deal with it when we got there, and that our reservations were going to be forfeited.
What did we do? Find a corner of the airport floor, pull out our laptops, and start frantically googling.
If You Find Yourself Without A Visa, Here are Some Fast Facts
- Many countries allow visas upon arrival, but you have to organize it prior and have documentation
- Some countries will require you to provide vaccination documentation
- You may need high quality photos of your passport and possibly copies of your passport picture
- You may need cash (US) to pay fees
- Here is a list from Wikipedia on every country and its visa requirements for US Citizens
- Use the country’s embassy website to find out the recommended process for obtaining a visa
- There are many third party companies that want to help you obtain a visa, some of them are less savory than others.
- Google the name of the company and search for it on Trip Advisor
Here’s How We Got Visas into Vietnam
If you are wondering whether we were able to make our flight by talking our way onto the plane and doing some amazing Google magic… the answer is a giant No.
We lost the flight as well as our accommodations in Vietnam because of how long it would take us to submit the visa requirements (there’s a lesson there about booking far in advance, but I’ll touch on that later).
The first step we took was to decide on whether we wanted to stay in Penang and try and get our same AirBnb or go to another place entirely while we sorted out how to get to Vietnam. It was necessary for us to eventually end up in Vietnam as our flight back to the States was booked out of SGN. We decided on purchasing a 9am flight to Phuket, Thailand on a whim. I’d always wanted to see Thailand and Mr. X had never been to Phuket, so we leaned into our true digital nomad backpacking selves and decided on an entirely new destination with very limited research.
The next step was to start the visa process since it turns out it is far more complex than anticipated. We used a company called Vietnam Visa Pro and it cost $22 (we splurged for the urgent 1 day pricing). The service worked perfectly for us, but others may have a different experience.
Start the process early! Ours took far longer than expected because you have to get photos done and find a printer. We put in all our information and received an email from the company with payment options. We paid and declined the add-on services like “fast-track” or getting met at the airport. My extensive googling told me that those services weren’t worth it.
Pay for the bare minimum. You don’t need the rest. We received payment confirmation 30 min later and the following steps.
We were able to find a local Kodak shop in Thailand to get our pictures done the same day and the AirBnb hosts helped us print out the forms. Once we eventually arrived in Vietnam, we followed the signs in the airport and joined in the lines of other confused Americans. We flew into Ho Chi Minh and saw they did have a visa upon arrival process and even offered the passport photos to be taken right there. We couldn’t figure out how much it cost, and we went rapidly through the process since we had all our documents in line.
Use your resources to learn how to navigate the visa process
Keep in mind, most people don’t have access to a printer when they are traveling, nor do they have extra passport photos with them. So that will add an extra challenge. If you are staying in a hotel they will probably print your forms and tell you where to get photos taken. If you’re staying at an AirBnb, your host may be able to help you figure it out. Travel blogs, Reddit, and TripAdvisor are great resources to find out more about the process for a specific country or to check the validity of third-party companies.
Good luck! And remember to check if you need a visa for any country you may visit before you leave on your trip.