The Vietnam government is about to put an end to the tiresome tourism visa process it uses to offer via numerous and partly unreliable visa-on-arrival application web-sites and will launch a central e-visa system through a new official tourism website on www.vietnamtourism.vn.
Presently, tourists requiring a visa for Vietnam can either get it at a Vietnamese embassy or – if eligible – apply for a visa-on-arrival through numerous independent websites for a fee, which is actually a big e-commerce business for both the Internet companies and Vietnamese immigration. By using such a website, after the application gets formally approved the potential tourist would get an email with an official-looking visitor list (“letter of invitation”) with their name on it which has to be printed out and presented at immigration where the actual visa-on-arrival is finally processed.
Apart from the longer waiting times and additional paper work, this has the disadvantage that another “stamping fee” is being collected and many people don’t have passport-style photos ready because they haven’t been told they need them. Therefore, immigration officers are happy to make visa aphotos instantly – for another fee of course.
This seems to become a thing of the past by next year: Vietnam will start a pilot run for granting electronic visas for foreign tourists in 2017 and 2018, announced the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism at a press conference in Hanoi on November 4.
Accordingly, procedures for applying, payment and visa issuing will be done online. It will take three days to process application for an e-visa valid for 30 days. The visa will does not require letters of guarantee or invitation anymore. Payment of visa fees will be made via bank transfer to guarantee transparency and convenience for tourists, as well as in order to minimise the above mentioned intermediate costs.
The simplification of the visa process naturally aims at attracting more visitors to the country which expects 9.7 million international arrivals in 2016, projected to bring in estimated revenue of $10.35 billion, up some 19 per cent over the previous year. This is ten per cent of the gross domestic product from a sector that employs more than three million people.
However, tourism industry representatives say they would rather see more visa waivers for Western countries from where they expect wealthier tourists to come from.
Vietnam has only recently extended visa waivers for tourists from the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain for trips of up to 15 days. As a result, the number of Western European tourists has increased between 13 percent and 30 percent, said the tourism administration, adding that it is looking to expand the country’s visa exemption to include more of the top tourism markets, e.g. the whole European Union, Australia and New Zealand, the US and Gulf states.
Vietnam currently has visa waivers for 58 countries which is a low number compared with its neighbours. The country provides a reciprocal visa exemption for citizens of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and has also waived visa requirements for visitors from the four Scandinavian countries, as well as Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, CIS states, Japan and South Korea.
China, Hong Kong and South Korea continue to be the country’s top international tourist markets.