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To E-Visa or Not to E-Visa

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That is quickly becoming a very common question.  The world has never been more accessible with cheap airfares, multiple flights daily and new routes being added all the time.  However, for many destinations, there is still a bit of red tape to get through before you are allowed access to a country.  For some places, the traditional visa, where you send your passport away and get a proper sticker is still a requirement (think Russia or China).  For others, the “electronic travel authorization” has become the norm (for the USA or Canada).  Then there are the countries where you can choose one or the other.  The question is “what should I do?”

As an agent, we have always been taught by the officiating bodies that it is BEST for clients to pre-arrange their visas before leaving New Zealand.  In theory, this is true.  Having a visa sorted and ready to go means less hassle at the border, faster entry to a country and overall peace of mind that you will be allowed in.  However, it can be more expensive in consulate and courier fees, plus it takes more time, requires you to get passport photos taken and usually requests more hard copies of supporting documentation. 

Upon preparing for my recent trip to Vietnam, I struggled with the idea of spending 3 times more to get a hard copy visa than an e-visa.  ($40NZD vs $120NZD).  I also hate sending my passport away and whenever possible I try to avoid it.  Plus I actually didn’t have the time to go get my passport photo taken at the local pharmacy.

So, for the first time ever and against the advice of most of visa specialists and embassies, I organized my e-visa online for Vietnam.  It was incredibly simple and much easier than traditional visa applications I had assisted with previously for Vietnam.  I had my colleague take a photo of me against a white wall on my iPhone.  I then scanned my passport and cropped the bio page until it fit the PDF requirements.  After uploading these images, I filled out the questions, reviewed the page and = paid using my Visa credit card.  I immediately received an email stating I would be contacted within 3 days to say whether my application was successful.  24 hours later I had the confirmation!

It all sounds very simple but there are some things to consider.  First of all, the e-visa site was down for 2 days before I could finally gain access.  A seemingly defunct or broken website did NOT instill a lot of confidence!  Secondly, while I have the e-visa approval, I will have to wait in a line when I arrive to Ho Chi Minh City in a special e-visa queue.  This queue could be 20 minutes long or 90 minutes long!  It all depends on the day.  Finally, Vietnam is a communist country and could simply decide one day that e-visas are no longer accepted.  If that happened right before I was meant to depart or while in transit I’d be a bit stuck!

It remains to be seen if this e-visa option will be worth the savings.  If upon arrival to Vietnam I end up waiting for hours to get into the country, I can already say that I will regret it.  However, if I do breeze through, it may just be my new recommendation to clients and fellow travelers.  Watch this space for an update at the end of September when I return!

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