I’m a Canadian living in South Korea. I recently needed to go to Vietnam and need a visa to enter the country. Unlike Koreans, Canadians need to apply for a visa when they go to Vietnam. Two years, I had to go to the embassy in Seoul in person to apply for a visa. It was a rather lengthy process, so I decided to check out the embassy’s website first.
Going through Google, the first non-ad website was this.
Curiously enough, my wife couldn’t find this site easily through the Korean search engine, Naver. Even more curious was this little detail on the bottom of the website.
A Yahoo! mail for a government website? That’s pretty weird. Even weirder was the fact that it was left unfinished. It could either be @yahoo.com or @yahoo.co.kr.
Anyway, I clicked on their visa application link and it sent me to another website.
This was visaonlinevietnam.com. It was obviously an e-commerce site, but they say that they are legally able to process visas for people online. They were offering to do it for a much, MUCH cheaper price than the other Korean rush visa companies my wife was looking at, so we just assumed they were contracted by the Vietnamese government to handle these applications to cut off all the other shady businesses who charge exorbitant prices.
I applied, got an e-mail telling me that they will send me an approval letter I could present at the airport in Vietnam. Then the agent there will give me a visa. Excellent.
Then I got curious.
I looked up Vietnamese visas online and came across multiple videos saying something about Visa on Arrival (which I applied for) and E-visas, which they say is faster. One video has a link to an E-visa application site.
This site is a “gov.vn” site, so it’s not local to Korea and not from the embassy in Seoul. It is from the Vietnam Immigration Department!
The link for their E-visa application requires a photo and a copy of the applicant’s passport.
For my application, I wasn’t asked for a copy of my passport until I got an email the same day, telling me that my application would need it to expedite the process. Weird. Also, my application didn’t require a photo, but my wife advised me to bring a photo in the country anyway just in case it’s needed.
But why did I have to go through Youtube to find that site? Why wasn’t that site linked directly from the first website I went through? Why even make arrangements with an e-commerce site when you have a fully functioning process already there?
So I sent an e-mail to that yahoo.co address (from the first website) with several variations to make up for a possible typo. Then I get this response.
So they got rid of the free yahoo address and replaced it with a free gmail account! What is going on?! Even I pay for my domain name and unique e-mail address! This was starting to really worry me. So I clicked on the link for the website on the e-mail I received. And again, this was a link for the response from the e-mail address on the FIRST website I went to.
This is a totally different Korean embassy website! That’s two embassy websites now! And this one I couldn’t find from Google when I looked! So I looked around for an E-visa application page.
This is the third form now, the second from the government. I don’t know whether it’s Visa on Arrival or E-visa, but at this point, I’m terribly confused. Where was this website? Why did I have to go through hoops to find it? So I looked down on the website’s details and here’s what I found.
That website listed, http://www.vietnamembassy-seoul.org/en, is the first website I went to! Seriously! What is going on?!
Also note that for about three hours, I was calling the Vietnamese embassy in Seoul and no one was answering, both when I wanted the Korean or the English options for visa assistance. I sent an e-mail message to the new g-mail account, but have yet to receive a response. I doubt if they would get back to me very fast.
As for the first website I went to. They were very prompt when I asked for reassurance a couple of days ago and they said I will receive my letter of approval via e-mail this afternoon. I am just waiting on that. Hopefully I won’t hit another roadblock or find out that it was all an elaborate scam. I really don’t want to use the “s” word but this experience has not been very comforting. The Vietnamese embassy in Seoul (I don’t know about other countries) really needs to tighten up their website. At least get a proper domain and e-mail addresses. But more importantly, pay for some search engine optimization to help people figure out where to actually go.
Here’s hoping that in a couple of days, I will be on a beach in Vietnam, not arguing with people in Seoul.
I got my letter of visa approval promptly in my inbox. It was accompanied by a visa application as well. Confused? Well, I’m supposed to fill out the application form and the visa approval letter will make stamping it automatic. Well, after paying the stamping fee, of course. Going to Vietnam, I’m supposed to bring a filled out form, the visa approval letter, a couple of pics, and cash handy. I’m also advised to pay for express visa processing once I land in Vietnam to save me from waiting in long lines. Interestingly, the visa approval letter I received included not just my name but several other people’s names, schedules, and passport numbers. I guess these companies make applications in batches, that’s why my name is in a document with eleven other people.
The country has given rights to several third party companies to process visas for them. This has led to a variety of prices in processing fees and a myriad of confusing, amateur-looking websites. For a communist country, the visa application process seems quite capitalist.