I, a US citizen, am planning a trip to Vietnam for an academic conference to which I've been invited. The conference web page suggests getting a tourist visa and points to two websites which allow one to purchase a tourist visa (more precisely a visa-on-arrival). However, the US State Department says that Vietnamese officials require foreign visitors to engage in only the type of activity that their visa is appropriate for.

Note that Vietnamese immigration regulations require foreigners entering Vietnam to undertake only the activity for which their visas were issued.

This implies that I won't be allowed to attend the conference on a tourist visa; I would need a business visa. Is this correct?

If not, can anyone point me to more authoritative information (i.e. directly from the Vietnamese government) stating that it's okay to attend a conference on a tourist visa?

If it matters, I'm currently working in China, not in the US.

3 Answers 3


Visa policies for Vietnam are confusing. Many tourists get the VOA – the process is described here. However, some Vietnamese embassy websites state that the VOA is not legitimate and even tourists should apply for visas directly from the relevant embassy. (See for example the embassies in Britain and Australia.)

The reason the embassies do this is simple – the more visas they process directly, the more revenue they get. The fact that VOAs were instituted to make the visa process easier and increase tourist numbers as part of general government policy doesn’t seem to faze them.

Generally, academics going to conferences in Vietnam use VOAs without problems. However, a recent case discussed on the Vietnam Scholar Group email discussion board shows that there is a certain risk involved.

VSG discussion

In this case, an academic from Australia presenting at a conference was not allowed to board his flight from Manila to Hanoi, even though he had the letter that would allow him to get a VOA. The airline pointed to an embassy directive like the ones you find on their websites. He had used VOAs several times before without problems. It may be that Manila is not a common entry point for westerners going to Vietnam, so the airline wasn’t used to dealing with VOA letters. If you are coming from China, this might be a concern.

On the business visa question, it seems that to get this sort of visa, the sponsoring agency must provide you with an “entry clearance” letter contain your passport info etc – an invitation letter isn’t enough. The organizers of your conference might go to the trouble of doing this for you if you asked them. Alternatively, you might want to consult the relevant embassy directly and see if a tourist visa is an option – I doubt anyone will bother you about it once you are in the country.

  • Good information, thanks :-) As a matter of fact, the VSG discussion links to this page from the Vietnamese embassy in Washington which gives precisely the kind of warning you mentioned.
    – David Z
    Apr 14, 2015 at 5:13
  • You're right - I'll delete the part about the Washington embassy not having the warning then!
    – neubau
    Apr 14, 2015 at 13:54

Conferences fall into a gray area, while they are technically business related, they are more about exchanging ideas and education rather than making business deals. As such, there is no etched in stone policy and each county treats them differently. As the conference organizers in Vietnam are suggesting a tourist visa, it would seem that the government does not view this conference as 'conducting business in Vietnam'.

  • Just because conference organizers are suggesting such a thing does mean it is either legal (seems like a grey area, given some of the other responses) or endorsed by the government.
    – tubedogg
    Apr 12, 2016 at 21:34

As a complement to the other answers, I can offer my personal experience that I made it in and out of the country (and the conference) without any trouble, using a visa-on-arrival letter.

Of course, this is not authoritative information, just anecdotal.

  • Did you make it "in and out of the country without any trouble" using a VOA or an embassy/consulate visa?
    – phoog
    Apr 12, 2016 at 13:58
  • 1
    @phoog Good point, it was a VOA. I'll add that.
    – David Z
    Apr 12, 2016 at 14:04

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