Vietnam travel guide: what you need to do


Visas, vaccinations, phone, internet, power adaptors, money, travel insurance, handy apps and more.

Vietnam planning and preparation


Where to get the best cash rates, phone rates, phone apps for maps and currency conversions, and why you should blame sharks when the internet cuts - download the Vietnam travel guide.

Visas and passports

Australian passport holders need a visa to enter Vietnam. Visitor visas are available for 30 or 90 days. You can apply by post or in person at the embassy in Canberra or at the consulate in Sydney.

You'll need:

  • your passport, with at least one empty page and at least one month's validity after the expiry of the visa (although six months is recommended as some airlines may refuse to fly you with less)
  • a passport-sized photo
  • a completed application form (if applying by post)
  • a self-addressed return envelope (if applying by post)
  • the visa fee (money order or cheque if applying by post).

For the visa application form, fees, embassy/consulate addresses and full instructions, go to vietnamembassy.org.au/Consular.

According to the embassy, the processing time is three working days from the date the application is received, or you can pay extra for a same-day express service. It's recommended you organise your visa well ahead of time, though, in case you encounter any problems.

Tip: Never post your passport by standard mail. Use registered mail or a courier service.

Scam alert: The Vietnamese Embassy has a list of illegitmate websites offering to organise Vietnamese visas for a fee, or offering 'visa on arrival' approval letters. 

Visa on arrival

It's possible to get a visa on arrival at Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi or Da Nang airports if you have the appropriate 'letter of approval' from the Vietnamese Immigration Department. This can be organised through a trusted travel agent, but beware of scam agencies and websites selling fake letters.

Vaccinations

Recommended vaccinations depend on your health status, which part of Vietnam you're travelling to, and how long you plan to stay. The Travel Doctor recommends you make sure your standard vaccinations are up to date, and consider shots for rabies, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid and hepatitis A and B, as well as a malaria prophylactic. See their Vietnam travel health planner for advice, and speak to your doctor.

Tip: Some vaccinations need to be given four to six weeks before departure, so get in early.

More about health and safety in Vietnam.

Phone and internet

Global roaming and coverage

You should be able to get phone and 3G coverage in most areas of Vietnam using your Australian mobile phone, but keep in mind that if you use your phone more than very occasionally, you're likely to be stuck with a huge bill when you get home.

Check with your telco for their global roaming prices and to find out what steps you can take to avoid bill shock overseas.

Tip: Switch off data roaming on your phone before you leave Australia. Likewise, switch off your voicemail and ask friends and family to text you rather than calling (you'll be charged if you answer incoming calls).

Local SIM

Using a Vietnamese pre-paid SIM card will get you local phone and data rates while you're in the country, and it's easy to set up as long as your phone is unlocked. Technically, all Vietnamese SIMs should be registered using a passport or ID, but you can buy pre-registered SIMs almost anywhere. Look for the sign 'Bán SIM – Thẻ' ('Selling SIM card – mobile') at kiosks, phone shops and at the airport, choose what kind of SIM you need (look at the amount of credit, the type of credit – phone calls/data, and the expiry date) and ask the shopkeeper to set it up on your phone for you. If you need more credit, buy a recharge card from any shop with the 'Bán SIM' sign.

MobiFone, Vinaphone and Viettel are the three main GSM phone companies in Vietnam, and they should all be compatible with Australian handsets.

Travel SIM

If you like to be organised before you go, pre-paid travel SIMs are available from some travel agents, travel shops, post offices and online. They're particularly good if you're planning on visiting a number of countries and you want to keep the same number. Rates are unlikely to be as cheap as on a local SIM.

Remember: Your phone will need to be unlocked to accept a SIM from another network.

Beat global roaming bill shock – our guide to unlocking your phone and changing your global roaming settings.

Wi-Fi

Plenty of cafes and hotels offer free Wi-Fi in the cities and tourist areas. Hotspots include KFC, Lotteria, Jollibee, Pizza Hut and Gloria Jean's, as well as local businesses. Wi-Fi will usually be locked, but if you're a customer just ask staff for the password. Internet speeds and service can be patchy in some places, and at times the entire country experiences drop outs (which can happen when sharks chew on the undersea cable providing internet to Vietnam!).

Check wificafespots.com for maps showing free Wi-Fi hotspots in Vietnamese towns and cities, or download an app such as wefi (Android or PC) or Wi-Fi Finder (Apple or Android).

Tip: The Vietnamese government monitors online activity and restricts access to pornographic and political content as well as to social media sites, including Facebook. Here's a trick for getting onto Facebook. We don't recommend you try to scale the firewall to access any more serious censored sites, though.

Power plugs

Voltage: 127V / 220V

Frequency: 50Hz

Vietnam uses the same frequency as Australia, but voltage varies from place to place and may not be compatible with Australian appliances (our electricity runs at 230V). Check your appliances – they should have the voltage range printed on them. Phone chargers and laptops are generally designed to withstand variable voltage. If an appliance isn't compatible with Vietnam's voltage, don't take the risk – it could be destroyed, and you could be injured. Either take a transformer/converter with you (they're quite bulky), or buy a Vietnamese version of the appliance.

Power sockets: Type A / C / G

As with voltage, Vietnam's plugs and sockets vary from place to place. None are compatible with Australia's I plugs, so you'll need a universal adaptor.

Money

Currency: Dong (VND)

Check xe.com for the latest exchange rates.

Important: Tell your bank about your travel plans two weeks before you leave. Card activity in a foreign country could be mistaken for fraud and you could find your account frozen.

Credit cards and ATMs

Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and pricier restaurants and shops (expect a 3–4% surcharge). Everywhere else, cash is still king.

ATMs are easy to find in cities and towns, but often the maximum amount dispensed from local banks is quite low. ANZ and HSBC will allow you to withdraw higher amounts, saving you from paying multiple withdrawal fees. Tripadvisor users warn that some banks charge foreign cards particularly high rates, with only the generic warning: "There will be fees". They recommend avoiding Techcombank and Vietinbank and using SCB or Vietcombank instead. Fees may change though, so ask other travellers about their experiences once you're in Vietnam.

Tips:

  • ANZ customers pay no withdrawal fees when they use ANZ ATMs in Vietnam (see their list of locations).
  • Commonwealth Bank has a number of branches and ATMs in Ho Chi Minh City. Australian customers pay a $2 withdrawal fee (the fee is $5 at other ATMs).

Money changers

You'll have no trouble finding exchange outlets in tourist areas and cities. Most banks, including the government-run Vietcombank, can also exchange your Australian dollars for Vietnamese dong. Avoid changing too much money at the airport as you're unlikely to get a very good exchange rate.

Tip: Don't change money anywhere that doesn't look official (for example, in souvenir or jewellery shops). Black market money exchange is illegal and you could be ripped off.

Travellers' cheques are becoming a thing of the past and you'll have trouble finding many places to cash them outside of the big cities and tourist centres. If you're concerned about money security, you could consider a pre-loaded travel money card.

Tip: Carry at least two credit/debit cards and more than one currency (Australian, US, and the currency of your destination). Split your money and cards between separate bags. That way if you lose one, you have a back-up.

For more advice, see our travel money guide.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is essential – don't leave it until the last minute. Buy insurance at the same time as you book your trip, that way you'll be covered if you have to cancel for some reason before you go.

For more information read our buying guide and to choose the best cover, see CHOICE's travel insurance reviews and comparisons.

Common exclusions:

  • Most travel insurance policies won't pay out if you make a claim for something that happened while you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Standard travel insurance policies are unlikely to cover you for motorbike or scooter accidents – and that includes if you're a passenger on the back of a motorcycle taxi. Check with your insurer.

Tips:

  • Keep a printout of your travel insurance details with you at all times while on your trip. Some hospitals may refuse to treat you if you can't pay up-front or show proof that you're insured.
  • Share your insurance details with family or friends before you leave.

Handy links and apps

Consider adding these links and apps to your phone, tablet or laptop before you go.

Tip: If possible, choose apps that work offline so they won't chew up your mobile data or stop working when you're in remote places.

Tip: To save a map onto your mobile device for offline use, select the area on Google Maps then select 'Save offline map' from the menu and follow the directions on the screen. Your GPS positioning will still work on the saved map, even when you don't have access to the internet. Alternatively, go to 'Offline maps' in the menu and select a city.


Got a travel tip about Vietnam? Or spotted something in our guide that needs updating? Please add a comment below.


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