In a move that is welcomed by Vietnam’s tourism industry, the Vietnamese government has decide to extend visa-free travel to the citizens of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom for the next three-years. Visitors from these countries have enjoyed visa exemptions since July 2015 and are allowed to stay in the country 15-days for each entry.
During a government meeting in early May, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed to continue ease visa regulations for the citizens of these five countries, based upon the recommendations of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and other government agencies.
Since its initial implementation in 2015, the government has had to reconsider the visa waivers annually. Travel industry officials have gone on record to state that one-year extensions cause uncertainty in the market and that a multi-year system will encourage more travelers to visit Vietnam.
While recognizing the potential benefits to the travel industry by increased periods of stay, the prime minister decided not to increase the allowable stay per entry from 15 to 30-days, at this time. The prime minister also decided not to add more countries to the visa-free list at this time, as suggested by the tourism ministry.
Mai Tien Dung, Minister and Chairman of the Government Office said that Prime Minister Phuc believes that relevant ministries and agencies still need to evaluate the effectiveness of the new three-year visa waiver system that will be applied to the five countries before making any additional changes.
According to Minister Dung, Vietnam’s government policies during the last several years have been successful and important elements to the country’s growth in international arrivals. "This reform is aimed at bringing convenience to tourists, helping us have a great tourist number," said the minister.
In 2015 720,000 visitors from Western Europe visited Vietnam. Since visa-free policies were enacted, visitors from Western Europe have grown by more than 200% and more than 1.5 million people from these countries visited Vietnam last year.
While Vietnam’s policies have become “friendlier”, the country’s visa policies still lag behind other countries in the region, making the country less attractive that other countries in the region.
According to a report by the World Economic Forum in 2017, Vietnam ranked 116 out of 136 countries in terms of its visa requirements. Vietnam currently exempts visas for only 24 countries, one of the lowest numbers among Southeast Asian countries and normally allows travelers to stay in the country for only 15 days.
In comparison, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore apply visa-free policies to more than 160 countries and that tourists are normally allowed to stay visa-free for 30 days and most of these countries allow for visa extension without requiring visitors to leave the country.
Officials in the government are also debating whether Vietnam’s visa-waivers should only be implemented with countries that also provide Vietnamese citizens with visa-waivers to their countries.
According to the Vietnam Tourism Advisory Council (VTAC), Vietnam should not insist on reciprocity when it comes to visa exemption since the country can still gains economic benefits from travelers from non-exempt countries.
VTAC noted that although 160 countries enjoy visa-free travel to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, those countries do not have visa-free travel to those same counties. In the case of Indonesia, the country has visa exemptions from only 57 countries, while the Philippines has visa exemptions from only 61 counties.
VTAC’s position is that Vietnam could benefit significantly by expanding visa exemptions to a number of Western countries. It recommends that the government allow visa-free travel to citizens of Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland even if these countries do not relax visa regulations for Vietnamese. By doing so, the number of visitors to Vietnam would increase by 10% and tourism revenue would grow by more $100 million USD.