Vietnam Travel Information
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Vietnam is a developing, mainly agrarian country in the process of moving from a centrally planned to a market economy. Political control rests in the Communist Party. Tourist facilities can be basic in rural areas, but are increasingly well established in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and some beach and mountain resorts. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Vietnam for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport and Vietnamese visa or visa exemption document are required. A visa or visa exemption document must be obtained from a Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate prior to traveling to Vietnam; entry visas are not available upon arrival. Americans arriving without an appropriate Vietnamese visa or exemption document will not be permitted to enter, and will be subject to immediate deportation. Vietnamese visas are usually valid for only one entry. Persons planning to leave Vietnam and re-enter from another country should be sure to obtain a visa allowing multiple entries.
Even while in possession of a valid visa, some travelers have been refused entry to Vietnam. U.S. citizens are cautioned that Vietnamese immigration regulations require foreigners entering Vietnam to undertake only the activity for which their visas were issued. A change in the purpose of your visit requires permission in advance from the appropriate Vietnamese authority. U.S. citizens whose stated purpose of travel was tourism, but who engaged in religious proselytizing have had religious materials confiscated and have been expelled from Vietnam. An American whose U.S. passport is lost or stolen in Vietnam must obtain both a replacement passport and a replacement Vietnamese visa. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate General can issue limited validity emergency replacement passports in as little as one day, but the Vietnamese government requires three working days, not to include the day of application, to issue a replacement visa. Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Consulate General can expedite replacement Vietnamese visas.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Official U.S. personnel and tourists are sometimes not authorized to travel to the Central Highland areas without prior consent from the Government of Vietnam. These travel limitations may hinder the ability of the U.S. Government to provide assistance to private U.S. citizens in those areas.
U.S. citizens have been detained after traveling in areas close to the Vietnamese borders with China, Cambodia and Laos. These areas are not always marked, and there are no warnings about prohibited travel. Travelers should avoid such areas unless written permission is obtained in advance from local authorities.
Large gatherings, such as those forming at the scene of traffic accidents, can become violent, and should be avoided.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs' web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Country Specific Information, and the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Cities in Vietnam have the crime problems typical of many other large cities throughout the world. Pick-pocketing and other petty crimes occur regularly. Although violent crimes such as armed robbery are still relatively rare in Vietnam, perpetrators have grown increasingly bold, and the U.S. Consulate General has received recent reports of knives and razors being used in attempted robberies in Ho Chi Minh City. Thieves congregate around hotels frequented by foreign tourists and business people, and assaults have been reported in outlying areas. The evolving nature of incidents warrants caution on the part of the U.S. traveler. Travelers are advised not to resist theft attempts, and to report them both to police and to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi or the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.
Motorcyclists are known to snatch bags, cameras and other valuables from pedestrians or passengers riding in "cyclos" (pedicabs) or riding on the back of rented motorcycles. Serious injuries have resulted when thieves snatched purses or bags that were strapped across their victims' bodies, resulting in the victim being dragged along the ground by the thief's motorcycle.
Passengers riding in cyclos (pedicabs) may be especially prone to thefts of personal possessions by snatch-and-grab thieves, because they ride in a semi-reclining position that readily exposes their belongings and does not allow good visibility or movement. As some cyclo drivers have reportedly kidnapped passengers and extorted money, it may be risky to hire cyclos not associated with reputable hotels or restaurants.
Travelers are strongly advised to keep passports and other important valuables in hotel safes or other secure locations. Travelers are advised to carry a photocopy of their passport with them when going out. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate General. U.S. citizens must obtain a police report from the local police office in order to apply for a replacement passport and a Vietnamese exit visa.
There have been occasional reports of incidents in which an unknown substance was used to taint drinks, leaving the victim susceptible to further criminal acts. Travelers are advised to avoid leaving drinks or food unattended and to avoid going to unfamiliar venues alone. Travelers should also avoid purchasing liquor from street vendors, as the quality of the contents cannot be assured.
Recreational drugs available in Vietnam can be extremely potent, and more than one American has died of an accidental overdose of drugs. Penalties for possession of drugs of any kind are severe (please refer to the Criminal Penalties section below).
Some U.S. citizens have reported threats of death or physical injury related to personal business disputes. The U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Consulate General do not provide personal protection services. U.S. citizens who do not have confidence in the ability of the local police to protect them may wish to depart the country expeditiously.
U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad , for ways to promote a trouble-free journey.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines. More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. In Hanoi, the American Citizen Services (ACS) is located at Rose Garden Tower, #170 Ngoc Khanh, Hanoi. Telephone number is (84-4) 831-4590 Monday thru Friday and (84-4) 850-5000 Main Embassy Fax; 850-5010, after business hours and weekends. In Ho Chi Minh City, ACS+ is located at U.S. Consular Section, 4 Le Duan St., Dist. 1, Ho Chi Minh City, telephone (84-8) 822-9433. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Medical facilities in Vietnam do not meet international standards and frequently lack medicines and supplies. Medical personnel in Vietnam, particularly outside Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, may speak little or no English. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services. International health clinics in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City can provide acceptable care for minor illnesses and injuries, but more serious problems will often require medical evacuation to Bangkok or Singapore. Although many medications can be purchased at pharmacies without having a prescription, many common U.S. medications are not available in Vietnam. Travelers should bring adequate supplies of their medications for their duration of their stay in Vietnam. Travelers may obtain lists of local English-speaking physicians from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi or the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City. Travelers are reminded that neither office may recommend specific medical practitioners or hospitals. Emergency medical response services are generally unresponsive, unreliable, or completely unavailable.
Travelers should be cautious about drinking non-bottled water and about using ice cubes in drinks. Travelers may wish to drink only bottled or canned beverages, or beverages that have been boiled (such as hot tea and coffee).
Travelers to Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries affected by avian influenza are cautioned to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. See more information about Avian Flu.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Vietnam. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB and other CDC resources at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx and http://www.cdc.gov/tb/default.htm
Information on vaccinations (such as those for hepatitis, rabies, and Japanese encephalitis) and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Vietnam is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic in Vietnam is chaotic. Traffic accidents, mostly involving motorcycles and often resulting in traumatic head injury, are an increasingly serious hazard. At least 30 people die each day from transportation-related injuries. Traffic accident injuries are the leading cause of death, severe injury, and emergency evacuation of foreigners in Vietnam. Traffic accidents are the single greatest health risk U.S. citizens will face in Vietnam.
Traffic moves on the right, although drivers frequently cross to the left to pass or turn, and motorcycles and bicycles often travel (illegally) against the flow of traffic. Horns are used constantly, often for no apparent reason. Streets in major cities are choked with motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians and cyclos. Outside the cities, livestock compete with vehicles for road space. Sudden stops by motorcycles and bicycles make driving a particular hazard. Nationwide, drivers do not follow basic traffic principles, vehicles do not yield right of way, and there is little adherence to traffic laws or enforcement by traffic police. The number of traffic lights in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City is increasing, but red lights are often not obeyed. Most Vietnamese ride motorcycles; often an entire family rides on one motorcycle.
Road conditions are poor nationwide. Numerous tragic accidents have occurred due to poor road conditions that resulted in landslides, and American travelers have lost their lives in this way. Travelers should exercise extra caution in the countryside, as road conditions are particularly poor in rural areas.
Driving at night is especially dangerous and drivers should exercise extreme caution. Roads are poorly lit, and there are few road signs. Buses and trucks often travel at high speed with bright lights that are rarely dimmed. Some motor vehicles may not use lights at all, vehicles of all types often stop in the road without any illumination, and livestock are likely to be encountered.
Motorcyclists and bicyclists are strongly urged to wear helmets. Passengers in cars or taxis should use seatbelts when available, but should be aware that Vietnamese vehicles often are not equipped with working seatbelts. A law mandating the use of motorcycle helmets on all roads went into effect on December 15, 2007, and is strictly enforced Child car seats are not available in Vietnam.
Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or causing an accident resulting in injury or death can include fines, confiscation of driving permits or imprisonment. U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Vietnam before paying compensation (often determined arbitrarily) for property damage or injuries.
Emergency roadside help is theoretically available nationwide by dialing 113 for police, 114 for fire brigade and 115 for an ambulance. Efficiency of these services is well below U.S. standards, however, and locating a public telephone is often difficult or impossible. Trauma care is not widely available.
The urban speed limit ranges from 30 to 40 km/h. The rural speed limit ranges from 40 to 60 km/h. Both speed limits are routinely ignored. Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks are extremely congested and uneven, and drivers of bicycles, motorcycles and other vehicles routinely ignore traffic signals and traffic flows, and even drive on sidewalks. For safety, pedestrians should look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green "walk" light illuminated.
International driving permits and U.S. drivers' licenses are not valid in Vietnam. Foreigners renting vehicles risk prosecution and/or imprisonment for driving without a Vietnamese license endorsed for the appropriate vehicle. Americans who wish to drive in Vietnam should contact any office of the Provincial Public Transportation Service of the Vietnamese Department of Communications and Transport to obtain a Vietnamese driver's license. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City cannot assist U.S. citizens in obtaining Vietnamese driver's permits or notarize U.S. drivers' licenses for use in Vietnam.
Most Vietnamese travel within Vietnam by long-distance bus or train. Both are slow, and safety conditions do not approach U.S. standards. Local buses and taxis are available in some areas, particularly in the larger cities. Safety standards vary widely depending on the individual company operating the service, but are generally much lower than what would be found in the U.S.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Vietnam, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Government of Vietnam's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Hotels in Vietnam require that foreigners present their passports (and visas, if issued separately) upon check-in so that their stay can be registered with local police. Therefore, Americans should be sure to carry these documents with them when changing lodging.
Foreign currency (including cash and travelers' checks) in excess of US$7,000, cash exceeding Vietnamese Dong (VND) 15,000,000, and gold exceeding 300 grams must be declared at customs upon arrival and departure. There is no limitation on either the export or import of U.S. dollars or other foreign currency by U.S. citizens, provided that all currency in excess of US$7,000 (or its equivalent in other foreign currencies) or in excess of VND 15,000,000 in cash is declared upon arrival and departure, and supported by appropriate documentation. If excess cash is not declared, it can be confiscated at the port of entry/exit and the passenger may be arrested and/or fined.
Vietnamese law prohibits the export of antiques, but the laws on the subject are vague and unevenly enforced. Antique objects are subject to inspection and seizure by customs authorities with no compensation made to owners/travelers. The determination of what is an "antique" can be arbitrary. Purchasers of non-antique items of value should retain receipts and confirmation from shop owners and/or the Ministry of Culture and the Customs Department to prevent seizure upon departure.
Vietnamese government authorities have seized documents, audio and video tapes, compact discs, literature, and personal letters they deem to be pornographic or political in nature, or intended for religious or political proselytizing. The authorities are also increasingly detaining and expelling individuals believed to be engaged in such activities. Individuals arriving at airports with videotapes or materials considered to be pornographic have been detained and heavily fined (up to U.S. $2,000 for one videotape). It is illegal to import weapons, ammunition, explosives, military equipment and tools, narcotics, drugs, toxic chemicals, pornographic and subversive materials, firecrackers, children's toys that have "negative effects on personality development, social order and security," or cigarettes in excess of the stipulated allowance.
Vietnamese security personnel may place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephone conversations, fax transmissions, and e-mail communications may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Foreign visitors to Vietnam have been arbitrarily arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered crimes in the United States. Visitors deemed suspicious by Vietnamese security personnel may be detained, along with their Vietnamese contacts, relatives, and friends. Local security officials have called in some U.S. citizens of Vietnamese origin for "discussions" not related to any suspected or alleged violation of law. These meetings normally do not result in any action against the traveler, but are nevertheless intimidating.
Foreign visitors are not permitted to invite Vietnamese nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms, and police may raid hotels without notice or consent. Couples may be asked to present a Marriage Certificate to local authorities in order to stay together in a hotel or family residence.
American citizens have been detained and arrested for involvement in political activities (especially activities that support the development of a multi-party democracy in Vietnam), possession of political material, business activities that have not been licensed by appropriate authorities, or non-sanctioned religious activities (including proselytizing). Sponsors of small, informal religious gatherings such as Bible-study groups in hotel rooms, as well as distributors of religious materials, have been detained, fined and expelled
The Vietnamese government has occasionally seized the passports and blocked the departure of foreigners involved in commercial disputes. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate General may issue a new passport to a U.S. citizen in such a situation, but the Vietnamese exit ban could remain in effect, preventing departure.
Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. Tourists should be cautious when traveling near military bases and avoid photographing in these areas.
Foreigners are generally not allowed to purchase real property in Vietnam. Because Vietnamese laws governing real estate differ substantially from those in the United States, U.S. citizens may wish to consult with competent legal counsel before entering into any transaction. American citizens should exercise extreme caution if entering into any transaction through a third-party.
A 1994 agreement between the United States and Vietnam provides for immediate notification of and reciprocal access within 96 hours to each other's detained citizens. Bearers of U.S. passports, who enter Vietnam with a Vietnamese visa, including those of Vietnamese origin, are regarded as U.S. citizens by the U.S. Government for purposes of notification and access. Therefore, U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry photocopies of passport data and photo pages with them at all times so that, if questioned by Vietnamese officials, proof of U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Despite the 1994 agreement, U.S. consular officers in Vietnam are rarely notified in a timely manner when a U.S. citizen is arrested or detained. There have also generally been very significant delays in U.S. consular officers obtaining access to incarcerated U.S. citizens. This has been particularly true when the U.S. citizen is being held during the investigatory stage that Vietnamese officials do not consider as covered by the bilateral agreement. The investigatory stage can last up to one year, and often proceeds without the formal filing of any charges. Americans should note that the problem of access has been particularly evident when the U.S. citizen is considered by the Vietnamese government to be a citizen of Vietnam, irrespective of proof of U.S. citizenship. According to the 1994 agreement, U.S. citizens, even dual citizens, have the right to consular access if they were admitted into Vietnam as a U.S. citizen with their U.S. passport, and should insist upon contact with the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate General.
Civil procedures in Vietnam, such as marriage, divorce, documenting the birth of a child, and issuance of death certificates, are highly bureaucratic, painstakingly slow, and often require chain authentication. Please contact the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC, or the Vietnamese Consulate General in San Francisco concerning documentary requirements for these services. Please see our information on customs regulations.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Vietnamese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Vietnam are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children's Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Vietnam are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Vietnam. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi is located at 170 Ngoc Khanh, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, telephone: (84-4) 850-5000; after hours emergency telephone number: (84-4) 850-5000; fax: (84-4) 850-5010. The web site for the U.S. Embassy Hanoi is http://vietnam.usembassy.gov/.
The U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City is located at 4 Le Duan, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, telephone: (84-8) 822-9433; fax: (84-8) 822-9434. The web site for the U.S. Consulate General is http://hochiminh.usconsulate.gov/.
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