Vietnam Basic Process
The customs authority in Vietnam is known as Vietnam Customs.
The registered importer or its agent submits a documentation package to customs consisting of the Customs Declaration for the Import of Goods and other supporting documentation. Importers who regularly import the same articles within a given period under the same purchase and sale contract may use a single customs declaration (registered once) for carrying out customs procedures for import of such articles within the delivery time determined in the purchase and sale contract.
Customs reviews the documentation to check for:
- Authority of the entity to import
- Consistency of information across documents
- Legality of the proposed import
- Proper product classification and valuation
- Establishes whether to order an inspection of the shipment
- Computes duties, taxes, and other fees
- Refers documentation to other governmental agencies for imports of controlled products
- Establishes any special requirements for final clearance of the shipment
Common Customs Entries
The following are the most common customs entries:
Articles are released from customs custody for immediate sale or use within the country.
The consignee is granted permission to transport a shipment through the country solely for the purpose of export to another country.
The consignee is granted permission to import articles on a temporary basis without the payment of duties and taxes. Examples include sales samples, race cars for temporary use in a specific event, motion picture cameras for temporary use in the making of a specific film, etc. A bond is usually required to ensure that goods are either exported or that duties and taxes are paid.
The consignee is granted permission to transfer a shipment to a customs bonded warehouse where it is stored without payment of import duties and taxes until it is imported for consumption or re-exported.
Foreign Trade Zone Entry
The consignee is granted permission to transfer a shipment into a foreign trade zone without payment of duties or taxes where it is either stored or processed and then imported for consumption or re-exported.
Most importers engage the services of a logistics firm or a customs broker to handle import documentation and procedures.
Time to File
The Customs Declaration must be submitted at the Customs sub-branch where the shipment is imported. The Customs Declaration may be submitted up to 15 days before the arrival of the shipment, but must be resubmitted if the shipment arrives after the 15-day period has elapsed. Any required Certificate of Origin (CoO) may be filed up to 60 days after submission of the Customs Declaration; other required documents may be submitted up to 30 days after submission of the Customs Declaration. Additionally, Customs may allow importers to withdraw the registered Customs Declaration for supplementation, amendment, and/or replacement before any required inspection takes place.
Customs accepts eCustoms Declarations through the Vietnam Automated Cargo and Port Consolidated System (VNACCS).
Import License, Clearance, Permit
As a general rule, all kinds of imported articles are allowed into Vietnam. For freely-importable articles Customs does not require prior approval or clearance from any governmental agency. Some restricted articles, however, require an import license, clearance, or permit. See the Restricted and Prohibited page.
Vietnam, like other members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), uses the ASEAN Harmonized Tariff Nomenclature (AHTN) to classify goods imported from other ASEAN countries. The AHTN is based on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (Harmonized System or HS). The HS, used by over 200 countries, is an internationally-standardized system of names and numbers for classifying traded products and is maintained by the World Customs Organization (WCO).
Additionally, Vietnam is a signatory to a number of trade agreements that provide for reduced-duty or duty-free import of certain articles from certain countries. Some of the major trade agreements include:
- Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
- Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
- Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)
For a list of trade agreements to which Vietnam is a party, see the Trade Agreements page.
All imports of physical articles require the following basic documentation:
- Customs Declaration for the Import of Goods
- Commercial Invoice (CI)
- Purchase and Sale Contract or equivalent documents (copy)
- Freight Document: Bill of Lading (B/L), Airway Bill (AWB), Rail Waybill, or Road Waybill (copy)
- Packing List (P/L) (original)
- Business Registration Certificate (for domestic importers)/Investment License (for foreign importers)
- Export-Import Code Registration Certificate
- Certificate of Registration for Quality Inspection, if inspection is required, or Exemption Certificate, if shipment is exempt from inspection
Some imports may require specialized documentation:
- Certificate of Origin (CoO) (which is required only if the importer is claiming preferential import duty rates under a trade agreement)
- Health Certificate
- Phytosanitary Certificate
- Insurance Document
- Import Licenses, Permits, Certifications
- Documents as may be required by the terms of a bank letter of credit (L/C) or documents against payment (D/P) provision
Restricted and Prohibited Articles
For restricted and prohibited articles an import license, clearance, or permit must be obtained from the Vietnamese governmental agency that regulates that article. This document must be submitted to Customs upon filing of the Customs Declaration or prior to release of the regulated article from Customs custody. Some restricted articles, such as alcohol, certain electronics and appliances, and motors, also require an import stamp upon arrival into Customs territory. See the Restricted and Prohibited page for more detailed information.
Vietnam has adopted a system of minimum customs inspection, which means that customs relies more on post-entry auditing than pre-release inspections to enforce the law. Under the current Law on Customs, whether a shipment is examined or not depends on:
- The result of an analysis of information and documents submitted by the importer
- Records of previous legal compliance or non-compliance by the importer
- The level of the risk of a customs law breach by the importer
Importers who maintain a two-year importation record that is free of any customs-related violations are eligible for an inspection exemption for certain articles, including:
- Equipment and machinery
- Fresh and raw foodstuffs
- Articles requiring special preservation
- Articles stored in bonded warehouses
- Articles stored in tax-suspension warehouses
- Liquid and bulky articles and articles whose volume, quality, and categories must be determined on the basis of competent state bodies or expert organizations
- Regularly exported articles
- Other articles as and when stipulated by the government
For exempt shipments, an Exemption Certificate is issued.
Customs may inspect an entire shipment if the importer has more than three customs violations within two years or where a customs violation is suspected. Customs may also perform random spot inspections, but in such case no more than 5 percent of the shipment may be inspected.
Payment of Duties and Taxes
In general, unless exempted by law, all articles imported into Vietnam are subject to duty and taxes, which accrue upon the arrival of a shipment into the customs territory. Release of the shipment does not happen until all taxes and duties are paid or secured to be paid. A deferred tax payment is available for certain imported articles, such as articles being imported for the purpose of export manufacturing.
There are three categories of tax rates applicable to import articles:
- Preferential tax rates: apply to articles imported from countries or territories that apply the most favored nation (MFN) treatment in their trade relations with Vietnam
- Special preferential tax rates: apply to articles imported from countries or territories that apply special preferences on import tax to Vietnam and is mainly applicable to ASEAN nations common preferential tariffs (CEPT)
- Normal tax rates: apply to articles imported from countries or territories that do not apply MFN treatment or special preferences on import tax to Vietnam.
If Customs disagrees with the tariff classification made by the importer, Customs may ask the importer to supply additional documents or samples for analysis, classification and determination of duty and tax rate. If the importer disagrees with the classification made by the Customs office he may hire a third-party appraiser at his own expense to reclassify the merchandise.
Clearance and Release of Shipment
All taxes and duties must be paid or secured to be paid before a shipment is cleared and released, unless the shipment qualifies for a deferred tax payment. (See Payment of Duties and Taxes above.)
Articles imported on an emergency basis are released immediately without waiting for the completion of customs procedures or paying duties and taxes. For articles that require value verification, appraisal, or classification in order to determine the amount of duty and taxes payable, such articles will be cleared by customs only after the importer has discharged the obligation to pay duty on the basis of a self-declaration and assessment of duty and has provided sufficient guarantee in the form of a surety, a deposit, or some other appropriate instrument. Once released, the importer must take custody of the shipment within 15 days.
Customs may carry out a post-clearance audit, even after clearance and release of the shipment to the importer, if customs comes to believe that the shipment may have entered in violation of the laws. Customs has the right to conduct an audit within five years of the date of registration of the Customs Declaration.
Evidence of violation includes:
- An illegal or invalid Customs Declaration
- Unreasonable tariff duties
- Commercial and/or tax fraud
- Invalid import and/or export permits
For help or further information contact the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency at  (4) 3934 7628 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The above information is subject to change. Importers and exporters are advised to obtain the most current information from a customs broker, freight forwarder, logistics professional, or the local customs authorities.
Sources: Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency; Vietnam Customs; Vietnamese Embassy
Article written for World Trade Press by Taylor Holloran, Jennifer Goheen, and Nina Bellucci.
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