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Vietnam Local Laws

The information below has been excerpted from the following: 1) the US Department of State's "International Travel" website (travel.state.gov/travel/), 2) the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's "Smartraveller" website (www.smartraveller.gov.au), and 3) the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "Foreign Travel Advice" website (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/). Additional information is available from these sources. World Trade Press annually assesses the information presented on this page.

United States: Department of State International Travel Information

CRIMINAL PENALTIES

While you are traveling in Vietnam, you are subject to the laws of Vietnam even if you are a U.S. citizen. The Vietnamese legal system and some Vietnamese laws can be vastly different from our own. While you are in Vietnam, U.S. laws do not apply. If you do something illegal in Vietnam, your U.S. passport will not help.

In some places in Vietnam, you may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings (see Special Circumstances below). Driving under the influence of alcohol in Vietnam can result in fines, confiscation of your driving permit, or imprisonment. There are also some actions that might be legal in Vietnam but still illegal in the United States. Be aware that you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods, engage in child pornography, or have sex with minors.

Notification and Access

 A 1994 agreement between the United States and Vietnam provides that Vietnamese officials should notify the U.S. Embassy of the detainment of a U.S. citizen within 96 hours of the arrest and that they give U.S. officials access to those citizens within 48 hours after notification of the arrest. For purposes of notification and access, the U.S. government considers a U.S. citizen to be anyone — including a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese origin -- who enters Vietnam on a U.S. passport. Therefore, we encourage you to carry photocopies of your U.S. passport data and photo pages at all times so that, if questioned by Vietnamese officials, you have proof of your U.S. citizenship readily available.

Despite the 1994 agreement, Vietnamese officials do not always notify U.S. consular officers in Vietnam in a timely manner when they arrest or detain a U.S. citizen. There have also been very significant delays in U.S. consular officers obtaining access to some incarcerated U.S. citizens. This has been particularly true when the U.S. citizen is being held during the investigatory stage, which Vietnamese officials do not consider covered by the bilateral agreement. The investigatory stage can last up to one year, and often proceeds without the formal filing of any charges. U.S. citizens should note that the problem of access has been particularly evident when the Vietnamese government considers the U.S. citizen 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. If detained or arrested, U.S. citizens should insist upon contact with the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate General.

Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Vietnam, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate

Tourism Companies and Packages

Please be aware that safety regulations and standards in Vietnam are not at the same level as those in the United States and vary greatly from company to company and province to province. A February 2011 tour boat sinking in Ha Long Bay resulted in the deaths of several foreign tourists. Please research any touring company or cruise line that you select and ask questions about safety records prior to booking. While many companies may advertise endorsements from local and regional authorities, it is currently unclear if there is a reliable inspection mechanism in place. In addition, travelers should compare pricing among companies and be wary of prices for tour packages that appear either much higher or lower than competitors.

Work Authorization

The Government of Vietnam has recently been tightening regulations on foreign workers. In general, employers are responsible for obtaining work authorization for their employees. While some agencies offer assistance in obtaining work authorization, their quality and competence can vary greatly. We advise U.S. citizens to fully comply with Vietnamese regulations regarding employment. Penalties can be severe and include deportation.

Teaching English

We have received complaints from English teachers at private language schools/companies. The most frequent complaints were that the schools and/or employment agencies misrepresented salaries, contract terms, working conditions, living arrangements, and other benefits, even when the employee had a written contract. There have also been some complaints of threats of arrest/deportation. We advise anyone considering accepting an English teaching job in Vietnam to carefully review the terms of the contract regarding working and living conditions and to ask for references from persons familiar with the institution, especially former U.S. citizen employees. 

Hotels

Hotels in Vietnam require you to present your passport (and visas, if issued separately) upon check-in so that your stay can be registered with local police. Therefore, be sure to carry these documents with you if you change hotels. Every guest in a hotel room must be registered, and it is illegal for a foreigner to share accommodations with a Vietnamese national.

Currency

There is no limit to the amount of U.S. dollars or other foreign currency you can import into Vietnam or export from Vietnam. However, upon arrival and departure, you must declare to customs foreign currency (including cash and travelers' checks) in excess of US$7,000 (or its equivalent), cash exceeding Vietnamese Dong (VND) 15,000,000, and gold exceeding 300 grams. If you do not declare the amounts noted above, officials may arrest or fine you at the port of entry or exit and confiscate your currency.

Exports

Vietnamese law prohibits the export of antiques. However, these laws are vague and unevenly enforced. Customs authorities may inspect and seize your antiques without compensating you. The determination of what is an "antique" can be arbitrary. If you purchase non-antique items of value, you should retain receipts and confirmation from shop owners and/or the Ministry of Culture and the Customs Department to prevent seizure when you leave the country.

Imports

Vietnamese government authorities have seized documents, audio and video tapes, compact discs, literature, personal letters they deem to be pornographic or political in nature, or intended for religious or political proselytizing. 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 (including uniforms), narcotics, drugs, toxic chemicals, pornographic and subversive materials, firecrackers, or children's toys that have "negative effects on personality development, social order, and security."

For up to date information on Vietnam Customs information, please visit the Vietnam Customs website.

Speech

The Government of Vietnam maintains strict control over all forms of political speech, particularly dissent. Persons -- both Vietnamese and visiting foreigners -- engaging in public actions that the Government of Vietnam determines to be political in nature are subject to arrest and detention. Even your private conversations can lead to legal actions. U.S. citizens have been detained and arrested for political activities (including criticizing the government or its domestic/foreign policies or advocating alternatives to Communist Party rule), possession of political material, and non-sanctioned religious activities (including proselytizing). 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. Sponsors of small, informal religious gatherings, such as Bible-study groups in hotel rooms, have been detained, fined, and expelled, although these outcomes have become less common because of improvements to religious freedom.

Blogging about the Vietnamese government and discussions in on-line chat rooms have also incurred scrutiny from authorities. The distribution of anti-Vietnamese propaganda is considered to be a terrorist offense by Vietnamese authorities. In most cases individuals are detained, questioned, and then released. In the past few years, many U.S. citizens were arrested, prevented from leaving Vietnam, and/or deported.

Association with Groups

 Persons whom the Government of Vietnam perceives to be associated with dissident political groups may be denied entry to Vietnam or prevented from departing Vietnam after a visit. In a number of cases, Vietnamese officials have confiscated the plane tickets and personal property of such individuals, who were then forced to spend extended periods in Vietnam at their own expense while they underwent extensive police interrogation. In addition, Vietnamese security personnel may place foreign visitors under surveillance. Vietnamese officials may monitor your hotel room, telephone conversations, fax transmissions, and e-mail and may search your personal possessions in your hotel room.

Local security officials have called in some U.S. citizen travelers of Vietnamese origin for "discussions" not related to any suspected or alleged violation of law. Occasionally these "discussions" have resulted in the traveler being detained for several days before being allowed to depart Vietnam.

Photography

Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems such as being questioned by authorities, being assessed a fine, and your travel being delayed for several days. You should be cautious when traveling near military bases and avoid photographing in these areas.

Property

Foreigners are generally not allowed to purchase real estate in Vietnam. Vietnamese laws governing real estate differ substantially from those in the United States. Therefore, you may wish to consult with competent legal counsel before entering into any transaction. You should also exercise extreme caution if entering into any transaction through a third party.

Disputes

The Vietnamese government has occasionally seized the passports and blocked the departure of foreigners involved in commercial disputes. U.S. citizens whose passports have been seized by Vietnamese authorities should contact the Embassy or Consulate General for assistance.

Civil Procedures

Civil procedures in Vietnam, such as marriage, divorce, documenting the birth of a child, and issuance of death certificates, are highly bureaucratic and painstakingly slow. Documentation of these procedures often requires authentication in the country in which they were produced or for which they are intended and in Vietnam. Please contact the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, D.C., or the Vietnamese Consulate General in San Francisco or Houston concerning documentary requirements for these services.

Accessibility

While in Vietnam, individuals with disabilities will find accessibility and accommodation very different from what you find in the United States. On June 29, 2010, the Vietnamese government approved a new law regarding accessibility for persons with disabilities. This law stipulates better accessibility to government offices, public buildings, and public transportation and communication. This law took effect January 1, 2011. Currently, except for buildings and hotels that have been built under international standards, most public places and public transportation are not accessible. Persons with disabilities will face difficulties in Vietnam as foot paths, rest rooms, road crossings and tourist areas are not equipped.

Australia: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel Advice

When you are in Vietnam, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for serious crime, such as rape, espionage and hijacking, include the death sentence.

Penalties for drug offences are severe. Under the Vietnamese penal code, a person caught in possession of even a small amount of heroin can be sentenced to death. There are over 25 Australians currently serving life sentences for drug trafficking offences. Vietnamese authorities have strict security and investigative measures to combat drug trafficking.

Photography of border crossings and military installations is prohibited and may result in arrest. You should also avoid taking photographs during demonstrations.

You could be detained if you venture too close to the border with China, Cambodia or Laos without prior written permission from the local authorities.

It is against the law to export antiques from Vietnam without a permit. The Ministry of Culture can provide further advice and any necessary permit.

Foreigners wishing to marry a Vietnamese citizen in Vietnam must seek formal approval from the Office of Justice in the province where the Vietnamese citizen is registered. You will also be required to obtain a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage (CNI) if you plan to marry in Vietnam. You can apply for a CNI through the Australian Embassy or Consulate-General in Vietnam. Please note, the Embassy and Consulate-General will only issue CNIs for the purpose of marriage.

Gambling is illegal in Vietnam, except in government-licensed casinos. Anyone found to be in violation of this law is subject to steep fines and/or a severe prison sentence. Access to licensed casinos is restricted to holders of foreign passports.

Local laws prohibit possession of pornography, non-state sanctioned political material and religious material. Being caught in possession of this type of material will attract penalties, including fines and detention.

Foreign citizens suspected by local authorities to be involved in non-state sanctioned political or religious activities may be denied entry into Vietnam, detained, deported or prevented from departing Vietnam until authorities have completed investigations of their activities. This also applies to activities carried out online.

Foreigners involved in commercial disputes may be prevented from departing Vietnam until the dispute is resolved.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties for up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for dual nationals

Vietnam only recognises dual nationality in limited circumstances.

Our ability to provide consular assistance to Australian/Vietnamese dual nationals who have entered Vietnam on their Vietnamese passport may be limited, as local authorities may claim the person is a Vietnamese citizen. Particularly in cases of arrest and detention, Australian consular officers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City may not be advised, permitted consular access or allowed to provide consular assistance to Australian/Vietnamese dual nationals.

We encourage all Australian/Vietnamese dual nationals to travel on their Australian passport.

If you are an Australian/Vietnamese dual national, you may be subject to compulsory military service while in the country. For further information, contact the nearestEmbassy or Consulate of Vietnam before you travel.

If you are a Vietnamese citizen residing in Australia, and you do not have a valid Vietnamese passport, you should obtain a new passport from the Vietnamese Embassy/Consulate by 30 June 2014. If you do not, you may lose your Vietnamese citizenship from 1 July 2014. For more information, see the Australian Embassy in Hanoi’s website.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office Foreign Travel Advice

Penalties for possession, distribution or manufacture of drugs can be severe. Anyone found in possession of even a small amount of drugs can face the death sentence.

Illegal drugs are increasingly available in major cities and are likely to have been tampered with or spiked. Drugs are much stronger and of a higher potency than in Europe and British tourists have suffered fatal overdoses in the past from very small amounts.

Crimes like sex offences or fraud can attract very long prison terms, or a death sentence. The Vietnamese legal system is not well developed and the standard of prisons is very poor. You could be prevented from leaving the country for an unlimited period without being charged.

There are restrictions on internet usage, which can affect access to social media websites.

Foreign visitors to Vietnam are generally not permitted to invite Vietnamese nationals into their hotel rooms.

Never take photographs near military installations.

When entering religious or cultural sites respect local customs and dress in appropriate clothing.

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