COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Vietnam is a developing, mainly agrarian country that is moving from a centrally-planned economy to a market economy. Political control rests with 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.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live or visit Vietnam, please take the time to tell our Embassy in Hanoi or Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City about your trip. If you enroll in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.
Local embassy information is available below and at the Department of State's list of embassies and consulates.
U.S. Embassy in Hanoi
170 Ngoc Khanh
Ba Dinh District
24 hour telephone number: (84-4) 3850-5000
Fax: (84-4) 3850-5010
U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City
4 Le Duan, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
24 hour telephone number: (84-8) 3520-4200
Fax: (84-8) 3520-4244
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS FOR U.S. CITIZENS: In order to enter Vietnam, you will need a valid passport with at least six months validity remaining and a Vietnamese visa, a visa exemption document, or a written approval letter for a visa upon arrival. You may obtain a visa or a visa exemption document from a Vietnamese embassy or consulate prior to traveling to Vietnam. To obtain a written approval letter to enter, you must contact a travel agency prior to departure. U.S. citizens have reported unscrupulous travel agencies taking advantage of travelers and charging extremely high fees upon landing.
The Government of Vietnam treats the use of falsified travel documents very seriously. Travelers attempting to enter Vietnam for any purpose with an altered or otherwise fraudulent travel document are likely to face criminal prosecution and possible imprisonment.
If you arrive without an appropriate Vietnamese visa, exemption document, or written approval for a visa upon arrival, you will not be permitted to enter and will be subject to immediate deportation. Vietnamese visas are usually valid for only one entry, unless the traveler specifically requests a multiple-entry visa, for which there may be an increased fee. If you are planning to leave Vietnam and re-enter from another country, be sure that your visa is multiple entry. If it is only single entry, you will have to obtain another visa prior to returning to Vietnam.
Please be aware that Vietnam has two fees: 1) the visa fee and 2) the visa processing fee. The visa fees are sometimes posted on the Vietnamese Embassy's website, but U.S. Embassy and Consulate officials have received reports of processing fees varying from one applicant to another and from one issuing entity to another. We have brought this concern to the attention of Vietnamese officials, but the problem persists.
If you plan to travel to Laos by land, you must obtain the type of Vietnamese visa that adheres to the passport. Lao immigration requires proof that travelers have departed Vietnam, something that can only be shown with an adhesive visa. Vietnamese officials remove detachable visas from the passports of travelers when they depart Vietnam, leaving travelers with no proof of their recent Vietnam departure. This situation can result in Lao officials requiring the traveler to return to Vietnam. Even if you have a valid visa, you may be refused entry to Vietnam. We caution you that Vietnamese immigration regulations require foreigners entering Vietnam to undertake only the activity for which their visas were issued. Travelers who are planning to do volunteer or charitable work should obtain the correct visa type before traveling to Vietnam.If you change the purpose of your visit, you must get permission to do so in advance from the appropriate Vietnamese authority. If your U.S. passport is lost or stolen in Vietnam, you must obtain both a replacement passport and a replacement Vietnamese visa. If you have an emergency, the U.S. Embassy and Consulate General can issue you a limited validity replacement passport in as little as one day; however, the Vietnamese government requires three to five working days, in addition to the day of application, to issue a replacement visa. Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Consulate General can expedite replacement Vietnamese visas.
Visit the Vietnamese Embassy's website for the most current visa information. The Vietnamese Embassy’s website also releases warnings about websites suspected of being fraudulent and strongly recommends U.S. citizens not make online visa applications to these websites.
Consulate General of Vietnam in San Francisco, California
1700 California Street, Suite 430
San Francisco, CA 94109
tel. 415-922-1577, fax 415-922-1848
Consulate General of Vietnam in Houston, Texas
5251 Westheimer Rd, Suite 1100
Houston, Texas 77056
Tel: 713-850-1233; Fax: 713-810-0159
Permanent Representative Mission to the UN, New York and the Consulate General of Vietnam in New York
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 435
New York, NY 10017
tel. 212-644-0594/212-644-0831/212-644-1564, fax 212-644-5732
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Vietnam.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: The Government of Vietnam may not allow or authorize you to travel to certain areas of Vietnam deemed sensitive. These travel limitations may also hinder the ability of the U.S. Government to provide assistance to you 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. You should avoid such areas unless you obtain written permission in advance from local authorities. You should check with travel agencies before going to border areas to see if you need to obtain a travel permit issued by local authorities.
Tourists who visit Ha Long Bay, Quang Ninh and want to spend the night on a boat should take caution. A boat sinking accident in Feb 2011 resulted in the deaths of 12 people, including 2 U.S. citizens, and revealed weaknesses in the management of some boat companies. You should consider taking overnight tours only with large, reputable companies. Smaller companies operating poorly equipped and managed boats may offer cheap prices, but can lead to unsafe tours.
At any time, you should avoid large gatherings, such as those forming at the scene of traffic accidents, which can become violent with little or no warning.
Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution. Follow us on Twitter and become a fan of the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. You can also download our SmartTraveler app, available for the iPhone and Android market.
You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada, or by calling a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
Take some time before travel to improve your personal security—things are not the same everywhere as they are in the United States. Here are some useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
CRIME: 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 both the U.S. Consulate General and the U.S. Embassy have recently received reports of pipes, knives and razors being used in attempted robberies in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Thieves congregate around hotels frequented by foreign tourists and business people and areas such as Hanoi’s Old Quarter and Ho Chi Minh City’s Ben Thanh Market, and assaults have been reported in outlying areas at night. Do not resist theft attempts and report them immediately to local 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 on the back of motorcycles. Serious injuries resulted when thieves snatched purses or bags that were strapped across the victim's body, resulting in the victim being dragged along the ground by the thief's motorcycle.
Passengers riding in cyclos (pedicabs) may be especially prone to theft 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. Some cyclo drivers have reportedly kidnapped passengers and extorted money; it may be risky to hire cyclos not associated with reputable hotels or restaurants.
The use of motorcycle taxis (known as “xe oms”) is strongly discouraged. Motorcycle taxis are unregulated and unsafe, and the helmets provided to riders offer little to no protection against injury in the case of an accident. In one instance, a U.S. citizen was sexually assaulted after hiring what was believed to be a legitimate motorcycle taxi near Ho Chi Minh City. Keep your passport and other important valuables in your hotel in a safe or another secured location at all times. You should carry at least two photocopies of your U.S. passport. Hotels are required to obtain a copy of your passport (please refer to "Special Circumstances" below), and you should carry a photocopy of your passport with you. You should immediately report the loss or theft of your U.S. passport to the local police and the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate General. You must obtain a police report from the local police office in order to apply for a replacement passport and a Vietnamese exit visa.
You should take precautions in choosing ground transportation when you arrive at the airport in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Some travelers reported being robbed by drivers who greeted them upon arrival with a placard showing the traveler's name. If you are expecting to be picked up, ask the company for the drivers name, phone number, and license plate number before you travel. You should use only airport taxis (currently Noi Bai taxi in Hanoi and Mai Linh or Vinasun in HCMC) or vehicles provided by hotels. Several times in the past year in Hanoi, taxi drivers detoured travelers en route from the airport to flophouses masquerading as hotels. You should be familiar with the basics of the hotel you have chosen, such as address and neighboring landmarks. This information can be found on the Internet. We have received complaints of taxi drivers overcharging fares by using rigged meters. In one case a driver locked the passenger in the cab to extort a higher fare. You should try to write down the name of the taxi company, plate number and any other identifying information in any incident so that it can be reported to the local authorities.
Some scams target tourists. Specifically, tourists have been victims of gambling scams in the Pham Ngu Lao neighborhood of Ho Chi Minh City. This scam usually starts with a friendly invitation to someone's home to meet a relative interested in visiting or studying in the U.S. While waiting for this individual, a casual game of cards will start. Victims have reported starting the game with only a small wager but losing thousands of dollars over the course of an evening. Be aware that gambling outside of licensed casinos is illegal in Vietnam.
The U.S. Embassy has also received occasional reports of incidents in which an unknown substance was used to taint drinks, leaving the victim unconscious or in a state similar to inebriation and unable to make appropriate decisions. To date, reports have included theft, but sexual assaults are also possible. Do not leave drinks or food unattended, and don't go to unfamiliar venues alone. You should also avoid purchasing liquor from street vendors, as the authenticity of the contents cannot be assured.
Recreational drugs available in Vietnam can be extremely potent. Three U.S. citizens died in 2010 from accidental overdoses of drugs. Drug suppliers will often misrepresent the substances they are selling, such as heroin for cocaine and vice versa. Penalties for possession or use 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 cannot provide personal protection services. If you do not have confidence in the ability of the local police to protect you, you may wish to depart the country as soon as possible.
Do not buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, if you purchase them you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: The local equivalents to the "911" line in Vietnam are 113 for police, 114 for fire, and 115 for ambulance.
If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate (see the Department of State's list of embassies and consulates ). If your passport is stolen we can help you replace it. For violent crimes such as assault and rape, we can help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends, and help them send you money if you need it. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if necessary.
Several U.S. citizens have reported difficulties filing police reports. The most common complaint is the length of time it takes to file. Handwritten reports must be written in English, translated into Vietnamese and, often, written again on a formal report.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
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.
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 you can purchase many medications at pharmacies without having a prescription, some common U.S. medications are not available in Vietnam. You should bring adequate supplies of medications for the duration of your stay in Vietnam. You 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. Neither the Embassy nor the Consulate may recommend specific medical practitioners or hospitals. Emergency medical response services are generally unresponsive, unreliable, or completely unavailable.
Be cautious about drinking non-bottled water and about using ice cubes in drinks. You may wish to drink only bottled or canned beverages or beverages that have been boiled (such as hot tea and coffee).
In July 2012, the Government of Vietnam reported outbreaks of rabies in the northern mountainous provinces of Son La, Lai Chau, Dien Bien, Lao Cai (Sapa) and Yen Bai. Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The most important global source of rabies in humans is from uncontrolled rabies in dogs. In Vietnam, monkeys also pose a risk. Children are often at greatest risk from rabies. They are more likely to be bitten by rabid animals, and are also more likely to be severely exposed through multiple bites in high-risk sites on the body. Travelers in Vietnam should exercise caution around unfamiliar animals and seek immediate medical attention if bitten. For more information on rabies, please visit CDC's website.
Since December of 2007, Hanoi and provinces in northern Vietnam have seen an episodic resurgence of severe acute diarrhea known to be cholera. For more information on cholera, please visit CDC's website.
Avian influenza (H5N1) continues to be a concern in Vietnam. In Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries affected by avian influenza, you should 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. Read more information about Avian Flu.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Vietnam. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can't assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It's very important to find out BEFORE you start your trip whether you insurance will cover you outside the United States. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors' and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn't go with you when you travel, it's a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Vietnam, you will 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 occur frequently. The most common victims are motorbike riders and pedestrians. At least 30 people die each day from transportation-related injuries and many more are injured, often with traumatic head injuries. Traffic accident injuries are the leading cause of death, severe injury, and emergency evacuation of foreigners in Vietnam. Traffic accidents, including those involving a pedestrian and a motorized vehicle, are the single greatest health and safety risk you 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. Drivers honk their horns 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 particularly hazardous. 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. The urban speed limit ranges from 30 to 40 km/h (or 19-25 miles/h). The rural speed limit ranges from 40 to 60 km/h (or 25 – 37 miles/h). Both speed limits are routinely ignored.
If you are walking, you should be careful, as sidewalks are extremely uneven and congested, and drivers of bicycles, motorcycles and other vehicles routinely ignore traffic signals and traffic flows, and even drive on sidewalks. For safety, you should always look carefully in both directions before crossing streets, even when using a marked crosswalk with a green "walk" light illuminated.
Road conditions are poor nationwide. Numerous accidents occur due to poor road conditions. U.S. citizen travelers have lost their lives on the roads while traveling in northern provinces during the rainy season due to landslides. You should exercise extra caution in the countryside, as road conditions are particularly poor in rural areas.
Driving at night is especially dangerous, and you 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 they rarely dim. Some motor vehicles don't use any lights, and vehicles of all types often stop in areas of the road that have no illumination. Livestock are often in the road.
A law mandating the use of motorcycle helmets on all roads went into effect on December 15, 2007, and is strictly enforced. We strongly urge you to wear a helmet when you ride a motorcycle or a bicycle. Vietnamese vehicles often are not equipped with working seatbelts; however, when a seatbelt is available, you should always use it, including in taxis. 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, and imprisonment. U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Vietnam until they have paid 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. The efficiency of these services is well below U.S. standards, and public telephones are generally not available. Trauma care is not widely available.
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. If you wish to drive in Vietnam, you 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 you 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 fall below 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 you would find in the United States.
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. Further information may be found on the FAA's safety assessment page.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Vietnam dated April 1, 2013, to update section on Entry/Exit Requirements for U.S. Citizens.