Local Laws & Customs in Vietnam: What You Need to Know

While traveling in Vietnam, harsh as they seem, local laws apply to all.

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The penalties for actions, which you might find over the top, are taken very seriously by locals.

Try to remember this is a conservative, communist country, where the excesses of western culture are not tolerated.

Brush up on the local laws below, to have a trouble-free, enjoyable visit.

Drug Laws in Vietnam

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 two dozen foreigners currently serving life sentences or facing the death penalty for drug trafficking offences. Vietnamese authorities have announced increased security and investigative measures to combat drug trafficking.

When good advice is ignored, travelers should be aware that recreational drugs available in Vietnam can be extremely potent. Party with caution, and always make sure someone knows where you are and what you have taken.

Sensitive Photography

Photography of border crossings and military installations is prohibited, and may result in arrest.

You should also avoid taking photographs during demonstrations. Leave the military shots to the journo's, as the glare of a Vietnamese soldier is incredibly intimidating.

Sensitive Borders

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.

Antiques

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.

Gambling

Gambling, except in government licensed casinos, is illegal in Vietnam.

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.

Politics

Anyone, Vietnamese or visiting foreigners, engaging in public actions that the Government determines to be political in nature, could be arrested and detained.

Even your private conversations can lead to legal actions.

Religion

U.S. citizens who said they've come to be tourists, but then engage 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

Blogging about the Vietnamese government, and discussions in online 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, at least ten US citizens were arrested, prevented from leaving Vietnam, and/or deported.

20 Comments

  • Kora said

    My boyfriend is going to Vietnam and said he would get shot for Dating me when he's there. Is that true?

  • Jimmy_Casket2.0 said

    Also, if you break a promise, you can be charged with for serious violations

  • Anon said

    I live in Nam, none of this is true except the drugs and politics thing. no you dont get shot for dating someone or breaking a promise (wtf?). Its a pretty chiled country tbh religious and political freedom exists so you can say what you want...as long as its not about the Vietnamese government then your finE!!

  • Jeff said

    Been to Vietnam 3 times - specifically Da Nang. Beautiful country, awesome people. Going back in December for work. Since I was last there, I quit smoking, but I'm using a "vape" pen. Any advice on the reaction I'll get if I vape up walking down the street?

  • Ruth said

    "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."
    My son is travelling from Thailand through Laos,Vietnam and Cambodia in Oct/Nov. How does he go about getting this written permission ?

  • Kylie said

    I wanna go to Vietnam but I'm nervous of the country, I'm only reading this so I don't get killed or get arrested.

  • Mr Gonzo said

    Been living in Vietnam for six months now and I find this place pretty safe and nice, especially the people are usually nice and friendly.

    And you can use vaporizer here, ppl do it on the streets ans restaurants.

    But ofc you should be careful in a country you don't know, learn, respect the ppl and the habits. But anyways I see Vietnam nice and pretty relaxed coutry (I'm from Europe).

  • Mr steve said

    Saigon rocks! jump on a bike and explore HCMC. I found it safe and a really nice place. I was there in 2013 and will definitely be going back!


    cheers guys and gals

  • Amanda said

    I just returned from SE Asia. Border crossings from Laos to Vietnam and from Vietnam to Cambodia were not an issue (you don't need any prior permission to cross borders). You're usually traveling by bus and everyone gets off the bus and goes through the crossing with their documentaton, getting exit stamps and then arrival stamps and returns to the bus. All you need to be worried about is having obtained your Vietnam visa ahead of time before you travel as they do not do a visa on arrival.

  • Neil said

    I thought the VOA (Visa on Arrival) could be obtained at airports but not the land borders for most citizens. Is this not true?

  • Martin said

    As an Irish citizen, I got VOA at HCMC Airport earlier this year. Had to pay a local company online for an invitation letter before going then you show this to staff at a counter in immigration, pay $25 and you get your visa. Very straightforward and lots of companies offer the service for a small fee (around $10 for mine).

  • Sabina said

    I'm a frequent visitor to Vietnam.
    Now there are many companies who help to make visa on arrival. Some take 30$ and some 200$ for helping with the same visa..
    Vistnamese people are mostly kind and helpful and the country is beautiful.
    Only the traffic and food is not very safe. Try to avoid buying fruits on Hanoi (and Sapa) because most of it comes from China full of poisoning chemicals. Also street food is not safe, not clean and you never know in what conditions it's being kept.
    Trafffic in Hanoi & HCMC is crazy and very tiring as there are millions of motorbikes on the roads (which also ride on pedestrian ways during the busy hours), many people die there at the accidents, and they usually drive when they are drunk. Always wear a helmet when you take xeom - motorbike taxi. The most safe option to move in Hanoi and Saigon is to use a car taxi. Till they will have a proper subways~

  • Tess Hamlin said

    My best friend just got back from Vietnam with her family and she loved it so much that we decided to go to Vietnam for schoolies. Is there any laws and stuff we should know about to protect ourselves from getting thrown into a foreign jail? We wouldn't be getting crazy drunk and will not be taking drugs.. at all. I just need to be familiar with the laws and religion so we don't accidentally offend somebody or break the law. Thank you in advance.

  • James said

    I have heard that in Vietnam they have normal water, just like in the US. Is that true?

    Also, does gravity work the same there?

  • J. said

    A friend of mine for a Vietnam website that is stealing books on the books website of Wattpad.com. What would happen to the people doing the act of plagiarism? As ticked off as I am *GOWL!* I don't want them to get shot! 。゚(゚´Д`゚)゚。

  • T said

    Gravity is different there. If you drop a ball it slowly raises upward.

  • Nguyen said

    This comment section is hilarious.
    Traveling to Vietnam is just the same if you travel anywhere else internationally. The only differences are the language, culture, politics and food. Of course the currency.

    Religion in Vietnam is diverse. Not everyone is a practicing Buddhist. They have beautiful cathedrals and temples there.

    Vietnam is a communist country. They don't kill you for having different beliefs nor do they care. Just be respectful. Especially, around any political official or building. Don't believe in their political stance, it's fine. Just agreed to disagreed.

    Currency in Vietnam. Look it up. I may be wrong.
    10,000 dong-¢50 USA
    20,000 dong-$1 USA
    50,000 dong-$2.50 USA
    100,000 dong-$5 USA
    200,000 dong-$10 USA
    1,000,000 dong-$50 USA
    GO SHOPPING!


    Don't drink the tap water. Number 1 rule. Anywhere. I don't even drink tap in America. Look at what happen to Michigan. What a shame. Buy bottle water. Don't eat or drink with ice.

    Food in Vietnam is delicious but expect diarrhea sometimes. You might find a dead fly or hair strand once or twice. Pretty normal. You still got to pay. Don't worry, tipping in Vietnam is not customary. You can't sue either. Trust your judgement.

    Honestly, If I eat meat there I eat chicken or duck. Typically raw vegan. Plants on the ground in the middle of the road. A lot of restaurants on the street in Hanoi and Saigon (HCMC) sell dog and rat meat. No it isn't disgusting and common. It is life. They usually post it on the menu or sign. Learn to read and speak Vietnamese. That will help.

    Entertainment. Bringing Porn into Vietnam is illegal. Why would you, in the first place. Just get a message. You can get legit message in places offering happy endings. Not all cosmetologist in Vietnam is a slut or home wrecker. Just girls trying to make a living. I love getting haircuts and facials in Vietnam. They are super cheap and 100x worth it. I tipped my stylist or esthetician. Usually $1-10 USA, 100% more than the bill because it is that good.

    Professional pictures in Vietnam are highly recommended. These folks are highly skilled at photography and photo shop.

    Drugs. Don't even think about it. It is 100% illegal unless you have a prescription with it. Stay away from hooka too. Two bad experience each time. Laced with opium/herion or bad weed.

    Karaoke and bar hopping is fun. Just stick to beer. Cheap vodka and liquor in Vietnam are is nasty. The real deal is expensive. District 1 in HCMC is expensive for drinking and over rated.

    Traffic. Worst than traffic in Washington, New York. and Chicago. The city is control be traffic lights and signs but not all drivers listen to them. So good luck.
    I see four years old riding adults bikes standing up a crossing the streets. If toddlers can do it you can too. If you drive and get hit. 50% they will run. 100% the cops will come and confiscate the motorcycle. Majority of the time the person that hit you don't have money to pay for medical bills.
    Get traveler insurance.

    Vietnam is not a racist country at all compared to the United States. You might get stares but that is just from curiosity.
    Trust me, even Vietnamese that wasn't born in Vietnam get crap too. They call us viet-kieus. We get over charge too. It's life.

    Be smart and get a visa before arrival. Or a letter from a visa agency when you arrived. You can get it online. If you don't know if you can trust them. Call and see if they pick up. Ask for someone that speak English or your langauage. Call three different places. It should cost anywhere from $10 to $100. USA. It should not cost more than that for an individual. If it does you are getting ripped off. Try another company. Even for last minute visas. You will either get a confirmation and letter email or letter sent to your home.

    I know this from experience. My personal experiences. My first time to Vietnam sucked. I went again and I loved it. It is better to go to Vietnam with someone who speaks Vietnam.

  • Jeni said

    Didn't know any of this when I went to Vietnam in Feb 2017, didn't get arrested or in trouble. Common sense. The Vietnamese people are beautiful souls and as tourism is one of their highest earning industries they will do anything to help tourists. I absolutely loved it, never once felt unsafe or in danger even in the busiest urban areas!

  • Saigonese said

    Hi everyone and welcome to Vietnam. I currently have quality cannabis trains with good price in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). If you want some, you can contact me via this profile https://www.facebook.com/cchuyencan --- or mobile number 01224247168

  • Beth said

    Are there parts of the country that are off limits to foreigners? If so, is there a way to find out if it is possible to visit the place I wish to?

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