Crime in Vietnam: How to Spot Rip-Offs, Scams & Thieves

Vietnam is generally a safe place to travel to but, like any country, it isn't without its share of scams and petty crime. Here's what you need to know to avoid becoming the next target.

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To Give or Not to Give?

Exploring the streets of Vietnam you are likely to see signs of poverty such as people begging in the streets or children pushing you to give them money or buy items from them.

The kids on the streets of Vietnam do need help, but keep in mind that giving them money isn't the best option as often the child is being exploited by an adult. The majority of the time any money, or item that has selling value, will not go to the child and often they are not attending school as a result of this exploitation. Consider donating money or required items to organisations which help lift locals out of poverty or volunteering your time.

Petty Crime in Vietnam

Crime in Vietnam is low, but it's best to keep it on your radar just like anywhere else you travel. Don't leave your bag dangling from your body, as the infamous “Saigon Cowboys“ love the drive-by snatch. Keep valuables in your hotel safe so if you do come across a snatcher, you can just let your bag go and head to the markets for a new one. Don't try to hang onto your bag or you may risk being dragged or injured.

Some children in the streets of Vietnam, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are adorable but sneaky. They're able to lift wallets, cameras, and passports without effort. While talking to one, keep an eye on the other.

Scams in Vietnam

Hotel Scams

When a hotel becomes popular, others actually spring up with the exact same name in hopes of stealing business. Confirm the address of your hotel, rather than just giving the taxi driver a name.

One of the most common scams visitors encounter is the oldest in the book. If a taxi driver tells you the hotel you are going to has closed down or is full, make sure you are taken there anyway. Taxi drivers attempt to take travelers to friends or family-run accommodations, where they will receive a commission for their efforts. This scam is huge in Hanoi, where the streets are confusing, and you just want to rest away from the noise.

Hotels in Vietnam have been known to double rates upon checkout by claiming that the price quoted was per person, rather than per night. Ensure you confirm rates and payment upon arrival. Better still, book and pay in full before arriving.

Motorcycle Scams

Motorbike rentals where the owner steals back the bike.

In places like Mui Ne and Nha Trang, the police also impound the bike and can charge you extortionate amounts to get it back. The bike owner will also charge you for the loss of the bike in order to get back your passport. Mechanical problems can be another issue. Always use your own lock, test drive the bike and ensure that you have a Vietnamese driving permit.

Transport Scams

Cyclo/tuk-tuk drivers taking you to the middle of nowhere and overcharging you to get home. Avoid this by agreeing on a price before you hire one or booking via your hotel or tour operator.

Some drivers will also use slight of hand tactics to switch whatever money you pay them with to smaller denominations. A favourite is switching the 500,000 VND to a 20,000 VND as they are both blue in colour. Avoid being duped by paying with small denominations.

Fake train tickets are sold by touts at the station or via online websites. Use websites like Rome2Rio and Seat61 to find information about train travel in Vietnam and buying your tickets online.

Sneaky Local Scams

No matter how friendly and helpful some people on the street can seem, things aren't always what they seem to be. Shop owners will often try to get you into their shop, or partake in a card game, or to buy a very expensive round of drinks/tea at a bar.

Some vendors who invite you to take a photo of them or their products such as the fruit ladies of Hanoi, bamboo basket vendors, bug sellers etc. They will then turn around and demand an exorbitant fee, a tip or for you to buy their products. 

Tips to Deal With Scams

If you're confronted with a tricky local, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Always inspect your goods (especially electronics) after purchasing them. A common scam is to switch the items you have purchased for cheaper versions.

  • Although the official currency of Vietnam is the Vietnamese dong, many prices for food, hotels, and transportation are quoted in US dollars. Always confirm what currency a price is in. For example, if a vendor tells you that something is "five" it can mean 5,000 dong (around 25 cents), or US $5.

  • Pickpocketing and motorbike bag snatching – especially in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Nha Trang – are on the rise. Injuries can occur when travelers attempt to hold onto their bags. If this happens to you while you're crossing the road, let the bag go. Your safety is more important than your belongings.

  • Taxi drivers like to set their meters to jump at a speedy rate, so you end up paying more for a short journey. Play it safe, and only use Mailinh and Vinasun taxis. You should be able to recognise them for their colors and logos. 

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29 Comments

  • Male said

    Beware of pickpockets in Vietnam most likely happening in big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.

  • Terry Matthews said

    Hi, I live in Western Australia and am not happy with this place. Actually I am not happy with my country and am thinking of selling up and moving to another country. Vietnam is a country which I have always wanted to visit and I have some Vietnamese friends. Has anybody ever tried to live in this country who can give me some information on acceptance by the Government and people? In my own country I am treated like a dog by our Government and can not find work in logistics driving a truck even though I have gained the highest level licence. I have been a self employed ceiling fixer ( drywall in USA ) for over 20 years and had a fall down a stairwell and badly damaged my dominant hand where I underwent 5 operations and 1 to my shoulder. This is why I gained my MC truck licence. I thought that if I sold everything I own I could live the rest of my life in a beautiful country and also help around with my skills and even help the poor whilst residing there. But will I be accepted is the question? I am an Atheist so the Government will love that and is a great start as I can not stand preaching door knockers etc and I am drug free which is also a no no to the Vietnamese Government. If anybody outside of Vietnam or somebody inside Vietnam who has lived or is living there could let me know how they have been treated whilst residing in Vietnam I would very much like your feedback. Thank you. Terry.

  • deii said

    Hi terry try to visit and work in the philippines.. y? because you can work there as a call center agent(telephone operator) and surely they will offer you fair salary since you are an australian.. i have many Australian friends in the Philippines who are now residing there happy

  • Tran Thanh Hai said

    Hi Terry, try to visit HCMC, or known as Saigon. I don't think you would have any problem with the government or the locals but the traffic here is crazy. Btw, I'm Vietnamese.

  • Moses said

    500,000 vnd bill looks almost the same as 20,000 vnd bill ! Always keep the 500,000 in a different pocket as you may easily hand over a 500,000 bill instead of 20,000...

  • Peter Stevens said

    Re article, "rip offs and scams" in Vietnam.?...whether its claimi is tongue in cheek or not " ripping off tourists" is not a national sport. Badminton , Billiards and Soccer are national sports. This type of lead off heading s way off the mark and of no use to anyone. Very tactless on Nomads behalf.

  • Stan said

    My grandson and I visited Vietnam in May. Biggest scam we found was at street eateries. I'd watch locals pay 5,000 VND for an item but we would be asked to pay 10,000 VND. To us the difference is about five cents US. We never had a problem where prices were posted. As for a taxi we used Uber in Saigon and Hanoi and a local taxi in Da Nang. While in Hue we hired a car and driver recommended hotel by staff which turned out to be a middle aged woman who spoke fluent English whose car was clean and only a couple of years old. She did take us to places and people she obviously knew but everywhere she took us was fairly priced and we received what we were promised.

    Having been G.I. stationed in Saigon I was well aware of the scams and expected to encounter them during our trip, which is probably why we were not victims just tourists haven a good time.

  • rick be said

    Fair warnings,common to many dictatorships.

  • Johanna TravelEater Read said

    I strongly disagree with the advice about children -- " Take them to a market stall and buy them some fruit if you feel you need to improve the situation."

    When kids (and their parents) think that it is better for them to beg for food than it is to stay in school, this leads to perhaps short term gain but long term problems. Kids should not be taught that tourists are a source of handouts. In Cambodia, as an example, cartels have sprung up so that when a tourist buys a kid milk or a school book, the kid returns it the store. The cartel and shopkeeper benefit from the jacked up price; the kid gets a few cents, isn't able to attend school and is exploited.

    If you really want to help kids in developing countries, donate to a reputable charity, or buy books and school supplies in-country (don't bring them from home, support the local economy) and give them to a school principal to distribute to students.

  • Geof Giles said

    I had planned a visit, but it sounds like a real shit-hole, it will go down my on my list.

  • Dan Whitcomb said

    Looking for a foodie/culinary tour in Vietnam, China, or Thiland, any suggestions?

  • Dazzler said

    Vietnam is well worth visiting. We spent 3 weeks there in January 2015, travelling from Hanoi to Saigon. Beautiful landscapes, fascinating history, friendly people and great food. Yes there can be scams and yes you will end up paying more than a local, but this is no different from most other developing countries. People are poor and try to make a living the best they can. There are also dishonest people in all countries. We have no particular recollection of beggars being an issue, and certainly not children. Much less so than in parts of the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia or Timor-Leste...or the centres of Paris or London for that matter! Just be sensible, but do go!

  • AmeliaMcGrath said

    Hey @Dan Whitcomb, I went with Intrepid a few years back. There were a few cooking classes involved on the tour, and our guide took us to plenty of great local eateries. Here's a link to the trip we went on, but I'd be happy to send some cooking class examples over to you too if you'd like?
    http://www.intrepidtravel.com/au/vietnam/classic-vietnam-94744

    They have plenty of other foodie trips too:
    http://www.intrepidtravel.com/au/search/trip?f%5Btheme%5D=im_field_pp_peak_theme%3A1176&f%5Bregion0%5D=im_field_pp_region%3A4118&f%5Bdest%5D=im_field_pp_destinations%3A37143&solrsort=fts_field_pp_rating_marketing%20desc

  • Collector of Experiences said

    One tricky one in Siem Reap is a Mother holding a Baby asking "no not money, Please just buy me Milk for my Baby" so you think - yes ok, just going to feed the starving baby - so you buy them milk at the local market - you feel good and the mother goes off to feed her baby for the first time that day, right. No it's a Scam - after you leave, the mother goes back to the store, returns the Milk and splits the cash with the store owner. I saw the Scam work Six times while eating lunch near the store...

  • Royston said

    I read lots on the internet as I'm travelling through SEA for a few months with my partner.

    I'm pretty clued up and very street wise coming from one of the roughest parts of London. So far,as long as you keep your wits about you and don't give any of the naughty ppl any opportunity you'll be safe and have a great time!

    My other half drives me bonkers as she has a heart of gold and wants to give her money away to beggars or ppl who look poor, she doesn't barter when buying things and chats to locals in normal English and they are clueless on what she's saying when all they say is 'cheap cheap same same' . We have had a good few arguments over this but I think she is coming round slowly .....fortunately she had stopped asking taxi drivers and tuk tuk drivers on places they would recommend.... I am constantly rolling my eyes and biting my lip!! She can't see that she is paving the way for them to line their pockets and rip the arse out of us ffs!

  • Elliot said

    My wife got her purse snatched last night while crossing the street. It was really late and we both were pretty drunk and confused. Luckily, there was nothing too valuable there, nothing like phone or passport, but a fair bit of money (several million dong) and one of the bank cards (blocked it right away and we have a spare one, so not the end of the world).

    So my piece of advice is, when enjoying cheap local brew or (especially) anything stronger, be sure to keep your valuables locked securely in your hotel room. (I heard about staff stealing from rooms too, but never happened to me.) And wear something with enough pockets for your phone and valuable stuff, pockets are good for you, ladies :) (Yeah, I know how Big Jeans are trying to scam you with fake pockets, terrible.) Purse is where you put napkins and hand sanitizer, eye drops, some advil, a lens container, a book, a map if can't google, a pack of cigarettes if you smoke, a power bank, and maybe, only maybe some small change if you really feel it's easy to find it there. Nothing more valuable than that. And, most importantly, don't get shitfaced right after going to the atm, make it a separate trip (take an uber moto to your hotel and back if you think you can't wait, it's cheap, fast, and reliable). Consider intoxicating in said hotel room, but I understand if you won't, what's the point of even travelling if not meeting new people and getting drunk together (that's why I travel, personally, that and the food).

    Money belts and poaches are good but to be effective you must wear them way under your clothes, without exposing any part. I wear several of such things myself when flying, it's easier than putting things in and out of your pockets for every check and bulky pockets can make siting for hours uncomfortable. With hot and humid weather though I don't think it a good idea to wear much more than a light shirt and short shorts i.e. not enough covered area to hide anything. A belt or poach would get snatched in this situation about as easily as a regular purse. So what to do if you hate cargo pants? Opt for cut-offs! All the girls are wearing them now, they often have enough pockets for practically everything important (and then back pockets for napkins and all those useless receipts and booklets). Think about cargo pants anyway though. I think they are very practical and even ones for girls don't have any fake pockets, 100% real pocket material :)

  • Eileen said

    Just returned from a 16 day trip to Vietnam. Loved every minute. The people were lovely, food great and sights were fabulous. We had arranged activites, guides and hotels in advance through a really good travel company in Vietnam. Always felt safe and we never acted foolishly. Strongly recommend going there.

  • John said

    It can't be any worse than expensive shit hole Burma where smiles cost fortunes, and their rip off 28 day visa. Just stay in Thailand., best value in SE ASIA

  • James said

    Just got back from 3 months in Vietnam during which time time I got robbed of all my money and credit cards. Had to leave Ho Chi Minh City due to death threats and had my passport details which were stolen from the hotel reception, posted on the internet in connection with some child porn attempt to extort money from me. I can't say it's my favorite place.
    Watch out for a Vietnamese "American" guy called David Khanh, he hangs around cheap hotels on Pham Ngu Lau and talks to Westerners, he then offers to help them with hotels or jobs, if you accept his offer of help then their credit cards and wallets mysteriously go missing. He has scammed several people of thousands of $ in 2017.

  • Roger Garin-Michaud said

    We spent three months in Vietnam and never had any trouble. We booked our hotels through Booking.com even while travelling in India Malaysia and Cambodia so never haf any problems with "fake hotels".
    We never carried hand bags to avoid bag snacthing but were carrying cash passports and credit cards in safety belts hidden under our tshirts.
    As for taxis which we used extensively in these countries for six months we used only recognised brands (but had trouble with Uber drivers in India) or hotels sponsored taxis.
    So we never had any problems with taxi drivers.
    Our three months in Vietnam were in fact wonderful and we met a lot of friendly persons particularly university students wanting to practice their French or English with us.
    So we are really keen to go back and explore more of this beautiful country.

  • Greg said

    Why anyone would want to visit or live in this God forsaken country is beyond me. I had some pretty bad experiences there in 1969. Don't go!!

  • Adie said

    Interesting to hear Nomads complain about scammers when your insurance company is one of the biggest scammers out there.
    Had my bag, passport, gopro, contact lenses and personal items stolen from a bus in Chile and you left me high and dry and refused to pay me a cent! I even had a police report.
    Is your head office in vietnam??

  • [email protected] said

    Hi Adie,
    Please reach out to our customer experience specialist: [email protected] with your policy number, and they will be more than happy to look into this for you.
    Regards,
    Amelia

  • Ken said

    Wow, sounds very much like China in many many ways. I have lived in China for 6 years but I have wanted to visit Vietnam. From what I have read here, it would be just like going to another Chinese Province, ha

  • Oliver said

    Well, the Gold medal goes to Thailand...by far! Silver to Indonesia and Cambodia and a little tiny Bronze medal to Vietnam! ;)
    Singapore gets no medals.

    I traveled for 6 months through SE Asia and Vietnam was the best place in my opinion. While I felt that Thai people do not like or care for tourists, Vietnamese people at least liked\cared. In Thailand, they approach you nicely. If you do not buy their product or enter their business, their attitude turns into sour and upset and they cuss you under their breath. In Vietnam, they say "it is ok sir...have a nice day...maybe tomorrow.".

    Every where in SE Asia, you have to watch out. Even Police is trying to scam you. In Bali, they set up a road block and only stopped the tourists. If you didn't have an international DL, you got a $18 fine. Boarder agents of Cambodia wanted to charge $36 for a visa while the charge is $30!!!

    With all that in mind, I still highly recommend all those countries. One look at Angkor Thom and you will forget about all the scams. Just add 5-10% to your budget for scams and don't let it stip or ruin your trip. Enjoy.

  • Mattias said

    I agree with previous writers. I guess the world nomad have only been to Vietnam in Asia and never to Africa if they say Vietnam would win a golden medal in ripping off. Many don't do it at all and if they do its often about 20% increasw. Not like India, Sri Lanka, Laos where they they multiply by 5 any change given.

  • Andy said

    Ripping off foreigner is a common business and attitude in Vietnam. They don't have sense of shame anymore. I cannot believe that the are so many evil people in one country. I was ripped off by money changer in airport ( the one near the exit gate after luggage pick up). Do not believe with 'no commission's note. First they will offer high rate but when the use their calculator they will quickly deduct 5 % they don't allow you to use their calculator (always take the calculator when I tried to calculate myself). When I found out what they said is everybody do this. Does It mean that most people there are scammers?


  • Guillaume said

    Hello!
    I'm in hcmc since one week, I wanted to warn you about one thing. I was waiting for a friend near Rex hotel and a Vietnamese guy well dressed, looked like a business man, started talking to me and invited me to coffee in a sidewalk coconut seller then we sat and of course wanted me to pay 200k vnd for the bill...
    I may sound stupid but this guy was very good actor.
    Apart from this I love hcmc so far, people are very friendly and easy to talk with. Even if they don't understand they try to communicate.

  • Lena said

    We are travelling Vietnam from south to north for 2 weeks now and what we have seen so far is a fast and unfair developing country. The majority of the people is still far away from having reached a basic living standard. So everybody tries to sell something and almost everyone tries to rip you off some Dongs. So far we could say they mutiply around 4 x the price if you dont bother to bargain.
    Our best advise is to think of what you are willing to pay in advance and just walk away if they dont match the price. Dont fear to pay much less then they tell you at first.
    Heres one example: they are selling these Fjällräven-Bags everywhere. We saw one decent looking bag and the woman first said it would be 900000đ. After 5 Min of hard bargaining she was ready to sell it for 250000đ.
    These things are a bit annoying of course but just try to ignore them. The country is very beautiful and interesting and worth a visit.

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