Vietnam travel guide
Some destinations evoke mental images the moment their names are mentioned, and Vietnam is one of them. A frenetic and fascinating country, it calls to mind conical-hatted street vendors, water buffalo plodding across rice fields, mopeds buzzing through cities and floating markets on the Mekong River.
The days when Vietnam was best known for its conflict with America are long gone. From the temples of Hanoi and the islands of Halong Bay to the beaches of Nha Trang and the palaces of Hue, it is a country now firmly etched in the travel psyche.
At times, Vietnam is an assault on the senses. Life in its feverish cities is conducted largely on the streets, among chattering bia hois (pavement pubs) and steaming pho (noodle soup) stands. The country’s two main cities – Hanoi in the north, Ho Chi Minh in the south – are different in many ways, but they share an intoxicating energy. Ancient pagodas and colonial houses jostle for space with new-build skyscrapers, while labyrinthine back-alleys hum with life. These narrow streets are atmospheric places to spend time, day or night.
The country’s long, thin shape, sometimes compared to two rice baskets at either end of a pole, means these two cities form natural start and end points to an itinerary. The highlights along the way, meanwhile, are as well packed as the spring rolls which adorn market stalls: nature-lovers, history buffs, beach bums and foodies are all catered for in singularly Vietnamese style.
Those heading into the countryside can expect not only glorious scenery, but a rich cultural web of different ethnic groups. The US wartime legacy can still be readily explored – perhaps most notably at the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh – but this is a country to enjoy for what it is today, whether you’re here for a few days or a month.
331,230 sq km (127,889 sq miles).
94,569,072 (UN estimate 2016).
276 per sq km.
President Trần Đại Quang since 2016.
Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc since 2016.
Last updated: 21 May 2018
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
British nationals make over 280,000 visits to Vietnam every year. Most visits are trouble-free.
UK health authorities have classified Vietnam as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Vietnam, attacks can’t be ruled out.
You can contact the emergency services by calling 113 (police), 115 (ambulance) or 114 (fire).
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
Safety and security
Most visits to Vietnam are trouble free but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
Vietnamese law requires everyone to carry photographic ID at all times. You should carry a photocopy of the pages from your passport with your personal details and visa for ID, and leave the original document in a safe place.
There has been a reported increase in incidents of personal belongings and bags being snatched, including from people travelling on motorbikes in big cities and tourist areas such as Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang. Some thieves have resorted to physical violence, though this is not common. You should remain alert and take care of your belongings, particularly in crowded areas and places visited by tourists where pick pockets and bag snatchers operate. Consider splitting key items between bags.
Personal attacks, including rape and sexual assault, are rare but have been reported, including in areas popular with expatriates and tourists. There have also been some reports of foreign women in Hanoi being victims of indecent assault and harassment (including inappropriate touching and groping), particularly while walking alone. You should take sensible precautions.
There have been reports of arguments over hotel, restaurant or taxi bills turning violent or abusive. It is well worth researching places to stay before you arrive. To avoid potential disputes, make sure you are clear about the level of service you can expect to receive and any associated charges.
A number of British and foreign visitors have died in Vietnam while engaged in adventure tourism in rural areas. Some terrain can be hazardous and remote from rescue services of any kind. Safety standards are generally lower than in the UK and compliance varies. Don’t stray off main routes and, where required, take a reputable guide. Always follow safety guidelines.
You should avoid illegal tour guides who have been known to offer tours and activities prohibited under local regulations. In some areas local regulations require the use of a guide. One British national has died, and another injured and trapped on Fansipan for 48 hours, while trekking without guides. Make sure your travel insurance covers your planned activity fully.
Travel is restricted near military installations and some areas of Vietnam are fairly inaccessible. If you wish to visit a village, commune or ward that is close to the border you may need to get permission from the provincial police department. Contact the relevant local authority for more information.
Unexploded mines and ordnance are a continuing hazard in former battlefields, particularly in central Vietnam and along the Laos Border, formerly traversed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Mined areas are often unmarked.
Undertake any leisure activities which include firearms at your own risk and make sure you are supervised by a reputable guide. There have been reports of hearing loss from those close to these activities.
Travelling by motorbikes in Vietnam carries significant risk. There are frequent road traffic accidents and fatal crashes. According to World Health Organisation statistics, you are over 8 times more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident in Vietnam than in the UK (an estimated 24.5 deaths per 100,000 people in Vietnam compared to 2.9 per 100,000 people in the UK).
A number of British nationals have died in motorbike accidents in Vietnam, and many more have been involved in accidents, with some injured very seriously. Before choosing to drive a motorbike in Vietnam, it is essential that you’re an experienced motorcycle rider, have a good quality motorbike helmet, understand the roads on which you plan to travel and that your travel insurance covers your planned activity.
Compliance with local road regulations is poor. You’re advised to keep your speed down and to be prepared for the unexpected. If you’re planning on travelling as a passenger on a motorbike, please wear a good quality helmet and make sure your medical insurance is comprehensive. It’s illegal to be on a motorbike without a helmet.
If you’re involved in a traffic accident you could face criminal charges and you may need to pay compensation to the injured person even if the injuries are minor. If you’re involved in an accident or subject to an investigation, offer the police your full co-operation and inform the British Embassy in Hanoi or Consulate General in Hoi Chi Minh City.
As of December 2017, the Vietnamese authorities have advised that British issued International Driving Permits (IDPs) are not accepted in Vietnam. If you want to drive a car or motorcycle in Vietnam, you’ll need to get a Vietnamese driving licence. A Vietnamese driving licence can only be issued to a foreign national in possession of a Vietnamese visa valid for 3 months or more. Applications for a Vietnamese driving licence can be made at the local offices of the Department of Public Works and Transportation.
You should also ensure you have third-party insurance as required by Vietnamese law.
Don’t use your passport as a deposit for hiring vehicles or in place of a fine in the event of a traffic offence.
Metered taxis from larger firms are generally reliable. There are many taxi operators and meters are set at different prices. The meter should start at around 8,000 to 20,000 VND, depending on the size of the taxi. Where possible get hotels or restaurants to book you a reputable taxi. Always make sure the driver identifies themselves before setting off. If you book a taxi online or through an app, make sure the details of the vehicle and driver match those provided by the company.
There have been reports of overcharging for taxi journeys from airports and tourist hotspots. Check the published fares near the taxi stands before starting your journey.
Bus and coach crashes are not unusual and increase in regularity at night. Vehicles are often poorly maintained. When travelling by bus be vigilant against petty theft. Be cautious about offers of free transfers to hotels unless organised in advance, as these are likely to be bogus.
Rail travel in Vietnam is generally safe. Be aware of the risks of petty theft particularly while asleep on overnight trains
Safety regulations and standards vary greatly and are not at the same level as the United Kingdom. Check with your tour guide about the safety record and registration of boats, and the certification of personnel before setting off. Make sure you receive a full safety briefing when joining any boat. Consider safety standards carefully before taking an overnight boat trip on Halong Bay as some boats have sunk quickly and without warning. In October 2012, 12 people died in an accident in Halong Bay. Tourist boats have also caught fire in 2016 and 2017.
Piracy in coastal areas off Vietnam is very rare. Mariners should, however, report all incidents to the coastal and flag state authorities.
Vietnam has a single party political system, which does not welcome dissent. Some protests in recent years have turned violent, or been violently suppressed by the authorities. You should avoid all protests.
Providing prompt consular assistance can be difficult outside Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam is a large country and some areas don’t have well developed infrastructure or frequent flights.
Although there’s little history of terrorism in Vietnam - the only incident in recent years concerned a failed attempt to ignite small incendiary devices at Ho Chi Minh City airport - attacks can’t be ruled out. You should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those visited by foreigners.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Until 30 June 2021 ‘British Citizen’ passport holders travelling for tourism or business can enter Vietnam for up to a maximum of 15 days (inclusive of dates of entry and exit) without a visa. If you have a different type of British nationality – for example ‘British national (overseas)’ you’ll need to get a visa before entering Vietnam.
For visits of up to 30 days, you can get an e-visa online before you travel. Use of the e-visa is limited to certain entry/exit points which you must select at the time of application. If you don’t have fixed travel plans, consider applying for a regular single entry visa from the nearest Vietnamese Embassy, which allows more flexibility.
For visits of longer than 30 days you must get a visa from the nearest Vietnamese embassy before travelling to Vietnam.
If you’re planning to make multiple visits in a short period to Vietnam, consider applying for a multiple entry visa. If you want to make a second visit within 30 days of leaving Vietnam, you’ll need to get a visa or an e-visa to re-enter the country.
From November 2015, British nationals who are spouses or children of Vietnamese nationals can apply for a visa exemption certificate. The certificate is valid for 5 years and allows multiple entries into Vietnam for 6 month periods. Applications can be made at the nearest Vietnamese Embassy or the Immigration Department in Vietnam.
Overstaying your Vietnamese visa without authority is a serious matter and you may be delayed from travel until a fine is paid. Check the visa validity and conditions carefully.
For further information about visa requirements, check with the Vietnamese Embassy in London.
There are a number of local crossing points on the borders with Cambodia and Laos which are for nationals of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam only and so don’t allow British nationals to cross. Check locally before travelling to these points.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum of 6 months on the date you enter Vietnam for you to be eligible for the 15 day visa exemption.
For periods of stay longer than 15 days, entry into Vietnam may be refused if your passport has less than 1 month validity from the date your Vietnamese visa expires.
A number of British nationals have been refused entry due to their passport being damaged. Make sure your passport is in good condition before arriving in Vietnam. Being refused entry can result in significant cost and a long stay at the airport.
When checking into a hotel, you’ll have to hand over your passport so that the hotel can register your presence with the local police. Make sure your passport is returned and keep it in a safe place. Don’t use your passport as a deposit for renting a hotel room. If you are staying in private accommodation, you will still be expected to register. Ask your host to help you with this as soon as you arrive. You may be fined if you don’t register.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Vietnam. Please contact the nearest Vietnamese Embassy to obtain an appropriate visa before travel.
If your ETD has been issued in Vietnam, to replace a lost/stolen passport, you will need an exit visa from the Vietnam Immigration Department before you can travel out of Vietnam. This process normally takes 5 working days. Contact the Immigration Department directly for further information.
Local laws and customs
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 often tampered with or spiked and can be much stronger than in Europe. British tourists have suffered fatal overdoses in the past from very small quantities. Don’t take illegal drugs.
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.
When entering religious or cultural sites respect local customs and dress in appropriate clothing.
Foreign visitors to Vietnam are generally not permitted to invite Vietnamese nationals into their hotel rooms.
Vietnam is a generally tolerant and progressive place for LGBT travellers. Same-sex relationships are not criminalised by law and changing gender is recognised by Vietnam’s Civil Code. Vietnam abolished a ban on same-sex marriage in 2015, although same-sex couples are neither recognised nor protected by law. In parts of society LGBT rights and issues are still more tolerated than accepted, but Vietnamese society has become significantly more tolerant in recent years. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
It’s illegal to buy, sell, kill or collect protected wild animal or plants. Vietnam is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Those caught buying or trafficking these items could be prosecuted and receive prison sentences or fines.
Never take photographs near military installations.
There are restrictions on internet use, which can affect access to social media websites.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures.
Check the latest country-specific information and advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website or from NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 115 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Health care in the cities is adequate for minor injuries. More complicated treatment may require evacuation to another country. Healthcare in rural areas is extremely basic. Many hospitals require guarantees of payment before they’ll start treatment. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. Complete the next of kin details in the back of your passport.
Some rice wines sold without recognised brand names have been found to have very high and sometimes fatal levels of methanol.
There have been reports of synthetic marijuana use causing psychotic episodes and hospitalisation.
UK health authorities have classified Vietnam as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.
Dengue fever is prevalent in the summer/wetter months. The majority of cases are in southern Vietnam, but there were higher than normal infections in Northern Vietnam, in particular Hanoi, in 2017 and sensible precautions taken throughout the country. You should follow the advice of the National Travel Health Network and Centre and take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Vietnam but the risk to humans is low. Risks can be mitigated by avoiding visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds, and making sure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
If you’re taking prescription medication into Vietnam, carry it in your hand-luggage with a copy of the prescription. If it has a total import value greater than US$100, you should declare it at customs. Some specific medicines can be hard to find in Vietnam and many medications on sale are counterfeit.
Vietnam has restrictions on medicines which it classifies as “addictive” or “psychotropic” medicine. These include medicine that can be used for the treatment of addiction, to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia and other conditions. The rules say that you must not have more than the quantity prescribed by a doctor for 7 days (addictive medicine) or 10 days (psychotropic medicine). The prescription should be in English or Vietnamese and include your name and age and list the name, volume and dosage of the medicine(s). It must also include the doctor’s signature or address. If you’re unsure if your medication falls within these categories or if you need to bring in more medication than is usually allowed you should contact the Vietnamese Embassy in advance of travelling.
Tropical cyclones affect the eastern coastal regions. In addition to strong winds, the associated rainfall frequently leads to flooding and disruption to transport. The season normally runs from May to November, but tropical cyclones can occur outside this period. Monitor approaching storms on the National Center for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting and Japan Meteorological Agency websites and follow the advice of the local authorities, including any evacuation orders.
See our tropical cyclones page for advice about what to do if you are caught up in a storm.
The local currency is Vietnam Dong (VND).
Only change money at official money exchange counters with a clear sign showing this status. Changing money elsewhere is illegal and while higher rate may be on offer you may risk losing your money.
Credit cards are widely accepted, but outside main centres you may find cash the only acceptable currency. It may be difficult to cash travellers’ cheques.
ATMs are widely available in major cities and tourist areas.
You can have funds transferred to Vietnam via international money transfer companies like Western Union or Moneygram.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.