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 Vo Van Thuong since 2023.
Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh since 2021.
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.
Before you travel
No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes:
- advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
- information for women, LGBT+ and disabled travellers
If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.
This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Vietnam set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact the Vietnamese Embassy in the UK.
There are no COVID-19 testing or vaccination requirements for travellers entering Vietnam.
If you show symptoms of COVID-19 on arrival, you must notify the health agency at the border gates.
Passport validity requirements
If you’re visiting Vietnam, your passport must have:
- an ‘expiry date’ at least 6 months after the day you arrive
- at least 2 blank pages
- no damage – British nationals have been denied entry and exit due to passport damage
Check with your travel provider that your passport and other travel documents meet requirements. Renew your passport if you need to.
You will be denied entry if you do not have a valid travel document or try to use a passport that has been reported lost or stolen.
Checks at border control
Make sure you get your passport stamped.
Check the visa expiry date written in your passport is correct before leaving border control.
If you plan to stay in Vietnam for 45 days or fewer, you do not need a visa for:
- business travel – but not paid or voluntary work
You must have a visa for longer stays or if you’re entering Vietnam for other reasons.
Applying for a visa or e-visa
Tourists staying more than 45 days can:
- book with a travel agent in Vietnam and ask them to apply for a visa preapproval letter – your agent will tell you when to collect your visa from the embassy
- apply for an e-visa that allows a 90-day stay and multiple entries – e-visas restrict you to entry and exit points you select when you apply
- apply for other visa types from the Vietnamese Embassy in the UK
The British Embassy will not assist with visa extensions or sponsor visa applications.
If you get an e-visa while in Vietnam, you must exit the country and re-enter to start your e-visa.
To stay longer (to work or study, for business travel or for other reasons), you must meet the Vietnam government’s entry requirements. Check which type of visa or work permit you need with the Vietnam Immigration Department.
Read about visas and work permits if you live in Vietnam.
If you overstay your visa or work illegally, you may be delayed from travel until you pay a fine, and you could be deported and prevented from visiting Vietnam in the future.
Extend a non-tourist visa through the Vietnam Immigration Department.
Travelling through Vietnam
If you transfer from an international flight to a domestic one in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, you must go through immigration and enter Vietnam. You must do this even if your final destination is outside Vietnam.
Check with your airline before departing.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and certificates you need in TravelHealthPro’s Vietnam guide.
There are strict rules about goods you can take into or out of Vietnam. You must declare anything that may be prohibited or subject to tax or duty.
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 100 US dollars, you must declare it at customs. For information about restrictions on medication, see Health.
Taking money into or out of Vietnam
If you’re taking cash into or out of Vietnam, you must declare amounts over:
- 15 million Vietnamese dong
- 5,000 US dollars (or the same amount in other currencies)
If you’re leaving the country with more than these amounts, declare the money at customs and show either:
- confirmation you’re carrying cash abroad, issued by an authorised credit institution
- written approval to carry cash, issued by the State Bank of Vietnam
There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.
Terrorism in Vietnam
Although there’s little history of terrorism in Vietnam, 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.
Vietnam has a single-party political system, which does not welcome people disagreeing with the government. Some protests in recent years have turned violent or been violently suppressed by the authorities. Avoid all protests.
Protecting your belongings
Pickpockets and bag snatchers operate in crowded areas and places visited by tourists. Take care of your belongings and consider splitting important items between bags.
Do not give your passport to others as a guarantee – for example, to motorcycle rental shops or landlords. Companies can hold your passport against claimed damage.
There is a risk of petty theft on buses and trains, particularly while asleep on overnight trains.
British nationals have reported rape and sexual assaults in tourist areas and places where foreigners live. Women have also reported indecent assaults and harassment. These include inappropriate touching and groping, particularly while walking alone.
In Vietnam there is a higher burden of proof for victims than in the UK. Victims must show they did not consent, particularly if they drank alcohol or knew the alleged attacker.
Be cautious about offers of free bus transfers to hotels, unless organised in advance. These may be scams.
Landmines and unexploded weapons
Landmines and other unexploded weapons are a hazard in former battlefields. Areas of particular risk include central Vietnam and along the Laos border, formerly crossed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Mined areas are often unmarked.
Laws and cultural differences
It is a legal requirement to always carry photographic ID. You should carry a photocopy of the photo page of your passport with your personal details and visa and leave the original in a safe place.
Illegal drugs penalties
Penalties for possessing, distributing or manufacturing drugs are severe. You can get a death sentence if you’re found with even small amounts.
Illegal drugs are often tampered with or spiked and can be much stronger than in Europe. British nationals in Vietnam have suffered severe psychiatric problems because of drug use.
Vietnam is a generally tolerant and progressive place for LGBT+ travellers. There are no criminal penalties for same-sex relationships and changing gender. Same-sex marriage is not recognised by law.
Read more advice for LGBT+ travellers.
Respect local customs and dress in appropriate clothing when entering religious or cultural sites. This usually means covering your shoulders and knees. Signs informing you of the dress code outside religious or cultural sites are common.
Money change counters
Only change money at official money exchange counters with a clear sign showing this status. Changing money elsewhere is illegal and you risk losing your money.
Some rice wines sold without recognised brand names can have very high and sometimes fatal levels of methanol.
Wildlife, animal products and souvenirs
It’s illegal to buy, sell, kill or collect protected wild animal or plants. If you’re caught buying or trafficking these items, you could get a fine or long prison sentence.
There are restrictions on travel near military bases.
If you want to visit a village, commune or ward close to the border, you may need permission from the provincial police department. Contact the local authority for more information.
Using cameras near military bases
Do not take photos near military bases in Vietnam.
Crimes like sex and drug offences 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.
Reporting a crime to the police can be a long and difficult process. Consider taking a Vietnamese-speaking person with you to assist with the translation. You’ll usually have to sign documents in Vietnamese. Take care to only sign accurately translated documents. Find an English-speaking translator or interpreter in Vietnam.
If you are under criminal investigation, you can be detained for long periods without evidence. There can be long delays before you can contact lawyers, British consular officials or family. Legal representation is far below UK standards.
Foreign nationals involved in traffic accidents have been stopped from leaving Vietnam until the police have completed their investigations. This process can take a long time, and foreign nationals have been asked to agree out of court financial settlements. FCDO advises you to get professional legal advice and representation if you are in this situation. Find an English-speaking lawyer in Vietnam.
There are sometimes restrictions on internet use, which can temporarily affect access to social media websites. Most social media sites are normally available.
Outdoor activities and adventure tourism
British nationals have died or been injured in Vietnam while engaged in adventure tourism in rural and mountainous areas.
- dangerous terrain
- remote areas that are difficult for rescue services to reach
- flooding, swollen rivers and landslides, especially during the rainy season
- lower safety standards than in the UK
- follow safety guidelines
- stay on main routes
- take a reputable guide – in some places it is illegal to go without a guide
- use approved adventure tourism companies - check local authority websites
- check weather forecasts
- make sure your travel insurance covers your planned activity
Illegal tour guides have been known to offer tours and activities prohibited under local regulations.
If you take part in leisure activities involving firearms, make sure a reputable guide supervises you. There is a risk of hearing loss.
You’ll need to have both the correct version of the international driving permit and your UK driving licence with you in the car.
Compliance with road laws is poor – keep your speed down and stay alert.
It is illegal to drive without third-party insurance.
Drink-driving is a serious offence in Vietnam. If you are tested and found to have any alcohol in your system, you may get a fine and possible imprisonment.
Do not use your passport as a deposit for hiring vehicles or as a guarantee you will pay a fine for a traffic offence.
If you’re involved in an accident or subject to an investigation, you could face criminal charges and may need to pay compensation to injured people, even if the injuries are minor. Offer the police your full co-operation and inform the British Embassy in Hanoi or Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City.
Travelling by motorbike in Vietnam is much riskier than in the UK. Motorbike accidents are common and have killed and injured British nationals.
Do not drive a motorbike if you’re not an experienced rider.
If you plan to drive a motorbike, you should:
- check your motorbike thoroughly
- rent from a reputable organisation
- use a good helmet – it is illegal for drivers and passengers to ride without a helmet
- know the roads on which you plan to travel
Make sure your travel insurance covers your planned activity.
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 Vietnamese dong, depending on the size of the taxi and the taxi company.
Where possible get hotels or restaurants to book you a reputable taxi. Always make sure the driver identifies themself before setting off. If you book a taxi online or through an app, make sure the details of the vehicle and driver match those given by the company.
There are regular reports of overcharging for taxi journeys in tourist areas like the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Hanoi airport and Ho Chi Minh City’s airport. For added peace of mind, book taxis using the Grab app, which is similar to Uber.
Buses and coaches
Bus and coach crashes are not uncommon and more likely at night. Vehicles are often poorly maintained. Night bus drivers may become tired but continue driving, resulting in sometimes fatal crashes.
Safety regulations and standards vary and are not the same as in the UK. Check with your tour guide about the safety record and registration of boats, and the certification of staff. Make sure you get a full safety briefing and have a life jacket when joining any boat.
Consider safety standards carefully before taking an overnight boat trip on Halong Bay. Some boats have sunk quickly and without warning.
Piracy in coastal areas of Vietnam is very rare. See piracy and armed robbery at sea.
Extreme weather and natural disasters
Tropical cyclones affect the eastern coastal regions of Vietnam.
- strong winds
- heavy rainfall
- disruption to transport
The season normally runs from May to November, but tropical cyclones can happen at other times. Monitor approaching storms on the National Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Forecasting and Japan Meteorological Agency websites. Follow the advice of the local authorities, including any evacuation orders.
Vietnam has a tropical monsoon climate. There can be large amounts of rain in short periods of time. Localised flooding, flash floods and landslides are common. Take care if you are trekking in rural and mountainous areas.
Before you travel check that:
- your destination can provide the healthcare you may need
- you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.
Emergency medical number
Dial 115 and ask for an ambulance.
Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Vaccinations and health risks
At least 8 weeks before your trip check:
- the latest information on vaccinations and health risks in TravelHealthPro’s Vietnam guide
- where to get vaccines and whether you have to pay on the NHS travel vaccinations page
Health risks in Vietnam include:
- mosquito-borne diseases like Zika virus, dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis
- air pollution – see information on air quality on TravelHealthPro
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.
The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.
Some medicines can be hard to find in Vietnam and many are fake.
Vietnam has restrictions on medicines it classifies as ‘addictive’ or ‘psychotropic’. These include medicine used to treat of addiction, anxiety, depression, insomnia and other conditions.
It is illegal to have more than the amount prescribed by a doctor for 7 days (addictive medicine) or 10 days (psychotropic medicine). You should carry the prescription with your medication and a letter from your doctor stating how much of the medication you need during your trip.
The prescription should be:
- in English or Vietnamese
- include your name and age
- list the medicine name, volume and dosage
- include the doctor’s signature or address
If you’re unsure if your medication falls within these categories or you need to bring more medication than is usually allowed, contact the Vietnamese Embassy in the UK before travelling.
Healthcare facilities in Vietnam
FCDO has a list of English-speaking doctors in Vietnam.
There is also guidance on healthcare if you’re living in Vietnam.
COVID-19 healthcare in Vietnam
You must wear a mask on public transportation. Vietnam has not declared an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Travel and mental health
The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.
Emergency services in Vietnam
Contact your travel provider and insurer
Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.
Refunds and changes to travel
For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.
Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:
- where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
- how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim
Support from FCDO
FCDO has guidance on staying safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:
- finding English-speaking lawyers, funeral directors and translators and interpreters in Vietnam
- dealing with a death in Vietnam
- being arrested or imprisoned in Vietnam
- getting help if you’re a victim of crime
- what to do if you’re in hospital
- if you’re affected by a crisis such as a terrorist attack
You can also contact FCDO online.
Help abroad in an emergency
If you’re in Vietnam and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British Embassy in Hanoi or the [British Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City]https://www.gov.uk/world/organisations/british-consulate-general-ho-chi-minh-city).
FCDO in London
You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.
Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)
Risk information for British companies
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.