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 USD$5,000(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."
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.