Safety and security
Most visits to Vietnam are trouble free but you should take sensible precautions to protect yourself and your belongings in big cities and tourist areas.
Don’t hand over your passport to third parties as a guarantee (e.g. to motorcycle rental shops, landlords) as there have been many instances of companies holding on to passports against claimed damage.
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, including on motorbikes. Consider splitting key items between bags.
British nationals have reported a number of personal attacks, including rape and sexual assault in areas popular with expatriates and tourists. When reporting such attacks in Vietnam, compared to the UK there is a high burden of proof on the victim to demonstrate that the sexual relations were not consensual, especially when the victim had consumed alcohol or where the alleged attacker was known to the victim.
There have also been some reports of foreign women 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 or been injured in Vietnam while engaged in adventure tourism in rural and mountainous areas. Some terrain can be hazardous and remote from rescue services of any kind. And the rainy season - see Natural Disasters - can quickly and significantly increase risk, especially for localised flooding, navigating swollen streams and rivers and landslides.
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, check local authorities’ websites for adventure tourism companies that are approved and meet safety standards and check local weather forecasts before travelling.
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. 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 that 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 26.4 deaths per 100,000 people in Vietnam compared to 3.1 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 motorbike rider, check your motorbike thoroughly and rent from a reputable organisation, 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, you should 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 Ho Chi Minh City.
If you wish to drive cars or ride motorbikes in Vietnam you will need to present your UK driving licence and a UK-issued International Driving Permit (IDP). If you’re a long term resident in Vietnam, you can qualify for a Vietnamese driving licence with a diplomatic ID, temporary residence card or residence card validity for 3 months or more and also a valid UK driving licence or UK-issued IDP. Applications for a Vietnamese driving licence can be made at the local offices of the Department of Public Works and Transportation.
You should also make sure 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 and the taxi company. 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.
Overcharging for taxi journeys in and around the tourist hotspots in the Old Quarter of Hanoi and at Hanoi Airport is regularly reported. The same occurs at Ho Chi Minh City’s airport and popular tourist attractions. Check the published fares near the taxi stands or an online app before starting your journey or consider booking a taxi or ordering one via an online app.
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 as there have been reported cases of people losing passports and personal belongings while travelling on night buses. Be cautious about offers of free transfers to hotels unless organised in advance, as these may be bogus.
Driving cars or riding motorcycles when your blood alcohol concentration is more than zero is illegal. This is enforced rigorously.
Rail travel in Vietnam is generally reliable. 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.
Piracy in coastal areas off Vietnam is very rare. Mariners should, however, report all incidents to the coastal and flag state authorities. See Piracy and armed robbery at sea.
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.