Country Risk Report (July 2019)
RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
Officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the country of Vietnam is a one-party communist state. Since the unification of the North and South in 1976 it has been governed by the Communist Party of Vietnam. Due to its nature of governance, there is no separation of powers. Since 1988, it has been the only legal political party in the country. The approval of a new state constitution in 1992 reasserted the authority of the Communist Party over all aspects of government, politics, and society. Only political organisations endorsed by the Communist Party are permitted to contest elections, however this is largely viewed as a nominal gesture. The incumbent president of Vietnam is Nguyen Phu Trong, who was appointed to the principally ceremonial post in 2018, following the death of previous leader Tran Dai Quang. Trong also holds the position of secretary-general of the Communist Party. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was elected to the post in 2016 after pledging to improve the business climate in Vietnam, whilst cracking down on corruption within government. President Trong has also expressed his plans to combat corruption in a recent meeting of the Central Steering Committee on Corruption Prevention and Control in Hanoi. The party have outlined key issues they wish to tackle through audits and investigations, including corruption, money laundering and the equitization (privatisation) of state-owned enterprises.
Anti-corruption and anti-government protests are an unwelcome challenge to the communist rule in Vietnam. The government, which has a strong grip on the media, does not tolerate dissent. Consequently, authorities have attempted to suppress protests in recent years, sometimes using force and reportedly violent measures. Journalists also risk sanctions for criticising the government, although some continue to do so. Other causes of public discontent in Vietnam are a perceived lack of freedom for individuals (substantiated by Amnesty International) and land seizures by the government. Since the end of the war in Vietnam in 1975, the government has seized private homes, land and businesses in order to fund the communist state. Although small business regulations were slackened in the 1990s, many are still forced to make material sacrifices to abide by the communist regime.
Internationally, Vietnam recognises the importance of diplomatic and economic interdependence and generally maintains positive relations nations around the world. Nonetheless, due to growing assertiveness by China over the South China Sea, Vietnam is attempting to improve political and security ties with the US and Japan. The conflict over the oil-rich South China Sea remains a pertinent issue for the bilateral relations between Vietnam and China. Although the two nations share many commercial ties, since 2011 there have been reignited disputes over ownership of the maritime boundaries and islands in the area.
Recent incidents include a clash in 2014 concerning China’s Haiyan Shiyou oil rig in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) the incident left over 15 Vietnamese injured, as well as damage to both countries’ ships. Although under the present leaders of Vietnam it has not been high on the agenda, it is an enduring issue that could pose a political risk should either party to the dispute choose to make it so.
RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
Despite anti-corruption rhetoric from the ruling communist party, Vietnam is characterised by corruption and graft. Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranks the country as 107 out of 180 countries. While low-level corruption has reduced throughout the country, reports of high-level graft have vastly increased. Financially weak state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and a lack of efficient regulations of such institutions have enabled individuals to achieve financial gain at the expense of productivity and the welfare of Vietnam’s citizens. Corruption also threatens the ability to conduct business in the country due to the use of bribery and facilitation payments. However, anti-corruption measures and impartial audits are increasing and the legal framework for addressing corruption has greatly improved. A desire to attract foreign investment is a key driver behind recent attempts to enforce anti-corruption legislation. So far economic growth is on the increase and is expected to remain high at around six per cent into 2020.
Vietnam is known globally as being a popular tourist destination, with tourism contributing 7.5 per cent of the GDP. Although many areas outside of the most populous cities maintain weakened infrastructure and facilities, revenue has increased and consequently modernisation is gradually occurring. Tourism is a key source of income in the country and Vietnam is typically very accommodating of foreign visitors. Most travellers can enter Vietnam for up to a maximum of 15 days without requiring a visa, an entry and exit date must be provided prior to entering, along with tickets for onwards travel. For visits up to 30 days, e-visas online are available for specific entry and exit points. Vietnam is very strict on entry requirements and overstaying on a Vietnamese visa without authority is treated as a serious matter. Travellers should ensure their passports are not damaged prior to attempting to enter Vietnam as people have previously been denied access when attempting to travel using documents that displayed undue wear and tear. When checking into a hotel, travellers may be asked to hand over their passport in order for hotel staff to register their presence with local authorities. Travellers can be fined for not registering with the local police, though are advised to keep their documents in sight throughout the checking and registration process.
Vietnam has eleven international airports and twelve domestic airports across the country with regular flights. Domestic flights in Vietnam from north to south are relatively cheap, however waiting times can be lengthy and security is often lacking. Travelling by train is an inexpensive and accessible way to explore the country. Overnight trains are widely used by visitors and locals alike when travelling between the north and south. It is generally advised to book train tickets up to 30 days in advance and keep hold of ticket stubs as these will be regularly checked. Buses are another common way to travel around Vietnam, however there is an increased risk of petty theft. Metered taxis from larger firms are generally reliable, though it is advised to get recommendations regarding reputable firms from locals or hotel staff; or to otherwise ask them to book transport for you. As in most countries, there is a risk of being overcharged or scammed when using taxi services; therefore travellers are advised to remain vigilant and if possible get an estimation of the fare prior to travel. Taxis around the tourist hotspots such as the Hanoi’s Old Quarter and the international airports are regularly reported to overcharge customers. However, prices for travel in Vietnam are comparatively cheaper than Western countries, with taxi journeys of 30 minutes usually costing as little as £5.00/ $6.00/ €5.55.
Other ways to travel around the country include rickshaws, hired scooters and motorcycles, or driving. Rickshaws and scooters are inexpensive to hire and readily available, especially in the larger cities of Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Hai Phong. Motorcycles can only legally be driven with a driving permit and by law the driver and any passengers must wear helmets. Many collisions occur as a result of poor road conditions and unpredictable driving; inexperienced individuals are advised not to ride motorcycles or high-powered scooters. Driving in Vietnam is also relatively dangerous, with only 13.5 per cent of the roads considered to be in good condition. Approximately 1,000 traffic-related deaths are reported every month. Renting a car and driver is strongly recommended, however when travelling by road there is always an increased risk of a collision occurring, which is heightened after dark. If involved in a road traffic collision, foreign nationals may be prevented from leaving the country until they have paid a fine or compensation, and as such it is recommended that drivers keep their speed down and drive sensibly and cautiously. Third party insurance of vehicles is also a requirement by law. If a foreign national is found to be in breach of any traffic laws, legal advice should be sought.
Prior to travelling to Vietnam, it is recommended to check the latest country-specific health advice. Current recommended basic vaccinations include; measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, polio, hepatitis A, and typhoid. Dengue fever can be prevalent in the wetter months, travellers should seek advice on how to avoid infection and should take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. There is also a risk of the Zika virus in Vietnam, therefore pregnant women are advised to consider avoiding travel to the country until after their pregnancy.
Standards of hygiene have increased in Vietnam in recent years due to its increasing economic standing, however, there remains a risk of contaminated food and water. Travellers are encouraged to wash their hands frequently, especially before eating or preparing food. Drinks served in unopened bottles or cans are generally considered safe, as is boiled water. Travellers should be cautious when eating high-risk foods such as dairy, meat, fruit salads, and cooked rice, especially if they have been pre-prepared. Healthcare in the major cities of Vietnam is typically of an adequate standard for dealing with minor illnesses and injuries. Quality of treatment and medical capabilities are increasing due to the influx of tourists to the country. However, healthcare in rural areas is often very basic. Travel insurance and accessible funds are recommended when travelling in Vietnam in case of emergency. Payment is often required prior to treatment.
The climate in Vietnam is tropical and monsoonal, with humidity averaging at around 84 per cent throughout the year. The highest rainfall period for north Vietnam is between May and October, in the south the monsoon season lasts from around April to September. Tropical cyclones can pose a risk, specifically in the eastern coastal regions. Heavy rainfall in the monsoon period can produce localised flooding and disruption to transport. Landslides are infrequent though can pose a threat to life for those trekking in rural and mountainous areas. Travellers may wish to consider timing their visits to coincide with drier periods to avoid an increased risk of disruption or injury.
RISK LEVEL: LOW
Vietnam is regarded as a relatively safe place to travel to, however travellers should always be aware of threats to their personal safety. To avoid getting into trouble with authorities, there are key restrictions to note. Vietnamese law requires every individual to carry photographic ID and must present it for inspection when asked to do so, however travellers are also warned not to hand over their passport as a form of guarantee when hiring scooters, or booking at hotels. When travelling in the country, it is advised to avoid military installations and not to take photographs of such areas as this is strictly forbidden. When changing currency to the Vietnam Dong (VND), people must use official money exchange counters as changing money elsewhere is illegal. Debit and credit cards are widely accepted, however when travelling in rural areas, it is advised to carry cash. Possession or distribution of illegal drugs can result in severe punishments. If a foreign national finds themselves in trouble with Vietnamese authorities, it is strongly advised to take a Vietnamese speaking person when conversing with authorities and to seek legal advice and consular support. Police will often require the signing of legal documents, usually in Vietnamese.
Reporting a crime to police is often a long and difficult process, as previously mentioned, advice regarding a Vietnamese-speaking translator is encouraged. As in most major cities, areas such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, are often targeted by criminals who may attempt to steal belongings, cash and credit cards. Vigilance is advised, do not display personal wealth or openly count cash to avoid drawing attention. Thieves do not typically resort to physical violence or aggression, however this could occur in some circumstances. When travelling, it is encouraged to split belongings between bags and keep your passport in a safe place.
Women can often be treated differently in Vietnam than in most Western countries. They are not always shown the same respect as their male counterparts, and are at a heightened risk of sexual assault and harassment. Foreign visitors to Vietnam have raised concerns regarding the frequency and violence of rape and sexual assaults in popular tourist and expatriate areas. Street sexual harassment is also an issue extant in the country, wherein women walking alone are more likely to be targeted. Women are advised to take extra precaution for their own personal safety, and to avoid travelling alone at night where possible. Reporting incidents of sexual assault to Vietnamese authorities can be unnecessarily challenging and problematic as the victim is expected to provide physical evidence.
Travellers are advised to avoid illegal drugs and to be aware that drugs sold in Vietnam can be tampered with and cut with other substances. Punishments for crimes, such as drug use and sexual assault can warrant the issuing of a death sentence in Vietnam. Other crimes such as buying or collecting protected wild animals or plants can result in custodial sentences, and foreign nationals should not consider themselves exempt. Same sex relationships are legal in Vietnam and there is generally a high acceptance of LGBTQ+ sexualities. However, the possibility of threats relating to a person’s gender or sexual orientation is still extant.
Vietnam attracts many foreign nationals pursuing ‘adventure tourism’ and extreme pursuits, such travel can pose an inherent risk to life. Remote and hazardous terrain can pose serious risks to travellers, especially those without a sound knowledge of the area. The monsoon season, and threat of a natural disaster can significantly increase risk. It is advised that anyone partaking in adventure or outdoor activities does so with a reputable and regulated guide who is familiar with the area and can provide a safe experience. Travellers to Vietnam face an increased risk of death or injury by driving on the poorly kept roads, or exploring hazardous terrain, as opposed to violent attack.
Although incidents of kidnapping, armed robbery, and violent attacks are uncommon, vigilance is always encouraged when travelling in an unfamiliar country. Whilst Vietnam is largely a safe and welcoming country, there are some key measures that can be taken to ensure your trip runs smoothly. To reduce the risk of threat to personal safety, it is advised to avoid any political protest or demonstration, exercise caution in public places, and drive cautiously, or travel via hired transport If possible.
RISK LEVEL: LOW
Vietnam does not have a notable history of terror organisations or previous attacks, though future strikes cannot be ruled out. Globally, terrorism is increasing and there is an ongoing risk of indiscriminate terror attacks. Public areas or public transport may be targeted. Attractions where Westerners are visiting may be targeted by anti-Western organisations who are internationally active, such as Islamic State (IS) or Al Qa’ida (AQ). Travellers should always remain vigilant when travelling and report any suspicious activity to the relevant authorities.
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