Vietnam is seen as a relatively stable and peaceful destination for foreigners. As long as expats moving to Vietnam are aware of the main safety issues and act accordingly, they should have a trouble-free experience.
Safety concerns in Vietnam are mainly a result of underdeveloped infrastructure and the poverty prevalent amongst the local population.
Petty theft in Vietnam
Petty crime is a problem in urban areas of Vietnam. Unfortunately, tourists and Western expats are often a target for pickpockets in Vietnamese cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
Expats should avoid walking alone in secluded areas or being accosted by strangers pretending to be helpful. It is also best not to wear expensive-looking jewellery or watches and keep valuables such as cameras and mobile phones out of sight.
Drug-related crime in Vietnam
Expats moving to Vietnam should be aware that the penalties for possession, distribution or the manufacture of drugs in Vietnam can be severe.
Under Vietnamese law, anyone found in possession of even a small amount of drugs can face serious consequences. Each year a handful of foreigners end up in trouble because of their involvement in drug-related crimes.
Illegal drugs are becoming increasingly available in major Vietnamese cities and expats should be aware that drugs in Vietnam have often been tampered with. In most cases, drugs are much stronger and of higher potency than those in Europe, and there have been instances of foreigners suffering fatal overdoses from a very small amount.
Scams in Vietnam
Tourists and Western expats who have just arrived in Vietnam often fall prey to scams perpetrated by unscrupulous locals.
Common scams in Vietnam include:
Being solicited to offer donations to false charities
Taxi drivers trying to overcharge passengers and becoming abusive when the passenger refuses to pay the inflated price. It is best that expats insist that taxi drivers use their meter to avoid any confrontations at the end of the journey.
Being accosted by a stranger recommending a restaurant or shop and then being overcharged at the end of the visit
Safety on transport in Vietnam
Vietnam is notorious for road traffic accidents, especially in bustling urban areas. Expats should avoid driving until they become familiar with driving conditions and road etiquette in the country.
Motorbikes are one of Vietnam’s main modes of transportation. Expats might find that riding a motorbike is not only exhilarating, but the fastest and most efficient way to navigate city streets. However, using a motorbike is also dangerous, and motorbike accidents, many of which end in serious injury or death, occur on a daily basis in Vietnam's cities.
While it is illegal to be on a motorcycle without wearing a helmet, many locals ignore this rule.
Bus crashes are also quite common in Vietnam, especially at night. If possible, expats should avoid using late-night intercity bus services.
Food safety in Vietnam
While Vietnamese food is said to be one of the country’s greatest assets, it is not always safe, especially for the sensitive stomachs of some Westerners. The standard of food safety in restaurants in Vietnam is generally adequate. However, the more adventurous expat who is keen to try Vietnamese street food should exercise caution.
Generally, if street food is cooked properly it is fine for consumption but there are no set standards that vendors have to uphold. Therefore, there may be occasions where food is not fresh or the water used to wash vegetables isn’t clean and this can result in food poisoning.
►Learn about Vietnamese cultural norms in Culture Shock in Vietnam
Are you an expat living in Vietnam?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Vietnam. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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