NOTE: These recommendations are based on our personal experiences, as well as anecdotes collected by the embassies of the USA, Canada and Australia in Vietnam. All readers should consult their country’s official travel advisories before travelling abroad.
Vietnam is relatively safe — you’re more likely to be duped by shady sales tactics rather than being out-right robbed or assaulted.
Nonetheless, there has been a recent spike in petty crimes and assaults since 2019. Data is difficult to come by, but Western embassies are noticing a slight uptick since the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you follow these common-sense safety tips, you can have a safe and amazing experience in one of the most-interesting countries in the world. See also our post about common scams that target tourists.
Crimes and Scams We’ve Personally Experienced
- short-changed [read more]
- robbed at knife-point
- unusual charges on debit cards
- threatened for black-listing
- hit-and-run by a motorcycle driving on the wrong side of the road
- police extortion
- had our laptop almost stolen by airport security
Petty Crime in Vietnam
While Vietnam is generally considered a safe country, there is a high threat of crime in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, especially minor petty-crimes, scams, and gray-area business-tactics.
Petty theft, purse snatching, bag-slashing and pick-pocketing are most common around hotels, tourist sites, airports, public parks, and other crowded areas. There are certain hot spots, including Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Sapa, and Cat Ba Island. In our experience, Ho Chi Minh City is the worst for petty street theft.
Travellers should be cautious about criminals posing as taxi drivers at airports or valets at tourist sites.
The risk of violent assault is relatively low in Vietnam (less than in Toronto Canada, for example). However, since 2019, there are increasing instances of bold and violent crimes, such as robbery at knife-point or by razors, particularly in Ho Chi Minh City.
Try not to be out alone at night-time in public. We were personally robbed at knife-point by a drug-crazed man outside of a Circle-K at night-time in Hanoi. During normal trading hours, most shops have security guards.
Drugs and Spiked-Drinks
A more common concern for foreigners is drug- and alcohol-facilitated robbery. There is a serious risk of being offered cigarettes laced with drugs or having drinks doctored in bars and restaurants frequented by expats, which can lead to robbery or sexual assault.
Avoid drinking coctails and mixed-drinks at expat bars — these increase the chance of your drink being spiked (also, it is very likely that the alcohol is fake — no, you’re NOT getting real Laphroaig).
If you enjoy hard-alcohol, bring some from your own country, because alcohol forgeries are rampant in Vietnam. There is a 1L import limit per person.
Never use drugs in Vietnam, even if they are legal in your home country, and even if they are offered by other expats.
Sex and Gender-Based Crime
There has been a significant increase in reports of sexual harassment and assault, particularly groping, since 2019 in Tây Hồ (West Lake), Hanoi.
Solo females travellers may be subject to some forms of harassment and verbal abuse. Local authorities may not always respond adequately to reports of sexual violence and harassment. Women should be extra alert for dodgy foreigners at expat bars (some of the creepiest people we’ve met have been weirdos at fun expats establishments).
Males are more likely to be the target of manipulation by local women for favours or to lure men into expensive hoaxes and illegal gambling operations. You should be suspicious of local females who express an unusual amount of interest in you and try to lure you to private establishments (tea-rooms, pubs, private-rooms) away from tourist areas.
If something seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t
Financial Crimes and Gambling
Gambling is illegal in Vietnam. Games are almost assuredly rigged and/or connected with criminal operators. Do not gamble in Vietnam, ever.
Financial technology has very poor security in Vietnam, especially if you are using a Vietnamese debit card. There are frequent reports of card-duplications and card skimming. Even seemingly reputable “tech” companies websites (like Grab) are not immune to financial crimes. We frequently have random unknown charges show-up on our Vietnamese debit cards. It can take 2-4 months for charges to be reversed (if ever).
Before you travel to Vietnam, get a dedicate credit-card with a low transaction-limit that can be easily locked. Monitor your statements carefully.
Use cash where possible (which is the most common form of currency). Many online transactions will support some form of local cash-payment. For example, you can often pay cash for online purchases at a local Vinmart, or pay cash upon delivery of goods.
The most serious crimes against foreigners are typically due to some B2B commercial dispute. Businesses in Vietnamese generally cannot rely on contract-law or courts to uphold legal standards. Therefore, many businesses resort to intimidation, goonery and mafia-esque tactics to resolve disputes.
Among consumers, businesses have been known to threaten foreigners with “black-listing” (in which a foreigner is banned from Vietnam) if they cause trouble or do not provide glowing reviews of a business on social media. This is especially common with visa-services (like getting an extension). Often, the business claims to have a family-connection with a government official, and can get you blacklisted for not complying with exorbitant payment terms.
Be very careful when undertaking business operations in Vietnam. Ensure that you have a well thought-out and detailed Agreement with your counterparty before undertaking any business venture. Seek legal counsel and explicitly map-out any and all contingencies and remedies in written form. Agree upfront to third-party arbitration rather than rely on courts.
Burglaries, including residential break-ins, have increased during COVID lockdowns and around the Tết holiday (Lunar New Year).
We love exploring the Vietnamese hinterlands on motorcycle — it is one of our favourite things to do in Vietnam.
However, driving is chaotic and extremely dangerous in Vietnam — accidents are frequent. Citizens can easily and illegally purchase licenses without proper training.
You should always wear a helmet and seat-belts, even if local Vietnamese pressure you not to.
Drunk-driving was, until recently, culturally-tolerated. It has became a serious problem in Vietnam. The government has recently begun cracking-down on drunk-driving, but it is still common.
Very few police speak English.
There is a high potential for corruption and bribery among local police, who may not always provide an adequate response to crime or follow Western standards in investigations.
Leave your “defund the police / BLM” contempt for police at home. Do not openly disrespect police in Vietnam.
The most common encounter with police is through traffic-shakedowns: police often gather in random spots and haphazardly pull-over drivers for dubious traffic violations. You can expect to pay a fee of 4,000,000 VND ($150-175 USD) if they pull you over.
Environmental Health & Safety
Air pollution is very high in urban areas. Refrain from intense physical activity in major urban areas, especially during rush-hours.
Never drink tap water. There are sometimes toxic-spills and contamination of municipal water-supplies. Always drink filtered and/or bottled water from reputable grocery stores.
There are reports of heavy pesticide use and contamination of the food supply.
The hygiene of street-food vendors is an issue, especially with meat. We’ve rarely had issues with street-food and enjoy them frequently — but we only eat vegetarian street-food. You should avoid all restaurant-meat in Vietnam except at reputable restaurants. Vietnamese vegetarian food is amazing, so this shouldn’t be a hindrance your enjoyment of street-food.
Tourists should have no illusion of digital privacy in Vietnam, and should expect to be monitored and/or surveilled by the Vietnamese government and their agents.
There is the potential for harassment and intimidation by security agencies for individuals involved in activities deemed sensitive or critical of the government. There are week civil liberties and no freedom of speech for Vietnamese citizens. There is active censorship of the internet.
Be non-political and keep your head-down and you should be fine.
The threat of terrorism in extremely low in Vietnam, although some foreign student-grounps have been designated as terrorist organizations by the Vietnamese government and some individuals associated with these groups have been arrested and charged with terrorism-related offenses.