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COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Vietnam is a poor, agrarian country controlled by a communist government. Tourist facilities are not well established, but are improving.

Passport and/or Visa Requirements: U.S. passports are valid for travel in Vietnam. Generally, visitors' visas will not be renewed after one month's stay. Current entry requirements as well as other information may be obtained from the Vietnamese Embassy, 1233 20th Street, Suite 501, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, telephone 202-861-0694, fax 202-861-1297, or from a travel agent that organizes travel to Vietnam. Overseas inquiries may be made at the nearest embassy of Vietnam.

Medical Facilities: Medical facilities do not meet U.S. standards and frequently lack medicines and supplies. The Vietnamese National Administration of Tourism states that it has created a program to provide emergency medical assistance to visitors holding valid tourist visas and traveling in groups. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation, may prove useful, especially when a standard medical evacuation to Singapore can easily cost upwards of $30,000. The Medicare/Medicaid program does not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. The international travelers hotline of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be reached at (404) 332-4559 or via the CDC home page on the Internet: for additional health information.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: Crime is a serious problem in Ho Chi Minh City. Generally, it is characterized by pickpocketing or snatch-and-grab incidents, and the theft of unattended bags, briefcases and other items. Passing motorcyclists, mostly carrying passengers, frequently grab bags, cameras, and other valuables from pedestrians, or passengers riding in pedicabs or at the back of rented motorcycles. When bags are stolen, passports, identity documents, and airline tickets are frequently lost. Thieves also congregate in large numbers around hotels known to be frequented by foreign tourists and businessmen. Assaults have been reported in outlying areas. Some pedicab drivers have reportedly kidnapped passengers and extorted money; it therefore may be risky to hire pedicabs not associated with reputable hotels or other establishments such as restaurants. There has been an increase in petty theft in Hanoi. In view of the increasing theft, passports should be kept in hotel safes or other secure locations. Lost or stolen passports should be reported to the local police and the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. Useful information on safeguarding valuables and protecting personal security while abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.

Travelers to Vietnam are advised to exercise caution in visiting places where drinking is the main activity. A series of recent deaths of otherwise healthy young men following an evening of drinking alcoholic beverages gives cause for concern that such drinks could be adulterated with toxic or other substances. Travelers are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi for up-to-date information on potentially suspect establishments.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and fines. Foreigners have been executed for drug smuggling.

Consular Access: U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry photocopies of passport data and photo pages with them at all times so that, if questioned by Vietnamese officials, proof of U.S. citizenship is readily available. U.S. consular officers in Vietnam are not always notified promptly when a U.S. citizen has been arrested or detained. Moreover, the Vietnamese government does not always grant U.S. consular officers access to incarcerated U.S. citizens in a timely manner. This is particularly true when the U.S. citizen is a dual national and is considered by the Vietnamese government to be a citizen of Vietnam. U.S. citizens have rights to consular access and should insist upon contact with the U.S. Embassy. The United States and Vietnam have agreed upon each other's rights of access to detained nationals bearing their respective passports, and that bearers of U.S. passports who enter Vietnam with a Vietnamese visa will be regarded as U.S. citizens for purposes of access. It is possible that dual nationals who enter Vietnam on Vietnamese passports may be denied access to U.S. consular officials.

Security: Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Large gatherings, such as those forming at the scene of traffic accidents, can become violent. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities.

Foreign visitors to Vietnam have been arbitrarily arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered crimes in the U.S. Visitors deemed suspicious may be detained, along with their Vietnamese contacts, relatives, and friends. Visitors are not allowed to invite Vietnamese nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms and police may raid hotels without notice or consent. Involvement in politics, possession of political material or unsanctioned religious activities can result in detention. Sponsors of small, informal religious gatherings such as Bible study in hotel rooms, as well as distributors of religious pamphlets, have been detained, fined and expelled.

Passport Seizures/Exit Bans: The Vietnamese government has seized the passports and blocked the departure of foreigners involved in commercial disputes. Passports should not be used as security for rental of vehicles. Several U.S. citizens have been unable to regain their passports when motorcycles have been damaged or stolen until they have paid for the damage or loss. In such circumstances, the U.S. Government may re-issue a passport to an American citizen who applies for one. The Vietnamese exit ban, however, would remain in effect, preventing departure.

Road Safety: Traffic accidents are an increasing hazard throughout Vietnam as more and more vehicles are on the roads. Many serious accidents and deaths of foreigners are caused by traffic accidents.

Streets in the city are very crowded with buses, cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and pedicabs. Food peddlers sell from the sidewalks, and sudden stops by shoppers on motorcycles and bicycles make driving a real hazard. There is little adherence to traffic laws. Most drivers (including bicyclists), do not yield as a rule. Accidents therefore are frequent on city streets. Horns are used constantly.

Outside the city, the traffic situation is marked by a variety of vehicles and water buffalo vying for road space. Sections of highway are in need of repair and are in poor condition. Driving at night is dangerous. Buses and trucks often travel at high speed with five to six bright lights on front of vehicles, which are rarely dimmed when approaching an oncoming car. Vehicles often stop in the middle of the road without lights. The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. government employees to defer driving after dark if at all possible. The U.S. Embassy also strongly advises that bikers and motorcyclists wear helmets and that cars or taxis with seat belts be used whenever possible. Pedestrians and drivers should exercise great caution at all times.

Americans involved in traffic accidents have not been allowed to leave the country before paying compensation often determined arbitrarily -- for property damage or injuries to Vietnamese nationals. Foreigners renting vehicles also risk prosecution and imprisonment for driving without a Vietnamese license, as international driver's licenses are not considered valid in Vietnam.

Other Seizures: Authorities have stepped up their seizure of documents, audio and video tapes, compact discs, literature, and letters which they deem to be religious, pornographic, or political in nature or intended for religious proselytizing. They are increasingly detaining and expelling individuals believed to be engaged in such activities. Individuals arriving at airports with video tapes or materials considered to be pornographic have been detained and heavily fined (up to U.S. $2,000 for one video tape). Authorities may search rooms and luggage without notice or consent. It is illegal to import certain weapons, including firearms, knives, and ammunition. Export of antiques is restricted by Vietnamese law, but the laws on the subject are vague and unevenly enforced. Antique objects are subject to inspection and seizure by customs authorities with no compensation made to owners/travelers. The determination of whether something is an antique can be made very arbitrarily. Purchasers of non-antique items of questionable value should retain receipts and confirmation from shop owners and/or the Ministry of Culture and the Customs Department to prevent seizure upon departure. Prior to purchasing antiques, travelers may wish to determine from the Ministry of Culture whether the object can be exported and the amount of duty. The process of exporting antiques can be difficult and time-consuming; however, travelers could insist that sellers obtain all necessary permits from the Ministry of Culture and Customs Department before final purchase is made.

Property Issues and Lifting of Sanctions: On January 28, 1995, the U.S. and Vietnam signed agreements resolving diplomatic property issues and settling outstanding claims between the two countries. For more information contact: Assistant Legal Adviser for International Claims and Investment Disputes, Department of State, SA-44 Room 205, Washington, DC 20520, telephone 202-776-8360.

Pursuant to the February 3, 1994 lifting of sanctions against Vietnam, U.S. visitors to Vietnam are no longer subject to spending limitations. U.S. visitors must comply with all normal Commerce Department export requirements. For additional information, contact The Bureau of Export Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20230, telephone. (202) 482-4811.

Dual Nationality: U.S. citizens who were born in Vietnam or are former citizens of Vietnam, and their children, while required to obtain visas, are treated in criminal matters as Vietnamese nationals by Vietnamese authorities. They also have been subjected to laws that impose special obligations upon Vietnamese nationals, such as military service and taxes. American citizens of Vietnamese origin may be charged with offenses allegedly committed prior to their original departure from Vietnam. U.S. citizens should refer to the section on consular access regarding their rights. Specific questions on dual nationality may be directed to the Vietnamese Embassy or to the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520, telephone (202) 647-5225.

Embassy Location/Registration: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Vietnam are encouraged to register in person or via telephone with the U.S. Embassy and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the country. The U.S. Embassy was upgraded from the U.S. Liaison Office on August 6, 1995, after the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam. The U.S. Embassy provides most consular functions except for the following visa categories for foreigners coming to the United States: a) tourist visas, due to insufficient space and staffing capacity; and b) immigrant visas and fiancee visas, which are handled by the Orderly Departure Program at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. Business hours of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The address is 7 Lang Ha, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, telephone: (84-4) 843-1500, fax: (84-4) 835-0447. There is presently no U.S. Government office in Ho Chi Minh City.

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