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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Vietnam 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Hanoi

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Vietnam. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Vietnam page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Travel Advisory

 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Vietnam at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

Crime Threats

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Hanoi as being a HIGH threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Although most travelers feel relatively safe, non-violent crimes do occur in Vietnam with some frequency.  Petty theft, purse snatching, and pickpocketing are the most common crimes, and occur most frequently around hotels, tourist sites, airports, public parks, and other crowded areas popular among foreigners.

 

Drive-by snatching is one of the biggest crime threats. Two criminals riding a motorcycle will ride up to a target; the motorcycle passenger will then snatch the victim’s camera, cell phone, or purse. This tactic can be especially dangerous to the victim if the strap of the bag is wrapped over their shoulder or around their neck, as the victim can be pulled down and injured.

 

Pickpocketing is another frequent crime, with one variation involving criminals using a knife to cut a hole in the bag and take valuables.  If you are threatened with violence over money or belongings, comply with demands and attempt to end the confrontation as quickly and as safely as possible.

 

Burglaries are rare, but have occurred in the Tay Ho and Ciputra residential areas, both of which are neighborhoods popular with the expatriate and diplomatic communities. Single-family houses tend to be the most frequent targets of residential break-ins. These break-ins have not resulted in injuries to residents, but in 2019 a taser-type device used in a break-in appeared to have injured a pet. If a burglar confronts you, do not react using force, as that may lead to an escalation of violence.

 

Many employ domestic help. The Regional Security Office is aware of occasional instances in which domestic help are suspected of stealing valuables from their employers. Only give your keys to a trusted person; do not leave them in possession with others. Do not leave valuables or large amounts of cash in your house. Keep these items locked in a secure area.


 

Keep doors and windows locked, especially at night. In general, high-rise apartment complexes with 24-hour guards and access-control systems have lower burglary rates. In general, the safety and security of guest rooms in quality hotels is adequate. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

 

The vast majority of crimes targeting foriengers is petty theft, and the most common target is cell phones: one street selling used cell phones and tables is colloquially known as “Stolen Phone Stree.”  Pickpocketing also occurs, but reports are infrequent.

 

Violent crime (e.g. armed robbery, kidnapping, or sexual abuse) against foreigners is uncommon, but does occur.  In the last year, there have been several instances of Westerners being offered cigarettes that turned out to be laced with drugs; the victims passed out; at least one was robbed (with no recollection of events). There have also been reports of drink doctoring in order to incapacitate victims in bars and restaurants expatriates frequent. In one case, a British man lost a computer after taking a woman he met in a bar back to his rented house.

 

Limit the amount of cash you carry, and leave valuables (e.g. passports, jewelry, and airline tickets) in a hotel safe or other secure place. Keep wallets and other valuables where they will be less susceptible to pickpockets. Exchange foreign currency only in authorized banks, hotels, and other legally authorized outlets, and obtain proper receipts for transactions. Change direction or depart the area if you notice suspicious people, groups, or activity. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

 

Criminals have copied credit and debit cards to make illegal purchases and withdraw funds without the account holder’s knowledge or consent. The Hanoi Metropolitan Police has reported discovery and seizure of devices designed to duplicate debit card information and ATM cards. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

 

 Cybersecurity Issues

 

Cybercrime has become more sophisticated in Vietnam. Vietnam has one of the highest levels of infected personal computers and malware penetration. This is due in part to the prevalence of unlicensed and expired software, which may not receive necessary security patches and updates. Not only do malicious cyber actors target individuals for personal information, but they also conduct attacks against businesses and foreign government agencies for economic and political information. According to reports, foreign cybercriminals have remotely attacked bank accounts and taken large amounts of money from account holders. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

 

The Government of Vietnam maintains strict control over all forms of political speech, particularly dissent or speech it deems as critical of the government and/or party. U.S. citizens have been detained, tried, and convicted for political activities (including criticizing the government or its domestic/foreign policies or advocating alternatives to Communist Party rule), possession of political material, and non-sanctioned religious activities (including proselytizing). Authorities have also detained U.S. citizens for posting messages on blogs or online chatrooms that are political or critical of the government. U.S. citizens of Vietnamese descent should be especially careful with their online postings. Review OSAC’s report, Lèse Majesté: Watching what you say (and type) abroad.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

The two most dangerous activities in Vietnam are crossing the street and driving / riding in traffic. Traffic is dangerous, chaotic, and undisciplined. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death, severe injury, and emergency evacuation of foreigners in Vietnam.

 

The road system is underdeveloped, and drivers widely ignore traffic rules. The lack of open sidewalks and adequate traffic controls creates a precarious situation for pedestrians and motorists alike. It is not uncommon for visitors or residents to be involved in some type of road incident while attempting to cross one of the many motorcycle-clogged streets of Hanoi. It is also common for visitors or residents to be involved in some type of incident on a sidewalk or in a park, as local drivers use these as thoroughfares when road traffic is stopped.

 

Motorcycle accidents are particularly common and serious, since motorcyclists typically have less training than car or truck drivers do. In accordance with local law, all motorcycle riders must wear a helmet. While the number of traffic accidents and casualties in Vietnam has decreased sharply over the years, it remains very high. During a six-month period of 2019, 9,820 accidents killed 4,467 people and injured 7,470 others. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad and Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

Only use metered/marked taxis, preferably from the larger taxi companies. In Hanoi, these include Hanoi Taxi, CP Taxi, and Mai Linh Taxi. Less-reputable taxi drivers have painted their vehicles to resemble legitimate companies. Do not take a taxi that looks suspicious (e.g., no meter, no signage) and be mindful of the prevelance of drunk drivers at night. If you smell alcohol on the breath of a driver or in a vehicle, get out and find a new ride. Ride-share services such as Grab are generally safe and reliable.

 

Visitors generally cannot rent cars; therefore, those needing to travel outside of major cities must use trains, buses, or private cars with hired drivers. Trains are old, slow, and are typically not up to Western standards; accidents and other safety issues, however, seldom occur. The quality and safety standards of buses and private car choices vary greatly depending on the amount of money individuals are willing to pay. Hotels and travel agencies are the preferred way to arrange private transportation options; they will normally provide details on the quality and condition of available vehicles. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Hanoi as being a LOW threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. However, U.S. citizens overseas always maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase security awareness while traveling internationally.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

Most Vietnamese regard most Westerners in a positive manner, and are friendly to foreigners. The most recent Pew Research poll of Vietnamese showed 84% had a favorable view of the United States.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

Civil Unrest

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Hanoi as being a LOW threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The government places heavy controls on political protests and public demonstrations, making civil unrest relatively uncommon. Peaceful demonstrations have occurred, often as a result of territorial disputes between Vietnam and China. Avoid large gatherings, as they can become violent with little or no warning.

 

In 2018, demonstrations took place in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and some other provinces; thousands of people protested against a draft law for new economic zones. The legislation would have allowed Chinese companies to lease land in Phu Quoc island, Van Don island, and Van Phong gulf for up to 99 years.

 

In 2017 and 2018, anti-Chinese protests in Hanoi marked the anniversary of China's occupation of the Paracel Islands (Hoang Sa) in the South China Sea (a terroritory that China still holds). The protest followed a peaceful commemoration for soldiers killed in 1974 when China seized the Paracel islands. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

The government restricts travel and photography in some areas. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in questioning by authorities, fines, or delayed travel. You should be cautious when traveling near military bases and avoid photography in sensitive border areas. Be alert for signs warning of zones where photography is restricted. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

 

Environmental Hazards

 

Vietnam’s long coastline leaves it susceptible to frequent storms. The the most frequent and devastating natural disasters include flooding, tropical storms (including typhoons), landslides, droughts, and tornadoes. Other environmental hazards that occasionally affect parts of the country include forest fires and saltwater intrusion. Major earthquakes are less common.

 

Vietnam is expected to be one of the countries most severely impacted by climate change. The frequency and severity of storms hitting Vietnam have worsened over the past two decades; researchers warn that this trend is likely to continue.

 

Some of the important actions for mitigating the impact of natural disasters include developing scenario-based contingency plans; staff accountability and relocation plans; asset movement and protection plans; client and supplier plans; communication trees and crisis communication plans; emergency equipment (e.g. fuel and batteries) plans; and storm/flood insurance plans.

 


 

Private-sector organizations that have been able to resume operations rapidly after a natural disaster have often found that suppliers and clients have greater difficulty resuming operations, which can prolong recovery. Before and during an impending storm, security managers should closely monitor information from the Central Committee from Flood and Storm Control, the National Centre for Hydrometeorological Forecasting, and local people's committees for information on evolving conditions and the possible need for evacuations.

Critical Infrastructure

Worker safety remains a concern. Many fatal accidents have resulted from a lack of training and experience for employees, as well as a lack of first-responder capabilities. In order to save money, employers and contracted companies may force employees to exceed their abilities and experience to accomplish a job.

 

Safety standards in Vietnam are not at the same level as those in the U.S., and vary greatly by company and province; this is especially true in regards to fire codes. Many buildings, including hotels, shops, and restaurants have limited or no safety equipment or emergency exits. Ground and water transportation also lack safety regulations.

 

Local first responders may lack the training and equipment required to provide emergency assistance. For instance, local fire departments may not have a truck with a ladder that goes past the tenth floor. People trapped above the tenth floor may have to wait for a helicopter or alternative means of rescue. A large accident may overwhelm local first responders.

 

Economic Concerns

 

Economic espionage is a concern for most businesses and manufacturers in Vietnam. Many of the items that infringe on patents, copyrights, and trademarks come from China. However, there is a vast network of Vietnamese organized crime groups believed to engage in similar activity. Consult with the local American Chamber of Commerce or the U.S. Embassy if you feel your product is subject to pirating or illegal distribution.

 

Privacy Concerns

 

Authorities may monitor hotel rooms, telephones, and correspondence over the internet. They may search personal possessions, media, and documents in hotel rooms, apartments, or at the workplace without the owner’s knowledge or consent. Similarly, all movements and activities are subject to surveillance. Exercise caution when discussing sensitive or proprietary information.

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

Although acceptance of LGBT issues has yet to be widespread in Vietnam, foreigners do not typically experience discrimination to the extent that Vietnamese LGBT do, since the Vietnamese have a generally more open and tolerant attitude towards the behavior of foreigners. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Vietnam, but there are no laws protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Review the State Department’s webpages on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

 

Due to the legacy of the Vietnam War, general attitudes towards those with disabilities are less harsh than in other Asian countries. However, poorly constructed or deteriorating sidewalks, the lack of sidewalks, frequent obstructions (parked motor bikes) on sidewalks, and chaotic traffic make mobility challenging, particularly for those in wheelchairs. Additionally, there are no standards or requirements for providing access to those with disabilities, and the entrances to many buildings require traversing steps. Some office and apartment buildings lack elevators. Review the State Department’s webpages on security for travelers with disabilities.

 

The Government of Vietnam considers some persons born in Vietnam or born to parents holding Vietnamese citizenship to be Vietnamese citizens unless they formally renounce Vietnamese citizenship with the Vietnamese Government. (Note: becoming a U.S. citizen does not automatically result in the loss of Vietnamese citizenship.) As a result, Vietnamese officials may treat U.S. citizens of Vietnamese origin differently than other U.S. citizens. For this reason, all U.S. citizens should enter Vietnam using their U.S. passports.

 

Proselytizing, unsanctioned religious activity, and possession of certain religious materials are illegal in Vietnam. The government has confiscated religious materials from U.S. citizens whose stated purpose of travel to Vietnam was tourism but who engaged in proselytizing or unsanctioned religious activities, such as holding Bible study groups in hotel rooms; it has also detained, fined, and expelled them from Vietnam. Religious organizations must register with the Government of Vietnam. Religious activists and practitioners have reported harassment and abuse at the hands of local authorities. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Drug use, particularly the use of methamphetamine, is an increasing problem and contributes significantly to the crime rate. While Vietnam is primarily a transshipment point, drugs are readily available – even though selling drugs is punishable by death.  Vietnamese organized crime groups work in conjunction with other criminals to bring drugs into the country or to distribute drugs manufactured locally. Violence associated with the drug trade is typically pre-meditated and limited to rival gangs, but local authorities note a rise in violent crimes that can affect the broader public.

 

Police Response

 

Police are often lack proper funding and training. Local police will issue a report of a crime, but generally will only initiate investigations for crimes they determine serious; the definition of serious does not always equate with U.S. standards. Investigations can take several months to complete. While the overall situation is improving, some police have been openly solicitous of compensation, ostensibly to support local police efforts or to facilitate investigation of a crime. If you are involved in a situation where a police officer is soliciting money, contact American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy.

 

If arrested for a crime, authorities will transport you to a jail and bring you before a judge. Insist on contacting American Citizen Services.

 

The emergency line in Vietnam is 113. If you are involved in a traffic accident, altercation, or other situation that draws a crowd, leave the immediate area and contact the police. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for policing. Police entities that travelers are most likely to meet are the traffic police (cảnh sát giao thong) and public security (công an). The traffic police wear khaki uniforms and are similar to highway patrol units or police officers whose primary job is the enforcement of traffic laws. Public security, who also wear khaki uniforms, are in charge of general security and enforcing local laws.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

The availability and quality of medical care in major cities is limited; medical care in rural/provincial areas can be non-existent. Even when adequate medical care is available at private clinics, it is often expensive.

 

Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy’s Medical Assistance website.

 

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

 

Doctors and hospitals expect immediate payment for health services, and may require cash payment.  International health clinics in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City can treat minor illnesses and injuries, but problems that are more serious often require medical evacuation to Bangkok or Singapore. Strongly consider purchasing medevac insurance before travel.

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

Air pollution is a significant problem in Vietnam’s major cities; consult a doctor prior to travel and consider the impact that seasonal smog and heavy particulate pollution may have on you. Information on air quality in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City is available at Air Now.

 

Travelers to Vietnam are at risk of tuberculosis, dengue fever, malaria, and HIV.  Avian influenza (H5N1) and Zika have occurred in Vietnam, but there are no current outbreaks. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Vietnam.

 

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

There are active OSAC Country Councils in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s East Asia and the Pacific team with any questions.

 

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

 

7 Lang Ha Street, Hanoi

Hours of Operation: Mon-Fri, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (except U.S. and Vietnamese holidays)

Website: https://vn.usembassy.gov/  

Embassy operator: 024-3850-5000

Emergency after-hour contact number: 024-3850-5105

 

Other Diplomatic Posts in Vietnam

U.S. Consulate Ho Chi Minh City, 4 Le Duan, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, 84 (0)28 3520-4200.

 

 

Helpful Information

 

·         Vietnam Country Information Sheet

·         OSAC Risk Matrix

·         OSAC Travelers Toolkit

·         State Department Traveler’s Checklist

·         Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

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