Vietnam is a one-party Communist state with one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia. With a land mass about the size of Germany, the countries’ chief exports are cashews, black pepper, rice, coffee, tea and rubber. Officially named the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976, the country capital city is Hanoi with a population of 6.2 million people.
From subtropical and dry to chilly and wet, the weather in Vietnam is diverse and somewhat challenging. With two opposing monsoon seasons, be sure to check the weather forecast for the city you plan to visit and the time of year. April, May or October are considered the best months of the year to travel, but be aware that Vietnam has three very different weather zones: north, central and south.
Before You Leave
Passports and Required Travel Documents
With three major International airports, Vietnam is definitely an up and coming tourist destination. As a US citizen, you will need a valid passport and a prearranged visa. If you already have a valid passport, check that your passport will not expire for at least six months from your return date. If you need a passport visit: http://travel.state.gov/passport/get/first/first_830.html to find out how to apply for either your first passport or to renew a previous passport.
Visit the Vietnam Embassy website at: http://vietnamembassy-usa.org/ to find out how to get your 30 day visa for Vietnam prior to your departure. This process may take several weeks and requires your valid passport, so leave plenty of time for all required travel documents.
There are also several private companies that can assist you with obtaining your passport and your visa entry documents. We suggest checking with: http://www.passportsandvisas.com or http://visacentral.com if you need help or are short on time.
Health Concerns and Vaccinations
Any international traveller should be up-to-date with all routine vaccinations such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus (DPT), and influenza (Flu). Travellers to Vietnam should also receive vaccinations against typhoid, hepatitis A and B. If you will be staying in Vietnam for over a month or will be visiting rural areas outside of the city centers, check with your doctor regarding the recommended Japanese Encephalitis Vaccine and anti-Malaria drugs. Check: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/vietnam for information on these vaccinations and current precautions or updates.
Pack all necessary medications in their original containers and bring a letter from your doctor describing any serious medical conditions if you have any concerns. A small first aid kit with bandages, antibacterial cream, a pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, a sunscreen, mosquito repellent and an antidiarrhea medication is also useful.
Because of the humidity of Vietnam, take precautions to avoid dehydration and drink plenty of sealed, bottled water. Avoid tap water and use your bottled water to brush your teeth, especially the first few days as your body acclimates to a new diet and a new environment. Be sure to use a mosquito repellent always as dengue fever and malaria can be present.
When checking flights to compare travel prices and itineraries we suggest checking:
www.cheaptickets.com , www.travelocity.com or www.expedia.com for airfare and hotel bookings. They often have the best prices for flights and flight hotel packages.
You may also want to look into trip cancellation insurance. Check out http://www.squaremouth.com/travel-insurance-quotes#single_trip where you can compare hundreds of travel insurance products. Oftentimes getting a combination of trip cancellation, medical, and medical evacuation insurances is the best value for your money.
Vietnam does not recognize International Driving Permits. You will need a Vietnamese drivers’ license to rent a car. Unless you’re planning a stay of several months, it may not be worth your time and money. We suggest you check other types of transportation, depending on your travel itinerary and needs. These travel guides should help you with any questions you have about getting around Vietnam:
www.lonelyplanet.com www.fodor’s.com www.frommer’s.com
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
This program is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. This program allows the Department of State to better assist you in case of an emergency. Your itinerary is submitted and you can also receive updates on Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts and other information for a particular country.
You can enroll in the Smart Traveler Program at https://step.state.gov/step
Electricity in Vietnam
Household electricity in Vietnam is 220 volts, 50 hertz, so you will need a converter and adapter for electronics. Before leaving for Vietnam take a look at the electronics you want to take, laptops, phones etc. to make sure you have the proper adapters, converters and transformers. If you’re bringing a laptop or tablet with you, don’t forget the surge protector
Check out http://www.walkabouttravelgear.com/elect.htm or our Amazon store http://amazon.com for more information and pricing on electrical adaptors.
COMMON WALL SOCKETS IN VIETNAM
The dong is the currency of Vietnam. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different bills and their colors and values before you leave. Vietnamese paper bills range from 200vnd to 500000vnd and luckily are not all the same size and color. You can change dollars to dong at banks, hotels and authorized exchange bureaus. If exchanging currency at banks or hotels, bring crisp clean US currency when possible. The current exchange rate from US dollars to Vietnamese dong (vnd) can be found at: http://www.oanda.com/currency/converter. Some businesses may take US dollars, but this is discouraged by the Vietnamese Government.
Travelers checks can be cashed at banks or authorized foreign exchange outlets for a fee. Credit cards are also accepted at most banks in major cities, as well as ATMs. Be sure to have extra Vietnamese currency if traveling away from the city centers.
Vietnam is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. There’s no daylight savings time in Vietnam, meaning that in the summer months, it’s 12 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast, in winter months 11 hours ahead.
Is it Safe?
While violent crime is almost nonexistent in Vietnam, petty thievery and pick pocketing can be a problem. You will have no problems if you take some precautions:
- Keep your passport and cash in a concealed travel wallet. Some examples of travel wallets can be found at http://amazon.com
- Keep your valuables in the hotel safe.
- Use your common sense. Stick to well traveled roads and don’t walk down dark alleys.
One of the greatest dangers in Vietnam is road travel and just crossing the street can be life threatening if not careful! Be extremely careful if you go by motorbike or motorbike taxi. There are lots of accidents and don’t be scared to ask your driver to slow down.
If you need assistance, the local equivalents to the “911” line in Vietnam are 113 for police, 114 for fire, and 115 for ambulance.
While you are traveling in Vietnam, you are subject to the laws of Vietnam even if you are a U.S. citizen. If you are arrested, contact the US Embassy immediately.
Cell phones in Vietnam
Having a working cell phone while in Vietnam is an essential part of travel. There are many options when looking for a cell phone to use in Vietnam. Some services will only work in Vietnam, so take that into consideration if you’re planning on doing other traveling.
1. Call your local cell phone provider to find out if your phone will work in Vietnam. If they do, find out the rate-it may be extremely expensive.
2. If your cell phone provider does not offer this option, look into services that can provide a world-wide Sim card for your existing unlocked phone. You can also rent a phone for your trip.
3. When you arrive in Vietnam, you can pick up a local sim card to use in an unlocked phone. In Vietnam, a sim card is relatively inexpensive, and usually comes preloaded with 40000-50000 Dong for under 20.00 USD. Note: Check that the sim card or phone rental does not expire after 7- 30 days.
One service you can check for renting or purchasing a worldwide cellphone is www.Mobal.com.
Availability of Healthcare:
The only high-quality healthcare facilities are in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Your options in rural areas are quite limited, and any major medical issue usually means an uncomfortable transfer to one of these centers or an evacuation to Singapore, Bangkok, or Hong Kong.
If you do get sick when traveling in Vietnam, call the US Embassy or US consulate for their list of local doctors who speak English. In a pinch, your hotel should be able to get you a recommended local doctor that speaks English.
When traveling in Vietnam, you may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later. Medicare and Medicaid do not provide coverage for medical costs outside the U.S. Before traveling overseas, find out what medical services your health insurance does cover.
To protect yourself, consider buying medical travel insurance. Be clear that the medical insurance you are purchasing covers medical transfers and/or evacuations.
For information on traveler’s insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and medical insurance while traveling, we suggest: http://www.squaremouth.com
For information on medical transfers and evacuations, visit: http://medjetassist.com
US Embassy and Consulate in Vietnam
U.S. Embassy in Hanoi
170 Ngoc Khanh
Ba Dinh District
24 hour telephone number: (84-4) 3850-5000
Fax: (84-4) 3850-5010
U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City
4 Le Duan, District 1
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
24 hour telephone number: (84-8) 3520-4200
Fax: (84-8) 3520-4244