By Georgina Burt

Vietnam has become a destination hotspot among young travellers, offering ample once-in-a-lifetime experiences with incredible value for money. Every year Vietnam receives 300,000 British tourists embarking on paradise holidays and adventure travel, as the country boasts limitless and stunning landscape, varying from mystical mountains to its beguiling, golden beaches, and possesses a deeply rich history and culture. Notably, the country is a top contender for student travellers above all else, offering extremely cost-effective cultural experiences!

However, one thing which sets south-east Asia apart from the more archetypal British summer holiday destinations, such as Greece or Spain, is the unfamiliarity of local laws and customs. While many holidays exist for the purpose of relaxation, it is important to brief yourself on these local laws to mitigate your chances of unknowingly committing offences.

Travellers may not even realise when they are breaking laws, and the UK might only be able to provide limited support if you are arrested abroad, so we have put together some advice on following local laws and customs to help inform your holiday to Vietnam.

How Can I Stay Out of Trouble?

Experiencing life in Vietnam can seem like an out-of-world experience; being situated in a place shrouded in mystery and adventure, so remote from the monotony of everyday life in the UK! While this environment is exhilarating and freeing, and you should latch onto this wonderful feeling, it is important to stay aware and be respectful of your surroundings.

Here are a few less commonly-known laws and customs for travellers heading to Vietnam:

  • While there are no laws prohibiting it, it is important to be mindful to be more modest in Vietnam, especially around religious or cultural sites – I know it is sticky and humid, but perhaps think twice about WHERE you are before taking your shirt off!
  • Penalties for possession of drugs is severe, even punishable by the death sentence in some cases. While music festivals in Vietnam are popular among students and can forge unforgettable memories for those travelling with friends, be vigilant and do not take drugs – this is not only illegal, but drugs here are a lot stronger and often tampered with, with the FCDO reporting that drugs claimed the lives of 7 festival-goers in Hanoi in 2018.
  • While abroad, it is always a good idea to follow the instructions of local authorities and always carry a photo ID in the case you are asked for it. Be wary there are penalties for non-compliance.
  • Use your head! – You don’t need photos of any military installations.
  • The FCDO travel advice page also suggests in the instance you need to report a crime you should consider taking a native speaker to accompany you as this process can be long and difficult. It is likely you will need to sign documents, so it is important you know what you are affirming with the help of someone to translate. For more information on local laws and customs like this to help you navigate your travels, click here!

What Happens if I Get into Trouble in Vietnam?

The Vietnamese legal system is not well developed and the prison system is very poor. Foreign nationals subject to criminal investigations can legally be detained for long periods of time and legal representation in Vietnam is below the standard you might expect back home.


According to the FCDO’s ‘Prisoner Pack for British Nationals Detained or Imprisoned in Vietnam’, each prisoner is entitled to 17kgs rice, 0.7kgs meat, 0.8kgs fish, 0.5kgs sugar, 1kg salt, 15kgs vegetables and sufficient drinking water per month. However, former inmates report that this requirement is rarely fulfilled, and prison food can consist of rotten and inadequately cooked food, such as overcooked vegetables, little meat, and cocktails of sand and rice.


The standard for prison cells lies at roughly 20-40 inmates per cell, granting each prisoner approximately 2 square meters of their own. Despite this, one prisoner in Vietnam recounted that cells of 6x13 meters were bursting with more than 100 prisoners, leaving each inmate with less than 0.8 meters of their own space. This prisoner recalled how they slept on the “filthy and wet” concrete walkways “between raised cement platforms”, in cells which were “full of mosquitos” and “green with mould”.

Long periods of solitary confinement and physical violence, as well as capital punishment for possession of even small amounts of drugs, have also been reported.

Despite This, WHY Should I Still Travel There?

There are risks in everything in life! What matters is that we try to mitigate those risks. Travelling the world is thrilling and culturally enriching.  Vietnam is a country overflowing with profound history, delicious food, kind people, and breath-taking scenery. There is an entire world beyond British waters for the exploring and we should never be afraid to disembark from the safety of home because of the risks and remoteness of foreign customs and countries. For those intending to holiday abroad, it is helpful to familiarise yourself with the local laws and customs of your destination to enhance your experiences abroad and take the stress off accidentally getting into trouble. For anybody looking for travel guidance, be sure to check out the FCDO government travel advice.