Getting a Work Permit
Obtaining the legal status to work in Vietnam is relatively straightforward.
Last Updated: January 6.2015
- A work permit is the standard legal document allowing a foreigner to undertake employment in Vietnam
- Applicants will need to have signed a contract, have relevant qualifications or experience, and be supported by their employer
- The application process involves filling out a number of forms, providing certification, and undergoing a health check at an overseas or approved local hospital
- Certain documents are also required of the employer, who must also advertise the vacancy to Vietnamese staff for a month
- The fee is 400,000VND for a new permit, and is cheaper for reissuing or extension
- The official processing time for a work permit after submission is 15 days, but this can vary, and the time it takes to prepare the application can be extensive
There are people working in Ho Chi Minh City under all sorts of auspices and in various capacities – but long-term, lawful employment in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is usually only afforded to those holding an official work permit. Application procedures for both this and the accompanying documentation you’ll need to be able to work lawfully in Vietnam are complicated and heavily time-consuming, but far from impossible. You can have an agent go through the process for you, but you’ll still have to supply all the same documents as you would if you were just doing it carefully by yourself. The decision is yours.
In fact, there are only two documents that any expat who wishes to work in Vietnam generally needs – a work permit, and either a business visa, residency card, or visa exemption. For most people, the work permit will need to be applied for first. According to the new Bill on Entry, Exit and Residence of Foreigners in Vietnam, foreigners must have their work permits before arriving in the country.
Permission to Work
The work permit is by far the most important document for any expat who wishes to work in Vietnam for longer than three months. You can apply for it once you’ve found employment and signed a work contract. The permit can last as long as the period of your labour contract with the employer, although it won’t exceed two years – the maximum period set in May 2013 (regulation 10/2012/QH13).
In order to be eligible for a work permit, an expat in Vietnam will need to have 3 things:
- You’ll need to have found a job and signed a work contract
- You’ll need your employer to help you go through the application process, as several documents from the business will be required.
- You’ll need to prove you’re qualified. Since the issuance of Decree 102 (adopted in November 2013), foreign workers require a professional qualification in their specified field (a university degree, higher education degree, or professional skills certificate), and proof of five years’ working experience in that industry. Previously, either of these would have sufficed. This provision is expected to be rescinded, however, following Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s July 8 2014 announcement instructing several ministries to ease their grip on foreign labour management – it had been pointed out that not even Bill Gates or Steve Jobs would have qualified to work in Vietnam under that condition.
In certain circumstances, the minimum work experience requirement may not be applied. You’re advised to check in with a legal advisor if you don’t meet the minimum experience requirement and are otherwise completely unqualified, but still want to work in Vietnam legally –it’s a long shot, but you may be lucky.
You must also meet the following eligibility requirements:
- You’re over 18 years old, and physically capable of performing the duties required
- You have a degree of specialist knowledge, qualification, or ability that exceeds that generally available on the domestic market (this is easily demonstrable for those working in English-language-based fields, such as English teaching)
- If you want to work in the health or education fields, you must meet all the normal requirements set by the Vietnamese government (as long as you have all the normally-required documents, you probably meet these requirements anyway)
- You have no record of criminal activity nor are under warrant of arrest in any country.
There are certain categories of employees who are exempt from needing a work permit at all, including volunteers and journalists: your employer will need to seek confirmation in writing that you fall into an exemption category if that’s the case, by lodging a work permit exemption form at the provincial labour department.
If you’re preparing to undergo the Work Permit application process, there are a number of documents you’ll need.
From your side:
- Completed work permit application form.
- Standard application letter for permission to work in Vietnam (following the official form).
- Criminal record (in local terms, this refers to a certificate showing that you have NO criminal record). If you’re already in Vietnam, you’ll need to get this issued by the local Judiciary Department of the city where you live (and that of any other city you’ve lived in during the previous six months) – Department of Justice, HCMC is at 141-143, Pasteur, Ward 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. If you’re not in Vietnam or if you’ve stayed here for less than six months, you’ll also need to get a criminal record from your own government authority.
- A copy of your relevant certificate, degree, or professional skills certificate.
- Confirmation letter from your former employers or paperwork to prove that you have the required minimum five years’ experience working within the same field (or three years for technical workers).
- Curriculum vitae with passport photo on the standard form.
- Hospital health check. There is a formal list of hospitals that have the authority to give you a health check in Vietnam and only the hospitals on this list are qualified to certify your health for the work permit application. You can get this list when you procure the initial paperwork templates and forms. At this time, the only hospitals authorised to perform this health check procedure in HCMC are Cho Ray Hospital, Thong Nhat Hospital, Van Hanh, Benh Vien Nhan Dan 115, and Columbia Asia International Hospital - Gia Dinh For Columbia, expats can have their health check in Binh Duong and apply for the work permit in HCMC. If you’re not in Vietnam, you can get a health check from any hospital in the country in which you are staying. This health check will be valid for six months.
- Five additional new Passport Photos on white backgrounds taken less than six months previously.
All non-Vietnamese documents must be translated at an official agency and notarised by a local Vietnamese notary to prove that the translated version has the same meaning as the original, and can be used legally in Vietnam. Official documents from your own country must ALSO be verified for authenticity at your own embassy. If you’re applying from overseas, check the Vietnamese embassy website in your own country for more information on procedures to notarise and translate documents there.
From your employer, you’ll need:
- A valid labour contract.
- The company license (certified by the relevant government authority).
- Work permit application form.
- Approval from the government to use foreign labour.
- If you’re being transferred, you’ll need your employer to provide proof that you’ve actually been working at your company for at least one year.
Don’t worry yourself too much about these documents – they’re entirely up to your employer to provide. If for some reason they can’t provide them, they’re not actually legally entitled to employ you in the first place, and your efforts thus far have been a complete and utter waste of time.
According to a relatively new regulation, your employer will also have to satisfy the authorities that they have unsuccessfully advertised your position as open to Vietnamese staff for at least one month on at least one central and one local relevant media platform. This particular law is designed to protect Vietnamese workers from losing their positions to cheap imported labour from Cambodia, Laos, and so on – unfortunately resulting in additional paperwork and waiting time for the rest of the expat community. The new regulations do not explicitly state this requirement, but they still affirm that a company must have been unsuccessful in finding local staff for the position for two months, and so this is usually taken as implying the previous requirement for advertising. They must also report their demand for foreign employees annually and upon any change in their situation so as to procure up-to-date written approvals for hiring foreigners.
The current official costs for applying for a work permit, payable by cash, money order, or cheque are:
- Initial grant: VND400,000/permit
- Re-granting: VND300,000/permit
- Extension: VND200,000/permit
Generally, your employer will arrange for someone at your new company to take your documents and apply on your behalf. Go with them by all means if you must – but if you turn up to the Department of Labour by yourself without a translator, you’ll only confuse everybody, and they may have cause to doubt the authenticity of your application.
Once you have your Work Permit, you still won’t be eligible to work and live in Vietnam until you have your visa, residence card, or exemption:
- Business visas allow entry and residence to expat workers for three months to a maximum of one year
- Applications for a Temporary Residence Card are more involved, but this document will allow you to stay in Vietnam for up to three years, and can be used as a visa and ID card
- Exemptions from holding a visa are valid for five years, and are available to overseas Vietnamese and the spouses of Vietnamese nationals.
Application processes for these documents are reviewed in other articles on this website.
You can enter Vietnam while all this is in process (as long as you qualify for a visa or a visa exemption), but you can only work during that time under a short-term contract. Don’t count on this, though – there’s a bill under debate that may require foreigners to receive their work permits before arriving in Vietnam, and various reports have suggested that some visa offices are already enforcing this rule – so get it while you’re still overseas if at all possible.If you already have a long-term contract with a company that does business in Vietnam – if you’re transferring to Vietnam specifically to work for an existing firm, for example – you’ll need your work permit before you arrive if you want to start at the office immediately.