The healthcare system in Vietnam combines aspects of Eastern and Western medicine. The Vietnamese government is currently working to develop a universal healthcare plan, which will cover all residents with basic medical care.
Expats need to take out private health insurance before they travel to Vietnam. This will cover them for treatment at private healthcare establishments.
Public hospitals in Vietnam
Expats living in Vietnam find that the standards of public hospitals do not match that of those found in North America or Western Europe. Public hospitals in Vietnam are generally underfunded and poorly equipped.
Doctors and medical staff working at public hospitals in Vietnam will generally only speak Vietnamese.
The quality and availability of healthcare is especially poor in rural areas, and in some of the most remote parts of the country healthcare is non-existent.
Private hospitals in Vietnam
On the other hand, the standard of private hospitals in Vietnam is excellent. Private hospitals located in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City are staffed by doctors from the USA, Korea, Japan and France, as well as Vietnamese doctors who have trained overseas.
Private hospitals tend to cater for the needs of expats better than public hospitals, and do accept international health insurance.
The cost of visiting specialists such as dentists and dermatologists varies considerably. Generally, while prices are still lower than the rates charged in Western countries, specialists who market themselves for the expat market will charge more than those that work with locals.
Doctors and medical staff at private hospitals in Vietnam speak English and/or French, which makes life easier for expats.
Health insurance in Vietnam
As there is no national health insurance plan in Vietnam, most expats organise international health insurance before they arrive.
When using hospitals in Vietnam, expats should check with both the hospital and their insurance provider that they are covered.
Expats should ensure that the health insurance that they purchase covers them for treatment outside Vietnam, because many expats, as well as the wealthier Vietnamese people, prefer to travel to Bangkok or Singapore for specialist treatment and medical emergencies.
Medicines and pharmacies in Vietnam
Pharmacies in Vietnam are well stocked and easy to find, especially in big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Pharmacies can be found on any major shopping street or mall.
Buying medicine over the counter without a prescription is straightforward, but expats should be aware that many of the drugs sold in Vietnamese pharmacies are likely to be counterfeit or have expired. Always check the date on the packaging before making a purchase. In addition, expats who want to be extra careful can either take the necessary medicines from their home country, or visit a pharmacy in one of the private hospitals or clinics.
Health hazards in Vietnam
Those who take some basic precautions in Vietnam should not experience any major health risks during their stay in the country.
It is best to avoid drinking tap water in Vietnam and buy bottled water instead. In most restaurants, ice is made using boiled water but expats with sensitive stomachs might want to avoid having ice in their drinks to be on the safe side.
Sunburn, sunstroke and dehydration are a major health hazard in Vietnam. It can get very hot and expats should always wear sunscreen with high UV protection, even on days when the weather looks overcast.
There are a number of infectious diseases and health threats that expats moving to Vietnam should be aware of. Hepatitis A and B can be a problem, especially in the countryside where hygiene standards are not always maintained.
Typhoid, dengue fever and malaria are still common in rural parts of Vietnam. Expats spending long periods of time in the countryside should ensure that they are on a course of anti-malarial tablets.
Pre-travel restrictions and vaccinations for Vietnam
Expats should not experience too much difficulty in bringing prescription medicine into Vietnam. It is best to carry a copy of the prescription and a letter from the doctor confirming that the medication is for personal use.
There are no special immunisations required for those travelling or moving to Vietnam. However, expats moving to Vietnam should ensure that their vaccinations for the following diseases are up to date:
Rabies (optional, but advisable for those travelling or working in rural areas)
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travellers arriving from yellow fever zones in South America or Africa.
Emergency services in Vietnam
The emergency services number in Vietnam is 115. However, ambulances in Vietnam are known for having a slow response time. Paramedics do not always speak English and equipment may be substandard.
There are some private hospitals in Vietnam’s bigger cities which provide a faster and more efficient private ambulance service. But whenever possible, expats use taxis to get to the nearest private hospital for emergency medical treatment.