As a resident in Vietnam, I have the occasion to meet with numerous proprietors, owners of restaurants or bars or clubs that traffic in alcohol. While no one has asked me yet about the relevant laws, I thought it might be worthwhile to review some of the basic regulations governing the sale of alcohol at the retail level.
Who can sell alcohol in Vietnam
There are few restrictions on who can sell alcohol in Vietnam, however, individuals who have yet to register as an enterprise in some form may not sell alcohol. This is practically the only positive restriction for selling alcohol, that the seller be a registered enterprise and that they have registered with the relevant government authorities that one of their business activities is the sale of alcohol. (These activities are divided between the sale of alcohol of 5.5% alcohol/volume or less and the sale of alcohol of more than 5.5% alcohol/volume.) They must also have put in place proper mechanisms for handling cash sales and for preventing the purchase of alcoholic beverages by individuals under 18 years of age. In all other respects, the seller of alcohol must abide by additional regulations of the government that have yet to be promulgated.
Restrictions on selling alcohol in Vietnam
While most any enterprise can sell alcohol once properly registered, there are some restrictions on where and to whom they can sell alcohol. First off, alcohol–and beer–cannot be sold to individuals under 18 years old. The addition of beer to this prohibition is recent, but it seems that the government is serious in its intent to prevent underage drinking. In addition to this limitation, the sale of alcohol is limited by location. It may not be sold in the following places:
- Medical facilities;
- Education facilities;
- Place of entertainment or socialization or development of youth under 18 years old;
- Reformatories, prisons, and other locations involved with compulsory education or reform;
- Places society patronized (this seems broad, but the translation is so);
- Workplaces of the government, political, socio-political, socia-industrial, etc., organizations.
Otherwise, there are several restrictions on who and how a proprietor can sell alcohol. In addition to not selling alcohol to anyone under 18 years of age, an enterprise selling alcohol cannot use anyone under 18 years of age to sell it nor encourage anyone under 18 years of age to consume it. (It is important to note that the law imposes the duty of determining whether a person is 18 years old on the proprietor. They are responsible for checking identifications if there is any doubt.) They cannot advertise the sale of liquor of more than 15% alcohol/volume. They cannot provide information that is misleading or untruthful regarding the effects of alcohol on health. And they cannot promote alcohol over 15% alcohol/volume in the activities of the enterprise. (This post won’t examine the rules regarding advertising alcohol in detail as they are quite detailed and won’t apply to most mom and pop restaurants or bars.)
Penalties for violating the rules of selling alcohol in Vietnam
The penalty for failure to obtain the proper registration when first obtaining the enterprise licensing, or for violating the boundaries of the license, ranges from 3 to 20 million VND per violation for normal enterprises but double that for enterprises selling alcohol.
Furthermore, an enterprise in violation of activities stipulated in its license can have their operating license suspended from one to three months. It is important, therefore, if you intend to sell alcohol, that you register that intent in the sectors in which your enterprise will be active.
For enterprises registered to sell alcohol of 5.5% alcohol/volume or less, if they sell a higher percentage they are liable to fines of from 500,000 to 1 million VND per violation. The same fines apply per each violation of the prohibition against the sale of alcohol to minors.
Fines of from three to five million VND apply for individuals who sell alcohol without registering as an enterprise and for enterprises who use laborers under 18 years old to directly sell alcohol to customers.
These seem to be the main penalties that would apply to a simple enterprise involved with retail sales of alcohol. As mentioned above, other restrictions apply to larger sellers and advertisers, but this post won’t get into them.
As always, if you need help with registering your business or determining the details of selling alcohol in Vietnam, or if you have run into trouble and need help with the authorities, please feel free to contact your lawyer on staff or get in touch with us through our website at www.indochinecounsel.com.