Because it’s of interest to me, and to a lot of people, and I looked into it recently, I’m going to discuss a topic of law that is in an area of practice outside of Indochine Counsel’s expertise. I want to talk about the requirements to become a naturalized Vietnamese citizen. Not only is it important to me, and many others, but it is under reported online. There isn’t a good deal of accurate information available in English, so here we go.

A foreigner who wants to become a Vietnamese citizen must meet certain requirements.

First, they must have sufficient civil act capacity under the law of Vietnam. Basically, the person is able to legally enter contracts (or is a dependent of such) who is not mentally unable to form the capacity for civil acts. Most foreigners who might be living in Vietnam would likely meet this requirement.

Second, they must follow the constitution and laws of Vietnam, the existing tradition, customs and behaviors of the people of Vietnam. This is fairly straightforward. If you live in Vietnam you have to obey the laws of Vietnam. That part is easy, definable, and concrete, the other part, the customs and traditions allow for a bit of subjective decision making on the part of the administrators who make naturalization decisions. There is no definition of these things, and they could deny an application simply because they don’t like the way you look and say you aren’t following the traditions. It’s subjective, unfortunately, but if you meet all the other requirements, and are actually wanting to become a Vietnamese citizen, they are likely to wave you through nonetheless.

Third, you must know Vietnamese well enough to become part of the community of Vietnam. This is, too, subjective. There are no standardized tests for Vietnamese, though the University of Humanities and Social Sciences offers a Vietnamese course and certification of language capability. If in doubt, I would go through that course and take that test just to have a document to point to. Vietnamese love their certificates.

Fourth, you must have lived in Vietnam for five years before the time of your application for naturalization. This is straightforward. There is little guidance as to whether this means you have to spend over half of each year in Vietnam—enough to be considered resident—or whether you must have spent more time.

Fifth, you must have the capability of living in Vietnam. This is taken to refer to the ability to support yourself through legitimate work in the country. You can’t become a Vietnamese citizen and hope to survive off the questionable social security network that exists. They don’t want poor people becoming Vietnamese citizens. They have enough of those already.

Those are the basic requirements. If you meet those you have a good chance of becoming a naturalized Vietnamese citizen. There are exceptions, however.

You don’t have to fulfill the last three requirements (know Vietnamese, live here for five years, or be able to support yourself) if you are the parent, spouse, or child of a Vietnamese citizen; if you have special merit from the establishment and development of the country, or if to allow such is for the benefit of Vietnam.

And, most importantly, unless you fall under those three categories, you must give up your prior citizenship. That means that an unmarried professional from another country who comes into Vietnam, who doesn’t marry a Vietnamese, but who wants to become Vietnamese, must give up his or her previous citizenship while someone who marries a Vietnamese spouse does not. I suppose it fits with the Government’s policy of encouraging child bearing, but still, a little awkward.

Finally, anyone becoming Vietnamese must assume a Vietnamese name (which they can choose themselves) and if the Government decides that it would be contrary to the benefit of the country for you to become a citizen, then you won’t become a citizen. It’s the final catchall that’s found throughout the legal system that allows the Government to act as it will regardless of what the law might otherwise say.

But then, if you want to become Vietnamese, you probably know how to live with that. It’s something I’m considering come four years from now, once I get my continuous five years in. But in the meantime, good luck, and if you want to go through the naturalization process—we don’t do it for you, but—we can refer you to law firms that can help.