Sunday, September 5, 2010

Foreigner's Tax

By midnight our entire group had arrived in HCMC. There were 9 of us in total; Celine and I and 7 Vietnamese. If you ever come to Vietnam you should expect to receive foreigner’s tax. This is not a government enforced tax but one that the local shopkeepers quite happily pass on purely because you are not Vietnamese. They don’t try to be discreet and will argue their point if they have to. The foreigner tax becomes more apparent when you are travelling with Vietnamese.

The price increase is not massive and we often don't mind it, I even actually find it funny most of the time but it is interesting to observe how blatant they are in inforcing this tax which is supposed to be a discreet job. For instance, one of the Vietnamese guys from our group, Phi, went and ordered a beer for 12,000 dong (very cheap). I went and ordered the same beer straight after him, and the lady charged me 15,000 (still very cheap). When I quizzed her about it, in front of Phi, she smiled and shook her head; a sign that the price was final. Funny.
We had planned to wait in a rented room opposite the bus station until our 3am departure time. That way we had somewhere to rest until the bus arrived. We rented one room for 9 people, which the landlord had no issue with until she saw that two of the group were foreigners. She made us rent our own room, without giving any reason, apart from what to me seemed the obvious; taking advantage of the foreigner situation. The beer situation was humorous however as you can imagine the room stunt was slightly annoying.

We have found many instances of foreigner’s tax while living in Hanoi. Going into a shop with a local so as to get a cheaper price, to buy a jacket for example, doesn't do the trick. If the owner has a hint of your intention to pay, they will blast your cover, right in front of the local. A degree of organization is required if you want to avoid the foreigner tax but in most cases it is only a little and is best to smile at. With a month on the road we expect to see the foreigner’s tax applied quite a bit but really in most instances it is no big deal and if you are travelling without a local you often don’t even realize when it is being applied.


  1. Oversea Vietnamese also get the same tax. We are easy pickings with our funky accents and demeanors. I've heard the merchants north of the 17th parallel can be especially heartless to us "capitalist roaders" and "remnants of the puppet regime".

  2. Oh dear! Yes, I've heard from "Viet Kieus" that they are foreigners also in the eye of the foreigner's tax... it's not about the colour or the face, it's about how deep your pockets are expected to be if you are from richer countries.