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Yes, it is illegal. Some expats work illegally in Vietnam, with a business visa instead of a Work permit or work visa exemption. You and/or your sponsor incur multiple risks.
What is the purpose of a business visa for Vietnam authorities
So you are interested in doing business in Vietnam, including working. A business visa is made for that purpose. The Vietnamese authorities will issue you a visa of 1 to 3 months with single or multiple entry so you can make your arrangements.
That can include less than 3 months freelancing over a period of 12 months. This can be officialized and part of your tax declaration (FCT foreign contractor tax + income tax regime you are with).
Any other longer period over 3 months of work should use a Work Visa or Work Visa exemption.
What are the types of Vietnam business visas? What is their authorized purpose?
Business visa are categorized into 2 types:
- DN1 visa – to be granted to foreigners who work with other businesses and organizations with legal status in accordance with the laws of Vietnam.
- DN2 visa – to be granted to foreigners who come to Vietnam to offer services, establish a commercial presence or perform other activities under international treaties to which Vietnam is a member.
What is the procedure to get a Vietnam business visa
At the moment, there are 02 ways to get a business visa to Vietnam, namely:
- Getting a Vietnam visa on arrival (VOA – highly recommended as no sponsor letter from a Vietnam company is not required to application); and
- Getting a Vietnam embassy visa.
In order to get a business visa for Vietnam, you must meet the following requirements:
- You are not prohibited from entering Vietnam.
- You must have a sponsor company in Vietnam (the company you will work for after entering Vietnam) that is willing to sponsor your visa and travel. It must be a real company, not a service one.
- Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from your date of entry.
- Your portrait photos
What is the difference between a business visa and a work visa
While people with Vietnam tourist visas are not permitted to work in Vietnam, those with a business visa are allowed to explore and research about business in Vietnam.
Before Covid, a Vietnamese business visa is available in:
- 1-month single/multiple entry
- 3-month single/multiple entry, and
- 1-year multiple entry (for US Passport holders only).
But at the moment, a business visa for Vietnam is good for 3 months maximum.
Why is a business visa used for work permit
There are mainly 3 reasons why an expat would use a Business visa:
- Easy to get and renew
- Hi-end status easy to fool people around for work permit
- no declarations whatsoever whether tax or labor department
Business visa is mistaken with Work permit exemptions
Whether intentionally or naively, some Expats state ‘I am here for business ie. that includes my work, I don’t know for how long therefore I use this business visa.
The main things you are NOT ALLOWED to do with a business visa:
- to perceive paid work for more than 3-months over a 12-month period
- having a business card mentioning any address
- not renew your business visa for purpose other than the original visit
In Vietnam business visa is conveniently used as a Work Permit
Why is the business visa used so much for work or running a company?
The Business Visa Holder
For those users who have a business visa:
- The user does not have to get a work permit (that includes Master’s degree or proof that a Vietnamese citizen can not perform the same job)
- There is not social security contribution by employee
- There is no income tax
- They can conduct any activity they wish ‘legal or not’, some grow and distribute cannabis
The Business Visa Issuer/Sponsor
Here are the risks, from now, for the sponsor, company and NGO who invited you, as opposed to before:
- Don’t have to justify expat employment divulging their real revenues
- Save the work permit procedure and costs
- Don’t declare to labor dept and pay the employer social security
- Under declare their income taxes
The Visa Agents & Immigration Officials
For travel and visa agents, but also for immigration officials, they have a business model to protect in the renewals of ‘non-legitimate visa problems’:
- Addictive as when you live expat life with a job and a home in Vietnam, you are a repeat client for business visa renewal
- Captive client, the more you renewals the more illegal you are overstaying for work or retirement
- Once in a while, the law change and ‘your renewal becomes more complicated’, the agent needs to sweat more, which drives your visa fee up
- Opacity is the key for this business as you don’t speak the language, don’t know how many intermediaries and of course going direct is a ‘No No’ impossible as you are not legal. Who gets what from whom?
- Visa runs are surely profitable to Cambodia and Lao buses arranged by Visa agencies
Why shake such a smooth eco-system of stamping a renewal visa?
Vietnam Business visa sample
How does the immigration enforce Business Visa regulations? What are the risks of infringement on business visa regulations?
Before and during Covid, abuses in visa issuance and renewals made it impossible for the Ministry of Interior to make a census of who are the key expats authorized to enter and stay during the pandemic, namely: country representatives, Investors and experts at building or maintaining factory activities.
In March 2022, the party was over after the Ministry of Interior police gathered to enforce what had been left to intermediaries. The decision was brutal ‘with immediate effect:
- Only 30-day visa for tourism to 80 countries were available via e-visa platform
- No more visa extensions and renewals
- No agency could issue visas
- Embassies worldwide were stripped from their Visa service, only facilitating business visa applications
- Any sponsor company of NGO is held responsible for the Entry date and exit date of your ‘guest business visitor’
And of course, all renewals were subject to a visit to the sponsor for à valid reason. NB. Many ‘sponsor entities’ were bankrupted companies due to Covid 2020-2021 lockdown, merely surviving issuing Investor and Expert visa invitations for an high fee.
Conclusion the best way to use a Vietnam business visa
As a working person, if you are genuinely interested in working and living in Vietnam for a period more than 3-month, you must think like the Vietnamese authorities or an established company or your own.
- The question will be the same: ‘What value-added can I bring to Vietnam, an established organization or a start-up business… that is scarce or not existing?
- You can then easily get a connection with an established company in Vietnam for an invitation. Whether for further recruiting interviews, checking out a sector for investment, pitching to partners or studying the market for some entity…
- Get your Business visa 3-month multiple-entry, as you may need to visit some ASEAN countries in the process
- If some of your leads goes well transform your Business visa into a legit Investor or Work visa, then the holy graal TRC Temporary Resident Card to replace any Visa for up to 3-years
As we write, the visa renewal ecosystem is being investigated, and already some arrests have started. As usual in Vietnam, stay tuned…