Applying for a Vietnam Work Permit: Guidelines for Foreigners and Employers

We explain the work permit rules and issuance process for foreign workers in Vietnam. On September 18, 2023, the Government enacted Decree No. 70/2023/ND-CP, amending and augmenting specific provisions outlined in Decree No. 152 concerning the recruitment of foreign workers to the country, as well as hiring and oversight of Vietnamese employees working for foreign individuals and entities in the country.


A work permit is an official document that grants permission to work in a foreign country, known as the "country of work," distinct from one's "country of origin." Vietnam issues work permits to foreigners who meet specific legal requirements. Holding a work permit signifies legality in employment, ensuring the protection of rights and interests within labor relations for the foreign employee.

Vietnam’s work permit procedures can be confusing for first-time visitors. In this article we’ll explain the steps that foreigners should pay attention to when planning to work in Vietnam and key changes to the regulatory framework.

Conditions for foreign workers working legally in Vietnam

As per Article 151.1 of the Labor Code 2019, the conditions for working legally are as follows:

  • Must be at least 18 years old and possess full legal capacity.
  • Should hold technical, professional, or occupational qualifications and experience, along with meeting the health standards specified by the Minister of Health.
  • Must not be currently serving a sentence, have unresolved criminal records, or be under criminal prosecution under foreign or Vietnamese law.
  • Must possess a valid work permit issued by a competent state management agency in Vietnam, except for cases specified in Article 154 of the Code.

To apply for a work permit in Vietnam, the foreign workers must meet specific criteria based on their employment situation. Positions that can recruit foreigners when Vietnamese workers do not meet the conditions include Expert, Manager/Executive Director, and technical worker.

Eligibility to apply for a work permit

The eligibility criteria for applying for a work permit in Vietnam have been provided in Decree 152/2020/ND-CP. Foreigners entering Vietnam for the following purposes are eligible:

  • Executing labor contracts.
  • Participating in intra-company transfer programs.
  • Engaging in contracts or agreements pertaining to business, commerce, finance, banking, insurance, science and technology, culture, sports, education, vocational training, and health.
  • Providing services under contracts.
  • Offering services independently.
  • Working for foreign non-governmental organizations or international organizations in Vietnam that hold operating licenses under Vietnamese law.
  • Serving as managers, chief executive officers, experts, technicians.
  • Participating in the execution of bid contracts and projects in Vietnam.

Furthermore, the law specifies entities qualified to sponsor a work permit for foreign employees:

  • Enterprises operating under the Enterprise Law, Investment Law, or international treaties ratified by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
  • Contractors involved in bidding and contract performance.
  • Representative offices, branches of enterprises, agencies, and organizations licensed for establishment by competent authorities.
  • State agencies, political organizations, socio-political organizations, socio-political-professional organizations, social organizations, socio-professional organizations.
  • Foreign non-governmental organizations granted licenses by competent Vietnamese authorities in accordance with Vietnamese law.
  • Non-business organizations and educational institutions established under Vietnamese law.
  • International organizations, foreign project offices in Vietnam, agencies, and organizations authorized for establishment and operation by the Government, Prime Minister, ministries, and sectors under Vietnamese law.
  • Operating offices of foreign investors under business cooperation contracts or foreign contractors licensed to operate under Vietnamese law.
  • Organizations operating in legal areas in Vietnam as per Vietnamese law.
  • Cooperatives and cooperative unions established and operated under the Cooperative Law.
  • Business households and individuals conducting business activities in accordance with Vietnamese law are also permitted.

Work permit application process: Key timelines and documentation

When to apply

As per Labor Code 2019, Decree No. 152/2020/ND-CP, and Decree 70/2023/ND-CP, , which provides guidelines for the online issuance of work permits to foreign workers in Vietnam, the employer of the foreign individual or their representative must submit the request form and necessary documents to the Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (DOLISA) at least 13 working days prior to the intended start date of the foreigner's employment.

Below are the procedures and documents required to obtain a work permit in Vietnam, which both the employer and the foreign employee must adhere to:

Application procedure and documentation required

Step 1: Apply for approval of hiring foreign workers

The employer is advised to submit the application for approval of demand for foreign workers at least 15 days before the anticipated start date of the foreign employee's work. The following documents are required:

  • Registration form for demand for foreign workers (Form No. 01/PLI under Article 1.2 Decree 70/2023/ND-CP - Amendments to Article 4 of Decree No. 152/2020/ND-CP).
  • Certified copy of business registration.
  • Letter of attorney if the submitter is not the company's legal representative.

These documents can be submitted directly to the Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs where the foreign worker is expected to work or online at National Public Service Portal (dichvucong.gov.vn).

Step 2: Prepare documents for work permit

The employer must prepare the following documents:

  • Application form for Vietnam work permit (Form No. 11/PLI under Decree 70/2023/ND-CP amending some regulations of Decree No. 152/2020/ND-CP).
  • Original health check issued in Vietnam or legalized if issued abroad, along with a certified Vietnamese translation (issued within the last 12 months).
  • Original Vietnam Police Check or legalized if issued abroad, attached with a certified Vietnamese translation (issued within the last 6 months).
  • Certified copy of valid passport.
  • Approval letter obtained in Step 1.
  • Two 4*6cm photos (meeting the photo requirements).
  • Legalized documents proving the foreigner’s eligibility for the applied position, along with certified Vietnamese translations.

Step 3: Submit documents to obtain work permit in Vietnam

At least 15 days before the foreign worker's expected start date, the employer must submit the prepared documents online first to the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) or the DOLISA of the relevant province. Upon being notified of the results through the system, the applicant brings the original documents for comparison and receives the official approval letter.

Processing and costs

The processing time for a work permit request is a total of 1.5 – 2 months (after receiving all required documents), comprising:

    1. Announcement of the recruitment of Vietnamese workers to positions expected to recruit foreign workers on the website of the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs (Employment Department) or the website of the Employment Service Center: at least 15 days from the expected date of sending an explanation report to the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs or the Department of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs.
    2. Send an explanation report to the competent authority: At least 15 days prior the date of hiring foreign workers. Within 10 working days after receiving an explanation report, the competent authority shall issue a document specifying acceptable and unacceptable job positions for foreign workers.
    3. Applying for a work permit: At least 15 working days prior the date that a foreign worker starts to work, the applicant shall submit an application for work permit to the competent authority. Within 5 working days after receiving a duly completed application, the competent authority shall issue a work permit to the foreign workers.

However, it is strongly advised to initiate the procedure at least 1.5-2 months before the anticipated start date of work for the foreigners.

The cost of a Vietnam work permit varies depending on where the application forms are submitted.

Type of issuance

Cost

Issuance of work permit

VND 600,000/- per license.

Re-issuance of work permit

VND 450,000/- per one license.

Issuance of work permit extension

VND 450,000/- per one license.

Source: National Public Service Portal (dichvucong.gov.vn)

Result of the application

Within 5 working days after receiving a complete application for a work permit, the Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs where the foreign worker plans to work shall issue a work permit to the foreign worker according to Form No. 12/PLI Appendix I issued together with Decree No. 152/2020/ND-CP.

In case of refusal to issue a work permit, a written response clearly stating the reason shall be given.

The work permit is A4 size (21 cm x 29.7 cm), consisting of 2 pages: page 1 is blue; Page 2 has a white background, blue pattern, in the middle in the shape of a star.

Work permits are coded as follows: provincial and centrally-run city codes and Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs codes according to Form No. 16/PLI Annex I issued together with Decree No. 70/2023/ND-CP; last 2 digits of the year of issuance of the license; type of license (new symbol 1; renewal of symbol 2; re-issuance of symbol 3); sequence number (from 000.001).

In case the work permit is electronic, it must comply with relevant laws and meet the contents according to Form No. 12/PLI Appendix I promulgated together with Decree No. 152/2020/ND-CP.

Validity, renewal, and termination

According to Decree No. 152/2020/ND-CP, a work permit in Vietnam is initially valid for up to 2 years. It can be renewed once for an additional 2 years through the Vietnam work permit extension process. Upon the expiration of the extended work permit, the employer must follow the same procedure to obtain a new work permit if they intend to continue employing the foreign employee.

A work permit may be terminated under the following circumstances:

  • Expiry of the work permit.
  • Termination of the labor contract.
  • Inconsistency between the content of the labor contract and the granted work permit.
  • Expiry or termination of contracts in business, trade, finance, banking, insurance, science and technology, culture, sports, education, or medicine.
  • Announcement of termination by the foreign employer for the foreign employee working in Vietnam.
  • Withdrawal of the work permit by the authorized state agency.
  • Termination of operations by the company, organization, or partners in Vietnam.

Advisory: Extending or cancelling your work permit in Vietnam

If you are looking to prolong your work tenure in Vietnam, you can opt for a work permit extension. However, if your plans involve returning to your home country or relocating elsewhere for work, it's imperative to cancel your Work Permit before departing Vietnam. This process necessitates assistance from the Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs. Foreign employees are required to return the permit to their employer within fifteen 15 days of the termination of their employment. Subsequently, it becomes the employer's responsibility to submit the permit, along with a notification letter, to the local office of the Labor Department.

Amendments to regulation of foreign employment

On September 18, 2023, Vietnam issued Decree No. 70/2023/ND-CP, making changes to the regulation of foreign worker employment. The Decree seeks to streamline procedures and reduce the bureaucracy involved, while also prioritizing employment prospects for Vietnamese nationals.

Importantly, the decree incorporates additional criteria for the recruitment of foreign workers, emphasizing a balanced approach to workforce management. (Both, the Decree No. 70/2023/ND-CP and Decree No. 152 /2020/ND-CP are in effect and being applied.)

Authority to grant work permits now with MOLISA and DOLISA

Work permits and the oversight of foreign worker affairs were previously managed by economic and industrial zone authorities – this is no longer the case per changes introduced under Decree 70/2023/ND-CP.

The Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (abbreviated to MOLISA) now holds the responsibility of issuing work permits and overseeing all related matters for foreign employees engaged by organizations authorized to be established by the Government, Prime Minister, Ministries, Ministry-level agencies, or Government agencies. These organizations may include entities operating within the banking or insurance sectors.

Additionally, MOLISA is tasked with granting work permits to foreign employees employed by an employer across multiple provinces or municipalities.

In cases not falling under MOLISA's jurisdiction, the relevant provincial Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs (abbreviated to DOLISA) is responsible for issuing work permits and managing related matters.

Moreover, the authority of management boards of industrial zones or economic zones to grant work permits or work permit exemption certificates to foreign employees working within these zones has been revoked.

Compliance rules for companies seeking foreign hires

Faster recruitment timeframe

Enterprises seeking to employ foreign workers are now required to inform the Vietnamese authorities 15 days prior to the intended employment date, marking a decrease from the previous 30-day period.

Preference for Vietnamese hires

However, effective January 1, 2024, companies in Vietnam are obligated to advertise job vacancies via MOLISA's online platform for a minimum of 15 days before considering foreign applicants. Only upon demonstrating unsuccessful efforts to find a qualified Vietnamese candidate can they proceed with recruiting from overseas. This directive from Vietnamese authorities aims to enhance transparency and accessibility for employers while concurrently safeguarding the rights and opportunities of Vietnamese workers.

Reporting obligations for working in multiple provinces and municipalities

Under Decree 70/2023, there are reporting obligations concerning foreign employees working in more than one location. It specifies that if a foreign worker is assigned to work in multiple provinces/municipalities across Vietnam, the employer is required to submit an online report to both the MOLISA and the respective DOLISA of the relevant provinces or municipalities within three working days from the start of the employee's work.

The work permit application must list all the work locations where the foreign worker will be employed.

Work permit criteria for experts and technicians

Decree 70/2023 streamlines the process for work permit applications for "experts" and "technicians" by eliminating the necessity for their education or training to precisely align with their job roles. Instead, the emphasis for demonstrating skills is placed on practical experience rather than academic credentials. Also, previously issued work permits and exemption certificates can now serve as evidence of relevant work experience.

An expert is now a person who meets one of the following criteria:

  • Graduated from university or higher or equivalent and have at least 3 years of work experience suitable to the job position that the foreign worker plans to work in Vietnam;
  • Has a minimum of 5 years' experience and has a certificate confirming as such, appropriate to the job position they intend to undertake; or
  • Has been approved as a special case at the discretion of the Prime Minister at the request of the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs.

A technical worker is now a person who meets one of the following criteria:

  • Has professional training for at least one year and has at least three years of experience appropriate to the job position they are applying for; or
  • Has at least five years of work experience suitable to the job position that they plan to undertake.

Work permit eligibility for business managers

Decree 70/2023 provides clear guidelines regarding the documentation required as evidence of work permit eligibility for "business managers."

While the definition of "business manager" remains consistent with Decree 152, employers are now obligated to furnish the following documents as proof:

  • The enterprise's charter or operational regulations;
  • The enterprise's registration certificate, establishment certificate, or decision; and
  • The enterprise's resolution or decision regarding the appointment of the foreigner to the position of business manager.

Work permit criteria for executive management

The designation of Executive Director has been updated to CEO (Chief Executive Officer). To be eligible for a work permit under the title of CEO, a foreign worker must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Lead a branch, representative office, or the business site of the enterprise.
  • Directly oversee and manage at least one department or area within the organization or enterprise, under the supervision and direction of the organization or enterprise's head.

Other updates

Additional amendments include:

  • Sponsors now have the option to present certified copies of foreign passports instead of requiring notarized versions.
  • Foreign nationals married to Vietnamese citizens residing in Vietnam are no longer obligated to secure approval from labor management authorities prior to applying for work permit exemptions.

Exemption scenarios for work permit requirements

Various scenarios exist where foreign workers may be exempt from the requirement of obtaining a work permit to operate in Vietnam.

The recent decree has revised the definition of individuals engaged in teaching or research activities at international schools linked with diplomatic missions (Article 1.4 (a) of Decree No. 70/2023/ND-CP - Amendments to clause 6 of Article 7 Decree No. 152/2020/ND-CP), replacing the explicit mention of the United Nations with "intergovernmental organizations."

Furthermore, Article 1. 4 (b) of Decree No. 70/2023/ND-CP - Amendments to clause 14 of Article 7 Decree No. 152/2020/ND-CP expands this exemption to foreign workers endorsed by the Ministry of Education and Training for the following purposes:

  • Engaging in teaching and research endeavors; or
  • Assuming managerial, executive, directorial, principal, or vice-principal roles within an educational institution affiliated with a foreign diplomatic mission or intergovernmental organization.

In specific situations, a foreign individual may be permitted to work in Vietnam without a work permit by obtaining a work permit exemption certificate. This certificate holds the same legal validity as a work permit, extending for a maximum duration of 2 years, and also facilitates the application for a temporary residence card.

For a foreign worker specified in point a clause 1 Article 2 hereof (performing labor contracts), after the foreign worker is issued with a work permit, the employer and the foreign worker must sign a written labor contract as per Vietnam’s labor law before the date on which the foreign worker is expected to work.

The employer shall send that labor contract to the competent authority that issued that work permit. The labor contract is the original or a certified true copy.

This article is for information purposes only. For professional guidance and queries, please reach our experts at vietnam@dezshira.com.

(This article was originally published April 24, 2024. It was last updated May 13, 2024.)

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