The healthcare system in Vietnam combines aspects of Eastern and Western medicine. At present, most Vietnamese citizens have to pay for medical services themselves at both private and public hospitals. In many cases, Vietnamese people opt to use private hospitals, as these are usually better equipped.
Expats will need to take out private health insurance before they travel to Vietnam. This will cover them for treatment at private healthcare establishments.
Public hospitals in Vietnam
Expats living in Vietnam will find that the standards of public hospitals generally do not match that of those found in North America or Western Europe. Public hospitals in Vietnam are often underfunded and poorly equipped, and doctors and medical staff working at public hospitals will usually only speak Vietnamese.
The quality and availability of healthcare are especially poor in rural areas, and in some of the most remote parts of the country, healthcare is almost non-existent. This is improving, thanks to healthcare investments in Vietnam's rural areas by organisations such as the World Bank.
Private hospitals in Vietnam
On the other hand, the standard of private hospitals in Vietnam is excellent. Private hospitals located in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City are staffed by doctors from the USA, Korea, Japan and France, as well as Vietnamese doctors who have trained overseas.
Private hospitals tend to cater to the needs of expats better than public hospitals, and they generally do accept international health insurance.
The cost of visiting specialists such as dentists and dermatologists varies considerably. Generally, while prices are still lower than the rates charged in Western countries, specialists who market themselves to the expat population will charge more than those that work with locals.
Doctors and medical staff at private hospitals in Vietnam often speak English, which eliminates the language barrier for expats.
Health insurance in Vietnam
Most expats organise international health insurance before they arrive in Vietnam. When using hospitals, expats should check with both the hospital and their insurance provider that they are covered for treatment.
Expats should ensure that the health insurance they purchase covers them for treatment outside Vietnam, as many expats, as well as the wealthier Vietnamese people, prefer to travel to Bangkok or Singapore for specialist treatment and medical emergencies.
Pharmacies and medication in Vietnam
Pharmacies in Vietnam are well stocked and easy to find, especially in big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. They're usually located on any major shopping street or in malls.
Buying medicine over the counter without a prescription is straightforward, but expats should be aware that drugs sold in Vietnamese pharmacies may be counterfeit or expired. Always check the date on the packaging before making a purchase. In addition, expats who want to be extra careful can either take the necessary medicines from their home country or visit a pharmacy in one of the private hospitals or clinics.
Expats should not experience too much difficulty in bringing prescription medicine into Vietnam. It is best to carry a copy of the prescription and a letter from the doctor confirming that the medication is for personal use.
Health hazards in Vietnam
Those who take some basic precautions in Vietnam should not experience any major health risks during their stay in the country.
It is best to avoid drinking tap water in Vietnam and buy bottled water instead. In most restaurants, ice is made using boiled water, but expats with sensitive stomachs might want to avoid having ice in their drinks to be on the safe side.
Sunburn, sunstroke and dehydration are major health hazards in Vietnam. It can get very hot, and expats should always wear sunscreen with high UV protection, even on days when the weather looks overcast.
There are several infectious diseases and health threats that expats moving to Vietnam should be aware of. Hepatitis A and B can be a problem, especially in the countryside, where hygiene standards are not always maintained.
Typhoid, dengue fever and malaria are still common in rural parts of Vietnam. Expats spending long periods of time in the countryside should ensure that they are on a course of anti-malarial tablets.
Emergency services in Vietnam
The emergency services number in Vietnam is 115. However, ambulances in Vietnam are infamous for slow response times. Paramedics do not always speak English and equipment may be substandard.
There are some private hospitals in Vietnam’s bigger cities which provide a faster and more efficient private ambulance service, but whenever possible, expats use taxis to get to the nearest private hospital for emergency medical treatment.