Foreigners are better off if they do NOT marry Vietnamese nationals – what you must know:
By: Dr. Oliver Massmann and Pham Ngoc Ha

In Vietnam, there is no private ownership of land. Land is owned by the people and administered exclusively by the State. The State grants land use rights to land users being domestic organizations, domestic family households/individuals, communities of Vietnamese citizens, religious establishments, foreign organizations with diplomatic functions, Vietnamese residing overseas, foreign invested enterprises. Land users are entitled to obtain the title certificate for land use rights, so called Certificate of Land Use Rights and Ownership of Houses and Other Assets Attached to Land (LURC) or Sổ Đỏ in Vietnamese. Foreign individuals are not allowed to have land use rights, i.e., no LURC.

Whether a foreign individual married to a Vietnamese citizen can own land use rights
Given such strict prohibition in the Land Law, foreign individuals who want to have their own land plots in Vietnam, especially in Da Nang or Nha Trang with beautiful beaches, would think that marriage to Vietnamese could solve the problems.

It is a common understanding that every married couple, regardless of any nationalities, would like to make their investments, particularly in real estates, in such a manner that both spouses can be legally recognized as co-owners of the property. Vietnam Family Law has the same approach. It is provided in the law that: Common property of husband and wife includes property created by a spouse, incomes generated from labor, production and business activities, yields and profits arising from separate property and other lawful incomes in the marriage period. The land use rights obtained by a spouse after marriage shall be common property of husband and wife, unless they are separately inherited by, or given to a spouse or are obtained through transactions made with separate property. For a common property which is required by law to be registered for ownership or use, both spouses shall be named in the title certificate, unless otherwise agreed by the couple (Articles 33 and 34 of the Family Law).

One could figure that if he/she marries a Vietnamese, they could together purchase land and hence, jointly own the land. This is well backed-up by the above Family Law provision. However, there’s no such ideal scenario in Vietnam.

Family Law vs. Land Law
When the married couple finally found a perfect land plot, they would likely need to enter into a land use right transfer agreement/sale and purchase agreement and such agreement would need to be notarized to be complied with the law and ultimately for the issuance of an LURC. Here comes the issue: the Land Law will prevail the Family Law.

Even though it is provided that the land use rights obtained after marriage will be common property, it is not right in the case of marriage between a foreigner and a Vietnamese. No matter how much you contribute to buy the land, even you agree not to be a party to the transfer agreement, not to be named in the LURC, you risk losing all your money invested to buy the land.

How so?
The Land Registration Office would explain that Land Law applies in this case. Since foreign individuals are not allowed to have land use rights in Vietnam, the land purchased by the married couple could only be recognized as property of the Vietnamese spouse. In order to name only the Vietnamese spouse on the LURC, it must be the separate property.

“Separate property” in Vietnam is, among other things, property formed by the husband or wife’s separate funds. The Land Registration Office will then require a so called “Acknowledgement of Separate Property” (i.e., a Waiver of Rights) from the non-Vietnamese spouse, which generally says that the non-Vietnamese spouse acknowledges that this is his/her Vietnamese spouse’s own property which was obtained by his/her Vietnamese spouse separate funds and that the non-Vietnamese spouse will waive all rights whatsoever to such property. If you don’t agree to this Waiver, you and your Vietnamese spouse cannot get the LURC. It’s the worst case if you have paid all or most of the purchase price to the land transferor already! Take it or leave it. If you don’t agree, you will lose all; if you agree, you will lose your money but at least your Vietnamese spouse still can get the LURC. In any case, your money invested in the land is totally lost because you don’t get any consideration, legally!

Lessons Learnt
Foreign individuals should not marry Vietnamese with the main purpose to have land use rights. Do NOT marry to secure real estate – It works the other way: it’s better if you are NOT married to protect your money and rights to real estate in Vietnam. Or go the simple way: buy a condominium because foreigners can own condominiums in Vietnam on their name if they have a tourist visa. That is the golden simple way!

Please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC

Vietnam – Real Estate Sector – Current Issues and Solutions for Investment and Outlook on Major Trade Deals TPP 11 and EUVNFTA

The legal framework for the real estate sector in Vietnam is set with the Law on Real Estate Business 2014 (LREB), the Law on Residential Housing 2014 (LRH) (both effective since 1st July 2015). The LREB is guided by Decree No. 76/2015/ND-CP, the LRH respectively is guided by Decree No. 99/2015/ND-CP. In addition, long-awaited Decree No. 01/2017/ND-CP was released on 6 January 2017 and is amending three decrees guiding the law on land 2013 (Land Law).
The provisions of the mentioned regulations have brought more investment in the real estate market to Vietnam. They have reduced barriers for investment and widened accessibility to properties in Vietnam.

However, not every issue is solved yet.
1. Delay in issuance of land use right certificate (LURC) for foreign investors
The issuance of the land use right certificate to foreigners is one essential requirement for developing projects on purchased land. Article 75 of Decree 95/2015 provides the obligation for the Department of Construction on issuing the “Foreign Ownership Prohibited Projects List”. However, the list is not released yet. As result of that, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment is refraining from issuing LURCs to foreigners.
As conclusion, the Foreign Ownership Prohibited Projects List should be issued as soon as possible so that foreigners purchasing land in Vietnam can obtain the LURC and are able to develop their projects.
2. What are ‘’foreign invested enterprises”?
The LREB, the Land Law and the Law on investment 2014 (LOI) rule about “foreign invested enterprise”. There remain uncertainties about this term.
The LREB is not providing any definition for foreign invested enterprises. Furthermore, the Land Law is providing that joint ventures enterprises, 100% foreign invested enterprises and Vietnamese enterprises of which foreigners are buying shares, merche with and acquire are included as foreign invested enterprises without any given guidance about percentage of ownership. Under the LOI an economic organization with foreign investors being member or shareholder shall be a foreign invested enterprise if part of ownership of the foreigner in the economic organization is 51% or more. On the other hand, organizations with foreign members or shareholders holding less than 51% are not classified as domestic enterprises under the LOI.
However, this issue is crucial due to different treatment of foreign invested and domestic enterprises. For example, domestic enterprises are able to transfer land use rights in form of division whereas this is prohibited to foreign invested enterprises.
Further, the Document No. 386/BXD-QLN (28 February 2017) issued by the Ministry of Construction states that the LREB does not need to provide provisions relating to foreign invested enterprise as the LOI has already did. However, Document 386 does not state that LREB can adopt the same definition of foreign invested enterprise the term remains ambiguous under the LREB.
3. Restrictions on sources of capital
Due to limiting the sources of capital for residential housing by the LRH, foreign developers cannot obtain loans from offshore credit institutions and non-credit institutions anymore. This measure is reducing the ability and opportunity to raise capital effectively and the competitiveness for foreign developers. Even though, there is no necessity for limiting opportunities to raise capital from legitimate sources.
4. Change of land user rights in case of acquisition of shares/ capital contribution
Article 2.27 of Decree 01/2017 provides the obligation for enterprises on assigning for land use rights or registering changes in the land and assets attached to the land when there is any change in the land user in case of acquisition shares or contribution of capital with land use rights included. In case of acquiring land, the land still remains with the same enterprise. Furthermore, the assigning process can impose financial obligations. This issue can lead to difficulties for investors when they acquire shares or contribute capital in enterprises.
5. Investment Approvals
The main approval for residential developments is either an investment in-principle decision (IID) or investment in-principle approval (IAA). In addition, an investor wishing to establish a company in Vietnam needs an investment registration certificate (IRC).
a. Circumstances requiring an IID:
Article 32 of the LOI is ruling the requirement of the IID that is only applying to projects where developers receive land use rights from State directly by way of allocation or lease of land without auction, tendering or transfer. Furthermore, the Land Law states the only way developers can receive land from State is either by way of allocation or lease of land. As a result, it is uncertain in which way developer can receive land by transfer.
b. Investment approval for capital contribution by way of land use rights:
Under a joint venture between a domestic and foreign investor to develop residential housing projects, the domestic investor will contribute capital by way of land use rights. In such case the IID is required only in cases of allocation or lease of land by the State without auction tendering or transfer. It is uncertain if the IIA will be required in cases of tendering or transfer.
Under the Law of Construction 2014 the developer has to obtain the construction permit before he can commence the project. It is not clear if the IIA is required to obtain the construction permit. This requirement could lead to lack of ability on proceeding the project in cases where obtaining the IIA failed.
On the other hand, if the IID is required, the developer will have more assurance because of the possibility to obtain the IID before the land use right is contributed.
c. Overlapping investment approvals
As mentioned above, the LOI provides the requirement of the IRC apart from the IID and IAA. For projects which require the IID, the IRC will be issued automatically after 5 working days from the Issuance of the IID. The content of the IID is similar to the IRC and no additional documents are necessary for issuance of the IRC. As a result, the IRC is not necessary when the IID is issued.
For projects requiring the IIA, the developer shall obtain the IRC first, then set up the company before obtaining the IIA. As mentioned above, the developer is unable to develop the project without IIA in cases of failing to obtain the IIA. Furthermore, the IIA and IRC are dealing with authorities and their approvals and the IIA is issued based on the 1/500 planning approval so that the necessity of the IRC is not given.
6. Capital contribution in the form of land use right
The Land Law and the Law on Enterprises 2014 provide possibility of contribution land use rights by individuals of a peace of land as capital to an enterprise for a certain time period.
Under Article 80 of Decree No. 43/2014/ND-CP (15 May 2014) on guiding the Land Law, capital contribution in form of land use rights shall terminate if the individual capital contributor passes away. As a result, if the capital contributor is passing away the capital contribution agreement will be terminated which will cause affection of the enterprise’s LURC and its land use rights. On the other hand, the Law on Enterprise 2014 stipulates that if an individual contributes land as capital the enterprise will have the right over the land.
Therefore, Article 80 of Decree No. 43/2014/ND-CP has caused confusion and uncertainty for developers in case to consider receiving land use rights from individuals.
7. Conducting real estate business on land contributed as capital
Under the Land Law, domestic and foreign invested enterprises are entitled to receive capital contribution by way of land use rights. However, there is no provision in the LREB regarding contributions as capital for organizations and individuals. As a result, organizations are not entitled to receive capital contribution by way of land use rights for developing real estate projects. This is causing inequalities and an unfair competition in the real estate sector.

In January 2017, US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the US’ participation in the TPP. In November 2017, the remaining TPP members met at the APEC meetings and concluded about pushing forward the now called CPTPP (TPP 11) without the USA. The agreement shall be signed by all member states by the first quarter of 2018. After that, it has to be ratified in each member state before taking effect.
The effects of the TPP 11 promising great benefits for the real estate sector in Vietnam. The TPP 11 is targeting to eliminate tariff lines and custom duties among member states on certain goods and commodities to 100%. This will make the Vietnamese market more attractive and could cause motivation for foreign enterprises to settle to Vietnam for building warehouses, offices, setting up plants or even for investing in the real estate sector because the market is becoming more dynamic with the TPP.
One another notable major trade agreement is the EUVNFTA between the European Union and Vietnam. The EUVNFTA offers great opportunity to access new markets for both the EU and Vietnam. It will help to bring more capital into Vietnam. In addition, the EUVNFTA will boost the most economic sectors in Vietnam. Establishments in other economic sectors in Vietnam will have impact on the real estate sector due to its association with these sectors such as healthcare, technology or education.
Furthermore, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will ensure highest standards of legal certainty and enforceability and protection for investors. We alert investors to make use of these standards! We can advise how to best do that! It is going to be applied under the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. Under that provision, for investment related disputes, the investors have the right to bring claims to the host country by means of international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be made public as a matter of transparency in conflict cases. In relation to the TPP, the scope of the ISDS was reduced by removing references to “investment agreements” and “investment authorization” as result of the discussion about the TPP’s future on the APEC meetings on 10th and 11th November 2017.
Further securities come with the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) which is going to be part of the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA.
The GPA in both agreements, mainly deals with the requirement to treat bidders or domestic bidders with investment capital and Vietnamese bidders equally when a government buys goods or requests for a service worth over the specified threshold. Vietnam undertakes to timely publish information on tender, allow sufficient time for bidders to prepare for and submit bids, maintain confidentiality of tenders. The GPA in both agreements also requires its Parties assess bids based on fair and objective principles, evaluate and award bids only based on criteria set out in notices and tender documentation, create an effective regime for complaints and settling disputes, etc.
This instrument will ensure a fair competition and projects of quality and efficient developing processes.

The mentioned issues are affecting the competitiveness in the real estate sector. The given restrictions, additional obligations for foreign investors, the lack of clear guidelines on implementing regulations are hurdles for investors seeking to invest in this sector in Vietnam. In view of the government’s commitments to ensure growth and the issues mentioned above, it is necessary to create clear guidelines for eliminating confusion to the investors and real estate buyers. Furthermore, the upcoming major trade agreements will have a great impact on the development of the real estate sector in Vietnam. On the other hand, the Vietnamese government still has to make further improvements on the legal environment for ensuring the implementation of the agreements.

If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under . Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you very much!

Risk and reward in Vietnam’s real estate as investors ignore uncertainty over future of land rights

Vietnam has emerged as an attractive destination for foreign investors looking to enter the real estate market. Driven by a fast-growing economy, high rate of urbanisation and expanding middle-class, cities like Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City have become dynamic and lucrative metropolises. For those willing to shoulder the risks, the market offers substantial rewards and great potential over the coming decades.


Much of the development can be attributed to the implementation of the Land Law (No. 45/2013/QH13), Law on Housing (No. 65/2014/QH13) and Law on Real Estate Business (No. 66/2014/QH13), which effectively opened the floodgates to foreign investment in real estate.  In principle, these laws allow foreigners most of the same rights as locals when it comes to purchasing and owning real estate.  Many foreign development companies are jumping at the chance to develop new residential and commercial properties in one of the world’s fastest growing economies.  Question marks remain however over the underlying rights foreign-invested developers enjoy in the land on which these buildings sit and it remains to be seen how this will play out.


Lack of Certainty 


For many developers the country’s political landscape remains a hurdle. In Vietnam, land is collectively owned by the people, and administered by the State on their behalf. Under this system, property owners are denied full and legal ownership over the land. Their rights to the land are limited to ‘land use rights’ within the scope permitted by law.  A land user is issued a land use right certificate (LURC) that recognises the land user’s rights over the property.  There are different types of land use rights possible and some come very close to being analogous to freehold ownership as many would know it in the West (use right in perpetuity, subject to reversion and compulsory public works acqusitions, right to sell, transfer, mortgage etc).

Continue reading “Risk and reward in Vietnam’s real estate as investors ignore uncertainty over future of land rights”

Vietnam – Top Five Issues Affecting Real Estate Market

According to recent statistics, the property sector was behind the manufacturing and processing industry, which has so far attracted a total of USD12.84 billion, equaling 72.9 per cent of the total foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow to Vietnam.1

Laws governing real estate sector, including the Law on Real Estate Business 2014 (LREB) and the Law on Residential Housing 2014 (LRH) coming into effect on 1 July 2015. There are also other documents, for example, Decree No. 01/2017/ND-C P in effect on 3 March 2017 guiding the Land Law 2013 (Land Law). These new legislations set a legal framework for real estate industry. They have introduced breakthrough improvements by reducing investment barriers and expanding the scope of real estate business. Nevertheless, there are some remaining issues as analyzed below.

  1. Delay in issuing land use right certificate (LURC) for foreigners

Under Decree 99/2015, foreigners are not allowed to own houses in national defense and security areas indicated by the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Public Security. Based on such list of areas, the provincial People’s Committee will direct local Departments of Construction to publish a list of commercial housing projects where foreign entities are not permitted to own houses (Foreign Ownership Prohibited Projects List). To date, such list has not been issued. Therefore, the provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment has delayed the issuance of LURCs. This serious issue has caused confusion for buyers. Indeed, while the Government seems to have made a positive move in allowing foreigners to own a house in Vietnam, the lack of important guidance has shed doubts among foreigners who want to get in Vietnam’s real estate market.

  1. Uncertainties in the required approvals for residential developments

It is not clear in what circumstances a transfer of land is covered by allocation and lease by the State. In accordance with Article 32 of the Law on Investment (LOI), the in-principle investment decision (IDD) applies to projects which the State allocates or leases out land without auction, tendering or transfer. In contrast, the Land Law specifies that the only way an investment project receives land be by allocation or lease. It is uncertain under which circumstances a project can receive land by way of transfer. The absence of detailed guidelines continues to affect the normal business operations.

  1. Lengthy investment approval processes

A foreign invested company engaging in residential developments is required to obtain an IID or an in-principle investment approval (IIA) as well as an Investment Registration Certificate (IRC). If an IID is required, the IRC will be issued within 5 working days from the issuance of the IID. As the contents of both the IDD and IRC are related, the IRC requirement, in this case, is not relevant. On the other hand, for projects which require the IIA, the investor shall first obtain the IRC, set up a company and then apply for the IIA. There are circumstances where the investor has already set up the company but still not managed to get the IIA. This makes the investor unable to develop the project. In addition, the application process is complex, onerous in a sense that it takes at least 153 days. In particular, after the IRC is issued, the next step is to obtain an enterprise registration certificate, then a decision on selection of developer, the 1/500 planning approval and finally the IIA. Since the issuance of the IIA and IRC is based on the 1/500 planning approval, the requirement of an IRC it is unnecessary in case an IIA is already required.

  1. Restrictions on sources of capital

Under Article 69 of the LRH, developers of residential housing can only raise capital from sources such as loans granted by credit institutions, or financial institutions running business in Vietnam, capital contribution, investment cooperation, business cooperation, joint business, and association of organizations or individuals. It means that developers are no longer allowed to obtain capital from offshore credit and non-credit institutions. We think that there is no reason to limit the scope of residential investors to raise capital from legitimate sources. This issue, if remains existing, will affect the competitiveness of investors and their investment plan.

  1. The absence of detailed explanation of “foreign invested enterprise (FIE)”

There is inconsistency in the interpretation of an FIE among main laws governing real estate sector. The Land Law stipulates that FIEs are joint venture enterprises, 100% foreign invested enterprises, and domestic enterprises in which the foreign investor has invested via share purchase, merger, or acquisition. This regulation does not provide any ownership percentage. Meanwhile, the LOI states that, an economic organization with a foreign investment capital means an economic organization with a foreign investor being a member or shareholder, and enterprises with a foreign ownership of less than 51% will be treated the same as local ones. Different from the LOI and the Land Law, the LREB does not define a foreign invested enterprise. This inconsistency and lack of guidance result in confusion about which threshold defines a foreign invested enterprise in the LREB and create unnecessary obstacles for foreign projects.


Unfortunately, there are inconsistencies in the laws, which have caused confusion for buyers. In addition, the enforcement of current laws has been challenging due to the lack of specific guidelines. In fact, the restrictions provided in the legislations have limited the rights of investors and created barriers to foreign investment in the sector. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt consistent guidelines to avoid any delays. Vietnam should also continue to take steps to reduce administrative burdens, remove onerous requirements, and simplify complex processes. This is to ensure a bright future for Vietnam’s real estate industry.


Please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you!







The real estate market in Vietnam has constantly been growing since the Law on Real Estate Business 2014 (LREB) and the Law on Residential Housing (LRH) were adopted. Initial barriers for foreign investors were partially removed with the new legislations and Decree No. 76/2015/ND-CP guiding the LREB dated 10 September 2015 and Decree No. 99/2015/ND-CP guiding the LRH dated 20 October 2015.

Nevertheless, enterprises’ expectations concerning access to properties and business development are not entirely satisfied.

Restriction on sources of capital

For residential housing projects, only the sources of capital enumerated in Article 69 of the LRH or Article 19 of Decree 99 are considered legitimate such as loans from Social Policy Bank, credit institutions and financial institutions currently operating in Vietnam or capital contribution, cooperation in investment, business cooperation, joint-venture and affiliation of organizations. As there is no mention of overseas capital except for the capital owned by the developer, raising capital then appears to be more complicated for real estate developers. Therefore, as there is no need to limit the developers’ ability to raise capital for legitimate sources, the Government adopt restrictive measures for illegitimate sources only and control the legitimacy of sources. Opening capital to off-shore credit institutions and non-credit institutions would greatly improve access to the real estate market.

An uncertainty remains as to define foreign invested enterprises (FIEs). Indeed, neither in the LREB nor in Decree 76 do we find a provision explaining the notion of FIEs. But the Law on Land (Land Law) 2013 states that FIEs are joint venture enterprises and enterprises wholly or partly owned by a foreign company without detailing ownership percentage. Under the Law on Investment 2014, the status of economic organization with foreign capital implies a foreign ownership of 51% or more. Therefore some details must be given as whether enterprises with less than 51% of foreign ownership are regarded as local investors or not.

Considering the lack of details, we can understand that any percentage of foreign ownership prevents enterprises to be local ones. This issue is of great importance for foreign investment transactions in the real estate market and must be clarified promptly.

The difference of treatment between foreign and Vietnamese real estate developers can be found in several aspects. First of all, Article 11 of the LREB does not permit foreign developers to transfer their land use right into creating plots for sale whereas Vietnamese developers are permitted. Article 57 of the same law limits FIEs to collect a maximum of 50% of the value of sale and purchase contracts while Vietnamese companies are entitled to 70% of the value. Finally, Article 10 of the LREB prohibits foreign developers to sell, lease or offer a lease-purchase and only opens the possibility of sub-leasing. This form of business is, however, open to Vietnamese developers.

Those differences between local and foreign developers should be removed as they create unfair competition and restrain the real estate sector in Vietnam.

Restrictions on land use right of foreign organizations and individuals

The LREB authorizes organizations and individuals to lease properties for use and to purchase or lease-purchase residential houses in accordance with the LRH. Article 160 of the LRH repeats the authorization but adds a few conditions. Organizations who want to own residential houses, must establish and maintain their presence in Vietnam although foreign individuals only need to have a valid passport affixed with entry stamp. The stricter requirement for foreign organizations should be up-lifted as it is unnecessary to fix conditions to own residential houses to organizations and not to individuals.

A very concerning contradiction must be solved as it deals with notarization of sale and purchase contracts. Article 93.3(b) of the LRH allows contracts for residential housing signed with a real estate business enterprise not to be notarized. However, Article 122 of the LRH stipulates that all contracts in relation to sale and purchase of residential houses must be certified or notarized.  We could then understand that sale and purchase contracts for residential housing signed with real estate business should be notarized. However, Article 17.2 of the LREB states that real estate business contracts do not have to be notarized except contracts signed between two individuals/households.

A clearer provision should establish that notarization is not required in case a real estate business enterprise is a party to the sale and purchase contracts.

Limitation on foreigners’ purchase and ownership of real estate

Foreign individual and organizations are allowed to own a maximum of 250 individual residential houses in a ward according to Article 161.2(a) of the LRH. However, Article 76.4 of Decree 99 guiding the LRH, limits foreign individuals or organizations to possess maximum 10% of individual housing in each residential housing project. The Decree provision is then not consistent with the LRH.

In addition, pursuant to Article 159.2(b) of the LRH, foreign individuals and organizations are only prohibited from purchasing houses in national defense and security area. But pursuant to Article 75 of Decree 99, the prohibition is extended to all areas where foreigners are restricted from residing or travelling as provided under the Law on Residence and Travel. Once again, the Decree is restricting the conditions under the LRH.

In addition, Articles 77.1(b) and 77.2(b) provide additional restriction when granting the possibility of one-time expansion of residential houses owned by foreigners. Such restriction can have a serious impact on business development of developers and in the meantime on Vietnam’s competitiveness. Unlimited extensions should be granted with the exception of national defense and security areas only.

Another issue which causes many difficulties for developers concerns capital reserve. Indeed, Article 108.1(b) of the LREB requires that developers contribute 2% of apartment’s value for unsold apartments at the time of commissioning. Value is calculated based on the highest selling price of an apartment in the building regardless of the differences between the apartment of reference and the commissioned one. The requirement is not practical and should therefore be amended to refer to an apartment of the same category. Furthermore, establishing a mechanism to deal with such payments when apartments are sold at a later stage is necessary for the efficiency of the requirement.

Outlook on the EVFTA

Signed on December 2nd 2015 and expected to enter into force by 2017, the EVFTA offers great opportunity to access new markets for both the EU and Vietnam. Not only Vietnam will foster more foreign investors but also welcome more enterprises in order to develop the European-Vietnamese Cooperation.

The Vietnamese Government has already started to amend the legislation with the Law on Enterprise 2015 and the Law on Investment 2014. Yet some further changes must still be made and we can expect the influence of the EU on opening the real estate market to facilitate enterprises’ establishment.

Most important issues

–       Requirements of sources of capital are too restricted and prevent real estate developers from easily raising capital. In addition, the definition of foreign invested enterprise is not clear enough to determine the sources and the nature of transactions in the sector.

–       Vietnamese and foreign developers are treated differently which creates unfair competition and restrains the real estate sector.

–       The contradiction that sale and purchase contracts signed with real estate business enterprise have to be authorized must be up-lifted.

–       Restrictions on foreigners’ purchase and ownership rights regarding the percentage of possession, the restricted areas and the possibility of extension are not consistent in the whole Vietnamese legislation and should be standardized.


Please do not hesitate to contact Oliver Massmann under if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you!







  1. Certification vs. notarization (C&N) of land-related contracts

For the purpose of State management, C&N is compulsorily required for some special types of land related transactions (e.g. – basically, the transfer, donation, mortgage or capital contribution using the land use rights or the rights to use land and assets attached to land). For other land-related transactions, C&N is however optional.

Please also note the key difference between notarization (công chứng) and certification (chứng thực) under Vietnamese law. Simply put, notarization, done by a licensed notary office, covers both legal validity and authenticity (mainly the signatures) of the transactions. Meanwhile, certification, done by the department of justice at district level/commune cpeople’s committee (CPC), limits to the authenticity of signatures, signing time and location. As such, a notary public may be wholly liable for damage caused to his clients if content of the relevant contract is concluded inconsistent with the laws.

Since 2014, the Ministry of Justice of Vietnam (MOJ) has issued a number of official letters requesting local authorities to direct the formalization of land related contracts from the commune people’s committee (CPC) to the notary offices. Though such official letters are not per se legal instruments and it stops at ‘a request for direction’, many CPC has since refused to certify land-related transactions because of the above instructions.

  1. Principles for applying provisions of the Land Law

Unlike the Civil Codes of Vietnam (2005 and 2014) that adopt the negative approach (i.e. – do whatever not expressly restricted or prohibited by the laws), the Land Law builds a ‘positive approach’ which let entities to do what exactly the laws tell them to do. Even more strictly, the restrictions apply to both sides of a transaction. For example, if a seller has a clear right to transfer LURs but the purchaser is not expressly permitted to receive the transfer of such LURs, no deals can be established. Back to FIEs, they can only acquire under specific circumstances set out by the Land Law, mostly listed in its Article 169.

Any ‘ultra vires’ acts may potentially result in a declaration of invalidity of the relevant land related transaction. This principle of applying laws should be taken into full consideration when FIEs are about to make major decisions relating to land-related issues.

  1. Land acquisition by foreign invested enterprises (FIEs)

Compared with their local counterparts, FIEs have more limited access to land. For example, FIEs cannot receive the transfer of land use rights (LURs) with respect to agricultural land or any types of land from households or individuals. Rather FIEs can only receive the transfer of LURs from land users being enterprises. This may cause some difficulties for FIEs who may want to acquire land from, for example, neighboring individual land users to expand their current production or business sites.

To go around this restriction, a number of FIEs seek to employ a local nominee enterprise which will receive the land from the individual land users and transfer back the same to the requesting FIEs. Even so, another question may arise: Can FIEs receive land directly from, among other, enterprises including domestic and foreign invested ones? Item #4 below discusses more.

  1. Receipt of transfer of land use rights by way of purchasing investment capital

As noted in Item #2 above, it appears that FIEs’ options to access land are limited to what exactly the Land Law lists.

As such, without any guidance under the Land Law, FIEs can only receive the transfer of LURs by way of acquiring investment capital from an enterprise land user. Such investment capital is ‘the value of LURs which has been capitalized into the seller’s capital (vốn hóa vào vốn của doanh nghiệp)’. This provision is relatively unclear and fails to correspond to other related legal instruments.  Firstly, while it is possible to carve out value of a specific investment [project] from an accounting perspective, the transfer of such value is not provided elsewhere other than the Land Law 2013 itself. This makes the implementation of the above machenism technically paralyzed. Secondly, questions remains to be seen as to whether the transfer of investment capital could be treated as transfer of ‘investment project’, assets or even equity of the seller(s). Each type of transfer would definitively lead to different legal, business and accounting consequences.

On this, the official of MONRE said the Ministry of Finance will soon issue a detailed guidance. It is also confirmed such ‘investment capital’ transfer has been implemented in some provinces in South Vietnam but we are not provided with more detailed information on how it is arranged in light of the above technical obstacles.

  1. Settlement of land in case of land users’ bankruptcy

The Land Law states that the settlement of LURs of insolvent and dissolved companies will be subject to general provisions of laws. Unfortunately, these ‘laws’ arguably enterprises law and, most critically, the Law on Bankruptcy appear to refer back this issue to provisions of the Land Law (2013) and its guiding regulations. This cross-reference, according to the official of the MONRE, causes difficulties in dealing with land of insolvent companies.

  1. Issuance of LURs for FIEs buying residential houses

Though the Law on Residential Housing (2014) allows FIEs to own some forms of residential houses (e.g. – apartments, villas, etc.), they face problems in acquiring LURs for such houses for many reasons.


MONRE should actively solve issues and provide detailed guidance on all related aspects to the licensing/acquisition process.

MONRE should work on solutions of some unclear points on land use rights for Foreign Invested Enterprises (“FIEs”) in cooperation with (i) the Ministry of National Defense and (ii) the Ministry of Public Affairs with respect to areas which must be secured in terms of security and national defense in each province and therefore will not allow FIEs or foreign buyers to own house and land there.

Please do not hesitate to contact Oliver Massmann under if you have any questions on the above. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.





Lawyer in Vietnam Oliver Massmann Real Estate for Foreigners – Opportunities From New Policies

Since 1st July 2015 two new laws are in place, the Law on Real Estate Business and the Law on Residential Housing. Those laws allow foreigners to purchase, own and transfer real estate, houses and condos. On 10 September 2015, the Decree implementing the Law on Real Estate Business was adopted, shedding light on provisions of the related law. The law and its guidance have been in effect for one year and the market has witnessed positive improvement.

In general, there are two different possibilities to become owner of property in Vietnam. The first option is to make investment in construction projects of residential housing in Vietnam. The second option is to purchase the house or condo after its completion of construction.

The Law on Residential Housing provides that foreign individuals who are permitted to enter the country are allowed to own property in Vietnam. It grants even more rights to foreign individuals who are married to a Vietnamese citizen. In particular, once married to a Vietnamese, a foreigner is put in the same category with Vietnamese investors in the market and exercises the right to legally purchase and own property on a long-term basis.

Meanwhile, foreigners not married to a Vietnamese can only own houses for a duration of 50 years. After this period, the owner can require an extension of the ownership and the government will decide whether and for how long it will extend the ownership duration. Beside this 50-year limit, there are also other restrictions on the number of properties that can be owned by a foreigner according to the Law on Residential Housing.

As a result of these changes, Vietnam’s property market is heating up. According to the HCMC Real Estate Association, since the new laws were put into effect, more than 1,000 transactions were made by foreign clients to purchase properties in HCMC, while the were only 250 similar transactions made during the period of four years between 2009 and 2013 in the entire nation. Experts have predicted that 2016 would be another prosperous year for the Vietnamese real estate industry. The country is now considered to be one of the prime real estate investment locations in the world. With this development, there has never been a better time to invest in the property developments in Vietnam.

However, some problems still exist in the field. Until now, it has been announced that the Government will issue a detailed guidance on how foreign individuals become eligible to own property in Vietnam. This document is, however, not in place yet, despite the reputation of the new Housing Law and Law on Residential Housing.

Consequently, although the Vietnamese market is considerably attractive, foreigners are still hesitant to tap the opportunities from new laws as transparent guiding documents have not yet been released. In other words, the opportunities are clear but the Government has been quite delayed in materializing them for foreigners. It is reported that in the first half of the year, there are 25 new projects in real estate sector being licensed with total investment capital of more than USD600 million. In contrast with the busy M&A and new foreign investment in the sector, our own experience in dealing with our foreign client’s request to assist in the application for the red book shows that the licensing authority is still hesitant to grant such certificate. There are many reasons for this reaction, among those are lack of clear legal basis, verification of the nationality of foreigners as well as how to calculate the 50-year ownership.

Foreign investors being still cautious in searching for the market cycle, trying to conduct appropriate procedures as Vietnam is a new market for them, especially when information about the new law is limited, also explains limited transactions made by foreigners and foreign entities.

In conclusion, although the law has provided foreigners with opportunities to purchase house in Vietnam, there are still several obstacles that need to be tackled. The responsibilities lie both in the policy-makers, who are urged to create more transparent and detailed legal guidance, and the Vietnamese who are also required to create a convenient and efficient transaction system.

Please do contact the author Oliver Massmann under if you have any questions. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam.



Lawyer in Vietnam Oliver Massmann Public mergers and acquisitions: market analysis overview

Largest / most noteworthy public M&A transactions in the past 12 months
Noteworthy public M&A transactions include the following:
• In May 2015, Sai GonThuong Tin Commercial Joint Stock Bank (more commonly known as Sacombank) merged with Southern Commercial Joint Stock Bank. Following the merger, Southern Bank shareholders obtained a 0.75 Sacombank share for each share they held. The merged entity, to be called Sacombank, will have a charter capital of more than VND18.85 trillion (US$856 million) and total assets of over VND290.86 trillion (US$13.2 billion). Sacombank’s shareholders agreed to the merger by a 93.7% vote.
• In May 2015, the merger between the Mekong Housing Bank and the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam was completed.
• In May 2015, the Vietnam Bank for Industry and Trade (Vietinbank) merged with Petrolimex Group Commercial Joint Stock Bank (PG Bank). The change rate for PG Bank shares to Vietinbank shares was 1:0.9, which means Vietinbank exchanged 270 million of its shares for 300 million of PG Bank shares. The merger increased Vietinbank’s total assets by VND25 trillion (US$1.19 billion) to VND685 trillion (US$31.7 billion), and its chartered capital by VND3 trillion (US$142.86 million) to more than VND40 trillion (US$1.85 billion).
• In May 2015, Credit Saison spent about JPY5 billion to take a 49% stake in HDFinance, Vietnam’s third largest consumer finance business.
• In August 2015, the Mekong Development Bank (MDB) was set to merge with the Vietnam Maritime Commercial Bank (Maritime Bank) to form an institution that would be among the country’s five largest banks in terms of charter capital. Currently, Maritime Bank’s charter capital is US$373.8 million and MDB’s is US$175.23 million, meaning that the new banking institution would have a charter capital of US$549 million and total assets of US$5.28 billion.
Retail.Noteworthy public M&A deals include the following:
• On 29 April 2016, Thailand’s Central Group bought Big C from Casino at a value of USD1.14 billion.
• In June 2015, WarbusPincus invested $100 million into Vincom Retail and still remained as a minority shareholder.
Food. Noteworthy deals include the following:
• In May 2015, Masan Group acquired 52% of the total shares in Vietnam French Cattle Feed JSC (Proconco). The acquisition occurred when the group bought 99.99% of the total shares in Sam Kim Limited Liability Company and renamed it Masan Nutri-Science Company.
• In May 2015, Filipino firm Pilmico Foods Corporation acquired some feed companies in Vietnam in an expansion bid. Pilmico, a subsidiary of the Aboitiz Group, had bought 70% of the total shares in VinhHoan 1 Feed JSC (VHF) at US$28 million in 2014.
• In July 2015, Mondelēz International completed the acquisition of 80% of the total shares in Kinh Do Corporation, a popular snack business in Vietnam, for about US$370 million.
• On 30 June 2016, Masan Nutri-Science Joint Stock Company bought additionally 30% of Agricultural Nutrition Joint Stock Company, leading to its 100% ownership in the company.
Real estate. Noteworthy deals include the following:
• In May 2015, Duc Long Gia Lai obtained 97.73% of Mass Noble with a transaction value of $11.7 million.
• In June 2015, 89.42% of Vefac was acquired by VinGroup, although the total transaction value was not disclosed.
• In June 2015, Gaw Capital Partners (GCP), the Hong Kong-based private equity firm, acquired an existing portfolio of real estate projects in Vietnam. The portfolio was purchased for US$106 million and is comprised of four of the remaining projects originally held under Indochina Land Holdings 2 Ltd.
• In June 2015, an acquisition between Muong Thanh hospitality and Phuong Dong hotel was completed. Muong Thanh hospitality acquired 100% of Phuong Dong hotel, a part of the Phuong Dong Petroleum Tourism JSC.
• At the beginning of July 2015, Gamuda Land Vietnam, a division of Malaysian property developer GamudaBerhad acquired Celadon City from the Saigon Thuong Tin Real Estate JSC (Sacomreal) and the Thanh Thanh Cong JSC (TTC) for an estimated VND1.4 trillion (US$64.1 million). The estimated original investment is VND24.8 trillion (US$1.1 billion).
• In 2015, Vingroup has become a dominant local M&A acquirer with a long list of transactions in the real estate, retail and logistics sectors. Its most notable additions include:
o Masteri Thao Dien for US$75 million;
o 30% stake ownership in Vinatex for US$26 million;
o 90% stake ownership in Giang Vo Trade Show Center for US$69 million; and
o 30% stake ownership in Hop Nhat Express for US$52 million.
• In December 2015, VinGroup acquired 100% of Hoa Huong Duong company with the deal value of US$252 million. This transaction has also made VinGroup the holder of 98.3% of Vinaconex-Viettel as this company is a subsidiary of Hoa Huong Duong.
• In March 2016, Lotte bought 70% of the total shares of Diamond Plaza in Ho Chi Minh from Posco. Deal value was not disclosed.
• In April 2016, Muong Thanh Corporation bought 95% of the total shares of Cienco 5 Land at the value of VND3,500 billion.

• In April 2016, the merger between ACE Life and Chubb Life was completed, with ACE Life changing its name into Chubb Life in Vietnam.
• Two months later, FWD insurance company, a branch of Pacific Century, started the process of acquiring Great Eastern Vietnam after receiving the license for this acquisition.
The major trends in the structuring of public M&A transactions
In Vietnam, M&A transactions usually take the form of either share or asset acquisitions, with share acquisition transactions outnumbering asset acquisition transactions.
Share acquisitions by foreign purchasers are commonly structured as offshore direct investments. The new investor can:
• Acquire shares or capital contributions from an existing shareholder in the target (for example, a joint stock company, limited liability company, and so on).
• Subscribe for newly issued shares of the target (for a joint stock company).
• Make further capital contributions to the target (for a limited liability company).
In the case of an asset deal, a foreign purchaser must generally establish a new subsidiary in Vietnam.
In addition, M&A transactions can also take the form of a merger. One or more companies of the same type can be merged into another company by transferring all assets, rights, obligations and interests to the merged company, terminating the existence of the merging company.
The 2014 Enterprise Law sets out the types of business structuring that can be used by investors as a result of M&A transactions. In addition, the 2014 Investment Law is the first law that regulates M&A transactions and clearly provides that such transactions do not require an investment registration certificate. Instead, if the target company operates in conditional business sectors applicable for foreign investors, or the investment leading to foreign ownership of the target company being 51% or more (in particular, from below 51% to more than 51% and from 51% to above 51%), the foreign investors must seek approval of the local Department of Planning and Investment of the transaction. In other cases, the target company only needs to register change of membership / shareholders at the Business Registration Division. This change has ended years of uncertainty and frustration faced by foreign investors seeking entry into the Vietnam market or expansion through M&A transactions.

The level/extent of private equity-backed bids in the past 12 months
Investment in the form of M&A transactions is still the most popular form compared with private equity investment. In recent months, private equity funds have been following the securities market in Vietnam, especially companies carrying out value chain operations. Consumer goods and infrastructure are the sectors that attract the most attention. However, due to limited publicly available information, it is not possible to fully assess the level of private equity-backed bids.

The approach of the competition regulator(s) in the past 12 months
The Vietnam Competition Authority under the Ministry of Industry and Trade (VCA) must be notified of the transaction if participating companies have a combined market share in the relevant market of 30% up to 50%. The VCA will then examine whether the calculation of the combined market share is correct and whether the transaction is prohibited (that is, whether the combined market share exceeds 50%, except in certain cases). The transaction can be conducted when the VCA issues a written confirmation that the transaction is not prohibited under competition law.
For more information on the VCA, see

Main factors affecting the public M&A market over the next 12 months
The country’s deeper and wider integration into the world’s economy is offering new opportunities for M&A activities.
Another factor is the Government’s being put under high pressure to privatize State-owned enterprises to meet requirements under signed trade pacts, especially the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Encouraging signs for foreign investment include:
• Economic recovery.
• Reformed policies to allow wider access to foreign investors.
• Formation of the ASEAN Economic Community at the end of 2015.
• The conclusion of free trade agreements (FTAs) and the TPP.
• The bouncing back of the stock market.
• New regulations that increase the authorised levels of foreign investment in public listed companies.
The introduction of the new Investment Law, Enterprise Law and other laws and policies are creating an improved legal environment for investment and trade in general, and the M&A market in particular. However, the following factors also affect M&A transactions:
• Divergent interpretations and implementations by local licensing authorities of international treaties such as Vietnam’s WTO Commitments.
• Different licensing procedures applied to different types of transactions (for example, for foreign invested companies and domestic companies, public companies and private companies, and for buying state-owned shares or private shares).
Although legal and governance barriers, along with macro instability and the lack of market transparency are still the greatest concerns for investors, M&A deals in Vietnam are still expected to be one of the key, effective channels for market entry.
The major expected trends in the Vietnam M&A market include:
• Bank restructurings.
• Acquisitions and anti-acquisitions, especially in the real estate sector.
• Growing Japanese and Thai investment in Vietnam through M&A transactions.
• Reform of SoEs.
The derivatives market is expected to open in 2016, which will help in preventing risks, boosting the growth of the stock market and in promoting M&A deals.

Please do contact the author Oliver Massmann under if you have any questions on the above. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam

Lawyer in Vietnam Oliver Massmann Asean Economic Community Impact on Real Estate Sector

Often compared to the European Union (EU), the AEC is a community formed in order to promote economic integration in South East Asia. The aim of this community is to create a market where member countries are able to develop competitively and cooperate with fewer barriers including free movement of goods, services, investment, freer flow of capital as well as substantial growth in workforce and demanding occupations. In order to achieve this, there are several tasks that need to be fulfilled such as diminishing the gap between developed and developing nations or enhancing communications connectivity and infrastructure.

Due to this, it is expected that the AEC would have a significant impact on the members’ economies in general, and on their real estate sectors in particular; and Vietnam is not an exception. Considering market fluctuations, it can be seen that an excessive amount of foreign capital has been invested into properties recently. In reality, until June 2015, a total of $16.6 billion from ASEAN investors had been poured into this market, despite the fact that AEC was not formed until December last year. This is partly because of the recently applied Housing Law and the Law on Real Estate Business which allow foreign investors to legally own, sell and transfer real properties. Regardless, the influence of AEC is undeniable. Also, similar trends were found in other ASEAN nations including Thailand or Singapore.

This has led many experts to predict that the involvement of Vietnam in AEC would result in prosperity in the real estate market. Vietnam can well compete with its ASEAN member countries in the Real Estate sector.

Vietnam has the most liberalized Real Estate Sector of all Asia allowing free hold ownership of land and houses for foreigners who are married to Vietnamese nationals.

There are still a number of challenges ahead of us such as weak management or lack of skilled labors and unclear procedures. As a result, although with its diversity, the ASEAN real estate market is an attractive destination to several investors, individual countries including Vietnam are required to improve systematically in order to compete in the global market.

Please do contact the author Oliver Massmann under if you have any questions on the above. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Foreign ownership of houses and condominium in Vietnam is now possible

Vietnam – You are a foreigner and want to buy a House or Condominium ?
Come to us! We help you to succeed

Since 1st July 2015 two new laws are in place, the Law on Real Estate Business and the Law on Residential Housing. Those laws allow foreigners to purchase Real Estate, Houses and Condos. On 10 September 2015, the Decree implementing the Law on Real Estate Business is adopted, shedding light on provisions of the related law. The guidance will start taking effect from 01 November 2015. For other provisions that have not received any implementation guidance yet, the Ministry of Construction instructed the authorities to follow the new law and until the new implementation rules are available, the new law should be implemented according to the old implementation guidelines as long as it does not breach the new law. Details will be explained below.

1. The right to own property

The Law on Residential Housing provides that foreign individuals who are permitted to enter the country are allowed to own property in Vietnam. They should also not belong to the category who are entitled to preferential treatment rights, or diplomatic or consulate immunities in accordance to law. The Government will issue a detailed guidance on how foreign individuals could provide its eligibility to own property in Vietnam. This guidance is, unfortunately, not in place yet.

Foreign investors and organizations are allowed to purchase real estate with an investment purpose. The investor or organization will need an Investment Certificate (or Investment Registration Certificate under the new Investment Law). From a general perspective, domestic investors or foreign investors who already have existing projects in Vietnam can easily meet easily this requirement. However, it could be problematic for investors who make first time investment in Vietnam with the investment project being the transferred one.

In general, there are two different possibilities to become owner of property in Vietnam. The first option is to make investment in construction projects of residential housing in Vietnam. The second option is to purchase the house or condo after its completion of construction.

The Law on Residential Housing is granting even more rights to foreign individuals who are married to a Vietnamese citizen, whereas they have the same rights as Vietnamese citizens and have the opportunity to purchase property on a long-term basis.

2. Restrictions

It must be noted that foreigners can only own houses for a duration of 50 years. The Government puts an exemption in place and can decide itself after application if and for how long it will extend the ownership duration.

Under Article 161.2(a) of the Law on Residential Housing, foreign individuals and foreign invested enterprises are able to purchase multiple properties in a residential development project including buildings and separate landed villas/townhouses. The maximum quantity allowed to purchase is 30% of the total units in a building and 250 houses in a local area. However, Article 68.4 of the fourth Draft Decree of the Law on Residential Housing limits that foreign organizations/ individuals may only own maximum 10% of the total number of individual housing in each residential housing project. This could be a restriction not in compliance with the Law on Residential Housing.

Another restriction in the fourth Draft Decree of the Law on Residential Housing is also introduced. While Article 159.2(b) of the Law on Residential Housing only prohibits foreign individuals and organizations from buying houses in national defense and security area, Article 67 of the fourth Draft Decree of the Law on Residential Housing does not allow them to own residential houses in areas where foreigners are prohibited or restricted from residing or traveling as stipulated under the Law on Residence and Travel.

The development of this regulation needs to be awaited.


Please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Oliver Massmann under; if you wish to take the opportunity and purchase property or if you have any questions on the above. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.