Dealing with emergency situations in Vietnam

Hello everybody,

Dealing with unexpected situations abroad can be a very difficult matter. In order to better help expats and soon-to-be expats in Vietnam face such tricky situations, we invite you to share your advice and experience.

What are the key emergency numbers you should know by heart?

In the event of a legal problem, an accident, a natural disaster, an injury or the death of a close family member, what are the first things to do in Vietnam?

What are the things to plan ahead in order to better cope with such unexpected situations (registration at the Embassy, transport, medical, comprehensive insurance for instance)?

If you have gone through such experiences in Vietnam, do not hesitate to share your story.

Thank you in advance!


Bloody good point.

When I was suddenly taken very ill some time ago, my wife called her mate who is Prof of Medicine at somewhere and he called his mate a surgeon and I was in hospital and being sorted within the hour. If she became suddenly seriously ill I would be up the creek without toilet paper.

I will make a contact list this very evening. Thanks for a very timely reminder!

I am a bike rider like many expats here. And here is a tip for expats. If you are get caught in any traffic accidents whether caused by you or any other, first thing you have to do is taking care of your belongings. Other bikers or passers-by could be potential alibabas.

I would suggest fellow foreigners in Vietnam to bookmark this has all the emergency contact numbers you may need

Speaking from experience here in Hanoi, my daughter has needed to travel quickly to hospital 3 or 4 times now.  Twice we went by ambulance, which in actual fact was hopeless.  The traffic will absolutely  NOT move out of the way for emergency vehicles, period.  Can't tell you how much that totally disgusts me and how little regard they have for human life.

I have since learned the fastest way to hospital here is by TAXI, they are well used to transporting patients like this and can more far quicker than the average ambulance.

We were also fortunate enough to have an amazing taxi driver who carried my daughter on his back to get her out of the alley and into his taxi.

I would also advise you use the services of VINMEC hospital as they have been the most medically proficient and have clean wards etc. (I come from a nursing background if that helps give you an indication from my perspectives). And  may I add not overpriced like the french hospitals with more resources available.

As a point, if you have any serious illness, the nearest centre of excellence is in Bangkokm Thailand.  Something you might want to consider as well.

Police and fire services I cannot say as I have had no need of them since we have lived here.

I would strongly advise if you live here on a more permanent basis with a family, you enlist yourself with a good translator for anything relating to paperwork, hospitals, etc. 

Hope this helps....

You do not want to be in Hanoi without medical health insurance so that should be a priority. Then find which 'western' style hospitals will accept your insurance without you having to pay up front.
If you need emergency medical help, money should be the last thing you need to worry about.
I use Family Medical who accept BUPA cover but there are some other good hospitals like Vinmec, SOS International you could try.

As someone already pointed out, no one moves out of the way for emergency services so a taxi is by far the quickest way to get to hospital in an emergency. Once you have selected your hospital, go grab one of their business cards and keep it in your purse/wallet so you do not need to delay things trying to translate.

Never used the Fire service but the chances are extremely high, a Vietnamese person will be on the phone before you even see smoke. With the majority of the houses huddled together it is in their interests to get some help to put out the fire.
Same applies when the electricity boxes outside blow up (it happens from time to time).
Do NOT attempt to help extinguish a fire unless you know exactly what is in the building. A LOT of houses double as business premises so there could be anything in them from, butane gas cylinders, toxic plastics, volatile thinners/pain/varnished.

If you have a landlord, housing agent or your hotel receptionists who speaks a little English, they are also useful to have on speed dial - assuming you have not found a Vietnamese 'friend' already.

If you are involved in a motorbike accident, whether it is your fault or not, it pains me to say it as it goes against my morale compass but, get the heck out of there.
It is not uncommon for westerners to be blamed for an accident or accused of damaging someone or property by stopping to help or even being a bystander. To some (not all of course) we are a cash cows and they will milk it like you wouldn't believe.
Case in point; 2 years ago in Hanoi an Irish guy stopped to help a motorcyclist who suffered head injuries and later died. Even though he was not in any way involved in the accident and was merely a bystander, he was blamed for making the injuries worse (according to statements given by "'witnesses") and it cost him $15,000 in compensation.

Depending on which 'Ward' you are living in, the Ward Police phone number might be useful but please keep in mind very few officials speak English (Traffic Police are getting better though).

Did I miss anything?

I made the mistake of booking a one way ticket to Saigon and didn't really think about how the trip insurance (which included health) would work once the trip was complete (upon arrival.) Long story short, a month after my arrival I was hit by a motorbike and when I called to find out about insurance, I realized I had none. I was taken to a Vietnamese hospital after my accident and was able to pay for the crutches, scans of my legs and painkillers out of pocket. They initially didn't want to treat me because I was a foreigner, but was there with a Vietnamese coworker who was part of my teaching program. She knew a doctor there and insisted I get seen. However, I didn't get antibiotics and soon after the wound became infected. By this time I had a job, but my company didn't pay for anything. Still not sure what the insurance even covered. I was referred to Columbia Asia Clinic and then sent to the hospital for a referral with a surgeon after the first round of antibiotics didn't work. I had to pay for everything out of pocket. All said, the surgery, one night at the hospital, 7 days of cleanings at the clinic, follow-up operation at the clinic to sew up the wound (since they left it open in case of follow-up infection) cost me about $2000 out of pocket. I, thankfully, had savings, but for those that don't. I'd go with Travel Nomads insurance. I've heard excellent things about them.
I started seeing Columbia Asia Clinic for everything (gyno visits, recurring cough due to the pollution, birth control, etc) because they were easy to get to (I lived in D5), all doctors and nurses spoke English in addition to their own foreign language (German, Hindi, French, Filipino, etc.) and they were incredibly caring. I never felt like just a patient there.
Towards the end of my time there I was also re-diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and started seeing a doctor at FV Hospital. Hospitals have a different feel from clinics (less personal), but I was well taken care of there. My doctor got me started on Methotrexate and I had to have monthly blood tests done to monitor the levels. I went to the FV Clinic in D1 and my work insurance actually covered those tests and the medication was cheap enough to buy out pocket. I can't remember if insurance did or didn't cover it.

Columbia Asia Clinic:
8, Alexandre de Rhodes, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Bến Nghé, Vietnam
+84 8 3823 8888

FV Hospital:
Address: 6 Nguyễn Lương Bằng, Tân Phú, 7, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Phone: +84 8 5411 3333

FV Clinic:
Address: 45 Võ Thị Sáu, Đa Kao, 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
Phone:+84 8 6290 6176

Here's my perspective as an American health care professional who first visited Vietnam 20 years ago and who has been living and working as a volunteer in Vietnamese hospitals for the past ten years: 
1)  Health insurance does not equal health care.
2)  Vietnamese health care has improved immeasurably over recent years.
3)   The qualifications and skills of Vietnamese physicians vary wildly.
4)  The cost of health care and pharmaceuticals is incredibly much cheaper in Vietnam than in the US.
Example #1:  My husband had a bicycle/motorbike accident in which he broke his wrist and also dislodged a kidney stone.  Total cost of care at Hoan My private hospital in Da Nang, including x-rays, ultrasound, meds, and consults with 5 doctors:  $24 USD.
Example #2:  Total cardiac work-up for my husband, including EKG and echocardiogram and consult with qualified cardiologist:  about $50 USD, also at Hoan My hospital.
Example #3:  Extended emergency room visit for multiple kidney stones, including x-ray, ultrasound, and EKG, followed by overnight admission to hospital (booking both beds in a semi-private air-conditioned room with a private bathroom), all meds and MD consults:  $100 USD.
In our favor is the fact that my personal translator, whom I use for my own volunteer work is comfortable dealing with medical issues.  Also in our favor is that we did NOT utilize the services of the Da Nang branch of Family Practice clinic which caters to foreigners with medical insurance and whose fees for services and for pharmaceuticals are on a par with American costs.

My experience, living in Da Lat, is that most of the "doctors" here are clueless. I went to five different doctors over three months for a terribly annoying itch. Each examined me closely, including one at the Hoan My hospital in Da Lat, and gave me a different diagnosis. All were wrong.

The first, and best (as in most ridiculous) was that he couldn't help me "because Westerners are biologically different than Vietnamese." I finally traveled to Saigon and the doc at Family Medical Practice figured it out. My girlfriend, her daughter and I now travel there for anything nagging. The prices are on-par with costs in the US, but it's worth it to "get fixed".

I've heard that many VN "doctors" have no medical training and purchase the rights to hang up a shingle from the local authorities. My personal experience backs that up.

Re insurance, I am relatively healthy and only carry catastrophic insurance:
a) Global Rescue to get me the hell out of here if it's life-threatening or disabling
b) Medical coverage that kicks in only if I'm in-hospital overnight AND after I spend the first $3000. All after that is covered... or so I'm told.

emergency..hum seafood contamination.. gov  says om  safe i ate  shrimp ended up in  hospital...embassy dont reply.. typical..  anyway i have no idea  how  to deal  with  this  dangerous topic.. the  gov vn   is paid by  china.. zo  they  wont get involved . dumping goes on    n no one  controling. over one million tons of fish  killed  200000 hospitalized 400000  ton  i  ha  tinh  alone all  the way  from  ha tinh  to  hue majors killing of  whales  dead n all  coral dead but  still no one cares... what  can   we  do om open to  suggestion..

anthony500 :

...what  can   we  do om open to  suggestion..

We can learn to live within the system as the natives have... or we can choose to leave.

Which nation's embassy did not reply to your life-threatening illness? THAT is what scares me the most...

Same situation in Paris with energency ambulances - nobody moves!

In Hanoi it maybe because locals know the ambulances are abused; many times I've seen ambulances with sirens and lights on, crammed with people in ths back who look and act like they're being transported in a taxi!

Same situation with police cars and police motor bike riders who drive around all day with emergency lights flashing.

According to my understanding via Google translation: They enroll for study medical 4 years... after that they are Dr., no exam, no presence record ...

Thanks so very much for the info - most helpful :)

Andrea4 :

I have since learned the fastest way to hospital here is by TAXI, they are well used to transporting patients like this and can more far quicker than the average ambulance.

We were also fortunate enough to have an amazing taxi driver who carried my daughter on his back to get her out of the alley and into his taxi.

Hope this helps....

For those like my wife, who is bed-ridden and must be picked up and carried to and from her wheel-chair, both Taxis and Ambulances are excruciatingly painful modes of transportation. Unfortunately, vans with wheel-chair lifts do not seem to be available to most of us. So for some of us the only option is to live with in wheel-chair pushing distance of the hospital and hope it doesn't rain during the trip or buy and modify a personal wheel-chair transport vehicle. Constructing  a personal wheel-chair transport vehicle out of my Jeep is one of my projects.

l3ully :

According to my understanding via Google translation: They enroll for study medical 4 years... after that they are Dr., no exam, no presence record ...

Google translation can and does make complex issues into over simplified garbage.

1) Doctor M.D. (USA) and Doctor Bác sĩ(Viet Nam), like Doc in the Military and Doc at a civilian hospital in the USA have a different meaning. In the military an EMS tech is called Doc
  a) Doctor M.D. (USA) and Bác sĩ tiến sĩ (Viet Nam) are roughly equivalent.
  b) Nurse Practitioner M.S. Degree and Bác sĩ thạc sĩ (Viet Nam) are roughly equivalent.
      But, Bác sĩ thạc sĩ (Viet Nam) can also be someone who is allowed to practice a very narrow  specialty. A Mayo Clinic trained Oncologist that treated my wife was a Bác sĩ thạc sĩ (Viet Nam).

2) A License to Practice Medicine can be attached either to
  a) a Civilian Hospital that is responsible for the work done by it's employees who have no legal right to practice Medicine outside of the hospital.
  b) Or to a Vietnamese Government trained Doctor including those trained abroad at government expense. These Government trained Doctors are paid very little. But, they have the right to practice medicine in their own clinics as long as it does not interfere with their work at the government hospital. The Mayo Clinic trained Oncologist that treated my wife was a Bác sĩ thạc sĩ (Viet Nam) and was government trained and her advanced study at the Mayo Clinic was paid for by the VN Government.

3) Unless you personally know the Doctor very well, DO NOT get treated anywhere except Ha Noi, Da Nang, Sai Gon or, if desparate a Vietnamese Military Hospital. Note, All the Doctors that I know follow this rule for themselves, their family and friends unless the issue is rather minor. The issue isn't the quality of the Doctors. The issue is the quality of the hospitals, blood labs etc.

Again this is a very complex issue and I am guilty of over simplifying the issue as well.

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