The Myth: Are English books banned from being shipped out of Vietnam?

Actually, no, it’s not English books specifically. Both English and other foreign-language books are often simply caught in the line of fire between local prohibitions and actually-banned publications.

According to Vietnamese Post Office Regulation #49/2010/QH12 (you can find it on the Vietnamese government legal text archive moj.gov.vn) and the imports regulation (12/2006/ND-CP), any “cultural products” (of which books are one) that are banned from circulation within Vietnam are also banned from being imported into or exported out of Vietnam.

Both of these regulations are pretty straightforward concerning the types of books that are unwelcome in Vietnam: books of an adult nature; socially controversial material; and textbooks with an anti- government agenda. Despite this very clear distinction, however, many expats still find their non-adult-material, non-controversial, and non-anti-government books turned away at the post office.

The problem stems from the lack of an institutionalized department dedicated to content inspection (which would probably be too costly) in Vietnamese post offices, especially those smaller ward-level post offices with fewer resources. Without an inspection department, the general post office has a ‘cultural inspection’ policy that does away with reading through
the content in favor of a minimum-effort check for a stamp or book code from a legal Vietnamese book publisher (since any books bearing an authentic stamp or code will have already undergone a cultural inspection there).

According to this internal policy, any books, publications, or documents lacking both of these items – whether they’re Vietnamese or foreign – are likely to be given the boot by the post office workers in charge.

So what do you do if you know your books are not illegal under Vietnamese law but don’t have a stamp or the name of a local publisher on it? Fortunately, in practice, this policy is not set in stone. Because the root problem is not a legal one but rather a lack of resources, if you find that your books are denied at any post office and you know for sure that the law itself has no problem with them, then just take your books to a larger post office or international shipping company where they have more resources (and more staff used to dealing with foreigners), and where you’ll have a much better chance of shipping them out of Vietnam than you would at your local branch.

In general, the following items are prohibited from crossing Vietnamese borders:

– Narcotics and neurological drugs

– Weapons and ammunition, unauthorized military technology

– Debauched cultural products, publications and documents that undermine public order and incite against the State

– Explosive, flammable, unhygienic, or polluting substances and materials

– Any items banned from circulation, import and export

– Living organisms

– Items banned from entry to receiving countries

– Precious metals, stones, or products made from precious metals or stones

– Post containing mail sent to multiple addresses