Dear Hadrien and Marijn,
I am a Canadian citizen who has been living and working in Vietnam for the last six years. My Vietnamese girlfriend and I are thinking about getting married and staying in Vietnam permanently. Reading your columns every month, I understand that doing business in Vietnam and things like access to real estate are often much easier for Vietnamese citizens than for foreigners. Thinking about our future in Vietnam, I would like to know how a foreigner like me could possibly become a Vietnamese citizen. What are the requirements and will I be able to keep my Canadian citizenship?
If you already made a decision to marry a Vietnamese citizen and live here permanently, becoming a Vietnamese citizen does not seem such an eccentric idea as there are indeed a lot of advantages in gaining Vietnamese citizenship when living in Vietnam, notably in the domains that you refer to.
The Law on Vietnamese Nationality of 2008 sets a general rule whereby a foreign national residing permanently in Vietnam may acquire Vietnamese citizenship if he or she: (i) has resided in Vietnam for five years or more; (ii) is capable of making a living in Vietnam; (iii) understands the Vietnamese language well enough to integrate into the Vietnamese community; (iv) has full civil capacity to act; and (v) obeys the laws of Vietnam and respects its traditions, customs and practices.
There are three categories of foreigners who need only satisfy the last two requirements to validly apply for Vietnamese citizenship: (i) foreign nationals being a spouse, a natural parent or natural offspring of a Vietnamese citizen; (ii) foreigners having made meritorious contributions to Vietnam’s national construction and defense; and (iii) foreign nationals whose acquisition of Vietnamese citizenship would be helpful to the State of Vietnam.
If you want to apply for Vietnamese citizenship, you will need to submit an application and forms to the Department of Justice of the province or city where you reside. The paperwork consists of the following documents: (i) a standard application form; (ii) a copy of your birth certificate, passport or a valid substitute document; (iii) a curriculum vitae made in a standard format as issued by the Ministry of Justice; and (iv) recent judicial records. The application fee is VND3 million and the procedure should take, at least in theory, just under four months to be completed.
Foreign nationals not falling within one of the exempted categories will additionally need to submit documents proving that they satisfy the requirements of the period and place of their residency, on their capability to make a living here and on their Vietnamese language skills.
On the other hand, foreigners claiming to fall within one of the three exempted categories will need to prove that they satisfy the relevant condition, for example in your case by including a marriage certificate to their application file (or a photocopy of your Vietnamese Medal of Honor, if applicable). Last but not least, if you apply for Vietnamese citizenship you must have a Vietnamese name, which you can choose yourself and which should be noted in your application file. Write back to us if you need any inspiration! We suggest Binh (in an obvious attempt to expand the population of Mr. Binh in Vietnam).
Following submission, your application file will go through various State authorities for verification and review before it will be handed over to the Ministry of Justice. Provided that your application file is complete and that all requirements are satisfied, it will be sent to the Prime Minister and it will finally end up on the desk of the President of Vietnam for his final decision.
Regarding your question about dual citizenship, the main rule under the Law on Vietnamese Nationality is that foreigners applying for Vietnamese citizenship must give up their then- current citizenship. However, if you fall within one of the three exempted categories that we mentioned before, and only with the approval of the President of Vietnam, dual citizenship is possible, provided of course that the country of your current citizenship also allows for it.
Best of luck to you and your future wife!
A member of the Paris Bar, Hadrien Wolff has been practicing law in Vietnam for more than seven years, currently as a partner of Audier & Partners based at its HCMC office. Having gained extensive legal experience in the Netherlands and Cambodia, Marijn Sprokkereef is an associate at the Hanoi office of the same firm. Audier & partners is an international law firm with presence in Vietnam, Myanmar and Mongolia, providing advice to foreign investors on a broad range of legal issues.