Is marriage a legal prerequisite to cohabitation?

Dear Marijn,

My name is Simon and until very recently I was enjoying Ho Chi Minh City life as a single foreign language teacher. Things have changed since I met this wonderful Vietnamese girl. I think she could be the love of my life! But now that I want her to come live with me in my apartment, the landlord is causing trouble. According to him, he cannot register us with the local police in Vietnam because we are not married. I am completely flabbergasted. Could this be true, and is it even compulsory for us to be registered?

First of all, congratulations on finding the love of your life! Let’s straighten this issue out immediately: the law does not prohibit an unmarried Vietnamese and foreigner couple from living together. The issue that you describe is not uncommon and you are not the only foreigner who has been faced with this situation.

The Vietnamese Law on Marriage and Family explicitly recognizes the principle of “co-habitation,” and no distinction is made between Vietnamese couples and “interracial” couples. Cultural sensitivity and tradition aside, it remains a common misunderstanding that it would be illegal for unmarried couples to live together in Vietnam – so don’t try to use this as an excuse not to ask for your girlfriend’s hand!

Having said that, the same Law on Marriage and Family does clearly – and obviously – prohibit one from living together with a person who is already married, as well as the cohabitation as husband and wife between people of the same direct blood line, between relatives within three generations, between adoptive parent and adoptive child, et cetera.

To answer your second question, as a foreigner who is permitted to stay in Vietnam for a limited period of time, Article 33 on the Law on Entry, Exit, Transit and Residence of Foreigners in Vietnam does indeed require you to register your residence. The same Article states that it is the responsibility of your landlord to fill out the relevant declaration form and to submit it to the local police authority in the ward where you live. That is why when you check into a hotel in Vietnam, the staff will always ask to see your passport for exactly the same reason.

Even though a different law applies to Vietnamese citizens, they too are required to register their permanent and/or temporary residence with the local police. Both Vietnamese citizens and foreigners must inform the authorities of any changes in their residence situation.

When moving into a new apartment, or when your girlfriend moves into yours, you are both required to register with the local police in your ward, however, your landlord must help you with the registration and, since no law in Vietnam prohibits the two of you from living together, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Applying Vietnamese law into actual practice is a different matter. Approach your landlord with what you have just learned and see whether he is now more willing to cooperate. If things go well, you may find that convincing the local police is not as difficult as you may think and your registration will become smoother.

In areas where many foreigners live, the police are supposedly more accustomed to situations like yours and is often more willing to help. So if you find yourself dealing with a stubborn officer, consider moving to a more foreigner-friendly area of town, steering away from situations that may nip your love in the bud…

Every month, Marijn Sprokkereef answers legal questions from Oi readers. If you have any legal question you want answered, send them to

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3 thoughts on “Is marriage a legal prerequisite to cohabitation?”

  1. Hi i just want to adk some legal matters. . A vietnamese woman with 2 children living in wiyh a married this against family law . Can the forieghner be deported

  2. Hi my defacto partner has been sponsored as such by me 3 years ago after being in Australia 1 year so a total of 4 years in Australia we have been in a relationship since 2009. We have a 2yr daughter we recently have come to visit her family in Tan Chau An Giang VN
    Her mother went to the local police to register myself and our daughter both are foreigners. We’re staying at her house.
    She was so happy to see her daughter and granddaughter after many years
    The police told her it is illegal for me and her granddaughter to stay in the house as we do not have a marriage paper
    We are intending to Aquire one in the near future. Can you tell us what we can do
    As we have rented a room at the local hotel and need go there every night to sleep, but of course together in one room. This is current now, we are here until 25 June
    Please tell me what can I do with this madness. My partners parents are very upset as they want to spend as much time with their grandchild as they can


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