Starting and operating an INGO

The VUFO-NGO Resource Centre provides information and informal advice to new international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) wanting to set up an office or work in Vietnam. For international NGOs without offices in Vietnam, and for those based outside Hanoi, a visit to the Resource Centre is often on their agenda when they first arrive in Hanoi. The Resource Centre responds informally to queries regarding operational and programme issues for INGOs in Vietnam, including the issuing and renewal of INGO Certificates of Registration, project approvals, personal income tax and value added tax. For more information please contact the NGO Resource Centre.


From 1 June 2012, foreign NGOs in Vietnam are administered under Decree 12/2012/ND-CP (original in Vietnamese), which replaced the old legislative document Decision 340/TTg from 1996. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a revision of Decree 12 in September 2017. Following a series of consultations with INGOs and relevant governmental agencies, several drafts have been rewritten during 2018. A final draft was submitted to the Office of the Government and the Department of Justice for legal verification in January 2019. Since then, a release date of the final revision of Decree 12 has been announced and postponed several times. In March 2022, the revision is not yet finalised and INGOs are following regulations from the original decree until further notice.


Procedures: The Government of Vietnam issues Certificates of Registration for three types of an INGO's status: a) Operations; b) Project Office and c) Representative Office. The Project Certificate of Registration and the Representative Office Certificate of Registration may be granted for up to five years, while the Operations Certificate of Registration may be granted for up to three years. Representative Office status has been made available to INGOs also based in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang -- in addition to INGOs based in Hanoi. The only difference between the Project Office and Representative Office is with regard to privileges, such as importation of vehicles and/or office equipment free of tax. Applications for registration are to be sent to the Committee for Foreign NGO Affairs (COMINGO), which brings together key Vietnamese government ministries and other bodies to assist the Prime Minister in guiding and addressing issues relating to foreign NGOs. Upon receipt of valid and complete application documents COMINGO will respond within 45 working days to INGOs' applications for registration. The deadline to respond to INGOs' applications for extensions, supplements and amendments will be within 30 working days.


Responsibilities: The rights and obligations of INGOs, Vietnamese ministries, provincial authorities, partner agencies and COMINGO (and its members) are clearly stated in Decree 12. The main point of contact for INGOs' applications will remain COMINGO. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be responsible for granting, extension, supplement, amendment and withdrawal of INGOs' Certificates of Registration. INGOs will not be required to register their operations with provincial authorities. However, some activities -- such as extension of INGOs' project areas -- will require local authorities' agreements and close involvement. The People's Aid Coordinating Committee (PACCOM) is responsible for relations with INGOs and for mobilizing aid. PACCOM, the specialized and functional body of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO), works closely with INGOs both at the central level and in all 63 provinces and centrally administered cities to facilitate foreign NGOs' activities in Vietnam. PACCOM includes the Director-General, Deputy Directors and Programme Coordinators, working in four desks (Administration, Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific). PACCOM's headquarters are at 105A Quan Thanh, Hanoi (Tel.: 84 24 38436 936/7; fax: 84 24 38452 007). Its Southern Representative Office is at 9 Le Duan, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City (Tel.: 84 28 8250 372; fax.: 84 28 8333 436). PACCOM has contacts in every province/city and will continue to facilitate fruitful long-term collaboration between INGOs and provinces/cities.


PACCOM toolkit: PACCOM has developed a toolkit to explain many of the processes and procedures neccessary for setting up an NGO in Vietnam (links will open as PowerPoint documents in English / Vietnamese):


Reporting: INGOs are responsible for preparing written annual reports and six-month reports on their operations in Vietnam and submitting them to COMINGO, with a copy to the relevant People's Committee where they conduct activities.


PIT:  The Personal Income Tax on INGO expatriate representatives, staff and specialists will be subject to Vietnamese legal regulations/documents. See Chapter 1, Article 4 of the Law on Personal Income Tax, which came into effect on 1 January 2009. All INGOs with Representative Office status are exempt provided that it is declared in their Framework Agreements with the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organisations (VUFO). Those INGOs with Project Office status and those applying for the Certificate of Registration of Operations should include a clause on PIT exemption when signing their Framework Agreements.


Work Permits:  Foreign INGO directors/heads are exempt from the Work Permit requirement. However, all other expatriate staff working for INGOs are obliged to visit the Department of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs (DOLISA) in the province where their office is located, and register for Work Permits. Short-term volunteers —up to three months— should be able to stay in Vietnam without Work Permits, while long-term volunteers are obliged to follow the same procedure as full-time paid expatriates. The Government of Vietnam will release an additional circular in English to clarify these issues further.


Fundraising:  Fundraising is not covered in Decree 12, on the assumption that INGOs operating in Vietnam raise their funds outside of Vietnam. The Government of Vietnam will focus more on the issue of fundraising in coming years with the increasing involvement of Public Private Partnerships. However, we are pleased to share with the not-for-profit community in Vietnam the attached Guidelines on Ethical Principles in Fundraising. This code was adapted from the Association of Fundraising Professional's International Code of Ethical Practices in Fundraising to create a code of conduct that would be suitable to Vietnam and acceptable to Vietnamese not-for-profit organizations. The Guidelines are intended to foster the growth of a community of not-for-profit organizations operating in Vietnam that participate in fundraising and dedicated to accountability, transparency and effectiveness. In these Guidelines it is set forth with what unites us in the way we practice our profession and to unify the fundraising community in Vietnam behind a single universal declaration of fundamental principles. Fundraising involves the combined effort of nonprofit organizations as well as donors and giving institutions and fundraising ethics requires the commitment of both parties. Although these Guidelines refer only to the efforts and best practices of nonprofits, the development of a code of conduct by members of the donor community is just as important and could help to build mutual understanding and improve collaboration. The effort to adapt and translate the attached guidelines involved many individuals and organizations engaged in fundraising that generously volunteered their time, skills and experience. A complete list of contributors is detailed in the appendix. The guidelines will be updated on an annual basis, based on comments, feedback and any first-hand experiences shared by nonprofit staff.


Documents: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and COMINGO have prepared a guiding circular of Decree 12, which is avaiable here: English — Vietnamese.


Additional documents regulating the work of INGOs in Vietnam:

  • UN-EU Guidelines for Financing of Local Costs in Development Cooperation with Vietnam 2017 English
  • Decree 80/2020/ND-CP: Management and Use of non-ODA grant aid provided by foreign agencies, organisations and individuals EnglishVietnamese
  • Decision 06/2020/QD-TTg: Organising and Management of international conferences, workshops and seminars in Vietnam English — Vietnamese
  • Decree 152/2020/ND-CP: Recruitment and Management of Vietnamese workers employed by foreign entities in Vietnam Vietnamese