An image of the country's flag.

Vietnam is situated in Southeast Asia and neighbors Laos, Cambodia and China. The majority of its population lives in rural areas and works in agriculture. With a high population density, land is scarce. About one-third of the land is used for agriculture.

All land in Vietnam belongs to the population as a whole. The state administers the land on its behalf, and citizens and organizations rely upon land-use rights but do not own land.

Vietnam’s laws emphasize gender equality regarding access to property and land rights. In practice, however, women have been left behind. As compared to men, women are allocated smaller plots and less land overall; and women’s names are often not included on land-use right certificates. Such certificates, which are mandated by law, are necessary for formal state recognition of use rights, secure tenure, formal land transactions, access to formal credit and legal protection of land-use rights.

Compulsory acquisition of land by the state is a source of social conflict in Vietnam. In October 2012 the National Assembly began considering a new land law that is expected to address this and other issues.

Vietnam has a relative abundance of water, forest and mineral resources. However, the country faces several threats to its resources, including increasing water pollution, continuing degradation of primary natural resources and growing negative environmental impacts from increased mineral exploitation.


  • Support women’s land rights. While women’s rights to acquire, use, inherit and transfer land are protected by law, in practice they are insecure and not fully realized. Donors could advance women’s land rights by supporting initiatives to include women’s names on land-use right certificates; by piloting legal education programs targeted at women, local communities and entities charged with adjudicating and implementing women’s property rights (including mediation groups, mediation committees, People’s Committees and courts); and by piloting legal aid services that help women navigate complicated procedures that prevent them from obtaining and using their land rights.
  • Address risk of conflict and increase security for communities following communal tenure practices. Although Vietnamese law now permits communities to hold formal land-use rights, institutional recognition of communal tenure has not occurred in practice. In districts where land-use right certificates have not been issued, groups following communal tenure practices are especially vulnerable to encroachment by others, including migrating populations and companies seeking to exploit various natural resources. This problem is particularly pressing for ethnic minorities in the central highlands area. Donors could increase tenure security for these communities and reduce the risk of conflict associated with their current insecurity by supporting efforts to issue land-use right certificates.
  • Ensure application of laws requiring market price compensation for compulsory acquisition. By law, compensation for expropriated land (which in most cases is land used by farm households) must correspond to market price. In practice, however, Vietnam lacks specific procedures for assessing market value. Inadequate compensation is a source of widespread grievance that sometimes leads to violence. At least one city has managed to reduce the level of complaints associated with compulsory acquisition and pay compensation closer to market values by hiring independent land appraisers. Donors could help the government improve its ability to assess land value and pay proper compensation by supporting initiatives to train and deploy independent land appraisers.
  • Promote development of a more functional land market. Lack of transparency is a key obstacle to the emergence of a more functional land market in Vietnam. Donors could help increase transparency by supporting initiatives that ensure land users’ access to relevant information about land. Such initiatives could include efforts to enforce laws that require the disclosure of all approved land-use plans, and development of a national land registration system that is integrated, publicly accessible, derived from provincial agency land records, based on individual land parcels and inclusive of all obligations and rights attached to each piece of land.
  • Support more sustainable water management. Although Vietnam has a relative abundance of freshwater resources, access to water is uneven across regions and seasons. A lack of adequate sanitation facilities, along with increased urbanization, industrialization and mining activities has led to increased water pollution. In addition, a dearth of data and the devolution of authority to provincial agencies have led to less efficient, less effective water management. Donors could help reduce water pollution by facilitating investment in sanitation facilities in both urban and rural settings. Donors could also offer technical assistance to help the government obtain better data on water resources and improve coordination of water management across agencies.
  • Promote expansion of community-based allocation and management of forestland. Despite the success of Vietnam’s reforestation efforts, forests have suffered continued degradation, and many residents, especially ethnic minorities, lack access to forestland use-rights. Donors could support the expansion of community-based allocation and management programs for forestland that the government has already begun on a small scale. Such programs would secure use rights for forest dwellers while promoting sustainable forestry practices.


Seventy percent of Vietnam’s population lives in rural areas, primarily working in agriculture. Vietnam has one of the world’s lowest per capita land endowments, and most suitable lands are being utilized. About one-third of Vietnam’s land area is used for agriculture.

Because land in Vietnam belongs to the population as a whole, and is administered by the state on the public’s behalf, citizens and organizations rely upon land-use rights, but do not own land.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Vietnam implemented reform processes that included the allocation of land-use rights to farmers. By 2009, the state had allocated to land users 72% of Vietnam’s total land area and almost all of its agricultural land. By 2010, it had issued land-right certificates covering roughly half of Vietnam’s land parcels and more than 90% of farm households.

Tenure rights in Vietnam are essentially usufruct rights, meaning that right holders may use land, but cannot own it. Use rights include the right to a state-issued land-use right certificate (LURC), which entitles holders to sell, rent, exchange, mortgage and bequeath their use rights, and to exclude others from the land. The state may grant use rights, and users may also legally acquire use rights through lease, inheritance or grant from a family member and purchase. LURCs are necessary for formal state recognition of a user’s rights and for secured tenure, formal land transactions, access to formal credit and legal protection of land-use rights.

While Vietnam’s laws emphasize gender equality regarding access to and use of property and land, in practice women hold fewer rights to land. As compared to men, women are allocated smaller plots and receive less land overall, and although the law requires that LURCs list the names of both spouses for jointly held property, women are not equally represented on LURCs.

A hierarchy of authorities at the central, provincial, district and communal levels administers Vietnam’s land policies. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is the primary central-level administrative body for land, water and mineral resources, and People’s Committees at all levels (provincial, city, district, commune, ward and township) implement land policy, which the government determines at the central level.

Vietnam has active markets for the sale and rental of land-use rights, though the level of trade in land rights varies from province to province. A number of possible factors inhibit development of a vibrant market in land-use rights, including lack of transparency, limits on lease periods, the costs and delays associated with transfer procedures and the government’s intervention in the allocation, transfer, use and valuation of land.

The law allows the state to acquire land used by citizens for a wide range of purposes, including national defense and security, national interest, public interest and economic development. Although the law requires the state to pay compensation based on the market price of the land, the state lacks procedures for assessing market price and routinely fails in practice to assess market value. The law governing compulsory acquisition also requires the state to provide notice to land users, provide for their resettlement and support and hear challenges to acquisition decisions. In the mostcommon form of compulsory acquisition cases, the state acquires land from farming households to develop industrial zones and clusters. Observers report that current procedures are slow, unpredictable and lacking in transparency. Approximately 70% of all complaints directed at the government each year are administrative complaints regarding land, and 70% of land complaints relate to compensation.

Land-related conflicts in Vietnam stem from numerous causes. The state’s introduction of private use- rights conflicts with the land-use practices of some ethnic communities, which tend to use traditional communal management systems. Conflict also surrounds competing demands of various groups for agricultural land and forestland. Such conflict has been particularly high in the central highlands area. Vietnam’s compulsory acquisition procedures have also led to conflict. Complaints of inadequate compensation are widespread, and numerous protests have turned violent and led to police deployment.

As with land, the government manages all water, forest and mineral resources for the population as a whole. The Law on Water Resources, Law on Forest Protection and Development and the Mineral Law govern the licensing and allocation of these resources. Despite a relative abundance of resources, Vietnam struggles to overcome several resource-related challenges, including water pollution resulting from an increase in industrialization and urbanization accompanied by a lack of adequate sanitation facilities; a reforestation effort hampered by continued degradation of primary natural forests; and environmental effects stemming from increased mineral exploitation.

Published / Updated: January 2013