Elaborate rules prevent expats in Vietnam from buying housing

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English-French woman Sonia Nguyen Delestree, her husband, and their son live in a rented apartment in HCMC because she could not to buy a house in her name last year.

English-French woman Sonia Nguyen Delestree was frustrated last year that she was unable to buy a house in her name despite living in Vietnam for seven years.

She could not prove she was a legal resident despite being married to a Vietnamese national, which in fact puts her in a category of foreigners eligible to buy an apartment.

"It is extremely difficult [to get a permanent residence certificate]" her husband said, explaining that she does not have a bachelor's or other degree.

They now rent a place at the New Saigon apartments in Ho Chi Minh City's Nha Be District, where their non-Vietnamese neighbors complain about the same problem.

Even overseas Vietnamese, or Viet Kieu, find it difficult to buy a house due to the stringent regulations in a law the government piloted in 2009 for a five-year period.

Four years after the law took effect, 427 foreigners, 363 of them Viet Kieu, have bought houses. This represents 0.5 percent of expatriates in the country.

Besides marrying a local, the other four categories allowed to buy apartments are those who directly invest in Vietnam or are hired in management positions by local or foreign-invested companies; those who received certificates of merit or medals for their contributions to the country; those who work in socioeconomic fields, hold a bachelor's degree or higher, and who possess special knowledge and skills that Vietnam needs; and foreign-invested firms needing housing for their employees.

All should be legal residents and have lived in Vietnam for at least one year.

The HCMC Committee for Overseas Vietnamese said every year tens of thousands of Viet Kieu ask about buying houses in the country.

But many of them give up as soon as they learn about the stringent and complicated conditions, it said.

Real estate companies also complain that they miss out on a number of transactions since foreign home seekers with genuine demand have problems with the regulations.

Thus, a number of foreigners are forced to buy in the names of locals, but are always worried they could lose their house over a dispute.

The government recently agreed to a loosening of regulations suggested by the Ministries of Natural Resources and Environment and Industry and Trade, and has entrusted the Ministry of Construction with drafting proposals.

Economist Bui Kien Thanh agreed with the move, saying it would boost sales of high-end apartments in the sluggish property market.

The high-end segment has the largest inventory.

But other economists and industry insiders expect all segments to benefit.

Vu Quang Hoi, chairman of Bitexco, said the demand for buying houses is significantly high among expatriates, especially Japanese and South Koreans.

Cao Sy Kiem, National Assembly member, said the loosening of regulations could also stimulate the economy.

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