In Vietnam, foreigners can rent a forest, but can't buy a house

By Nguyen Nga, Thanh Nien News

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Foreign investors at the launch of a real estate project in Vietnam. Photo: Diep Duc Minh Foreign investors at the launch of a real estate project in Vietnam. Photo: Diep Duc Minh

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Experts have criticized policymakers for their slow approach to lifting restrictions on foreign home ownership in Vietnam, arguing that an open policy would benefit the country.
“We have discussed what they [foreigners] get from buying a house in Vietnam but we haven't asked what we would get and what should be done to ensure reciprocal benefits,” said Nguyen Tri Hieu, a Hanoi-based senior financial and banking expert.
Opening Vietnam to foreign home ownership would be reasonable because foreign buyers could help alleviate the country's glut of luxury apartments, he said.
“Secondly, in terms of politics, it will encourage overseas Vietnamese to repatriate and attract foreign experts and investors to work long-term in Vietnam.”
According to Hieu, Vietnam will interest few foreign speculators because housing prices here are relatively expensive.
He also dismissed security concerns about foreigners looking to buy houses in order to “occupy land” in Vietnam as groundless.
Hieu said Vietnam should take a tip from Mexico, which lifted a ban on foreign property ownership in 1993 by authorizing local banks to handle such transactions.
Bui Kien Thanh, a Vietnamese American economist, also advised Vietnam to follow Mexico's lead.
Nguyen Nam Son, the founder of Ho Chi Minh City-based Vietnam Capital Partners, said Vietnam shouldn't make things difficult for foreigners who want to buy houses as many have worked in the country for 5-7 years while paying taxes.
“There are also many overseas Vietnamese who visit Vietnam several times a year and want to own a house. For this reason, Vietnam shouldn't consider requiring property owners to remain here permanently or invest in some sort of project.”
“I know many cases when foreigners have had to ask their local relatives to hold their land title. In the end, this has led to a lot of unnecessary disputes,” he said.
Nguyen Thanh Lam, chairman of VietEuro export company, said that regulations on foreign home ownership in Vietnam have grown outdated.
“Vietnamese lawmakers have not studied the way [other countries in] the world treat their national land. We have pursued a contrary policy.”
He said few countries outside of Vietnam allow foreigners to rent forest land.
“Developed countries only allow foreigners to buy houses and the land the house is built on,” he said.
“We are doing the opposite by readily allowing foreigners to rent forest land for 50 years, but refusing to allow them to buy homes.”

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