XO Tours has been operating our famous scooter tours in Vietnam since January 2011, when the country’s tourism industry was just starting to be discovered by international travelers. During that time, we’ve seen incredible development in the Vietnamese tour industry, with many tour operators providing some really fantastic tour products.
In recent years, we’ve also seen many unlicensed tour operators trying to cash in on the influx of tourists coming to Vietnam. From our personal experience, we estimate that no more than 20-30% of the tour operators in Vietnam are licensed and operating legally. And of the tour providers that offer motorbike/scooter tours, no more than 5% are operating legally. Here are a few things you should know before booking a tour in Vietnam.
Your Vietnam tour operator may not be licensed and reasons you should care:
1. Legally licensed tour operators must deposit a minimum of 250,000,000 VND (Inbound operators) to 500,000,000 VND (Inbound and Outbound Operators) into an insurance fund verified by the government, in case there is an emergency incident on the tours. Keep in mind that your own travel insurance most likely won’t cover you if you’re injured while on a tour run by an unlicensed operator working illegally.
Even if the tour provider tells you they have their own insurance, when an insurance claim is made, the insurance provider will check and discover that the tour provider doesn’t have an International Tour Operator License or licensed tour guides and will likely deny the claim. Having accident insurance is especially important if you’re participating in a riskier activities such as a motorbike tour, rock climbing, spelunking, parasailing, scuba diving, etc. Not only does XO Tours have insurance funds deposited into a verified government account, we offer every single guest that books one or more of our tours extra private accident insurance.
2. The quality of the guides working for unlicensed tour operators are generally poor, since the training they do get are from other unqualified and unlicensed guides. The “tour guides” for these businesses do not have tour guide licenses, which is a separate license to the tour operator license that the business must have. Licensed Tour Operators are required to have at least 4 tour leaders with international tour guide licenses, and the tour manager must have at least 4 years experience. This guarantees a minimum standard of quality. At XO Tours, we have best trained tour guides and drivers in the business!
3. The unlicensed operators often do not pay their staff wages/salaries or provide a very low basic wage, and expect their customers to cover/supplement the tour guide’s wage with tips. This encourages the “guides” to take their guests to shopping stops so that they can earn commissions or beg their guests for tips. XO Tours pays our guides and drivers some of the highest wages in Vietnam, so our staff will never ask for tips.
How Can I Check To See If My Vietnam Tour Operator Is Legal?
- Check to see if the tour provider has a MST number. MST stands for “mã số thuế”, which is a tax number that a company is issued when they open a business in Vietnam. Once you have a company’s MST you can enter it into the Vietnamese government’s tax website shown below:
If you enter XO Tour’s MST# 0310565137 into the government tax website, this is what comes up:
Having a MST doesn’t prove that a tour operator is legal, but it is the easiest way to check if they have a business license. It’s very easy to setup a business in Vietnam and get a MST number but most unlicensed tour operators won’t have one because they don’t want the government to know they exist (and be able to verify that they don’t have an International Tour Operator License) and they also want to avoid paying taxes.
If a company doesn’t have a MST then they are definitely operating illegally. If the company you book a tour with gives you a MST number, verify that the business name listed on the government’s tax website matches the business name the company is operating under and also that the address listed on the website matches their office address. Not having a physical office address is red flag.
2. As mentioned above, every legal business in Vietnam must have a business address. This is so the government can visit the business and check to make sure it is what it says it is. The office should also have a sign on the front of the building with the name and address of the business. Sometimes the sign will also include the MST number on the sign. Here is photo of the XO Tours business sign posted outside our office:
If your tour operator says they don’t have a physical address then they are probably operating illegally.
3. Last of all, every legal tour operator in Vietnam that accepts bookings from international travelers must have an International Tourism License. It will look like this:
In order to obtain this license, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism or VNAT, will check to see if the tour business has deposited sufficient funds into the business insurance account. They will also verify that the tour operator has employed a minimum of 4 tour guides with valid international tour guide licenses.
In Vietnam fake documents are very common however, so it’s fairly easy for unlicensed tour providers to create fake International Tour Operator licenses using an image editing apps like Photoshop, and we understand that it is not feasible for every traveler coming to Vietnam to vet this information. Checking the MST number and verifying if the business has physical office is fairly easy however, and will help you filter out most of the unlicensed tour operators in Vietnam.
In conclusion, the best way to ensure your Vietnam Tour Operator is licensed and running tours legally in Vietnam:
- Check the government tax website to see if the tour operator has registered their business and the business name and address match their tour business and address.
- Verify they have an office and the office address matches the address registered with the government tax office.
- Ask for a copy of their International Tourism License and verify that the business name and address matches both the registration on the government tax website and their office address.
We hope you found this blog post useful, and it helps makes your trip to Vietnam as stress free as possible.
XO Tours is one of the few licensed motorbike tours operators in Vietnam. To learn more about our world acclaimed tours, please visit website at: https://xotours.vn/