Includes typical use of agents and distributors and how to find a good partner, e.g., whether use of an agent or distributor is legally required.
Last Published: 7/10/2018

According to current Vietnamese regulations, unless a foreign company has an investment license permitting it to directly distribute goods in Vietnam, which includes invoicing in local currency, a foreign company must appoint an authorized agent or distributor.


A Vietnamese agent sells a foreign supplier’s goods in Vietnam for commission. In this case, the sale is normally transacted between the foreign supplier and a local buyer in Vietnam while the Vietnamese agent typically performs the following responsibilities: market intelligence, identifying sales leads, pursuit of sales leads, sales promotions, and often after-sales services. The specific responsibilities of a Vietnamese agent depend on the agency agreement between the agent and the foreign supplier. The risk of non-payment rests with the foreign supplier. Vietnam's Trade Law recognizes the right of foreign companies to appoint agents if the Vietnamese agent's registered scope of business 


Under a distributorship arrangement, the question of legal protection and recourse is clear. The Vietnamese distributor buys the goods from the foreign supplier for resale in Vietnam and is usually liable for the full amount of the goods purchased. In many cases, a distributor also acts as an agent for the same foreign supplier and this typically occurs when a local buyer wants to purchase directly from the foreign supplier in a contract of high dollar value.

Legal and Practical Considerations

U.S. companies should conduct sufficient due diligence on potential local agents or distributors to ensure that they have the specific permits, facilities, workforce, capital, and other requirements necessary to meet their responsibilities. Commercial agreements should clearly document the rights and obligations of each party, and stipulate dispute resolution procedures. In most cases, payment by irrevocable confirmed letter of credit is recommended initially and credit terms may be considered after U.S. companies have an in-depth knowledge of their local partners.

Going to court is not a recommended strategy to enforce agreements or seek redress for commercial problems in Vietnam. Foreign firms that have dealt with the court system in Vietnam report it to be slow and non-transparent. Similarly, although a framework for commercial arbitration exists in Vietnam, the process is not usually considered a desirable option for foreign entities. When the need to consider such strategies arises, the advice of an international law firm operating in Vietnam should be sought.

Foreign-Invested Trading Companies in Vietnam

When seeking prospective agents or representatives in Vietnam, U.S. exporters may wish to consider not only Vietnamese firms, but also foreign trading companies operating in Vietnam. These often have distinct advantages in communication, experience in importing, expertise in product and package modification, and marketing capability. Under Vietnam’s WTO commitments, foreign-owned and invested companies are permitted to engage in import, trading, and distribution services (i.e. wholesaling and retailing) in Vietnam.

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Vietnam Trade Development and Promotion