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Foreigners Accept Red Tape To Buy Property In Vietnam

Vietnam has come a long way since the real estate bubble burst a few years back.
Buyers are scooping up properties since a new law opened the market to foreigners.

Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City
Lien Hoang

HO CHI MINH CITYVietnam is hoping to see a lot more people like Haig Conolly. The Australian and his wife became the first foreigners to buy real estate in Vietnam under a new property law that took effect over the summer. Policymakers pushed the law as a way to attract foreigners and increase demand in the property market.

"We were enormously assisted everywhere we went," Conolly says. "The quality of the product is increasingly of international standard."

But that doesn't mean that transactions are simple. It's been several months since foreigners could officially take advantage of the law, but as Conolly describes it buyers are still confused about the details of contracts, whether titles will really get transferred to them, and the willingness among banks to approve mortgages.

"I think the challenges and frustrations are part and parcel of life in emerging markets, so you tend not to see them as challenges and frustrations, you just go with the flow," he says. "This is a fundamental part of the whole thing. If challenges and frustrations concern you, then to an extent you're in the wrong place. That's just a reality."

Many foreigners are taking Conolly's approach — working through the difficulty of investing in Vietnam because they think it'll pay off eventually.

One of the biggest difficulties foreigners complain about is that Vietnam doesn't have guidelines for how to navigate the new property law.

Chau Ta, legal counsel at SC Capital, which invests in real estate, says that creates confusion when buyers submit paperwork to local governments. "There are laws out there that allow foreign ownership, but implementing decrees aren't out yet," she explains.

David Lim, a property attorney with ZICOlaw, believes these difficulties ultimately will be sorted out, because foreigners have long been interested in Vietnam's real estate market. "I think there's a lot of pent-up demand." he says. "You know that foreigners were only allowed to buy starting July 1, 2015. And also at the same time, I think we're just coming out of the financial crisis. So I think with the loosening of the law and the opening of the market, you'll start to see more transactions."

Foreigners are buying property for personal use, but also as large-scale investments. That's because Vietnam looks like a relatively stable place to invest compared with Thailand and Myanmar, which are undergoing political changes, and the currency volatility in Malaysia and Indonesia.

"It may be political, it may be economic, but there are things that are happening in the region right now that are destabilizing and perhaps creating some headwinds for a few of our ASEAN neighbors," Lim says.

To really take advantage of this foreign interest, Vietnam should simplify the transaction process, says Tran Nguyen, CEO of Jen Capital investors. "My suggestion would be to have a one-stop shop for all the foreigners who want to buy a unit in Vietnam," he says. "With a clear roadmap of what they've got to do, so they know even before they buy that they need to have certain documents.

If Vietnam could make buying easier, he says, it could be a very "exciting" place to invest.

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Photo of demonstrators in the UK against conversion therapy

The UK Government has finally announced a draft bill to ban conversion therapy for all – including trans people.

Openly via Twitter
Riley Sparks, Ginevra Falciani, Renate Mattar

Welcome to Worldcrunch’s LGBTQ+ International. We bring you up-to-speed each week on a topic you may follow closely at home, but can now see from different places and perspectives around the world. Discover the latest news on everything LGBTQ+ — from all corners of the planet. All in one smooth scroll!

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TW: This content may address topics and include references to violence that some may find distressing.

🌐 5 things to know right now

• Violence against trans people triples in Scotland: A recent Scottish government study has revealed that hate crimes aimed at transgender people have tripled in the country. The Scottish Tories rejected suggestions that the UK government had contributed to the rise in hate crime, after it clashed with Scotland by blocking a new law that would make it simpler for people to change their legal gender. Meanwhile, Scotland’s leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday that she would take the British government to court over its decision to veto.

• Mexican trans activist beaten to death: Denisse Cabaly, a 29-year-old trans woman was viciously beaten to death by two men in the market area of Veracruz, Mexico. Cabaly, a sex worker and trans rights activist, was also known for her community work as part of the Martinez de la Torre, in a social organization where she was very much loved. The Attorney General's Office of the State of Veracruz did not issue any statement about this trans feminicide or others that have occurred in the region.

• Indiana introduces number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills: Legislators in Indiana introduced a series of bills destined to eliminate gender fluidity, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation discussions in schools. The ACLU of Indiana has labeled the bills in question a "slate of hate."

• EU slams Lithuania for censoring LGBTQ+ children’s book: The European Court of Human Rights has condemned Lithuania for violating freedom of expression after the country attempted to remove a children’s book tackling LGBTQ+ issues from the shelves. The book, featuring LGBTQ+ characters, was labeled "harmful to children."

• Beyoncé under fire for Dubai show: Beyoncé’s first live performance in five years, for the opening of Dubai’s luxury hotel Atlantis has sparked major controversy. While many fans were exhilarated by her return, others were displeased given Dubai’s strict laws against same-sex relationships. Her newest album, Renaissance, is inspired by LGBT icons and honors black queer culture and was therefore poorly received by some, in light of the country’s strong conservatism.

Where Conversion Therapy Is Banned, And Where Its Practices Are Ever More Extreme

Conversion therapy, which includes a range of practices that aim to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity, has long been controversial. Many in the LGBTQ community consider it outright evil.

As the practice has spread, often pushed on young people by homophobic family members, there has been a worldwide push to make conversion therapy illegal, with the UK as the latest country set to ban such practices as electric shocks, aversion therapy and a variety of other traumatic, dangerous techniques to try to change someone's sexual preferences or gender identity.

The British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy, the professional body which governs therapists in the UK, calls the practice “unethical (and) potentially harmful.”

In France, journalists have documentedmany healthcare professionals offering the pseudoscientific practice. In one case, a self-described “LGBT-friendly” therapist offered to “cure” a young lesbian through so-called "rebirth therapy," a dangerous practice that was banned in some U.S. states after unlicensed therapists killed a 10-year-old girl during a session.

For one Canadian man, therapy included prescription medication and weekly ketamine injections to “correct the error” of his homosexuality, all under the guidance of a licensed psychiatrist. Some people are forced into treatment against their will — often minors — but most of the time, those who receive conversion therapy do so willingly.

The UK announcement of plans to ban conversion therapy for England and Wales comes after four separate British prime ministers had promised, for almost five years, to ban the practice.

When the British government first considered legislation to ban conversion therapy back in 2018, it was expected to include gender identity as well as sexuality. But the government backed down in the face of conservative opposition, watering down the bill to cover only efforts to change sexuality. This week, however, gender identity was reinstated.

If the UK moves ahead with the legislation, it would join more than a dozen other countries and jurisdictions in the world that have enacted some sort of restriction. Here is a quick overview look at where governments have, and have not, moved to ban conversion therapy.

What were the first countries to ban conversion therapy?

Brazil was the first country to pass a nationwide ban on conversion therapy related to sexual orientation — in 1999, almost a decade before any other country. The ban was expanded in 2018 to also include gender identity.

In the following years, Samoa (2007), Fiji (2010), Argentina (2010), Uruguay (2017) and Taiwan (2018) passed laws to ban healthcare professionals from practicing conversion therapy on the basis of sexual orientation, and, in the last three cases, also gender identity.

In Ecuador, conversion therapy was banned in 2014 after media reports prompted more than 100,000 people to sign a petition demanding the government shut down clinics that used brutal techniques including torture, sexual violence and imprisonment. A 2018 Reuters investigation found numerous clinics still operating.

Spreading in Europe

In 2016, Malta became the first European country to introduce legislation criminalizing conversion therapy. The island nation, often ranked as one of Europe's most LGBTQ-friendly countries, announced in Jan. 2023 that the law would be expanded to make it illegal to advertise or promote the practice.

The Maltese legislation came two years before the European Parliament voted to ask member states to ban the practice.

Conversion therapy for minors has been banned since 2020 in Germany, where advocates estimated that prior to the ban, about 1,000 people were subjected to conversion therapy every year.

Previously, some licensed German doctors provided therapy aimed at changing a patient’s sexuality and gender identity. One doctor told a German journalist with Die Zeit newspaper who went undercover in 2014 to document healthcare professionals offering the practice, that he “became” gay because of a scar on his chin. The doctor billed €92.50 for the session; another doctor rubbed oil on the journalist’s forehead and offered a prayer to “exorcise the spirit of homosexuality.”

German law now also makes it illegal for parents to force their children into therapy — but it remains legal for people over the age of 18, a decision criticized by opposition parties when the legislation was introduced. At the time, the German government said that a ban covering adults might not pass a legal challenge, and that their priority was to ensure young people weren’t subjected to conversion therapy.

Albania’s professional order for psychologists banned its members from offering conversion therapy in 2021, effectively making the practice illegal nationwide.

The following year, the French parliament voted unanimously to ban conversion therapy for sexuality and gender identity.

Skirting bans with online therapies 

After years of dragging its feet on the bill — which the government had previously introduced but failed to move through parliament despite broad support — Canada banned conversion therapy targeting sexual orientation and gender identity in Dec. 2021.

The law also bans taking minors outside of the country for conversion therapy. No one has been charged since the legislation came into effect.

The law can also only control what happens within the country’s borders: with psychologists and therapists increasingly offering services online since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, conversion therapy practitioners based in the U.S., where it remains legal in many states, have targeted Canadians.

A recent investigation by Canadian broadcaster CBC found American "life coaches" freely offering conversion therapy to Canadians online, despite the ban.

In New Zealand, a ban passed in 2022, with opposition from just eight members of parliament. Like Germany, New Zealand’s law only concerns minors.

In Spain, Australia and Switzerland, several provinces and states have their own bans, and the Spanish government proposed legislation in 2021 that would implement a ban nationwide.

The practice is still legal in Italy, where recent research suggests as many as one in 10 young LGBTQ+ people have experienced it. The current Irish government has pledged that this year it will propose a bill to ban conversion therapy on the basis of sexuality and gender identity, after a 2018 bill failed to make it out of the legislature before an election.

Mixed messages in the U.S.

Twenty five states in the U.S., as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have also banned conversion therapy — in many cases only for minors. However, it remains legal in the other 25 states, and efforts to ban the practice in many have attracted intense conservative opposition, as the debate now includes the movement by conservatives to instead ban gender transition services

Lawmakers in nearly a dozen U.S. states have introduced a wave of anti-trans legislation since 2020, including bills in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Kansas and Mississippi that criminalize providing transition-related healthcare, even for adults.

In Texas, where lawmakers have proposed some of the most extreme legislation, conversion therapy remains legal — and in 2022 the governor ordered the state’s child protection agency to investigate parents whose children had received transition-related healthcare.

Exorcisms and "corrective" rape in Asia

In many countries around the world, conversion therapy remains not only legal, but increasingly popular.

In Indonesia and Malaysia, for example, these “therapies” are openly sponsored by governmental agencies as the official response to sexual and gender diversity issues and can include exorcisms and “corrective” rape. The Malaysian government even produced an app in 2016 that promised to help the LGBTQ+ community “return to nature.” It was removed from the Google Play store only last year, as it was breaching the platform’s guidelines.

In other countries, like the Philippines or South Korea, presidents and government officials have repeatedly referred to homosexuality as something that can be cured.

In China, patients are subjected to electric shocks or cold showers and are given a cocktail of medication that includes antidepressants and nausea-inducing pills they have to take when watching gay pornographic movies. Some hospitals offer blood tests, DNA analyses and brain scans as well. If the results are normal, and they usually are, the doctor tells the patient that they can be cured because their "problem" is not genetic.

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