Purpose: vietnams 11th national party congress prioritised integration, modernisation and industrialisation as the new key orientations for vietnam. It outlined vietnams integration with the world, not only economically, but also in terms of the social, cultural, educational, scientific and technological areas that can support social and economic development and sustainability. Vocational education has been recognised as pivotal to the nations sustainable workforce development and transformational changes. The purpose of this paper is to analyse how foreign approaches and practices have been filtered and appropriated to bring about sustainable development and transformational changes for vietnamese vocational education. Design/methodology/approach: the paper is derived from a study that involves documentary analysis, observation and semi-structured interviews with vocational learners and staff across three different vocational education and training (vet) sites in vietnam. The overall study includes three vocational education providers and 22 participants altogether, but this paper involves observation and semi-structured interviews with eight participants, including one leader, two teachers and five students. It focusses on a germany-funded vocational college in the northern central area of vietnam that came under the management of the ministry of labour, invalids and social affairs, and the local province where the college located. Findings: the findings of the study show a critical need to develop a new vietnamese vet pedagogy that filters international influences and flexibly and creatively combines them with the existing local pedagogy. To meet the local and global demands and bring transnational changes for vietnamese vocational education, new vet pedagogies need to align with both vietnamese historical and political situations, especially the emergent demands of the open market socialist economy and to capitalise on international influences confucian, french, soviet and western. Such a balance will ensure vietnam makes use of both international forces and local strengths for sustainable development and transformational changes rather than passive dependence on foreign practices. Research limitations/implications: the research provides valuable insights into the appropriation of foreign practices and principles in vietnamese vocational education. However, it focusses only on three vocational education sites in central vietnam. Further studies with larger scale of participants and across a variety of vocational education settings including public and private institutions, community centres and family workshops will offer broader findings related to this important topic. Practical implications: the study suggests practical implications for institutions to deal with the challenges associated with the adaptation of international forces into the vocational education context in vietnam. It outlines the transformational changes in pedagogical practices related to the increased requirement to move from the traditional didactic teaching to more self-directed learning, to meet the requirements of a modern vocational education system. Originality/value: this study provides unique insights into the practices and challenges of filtering foreign vet practices and principles to bring about transformational changes in vietnamese vocational education. It, therefore, responds to the paucity of literature in this area. In addition, it examines internationalisation in vietnamese vet, an under-researched area in the field of internationalisation of education as most of the literature in this field concentrates on the higher education sector. 2018, Emerald publishing limited.