Staphylococcus aureus is an important global health problem worldwide. There is still scarce information on the population structure of S. aureus strains in Asia, where the majority of the world population lives. This study characterized the diversity of S. aureus strains in northern Vietnam through multilocus sequence typing (MLST). Eighty-five carriage isolates from the community and 77 invasive isolates from the clinical setting were selected and tested for meticillin resistance and the presence of Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL). MLST was performed on these isolates, of which CC59 (25.4 %), CC188 (17.3 %) and CC45 (16.7 %) were the predominant clonal complexes (CCs). CC59 carriage isolates had significantly lower rates of meticillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) than their corresponding clinical group isolates (32 vs 83 %). There were no significant differences in rates of MRSA between carriage isolates and clinical isolates of CC45 and CC188. CC59 carriage isolates were significantly lower in rates of PVL+ than CC59 clinical isolates (32 vs 83 %), but the converse was shown in CC45 isolates (14 vs 0 %, respectively). This study revealed vast differences in the molecular epidemiology and population structure of S. aureus in community and clinical settings in Vietnam. Nevertheless, the data underline the spread of virulent and/or resistant strains (MRSA and/or PVL+) in the community, suggesting the necessity for further surveillance to determine the mechanism of transmission of these strains (i.e. MRSA/PVL+) outside clinical settings.