Background The proportion of older people is increasing rapidly in Vietnam. The majority of the elderly live in rural areas. Their health status is generally improving but this is less pronounced among the most vulnerable groups. The movement of young people for employment and the impact of other socioeconomic changes leave more elderly on their own and with less family support. This study aims to assess the daily care needs and their socioeconomic determinants among older people in a rural setting. Methods In 2007, people aged 60 years and older, living in 2,240 households, were randomly selected from the FilaBavi Demographic Surveillance System (DSS). They were interviewed using structured questionnaires to assess needed support in activities of daily living (ADLs). Individuals were interviewed about the presence of chronic illnesses that had been diagnosed by a physician. Participant socioeconomic characteristics were extracted from the FilaBavi repeat census. The repeat census used a repeat of the same survey methods and questions as the original FilaBavi DSS. Distributions of study participants by socioeconomic group, supports needed, levels of support received, types of caregivers, and the ADL index were described. Multivariate analyses were performed to identify socioeconomic determinants of the ADL index. Results The majority of older people do not need of support for each specific ADL item. Dependence in instrumental or intellectual ADLs was more common than for basic ADLs. People who need total help were less common than those who need some help in most ADLs. Over three-fifths of those who need help receive enough support in all ADL dimensions. Children and grandchildren are the main caregivers. Age group, sex, educational level, marital status, household membership, working status, household size, living arrangement, residential area, household wealth, poverty status, and chronic illnesses were determinants of daily care needs in old age. Conclusions Although majority of older people who needed help received enough support in daily care, the need of care is more demanded in disadvantaged groups. Future community-based, long-term elderly care should focus on instrumental and intellectual ADLs among the general population of older people, and on basic ADLs among those with chronic illnesses. Socioeconomic determinants of care needs should be addressed in future interventions.