Saturday, September 18, 2021

Money & Shopping in Vietnam

AsiaVietnamMoney & Shopping in Vietnam

Currency in Vietnam

The local currency is the dong (đồng, VND), which is difficult to find or exchange outside Vietnam. Exchange money on arrival and try to get rid of leftovers before leaving the country. Inflation continues and a series of devaluations continue to lower the value of the dong, with 1 US dollar reaching over 22,000 dongs and 1 euro often reaching over 23,000 dongs (December 2015). Banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000 dongs. In 2003, 200-, 500-, 1,000-, 2,000- and 5,000-dong coins were also introduced, although these are rarely seen.

Prices are widely advertised in US dollars, partly because of the instability of the dong’s monetary value, but unlike in neighbouring Cambodia, for example, payment is often expected in dong only, especially outside the major tourist resorts. It is also easier to negotiate with the dong, especially since prices in dollars are already rounded. Dollar notes that are not in perfect condition may be rejected. 2 USD banknotes (especially those printed in the 1970s) are considered lucky in Vietnam and are worth more than 2 USD. They make a good tip/gift and many Vietnamese keep them in their wallets for good luck. 50 and 100 USD notes have a higher exchange rate than lower value notes.

Most visitors choose to keep most of their cash in US dollars and exchange or withdraw dongs as needed. There is often a considerable difference between buying and selling prices for dongs, and the same hotel may have different prices for different services. In addition to banks and official exchange counters, you can exchange most hard currencies (pounds sterling, yen, Swiss francs, euros, etc.) at gold shops, often at rates slightly higher than the official rates. This is illegal, but controls are minimal. Hotels and travel agencies can also change money at different exchange rates, so look for the best rate.

Dong exchange
Under Vietnamese law, foreign currencies can be easily exchanged for dong, but not vice versa. Exchanging dong is a rather complicated process that requires time and patience. To exchange dong for another currency, you need to present your ticket confirming your departure from Vietnam and your identity card. These documents are photocopied by the bank staff. Then a special form will be filled out indicating the amount, the purpose of the exchange and the destination country. Not all Vietnamese banks exchange dongs, but Vietcombank is one that does.

Banking in Vietnam

There is usually a 3% surcharge for credit card payments, so cash can be an advantage for larger transactions.

Travellers’ cheques from reputable companies are widely accepted, but usually come with a small commission. The fee may also be the only thing preventing you from getting cash advances with your Visa or MasterCard at most banks. In both cases, you can also get U.S. dollars, but the fees will be even higher. Some popular travel books mention that Vietcombank does not charge a fee for cashing AMEX travelers cheques. However, this is no longer the case.

ATMs are becoming more common and can be found in most major cities and all tourist destinations. They accept a selection of credit and debit cards, including Visa, MasterCard, Maestro or Cirrus and some other systems. Withdrawals are generally limited to 2,000,000 dongs per transaction and a service charge of 20,000 dongs applies. Unlike most banks in Southeast Asia, Citibank does not charge for withdrawals.

  • Agribank allows up to 3,000,000 dongs per transaction (25,000,000 dongs per day) with a fee of 22,000 dongs. (June 2016)
  • ANZ Bank approves up to 4,000,000-10,000,000 per transaction (15,000,000 dong per day) with a fee of 40,000 dong.
  • BIDV Bank allows up to 5,000,000 per transaction with a fee of 50,000 dongs and VAT of 5,000 dongs (March 2015).
  • DongA Bank allows up to (at least) 5,000,000 per transaction without fees. (March 2015)
  • EXIMBANK allows up to 2,000,000 per transaction without fees. (June 2016)
  • HSBC authorises up to 5,000,000 per transaction with a fee of 100,000 dongs. (June 2016)
  • Techcombank authorises up to 15,000,000 per transaction with no fees. (June 2016)
  • The VIB allows up to 2,000,000 per transaction with a fee of 50,000 dongs.
  • Vietcombank allows up to 2,000,000 per transaction with a fee of 20,000 dongs.
  • Vietinbank allows up to 2,000,000 per transaction with a fee of 55,000 dongs. (June 2016)
  • Sacombank allows up to 2,000,000 dongs per transaction with a fee of 30,000 dongs. (July 2016)

There are subsidiaries of money transfer companies like Western Union, but it is still one of the most expensive ways to get money. However, it is preferable for large amounts. A transfer of 800 USD costs 5 USD from America and the exchange rate is quite good. You can also transfer USD to Vietnam.

There are independent money changers at most land borders between Cambodia, China and Laos to take care of your financial leftovers, but rest assured that they will rip you off if you don’t know the current rate. Note for travellers departing from Hanoi Airport: There is no way to exchange money once you have cleared immigration. So exchange your dong before you enter the departure hall unless you plan to make purchases.

If you look around, you will find groups of shops all selling similar products, e.g. 20 sewing machine shops together, then 30 hardware shops together, 200 motorbike repair shops in the same neighbourhood. Prices are competitive. Beware of watch shops selling genuine fake originals. There are other fake watches, but they are not as cheap as in neighbouring countries. Pirated software is surprisingly hard to find and is not sold openly. However, DVDs with films of indifferent quality are available for as little as USD 1, although not all have an English option. Shipping abroad is not possible with the local post office.

Tipping in Vietnam

Tipping is not expected in Vietnam, except in upscale hotels, and the Vietnamese themselves generally do not practice it, although tipping is not refused when offered. Some establishments used to serving Western tourists expect tips, but it is still perfectly acceptable not to tip. In any case, the price you are offered is often many times higher than what the locals pay, so tipping can be considered unnecessary in most cases. To avoid an unwanted tip if a taxi driver claims not to have any change, always try to have small notes with you.

Bargaining in Vietnam

Over-invoicing has long been a problem in Vietnamese tourism, both for foreigners and for Vietnamese who are identified by their accent as being from another region. It can happen anywhere, whether in a hotel room, on a taxi ride, in a café, at a meal, on a piece of clothing or in a simple grocery shop. Your coffee suddenly becomes 100% more expensive and a restaurant may present you with an English menu with inflated prices. A friendly resident who has been talking to you for 30 minutes may also want to overcharge you.

The Vietnamese have different views on this issue, and the practice also varies somewhat from region to region, but in general it is more common in Vietnam than in other neighbouring countries that it is considered socially acceptable to overcharge foreigners. They may argue that the inflated prices are still cheap, and they may blame the low cost of living that attracts many backpackers on a tight budget. If tourists complain, according to this school of thought, it is because they are stingy. Wealthy tourists should have no problem being overcharged. Generally in the South, if vendors have no qualms about overcharging an ignorant foreigner, they will usually allow you to negotiate lower prices than the local price if you know what it is and insist on it. On the other hand, sellers in the North tend to believe more strongly that foreigners should be overcharged, and they generally refuse to sell you items unless you agree to pay the grossly inflated foreign price.

The good news is that standard prices are much more common than they were in the early 1990s. You will absolutely ruin your trip if you assume that everyone is cheating you. Just try to be smart. Learn a few names of common dishes in Vietnamese at a restaurant, insist that you read the Vietnamese menu and compare them. If the owners say that the portion of the dishes on the English menu is different, it is definitely a scam, so change restaurants. Learn some numbers in Vietnamese and try to find out how much a local pays a vendor. Also try basic negotiation tactics: Think about what it costs back home, ask for a big discount and walk away as if the price is not right. Many products tend to be standardised and more to compare.

Try to be as clear as possible about the agreed price. You can agree with a “xe om” driver 20,000 dongs for a certain ride, but in the end he can charge you 40,000 dongs. You then pay 20,000 dongs, smile and say goodbye because you have a good memory.

Costs in Vietnam

Vietnam is cheap by most standards. A one-month stay can be had for as little as 250 USD with basic rooms, local food and public transport.