Vietnam and Money

Old Jul 25th, 2019, 08:20 PM
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Vietnam and Money

I just found by reading this forum that Vietnamese Dong is tied to U.S. dollar, and that many places you can pay with U.S. dollar. I think the thread is rather old, but I assume that is still true.
If that is the case, isn't it better to take some low denomination dollars with me instead of carrying notes as high as 500K Dong? This means there are denominations as low as 1000 Dong and many denominations in between.
So here are my questions:
1. Upon arrival at Hanoi Airport with pre-arranged visa, pay $25 USD cash? No credit card?
2. Airport taxi to town (Don't know yet which hotel I am going to stay) - I read taxi drivers "don't have change" so is it OK to pay with USD?
3. Sightseeing, Admissions to museums etc., hotel, can be paid with USD?
4. I suppose street food, restaurants accept only local currency, is it true?
5. Can you survive 10 days in Vietnam as a tourist without exchanging currency?

Just thought of being a Vietnamese Millionaire a few days is scary - having to carry Millions of Dong.
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Old Jul 25th, 2019, 11:46 PM
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Firstly whilst the Vietnamese central bank loosely peg the Dong to the USD it is certainly not "tied" to it. Unlike neighbouring Cambodia where the USD is effectively the national currency.

1. Your $25 visa fee must be paid in cash USD.
2. Taxis from the airport may well accept usd albeit at a lousy exchange rate and they definitely won’t have change so you will end up paying more. I would recommend arranging transport in advance via your accommodation. Relatively inexpensive and a lot less hassle to have your transport waiting for you on arrival. Scams are ready and waiting at the airport taxis for the unwary!
3. As I recall, having visited just about every museum in the country, entrance fees have to be paid in dong . NB do check opening hours. Most close at lunch time and on Mondays but things do change.
4. You will need dong for most purchases, food , restaurants . More upmarket places will take credit cards.
5. No. At least I would not even attempt to do without exchanging for dong.

Basically Vietnam is an independent country with its own currency. You will need to / be better off , paying in dong for most things.

By credit card, pay in dong even if they offer to convert to dollars for you. The fx rate will be terrible.

You can easily withdraw cash from ATMs. HSBC and Citibank have the highest limits (8m dong when last I was in Hanoi) there is a big HSBC branch near Hoan Kiem lake which would be convenient on your first day.

The only other option is to take cash USD and exchange at a bank or gold shop. Probably more hassle

The currency ( & the zeros !) do take a little getting used to. In particular, I recall that the 50k note and the 500k note are very similarl colours. Check before handing over

Finally, it is possible but difficult to exchange dong outside of Vietnam and te rate will not be good. Plan to use up your dong before leaving.

Last edited by crellston; Jul 26th, 2019 at 12:00 AM.
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Old Jul 26th, 2019, 09:06 AM
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Crellston has given you some good information. In my experience, places may be willing to take US dollars, but you will always pay more - sometimes MUCH more - this way. You are always better off using the local currency. We took dong from ATMs, the fastest and easiest way to get local currency.
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Old Jul 27th, 2019, 04:36 AM
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Thank you all for the good explanation. I guess I will have to get some cash out of the ATMs and pre-arrange hotel transfers. Just thinking about all zeroes in Vietnam currency makes me a little nervous, but I guess everyone eventually gets used to it.
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Old Jul 28th, 2019, 05:36 AM
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Vietnamese money is easy. Almost all the denomination notes are plastic, and there's no coins.

The change kiosks at Hanoi Airport are immediately after you've cleared Customs. The rate will be slightly less than you get in town. Don't use Banks, use Travel Agencies instead, they're everywhere.

Don't use ATMs, as they tend to spit out 500k dong notes rather than lower denomination notes. But if you do decide on ATMs only use ones attached to a bank which is open for business at the time.

It's actually against the Vietnam Law for foreign currency to be demanded for payment.
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Old Jul 29th, 2019, 05:06 AM
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LancasterLad, thank you. In countries I have been to where USD is traded outside the banks, higher denomination notes ($100) are worth more than lower denomination like $5,$10. Is it the case in Vietnam in travel agencies? $20 USD notes, if holds equal value as 1/5 of $100, seems to be the good choice to carry so that I won't have much leftover when I leave the country. I assume you exchange USD notes in travel agencies.
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Old Jul 29th, 2019, 08:21 AM
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In many visits to Vietnam I have never heard of changing money at "travel agencies" money changers, gold shops, jewellery stores yes, travel agencies, no. I asked a Vietnamese friend in Saigon and she had never heard of that option either.

500k dong bills are relatively easy to exchange. Either go into the bank where the atm is and they will change them there and then or just pay for your next meal using one and get change. Most ATMs will dispenses a mixture of notes but if you withdraw say 5m expect 4m to be in 500k bills. To put this into context, 500k Dong is only $21.

BTW I had forgotten about western union who also offer pretty good rates. As far as I am aware it make no difference whether you use $100 or $20
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Old Jul 29th, 2019, 09:47 AM
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Agree with Crellston, I'd stick with money changers, gold shops, or jewelers if you insist in changing money rather than simply withdrawing from an ATM (where you will get the best exchange rate). As he notes, 500 dong is just over $20 US, so these are not huge bills, nor will they be difficult to spend at markets and such.
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Old Jul 29th, 2019, 05:02 PM
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Thank you Crellston and Kathie. I thought I'd get better rate with cash. Usually when the government interferes free economic activities, black market exists and there are different rates. But I guess in Vietnam that's not the case, or the difference is not worth the trouble of carrying a lot of USD. But I do need $25 in cash for the stamping fee.
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Old Jul 29th, 2019, 07:52 PM
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"Usually when the government interferes free economic activities, black market exists and there are different rates."

The Vietnamese government doesn’t really interfere with the setting of the exchange rate any more than the governments or central banks of most western countries. The only thing they do is to try and peg the rate to the dollar. It is the cardholders bank that set fx rates for ATM usage as well as currency charges. The ATM provider will add a flat withdrawal charge. It is not like it used to be ( and may well be again) in Argentina where the unofficial "blue" rate from illegal back street money changers was 60-70% better than the official rate.

It is usually, but not always, possible to obtain a marginally better rate for cash at a gold shop etc.but to be frank, on a ten day trip it is not going to make much difference in terms of actual savings.

The reality is that Vietnam is a very cheap place to travel. If your decide to eat in expensive tourist orientated places you can nrpearly always pay be card anyway. Small local places for beer coffee or food will only take cash but a beer will only cost you $1/1.50 and lunch less than $5? Taxis are cheap, tipping non existent. Tours can usually be paid for by card ( they maybe charge a small % but you can negotiate that if your choose.
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Old Jul 30th, 2019, 08:42 AM
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Half a dozen years ago I found banks with ATMs, domestic and foreign-owned, all over the place. The only awkwardness is the huge amount of Vietnamese currency you collect. Like most places, the fees for doing foreign exchange will be imposed by your home bank. If the local machine tries for a surcharge, go to the machine on the next corner.
There's more than practicality at issue here. Expecting every place to accept, if not worship, the US dollar shows, to put it mildly, a lack of respect. I live on the other side of a US border and I would describe that attitude rather more strongly.

Anyhow, electronic money controlled by personal cards is so rapidly replacing if not eliminating hard cold cash in so many countries as to make the head swim.

Last edited by Southam; Jul 30th, 2019 at 08:44 AM.
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