Vietnam Currency: Can I Use USD in Vietnam?

Official Currency: What is the Best Currency to use in Vietnam?

The Vietnamese dong (VND) has been the official currency of Vietnam since 1978 and is accepted throughout the country. One dong is divided into hao (0.1 dong) and xu (0.01 dong) but it is unlikely you will ever need to use such a small amount of money.

It is a mistake to refer to the country’s currency as the Vietnamese dollar. The d in VND stands for dong, and it is important to make this distinction during your trip.

The word dong is taken from dong tien, the Vietnamese word for money, which itself is borrowed from Chinese, meaning ‘bronze coins’.

The Exchange Rate between USD and VND

The exchange rate from USD to VND currently hovers around 1:23,000. For an easy comparison, prices for a small bottle of water start around 5,000 VND, depending on the area you are visiting, so encountering smaller denominations is rare.

Will My US Dollars Work in Vietnam?

Due to the historical involvement of the United States in Vietnam and the country’s dependence on tourism, it is fair to ask, “Will my US dollars work in Vietnam?” In short, the answer is yes.

In the major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, US dollars are widely accepted. It is not uncommon to hear hawkers yelling out prices in USD as you walk around, and for stores to quote you in US dollars. Many restaurants will also have their menu in US dollars.

In fact, if you have decided to get a Vietnam visa on arrival at the airport you will be required to pay the service fee in USD ($20 to $40 depending on the length of stay).

If you decide to see how far your dollars can take you, expect local shop owners and taxi drivers to add their own exchange fees and set their own exchange rate, so prepare for inflated prices.

It may feel like you are saving money by avoiding steep airport exchange fees but traveling without any VND can lead to situations where you do not receive any change, or simply cannot buy what you want.

How much money do you need per day in Vietnam?

While the amount of money you need for a day will depend on the type of travel experience you are after, you will probably spend between USD 50 (backpacking comfortably) and USD 200 (a five-star experience) per day.

Here are some examples of what you can expect to pay for certain tour expenses:

Product Price in USD Price in VND
A bottle of water (1.5L) 0.65 15,000
A cup of coffee 1 23,000
A Vietnamese meal 1.50 35,000
A Western meal 6.50 150,000
A local beer 0.70 16,000
An imported bottle of wine 8.65 200,000
Street food snacks 0.40 10,000
A night in a hostel 12 279,000
A night in a five-star hotel 125 2,905,000

How Many US Dollars Can I take to Vietnam in Cash?

You are able to bring in any amount of US dollars, but do note that an amount above USD 5,000 will have to be declared on arrival.

You will want to make sure you aren’t putting all of your money in one place to avoid losing it or getting it stolen.

Do I need to tip in Vietnam?

Tipping isn’t traditionally customary in Vietnam in restaurants and bars, but it is highly appreciated and becoming more common. The extra money is always appreciated, as many salaries remain low.

Many bars and restaurants frequented by Americans will have become especially accustomed to tips from their guests, and it is of course a wonderful way to show that you appreciate the service.

We do recommend giving tips directly to the staff as sometimes the money doesn’t make it to the intended recipient.

If you are visiting upscale restaurants and the higher-end spas, you’ll find that tipping has become expected.

Can I Haggle in Vietnam?

You can haggle in Vietnam, especially in Vietnam’s many markets. As a general rule, begin by offering 20% to 30% of the original price.

If you are looking for something specific, ask around in hotels to find out what the price should be close to, as this will help you decide how much to bargain for. It also helps to wander around the market first to get an idea of what is available before making a purchase.

If you can, learn some Vietnamese numbers as this is always a great skill to have when you are shopping in Vietnam.

Asia Highlights has put together some other tips for shopping in Vietnam here.

What to Expect When Exchanging Currency in Vietnam

Exchanging currency in and around Vietnam’s major cities is relatively easy and reliable. Major banks such as Wells Fargo and US Bank have branches in Ho Chi Minh City and you can find small stalls offering exchange services near almost every tourist site.

Such stalls will display the exchange rates for different currencies on neon signs and usually have rates more competitive than those at the airport. If you have time, walking round to compare rates at a few stalls might help you save a few dong.

When exchanging money, you will need to show your passport to the teller. If you are in a busy area you have nothing to fear from the tellers themselves, but always keep an eye on your belongings, and make sure your passport is returned after the transaction is completed.

Where to Exchange Currency in Vietnam

It is always better to carry some VND when you are traveling in Vietnam. Dollars will work in many places but it can be an expensive and embarrassing ordeal if you find yourself in a situation where your US dollars don’t work.

There are a lot of different places to exchange your Vietnam currency. While we recommend the airport for safety (as well as having English-speaking staff), but exchange stalls may offer more competitive rates, especially if you are in an area where there are many.

Airports

The airport is the most comfortable location for changing money, where you will find the most reliable customer service (English-speaking employees).

Airports in the United States will offer rates competitive with those in Vietnam, so picking up some ‘peace of mind’ cash while in a familiar place might not be a bad idea.

The airport is also one of your safest options if you are looking to exchange into VND from a currency other than USD or Australian dollars as smaller exchange stalls might not accept less common currencies.

Exchange Stalls

As mentioned above, small stalls that offer exchange services, and wire transfers are scattered prolifically around the major cities and tourist destinations.

They can be easily identified by the red-letter neon-signs that display exchange rates. Most will advertise Western Union banking services on yellow signs as well.

Service rates at these may vary and shopping around might save you a dollar or two, and these are probably the most cost-effective way to exchange money.

ATMs

ATMs are as easy to find in Vietnam as they are in any developed country. They are usually well marked, well lit, and offer 24-hour service. Travelers who carry a major debit or credit card can use the card to withdraw VND directly from any ATM.

We would like to stress that customers should check with their bank and bank card provider to make sure their card will be accepted internationally.

ATM exchanges may sound convenient, but they come at a risk. While the exchange rate is usually better at an ATM than at the airport, often you will be charged a service fee AND an exchange fee. This is why we recommend taking out a larger sum rather than multiple smaller transactions at an ATM.

Make sure you are using an ATM that is associated with a bank and is in a busier part of town, for occasionally horror stories come from less visited areas, where ATMs may ‘eat’ a card and never give it back. Currency scams are uncommon in Vietnam, but poorly maintained ATMs are always worth avoiding.

Banks

Vietnamese banks (as well as foreign banks) scattered throughout Vietnam will offer money exchange services. You’ll need to show your passport when exchanging money here, and rates tend to be on the higher side too, but it is a very safe option.

Hotels

Hotels are one of the easiest ways to exchange money especially if you are traveling in a smaller city.

Exchanging currency at a bank is very safe and great as a back-up, but hotel rates are similar to the airport, if not higher.

Gold and Jewelry Shops

Gold and jewelry shops in Vietnam often also provide exchange rate services. Rates here are similar to banks and hotels, but they are a good option if you find yourself stuck and in need of a currency exchange!

Credit Card or Cash?

Traveling with limited cash and an insured credit card can be comforting to some travelers. It is strongly recommended, however, that you don’t only rely on your credit card and also carry cash.

Taxi drivers and food vendors are rarely willing to be paid by credit card, and if you are planning a trip outside of a major urban center, be prepared to pay in cash.

Most ATMs and shops in Vietnam still require your card to have a magnetic strip (the black strip across the back of the card) to work.

If you have been issued a new bankcard recently it will probably have a small gold chip. These chips are not as widely used in Vietnam, so make sure you have the strip, or you could find yourself stranded with a useless bankcard. Contactless payments are also not very common in Vietnam yet, so don’t expect to pay with a simple tap of your card!

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