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If you have already started planning a trip to Vietnam then you are probably already familiar with the acronym VND for the Vietnamese currency.
It is, however, a mistake to refer to the country’s currency as the Vietnamese dollar. The D in VND stands for dong, and making this distinction will be important during your trip.
The word dong is taken from dong tien, the word for money, which is itself borrowed from Chinese, meaning bronze coins.
The dong (VND) has been the official currency of Vietnam since 1978 and is accepted throughout the country. One dong is divided into hao (1/10) and xu (1/100) but it is unlikely you will ever need to use such a small amount of money.
The exchange rate from USD to VND currently hovers around 1:22,500 and a bottle of water costs around 5,000 VND or more, depending on the area you are visiting, so encountering the smaller denominations is quite rare.
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 dollars work?” In short, the answer is yes.
In the major cities Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, US dollars are widely accepted. It is not uncommon to hear hawkers yelling out prices in USD as you walk around.
In fact, if you have decided to get a 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 prepare for inflated prices.
It may feel like you are saving money by avoiding the 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.
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 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 competitive with those at the airports. 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 has been completed.
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.
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.
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. Service rates at these may vary and shopping around might save you a dollar or two.
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.
Asia Highlights 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. Often you will be charged a service fee AND an exchange fee.
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 worth avoiding.
Traveling with limited cash and an insured credit card can be comforting to some travelers. It is strongly recommended, however, that you also carry some 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.
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