The dong (VND) is Vietnam’s official currency. Paper notes come in denominations of 200d, 500d, 1000d, 2000d, 5000d, 10,000d, 20,000d, 50,000d, 100,000d, and 500,000d. Only recently, in 2003, coins were reintroduced in denominations of 200d, 500d, 1000d, 2,000d and 5,000d.
Arriving tourists can change their dollars at banks, hotels, and authorized exchange bureaus. Major hotels often offer the same rate as banks. Smaller hotels may charge an extra fee for exchange.
The government-run Vietcombank can exchange dong for the following currencies:
- US, Australian, Canadian, Hong Kong, and Singaporean Dollars
- British Pounds Sterling
- Thai Baht
- Japanese Yen
Vietnamese banks will not accept torn or damaged notes. If you deposit a damaged note, the bank will charge you 2% of the note’s value.
Banks are open on weekdays from 8am to 3pm, with a lunch break from 11:30am to 1pm. You’ll be able to change foreign currencies and travelers’ checks in urban bank branches, but not always in smaller towns.
Automatic Teller Machines
ATMs dispense dong in 50,000d and 100,000d denominations, with a limit of 2,000,000d for each withdrawal and a daily limit of 20,000,000d. ATMs will charge a fee of 50,000d per transaction.
Other Means of Payment
Dollars. With the government's crackdown on the use of foreign currency within Vietnam (source), the use of dollars in the country is less easy than it used to be. Shops that used to accept payment in dollars are now obliged to ask for payment in the local currency only. Exchange your money at banks or other authorized currency exchange centers.
Credit cards. Many shops, hotels, and restaurants centered in tourist areas honor Visa, MasterCard and JCB cards. Credit card usage is uncommon among local Vietnamese (banks require a cash deposit on hold), so penetration is comparatively low. Expect to be charged an additional 3-4% on every transaction. If you need cash in a hurry, Vietcombank offers cash advances against your Visa or MasterCard credit card.
Travelers’ checks. It’s still better to cash your travelers’ checks at the beginning of your visit, which you can do at banks or authorized foreign exchange outlets – just remember to present your passport. Expect to be charged a 2-5% transaction fee.
Major hotels and restaurants add a 5% service charge to bills, so you can choose not to tip at these places. Elsewhere, small tips are always a good thing. Waiters, hired drivers, and guides should be tipped.
Follow the guidelines below for calculating tips.
- Restaurants & bars: Many restaurants don't require tipping, as a 10% service charge is already tacked onto your bill.
- Porters: A tip with American coins will be greatly appreciated.
- Hotel Services: Government-run hotels will add a 10% service charge on your bill.
- Taxi: Tips aren't necessary, but a small gratuity will be greatly appreciated.
The Art of Bargaining
There’s one golden rule to shopping in Vietnam: bargain, and bargain hard. “Fixed prices” at most tourist shops aren’t really fixed at all – the listed prices are about 300% higher than the last price you can pay if you dicker long enough. Bargaining is an exacting discipline, and quite exasperating for the novice traveler who’s not used to the grueling back and forth.
Karin Muller, an old hand at the bargaining game, explains: “You can only bargain successfully if you do it with grace and humor - if you treat it as a game. Usually the amounts in question are minuscule anyway - why get upset?... And if you don't like to bargain, don't. Pay whatever they ask - your trip will still be cheap by most standards.” Karin’s full explanation of the mechanics of Vietnamese bargaining can be read here: Hitchhiking Vietnam: Travel Tips.
Other Helpful Money Tips
- Budget travelers in Vietnam can expect to spend up to $25 a day on food and lodging. Middle-budget spenders can enjoy good restaurant food, hire cabs, and stay comfortably in good hotels for about $65 a day.
- Don’t change your currencies on the black market. The legal exchange rate beats black market rates any time; claims of better rates are probably just the lead-up to a scam.
- When visiting a pagoda, leave a small donation just before you leave.
- Bring a small calculator to calculate currency conversions.
- Travelers’ checks are nearly impossible to exchange outside Vietnam’s major cities and tourist areas. Bring hard cash when leaving the beaten path.
- Store cash, credit cards, and other valuables in a safe place, like the in-room safe in your hotel.