In all major Vietnamese cities, as well as towns of appreciable size, financial services are abundant. Traveler’s checks can be cashed at banks, and well-established hotels accept them as payment. Shopkeepers are also happy to accept US dollars. While currency exchanges and Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are common in most towns and cities, this is not yet the case in remote areas. Remember to carry a sufficient amount of Vietnamese currency when traveling to such places, although you will never be more than a few hours’ journey from a banking facility of some kind.
Banks and Banking Hours
Vietnam’s leading banks are Vietcombank and Sacombank, while the most common inter- national banks are ANZ, Citibank, and HSBC. All have offices and ATMs throughout the country, and are connected to the Plus ATM network. Going to a bank for currency exchange or creditcard withdrawal is more time consuming than an ATM or private exchange. While it can vary marginally in different cities and banks, bank- ing hours are generally from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with some banks clos ing at mid day for lunch. Most private currency exchanges set their own hours.
In 1999, there were only two ATMs in the country, both in Hanoi. Now they are found virtually everywhere there is a bank. All provide instruc tions in Vietnamese and English, and are available 24 hours a day. Money is issued only in the Vietnamese currency, calculating dollar withdrawals at the daily official rate of exchange. An unlimited number of withdrawals may be made in a day, each of between two and five million dong (Citibank can give eight), with a fee for each withdrawal, usu ally US$1–3. Larger withdrawals can be arranged with a bank teller. If you are planning to stay in Vietnam for more than a few months, consider opening your own account. Though the red tape involved can be daunting, it will make financial transactions smoother for you.
The process of changing cash has improved over the past few years, but a long wait at banks is still the norm. The process is faster at a private exchange, although the rates are not as good. In fact, the best rates are given by gold and jewelry shops, but they offer no security against shortchanging or counterfeit bills. With the proliferation of ATMs in most cities, however, many travelers opt simply to use their debit cards instead.
Credit and Debit Cards
Although credit and debit cards are not widely accepted in Vietnam’s smaller towns, plastic is almost as useful as dollars and dong in larger cities, especially Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Airlines, travel agents, upmarket hotels and restaurants, as well as upscale shops catering to tourists, are all glad to accept major credit cards such as MasterCard and Visa. If needed, you can also get a cash advance at the bank drawn on your credit card.
The dong, abbreviated to VND or d, is the Vietnamese unit of currency. Though it is not “official,” US dollars are accepted almost everywhere, especially in tourist zones. It is also advisable to always keep some dong notes (preferably in smaller denominations) at hand for day- today expenditure. Check notes carefully as many look similar. Bear in mind that the dong cannot be converted outside Vietnam.
Prepaid Currency Cards
As an alternative to taking your bank cards (or for use in emergencies), prepaid currency cards are available in most countries from credit card companies, various financial institutions, some travel agents, and online. Once loaded with money, you can use them to withdraw cash at ATMs in Vietnam, though you should compare rates carefully. There’s often a transaction fee that can be as much as 5 percent.
Vietnamese banknotes are circulated in denominations of 500d, 1,000d, 2,000d, 5,000d, 10,000d, 20,000d, 50,000d, 100,000d, 200,000d, and 500,000d. All notes bear Ho Chi Minh’s visage, and notes from 10,000d upward are made of polymer. Denominations under 1,000d are being phased out.
In 2004, the Vietnamese government introduced 200d, 500d, 1,000d, 2,000d, and 5,000d coins in order to facilitate the phasing out of bank notes of the same denomination. Perceived by many as merely a gimmick, some shops and street vendors won’t accept them because they are heavy and easily lost.