Which currency [money] you should use when travelling to a specific country is one of the most important subject travelers should research on before visiting, because you’re not going to get too far without knowing which currency is commonly accepted.
In countries where the local currency has devaluated or is devaluating quicker, it is advisable to use your local currency which has a much higher value as you wouldn’t want to be caught holding a currency that loses value on a daily basis. Additionally, many shops in developing countries do not accept credit or debit cards, thus at times, cash is the only option.
The national currency of Vietnam is Dong. This is one of the smallest denominations of currency in the world. Referred to as the Dong VND, D, or the official symbol is ₫. Vietnam runs on two currencies: Vietnamese dong and US dollars. Despite the government’s push to get away from using foreign currency, US dollars are still used in some instances. Many prices for hotels, tours, or other services are presented in US dollars. Prices for food, drinks, and souvenirs past security in Saigon’s airport are all in US dollars.
Using two different currencies increases the potential for miscommunication and getting ripped off. If a price is listed in US dollars and you choose to pay in Vietnamese dong, the proprietor or vendor can make up the exchange rate on the spot, usually rounding in their own favor. Carrying a small calculator or using the calculator on your mobile phone is a great way to avoid miscommunication, calculate exchange rates, and haggle prices.
The Vietnamese dong (VND), Vietnam’s official currency, come in polymerized notes with multiple zeroes: VND 10,000 is the smallest bill you’ll find on the street these days (coins of as low as VND 200 have long been phased out), with the upper limit hit by the VND 500,000 bill. At the present exchange rate (between 20,000-21,000 VND per US dollar), changing a fifty-buck note gets you 1.138 million dongs. Tourists visiting Vietnam love to joke about walking away from the moneychangers as “instant millionaires.”
Exchanging Money in Vietnam
Never accept torn or damaged banknotes; they are often pawned off onto tourists because they are difficult to spend.
While ATMs are typically the best way to access travel funds, you can exchange currency at banks, hotels, kiosks, and freelance ‘black market’ money changers. Stick to exchanging money at proper banks or reputable hotels, but always check the rate on offer. Exchanging money on the street comes with all the obvious risks and then some: ‘fixed’ calculators have even been created to aid in the scam!
Travelers’ checks can only be cashed at banks in major cities; you’ll be charged up to 5% commission per check. Don’t expect to be able to use travelers’ checks to pay for daily costs as they’ll need to be cashed for local currency. You will need your passport for the transaction.
ATMs are available in all major tourist areas and dispense Vietnamese dong. The most commonly accepted cards are MasterCard, Visa, Maestro, and Cirrus. Local transaction fees are reasonable; however, they are in addition to whatever fees your bank already charges for international transactions. Using ATMs attached to bank offices is slightly safer for avoiding card-scanning devices attached to the card slot — a problematic, high-tech scam in Southeast Asia. Also, you stand a better chance of getting your card back if it is captured by the machine.
credit cards are of little use for anything more than booking flights or possibly paying for tours or diving. Paying with plastic means that you’ll be charged a steep commission; using cash is always best.
The most commonly accepted credit cards are Visa and MasterCard.
Your daily expenses won’t add up to too much, leaving you more dong for activities and shopping.
- Coffee- $2.30 (regular cappuccino)
- Water- $0.40 (330mL bottle)
- Beer- $1.15 (500mL domestic beer)
- Inexpensive meal for one- $1.70
- Taxi- $10 (Airport – District 1)
- Mid-range restaurant meal for one- $6.50
- Local bus ticket- $0.80
- Hotels- Not expected. Leave a small gratuity for staff
- Restaurants- Not expected; 5% to 10% in smart restaurants or if you’re very satisfied. Locals don’t tip.
- Guides- A few dollars on day trips is sufficient, more for longer trips if the service is good.
- Taxis- Not necessary, but a little extra is appreciated, especially at night.
- Bars- Never expected.
- Coins aren’t often accepted in retail
- Pick trusted, well-known taxi companies
- Be alert when paying with a card
- Market shopping is a bargain
- Feel free to haggle at shops
- Keep costs low by eating street food