Dong from dollar: Handy tips on currency exchange in Vietnam

By Vuong Duc Anh   June 21, 2016 | 02:48 am PT
Dong from dollar: Handy tips on currency exchange in Vietnam
ATMs are handy but not always available. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Ha
Let's face it, any currency that involves multiple zeroes can be confusing, especially when the highest denomination note in your country is a 50 or a 100. Here we've put together a few useful tips for you to keep in mind when you're traveling in Vietnam.

Know the exchange rate

This is the most obvious point, but it is so often overlooked. The official currency in Vietnam is the dong. Here's a quick rule of thumb: $1 ≈ VND22,000.

Where to exchange money

The best place to exchange your currency is in banks, which are open from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. - 11.30 a.m. and 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. Some big branches are also open on Saturday morning. You’ll be able to change foreign currencies and travelers’ checks in urban bank branches, but not always in smaller towns.

E.g.: The government-run Vietcombank can exchange dong for the following currencies:

- U.S., Australian, Canadian, Hong Kong and Singaporean Dollars

- Euro

- British Pound Sterling

- Thai Baht

- Japanese Yen

It's probably the safest way to exchange money but some might not like the hassle that goes with it as you have to show your passport and fill out a form.

Note that Vietnamese banks will not accept torn or damaged notes. If you deposit a damaged note, the bank will charge you 3-4 percent of the note’s value, or more, depending on how badly damaged the note is. 

Alternatively, currency exchange booths that you can find at ports or tourist sites will do the job instantly, though they may charge quite high transaction fees so it might be best to avoid them unless you are in a hurry.

In case you unfortunately lose or forget your passport, you might have to resort to gold shops. While the practice is technically illegal, it is an option when the banks are not available.

How to obtain cash

To obtain more cash you can always go to any ATM around Vietnam's major cities. However, it would be best if you know the rules of your bank and your card since some may charge a hefty fee for withdrawing money overseas. Most ATMs are connected to the Visa and Mastercard networks and can be used to get cash advances through your credit card.

ATTENTION - there are two fees when you withdraw cash at an ATM: a currency exchange fee and the ATM fee.

Most ATMs have a limit ranging from VND2,000,000 to VND5,000,000 for each withdrawal and a daily limit of VND20,000,000. ATMs will charge a fee per transaction. E.g.: Techcombank and Vietinbank charge VND66,000 while MB Bank (Military Bank) ATMs charge VND20,000.

It's a good idea to ask for bank notes in smaller denominations as it can sometimes be hard to get a change from larger notes.

Know the Vietnamese currency

Let’s get used to the money system in Vietnam. You can tell most of them apart by their color. There are paper notes with a value of 500; 1,000; 2,000; 5,000 and then plastic notes valued at 10,000; 20,000; 50,000; 100,000; 200,000 and 500,000 dong. 

Be mindful that the VND20,000 notes look only slightly different from the VND500,000 ones (different shade of blue) but the value is a big gap. 

VND20,000 note versus VND500,00. Photo by VnExpress/Ha Phuong

VND20,000 note versus VND500,000. Photo by VnExpress/Ha Phuong

Other tips

Paying by credit card is not common practice in Vietnam. For tips, taxis and cafes, cash reigns.

U.S. dollars are widely accepted by many shops, hotels and restaurants in touristy areas. The downside to using dollars is that the prices will be converted into dong at the vendor's chosen exchange rate, which is usually rounded up to benefit the vendor, making it more expensive.

Make sure you exchange any leftover dongs before you leave because it's nigh on impossible to change the currency outside of Vietnam. Well, unless you want to keep the notes as a souvenir. 

Lastly, Vietnamese people are, on the whole, very decent and honest although there are of course a few exceptions. Keep your money in safe places. Don't take too much with you when traveling around. And those offers to change money on the street to get a better rate? Don't fall for them!

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