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Vietnam - Banking

Vietnam has enjoyed strong economic growth over the past few years and the stable, modern banking regime in the country has supported that process. Expats arriving here can confidently expect banking services – in branch, over the telephone or online – on a par with their home country.

Migrants are permitted to open bank accounts in Vietnam. Using a debit card in Vietnam or withdrawing money from ATM machines can incur fees if you hold a foreign card. If you are going to live in Vietnam for any length of time, the costs saved by using a domestic ATM or debit card will justify the administrative work required to open a Vietnamese bank account.

You may find foreign owned banks such as HSBC and ANZ Bank are more willing to accommodate expats through their transition process, accepting hotels or guest houses as a valid home address at least for the first three months. However, if you are likely to live outside Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, opening an account with a Vietnamese bank such as Vietcom Bank, Vietin Bank or ACB (Asia Commercial Bank) will give you better access to ATMs and local branches.

The currencies you wish to bank in will also affect your choice of bank. Vietnamese banks will deal in Vietnamese Dong (VND), US Dollars and Euros, so if you wish to have accounts with other currencies you should look at foreign owned banks. This is relevant if you have outgoings back in your country of origin, or are generating a source of income from there, whilst living in Vietnam. Alternatively, you may wish to use international money transfer services such as those offered by TransferWise, which uses the mid-market exchange rate without a mark-up, but instead charges a clearly advertised transaction fee for its services.

Branch opening hours vary between banks and branches. Generally, financial establishments will open at 8am, and close for lunch at 11.30am. In the afternoons, they may be open from 1pm until 4pm. Many branches will be open on a Saturday morning, but all banks close for the rest of the weekend.

Opening a bank account in Vietnam is normally free. Monthly account fees are a normal part of account conditions in Vietnam. However, if you are prepared to transfer a specified amount of money into your account and then maintain a minimum amount, some banks will waive their monthly fees.

Vietnam’s banks are required to meet international standards of checks to prevent money laundering and other criminal activity. Therefore, you should expect questions about the source of large deposits and your income.

When applying for an account, you will need to prove your identity and right to be present in the country; a passport, visa and your employment contract will need to be produced. As long as you have these documents and they are in good order, the process will be fast and efficient, regardless of whether you apply online or in a branch.

Alternatively, you can ask your current bank to open an account for you in Vietnam if they operate there. This would mean that your account is ready when you arrive in your new home.

It is possible to take out loans as an expat in Vietnam. Banks will do thorough checks to ensure they will receive their money back. They will look at your credit history, income and any likely changes in your circumstances, such as returning to your home country.

In Vietnam, the official currency is the dong. You will see this abbreviated as VND (Vietnamese Dong). Each dong is worth a fraction of a US cent or UK penny, so it takes tens of thousands of them to make a meaningful amount of money. Because of this, you may hear local people dropping the thousands when discussing money; 10,000 will be referred to as 10, for example.

Notes start at 10,000 VND; after that comes 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000. Coins are available in 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 denominations. Local businesses will normally prefer notes, but many will be reluctant to accept the larger denominations.

The 20,000 VND looks very similar to the 500,000 VND note, as does the 10,000 to the 100,000, especially in poor lighting. You may wish to keep the larger note in a separate part of your wallet to avoid error.

The US dollar has long been accepted as a viable alternative to local currency. However, the government is trying to discourage this practice. Therefore, you will find all price lists offered in VND, while the number of people willing to accept US dollars is rapidly declining.

You can exchange currencies in a number of locations. Banks and airport currency exchanges, along with some smaller hotels, often charge higher rates. Jewellery and gold shops can offer a competitive solution.

ATM machines are within easy reach of city and town dwellers in Vietnam; those heading out to rural areas will have restricted access. A six-digit PIN is usually required to use these machines. Some will charge a fee, depending on agreement which the bank that owns the machine has with your own bank. Be aware that the screen might not tell you how much the fee will be. Each machine has a strict limit on how many VND may be withdrawn. Check the notes are in good condition, as torn ones are likely to be rejected when you try to spend them.

Debit and credit cards are a normal feature of smart Vietnamese business, but you are likely to be charged a transaction fee. Small traders, bus drivers, taxi drivers and street food traders will usually only accept cash, so you will need to keep some money on you for most transactions. Card Chip and PIN machines are not widely used; the magnetic strip is more likely to be electronically read. Contactless payments are not used.

Whilst restaurants and department stores have fixed prices, small shops and businesses expect each customer to haggle. Although this is unfamiliar for Westerners, with practice you will achieve better prices. In tourist areas, sellers will be less flexible with prices as they know that inexperienced tourists will come along later and pay over the odds. Do be careful to clearly agree prices; it can be easy to confuse 15 and 50 for example, and once you have agreed, the discussions are at a close.

Vietnamese people are warm and welcoming. However, much of the population live on very low wages and in various degrees of poverty. If you leave valuables, such as smartphones, lying on a table, they will make easy pickings for thieves. Stealing from sleeping passengers on overnight buses is a well-known trick, and wealthy migrants withdrawing large amounts of money from an ATM can make themselves targets for pickpockets and muggers. Keep cash withdrawals hidden and avoid dark places, especially after a night out. Expats generally enjoy safe and untroubled life in Vietnam, but protecting yourself against petty theft applies anywhere.

Metered taxis, which are clean and professionally presented, will get you safely to your destination. Mai Linh and Vinasun taxi services come highly recommended. Unfortunately, there are bogus taxi drivers happy to scam unwary migrants. They lock the doors, demand high rates of payment, and can become very aggressive. It is worth paying higher fares with reputable taxi companies than finding yourself in a threatening situation for the sake of a few dollars.

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