All of the travelers coming to Vietnam as well as Ho Chi Minh City have to deal with Vietnamese Currency. A guide to Vietnamese Currency in Ho Chi Minh City is essential to you. In this blog, I would like to share with you some useful information about Vietnamese currency and great tips to avoid scams and make your trip perfect.
An overview of Vietnamese Currency
Since 1978, the Dong (đ, VND) has been the Vietnamese currency. Good news for you is that the Vietnamese government stop issuing coins in 2011. So that your wallet will be lighter in Vietnam. However, the disadvantages of Vietnamese currency include there are many zeros. In April 2019, 1 USD equals to 23,400 VND. With 1 million VND (43 USD), you easily become a millionaire in Vietnam. You can check the exchange rate at https://www.xe.com/currency/vnd-vietnamese-dong.
Vietnam Dong – Notes
Vietnamese notes come in various denominations. The front side of all notes has an image of Uncle Ho (Ho Chi Minh). Various symbols of the country are on the back of the notes. To make easier for you, I divide the notes into 2 main groups: the polymer notes which are in high denominations and the paper notes which are in low denominations. The polymer notes are more popular while the paper ones are barely used.
The paper notes
In comparison to the polymer, the paper absorbs moisture, thus becoming dirty and limp easily. Researches prove that The paper notes include 200 VND, 500 VND, 1,000 VND, 2,000 VND, 5,000 VND.
In Ho Chi Minh City, some cheap foods such as Banh mi, Steamed sticky rice cost at least 10,000 VND. The taxi fare costs about 15,000 VND/km. The cheapest accommodation costs at least 100,000 VND/person. We can not buy many things with low banknotes. However, the bus fares range between 5,000 and 40,000 VND in the city. For example, the bus fare costs 6,000 VND and you have a chance to use the notes of 1,000 VND and 5,000 VND. Sometimes the bus drivers and conductors do not have small change. So that you should prepare some paper notes in low denominations. When you go shopping, the sellers may pay back you some change, you should keep them. 200 VND and 500 VND are rarely used. At most supermarkets in the city, they give you candies as the change instead of 200 VND note or 500 VND note.
The polymer notes
In 2002, Vietnam switched to polymer notes gradually replacing paper bills. The polymer (or plastic) banknotes are more durable and more difficult to forge than paper notes. Vietnamese polymer notes include 10,000 VND, 20,000 VND, 50,000 VND, 100,000 VND, 200,000 VND, 500,000 VND. The 10,000 and 200,000 notes look similar so that many foreigners are wrong to use them. The 20,000 and 500,000 notes also look similar. The situation is the same with 20,000 and 500,000 notes. Thus be careful at using these notes, relying on the number of zeros, not the color. I will tell you some tips to avoid taking the wrong money later.
Why using VND cash is a plus in Ho Chi Minh?
You can pay in USD cash or by credit card at Tan Son Nhat airport. Some restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, tour agencies, souvenir shops, supermarkets, shopping malls in the city center accept USD cash and credit cards. Street vendors, sellers at local markets, some tourist attractions only accept VND cash. For example, a cup of coffee or a grilled girdle cake costs about 15,000 VND on the street. The ticket at the Museum of Ho Chi Minh costs only 2,000 VND. On green buses in Ho Chi Minh City, they accept only VND cash, the bus fare is from 5,000 to 20,000 VND. On yellow airport buses, they accept USD cash, the #49 bus fare is 40,000 VND or 2 USD.
The fare of bus #152 from Tan Son Nhat Airport cost 5,000 VND.
Whether they do or do not accept USD cash, it is always cheaper to pay in VND cash. For example, a shop marks a souvenir at 5 USD or 100,000 VND which equals to 4.3 USD. Because bringing so much cash is not good for a traveler in Ho Chi Minh City, you should have some VND cash in your wallet. You can withdraw an amount of VND cash from ATM or exchange foreign currencies. In fact, it is illegal to list prices or ask for payment in any currency that is not the Dong.
How to identify fake Vietnamese currency?
A report by the central bank in late August said the circulation of counterfeit money has declined in recent years. Fake 100,000 VND, 200,000 VND, and 500,000 VND notes are popular. Some guidelines to help you distinguish between real and fake notes:
Fake notes are generally not as sophisticated as the real ones. The fake ones are easily torn, stretched and scratched.
Real notes have a vertical strip across its width stating the denomination, the fake one does not.
The real note has parts printed by optically variable ink, which causes color to switch between gold and green when it is turned a bit.
On the real note, the smaller window – one of two transparent windows at the note’s opposite corners, would show some image when put in front of infrared red light. The one at the fake note would show nothing.
The serial numbers on the real note light up when placed under UV light. Those on the fake one fail to light up or do so weakly.
Withdrawing money from ATM
To obtain VND cash, simply go to an ATM, most of which connect to Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus, Maestro, Plus and JCB networks. There will be a currency exchange fee and an ATM withdrawal fee. Ask your bank about the rules as well as the fee of withdrawing cash overseas. Notify the bank so that they will not block your card on the trip. The ATM withdrawal fees range between 1,000 and 3,000 VND. An ATM gives you a maximum withdrawal from 2,000,000 to 5,000,000 VND per transaction. Most of the ATM release 50,000 VND notes and notes in higher denominations. Some ATMs such as Vietcombank, Agribank give you only 500,000 VND notes.
The ATM might swallow your card accidentally or in case you have entered an incorrect PIN several times. In this situation, you should go to a bank branch to get your card back. Certainly, you must fill some forms and provide some documents. How to find the nearby ATMs? They are abundant at Tan Son Nhat Airport. Or just type in the search bar “ATMs near me” in your Google Maps app or on Google Maps website to find ATM around you in the city.
Where to exchange Vietnamese currency in Ho Chi Minh City?
Tan Son Nhat Airport
The first place where you may sell your foreign currency conveniently is Tan Son Nhat Airport. There are many kiosks providing fast and accurate foreign currency exchange for international travelers at the airport. However, the exchange rates are always lower than that in other places in the city center. Although the rates are not favorable, it is necessary to pay for taxi/bus fare and other immediate needs. You can book a private transfer from the airport prior to the arrival and pay online to avoid using VND cash. You can also sell the currency at your hotel but this is not a good choice.
The most common places for currency exchange are bank branches. One of the advantages of doing the exchange in a bank is safety. At the bank, you do not worry about currency scams including fake money. For your information, 13 banks among Top 1000 World Banks 2017 include VietinBank, Agribank, Vietcombank, BIDV, Military Bank, Sacombank, Techcombank, SCB, Maritime Bank, VP Bank, Eximbank, ACB, and SHB. Popular branches of foreign banks include ANZ, Standard Chartered Bank, HSBC, Shinhan Bank, Citibank Vietnam. Similar to ATMs, you can find banks nearby by typing “bank near me” on Google Maps app or website.
List of bank branches in the city center:
- Vietcombank, 5 Me Linh Square, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: hone: +84 8 3829 7245; Opening hours: Monday to Friday 07:30 – 16:30; Exchange rates: https://www.vietcombank.com.vn/ExchangeRates/default.aspx?&lang=en.
- Vietinbank, 93-95 Ham Nghi, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 8 3821 0089; Opening hours: Monday to Friday 07:30 – 17:00; Exchange rates: https://www.vietinbank.vn/web/home/en/doc/saving/exrate.html.
- Eximbank, 136-138 Le Thi Hong Gam, Nguyen Thai Binh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 8 3914 3152; Opening hours: Monday to Friday 07:00 – 16:30; Exchange rates: https://eximbank.com.vn/home/Static/Exchangerate.aspx
- BIDV, 66 Pho Duc Chinh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 8 3821 8812; Opening hours: Monday to Friday 07:30 – 17:00; Exchange rates: https://www.bidv.com.vn/default.aspx
List of bank branches near Saigon Backpacker Area:
- DongA Bank, 187 Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 8 3920 7372; Opening hours: Monday to Friday 08:00 – 17:00; Exchange rates: http://www.dongabank.com.vn/en/exchange
- Vietcombank, 69 Bui Thi Xuan, Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 8 3835 9323; Opening hours: Monday to Friday 07:30 – 16:30; Exchange rates: https://www.vietcombank.com.vn/ExchangeRates/default.aspx?&lang=en.
- BIDV, 118-122 Nguyen Cu Trinh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 8 3920 5812; Opening hours: Monday to Friday 07:30 – 17:00; Exchange rates: https://www.bidv.com.vn/default.aspx
Money chargers and gold shops
It is true that the exchange rates are higher in money chargers and gold shops.
Good places to exchange currency are around Ben Thanh Market:
- Ha Tam Jewelry, 2 Nguyen An Ninh, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 28 3823 7243; Opening hours: 7:00 – 22:00.
- Ben Thanh Money Changer, 30-36 Phan Boi Chau, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 97 375 67 76; Opening hours: 7:00 – 22:00.
- Hoang Thu, 178 Le Thanh Ton, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 90 854 47 44; Opening hours: 9:00 – 18:30.
- Ben Thanh Jewelry, 166 Le Thanh Ton, Ben Thanh, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 28 2210 4929; Opening hours: 9:00 – 18:00.
Best places to exchange currencies around Nguyen Hue Walking Street:
- Hung Long Money Exchange, 86 Mac Thi Buoi, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 28 3829 7887; Opening hours: 07:00 – 22:00.
- Eximbank Money Exchange 59, 135 Dong Khoi, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 28 3827 5363; Opening hours: 07:00 – 22:00.
- Currency Exchange, 109 Ho Tung Mau, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 28 3915356/57; Opening hours: 24 hours.
- Minh Thu, 12 Le Loi, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 28 3823 8575; Opening hours: 07:00 – 22:00.
- Therese Jewelry, 9 Nguyen Thiep, Ben Nghe, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 28 3824 6011; Opening hours: 09:00 – 18:00
Best places to exchange currencies around Saigon Backpacker Area:
- Kim Mai Jewelry Shop, 84C Cong Quynh Street, Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City; Phone: +84 28 38360412; Opening hours: 08:00 – 20:00.
Tips on using Vietnamese Currency in Ho Chi Minh City
- The brand new or wet polymer notes can stick together. Do not forget to flick or peel the notes carefully before handing them over.
- The 10,000 and 200,000 notes look similar so that many foreigners are wrong to use them. The 20,000 and 500,000 notes also look similar. In facts, some vendors are not kind enough to tell you that you pay them the wrong note. They got paid 200,000 for a Banh mi which costs 10,000 VND. Being not familiar with the new currency, do not rely on the color of the notes but the number of zeros on the notes.
- Make sure to count the number of zeros on each note before handing it over. Use a wallet consisting of a few compartments and arrange the notes in different compartments so that you will take the right notes. I usually put the paper notes in one compartment. The second compartment is for polymer 200,000 VND and 500,000 VND notes. All the others in the third compartment, and perhaps the fourth compartment is for USD notes. It is simple, right?
- You may receive 500,000 VND notes from ATMs and at currency exchange booths. They make your wallet light and thin. They are useful if you pay for your accommodation and valuable items. However, do not always bring all 500,000 VND because you may need smaller money.
- Small money is very useful when you are on a bus, taxi, or buy something on street-side vendors. Sometimes they do not have the change to pay back. They even do not accept high-denomination notes such as the 100,000 VND, 200,000 VND, and 500,000 VND on the buses. In Ho Chi Minh, tips are not required but a small gratuity will be appreciated for taxi drivers, waitresses, hired drivers, tour guides, porters, receptionists.
- The price tags in Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh City, are often written with the letter “K” following the number. For example, 50K means 50,000 VND, 1000K means 1,000,000 VND. The K stands for 3 last zeros.
- What to do if you have all 500,000 VND notes? I usually go to a convenience store or supermarket, buy a few items, and the staffs are happy to give me back the change in smaller money.
Tips to avoid currency scams in Ho Chi Minh City
- To avoid currency scams, stay away from the black market.
- Vietnam is fast becoming a hot spot for credit card fraud. A few travelers told that copies of their cards were used in Vietnam after their trip. Always notify your bank when you travel abroad so that they know you are actually in another country.
- Some places overcharge your credit or swipe your cards several times to pay for a meal or a service. Do not use credit cards at untrusted places including bars, restaurants, coffee shops, souvenir shops.
- To avoid snatch theft and pickpocket, store a small amount of cash, a few million VND, in a cheap spare wallet. Keep the others in an anti-theft bag, a money belt, or a hidden pouch.