Vietnam is all about fun experiences on the cheap. You've probably heard all about the $2 pho, the $1 Saigon beer and the cheap-as-chips sailing trips to Halong Bay. But cheap or not, what's the best way to actually pay your way through the country? Understand when to use your cards and when cash is king or learn all about the Vietnamese currency, called the dong, to make your holiday that much easier.
Compare your travel money options for Vietnam
You have a slew of money options in Vietnam with the choice of credit card, debit card and travel card as well as traveller's cheques and, of course, cash. A combination works well to make sure you have access to money when you need it.
Vietnam is a budget destination. Compared to Australia, accommodation, food and tourist activities cost a fraction of the price. If you have expensive taste, it's easy to find a 5-star experience with prices to match.
Hostel dorm bed
$5 - $15 AUD per night
2 star hotel
$15 - $30 AUD per night
5 star hotel
$150+ AUD per night
Budget meals at a cafeteria
Western style steak
Sightseeing at Hoan Kiem Lake and Turtle towerFree
Walking tour of Hanoi old town $30 AUD per person
Halong Bay overnight cruise $190 AUD per person
*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.
Exchange rate history (AUD to VND)
The Australian dollar has weakened against the dong in past years and sits at about pre-GFC levels. If you believe the trend of the weakening Aussie dollar will continue, you can lock in a rate using a prepaid travel money card or traveller's cheques.
Average annual exchange Australian Dollar (AUD) to Vietnamese Dong (VND)
*Exchange rates are accurate as of 4 September 2017
Credit cards can be used for big ticket purchases in Vietnam. For example, in Hanoi mid- to high-end hotels, restaurants and retailers will take Visa and Mastercard branded products. American Express credit cards and prepaid travel cards are accepted in fewer places.
Everywhere else you'll need to pay with cash. Compare travel money products to take to Vietnam based on the cost to withdraw from ATMs. Credit cards can be used to make purchases, they should not be used to withdraw cash from an ATM. Use a debit card or travel card to withdraw cash.
Travel money options for Vietnam at a glance
Travel money option
Debit cards for travel
Can be used to shop over the counter, online and for ATM withdrawals in Vietnam
Protected by PIN & chip
Spending your own money means avoiding interest charges
International ATM withdrawal fees and additional currency conversion fees may apply
Not a credit product. No emergency funds available though a cash advance facility.
Prepaid travel money cards
Able to lock in exchange rate when you convert AUD to VND
Secured by PIN & chip technology
Emergency card replacement and backup cards
Easily reloadable via a secure online platform
Only 1 Australian product supports Vietnamese dong
Comes with back and front end fees such as card issue, initial load, reload and inactivity fees.
Some travel cards charge for inactivity fee
Credit cards for travel
Can be used for big ticket purchases in Vietnam
Protected by PIN & chip
Some credit cards offer complimentary travel insurance
Interest-free days when you pay your account in full
Emergency card replacement
Interest fees and cash advance charges apply upon cash withdrawal
Card scheme zero liability guarantees don't apply in a credit card with a positive balance
Higher spending limit (depends on your approved credit limit)
Attracts an annual fee
Security is the main advantage - cheques have unique serial number and can only be cashed with photo identification
Availability to cash at banks
Secure and can be easily replaced if lost or stolen
Card schemes such as Mastercard give you a money back guarantee if you're a victim of card fraud
Institutions charge a commission to cash traveller's cheques
Fees for purchasing and cashing traveller's cheques may apply
Currency exchange rate varies over time
Greater payment flexibility
More difficult to manage expenses
Higher risk of theft
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How travel money products work in Vietnam
Using credit cards
A travel-friendly credit card will waive the additional charge for currency conversion. Two financial institutions which provide products offering this feature: GE Money and Bankwest.
The Latitude 28° Global Platinum Mastercard is a favourite credit card product in the travelling community. This card doesn't charge for currency conversion when you use it in Vietnam, and it doesn't charge an annual fee. Similarly with Bankwest platinum credit cards, Bankwest also don't charge a fee for international ATM withdrawals when you use their platinum products.
However, interest fees and cash advance charges apply when you use your credit card to withdraw cash. You can avoid the cash advance interest rate and the cash advance fee when you load your own money onto your credit card. But remember, the card scheme zero liability guarantees don't apply if you're using your card which has a positive balance.
The Commonwealth Bank Travel Money Card is the only product available which supports spending in Vietnamese dong. Prepaid travel cards such as the Qantas Travel Money do not charge a currency conversion fee when you spend in a currency not held on the card. However, most other products will apply a fee in this instance, which is as high, if not higher, than the fee you'll pay using a regular debit card in Vietnam.
Another benefit of using a travel card overseas is the supplementary card you can use if your primary card is lost or stolen. Being able to lock in your exchange rate when you convert Australian dollars to Vietnamese dong is another upside that comes with travel cards. These benefits come at the cost of back and front end fees such as card issue, initial load, reload and inactivity fees.
Tip: Financial institutions which provide a travel card also make money by applying a higher margin to the exchange rate. You can get a better rate using a debit card or credit card.
Using debit cards
A travel debit card could be a good travel money choice to take to Vietnam. You're spending your own money, which means you avoid interest charges, and a travel friendly transaction account can waive the fees for currency conversion and international ATM withdrawals. The Citibank Plus is one such account. Citi waive the fee for international ATM withdrawals, the fee for international ATM withdrawals and don't charge a monthly account keeping fee.
Tip: A debit card can be used to shop over the counter, online and for ATM withdrawals in Vietnam.
Using traveller's cheques
Security is the main advantage of using traveller's cheques. Each cheque has an unique serial number and can only be cashed with photo identification. Price is the main disadvantage. Institutions charge a commission to cash traveller's cheques — Vietcombank will not charge a commission to cash cheques, you're better off using a debit card or travel card which lets you make cheap or free ATM withdrawals to get dong.
Taking cash with you
Cash is king in Vietnam, so you'll need cash for most transactions. Make sure the VND banknotes you get back are not torn or damaged. VND is paper money and more fragile than Australian dollars. Many restaurants and shops won't accept damaged banknotes, so it's important to place your cash carefully in your wallet.
You can get Aussie dollars changed to dong at banks, Vietcombank doesn't charge a commission. The money changing black market is easily accessible, and illegal, so always get your money changed at a licensed institution such as bank or money changer. The exchange rate is better than the black market and, more importantly, legal.
Using an ATM
Mastercard and Visa cards can be used to make cash withdrawals from the majority of ATMs in Vietnam. The maximum withdrawal limit varies depending on the machine. Machines from banks with a presence in Australia such as HSBC, Citi, ANZ and CBA have a higher daily withdrawal limit (6,000,000 - 10,000,000VND) compared to ATMs from Vietnamese banks. You might also be charged ATM operator fee. 50,000VND is a common charge; however, Vietnamese banks can charge a lower fee (for a lower withdrawal limit).
Dean spent two months in Southeast Asia. His trip in the region included a 1 month adventure in Vietnam. He flew from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh, he finished his trip in Hanoi and took a bus to Laos. He was there for the Tet festival in December, which Dean says is not to be missed.
Where did you go?
Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Hoi An and Hanoi.
Dean says he took the Citibank Plus Visa card because it doesn't charge a fee for currency conversion, it has no monthly account fee. Most importantly, there is no international ATM charge from Citi when he made ATM withdrawals. He took the Commonwealth Bank Low Rate because it offered interest-free days, as long as he paid the balance off in full by the due date on his statement. This gave him time to pay back some of his bigger purchases like flights.
Where could you use these cards?
Dean says Vietnam is a cash economy. He says that you can tell pretty quickly where you can and can't use your cards, and if in doubt he says you can always ask. He used cash for most of his transactions in Vietnam. He says he used his card when he went shopping at department stores and businesses inside shopping centres. He also used his card to pay for a couple of nights stay in 2 and 3 star hotels too. The rest of the time he stayed in boarding houses, which were cash only. He also used his cards to pay for flights, but the bus ride out of the country was cash only.
Tell us about ATM withdrawals in Vietnam.
Dean says he made withdrawals from Vietnam bank ATMs when he could. He says there was a charge of about $3 - $4 dollars each time he made a withdrawal from a non-Citibank ATM. He says he didn't have any trouble using ATMs affiliated with the following banks: CBA, ANZ, BIDV, Techcom and Vietcombank. Dean says he was charged the local ATM operator fee when he used his Citibank Plus Transaction Account to make an ATM withdrawal except when he used a Citibank ATM. Furthermore, he says Citibank had the highest ATM daily withdrawal limit of 8,000,000VND or about AUD$400.
What are your travel money recommendations for Vietnam?
Dean says the Citibank Plus is a traveller's best friend. Regularly, ATM withdrawals can cost up to $20 each transaction. The $5 charge for international ATM withdrawals and a $10 fee for currency conversion (for withdrawals of a couple of hundred at a time) can be avoided using the Citibank Plus. He says a card with no currency conversion fee and no international ATM withdrawal fee is the best option.
Do you have any other travel money tips?
Dean says make sure you do the following:
Tell your credit card and debit card provider about your travel plans in Southeast Asia.
Make sure you're covered by travel insurance.
You're going to have a bit of cash on your person. Use a money belt when you're out and keep any valuables in a safe (if your accommodation offers one).
The Vietnamese dong is the major currency used in Vietnam. The dong comes in these denominations: 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and 200,000. The notes are different colours. Double check to make sure you pay the right amount and you get the right change back. Familiarising yourself with how the currency works and looks (using the images below) will help you avoid confusion when handling your money on your holiday.
Buying Vietnamese dong in Australia
While you'll get a better rate if you wait to get Vietnamese dong in Vietnam, you can purchase dong in Australia from your bank or a foreign exchange provider such as Travelex. If you're flying into Vietnam directly, and you want to get a Visa On Arrival (VOA), you're going to need to pay a fee when you pass through customs. There are ATM facilities at Vietnam's international airports, so you'll save time if you have some dong in your pocket when you land. Have a look at the following institutions if you want to exchange cash in Australia.
Why you'll need a combination of travel money options
You'll need a product which lets you withdraw cash from ATMs without too many added costs. Although card acceptance is on the rise in major Vietnamese cities, you won't be able to use your credit card, debit card or travel card to make over the counter purchases in the majority of places throughout Vietnam. A credit card is an essential item to take with you on holiday to Vietnam. As well as the security of a line of credit, you'll also receive peace of mind if you pick up a card that offers complimentary travel insurance and increased rewards earn rates when you use your card overseas.
Vietnam is a popular destination for Australian travellers. Hundreds of thousands of Aussies visit the country every year keen to experience the country's natural beauty and rock bottom prices. If you have any questions about travel money in Vietnam, get in touch with us the form at the bottom of this page.
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