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You’re finally here, sitting in a café in Hanoi or Saigon, enjoying your first taste of Vietnamese coffee. But when it’s time to pay, you realize you’re not quite sure of the best way to settle the bill in Vietnam. Should you use cash, card, or one of the popular eWallets? With options like Samsung Pay, Apple Pay, and local services like Momo and ZaloPay, Vietnam’s payment landscape can be confusing for travelers. The good news is, whether you prefer paying with plastic, paper, or an app, Vietnam’s got you covered. Here’s your smart guide to paying for goods and services in Vietnam so you can get the most bang for your buck, dong, and byte.

Using Credit Cards: Accepted at Most Mid-Range and Upscale Places

Most mid-range and upscale hotels, restaurants, and stores in Vietnam accept major credit cards like Visa and Mastercard. Using credit cards for bigger purchases is convenient and helps you avoid carrying too much cash. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Check for Foreign Transaction Fees

Before you leave on your trip, contact your credit card issuer to see if they charge foreign transaction fees for using your card outside the U.S. These fees are usually a percentage of each transaction, like 3% of the purchase amount. If they do charge these fees, you may want to look into cards that don’t for your trip.

Let Your Bank Know You're Traveling

It's a good idea to notify your bank and credit card companies that you'll be using your cards in Vietnam. Give them your travel dates so they know not to flag legitimate charges as fraudulent. Ask if there are any additional steps you need to take to avoid unwanted interruptions in service.

Carry Cash for Smaller Purchases

While major businesses accept cards, most smaller shops, markets, and street food vendors are cash only. Have smaller bills and coins on hand for these types of places. You'll get the best exchange rates withdrawing Dong from ATMs in Vietnam, so do that and keep some cash with you. Fill out the customs declaration form distributed on your flight or at immigration. If you carry more than $5000 USD (or equivalent) in cash, make sure you declare that.

  • Some stores and restaurants may charge a small fee for credit card use, usually 3-5% of the total bill. Ask before paying with your card.

  • Be wary of credit card fraud and skimming. Only use ATMs attached to banks and be cautious of giving your card to cashiers for payment. Skimming devices have been found in some tourist areas.

  • For the best exchange rates, pay in Vietnamese Dong rather than U.S. dollars when possible. Your bank will likely charge additional fees for non-Dong transactions.

Why Paying in Cash Still Reigns Supreme in Vietnam

Vietnam is a cash-centric society, so bring plenty of Dong (VND) - the local currency. While credit cards and eWallets are gaining popularity, cash remains king for small purchases and in rural areas.

  • Cash is universal. Everyone accepts cash, even small vendors. No need to set up an eWallet account or worry if your card will be accepted.

  • Cash helps you bargain. Haggling is common in Vietnam, and paying in cash gives you more leverage to negotiate the best deal. Vendors are often willing to lower prices for cash payments since they don’t pay credit card processing fees.

  • Cash keeps you on budget. It’s easy to overspend when you’re not physically handing over money for each transaction. Paying in cash helps you keep tabs on how much you’re actually spending.

  • High-value notes are easy to exchange. Vietnam’s currency comes in high denominations of 500,000 VND and 200,000 VND bills, so carrying large amounts of cash is convenient and compact.

  • ATMs are widespread. You can withdraw cash from ATMs all over Vietnam, including popular tourist destinations. Look for ATMs with a “Plus” or “Mastercard/Cirrus” logo to avoid excessive fees.

While cash reigns supreme in Vietnam, credit cards and eWallets do have advantages. Cards and eWallets are more secure since there’s no risk of theft or loss of funds. They also allow for convenient contactless payments at an increasing number of hotels, restaurants, and stores in Vietnam’s major cities. The bottom line? Bring a mix of cash, cards, and eWallets to Vietnam so you’re ready for any situation.

acb-atm ATM machines are often found outside of banks

Exchanging Currency: Get the Best Rates

Once you land in Vietnam, you'll want to exchange your currency for Vietnamese Dong (VND) to pay for things. For the best rates, skip the exchange counters at the airport and go straight to the ATMs.

Find an ATM that specifically states "International ATM" or "Card Acceptance". These typically offer the highest withdrawal limits and lowest fees. Look for major banks like Vietcombank, VietinBank, or HSBC. Stick to ATMs inside bank branches or in heavily populated, well-lit areas to avoid any tampering.

When you insert your debit card, select "withdraw funds" or "cash advance" and enter the amount in VND that you want to withdraw. Most ATMs will dispense bills in denominations of VND 500,000 and VND 100,000. Double-check that you received the correct amount before leaving the ATM.

You'll get the interbank exchange rate with ATMs, usually 1-3% lower than exchange counters. Plus, withdrawal fees are typically less than $5 per transaction. Compare this to exchange counters that can charge 5% or more in fees and often have lower exchange rates. Using international ATMs is truly the smart way to get VND.

If you have access to the Internet, check the latest exchange rate from Vietcombank, one of the largest banks in Vietnam. There are other authorized currency exchange services such as the ones operated by Eximbank which also offer very good exchange rates.

Once you have cash in hand, you have payment options galore in Vietnam. From metered taxis and street food vendors to high-end hotels and resorts, cash is widely accepted. For larger purchases, many businesses accept major credit and debit cards. And in cities, eWallets like MoMo and ZaloPay let you pay via mobile app.


Eximbank currency exchange bureaus offer good exchange rates

ATMs in Vietnam: Plentiful but Come With Fees

ATMs Are Convenient but Charge Fees

ATMs are plentiful in Vietnam’s major cities and towns, allowing you to withdraw Vietnamese Dong (VND) whenever you need cash. However, most ATMs charge fees for withdrawals, typically around VND 50,000 to VND 200,000 per transaction depending on the bank. Some tips for using ATMs in Vietnam:

  • Look for ATMs with a “plus” logo to avoid fees when possible. ATMs with logos from major banks like Vietcombank, Vietinbank, BIDV, and Agribank are common but tend to charge higher fees.

  • HSBC and Citibank ATMs typically don’t charge fees for cardholders of those banks. If you have an account with them, use their ATMs.

  • Check with your bank ahead of time to see if they have a partnership with any Vietnamese banks to avoid ATM fees. Some U.S. banks like Chase and Bank of America have fee-free networks.

  • Consider opening a fee-free ATM card before your trip like the Charles Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account. They reimburse all ATM fees worldwide.

Be Aware of Daily Withdrawal Limits

Most ATMs limit the amount of cash you can withdraw per transaction and per day. The maximum amount can vary but is usually around 5 to 10 million VND (around $220 to $440 USD) per transaction and 10 to 20 million VND ($440 to $880 USD) per day. Plan your withdrawals accordingly based on how much cash you need for the day. If you need more, you may need to visit multiple ATMs and incur additional fees.

Beware of Skimmers

Unfortunately, some ATMs in Vietnam have been targeted by thieves who install card skimmers to steal account information. Skimmers are devices attached to the card reader that capture your card number and PIN. Be wary of any loose or mismatched parts on the ATM, and avoid ATMs that look tampered with. Whenever possible, use ATMs located inside a bank lobby or another building. Skimmers are less likely to be installed there. Staying vigilant about ATM security will help ensure your money stays safe.

Tipping in Vietnam: Not Expected but Appreciated

Tipping Etiquette

Tipping is not expected in Vietnam, but always appreciated. While not customary, leaving a small tip, especially for good service, will be greatly valued by hospitality staff who typically earn very little. Here are some tips on tipping during your trip:

  • For restaurants, round up the bill or leave 5-10% in cash. Some higher-end places may add a 5-10% service charge, in which case an extra tip is not necessary.

  • For taxis and rideshares, round up the fare to the nearest 10,000 VND or $1 USD.

  • For tour guides, if you felt you received good service, leave 50,000-200,000 VND ($2-$10 USD) per guide in cash at the end of the tour.

  • For hotel housekeeping, leave 20,000-50,000 VND ($1-$3 USD) in cash per night. Give the tip directly to the staff or leave an envelope with a thank you note.

  • For spa treatments, leave a small tip of 50,000 VND ($2 USD) to show your appreciation. Massages and services are very affordable in Vietnam.

While tipping is always a kind gesture, don’t feel obligated if service was mediocre. And never feel pressured to leave tips that exceed the suggested amounts above. With Vietnam’s low cost of living, even small tips go a long way. Focus instead on expressing gratitude through a smile, kind word, or thank you—that will be greatly appreciated by the service staff you encounter during your trip.


A customer paying by MoMo eWallet

Mobile Payments, Digital Wallets: Convenient but not for everyone

When traveling in Vietnam, cash is king. But carrying too much cash on you can be risky. Digital wallets, or eWallets, are popular payment apps that allow you to store money electronically on your phone to pay for things like tours, taxis, and meals. Using an eWallet is simple, secure, and helps ensure you get the best exchange rate.

How eWallets Work

eWallets like MoMo, ZaloPay, and GrabPay operate like Venmo or PayPal. You transfer money from your bank account or credit card into the eWallet app on your phone. Then, you can use the balance to pay merchants directly through the app by entering a phone number or scanning a QR code. Merchants receive the payment instantly with no fees.

Why Use an eWallet?

There are several benefits to using an eWallet in Vietnam:

  • They often offer the best exchange rates since the rate is set when you transfer money into the eWallet, not at the time of payment. This can save you up to 5% compared to paying in cash.

  • Paying through an eWallet is secure. Your money and account details stay in the app and are not shared with merchants.

  • eWallets make paying for tours, transportation, and food easy. Just enter a phone number or scan a code to instantly pay for what you need.

  • If your phone is lost or stolen, your eWallet balance is protected since logins require a PIN or biometric like a fingerprint. You can also disable the eWallet remotely to freeze your balance.

Setting Up an eWallet

The process to set up an eWallet only takes a few minutes:

  1. Download an eWallet app like MoMo, ZaloPay, or GrabPay and create an account.

  2. Link a bank card or credit card to transfer money into your eWallet balance.

  3. Enter the amount you want to transfer from your linked card into the eWallet. The funds will be available instantly to start paying for goods and services.

  4. When ready to pay for something, open the merchant’s QR code or enter their phone number in your eWallet app to complete the transaction.

MoMo is the most popular eWallet and seems to allow foreigners to set up accounts using passports. GrabPay may also accept passports but it's less used than MoMo.

Consider opening a local bank account if you plan to live or work in Vietnam for a considerable amount of time. Direct local bank transfers are instantaneous and free when you have a local bank account. Going cashless in Vietnam is completely possible since most shops (even small ones) accept bank transfers. The only downside is that digital payments require Internet access. There is, however, no problem most of the time due to Vietnam's low-cost 4G (and soon 5G) data packages and free Wi-Fi.


Timo Bank account requirements for foreigners in Vietnam

Timo is one of the options for opening a local bank account. If you are a foreigner and 15 years old or above, you can open a Timo bank account at Timo Hangouts. You will need to bring your original valid passport in an identifiable condition, as well as one of the following documents:

  • Visa, OR

  • Temporary Resident Card (TRC), OR

  • Permanent Resident Card (PRC).

Be sure to check with other banks as well such as ANZ, HSBC, UOB, VIB, ACB, VPB. There are other bigger banks as well but they tend to focus more on business customers.