One could argue that the Vietnamese currency is really the US dollar, as dollars are readily accepted and prices are frequently quoted in dollars. We usually carry both dong and dollars, as establishments may list prices in either currency. While they will gladly convert from dong to dollars, or vice-versa, you will usually lose 5-10% in the deal!
The largest bill commonly available is 100,000 VND (about $6.00 USD). The government recently began printing new, counterfeit proof currency, so you'll likely receive both new and old bills. Both are accepted. In 2003 the government also introduced coins. They're pretty useless since there are no vending machines. Oddly the one exception is condom machines - thus the Vietnamese associate coins with sex. Very weird and more than a little comical!
With inflation running around 25%, the dong has been steadily losing ground against the dollar. The official exchange rate is slow to reflect this however, creating a thriving black market. Expect to get about 10-15% more. Don't worry about finding the black market; it will find you. Bring cash and be cautious.
$1 USD = approximately 16,700 VND
Bills are available in the following denominations:
ATM machines now litter the landscape in Hanoi, Saigon and other major cities. They accept Cirrus, Plus, Visa and MasterCard, and only dispense dong. Maximum per transaction is 2 Million dong (about $130 USD). Each bank charges a fee per transaction in addition to your bank's fee. Traveler's checks in US Dollars or Euro are easily cashed at most banks. They prefer American Express (really!).
Vietnam is still a cash society and credit cards are not widely accepted. Don't be surprised if you are charged an extra 3-4% to cover merchant fees. Exceptions are upscale hotels and airline tickets purchased directly from an airline. Travel agents expect cash or will reluctantly accept plastic for an extra 4% fee.
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