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We're traveling from the USA to Vietnam in 2 weeks. Most of the trip's major expenses are paid off, but we want to have cash handy for small vendors and artisans and remote places generally. We want to avoid airport currency exchange because the rates are low.

One way is to find a money exchange vendor near us, find out the rates and bargain. Another is to go to a bank that we are customers of. (So far, from searching, big banks like Chase don't seem to offer Vietnamese Dongs!)

A third option that occurred to me is to use money transfer services (Western Union, Remitly, Ria, Xoom) to pick up locally at a bank branch.

We are asked information like "Place as in the ID", etc, that makes me wonder if a US resident can pick up cash at a designated bank branch in Vietnam without any bank account.

  1. Can a US resident (tourist) use such services to send money to self to be picked up as cash while there?
  2. Is there a better way of doing this or is an airport the best place to pick up cash?

4 Answers 4

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The suggestion to use an ATM is great, but if it so happens that your home bank doesn't offer a good deal for travellers, just taking US dollars with you comes as a close second.

As you have the privilege of coming from the country with the most popular currency in the world, the absolute worst you can do is to purchase VND at home. Consider how low the demand for VND is in the US and you will realize that even the best bargain at a local foreign currency vendor will come with a hefty price tag. Now compare this with the currency exchange market in Vietnam, where crispy green American presidents are (as almost everywhere) in high demand, but there's also a significant volume of VND being traded.

In fact, the dollar is so ubiquitous that several years ago I would routinely purchase dollars in my home country for local currency, before travelling abroad and exchanging the dollars for the local currency at the place of my vacation and it would almost invariably turn out to be one of the best options.

It is true, that currency exchange rates at airports and in touristy centers can be unpredictable so it's worthwhile to shop around first once you arrive, however in all likelihood you'll be able to pay with your credit card for most immediate expenses on arrival. I have been to Ho Chi Minh only a few months ago and the level of acceptance of cashless methods of payment credit cards is quite high.

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  • I have had the same experience. If you are far from your home country, take USD. Even though it will mean two conversions: home currency to USD and USD to local currency, the effective rate is still likely to be better. In some areas, EUR might be as effective but I have not tested that.
    – badjohn
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 12:28
  • @lliamnyp - That is reassuring. I have seen commentary to that effect too but would these cashless methods need specific apps and would they work simply by loading USD from my home bank account? Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 15:17
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    @perennial_noob Sorry, I was being a smartass and said "cashless methods" instead of saying "credit cards" which is what I actually had in mind.
    – LLlAMnYP
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 7:26
  • ATMs get very expensive when you need a lot of transactions to get out the desired amount. And in a lot of Asian countrys the amount per transaction is very low on ATMs.
    – NDDT
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 8:50
  • 8 years ago in Vietnam, certain tourist-focussed services required payments in USD. Which was a bit annoying as somebody who doesn't have easy access to that currency. That said, all the ones that insisted on USD also took card.
    – CMaster
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 10:45
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  1. Check the specific terms of the service you are considering using, but, in general, yes, a tourist with appropriate ID will be allowed to use a money transfer service. However, the fees for such services are often high, and may or may not in practice be competitive with even the worst airport (or tourist-area street) currency exchanges.

  2. In almost all circumstances, it is a much better deal (and far easier!) to simply withdraw cash at an ATM upon arrival. While not all countries have ATMs as ubiquitous as in the US, almost every international airport on earth has ATMs, and you can probably find some in any medium-to-large city you pass through. You may want to consider making a few larger withdrawals when an ATM is nearby rather than smaller ones as you might do when traveling in a country where access is more convenient.

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    Note that while withdrawing from an ATM is often the best option, it does vary a lot based on your account and the associated fees and rates for withdrawals abroad and currency conversion, so check your card issuer’s fees and do not hesitate to shop around before you leave. Then there is the issue of fees at the ATM which are a lot less predictable. Also, if the ATM gives the option to charge in the card’s currency, it is usually better to avoid it at the rate is not favourable.
    – jcaron
    Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 7:26
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    Also beware that there are ATM scams like card readers, cameras - even fake ATMs that eat your card and grab your PIN. I was told "Card scamming is considered an artform in Brazil" :-) - The ATMs at the airport are probably safe, but the further you get from civilization, the less I;d trust them. Just use the normal level of suspicion and you should be safe...
    – John3136
    Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 8:46
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    Charles Schwab in the US used to offer no-fee atm service through their customer bank. If you give the minimum to open an investment account and request the bank services, you got a check card/ atm card for it and every month they reimburse atm fees. Also, really big banks used to be able to get any currency for someone with an account given enough time - it's not lying around but you ordered it and waited 3 weeks or such. But an atm is easier as long as the country does enough international banking
    – Mike M
    Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 10:28
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    I don't know about Vietnam, but ATM fees have in many European countries reached insane levels. When I travel in Eastern Europe, I usually bring cash and find a local exchange office with competitive rates. If I avoid scams and tourist traps, exchanging cash is for me in most situations the cheapest solution, often even cheaper than paying by card, not only instead of ATM withdrawals. Even if my bank advertise card payments as 'free', both VISA and my bank hide theirs fees by giving me a poorer exchange rate than what many cash exchange offices offer. Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 20:25
  • "almost every international airport on earth has ATMs" - No 'almost' about it
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 17:45
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From having just spent about 10 days in Vietnam I have some current information about this.

Again, credit cards are accepted in big and medium sized towns but with the idea to carry cash for the small towns/countryside or small vendors here are some options:

  1. Airport
  • Destination (Hanoi) - We got very close to market rate for USD to VND) (23200 VND)
  • 3rd country (not your home country nor destination but the transit country. Typically airlines have to land in their home country when they connect 2 cities in 2 other countries.) - We got a not so ideal deal (21000 VND) because of the loss in conversion from USD to YEN to VND
  1. 4/5 star hotels - If you are staying at an international hotel and a 3+ star hotel at that, they offer exchange too. This is also close to market rate (23320 VND)

  2. ATMs - Make sure your bank doesn't charge you foreign transaction and foreign exchange fees because the destination ATM may still deduct some service/convenience fees. But even with the fees it may make sense in some cases when you only have a need for cash for that occasion and not any more. You don't want to be left with a bunch of currency you won't use after.

At home in the USA, (esp San Francisco Bay Area) where there is a sizable Vietnamese population none of my banks were able to provide me VND because they don't carry that currency. Other Foreign Exchange services that even offer home delivery of currency gave a best rate of 15000 VND.

So this tells me it is about the demand of the currency in a given country. And in some cases the denomination of the notes also matters. So something like notes of $100 attract a slightly better rate than notes of $20 or $5.

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Options to get cash in Vietnam: Best option: ATMs are convenient and good exchange rates - but all with different fees and withdrawal limits. You can use the ATM Fee Saver app or website - it will give you a list of ATMs with no fees or lower fees than others along with withdrawal limits there.

Second best option: Carry dollars / your currency and exchange at local shops (not airports)

Third option: Western union the money

Fourth option: Transfer to someone you know there.

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