Includes information on acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, etc.
Vietnam is a markedly Confucian society and its business practices are often more similar to those of PRC, Japan, and Korea than to those of its Southeast Asian neighbors. The social dynamics and world-view of Vietnam’s society are reflected in the business climate including such matters as: “face,” consensus building, and the zero-sum game assumption.
“Face”, saving of, or not losing of, is extremely important to many Vietnamese and you should try not to put your Vietnamese counterparts in an embarrassing situation or one that calls for public back-tracking. Fear of losing face may make your counterparts wary of spontaneous give-and-take, unscripted public comment, or off-the-cuff negotiation. The Vietnamese (in a formal meeting), will almost always ask for your talking points prior to the meeting so that they won’t be caught off guard in any way. The use of tact, sensitivity, and discretion are considered the most effective approach in dealing with disagreements or uncomfortable situations. Consensual decision-making is also very deeply ingrained in Vietnam. This often means that all parties with a voice can wield a veto and must be brought on board. In building a consensus, it may prove impossible to “steamroll” the minority opinion, which must be persuaded instead. To take the Central Government as an example, the lead ministry on a given issue may be unable to advance its position if other ministries with seemingly minor involvement in the decision oppose the idea. This can also be time consuming for our way of doing business. Western businesspeople sometimes become frustrated with the apparent inability of the person across the table from them to make a decision (even if the counterpart is quite senior), or the fact that decisions, once made, are inexplicably reversed. This is indicative of complexities behind the scenes and the fact that the apparent decision-maker does not always have the final say in negotiations and the actual decision maker may not even be in the room and relies on the say of others to make his decision.
The concept of a “win-win” business scenario is not widely ingrained in local business culture. This is important to keep in mind when negotiating with a Vietnamese organization. Once a deal is struck in principle, Vietnamese companies may want to take more time to improve their terms and even re-negotiate – again, adding time to business deals.
Relationships are also very important in Vietnam, as they are throughout the region. Your counterpart will want to know with whom they are dealing before making decisions. Transactions rarely develop overnight, or without extensive relationship building. It is important to know that deals can take several trips to the area – even if it seems like a perfect situation for both parties.
When initiating contact with a Vietnamese entity, it is often best to be introduced through a third party, as people outside a person’s known circle may be regarded with suspicion. An introduction from a mutual friend, acquaintance or known business associate before initial contact can help alleviate some of the problems that arise in initial correspondence or meetings. The U.S. Commercial Service is well positioned to facilitate introductions.
If it is not possible to have a third party introduce you, self-introductions should start with an explanation of what led you to contact this particular organization. This will help the Vietnamese side understand how to relate to you.
Vietnamese names begin with the family name, followed by the middle name and finally the given name. To distinguish individuals, Vietnamese address each other by their given names. Therefore, Mr. Nguyen Anh Quang would be addressed as Mr. Quang. Personal pronouns are always used when addressing or speaking about someone. You should always address your contacts as Mr., Mrs., or Ms., followed by the given name. Vietnamese often reciprocate this custom when addressing foreigners. Ms. Jane Doe would typically be addressed as Ms. Jane. If you are unsure how to address someone, ask for advice. Try to speak to the older person in the group as age is respected here; again, asking is the best way to avoid embarrassement.
Your first contact with a potential Vietnamese partner should be long on form and fairly short on substance. Effort should be spent on introducing yourself, your company, and objectives in the Vietnamese market place. Your correspondence should end with pleasantries and an invitation to continue the dialogue.
Establishing operations or making sales in Vietnam entails numerous business meetings, as face-to-face discussions are favored over telephone calls or letters. A first meeting tends to be formal and viewed as an introductory session. If you are unsure of exactly who in the organization you should be meeting with, you should address the request for a meeting to the top official/manager in the organization.
It is helpful to submit a meeting agenda, issues to be discussed, marketing materials, and/or technical information prior to the actual meeting. This will allow the Vietnamese side to share and review information within the organization to ensure that the correct people participate in the meeting. It is also wise to do your homework ahead of time to ascertain the scope of responsibility of the entity with which you wish to meet. Much time can be wasted talking to a department or ministry that does not really have jurisdiction over your project or issue.
A meeting usually begins with the guest being led into a room where there may be a number of Vietnamese waiting. The Vietnamese principal is rarely in the room when the guests arrive and you will be left to make small talk with the other meeting participants until the principal makes his or her entrance. It is common for a third person (from either side) to introduce the two principals of the meeting. Once this is done and all participants have been introduced to each other and business cards are exchanged (this is done with two hands and then held and not put away, you may want to comment on the persons position when presented with their card), participants can then take a seat.
Seating for a meeting is generally across a conference table with the principal interlocutors in the center and directly across from each other. Other participants are generally arranged in a hierarchy on the right and left. Generally, the farther one is from the center of the table, the less senior one is. Sometimes the meeting will take place in a formal meeting room where there are chairs arranged in a ‘U’ pattern. The principals will take their seats in the two chairs at the base of the ‘U’ with other participants arranging themselves in rank order along the sides.
Meetings generally begin with the principal guest making introductory remarks. These remarks should include formal thanks for the hosts accepting the meeting, general objectives for the meeting, and an introduction of participants and pleasantries. This will be followed by formal remarks by the Vietnamese host. Once the formalities and pleasantries are dispensed with, substantive discussion can ensue. Even if the principal host is not heavily involved in the details of the conversation, guests should remember to address the principal in the conversation allowing him or her to delegate authority to answer. A general business call lasts no more than one hour. Usually, the visitor is expected to initiate or signal the closure of the meeting.
Hiring a reliable interpreter is essential, as most business and official meetings are conducted in Vietnamese. Even with the increasing use of English, non-native English speakers will need interpretation to understand the subtleties of the conversation as will you from their side as well. When working with an interpreter, one should speak slowly and clearly in simple sentences (1 or 2 sentences at a time) and pause often for interpretation. Brief the interpreter on each meeting and the topic in advance. If there are some technical terms, be sure to talk through them with the interpretor for them to figure out the best way to convey the meaning. Some things here are literally lost in translation or there is not a word for it in Vietnamese.
Normal business attire consists of a suit and tie for men and suit or dress for women. During the hotter months, formal dress for men is a shirt and tie. Open collar shirts and slacks may be worn to more informal meetings depending on the situation. The trend in the South is to be more casual; suit jackets are worn only on very formal occasions and first meetings.
Please view the latest travel information for Vietnam provided by the U.S. State Department Travel Information here.
Country Specific Information for U.S. Travelers
The Department of State’s Travel.State.Gov information for Vietnam: contains useful guidance for U.S. travelers to Vietnam - including safety, security, health, transportation, local laws, and other information.
You may also register your trip with the State Department’s Smart Traveler program (STEP). This is a free service that allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
COVID-19 travel restrictions
Passengers are not allowed to enter, except (1) passengers with a diplomatic or an official passport; (2) passengers traveling on business as experts, business managers or high-tech workers.
Passengers are not allowed to transit.
A Health Declaration Form must be completed before arrival. The form can be found at https://tokhaiyte.vn/
Passengers are subject to medical screening and quarantine for 21 days.
Passengers traveling on business must have: (1) medical insurance or guarantee from the hosting company to cover COVID-19 expenses; and (2) a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test result issued from 3 to 5 days before arrival. The test result must be in English.
For further information about COVID-19 travel restrictions, please refer to this link.
U.S. passports are valid for travel to Vietnam. Visas are required of U.S. Citizens, and the visa type must correspond to the purpose of travel in Vietnam. In 2016, Vietnam began issuing one-year multiple entry visas in addition to 30-day single entry visas. In 2017, the country began to issue e-Visas. The new process simplifies procedures by allowing travelers to apply directly on-line. For more information, please visit here.
30-Day Single Entry Visa
As of 2017, Vietnam launched a 30-day, single entry e-Visa pilot program, of which the United States is included. The program uses an online application process to issue 30-day, one-entry visas for USD 25, payable via bank transfer. E-visa holders may enter and exit Vietnam through 28 designated international border gates, including all international airports. The pilot program will continue through January 31, 2019, subject to review and extension. Your 30 days will start when you arrive into Vietnam, not when your e-Visa is approved. This visa will only be valid for a single entry into Vietnam for up to 30 days, meaning you can’t fly into Vietnam, stay for a few days, travel to Thailand, and then return to Vietnam for your flight back to the United States. You can only enter Vietnam once. If you need a multiple-entry visa or want to stay in Vietnam for longer than 30 days, you must apply for a different visa.
Vietnam E-Visa Application Process
The Vietnamese e-visa instructions and application are available online. The correct Vietnamese government websites for e-visas is are https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt. This web address links to the same Vietnamese government-operated website. Other websites advertising Vietnamese e-visas are operated by private travel companies and may charge additional fees in addition to the standard application fee.
You will need a scanned copy of your valid passport details page and a scanned passport photo. According to the website instructions, the passport photo must be “straight looking and without glasses.”
- Click on “E-Visa Issuance” and then click on “For Foreigners.”
- Upload your passport photo and a copy of your passport details page. These are two separate uploads. You can’t upload your passport details page twice.
- Enter in all the required information.
- Pay your USD 25 fee and submit your application. Your fee is non-refundable even if your application is later denied.
- Once you have submitted your application, you will receive a “registration code.” Keep this code.
- At the time of this posting, the e-Visa turnaround time is approximately 3 business days. After the processing time, return back to the website and click on “Search” in the top menu bar.
- Enter in your registration code to search for your application to see if it was approved.
- If approved, you can print out your Vietnam e-Visa as proof for travel.
Multiple-Entry One Year Visas
If you intend to visit Vietnam several times over a year period, (or plan to travel in the area and return to Vietnam as your departure country) you may find it more convenient to apply for a multiple-entry one-year visa, which has been available to United States citizens since August 2016. This visa category can be obtained through the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, D.C. through its website at http://vietnamembassy-usa.org/consular. Please also note while there is a standard visa stamping fee of USD 130 for these visas, on-line third-party agencies and even the Vietnamese embassies or consulates abroad at times inconsistently assess and collect visa fees. There are also private Vietnamese tourism companies registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that can manage the visa application process for you, often at fees that are less than or the same as applying directly with the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, D.C. These firms will often arrange for your visa to be delivered upon your arrival into Vietnam, after you exit the aircraft but before you pass through immigration. This may be more convenient, since you do not have to mail your passport into the Vietnamese Embassy, but it does result in a longer wait time at the airport once you arrive.
Additional information about Vietnam visas may be obtained from the Embassy of Vietnam and Consulates located in the United States:
Embassy of Vietnam
1233 20th St, Suite 501, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
Visa Information: http://vietnamembassy-usa.org/consular/visa-application-process
Consulate of Vietnam in New York
866 United National Plaza, Suite 435
New York, NY 10017
Telephone: 212-644-0594, 212-644-2535
Visa information: https://www.vietnamconsulate-ny.org/service/1/visa.html
Consulate General of Vietnam in Houston
5251 Westheimer Rd #1100
Houston, TX 77056
Visa Information: https://vietnamconsulateinhouston.org/visa-information/
Consulate General of Vietnam in San Francisco
1700 California Ave., Suite 475
San Francisco, CA 94109
Visa Information: https://vietnamconsulate-sf.org/en/category/consular-services/
U.S. travelers MUST have the correct type of Vietnam visa for their purpose of travel. Vietnamese embassies in other countries or travel agents that organize travel to Vietnam can also issue or facilitate the issuance of a visa. Of note, Vietnam also allows third-party businesses and organizations – such as travel agents – to facilitate “Visas on Arrival,” usually through various websites. The U.S. Mission to Vietnam has had reports of unscrupulous travel agencies, businesses, organizations, and individuals taking advantage of travelers and sometimes charging unexpectedly high fees and additional charges upon landing in Vietnam. In addition, because many of the Vietnam Visa on Arrival websites request personal identity information along with a credit card or other payment, U.S. travelers should understand the risks and vulnerabilities in providing such information to a public website. The U.S. Department of State, nor the U.S. Commercial Service, cannot make recommendations about using third-parties to obtain a visa to Vietnam, and suggest the most reliable method is to obtain a visa directly from an Embassy or Consulate of Vietnam.
U.S. Companies that require travel of foreign businesspersons to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should go to the following link(s): State Department Visa Website.
The official currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). At the time of this report, the exchange rate was 23,070 Vietnam Dong per 1USD. The State Bank of Vietnam controls the exchange rate, and its fluctuation has been limited over the last year. ATM’s are used throughout Vietnam and there is usually a fee associated with their use. Some ATM’s will only allow a two million dong withdrawal (just under USD 100) so you may want to check the maximum amount prior to committing to the transaction. Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted cards.
There are money exchanges throughout the major cities, but these can have high rates and be questionable. Be sure to count your money prior to leaving the window as scams can be common. Do not accept ripped or torn bills as you will have a hard time using them and some vendors will refuse to take them. Credit cards are becoming more widely used in Vietnam but cash is preferred. Some vendors will accept foreign currency and Travelers checks are difficult to cash and not widely used here. When paying for goods or services it is customary to flatten out the bills straight and present them with both hands.
International Direct Dial (IDD) and fax services are available at most hotels. Internet services can be accessed through hotel business centers or at numerous Internet cafes. Most hotels offer broadband access in their rooms and many coffee shops and restaurants offer WiFi access for patrons. Smart phones are ubiquitous and internet penetration is around 44 percent. International Roaming for mobile telecommunications is available in Vietnam, although it may be expensive. The electric current is AC 50-60 Hz and voltage ranges are 220/380 volts.
Travel within Vietnam is becoming easier with good domestic air connections between major cities and an increasing number of flights to secondary destinations. A round trip ticket between HCMC and Hanoi is currently about USD 200 for economy class and USD 600 for business class.
Vietnam Airlines, VietJet, Jetstar Pacific Airlines and Bamboo Airways are the four carriers currently flying domestic routes.
Trains and buses in Vietnam have extensive routes and offer a cheap way to travel. Traveling by train or bus is recommended only for the most seasoned and hardy of travelers.
In major cities, metered taxis are plentiful and inexpensive, especially in the large cities. A car with a driver is also an option in most cities and can be rented for between USD 80 and USD 100 per day. For destinations outside major cities a car and driver is the recommended means of transport. Cars can be booked through most major hotels or tour companies. Ride-sharing firms like Grab Taxi also operate in some cities.
Vietnamese is the official language. Use of English is becoming more common, especially in the larger cities and in the rapidly expanding tourism sector.
Most local medical facilities do not meet western hygienic standards and may not have the full range of medicines and supplies available in typical U.S. facilities. However, there are several small foreign-owned and operated clinics in Hanoi and HCMC that are exceptions to this rule. Please reference the links below for lists of health care facilities at https://vn.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/doctors/ in Ho Chi Minh City and in Hanoi.
Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays
Vietnam is twelve hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and 11 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. Vietnam consists of a single time zone.
During the weekdays, business hours are typically 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. On Saturdays, work hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Vietnamese government offices are on a 5-day work week and are not open on Saturdays.
During the Lunar New Year, in January or February, business and government activities in Vietnam come to a virtual standstill for the weeklong Tet holidays. Business travel during this period is not advised. The following link lists both U.S. and Vietnam holidays https://vn.usembassy.gov/holiday-calendar/.
Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings
Articles 30, 31, and 32 of Government Decree 154/2005/ND-CP stipulate that the following items are allowed, without any duty, to temporarily enter Vietnam, and must be re-exported within 90 days: goods for presentation or use at trade fairs, shows, exhibitions or similar events, professional machinery and equipment, spare parts and components serving the repair of foreign ships or aircraft.
Vietnam began steps to recognize the Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission Carnet System (ATA Carnet System) when it officially became the WTO’s 150th member in January 2007. In reality, Vietnam is still in the implementation process. The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) has been authorized by the government of Vietnam to be the ATA Carnet card issuer and the guarantor of foreign exporters. In general, the ATA Carnet System will apply to non-commercial and not-for-local consumption items in Vietnam such as: samples, professional equipment, goods for presentation or use at trade fairs, shows, exhibitions, computer, transportation means, gemstones, antiques, etc. The temporary importation and re-exportation of these items under the ATA Carnet System will work as follows in Vietnam: First, a foreign exporter makes a guaranteed deposit to a VCCI account or to a guaranteeing bank designated by VCCI; VCCI then issues an ATA Carnet card to the exporter; the exporter then proceeds with duty-free customs clearance of the relevant items; the exporter reclaims the deposit upon re-exporting the items from Vietnam and turning the ATA Carnet card back to VCCI. In case the items are not exported out of Vietnam, VCCI is responsible to Vietnam Customs for any import duties.