Vietnam Money Woes

I alluded to having money problems right from the start of this journey in this post. Our money woes weren’t a result of our personal bank accounts or our credit cards. Or even  from lack of cash in our wallets.

It was all caused by the big bad dong. Or rather the ATMs from which you can’t always get them.

I was armed with information. Honest.

Here’s what I thought I knew from a host of sources:

  • ATMs can be found all over the place, especially in major cities (not necessarily bank branded)
  • ATM brands that accept foreign credit cards include Vietcombank, Citibank, Military Bank, and Saigon Commercial Bank
  • Military Bank (MB) ATMs do not charge fees for withdrawing cash (Perfect!)
  • Depending on the ATM, you can withdraw up to 8,000,000 VND or $434 Canadian (kind of like a unicorn IMHO)
  • Oh, and don’t worry about withdrawing dong at the airport where the exchange rate is poor because the taxis accept credit cards. This is simply not true! Maybe some people get lucky, but none of the cabs we took had working debit machines.

Armed with this information and the location of nearby MB ATMs, we all set off early on our first steamy morning in the Old Quarter. In search of some dong. It didn’t take long before we were sweaty and dirty and already tired from the difficult task of crossing the street in Hanoi.

We had to backtrack a couple of times because we couldn’t see the MB ATM we were looking for although the map showed that we were right on top of it.  We passed a whole bunch of other ATMs, dubious looking and with logos that we didn’t recognize.

Sweaty, hot and dirty. We wasted a few hours on this task before giving up. We still had all the some 440,000 dong that we exchanged at the Sheraton Hanoi for $20 USD our first morning in Vietnam.

Round Two

Refreshed, the next morning just Rob and I set out again in search of the elusive dong. We found the MB ATM in no time and as soon as we inserted our card, it greeted us by name and nationality right there on the screen (before the PIN!).

The highest preset withdrawal option was 5,000,000 VND. So I gave that a go.

‘Transaction not permitted’ it spit out my card.

I tried the preset amount 3,000,000 VND. No go. I tried twice more with the preset limits with no success. I tried two different cards. No dong.

Now, this ATM is inside a little glass booth, Think sauna. I was in there for at least five minutes trying various combinations of cards and amounts. On the bright side, none of my cards were eaten. And it was downright breezy when I finally got out of the booth.

Where Did We Go Wrong?

Previously, I researched ‘getting money in Hanoi’ or some such thing. This time I googled ‘can’t get money from ATM in Vietnam’. Now, this is the information we really needed.

Turns out:

  • ATMs in Vietnam don’t hold much cash (relative).
  • When they get low on cash, they stop dispensing the higher withdrawal options.
  • When they run out of cash completely, you wouldn’t know it. It just denies the transaction. This makes you think your particular card doesn’t work at that brand.

We did eventually get some dong.

Our first solution was exchanging US dollars at the bank for a poor exchange rate. That $100 USD lasted quite awhile.

Our best option was just to keep on trying at any of the known brand ATMs, preferably the Military Bank ATMs. If you have the patience and can withstand the heat, start with 8,000,000 dong and work your way down from there. Eventually you may have success. Or not.

Over our four weeks in Vietnam we withdrew about 17 million dong, $933 Canadian. The highest amount we were able to get at once was 5,700,000 VND or just $316 Canadian. But most ATMs only let us take 2,000,000 VND ($110) at a time. And aside from Military Bank, the ATM tacked on their own cut in return for their exceptional service.

Fortunately 2,000,000 dong lasted more than a few days so we didn’t spend all our time at ATMs. But I do feel I spent more than my fair share of time sweating in a hot box.

On a personal note (because talk about sweating all over Vietnam isn’t), the money is filthy. I hated handling the grimy bills.

Rob suggested I add this important point…

Unlike back home, the ATMs in Vietnam return your card after the transaction is complete.

Yes, I left my card in the ATM!

I’m going to blame it on the long ordeal to get money in the first place. I already withdrew my card four times. It’s easy to forget I guess. Or maybe I was just excited about the dong.

After success at this particular ATM I took a few minutes to organize my few million dong. I heard a beeping noise as I was finally walking away and fortunately got my card back. No less, a local was running to the ATM from across the street and calling out to me.

So beware, remember to take your card back. The audible alert isn’t likely to help you unless you’re OCD like me and take too long to walk away. It will be quite helpful to a passerby though.

One Last Thing

I spent more than an appropriate amount of time trying to come up with a clever dong joke. Clearly I wasn’t successful but feel free to share. It has to be clever though.

Thanks for reading, Colleen


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