Flying into Vietnam from outside of the country? This will most likely be Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), or Danang.
I recently flew from HKG – SGN on Cathay and needed to figure out how to get Vietnamese dong, mobile phone service, and figure out my transportation options into the city center. Honestly, all three couldn’t have been any simpler.
By the way, check out our other posting if you need information on a Vietnam visa.
Vietnam uses the dong, which as of today is approx $1 US = 22,700 VND. Money changers at the airport can include banks, money changers, transportation companies, or mobile phone companies. There was also a Citibank ATM in SGN, but with most ATMs, one can only withdraw 2,000,000 dong at a time, and I didn’t want to deal with any fees.
Pretty much anyone will exchange currency for you at the airport, and they’ll have their posted rates on the counter. I simply walked up to some booth selling shuttle services into the city and gave them a crisp $100 US bill for approximately 2.7 million dong. Rates between the counters should be the same or very close to each other.
Take your time counting, you will probably be confused in the beginning with all of the large numbers. I haven’t had problems with fake bills in Vietnam, and wouldn’t expect you to neither, especially at the airport counters. Below shows what the money looks like, there’s also some smaller denominations 1,000 and 500.
More common currencies accepted include USD, EUR, HKD, JPY, AUD, SGD, GBP, THB. I would try to bring USD with you as generally that’s the easiest and most favorable.
Once you get some VND you can move onto getting a prepaid SIM card.
I was reading online that the government is starting to require passports for registering SIM cards, but I didn’t see anyone handling out theirs. I certainly didn’t show them any ID when purchasing mine.
As with the foreign currency exchange, everyone is selling SIM cards. I walked around to different booths, trying to find the most legit one, but they all looked kinda sketchy. I ended up approaching booths that only sold SIM cards and decided on a data only option.
Here’s a few different plans that are also being sold FYI. Choose whatever suits you best. I was reading that mobifone was supposedly the best, but I haven’t had any problems with Vinaphone in Hanoi or Saigon. Viettel I read is the best, including rural areas.
I selected Vinaphone, (because it was cheap,) I picked my 9GB data only plan for 130,000d valid for 30 days. I probably didn’t even need more than 5GB, but for only $1US more, it was a no brainer to get 9GB. Note: tethering does work well! Originally I wanted some voice services as well, but found the pricing to be very expensive, so skipped on that. We can use Skype and Whatsapp these days anyway.
Once decided I asked the lady to pop in the SIM card for me. She did it all in the span of a few seconds and activated the service. She quickly showed me how to check data usage and I asked her about topping up (refills.) She said I need to purchase another card for refills later.
The service was supposedly 4G, but I set my phone to 3G to conserve battery. Faster internet generally uses up more battery life. The data service worked immediately after she put in the SIM card, I was shocked how efficient it was.
The booth which had mobifone signs was selling Viettel sim cards, so I don’t have pricing on mobifone.
With some money and a working cell phone in hand, I was now able to call Uber. It was super easy, and you use it just as you would anywhere else.
Note, I did avoid taking a taxi cab and chose to use Uber instead, because I know some of the taxi drivers don’t speak any English and tend to rip you off. Though Hanoi to city should be flat 265k ($12 US) via Uber or taxi, but I get SPG points via Uber.
Ho Chi Minh Airport to city should be around 80,000d. Note the $3-$4 USD rides. (My Uber account is tied to a US phone number FYI.)
While my experience was for SGN airport specifically, it’ll apply at the others as well since they’re all pretty much the same.
Since I only had data I couldn’t call or message the driver, but they don’t know English anyway. As there aren’t designated pick-up zones, you need to be on the lookout for the car as he pulls into the arrivals area. I simply kept an eye on the GPS to see where he was and started standing in the middle of the street as he got closer. Then I flagged him down when I matched the license plate number. It’s a bit rudimentary but it worked. I can’t imagine him finding me otherwise with all of those people.
No problems in the car, got to my destination safely and took about 30 minutes. I did tip him 20K because I thought it was a great experience for my first time using Uber in VN and happy we found each other at the airport. But I haven’t tipped since, don’t want to impose my American ways onto other cultures, lol.
By the way, if you want an Uber promotion code and haven’t tried it yet use theresat1688ue. Alternatively click this link, to sign-up. We’ll both get a free ride. Enjoy your trip to Vietnam!