The official currency in Vietnam is Dong. The Dong is non-convertible and at the time of writing (May 2010) trades at approximately 18,900 to USD1. The U S dollar, preferably crisp clean bills, is widely accepted among major shops and restaurants. The Euro, Pound and various other currencies are also easy to exchange. Travelers checks can be cashed at authorized foreign exchange outlets and banks and require presentation of passport . There is normally a 2 to 5 percent transaction fee for cashing Travelers checks. Visa and Master card are becoming more accepted in many of the bigger hotels and restaurants, especially in the larger cities.

Make sure that the Vietnamese notes you receive are not torn, this is because many shops and restaurants will not accept them. Also try not to change too much money at one time, as you will end up with a large wad of notes. The largest denomination is currently 500,000 dong (approx. U S$ 26). Be careful, the 20,000 notes look only slightly different from the 500,000 one but the value is a big gap. Handy tip: Keep 500,000 dong notes separate from your other dong notes. Less chance of confusion then.

In 2004 Vietnam introduced coins for smaller transactions. These are in the form of 200 (rare); 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 Dong. Other paper denominations include 200 (rare), 500, 1,000, 2,000; 5,000; 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100000 and 200,000 Dong. Most are clearly identifiable by colour.

When you are agreeing prices with Taxi drivers or shops, try to agree the price in the currency you intend to pay with (Dong or U S Dollars) to save arguments later about the exchange rate you were expecting.  While most will use a rate of around 18,500VND to the dollar, some do try to argue differently.  Always double check the conversion rate you have been offered.

Also with such high denominations of note, be careful of common scams run by street sellers where you are short changed by a factor of ten (eg as part of your change, you may receive five 200 dong notes as “10,000 VND!).

There are a number of international banks operating in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with 24hour cash withdrawal facilities, including ANZ Bank in Hanoi and the HSBC in Ho Chi Minh City. Here cash can be withdrawn on Visa and Master cards as well as other cards such as Cirrus.

Withdraw cash advance through ATM: Under VNese law, ATM may only dispense cash in Vietnamese Dong. Current amounts that can be withdrawn at any one time is usually 4,000,000 Dong with a 20,000 Dong additional usage charge if not your own bank ( a number of ATM’s still only allow 2,000,000 Dong to be withdrawn) but ANZ ATM’s allow a far higher limit. There is nothing to stop you putting your card back in to get more money out but remember you are still subject to your own bank’s daily cash withdrawal limits. Also, ensure you tell your bank before travelling to Vietnam if you intend to use your card to withdraw cash from ATM’s. The machines here use the magnetic strip not chip and pin technology.

Most ATMs enables you to withdraw cash from VISA, MASTER CARD, CIRRUS, PLUS, MAESTRO, JCB, DINNER CLUB through its network, 24 hours per day.

While traveler’s checks have become somewhat obsolete in many places due to the advent of ATM’s, in Vietnam they are quite useful.  You can cash U.S. dollar checks at  banks in Hanoi (don’t know about elsewhere) for a 1.25-1.5% charge.  This is no more expensive than using an ATM, once you figure in bank fees.  Note that using travelers checks is most useful if you can buy your checks without a commission, which some banks and other organizations (the AAA in the U.S., for example) offer their customers.

Also note that there are no exchange facilities at Hanoi’s international airport:  once through the immigration gate there is no real choice other than spending any dong at the (reasonably priced) souvenir shops, or donating them to