The Vietnamese currency is the đồng, and it is represented by the symbol ₫.
A rough guide: US$1 = VND20,000. Yes, that’s 20 thousands Dong. Well technically it is about US$1 = VND22,000 but rounding off makes it easier to remember and calculate.
The major denomination of the dong is 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000, 500,000 in plastic notes.
The 10,000 note and the 100,000 note is almost identical to tourists. Please pay extra attention when you are given change.
The smaller notes are made of paper. I usually leave the smaller note when given the change. Coins are extremely rare and I do not remember having any in my possession.
ATTENTION!!!! THIS IS NOT MONEY!!!
This is what we refer to as Hellnote, or Ngan Hang Dia Phu. It is incense paper Vietnamese burned for the deceased. They are meant to be spent in Hell!
Can I Use US Dollars in Vietnam?
Legally, all transaction must be done in the dong. But almost everyone will accept the greenback. However, using the dollar does not necessarily mean that you are getting an upper hand.
If you use US dollars to pay a street vendor, he will give you a crappy exchange rate and you cannot even bargain, or you will not even get any change back!
In addition to the poor exchange rate quoted, your mind will be racing like mad trying to figure out how much will that be in your local currency.
If you go to a restaurant and request to pay in US$, you will get one of the worst exchange rate in this world. The only time you will get a better exchange rate is when you change your money with a black market money exchanger.
So just use DONG. I only use US dollars when I want to buy something expensive and carrying the equivalent of DONG will mean carrying two kilos of money in my backpack, and waiting 20 minutes for the staff to count the notes.
Change some money beforehand
As the Vietnam Dong is not an international traded currency, whatever rate you get back home cannot match those money changer in Vietnam. You may want to change US$50 at home so you can use it for taxi, purchase a drink, etc. when you arrive at the airport in Vietnam, or at the border crossing.
The largest Dong denomination is VND500,000. Haha, yes half a million dong. That is about US$25. So imagine buying an air conditioning units that cost US$2,000. When I first visited Saigon back in early 2000s the largest denomination commonly circulated was VND100,000. Businesses and shops were reluctant to accept VND500,000 back then. Some never even heard of or saw a VND500,000!
Always ask for smaller denomination if possible. Taking a short taxi trip will only cost VND30,000 and if you give the driver a VND500,000 note he will just shrug and tell you he has no change for that, or worse short change you, or worst will not give you any change back.
For tipping, it is fine if you tip in your own nation’s currency or US dollars.
So after you have settle in your hotel you can then hunt for the best exchange rate. I have a page on where to exchange money in Saigon (the old name for Ho Chi Minh City).