The Vietnamese Dồng: 5 Essential Facts about Vietnam’s Currency

Last updated on March 6th, 2024 at 10:35 pm

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50,000 Vietnamese Dong

With natural beauty and a growing economy, Vietnam is a vibrant and culturally rich Southeast Asian country with a deep sense of history. The country continues to develop at a healthy pace, and aims to become a high-income nation by 2045. Vietnamese currency and currency transfers are important to residents of Vietnam and to its large diaspora. Vietnamese people living abroad send home both VND and USD to support their loved ones.

The Vietnamese đồng (VND) is primarily issued by the State Bank of Vietnam, which is the Southeast Asian country’s central bank. Its name comes from the Vietnamese word for “copper.” The đồng has been the official currency of Vietnam since 1978, though it’s undergone many changes since its inception.

For instance, it used to be subdivided into small units, known as hào and xu. Neither of these denominations, though, is used today. Modern banknotes range from 100 to 500,000 đồngs, with the largest note being the equivalent of about $22 USD.

A brief history of Vietnamese currency

  • The đồng officially replaced the French Indochinese piastre in 1946, when it was introduced by the Viet Minh government (later known as the government of North Vietnam).
  • In the early 1950s, the South Vietnamese government adopted a different form of the national currency.
  • The fall of Saigon in 1975 led to the currency in South Vietnam being converted to the liberation đồng.
  • In the mid-1980s, the currency was revalued, making every new đồng worth 10 old đồngs.

1. You won’t be able to retire on 1 million Vietnamese đồng.

Collage of happy Asian people

Surpassed only by the Iranian Rial, the Vietnamese đồng is the second-lowest-valued currency in the world. For visitors to Vietnam, this often leads to the surprise that they’re “instant millionaires” upon converting foreign currency into đồng.

While that’s technically true, having a million đồng does not make you wealthy.

At the time of this writing, for example, 1 million đồng is worth about $43 U.S. dollars. That is roughly the amount that a tourist would spend per day vacationing in Hanoi.

2. Don’t expect to use coins in Vietnam.

Once travelers get over the new realities of being a millionaire and that not meaning much, the next big surprise usually comes when they go to make a purchase and realize that coins are rarely used in Vietnamese currency.

Due to chronic inflation, the Vietnamese government has paused the production of coins at various points, last resuming production at the end of 2003 when they minted coins in 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000 đồng denominations.

However, while the law says Vietnamese coins should be accepted as legal tender, some businesses, and even banks, may refuse them. That’s because they’re widely seen as collector’s items due to their incredibly low value.

3. The same man is on every banknote.

If you’re used to seeing bills like the United States dollar, New Zealand dollar, Thai baht, or Swiss franc, you’ll expect that every denomination of a national currency is marked by a different historical figure. Yet, this isn’t true for the Vietnam đồng, every denomination of which focuses on the same historical figure.

The face on these banknotes is that of Ho Chi Minh, popularly known as “Uncle Ho.” Uncle Ho is a national figure loved by some and vilified by others, but either way, his face is known by everyone in Vietnam.

If you find it harder to differentiate between denominations, take a look at the backside of the banknotes. There, you’ll see various national symbols, helping to distinguish between the notes.

4. Vietnamese đồng banknotes come in two “families,” based on their material.

Various Vietnamese Dong and heart-shaped bills

All Vietnamese currency notes belong to one of two “families.” Banknotes of lesser value form the “cotton” family, and the others are the “polymer” family.

Cotton family

Notes in the cotton family are of low value. You’ll rarely touch them because you simply can’t buy a lot with them.

Five notes fall into this family: VND$200, VND$500, VND$1,000, VND$2,000, and VND$5,000. (In current USD values, these range in value from less than a penny to $0.22).

A 200 đồng note is bronze in color. You can’t buy anything with it alone, and for that reason, it’s quite rare to see one being used. The 500 đồng red notes are slightly more popular, but even a small snack would likely cost at least a 1,000 đồng note, which is purple.

The more common but still low-value 2,000 and 5,000 đồng notes are brown and blue, respectively.

Locals often collect these low-value cotton notes and later gamble with them during the holidays. For example, gambling is a popular activity during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, when people use cotton notes in the same way people would use change for “penny slots” in the United States.

Adding to their perceived (and actual) lower value is that cotton family notes are easily torn. They are also often damaged by water.

Polymer family

Notes in the polymer family are a bit more expensive to produce, but they also last longer than cotton notes. They’re also worth more.

The more of these you’ve got, the more buying power you have, with notes ranging from VND$10,000, VND$20,000, VND$50,000, VND$100,000, and VND$200,000 to VND$500,000.

All six of these notes are tougher, making them more resistant to water damage and general wear-and-tear.

Locals and travelers alike use the VND$50,000 note the most. At the time of writing, it’s worth about $2.15 USD and is recognizable for its pink color. With this note, you can generally order a full meal, including a drink and dessert.

On the back of the bill, you’ll find an image of Phu Van Lau, a famous pavilion in Hue.

5. Mix-ups are common.

When making a purchase with Vietnamese đồng, be careful that you don’t accidentally hand over too many. These banknotes, especially the polymer đồng, can stick together.

Another problem for people who use high-denomination notes is that they have trouble getting change. Street vendors in particular often don’t have enough change.

In order to avoid these problems, someone using đồng might keep the higher-value polymer notes in a different compartment of their wallets or purses.

Understanding the VND exchange rate

Person holding 500000 Vietnamese Dong bills

To know how much a dollar (or equivalent) would be worth in Vietnamese đồng, you’ll want to ask your bank, check with your money transfer service, or check the Forex charts for USD/VND (or your currency of choice).

To get a sense of typical exchange rates for Vietnam’s money, take a look at these approximate exchange rates from June of 2022 for the đồng against other popular currencies:

  • American dollar ≈ VND$23,249
  • British pound ≈ VND$28,472
  • Euro ≈ VND$24,452
  • Swiss franc ≈ VND$24,173
  • Canadian dollar ≈ VND$17,895
  • Australian dollar ≈ VND$16,036
  • New Zealand dollar ≈ VND$14,616
  • Japanese yen ≈ VND$172
  • Singaporean dollar ≈ VND$16,719
  • Hong Kong dollar ≈ VND$2,961
  • Taiwanese dollar (New Taiwan dollar) ≈ VND$781
  • Thai baht ≈ VND$654