Vietnamese is the official language. It has six different tones that can change the meaning of words and they are often difficult to distinguish for non-native speakers. In written form, the language uses the Roman alphabet and accent marks to emphasise tones. English is beginning to be used in most business and tourist centres. Road signs are often in both Vietnamese and English. Some meetings may require a translator.
Meetings should be scheduled several days or weeks in advance, especially with governmental entities. All meeting requests require a letter and agenda in order for the company to prepare accordingly. The most important person you are meeting with will enter the meeting room last; when he/she arrives, you should stand and greet him/ her. Handshakes are used at the beginning and end of meetings. Please wait for a woman to extend her hand; if she does not, bow your head accordingly.
Business cards are presented at the beginning of a meeting and should be given using both hands. When receiving a business card, make sure you show proper respect and acknowledgement and do not simply put it away. Cards should remain on the table for the duration of the entire meeting.
Building relationships is extremely important in Vietnamese business partnerships. Invest time and effort in building a healthy relationship based on both personal and business interests. You should let the person you are meeting with lead the meeting and he/she will instruct when the meeting will start. Always thank the person for freeing his/her schedule at the beginning and end of the meeting.
A small but appropriate business gift is often given to government ministers or to some state-owned companies. It can be given at the end of the meeting or during a lunch or dinner organised as a follow-up on the initial meeting. Gifts should bear your company logo or be something typical of your country.
Private offices in Vietnam generally work a five-day work week, with business hours from 9.00am to 5.00pm and a one hour lunch break. Government offices are open between 7.30am and 4.30pm, Monday through Friday. Bank operating hours are generally between 7.30am or 8.00am until 11.00am, and then from 1.00pm to 4.00pm, Monday through Friday. Private shops are typically open from 8.00am or 8.30am to 9.00pm or 10.00pm.
If invited to a Vietnamese home, bring a gift such as wine, fruit, sweets or flowers. The guest should wait to be shown where to sit and the oldest person should sit first. Most dishes are eaten with chopsticks and meals are often served family style and shared by the entire table. The head will serve your plate and the guest should wait until everyone has been served to start eating. When passing a dish, use both hands, and try to finish everything on your plate.
Visitors from select countries in Europe and Asia can stay visa free if their stay does not exceed 15 or 30 days. Other nationalities must obtain a tourism or business visa through a Vietnamese embassy located abroad. More detailed visa information can be found through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, www.visa.mofa.gov.vn.
The unit of currency is the dong. It is not pegged to a foreign currency and thus fluctuates with global market rates. Banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000 dong. ATMs can be easily located throughout larger cities and often accept international bank cards.
Conservative dress is respected across all business environments in Vietnam. There is no strict dress code for visitors, although when visiting temples or pagodas, shorts and sleeveless shirts are generally prohibited. Dress appropriately and always remember to remove shoes before entering a home.
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