Business Hours

  • Most Vietnamese are early risers, so businesses and shops open early, especially the food markets. It is customary to shop for fresh vegetables and meat early in the morning.
  • Most businesses are open Monday through Saturday from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm
  • Banks are open Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm and on Saturdays from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm. Lunchtime is usually between 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.
  • Many businesses, shops, and all government offices are closed during this lunch period. Shops are open from about 7:30 am to 9:00 pm, with some open longer.
  • Most western style restaurants will close by 10PM, however, Vietnamese “street” cafes often stay open all night. Particularly in Saigon, it is quite common to see people crowding into these small food establishments during the midnight hours.

Vietnamese Corporations

  • There are both public and private sector enterprises in Vietnam, although most of the big companies are state-owned, state-run companies. There are three types of companies: those owned by and operated by the central government (usually large, politically managed businesses), those owned and operated by the local people's committees (have lower quality level of management), and privately owned and operated companies (new and generally well-managed, but tend to be patriarchal with centralized decision-making, and often very shallowly financed). It is usually much easier to deal with the private enterprises, however, many of them do not have the capacity and capability to deliver.
  • It can be very helpful to cultivate ministry contacts. Each ministry has an international relations director. All contacts and approvals must go through this department unless otherwise authorized by the minister or other senior official.
  • Foreign companies doing business in Vietnam will have to interact with the local People's Committee, which oversees local city and district investments and projects. The State Committee for Cooperation and Investment is responsible for attracting foreign investment and must issue the final approval for any transaction. Approvals can take a long time depending on the size of the project. Your local representative should be able to manage this process for you.

Natural Resources & Industries

Vietnam’s natural resources include phosphates, coal, manganese, bauxite, chromate, oil and gas and timber. Industries include food processing, garments, shoes, mining, cement, chemical fertilizer, glass, oil and tin. The main agricultural products include rice, corn, potatoes, rubber, soybeans, coffee, tea, bananas, poultry, pigs and fish.

Major Imports/Exports

  • Major exports are oil, marine products, rice, coffee, rubber, tea, garments and shoes.
  • Major imports are machinery, equipment, petroleum, products, steel, fertilizer, cotton, grain, cement and motorcycles.

Vietnamese Corporations

There are both public and private sector enterprises in Vietnam, although most of the big There are both public and private sector enterprises in Vietnam, although most of the big

Doing Business with the Vietnamese

  1. Build Relationships - For any business to be consummated, you must make a long-term commitment to the country and visit it. Vietnamese are still a conservative and relationship-based society and connections over time and face-to-face meetings are critical in building trust and encouraging support.
  • Vietnamese are eager for Americans to participate in their economy and balance the interest expressed by Europeans, Japanese, and other Asians. They have a respect for American technology and popular culture.
  • If a Vietnamese gives you a compliment, be polite and deny it. Modesty is considered a blessing in Vietnam. Self-depreciating humor and not overly promoting yourself or your associates success is better received and can lead to smoother relations with your counterparts.
  • Business cards are always exchanged at the first meeting. The Vietnamese often use both hands to receive and give cards and also slightly bow their head to indicate respect. Take a minute to look at the persons card, to pronounce their name and to acknowledge their.
  • Bring a large supply of business cards and advertising material. You may meet many more people than you expect. Vietnamese view the exchange of business cards in particularly as a very necessary opening ritual. Not presenting your card can be construed as your company is not genuine or you have something to hide,
  • The Vietnamese shake hands with both men and women at both the beginning and the end of a meeting. If a Vietnamese does not extend his or her handshake, a slight bow of head will suffice. This is particularly common in the more rural areas and in interaction with women.
  • At any business meeting you will usually be served tea and something to eat. Generally this will be Vietnamese green tea or soft drinks. Be sure to sample them. Failure to taste or drink a small amount of anything is considered impolite. You also may be offered a cigarette. Vietnamese men, as many Asians, are avied smokers. It is OK to refuse the cigarette as most Vietnamese realize that most westerners do not smoke.
  • Have your written materials translated into Vietnamese. Many Vietnamese today have or are studying English or other foreign languages. Most, however, still feel more comfortable with their own language.
  • Most foreigners will also need to use translators. If there is any question about the comprehension of English by the people you are meeting, always use your own translator or interpreter. Do not rely on the other organizations translator or interpreter. They work for the other side and are more likely to protect their business interest and to focus on their interests not yours. It is easy to find good translators from the local universities or through your local representative. Fees are very reasonable. However, always meet with your interpreter prior to the meeting and make sure they understand you and your company.
  • Try to speak more slowly and distinctly but not so slow or distinct as to offend. When utilizing a translator, leave breaks for your ideas to be translated. Keep in mind that most Vietnamese have been educated in Vietnam and the standard of English is low. Avoid buzzwords and explain concepts thoroughly.
  • When you meet with senior officials, after initial pleasantries, begin discussing business within a few minutes, for there may be few opportunities to meet with the senior person and their time is at a premium. With middle and junior level officials, you should concentrate on relationship building.
  • Although senior officials may politely say "No," the average Vietnamese is unlikely to say "No," and will go to great lengths to maintain harmony. Be careful not to make erroneous assumptions. Ask indirect questions.
  • Use your local partner to make frequent visits to monitor any new or ongoing transactions and to build relationships.
  • Communicating with other countries via telephone calls and faxes is very expensive for the Vietnamese. Solutions to this problem include: offering to reimburse your counterpart for his or her communication expenses, setting up and utilizing an email account for your counterpart, or establishing an internet chat link (e.g., AOL Instant Message, Yahoo, etc.) with your counterpart.
  1. Learn the Culture - Try to learn a few words of the local language and learn a few things about the countries history and recent economic developments. This show's your interest and is considered a demonstration of your cultural sensitivity.
  • The order for a Vietnamese name is family name, middle name, and given name. When referring to someone, use his or her given name with the appropriate title, for example, "Le Thi Chi" should be addressed as "Madame Le". If the person you are meeting is the Director of an office or of a company, referring to him or her as Director and then his last name is appropriate.
  • Vietnamese people who know each other often refer to each other by the name of the relationship, e.g. my brother, my niece. This is sometimes just to indicate respect. It may not really be his/her family members, but indicates somebody very close to the speaker. This can be confusing for non-Asians but indicates that the person thinks of the other as being a close contact "like a" brother or sister.
  • Vietnamese men often feel uncomfortable socializing with foreign women. They also often assume that women are more comfortable in talking with other women and will often seat them accordingly at meals or sometimes in social meetings.
  • A common greeting "chao" (pronounced chow) should be accompanied with the appropriate title, respect for age and status, e.g. "chao anh" (for male, older or those you want to show respect), "chao chi"(to older female), "chao em" (to younger male and female). Even if you believe the other person maybe younger than you, it is often best to err on the side of being overly polite and using the "chao Anh" or "chao Chi" initially when meeting a contact. It is however safe to use just "xin chao"(pronouced seen chao) which is a very polite hello and good bye without identify title.
  • Keep in mind that in Vietnam dates are shown in day/month/year format, ex. 9/12/99 means December 9, 1999. To avoid confusion, you may want to use the full date in correspondence.
  • Be careful about what you say when you are in Vietnam. It is not unusual for the government to monitor telephone and fax lines. The government continues to monitor foreign business people in hotels, taxis, and cars, and meeting rooms. Vietnamese individuals such as maids, drivers, assistants, and even translators may be passing on information about you to the government. This is done for reasons of both security and business competitiveness.
  • Do not touch a person's head, for the head is considered the spiritual center of the person.
  • Use both hands to pass things from one person to the next..
    Do not point to someone. To beckon a person, use your whole hand.
  • Corruption as a standard business practice is a problem in Vietnam as it is in many developing countries. The government is working hard to discourage it, but it is still quite prevailant. Beware of Vietnamese officials and businessmen who offer to “streamline” your business process or help you “bypass” current law and regulations, of course for a fee.
  1. Get Connected - Connections and introductions are an important part of doing business in Vietnam. A written introduction or a meeting arranged by a go-between will produce the best results. Because who you are introduced by can be very critical, finding a reliable and credible local representative is extremely important. There are some consulting firms that are intimately familiar with the Vietnamese market, but companies should be wary of foreign and Vietnamese consultants who claim to have connections and to know the market. The application process to establish a local office can be time-consuming, taking up to 18 months. Companies that are not ready to establish a permanent base in Vietnam should consider hiring a local representative to perform support services, open new doors and to monitor any ongoing negotiation processes. Recently it appears that the government is taking some steps to simplify the process to open a representative office. This can be a good first step for many projects.
  2. Research - It is imperative that you conduct research while still in the US, learn about Vietnam, the marketplace, and identify local representatives and target companies for contact. Use this knowledge in discussions with contacts, etc. as often a little knowledge can lead to additional sources that will greatly strengthen your market research. Contact embassies and chamber of commerce in your home country and in Vietnam. Foreign Commercial Office representatives at your countries Embassy and the local chamber of commerce of your country often have excellent business information and can be great sources of networking.
  • Generally, business is most efficiently conducted in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). But Hanoi often has lower capital requirements and the officials are more eager to please. As you spread out from these two cities, local officials are often enthusiastic for foreign investment but also infrastructure and communications can often be more problematic.
  • Vietnamese will review your business proposals and requests, evaluating standard business issues as well as the extent of technology transfer and employee training. This last issue can often be a critical factor, for few Vietnamese have specialized training for manufacturing or management functions. Consensus building is the key aspect of decision-making, and the process remains very bureaucratic, with most decisions made by committee. Realize clearly and in advance that your time schedule will probably not be shared. Everything will take much more time than you expect.
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