- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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.
- Build Relationships
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Learn the Culture
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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.
- Get Connected
- 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.