A. Business Customs

1. Names: Vietnamese names begin with the family name, followed by the middle name and ending with the given name. For example, in Nguyen Anh Quang, Nguyen is the family name. He would be addressed as Mr. Quang.

2. Business Meetings: Establishing operations in Vietnam entails numerous business meetings, as face-to-face discussions are favored over telephone calls or letters. Protocol is extremely important in Vietnamese business relations. The Vietnamese culture places high value on politeness, discretion and respect for age and position. Name card exchange and tea drinking prior to meetings are typical business rituals. First meetings tend to be formal and viewed as an introductory meeting. Visitors should avoid rushing into discussion and allow the host to bring up the topics for which the meeting was intended to cover. Generally, the visitor is expected to initiate or signal the closure of the meeting. A reliable translator is essential, as many business and official meetings are conducted in Vietnamese with translators present. Visitors should not assume nor rely on the Vietnamese party to supply a translator. As the meetings establish the foundation of a good business relationship, missteps can be avoided if proper etiquette, courtesy and respect are the guiding principles. 3. Business Agenda: The Vietnamese are very conscious of having adequately prepared for meetings. When possible, submit a meeting agenda and issues to be discussed prior to the actual meeting. On the one hand, visitors should be conscious of not wasting the Vietnamese parties' time. On the other hand, visitors should be prepared to educate the Vietnamese party concerning terminology, processes and technology.

3. Business Attire: Normal business attire consists of a suit and tie for men and suit or dress for women. During the hotter months, formal dress for men is a shirt and tie. The trend in the South is to be more casual, as suit jackets are worn only on very formal occasions and first meetings.

4. The Concept of "Face": Saving "face" is extremely important to the Vietnamese. This characteristic can surface in any interaction between two or more persons and should be understood if one is to be effective business negotiations, management and problem-solving. Public criticism or display of anger is considered severe and taken very seriously in Vietnam. In front of others, Vietnamese may also be reluctant to admit that they do not understand something or have made an error. This is one reason why meeting agendas are preferred in advance. Often a Vietnamese will respond to an uncomfortable or unpleasant situation with a smile or no expression, which should not be interpreted as a flippant or condescending attitude. Tact, sensitivity and discretion are considered a more effective approach in such situations. In many cases, a Vietnamese counterpart will also be concerned with having the foreign party not lose "face." Therefore, the Vietnamese party will act as if they are approving the proposal or business idea, while in fact, they have decided not to pursue the deal. This can be frustrating and confusing for foreign business executives.

B. Travel Advisory And Visas

1. Airlines/Hotels: There are no direct flights to Vietnam from the U.S. and therefore visitors coming from the U.S. will need to make a transit stop in one of the Asian hub cities. It is important not to lose the customs and entry/exit form issued upon arrival, as they are required upon leaving the country. Hotels of international standards are limited to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Prices in these hotels are considered high by regional standards at their level of quality and cost, about $150 per night. Recently, both cities have seen a boom in the opening of mini-hotels oriented toward the business client and long- term staying guests. These hotels offer limited but dependable service at cheaper prices, starting from $50 per night. Advance reservation, as well as confirmation in writing, is advised.

2. Entry Requirements: U.S. passports are valid for travel in Vietnam. Visas are required and relevant information may be obtained from the Embassy of Vietnam, 1233 20th Street, Suite 501, N.W., Washington, DC 20036 (telephone 202-861-0737, fax 202-861-0917) or from a travel agent who organizes travel to Vietnam.

3. Medical Facilities: With the exception of several privately-owned and operated clinics in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, most medical facilities do not meet international hygienic standards and frequently lack medicines and supplies. The Vietnamese National Administration of Tourism has created a program to provide emergency medical assistance, including evacuations to all visitors holding valid tourist visas and traveling in groups. The Vietnam Investment Review and Vietnam Economic Times both provide listings of reputable foreign doctors or medical services available in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Specific questions regarding health matters can be directed to the Centers for Disease Control's International Travelers Hotline, telephone (404) 332-4559. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation, has proven to be useful. In cases of death of foreigners, charges for cremation or shipment of remains have generally been very high.

4. Information on Crime: Petty crime is a problem in Ho Chi Minh City. Petty theft, briefcase and purse snatching, and pick-pocketing are common, particularly on the city's main streets, and are prevalent in the areas around the major hotels. Assaults have been reported in outlying areas. Some cyclo drivers have reportedly kidnapped passengers and extorted money; therefore, it may be risky to hire cyclos not associated with reputable hotels or other establishments such as restaurants. Burglaries of expatriate homes are also a problem. Lost or stolen passports should be reported to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. Useful information on safeguarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad". It is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.

5. Drug Penalties: Travelers are of course subject to the laws and legal practices of the country in which they are traveling. Penalties for possession, use and trafficking in illegal drugs are strict in the case of Vietnam. Long jail sentences and fines are common, and some Vietnamese have been executed for drug smuggling.

6. Arrest of Americans: Vietnamese security personnel may place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. Large gatherings, such as those forming at the scene of traffic accidents, can become unruly or even violent. Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest may result in problems with authorities. Occasionally, foreign visitors to Vietnam have been arbitrarily arrested, detained or expelled for activities that would not be considered crimes in the U.S. Visitors deemed suspicious may be detained, along with their Vietnamese contacts, relatives, and friends. Involvement in politics, possession of political material or unsanctioned religious activities can result in detention. The U.S. government and the government of Vietnam have agreed upon each other's rights of access to detain nationals bearing their respective passports and that bearers of U.S. passports who enter Vietnam with a Vietnamese visa will be regarded as U.S. citizens for purposes of access. Vietnamese authorities have, however, treated U.S. passport holders who were formerly Vietnamese citizens, and their children, as Vietnamese citizens during criminal proceedings, denying access by U.S. authorities. In general, Vietnamese authorities have failed to notify the U.S. government of arrests of U.S. passport bearers, particularly those born in Vietnam, in a timely fashion or to provide access to American citizens under detention.

7. Passport Seizures/Exit Bans: The Vietnamese government has seized the passports and blocked the departure from Vietnam of foreigners involved in commercial disputes. In such circumstances, the U.S. government may re-issue a passport to an American citizen who applies for one. The Vietnamese exit ban, however, would remain in effect, thereby preventing departure. Americans involved in traffic accidents have not been allowed to leave the country before paying compensation --often determined arbitrarily -- for property damage or injuries to Vietnamese nationals.

8. Property Issues and Lifting of the Embargo: On January 28, 1995, the government of the United States and the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam signed agreements resolving diplomatic property issues and settling outstanding claims between the two countries. For more information contact: the Assistant Legal Adviser for International Claims and Investment Disputes, Department of State, SA-44 Room 205, Washington, DC 20520 telephone (202) 776-8360. Pursuant to the February 3, 1994, lifting of the trade embargo against Vietnam, U.S. visitors to Vietnam are no longer subject to spending limitations. Vietnam is now listed under U.S. export controls applicable to Country Group Y. Business representatives must comply with all normal Commerce Department export requirements. For additional information contact: the Bureau of Export Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20230, telephone (202) 482-4811.

9. Dual Nationality: U.S. citizens who were born in Vietnam or are former citizens of Vietnam and their children, while required to obtain visas as foreigners, are treated in criminal matters as Vietnamese nationals by Vietnamese authorities. They also have been subjected to Vietnamese laws that impose special obligations upon Vietnamese nationals, such as military service and taxes. Specific questions on dual nationality may be directed to the Embassy of Vietnam, Washington D.C., or to the Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management, Department of State, Washington, DC 20520. 10. U.S. Embassy office location: The U.S. Embassy provides most consular functions except for immigrant visa issuance which continues to be handled by the Orderly Departure Program at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. The U.S. Embassy provides limited visa services (for Diplomatic, professional, and education program travel Only). Office hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 p.m., and is located at 7 Lang Ha, Hanoi Socialist Republic of Vietnam, telephone (844) 843-1500 an fax (844) 843-1510.

C. Business Hours And Holidays

1. Business Hours: Business hours for government offices are generally Monday through Saturday between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. with a lunch hour sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.. Commercial offices hours are typically 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a 1-hour lunch break. Banks are generally open until 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday and until 11:30 am on Saturdays. Shops are usually open into the evenings and on Sundays, and restaurants stay open at late as 10:00 p.m. Vietnam is usually 12 hours ahead of standard East Coast time, except when the U.S. is on daylight savings times, then Vietnam is 11 hours ahead. Vietnam is a single time zone.

2. Official Holidays: The most important holiday in Vietnam is Tet, the Lunar New Year, which typically falls between end January to mid- February. It is officially celebrated for four days, but business generally slows down for one week before and one week after the celebration. The other official holidays are 1 January (New Year's Day), 30 April (Liberation Day or Reunification Anniversary), 1 May (Labor Day), and 2 September (National Day commemorating the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam).

D. Business Infrastructure

1. Money: Vietnam's currency is the dong, which has maintained a relatively stable exchange rate between 10,500 - 11,500 dong to 1 U.S. dollar. Large denominations receive a better exchange rate. The foreign exchange laws prohibit the use of dollars for daily transactions, but many hotels, restaurants and other establishments still accept dollars. Credit cards are also accepted at most major hotels, many restaurants and a few shops. Credit card cash advances are available at most banks. Ho Chi Minh City has an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) at the Hong Kong Bank branch in District 1, which accepts cards issued by Wells Fargo Bank, all VISA cards and other cards linked with the PLUS network. Traveller's checks are fairly new and can be cashed at some banks. Foreign individuals and business entities may open bank accounts in either dong or dollar denominations at one of Vietnam's four commercial banks or a licensed foreign bank. The State Bank of Vietnam (Vietcombank) offers the full range of banking services and has offices in most major cities. Some foreign banks with a branch office license may also offer a range of banking services (banks listed in Appendix E).

2. Office Facilities: There is increasing availability of quality commercial property in Ho Chi Minh City. Some international standard office that are available, with current price per square meters (psm) in parenthesis, include 58 Dong Khoi ($40 psm), Hai Nam ($30 psm), Landmark ($39-$53 psm), and P.D.D. ($40-$45). The market is tighter in Hanoi than Ho Chi Minh City: Central Building ($50-$55 psm), City Gate (from $27 psm), HITC ($35 psm) and the International Centre ($45-$50 psm).

3. Residential Accommodations: Visitors to Vietnam are required to live in hotels or authorized guest houses. Foreign parties permitted to rent houses in Vietnam include representative offices, licensed foreign-invested projects and individuals with residence permits of at least 6 months. Houses need approval for rentals to foreigners, and rental contracts need to be registered at the Foreign Services Company (FOSCO) or another authorized body. There is a shortage of houses of Western standard and quality. Overall, prices are high compared to U.S. prices.

4. Postal Services: The central post office (buu dien) in major cities offers a range of services, including mailing of postcards, letters and packages; telephone and fax services; post office boxes; and sale of stationary items. Express mail service for international mail is provided by Vietnam's express mail service (EMS) or one of the foreign express delivery companies: Airborne Express, DHL Worldwide Express, FedEx, TNT Express Worldwide and UPS.

5. Telecommunication: International direct dial (IDD)and fax service are available at the post office and most business standard hotels. Communication costs in Vietnam are some of the highest in the region, as the government has been funding a countrywide expansion and upgrade of the network. International calls from Vietnam can be three times the cost of calls originating from overseas. Hotels also tend to add high surcharges on telephone and fax service. Collect calls can only be placed through the post office. Large companies that need frequent downloading of huge volumes of information are using leased lines as a link to their overseas offices. Private fax machines must be licensed by the post office. Subscription to "call-back service" is currently banned by Vietnamese authorities. Costs for mobile communication (pagers and phones) are falling and in-country coverage is expanding. Start-up costs (connection and phone units) are about $500 to $900, plus monthly subscription and usage fees.

6. Transportation: Travel within Vietnam is becoming easier with frequent domestic flights connecting the major cities. A return trip ticket between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi is about $330 for economy class and $445 for business class. Domestic departure tax is 15,000 dong. In major cities, metered taxi are plentiful and relatively inexpensive, especially in Ho Chi Minh City where 12 taxi companies compete for passengers. Self-drive rental cars are not yet available. A car with a driver can be rented for around $40 to $60 per day. They can be booked through most major hotels or tour companies.

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Last update: March 1997 by VACETS