Always carry business cards when you visit Vietnam and distribute them at every business meeting. When you meet someone for the first time in Vietnam, it is polite to offer your card with both hands. Upon receiving a card, do not stuff it into your pocket. Take a minute to look at the person’s card, take care to pronounce their name correctly and acknowledge their title to show your counterpart that you value the opportunity to meet them. When you have finished engaging with the individual, place the business card in your wallet or purse, to show respect.
If you have a business card that is in English and Vietnamese, it is good etiquette to present the card with the Vietnamese side facing upwards.
The order for a Vietnamese name is family name, middle name and given name. Vietnamese names list the surname first, so when referring to a Vietnamese person, use their given name, prefixed by the appropriate term of reference. Hence, the Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung should be referred to as Mr Dung.
Keep in mind that many Vietnamese have learnt English at high school or university and may not necessarily have had any particular level of contact with native English speakers. Thus you will need to speak slowly and concisely. Remember to avoid using words in English that are specific to a particular country or region, and if someone does not understand certain words, try using a different version (e.g footpath, sidewalk or pavement).
It is impolite to undermine the authority of a more senior Vietnamese person by directing questions or responding to a more junior person whose English skills may be better. When using interpreters, it is polite to talk directly to the person you are dealing with and maintain eye contact.
The climate in Vietnam can be quite hot all year round, particularly in the South so it is advisable to make allowances for this when selecting your business wardrobe. However Hanoi does have a winter season and can experience temperatures as low as 7 or 8 degrees celcius. Probably the most suitable business attire is a lightweight suit for both men and women or smart trousers with a collar and tie for men, skirt and blouse for women.
Handshakes are used upon meeting and departing. Some Vietnamese use a two-handed shake, with the left hand on top of the right wrist.
Vietnamese are a polite people and will often smile and agree with you when in fact they may not have fully understood what you have said. The smile and nod are usually to acknowledge that you have spoken, and may not always indicate a firm agreement.
It is often advisable to have bilingual sales literature, including business cards and product manuals, available for more complex negotiations. It is useful to have an agenda and relevant papers translated into Vietnamese prior to the meeting so both sides are clear on what they wish to discuss.
Eating and drinking is a major part of doing business in Vietnam. Toasting at banquets is a common activity during dinner. Many Vietnamese men may smoke during the meal. When cognac or whisky is served at a meal, the custom is for individuals to drink only after a toast is made.
Returning a toast is standard practice. Common toasts are "Tram Phan Tram" (100% Bottoms Up) and "Chuc Suc Khoe" (Good Health).
Hierarchy and face manifest themselves in different ways at business meetings. For example, the most senior person should always enter the room first. Silence is also common in meetings where someone disagrees with another and remains quiet, so as not to cause a loss of face.
Relationships are critical to successful business partnerships. Always invest time in building a good relationship based on both personal and business lines. Any initial meeting should be used solely as a “getting to know you” meeting.
The official Vietnamese unit of currency is the Vietnamese Dong, often abbreviated as Dong or VND. Current regulations require businesses to advertise prices in VND only. Businesses that require the flexibility to operate in foreign currencies may apply for the right so to do.
When visiting Vietnam, it is still advisable to carry a supply of foreign currency, usually US dollars. Large bills receive better rates than small bills for currency conversions. Travellers’ cheques in US dollars can be exchanged at certain banks.
Automated Teller Machines (ATM's or cash dispensers) have experienced dramatic growth in recent years, with more than 14,410 machines and 110,021 POS machines located across the country. These provide a safe and cheap way to obtain Vietnamese currency. However, it is wise not to depend solely on ATM's when visiting areas outside of the main urban locations.
Tipping, although not customary in Vietnam, is appreciated with small tips becoming more common in recent years for the service industries.
Gifts are not commonly exchanged when meeting for the first time. However a small token over dinner or at an appropriate moment is always appreciated. The gift is not as important as the sentiment sent with it.
A box of chocolates, a bottle of cognac (for a man), or a small souvenir from your country will show that you are a considerate person.
Source: Doing Business in Vietnam 2015, Grant Thornton