Using Credit Card in Vietnam

Few days ago I wrote a post about our experience using cash as method of payment when visiting Hanoi, Vietnam. This time I’m writing about our experience using credit card during our travel there.

Using credit card is very convenient as it reduces the needs to carry cash around. It also provides extra security / protection as only the card holder should be able to authorize the purchase, and if the credit card is lost, you can get the card canceled and the account blocked to prevent fraudulent use of the card. For me, it’s also convenient to keep track of my spending as I would be able to see all of the transactions in my statement at the end of the statement period.

When traveling overseas with credit card, some planning could help you save and avoid extra charge or dealing with unpleasant experience. Some credit cards charge extra foreign transaction fee when you use the card overseas. I learned this the hard way during the planning for this trip when we purchased our airline tickets for Vietnam Airlines online. It turned out that the credit card I used added the foreign transaction fee (3% of the purchase amount) since essentially the card was used to make a purchase in Vietnam. After that, I got another credit card that was specifically designed for travelers (and explicitly mentioned the ‘no foreign transaction fee’ in its key features). I used this new credit card when booking for a tour through a Vietnamese-based tour agency. This time there was no extra fee charged, and we got our tour conveniently booked and pre-paid.

Another lesson learned was to know which of the credit card payment network is more widely available in your destination country. Usually it’s pretty safe to use either Visa or MasterCard as they are very widely used around the world. In United States, you also find people using American Express and Discover. I think American Express might also be accepted especially at multi-national travel-related companies (e.g., hotels, restaurants). Discover is probably the least available among these.

After walking around Hanoi for some time, we went back to our hotel, Hanoi Serenity Hotel, to rest a little bit. Though technically we already checked out in the morning, the hotel staff was nice enough to let us hang out at their breakfast area that was located near the front desk. While we were sitting there, we observed an interesting conversation between the front desk staff and an American guest.

The conversation started with the American guest who seemed to be in his first visit to Hanoi/Vietnam asking about options for sightseeing trips. The hotel provided a service to arrange tours for its guests, so the front desk lady started providing him some options for day trip. All went great, and the guest decided to go with the recommendation for a couple of day trips to take during his visit there. Then it’s time for him to pay for the trips, and he gave her his credit card. It was a Discover Card. In the United States, some people like to use Discover Card because it gives pretty generous cash back for the purchases they make. So this gentleman apparently was hoping that he could get quite a good amount of cashbacks from his purchases during the travel. This turned out to be a problem because the credit card machine at the hotel could only take either Visa or Mastercard. The front desk lady tried to explain that to the guest, but the guest didn’t want to accept the explanation and said there must be something wrong with the hotel’s credit card machine for not taking his credit card. Eventually he decided to cancel his trip bookings and went out to look for an ATM machine somewhere to get cash (it was a Sunday, so I’m not sure how difficult it was for him to find one — especially a place that accepts his Discover Card).

So, I think from that experience I learned to carry both my Visa and Mastercard credit cards with me (now I have one from each network that does not charge foreign transaction fee), and still have some cash as back up. It’s always good to have some cash in local currency, especially in small bills. And remember that you’re in a different country where the expectation about credit card usage might be different than what you’re used to.

The photo below was taken in the Old Quarter area of Hanoi. It was a restaurant that very likely would accept credit card as method of payment, and it’s recognizeable from its logo even though the name was translated to Vietnamese, Gà rán Kentucky (Kentucky Fried Chicken).

KFC in Hanoi

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