Cultural tips for doing business in Vietnam

There are more and more foreign companies who want to do business in Vietnam as Vietnam has emerged as a potential market for foreign investment. Understanding Vietnamese business culture is very important to avoid any misunderstanding or even cutural disaters that can make the wrong move in doing business with Vietnam. In this article, we introduce some tips to help you communicate more successfully when being in Vietnam.

1. How do you greet in Vietnam?

Vietnamese people generally greet each other by shaking hands. Hugging is reserved for relatives only and not so popular. When saying goodbye, Vietnamese often shake hands. Bowing is not popular in greetings.

When introducing yourself to a group address yourself to older people first. People are often introduced with an explanation of their relationship in the family. To address people formally, use Mr. or Ms. or a title plus the first name.

Vietnamese business culture

2. Address your counterpart correctly

Vietnamese names generally contain three parts: surname, middle name and given name, for example, Nguyen Nhu Thao. For business purposes, it is common to call a Vietnamese person by the surname, together with a title, like Director Nguyen. If you don’t know his or her professional title, you can address him or her using their first name, such as Ms Thao or Mr Tuan.

3. Business relationship in Vietnam

Vietnamese business relationship is very social. Unlike the western culture where privacy is respected and personal information should not be revealed, in Vietnam the more you share information about your personal life such as family, hobbies, political views, etc, the closer you are in your business relationship. It is like when people know more about you, they become to trust you more and would like to do business with you.

4. Exchanging business cards

Vietnamese business culture

The exchange of business cards is an important ritual in Vietnamese culture. It is recommended that you bring your business card to exchange at any meeting. Ideally, the card will be printed in both English and Vietnamese and you should always offer it using both hands. When you receive a card from someone else, also remember to accept it with both hands and study it thoroughly before putting it away to show respect.

5. Negotiation

When working with state-owned companies, administrative procedures are often cubersome and time consuming. Be patient with the negotiating process and be prepared to have to go through much paperwork. Sometimes people use presents to oil the gears of progress.

6. "Saving face" custom

While westerners tend to be straight forward, Vietnamese prefer to give respect according to rank and seniority. As saving face is taken into account during daily life in Vietnam, it is important that you should be careful about what you say and be sensitive when communicating with your colleagues, friends, neighbours or family members. You should never insult, embarrass or upset a Vietnamese in front of others. Otherwise, it will forever end any possible contact and opportunity.

7. Language

Vietnamese is the official language in Vietnam. English is spoken in most international business circles, informal conversations are often in Vietnamese. One thing to keep in mind is that not all Vietnamese office workers are fluent in English but they are very open to having the chance to practice. 

It would be nice to create friendly atmosphere at the first meeting when you can speak some basic Vietnamese words. For example: xin chào (hello), tạm biệt (goodbye). It shows your willingness to adapt to the culture and custom of the host country. No one expects you to pronounce perfectly either. Hiring an interpreter for all formal business meetings is common.

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8. Seniority is important in Vietnam

Seniority is very important to the Vietnam especially if you are dealing with a state owned or government organization. Instead of addressing the other party as Mr or Mrs, it is always appropriate to address the other party by his position title; for example, Chairman Trong, Director Thao or Manager, etc. When giving out a business card or a brochure, you should make sure you start with the most senior person.

9. Importance of referrals

In Vietnam, referrals play an important role in developing and maintaining networks and contacts for initial meetings. “These cultural specifics make a trusted local business partner. Their recommendations are vital to access business intelligence, best deals or manpower needs. Moreover, they can also help with interpreting and dealing with customs which sometimes require patience and sound business advice.

Business Entertainment

Most business luncheons and dinners are held in hotels, restaurants, or government facilities. Usually, your host will arrange for a dinner during the early part of your visit.

Vietnamese beer or imported wines are usually served with the meal. It is appropriate for you and your host to exchange toasts, with the host usually going first. During the meal, people are free to make individual toasts. The end of the meal is usually a plate of fruit or another sweet dish.

Expat advice

There are more and more foreigners who come to Vietnam want to settle in here for many reasons including pleasant weather, cheap living cost, expanding business opportunities More and more foreigners are settling in Vietnam due to its combination of pleasant climate, cheap cost of living, expanding business opportunities and safety. However, there are several things that Finnish citizens should be aware of.

  • Air pollution in bigger cities can be quite severe. That is why face masks are commonplace among locals and foreigners alike while commuting outdoors.
  • Foreigners are not allowed to own land. However, expats can obtain a 50-year lease of a plot of land and then build a house on top of it.
  • Foreigners are not currently allowed to hire or drive a car without a Vietnamese driving license. However, riding a motorbike is possible with only a foreign license.
  • Obtaining a visa is normally a straightforward process; however, there are a handful of countries which are not able to procure one. Work opportunities in Vietnam are not bountiful but do exist, for those with relevant skills and experience. The most popular areas, industries are teaching English, computer programming and NGO-related developmental projects.