Another day another Dong
Sometime in July my company decided to pay all of us expats in Vietnamese Dong (VND). This decision came after the government cracked down on accepting dollars. We had to change all promotional materials, menus and such to VND. This in itself is a bit of a nightmare. Instead of $130 per person you list 2.400.000VND per person. Perhaps you can see where that gets confusing, especially for tourists. There are other, more lazy reasons for this decision, but that’s another blog entry.
This movement toward a dong-only system is bad for the country. VND is not an internationally exchanged currency. So even if I go to Thailand for the weekend, I can’t change my dong for baht at the Bangkok airport. Thailand wont accept the currency. The only place I can use dong is in dongville, and that’s Vietnam. And let’s face it – I can’t even say the currency name with a straight face, much less take this worthless currency seriously.
Managing my finances in dong wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t so many restrictions on what I can actually do with the dong, once I am paid in this currency. Here are the only things I can do with the dong directly deposited into my VND account at HSBC.
1. Keep it in the account (never gonna happen).
2. Withdraw in VND ( a must for daily expenses).
3. Transfer in foreign currency to account in foreign country
4. Withdraw in foreign currency provided I have proof of air ticket and visa, if needed, and explain for what purpose I need the money. (The tellers can be more aggressive than immigration. Upon going to London I had to argue that as a US Citizen I did not, in fact, need a visa for the UK.)
If the direct deposit from my company is not earmarked as salary, then items 3 and 4 are null and void. I’m stuck with the dong. The only place I can exchange dong for dollars is the black market, the gold/jewelry stores peppered throughout the city. The hotels (even the 5 Star ones) wont exchange money this way either (total bullshit – good luck if you pull too much dong on your stay in dongville) and not all of the “exchange” booths at the airport exchange money in the other direction. When I went to Laos in October, I had to go to 4 booths to accumulate $500 because 2 of the booths refused to give me USD, despite being a money “exchange”.
In order to make bank transfers online, you have to set up your online banking. Fine. You have to register the bank(s) you want to transfer to and if you plan to transfer a decent amount of cash, you have to “apply” to raise your daily limits. Done.
So last night when I went to transfer funds to my US account, it wouldn’t process my transfer because it said I was over the daily transfer limit. (I so wish I was talking large sums of cash here, but it’s a normal amount to prepare for a two week vacation in the US.) So apparently the paperwork I filed months ago was pointless and never processed. I was pissed.
Today I went to the bank to check on that paperwork. I had to fill out the form a second time. I’m assured that it will be processed this time. And so then I went to get my cash, because frankly, between now and Friday, I don’t have the time to dilly dally around with a wire transfer. I don’t really have time to make a personal appearance at the bank, either and wouldn’t need to had the damn people at the bank processed my paperwork!!!
So, I filled out my withdraw slip and waited in line. (Remind me to mention in another post how the Vietnamese do not like to wait in line and find no problem in just going up to the counter ahead of people.) Once I made it to a counter and elbowed a couple line-cutters out of the way, I was told that the maximum amount of USD I could be given “today” was $1000 (This figure, I was told, changes on a daily basis depending on the bank’s USD cash situation. It’s a frickin bank!!!)
I explained the situation about the unprocessed paperwork and told the teller that had HSBC done their job months ago and processed my paperwork, we wouldn’t be in this situation. I would have been able to smoothly transfer the funds I wanted. I went round and round with the teller and actually said the following on more than one occasion, “I am the customer. I already did my job. The bank has not done theirs. ” And a few “I should not have to work this hard to make a withdrawal. It is my money.” And also, “I am not leaving here until you give me the cash I am asking for.” One thing this country does not understand is customer service. But let’s just say that persistence does pay, and I left with my desired amount of cash.
I can’t tell you how annoying it is that even this aspect of my life comes with a set of challenges. Everything requires extra effort, but this is an area I really don’t want to have to put up a fight. She works hard for the dong just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Dong dong dong. Nope, still can’t say it with a straight face. Stupid dong.