Dear Sven,

I just moved from Madrid to Saigon to work as a manager at a local manufacturing company. My boss told me that I am responsible for opening my own bank account while I’m here. I’ve noticed that there are both Vietnamese and foreign banks operating in the city. I want to open an account with a foreign bank as I’m more familiar with them however I don’t have time to look through all the fees and various charging structures. I get paid in dong and am on a basic expat salary so would be looking for an option that would not punish me too much if my balance falls below a certain level. Also, I am still paying off student debt and would like to transfer money back home every three months. What’s my cheapest option?

I presume the foreign banks you’re referring to are HSBC, Commonwealth Bank, Citibank, Standard Chartered and ANZ. Keep in mind they are technically not foreign banks. While they have international brand names they are essentially franchises operating in Vietnam and are therefore considered Vietnamese banks as well. What I have done is taken some time to look through the individual tariff schedules from all the banks listed above to give you a hand with some basic cost comparisons.

Opening a basic account at any bank in Vietnam requires proof of identity, usually a copy of your passport, as well as proof of employment, which could be your work permit or a letter from your company (your boss could help you with this). The best thing to do would be to go to the bank you wish to open an account with and ascertain what documentation is required. This will save you time.

In terms of opening an account, this is free at all the banks listed above. You will be issued a debit card with which you can withdraw money, free-of-charge, at your bank’s ATMs, and, in certain cases, free of charge at other ATMs. If you happen to quit your job (or get fired) and want to close your account before the one year minimum, Standard Chartered will charge you VND100,000. Standard Chartered also requires you to have the lowest monthly balance (VND1 million), and they also charge the least for falling below the minimum level (VND100,000 per month), slightly cheaper than the others. As mentioned before, there is no surcharge for making withdrawals from your bank’s ATMs, however, you might not always be close to one therefore withdrawing from another bank will incur additional charges. You will be subject to the other bank’s fee which differs for every company. Citibank is quite flexible in this regard as you are able to withdraw for free, if you are a Citibank account holder, at any ATM which is part of the VISA network (has the VISA logo visible on ATM). This is the same for ANZ account holders.

Making withdrawals from your Vietnamese account overseas is a different story, as you are usually charged between 4% and 4.5% of the transaction as a forex administration fee, regardless of whether you withdraw from your bank’s ATMs or not. Some banks will charge a fixed fee for every transaction as well, so make sure you don’t make too many withdrawals while abroad. Make 100 percent certain you can use your debit card abroad. Ask a representative from your bank before traveling.

When it comes to remitting funds to and from your bank account, the only two banks that will charge you or inward remittance into your Vietnamese dong account from overseas are Commonwealth Bank and ANZ. The others do not charge for this. At all banks you have the option of registering for an internet banking facility, where you are able to transfer funds to other banks in Vietnam and abroad. All the banks charge a nominal fee for transferring funds to third party banks within Vietnam via internet banking, however Citibank does not charge for this. Citibank also does not charge for transferring funds overseas via their internet banking facility. Remember that if you are transferring funds from your Vietnamese dong account, which is converted to a foreign currency, that you will receive the commercial rate of exchange, and not the ‘true’ rate. For example you would be purchasing Euro at the bank’s rate in Vietnam, not Spain. This could be a disadvantage.

Consider the activities that are likely to take place the most on your account – domestic transfers, domestic ATM withdrawals, overseas ATM withdrawals or overseas transfers – and select the bank that would charge the least for the services you use the most.