Vietnam Tips

Business Hours > Corporate Structure > Agreement & Negotiation > Knowing People/Etiquette > Business Meetings
Knowing People
  • Try to learn a few words of the local language.  It is also to know something of the history and of recent economic developments.  This show's to all your interest in the country and its culture and is considered another demonstration of your cultural sensitivity and good breeding.
  • Connection and introductions are an important part of doing business in Vietnam. A written introduction or a meeting arranged by a go-between will produce the best results. Because connections and who you are introduced by can be very critical, finding a reliable and credible local representative is extremely important. There are some well-established consulting firms that are intimately familiar with the Vietnamese market, but companies should be wary of foreign and Vietnamese consultants who claim to have connections and to know the market. Be sure to ask for references and verify the quality and extend of the firm’s previous work in Vietnam as there are many individuals and firms who really haven't got the connections, knowledge or experience they claim.
  • It is imperative that you conduct research while still in your home country, learn about the country, the marketplace, and identify local representatives and target companies for contact.  Use this knowledge in discussions with contacts, etc. as often a little knowledge can lead to additional sources which will greatly strengthen your market research.
  • For any business to be consummated, you must make a long-term commitment to the country and visit it.  Vietnamese are still a conservative and relation based society and connection over time and face-to-face meetings are critical in building trust and encouraging support.
  • Vietnamese are eager for Americans to participate in their economy and balance the interest expressed by Europeans, Japanese, and other Asians.  They often have a respect for American technology and popular culture which often can be greater than even the most fervent American.
  • The application process to establish a local office can be time-consuming, taking up to 18 months. Companies that are not ready to establish a permanent base in Vietnam should consider hiring a local representative to perform support services, open new doors and to monitor any ongoing negotiation processes.  Recently it appears that the government is taking some steps to simplify the process to open a representative office.  This can be a good first step for many projects.
  • Contact embassies and chamber of commerce in your home country and in Vietnam.  Foreign Commercial Office representatives at your countries Embassy and the local chamber of commerce of your country often have excellent business information and can be great sources of networking.
  • Generally, business is most efficiently conducted in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). But Hanoi often has lower capital requirements and the officials are more eager to please.  As you spread out from these two cities, local officials are often enthusiastic for foreign investment but also infrastructure and communications can often be more problematic.
  • If an Asian person gives you a compliment, be polite and deny it.  Modesty is considered a blessing in Asia even more so than in other regions. Self-depreciating humor and not overly promoting you or your associates success is often better received and can lead to smoother relations with your counterparts.
  • Be respectful of local culture but don't expect that you have to know everything.  Most Asian will make allowances for foreigners.  Also, giving a contact a chance to explain a cultural trait or a way of doing things oftentimes is helpful in building relationships.
  • Do not be surprised if your business counterpart of the same sex tries to hold your hand or touch your elbow as you are walking.  This action has no sexual connotations, but is common between same-sex individuals in Vietnam.  A Vietnamese will usually not do this unless he or she feels very comfortable with you.
  • Corruption as a standard business practice is a problem in Vietnam as it is in many developing countries.

Business Meetings

  • Business cards are always exchanged at the first meeting. The Vietnamese often use both hands to receive and give cards and also slightly bow their head to indicate respect.  Taking a minute to look at the persons card, to pronounce their name and to acknowledge their title are often good ways to show your counterpart that you value the opportunity to meet with them.
  • Bring a large supply of business cards and advertising material.  You may meet many more people than you expect.  Asians view the exchange of business cards in particularly as a very necessary opening ritual.  Not presenting your card often can be construed as your company is not genuine or you have something to hide, so please prepare the necessary materials prior to your visit.
  • The Vietnamese shake hands with both men and women at both the beginning and the end of a meeting. If a Vietnamese does not extend his or her handshake, a slight bow of head will suffice. This is particularly common in the more rural areas and in interaction with women.
  • The order for a Vietnamese name is family name, middle name, and given name. When referring to someone, use his or her given name with the appropriate title, for example, "Nguyen Van Khai" should be addressed as "Madame Nguyen".  If the person you are meeting in a Director of an office or of a company, referring to him or her as Director and then his last name is appropriate.
  • You may hear people who know each other referring to each other by the name of the relationship, e.g. my brother, my niece. This is sometimes just to indicate respect. This may not be his/her family members, but indicates somebody very close to the speaker.  This can be confusing for non-Asians but indicates that the person thinks of the other as being a close contact "like a" brother or sister.
  • A common greeting "chao" (pronounced chow) should be accompanied with the appropriate title, respect for age and status, e.g. "chao anh" (for male, older or those you want to show  respect), "chao chi"(to older female), "chao em" (to younger male and female). Even if you believe the other person maybe younger than you, it is often best to err on the side of being overly polite and using the "chao Anh" or "chao Chi" initially when meeting a contact.  It is however safe to use just "xin chao"(pronouced seen chao) which is a very polite hello and good bye without identify title.
  • Vietnamese men often feel uncomfortable socializing with foreign women.  They also often assume that women are more comfortable in talking with other women and will often seat them accordingly at meals or sometimes in social meetings.
  • You will usually be served tea and something to eat. Generally this will be Vietnamese green tea or soft drinks.  Be sure to sample them. Failure to taste or drink a small amount of anything is considered impolite.
  • Have your written materials translated into Vietnamese.  Many Vietnamese today have or are studying English or other foreign languages.  Most, however, still feel more comfortable with their own language.
  • Most foreigners will also need to use translators. If there is any question about the comprehension of English by the people you are meeting, always use your own translator or interpreter.  Do not rely on the other organizations translator or interpreter.  They work for the other side and are more likely to protect their business interest and to focus on their interests not yours.  Also, meet with your interpreter prior to the meeting and make sure they understand you and your company.
  • Try to speak more slowly and distinctly but not so slow or distinct as to offend.  If utilizing a translator, leave breaks for your ideas to be translated.   Keep in mind that many Asians have been educated in the U.S. and that the standard of English in Hong Kong or Singapore can be very high.  Avoid buzzwords and explain concepts thoroughly.
  • Keep in mind that in most of Asia that dates are shown in day/month/year format, ex.  9/12/99 means December 9, 1999.  To avoid confusion, you may want to use the full date in correspondence.
  • When you meet with senior officials, after initial pleasantries, begin discussing business within a few minutes, for there may be few opportunities to meet with the senior person and their time is at a premium.  With middle and junior level officials, you should concentrate on relationship building.
  • Be careful about what you say when you are in Vietnam.  It is not unusual for the government to monitor telephone and fax lines.  The government continues to monitor foreign business people in hotels, taxis, and cars, and meeting rooms.  Vietnamese individuals such as maids, drivers, assistants, and even translators may be passing on information about you to the government.  This is done for reasons of both security and business competitiveness.
  • Do not touch a person's head, for the head is considered the spiritual center of the person.
  • Use both hands to pass things from one person to the next..

  • Do not point to someone.  To beckon a person, use your whole hand.

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