How to Succeed in Business Culture in Vietnam: Negotiation and Gifts Giving

Here's how you can navigate the business culture in Vietnam for maximum success, from greeting and dressing up to dining and gift-giving.

Multicultural business relationships while doing business abroad is one of the biggest challenges encountered by foreigners. Before entering the business culture in Vietnam, foreign investors should have an idea of general customs and traditions in order to facilitate and foster business relationships.

In fact, the world of Vietnam’s business culture is far more appealing than anyone would imagine. To avoid cultural hiccups to ensure your successful business in Vietnam, you just have to navigate strategically in this business environment. This article will summarize the nuances of doing business in Vietnam.

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Understand Business Culture in Vietnam

One of the fundamental keys to success when doing business in Vietnam is the ability to grasp Vietnamese business customs. A lack of understanding might cost you dearly and result in lost opportunities.

It is important to note that Vietnamese society is collectivist and family, as well as community concerns, will almost always come before individual or business needs.

Here, we discuss further key aspects of Vietnamese business culture that will help you to understand customs and allow you to close your deals in Vietnam successfully.

Building Relationship before Business Negotiations

Any foreigners who have lived and worked in Vietnam for a long time will tell you to invest in relationships, as well as build trust and mutual respect.

For Vietnamese, comfort and respect usually come before business communication. As a result, negotiating in Vietnam can seem a bit slow due to the time it takes to build a relationship with potential clients.

Besides, foreigners need to keep in mind that the final decision will go through a lot of consultation and red tape in Vietnam. Therefore, remember to be patient.

As long as you are committed, communicate properly, and build a relationship during the process, you will do fine. The benefit is even more obvious if you and your partner have a mutual relationship with other potential stakeholders.

Gift Giving Etiquette

One of the ways how to build a relationship with your Vietnamese business partner is to exchange small gifts. This is to express your respect and appreciation. By no means, this gift should not encourage corruption or bribery, although this is unfortunately common in Vietnam.

The gifts are expected to be a variety of items, and their price points should be related to the gift-giving situation or hierarchy of the receiver. Common gifts include alcohol, tea, fruits, vouchers, and pre-packaged gift baskets. You should avoid sharp objects such as scissors or knives which symbolize the cutting of the relationship and black wrapping paper which evokes bad luck and is frequently associated with funerals. On the other hand, the red color represents luck and wealth, and green is linked with rebirth and renewal.

Gifts should not be open at the time of their receiving or later, so you should leave this option to your partner.

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Business Meetings in Vietnam

There are several protocols when it comes down to the culture for business meetings in Vietnam, and you are advised to adhere to them if possible.

Punctuality

Just like many developing business cultures across the world, Vietnamese people are not always punctual for their meetings therefore don’t expect this and do your best to be accommodating.

Furthermore, do not confirm the meeting too early in advance, and remember to confirm a day before, especially if the meeting is set outside the company.

Also, one important note to take away is that it is highly suggested not to make any appointments when the Vietnamese New Year, or Tet, is approaching. This is because appointments around this important festival will usually be canceled when everyone is extremely busy.

Business Attire

The widely accepted dress code for business meetings in Vietnam is generally conservative and smart – standard and dark-colored suit and tie for men, and dresses, blouses with a high neckline, or suits for women.

In addition to that, women usually stick to skirts that are below the knees and high heels.

Suit jackets are often not required as Vietnam is a hot tropical country, as long as the attire is neat and leaves a good impression.

However, the dress code will differ slightly depending on the location of your business. Business attire in the southern part of Vietnam such as Ho Chi Minh City is known to be more white-collar and casual.

Greeting and Meeting

In many ways greetings in Vietnam have become very western, shaking hands and exchanging business cards after is quite common.

Something to not is that during a meeting, you should shake hands with all members in the room, starting with the oldest person first.

Seniority and Hierarchy

As Vietnamese business culture values hierarchy, people show respect and deference to senior employees in the meeting room – in terms of ranking, experience, and age.

You will be most likely introduced to a person with the highest rank in the company first. Similarly, this highest-ranked person will also be greeted first in any business environment.

In addition to that, do not forget to address the other party by his or her designation such as “Director”, “Chairman”, “Manager”, etc. For members without rank or title, you are advised to address them with “Mr.”, “Mrs.”, and “Ms.” that precede their names.

Vietnamese names start with a surname followed by a middle name and first name as such Mr Nguyen Nam Thuy would be referred to as Mr Thuy.

Have you heard our podcast about doing business in Vietnam yet?

Business Cards Exchange

Business cards are commonly exchanged after the initial greetings. It’s recommended that your business cards be printed in both Vietnamese and English and given to the oldest and highest-ranked members first. Then, move down the line.

While giving out your business card or receiving one from others, make sure that you hold the business card with both hands when facing the person to show your respect.

Company Introduction

After all the small talk and icebreakers, you need to be ready to present and introduce your company. This step is very critical before the Vietnamese will trust you and do business with you. You need to let them know what they want to know about your company and what you can offer as a business partner.

It is best for the presentation slides, if any, to be written in both English and Vietnamese. If you are in a room with few people that speak English, you might want to bring an interpreter or a person who is bilingual with you to the meeting.

Saving Face as it Pertains to Doing Business in Vietnam

The idea of “saving face” is commonplace throughout all of Asia, and Vietnam is no exception, For those readers who are unclear, “saving face” means keeping intact one’s reputation intact and avoiding one’s respect being lost in front of others. It is often seen as a frustrating stumbling block in doing business in Asia as it can cause a lack of dishonesty, for example when a mistake is made by a third party and they refuse to admit it, in lieu of losing face. Criticizing someone in front of their peers should be avoided, or done very carefully.

Business Entertainment in Vietnam

Many times you may be invited for business occasions, especially over food and drinks, such as business luncheons and dinners. Even though these events might be less formal, you cannot go wrong when you follow the basic rules of business etiquette in Vietnam. Something to note when you are having dinner in Vietnam is that food is not usually served in individual dishes, but it’s prepared and served to be shared. Sharing food and drink is a very important part of business culture, if you insist on eating your own dish, and not cheering with everyone, it can be viewed as rude.

Reciprocation

Most business eat-outs will be held in restaurants, hotels, or a more casual setting such as cafés. Often, your host will arrange everything prior to your visit. Therefore, as Vietnamese people embrace reciprocation as part of their values, you are recommended to arrange a return dinner as well – with a location that is of the same quality and standard.

The reciprocated dinner or eat-outs are done so to show your appreciation to your host of his or her dinner arrangements earlier. Do take note that negotiations or business are often not discussed during the dinner – it is more likely to happen during luncheons.

Dining Etiquette

When dining in Vietnam with your business stakeholders, dining etiquette plays an important role. Especially for dinners, they usually consist of several dishes and will all be placed on the table. As mentioned previously, you will share these dishes with everyone on the table by taking some from each into your own plate.

Vietnamese Dinner Culture in Business
Vietnamese Food Sharing

Chopsticks are a part of Vietnamese traditions, and you will always find them in a restaurant. However, some western or modern restaurants will also provide western utensils such as spoons, forks, and knives.

Toasts Exchange

Drinking beer, wine, or other liquor during the meal is common as they are served at the same time. If a toast is given, the host is usually the first to raise his/her glass for such a tradition.

When it is your turn to toast your host, you are expected to stand, face the most senior or oldest person in the group, and raise your glass with both hands. Remember, a short and sweet speech will be enough.


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Tomas Svoboda - Cekindo - Vietnam Country Manager

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Tomas is the co-founder & Chief Business Development Officer responsible for Vietnam. His role is to define the key potential of the Vietnamese market and to ensure that Incorp's branch in Vietnam provides its clients with smooth and hassle-free market entry solutions.