Understanding the Cultural Differences When Doing Business in Vietnam

Vietnamese Culture

If you have recently started up a business in Vietnam, or are thinking of doing so soon, it is important that first you have an idea and understanding of the culture and the people that you may be doing business with.

The more prepared you are, the more successful you are likely to be in your business negotiations.

Below you will find some of the basic customs that you will come across whilst working in Vietnam.


Name Structure

The naming structure in Vietnam is different to how it is in the west. When writing names, you need to have the family (surname) first, followed by the middle name, and then finally, the given name.

The reason that the family name is placed first is because it emphasises a person’s heritage.

Middle names may either have “thi” or “van” included. Thi indicates that the person is female and van for male.



There are a number of ways to greet someone in Vietnam, however, it is important to understand that you may need to greet different people in different ways.

Generally, women won’t shake hands with you, nor with each other. Instead they tend to do a slight bow.

Addressing a person older or ranked higher than you by just their name is considered disrespectful. You should always include their title with their name.

Higher ranking people should always be greeted first.


Reputation (Saving Face)

The concept of saving face does not just occur in Vietnam, but throughout the whole of Asia. In some of the more developed countries this custom has relaxed slightly, but in Vietnam it is still strictly adhered to.

The concept of saving face is extremely important. Therefore you should never embarrass a local, or make fun of them, especially in public places. Reputation is of paramount importance, it is the one thing that people can leave behind for their family after they have gone.

Reputation can have a big impact on your business dealings in Vietnam.


Giving Gifts

Everyone loves to receive a gift now and again, and the Vietnamese people are no different. In fact it is a common practice in the country. Thank you gifts are seen as a token of your appreciation.

One of the most effective gifts that you can give someone is a small souvenir from your home country.

Buying gifts can be a great investment for the future and add to your reputation.


Standard Working Practices

In most larger cities the working hours are similar to the West. Opening hours are usually 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Some corporate businesses and government departments will open for a half day on Saturdays.

In major cities English is widely spoken in the business industry. Do not automatically assume that their English will be perfect though. The further you go into regional areas to do business, the less you will see English being spoken.

If you are finding it hard to conduct business meetings due to a language barrier, you can hire a local translator to help you in your meetings.


Asking Questions

You may find that locals will ask you questions that you find personal. Do not feel offended when they do as it is common practice. Personal questions would mostly be about age, family, religion, marital status and salary.

Always feel free to ask the same questions back if you are asked.


Other Useful to Know Traditions

When a women marries they do not change their name.

When a child is born it is considered to be one years old.

If a parent dies it is custom for the children to wait 3 years before marrying.

If a spouse dies it is custom to wait at least one year before marrying again.

If a sibling dies then the other brother or sister should wait a year before marrying.

It is the eldest son’s duty to perform ancestor worship at home.