Come find out everything you need to know about common scams in Vietnam. Be a smart traveler by knowing the dos and don’t in your traveling adventures.
Learn about what to look out for, situations to avoid, and more as I explain how to can have a scam-free trip to Vietnam.
It is super important to do some research about safety and scams in a country before you travel there. Ultimately this will make for an easier and stress-free time when you are on the ground exploring.
This is something I have always done before venturing somewhere new, and luckily I have avoided scam situations the majority of the time.
Vietnam is definitely not a dangerous country. Though I will say scams seem to be lurking around every corner, well at least in the touristy areas.
I was told this is because a lot of older generations in Vietnam have the opinion that because the foreigners brought the war that destroyed their country and loved ones then it’s okay to get even in the form of a few dollars.
This is a difficult concept to get your head around, but also understandable. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that you should support these scams and a lot of the older generation disagrees with this mentality. So hopefully through the years, the large assortment of scams in Vietnam will decrease.
Unfortunately, Vietnam is definitely one of those countries where you need to second-guess interactions with people on the street. This is especially so in large cities such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
We watched numerous scams happen to travelers on our walks each day. I spent a month backpacking Vietnam from the North to South and scams occurred in every city I visited along the way. This is why I am sharing what I have learned with you.
The most important thing when traveling is keeping yourself safe and away from dangerous situations. Scams in Vietnam may only cost you $20.00 or could set you back thousands.
Scams In Vietnam: 17 Scams To Be Aware Of To Keep Safe
Table of Contents
Motorbike Scams In Vietnam
Motorbike scams in Vietnam are rather common. I mean they are absolutely everywhere here so it is no surprise you will eventually get on the back of one, though there are a couple of things you need to know before you do.
Whether you have brought your own motorbike and are riding the length of the country or perhaps you are just taking a motorbike taxi across the city, each one has its own scams you need to be aware of:
Taking A Motorbike Taxi
Now if you are traveling solo you may find it easier to simply take a motorbike taxi rather than a regular taxi, especially if you aren’t taking any luggage.
Plus they only fit one person, rather than a car, so surely they are cheaper. Well, this is the case, except if your driver decides to take advantage of you.
More often than not you will agree on a fixed price before jumping on. As long as the driver is decent this is your final price.
However if not, they may chuck an extra zero on the end and suddenly your price has increased x10. They will insist that you misheard and it is the price you originally agreed to. Since there is no one else around to stick up for you, it is simply your word against theirs.
How To Avoid: The best way to avoid being ripped off by a motorbike taxi is simply to use the Grab app.
It works similarly to Uber so you agree on a price before jumping on, and this price is on your phone so no one can disagree with it.
Buying A Motorbike In Vietnam
Now buying a motorbike in Vietnam is an incredible way to see the country. You will be able to get off the beaten track and discover more than most travelers get the opportunity to.
Unfortunately having your own vehicle in a foreign country does leave you open to being vulnerable to more scams.
One of the most common occurrences is being scammed while buying a motorbike. This could come in the form of a faulty bike, or dodgy paperwork.
Surprisingly you can even have the motorbike switched on you, where everything is good up until the last minute when the bike is swapped for an inferior version of the same model.
How To Avoid:
The best way to avoid this is by doing research in advance and buying through a reputable company.
There is a heap of options online, so doing research is a must. Make sure to read through travelers’ past reviews, or get recommendations from your hostel.
Motorbike Rental Scams In Vietnam
This is a common scam throughout Southeast Asia, including Vietnam. You may find your passport is being held hostage while the owners demand money for damages not caused by you.
However, this next motorbike rental scam in Vietnam is even worse. It has become an infamous situation for the motorbike hire staff to come and ‘steal’ their motorbikes from those who have hired them.
The person renting the motorbike doesn’t realize it was actually the company that has stolen the bike.
This leaves the person responsible for the motorbike in an extremely awkward and difficult situation. Now when they go turn up at the motorbike rental store without the bike, they will be forced to pay exorbitant amounts. Though, unbeknownst to them the bike is in the owner’s possession.
How To Avoid:
Apart from the obvious of not hiring a motorbike, there will always be some sort of risk when hiring a motorbike. The best thing you can do is to ask other travelers if they have hired one and their recommendations.
You could always ask your hotel or guesthouse for their recommendation, though there is a risk that they may get kickbacks or a certain percentage of the money made by recommending you to certain shops.
Pick Pockets & Snatch Thieves
Unfortunately, petty crime is super common in Vietnam, especially in large cities. You need to constantly be aware of your surroundings and where your valuables are on you from the moment you touch down at the busy airport.
Vietnam is an overload on the senses, so it’s not surprising that many let their guard down as they try to bearings.
I have many friends who traveled to Vietnam and were victims of the snatch thieves. More often than not these are people on motorbikes so look for the perfect opportunity, someone standing a little too close to the street with their valuables, and then quickly driving past and snatching it off them.
Whether you are looking at your phone for directions, opening up your wallet to pay for a cold drink, or simply walking down the road with your bag over your shoulder.
How To Avoid:
The best way to avoid this scam is to be aware of your surroundings. If you need to use your phone make sure to open it facing towards a building or opposite the roadside, making it near impossible for someone to drive by the grab it off you.
Perhaps you have your camera and are taking photos of this incredible country, then make sure to use the strap and have it tightly wrapped around your hand.
Lastly, if you carry around a bag make sure it is a cross-body bag (with a zipper close), as it is a lot more difficult to snatch.
Taxi Scams In Vietnam
Ahhhh the taxi scam, one which every traveler knows all too well. Though in Vietnam, and basically all of Southeast Asia they are all too common. The best companies to ride with here are called Vinasun (white in color) and Mai Linh (green in color).
For the most part, most of the drivers who work with these companies are reputable and honest. However, just like the duplicate business scam, other taxi services take advantage of this by copying the color schemes of the cars.
Unfortunately in these cars, the meters go up a lot quicker than they would in a reputable taxi car. Also, the drivers are known to also try out the money switch scam, more on that below.
How To Avoid:
To avoid taxi scams in Vietnam it is best to only ride with Vinasun or Mai Linh.
If you can’t find them, or perhaps have bad eyesight like myself and want to avoid the awkward interaction when you realize it’s too late and need to come up with an excuse not to jump in the scammy taxi, then just use the Grab app.
Now, something that can happen in any country is the good ol’ money-switching scam, and the same goes for Vietnam. Usually, it is the motorbike or taxi drivers that try this one, as they can quickly drive off never to be seen again.
They use sleight of hand to switch whatever money you give them for smaller denominations. Then comes the real performance, they put on a dramatic show and make it appear that you’re the one trying to rip them off.
Commonly this is done by switching a 500,000VND note for a 20,000VND note since they’re both blue.
How To Avoid:
The best way to avoid this is to pay with small bills or pay with the exact amount. If you have larger notes you are needing to break it is best done at convenience stores, restaurants, or other reputable businesses.
Fruit Basket & Coconut Seller Scams In Vietnam
As soon as you start exploring the streets in Vietnam you will quickly see locals dressed up selling baskets of fruit or coconuts.
Both of these scams operate in a similar fashion where you are super impressed by the seller perfectly balancing these baskets of fruit or coconuts on their shoulders and you grab a photo.
From here one of two things will happen:
The first is that they will happily pose for the photo. Afterward, they will start demanding a large sum of money for the photographs.
The second is that they will start chopping up the fruit or coconuts as they pose for your photos. Afterward, they will say that chopped up it for you and that you now must buy the fruit or coconut, for another high price.
I, unfortunately, saw many people fall for this scam, especially in Hanoi.
How To Avoid:
Unfortunately, it is as simple as not interacting with these sellers, no matter how cool their setup looks or how good their balancing skills are.
A common occurrence in Vietnam is the presence of multiple, completely different, businesses operating under the same name.
This is usually in the form of well-known companies that may attract travelers. Though in reality, these businesses have no affiliation with these larger companies.
The reason they call themselves the same, or very similar name, is in hopes that travelers recognize it and then utilize their services over others.
Though the problem is it is very likely their services will be very poor compared to what you were expecting.
For example, a reputable business called Mekong Tours might engender a string of far less professional me-toos called Mekong Tour, Mekong Guest Tours, or Mekong Touring
How To Avoid:
The best way to avoid this type of scam is to do some research online to find out the location of the actual company.
The presence of these types of businesses is super common in Hanoi, so be sure to be extra vigilant there.
Shoe Shining Scams In Vietnam
Unfortunately, the infamous shoe shinning scam is quite common in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi. This is one scam I have seen play out in front of me multiple times.
Usually, you will be completely minding your own business then suddenly someone will come up to you taking great interest in your shoes. No matter what you say or do they won’t stop.
I have seen these shoe shinners pull off people’s shoes to start shining them, knowing they won’t walk away barefoot.
Once the shine is complete they will demand a price that is about 10 times what you’d be expecting.
How To Avoid:
The best way to avoid the shoe-shining scams in Vietnam is to simply not stop when someone approaches you.
I know this may sound rude but as soon as you stop walking that allows them to grab your shoe.
Here is a video of this scam in action:
Cyclo Driver Scam
Now all around Vietnam you will see cyclos and think wow that looks like a lot of fun. I mean who wouldn’t want to be nicely driven around a city? I mean it is a lot more relaxing than being on a crazy motorbike.
These cyclo drivers are everywhere and you will no doubt encounter them in your travels. They will offer to take you wherever you wish to go, and once you negotiate a price you jump on.
Unfortunately, a few bad things commonly happen from here. The first is that the driver will take you far from your desired destination, and ask you for a crazy price to take you back.
Perhaps you have organized a sightseeing tour around the city to a few of the highlights, well unbeknownst to you the driver has a so-called “waiting fee”, typically starting at 500,000 VND / $25.00 an hour. You will be hounded for this amount.
How To Avoid:
The best way to avoid cyclo scams is to either have your maps open on your phone so you know you are going the correct way or book online through a reputable company if you want to do a tour.
This will also save you the headache of haggling.
Do Not Give In To The Donut
I know, it’s just an innocent donut, how the heck can this be one of the scams in Vietnam? Bad news, it is. Street food is in abundance in Vietnam, and I totally encourage you to try it all, except for those sneaky little donuts.
Though before this sounds like I am being judgy, trust me, I nearly fell victim to this scam multiple times. I mean yummy little doughy balls of goodness covered in powdered sugar, it’s hard to say no.
Mainly in Hanoi, you will walk past people balancing baskets of good-looking donuts on their shoulders. The seller will stop and ask if you’d like to try one for free.
While you say yes and taste one, the vendor will talk you into buying a small bag of donuts. However, a lot of travelers don’t need convincing and just go straight in and buy a bag.
Unfortunately, it is well known that the oil used to fry these donuts is unregulated. The oil could’ve been sitting there for weeks without being changed.
The donuts are also known to be stale, and travelers report feeling sick after consuming them.
How To Avoid:
It’s simple, just don’t eat them. Vietnam has so many delicious foodie options, so why not grab a banh mi instead?
Restaurant & Bar Scams In Vietnam
Since restaurants are a place travelers visit so often, and let’s be honest the food in Vietnam is incredible, it is no surprise a few different scams are floating around.
Unfortunately, this is something that can happen anywhere in the world but don’t sit down at a restaurant unless there are prices on the menu.
Without ordering with fixed prices you are leaving the restaurant’s staff the chance to charge you whatever they wish.
Now nothing is free in this world, and the same goes for Vietnam. I know back at home you may be used to getting a free bowl of peanuts when you order a nice cold beer.
However, this isn’t always the case in Vietnam. More often than not, in Hanoi and Nha Trang you will find yourself being charged for these bowls of peanuts that are quickly brought to you.
Luggage Scams In Vietnam
You won’t have these issues with the larger bus companies or those more reputable ones. However, on some bus companies, the staff will tell foreigners that they have to pay a fee when their bags are being loaded underneath the bus.
Unfortunately, a lot of the workers there know travelers will happily pay a small amount to avoid confrontation, and then they can just pocket the cash.
How To Avoid:
There is no such thing as a baggage fee in Vietnam. Therefore just walk ahead down to your assigned seat.
Shopping Scams In Vietnam
Now if you are coming to Vietnam of course you can’t miss out on a spot of shopping. I mean prices here are often too good to pass up!
There are a few things you should know to prevent you from being scammed while shopping in Vietnam.
One of the most common scams is sellers passing off fake goods as real. You should always assume the item you are buying is fake or a knock-off, no matter what the seller says.
Whether the item is a brand name, or simply the material it’s made from could be fake, such as leather.
Tip: If you are buying a leather item that is supposed to be real, but if you suspect it is fake then you can heat a piece of metal with a lighter and hold it to the material. If it is not real leather then it will melt.
SIM Card Scams In Vietnam
When I touch down in a new country one of the first things I do is buy a sim card. This keeps me connected in a foreign place and easily able to access maps and Google Translate if required.
Unfortunately there has been a common scam in Vietnam regarding SIM cards happening.
You can nearly buy a SIM card anywhere in Vietnam. Seriously, every little corner store will sell them with speedy internet and unlimited texts. The process is super easy as well since you don’t need to provide any personal information.
The SIM card scam operates as these small corner stores purchase the cards in bulk to sell to travelers at higher prices. That’s just business right?
Well unfortunately as soon as they purchase them in bulk the plans on them have already started and the days of usage start being used up.
This means that when you wander into this business and are promised unlimited data for 30 days, that actually may not be what you are getting. In some cases, travelers have reported that SIM cards stop working in just a couple of days.
This is also a scam that has been operating at airports.
How To Avoid:
The best way to avoid this is to only buy from an official seller, or even better directly from the telecommunication company themselves.
By doing this you will prevent this type of scam from happening to you and you won’t be paying that marked-up price either!
Unfortunately, something that is popping up all around the world is ATM skimming, and this includes it being one of our scams in Vietnam. Since Vietnam is mainly a cash society you will find yourself visiting the ATM fairly often.
Though unbeknownst to you that shiny, air-conditioning ATM you just visited had a skimmer installed and recorded your card details.
How To Avoid:
The best way to avoid ATM skimming is to be particular about which ATMs you decide to use. Make sure you visit ones in controlled environments such as banks, where the staff monitor the machine with cameras, or a guard, is present.
If you don’t have any luck with finding one like this then inspect the card reader and keypad, even give them a good tug to be extra safe.
Other Important Things To Be Aware Of In Vietnam
These aren’t considered scams per se. They are everyday things that you should simply be aware of to save you money.
Corrupt Police If You Are Renting/Own A Motorbike
Like many places around the world, you don’t need to look too far to find corrupt police here in Vietnam. This often will come in the form of asking for bribes to get out of a ticket etc.
The best thing to do here is to drive around with a fake wallet only carrying a small amount of cash. That way when you are pulled over and asked to pay a bribe it looks like you only have a small amount of cash on you.
Not so much a scam, but more something to be aware of is people asking for payment for photos. This is rather common throughout Southeast Asia, though if you aren’t prepared for it, it can be quite a surprise.
In my experience, you will generally know who these people are in advance of taking their photo. In my case, it was someone perfectly perched on top of a water buffalo in Hoi An.
The local ‘model’ will generally encourage you to take the photo and pose, compared with a regular person who would simply ignore you and go about their own business.
Seemingly nearly impossible to avoid, ATM fees can add up fast! This is especially true when backpacking Vietnam on a budget.
Though, here in Vietnam, some ATMs charge a lot more than others. Agribank is the cheapest ATM to use with fixed fees throughout the country.
USD to VND Conversions
Now the currency in Vietnam is rather large, you will often find yourself getting a few million out of the ATMs. Being such a large amount it is rather common that the prices are abbreviated, eg 500,000 becomes 500.
Also, USD will also be used rather often in popular tourist bars and restaurants, so make sure you are reading menus and prices carefully so you fully understand how much you are paying.
Wrap-Up: Vietnam Tourist Scams
Vietnam is a beautiful country with a rich culture and history, but it also has its share of tourist scams that can ruin your trip. We have discussed some of the most common scams in Vietnam and provided some tips on how to avoid them.
By following these tips, you can enjoy your visit to Vietnam without falling victim to these scams.
Remember, not all Vietnamese people are scammers, and most of them are friendly and hospitable. However, it is always better to be safe than sorry and to be prepared for any situation.
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