Currency Conversion Confusion!

Reprogramming your brain to think in a foreign currency can be difficult enough, but there are some countries that make this even more confusing!  Moreover, I found that some countries use the confusion and difficulty of currency conversions to their advantage to make the most money possible out of tourists!
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VIETNAM:
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When I was in Vietnam, US$1 = 20,000 Dong
[check the current conversion rate: www.xe.com]
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WHAT YOUR MONEY’S WORTH:
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Let’s say you checked online or in the airport about what the current currency conversion is for U.S. Dollars to Vietnamese Dong and it’s [as stated above] US$1=20,000VND.  If you checked again the next day and you see US$1=21,000VND, this is good in terms of “buying power” and using your U.S. dollars… Basically, one day US$1 will buy 20,000VND worth of something and then the next day, the same US$1 will buy more [1,000VND more of the same thing].
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THE CONFUSION:
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However, THE STORES IN VIETNAM DO THIS “BACKWARDS!”
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Let’s say you know US$1=20,000VND… Then, when you go into any hotel, you might see a sign that reads “US$1=21,000VND.”  At first, I thought the hotels were giving me a better deal; but why would they do that?  They don’t.  This sign means the opposite of what all the websites and currency exchange places mean.  This sign is saying that when you go to check out and they tell you the room was US$10, then they actually want you to pay 210,000VND instead of 200,000VND.  Simply, you end up paying 10,000VND more than what you should be paying… And, actually, if the U.S. Dollar WAS actually worth 21,000VND instead of 20,000VND, then you end up paying a whole dollar more – not just 50 cents… and this might be even more confusing and boring to understand why, but just take my word for it…
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But the reason that Vietnam REALLY bothers me with money is because most things are priced in U.S. dollars, however, YOU CAN NOT GET U.S. DOLLARS FROM ANY ATM!  This might not sound like a big deal and most people just say “Who cares?  Just do the conversion into Vietnamese Dong and don’t think about it.”  Well, no, and I’ll explain what the big deal is…
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Since dong is what comes out of all the ATMs in Vietnam, then hotel rooms, tour packages, buses, etc. should be priced in dong and NOT in U.S. dollars.
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If there is a hotel that rents rooms for 200,000VND, then ok, according to the current conversion of US$1=20,000VND, then that is equivalent to US$10.  If the USD suddenly gets stronger overnight, then it’s less than US$10 and that’s even better!  If the hotel room was priced in Dong, then the price of a hotel room is the set price of whatever that hotel management decides to make it and NOT based on USA’s economy.
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When this is done in reverse [which it is], IT IS NOT THE SAME!  Observe:
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If there is a hotel room priced at US$10 and the current conversion is US$1=20,000VND, then you pay 200,000VND [same, correct, great].  However, if that same hotel room is priced at US$10 and then USA’s economy is booming and the Dollar is stronger and the conversion is US$1=22,000VND, then all of a sudden I end up paying 220,000VND for the same room [not the same at all, is it?]…
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So wait a minute… because my home country’s currency is now stronger than what it was when I arrived a few days ago, I now have to pay MORE?!!  How does this make sense?!  Well, it doesn’t…
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When in Vietnam, I was charged a fee at the ATM to convert my U.S. Dollar into Vietnamese Dong and then, in addition to that, I ended up paying an unspoken fee because my native currency became stronger.
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It’s sad, but I really felt as though most Vietnamese people took advantage of this just to get more money out of tourists [and I know a LOT of other travelers feels the same way].  What is even more sad is that this deters a lot of people away from the entire country just because the Vietnamese people need to make an extra few cents and, thus, it is slowly ruining the country’s tourism business…
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ADVICE:
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There’s really no place to get U.S. Dollars [at the best rate] once you’re in Vietnam since the ATMs only give Dong.  So when traveling to Vietnam, BRING U.S. DOLLARS!  No matter if you’re an American or not, U.S. Dollars go a long way in Vietnam – more so than Vietnamese Dong…
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For example, at the border of Vietnam and Loas, paying in U.S. Dollars is the cheapest way to get a Laos visa.  If you try to pay with Vietnamese Dong, the conversion rate is ridiculous.  I ended up paying US$10 more than what I should have paid because they made me pay US$1=25,000VND [instead of 20,000VND]!
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Click HERE to read more about my horror stories of crossing borders by land!
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SO HERE’S WHAT YOU SOULD DO:
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DO THE MATH IN YOUR HEAD! Don’t rely on anyone else to do the math for you…
[Dollars] (multiply) [20]… then put three zeros on the end. US$3… 3*20=60… so US$3 is 60,000VND [nothing more!]
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If you’re buying something and the amount of money is less than 20,000VND, then you can think simply “it’s less than a dollar.”  However, if you want the exact amount, start breaking down 20,000… half of 20,000 is 10,000 which makes 10,000VND half of a dollar.
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If you can’t do the math in your head, WATCH THE BUTTONS ON THE CALCULATOR!  Every cashier uses a calculator, especially if their using the more expensive conversion of 21,000VND… just watch and see what they push…
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If you know they used 21,000 Reil, I always asked “Is that the current conversion?  Is that the conversion for the whole country?  The other stores are using US$1=20,000VND.”  If you call them out on it, they might change it to the correct conversion… However, I found the Vietnamese people really stubborn on ripping tourists off so, this attempt usually doesn’t go far in Vietnam…
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If you come across a stubborn store manager that points to the sign and says “too bad, not in this store, that’s the price,” then use the U.S. Dollars and save 1,000VND for every dollar you use…
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If you don’t have dollars and you’re in a stubborn store, then a few times is no big deal, really… I’m only talking about a few cents here and there.  Even if you wind up paying 1,000VND more for your entire trip of, let’s say, US$3000, you end up paying US$150 more…  For me, I like to save this.  For others, they might not care in order to avoid thinking; to each his own…
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CAMBODIA:
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Cambodia is NOT a country where I felt like I was losing money the whole trip.  I actually love Cambodia and how the country uses U.S. Dollars, but I’m still going to explain some confusion with the money.
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When I was in Cambodia, US$1 = 4,000 Reil
[check the current conversion rate: www.xe.com]
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WHAT YOUR MONEY’S WORTH:
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Let’s say you checked online or in the airport about what the current currency conversion is for U.S. Dollars to Reil and it’s [as stated above] US$1=4000Reil.  If you checked again the next day and you see US$1=4100Reil, this is good in terms of “buying power” using your dollars… Basically, one day US$1 will buy 4000 Reil worth of something and then the next day, the same US$1 will buy more [100 Reil more of the same thing].
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THE CONFUSION
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Just like in Vietnam, THE STORES IN CAMBODIA DO THIS “BACKWARDS!”  [read above for further explanation of what I mean by “backwards”]
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SO HERE’S WHAT YOU SOULD DO [the same advice as stated above]:
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DO THE MATH IN YOUR HEAD! [Dollars] (multiply) [4]… then put three zeros on the end. US$3… 3*4=12… so US$3 is 12,000 Reil [nothing more!]
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WATCH THE BUTTONS ON THE CALCULATOR!
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ASK “Is that the current conversion?  Is that the conversion for the whole country?”  Everyone in Cambodia was really nice about changing it to the better conversion…
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I only came across one store that pointed to a sign and said “too bad, not in this store, that’s the price…” If that’s the case, then it’s really no big deal for one or two times… OR… USE U.S. DOLLARS that you can get at any ATM!  Super easy, convenient, and stress free [which is exactly what you want in a “vacation”]!
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The really like the way Cambodia does this because I feel like Cambodia is the 51st U.S. state in the sense that everything is priced in U.S. dollars and all the ATMs give U.S. dollars – there was no fee at the ATMs for foreign currency conversions, no money lost in transactions, and no confusion in restaurants and stores.  Money-wise, it felt like I was back home in America!
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Related Posts: Country to Country Checklist! -:- Money Math Tricks -:- Cambodia 

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