(or: How to show up to a business meeting)
Latest Update: August 27, 2021
This is relevant for: Foreign companies planning meetings with Vietnamese partners
Companies planning to meet partners, customers etc. foreigners should be aware of a couple of things that might be peculiar in Vietnam. These apply first and foremost to in-person meetings but partly also to e-meetings.
If a foreign company representative shows up to a meeting with their own (rented) car they should take care that it looks nice and is clean. Ideally, it is of a brand with a "good" reputation e.g. Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Audi (rental might be difficult). This shows status and implies trustworthiness. If the foreigner wants to give a nod to Vietnam, using a Vinfast - a locally designed and produced car - might be a nice twist (however, we have rarely seen this brand as a rental). Toyota or Kia (which are the leading brands in Vietnam) will also do just fine.
👔 Business Attire
👩💼 Vietnamese women dress conservative for business purposes. Therefore, wearing plain, business-like clothes is advised for foreign ladies. Skirts/dresses are OK as are trouser suits.
👨💼 Local business men mostly dress in plain suits, often without ties. So, for male foreigners wearing a business suit might be applicable. Ties may be worn but might be to warm in the heat of (sub)tropical Vietnam.
☝️ For daily meetings, workshop visits or informal get-togethers any kind of clothing is OK.
☝️ Politicians are usually more formally dressed and hence a more conservative outfit should be chosen here (consider a tie).
Typically, Vietnamese care a lot about their appearance. Ladies normally wear make-up and dress "nicely". As in many Asian countries, Vietnamese men shave regularly and also often visit hairdressers. This means, that foreigners, too, should take care of their appearance. Full-beards should be cut. "Three-day beards" are unknown here and wearers should thus consider shaving cleanly to avoid misconceptions.
👜 Status Symbols
Vietnamese hold status symbols in high regards (see cars above). With them, you can show your counterpart that you work hard, earn a lot of money and are thus trustworthy. Hence, wearing an expensive watch, a nice necklace or branded handbag may be favorable. But be aware that many Vietnamese are quite literate on such accessories. Fake or cheap products might get detected ;-).
🎁 Small Presents
Bringing a present might give a meeting a nice touch. This present could be something typical for the region or country the foreign party is coming from. For example, a chocolate or wine. The receiving Vietnamese will be happy to share it with her office staff or family. Such presents are normally handed over at the end of a meeting.
📇 Business Cards
Vietnamese are using business cards. However, there are no clear conventions on hand-over. Many Vietnamese "forget" their business cards or have low-quality cards. Some Vietnamese - especially those with business in Japan or China - hand over their cards very politely while others simply push them across the desk. In any case, we recommend handing over high-quality business cards with both hands to the receiver.
Coming to a meeting alone signalizes, that the visiting person is of low importance within her company structures. We highly recommend foreigners to be accompanied by an "assistant". This assistant does not have to have any role. It should simply be at the meeting - may be taking notes - to signalize "status" of the person in charge. This role may be taken over by a translator. Feel free letting us know if you need support.
Most sales persons will speak English. This also is the case for many purchasers. People in higher hierarchical positions, especially "Chairwomen/men", often do not speak English. We recommend to consider hiring an - independent - translator for meetings with high-ranking people. Let us know if you need support finding translators.