It is practical that the current banking law system has firmly been set up since 12 December 1997 when the two basic laws, the Law on State Bank of Vietnam and the Law on Credit Institutions have been introduced, which were amended and supplemented on 17 June 2003 and 1 October 2004 respectively. These Laws have been replaced by new ones adopted on 16 June 2010 and effective since 1 January 2011 in which the new Law on Credit Institutions was amended in 2017.
The local banking sector has two tiers. The first tier is SBV being responsible for conducting monetary policy; inspection, supervision and State management on monetary, banking and foreign exchange activities; and the function of the central bank on the issuance of currency, bank of credit institutions, and provision of monetary services to the Government. The second tier includes commercial banks, cooperative banks, policy banks, people’s credit funds, micro-finance institutions, financial leasing companies and insurance companies. This Section focuses only on the commercial banks which consist of State-owned commercial banks, joint stock commercial banks, joint venture commercial banks, wholly foreign-owned commercial banks, foreign bank branches, and foreign bank ROs.
Amongst all, foreign banks wishing to establish a presence in Vietnam has a choice of the last four types, i.e. wholly foreign-owned commercial banks, joint venture commercial banks, foreign bank branches and foreign bank ROs. Joint venture commercial bank is established with capital contributed by Vietnamese bank(s) and foreign bank(s) on the basis of a joint venture contract in the form of a limited liability company with two members or more; and wholly foreign-owned commercial bank is established with 100% charter capital owned by foreigners, which must have at least a foreign bank owning more than 50% of charter capital (the parent bank) in the form of a limited liability company with two members or more. Management organization structure of wholly foreign-owned commercial banks and joint venture commercial banks includes: the Board of Management, Supervisory Board, General Director and the assisting apparatus.
All the application procedures and files related to the issuance of License for establishment and operation to wholly foreign-owned commercial banks and joint venture commercial banks, License for opening a Branch to a foreign bank branch, License for opening a foreign bank RO must comply with Law on Credit Institutions and its guiding documents.
In addition to the general conditions applicable to domestic banks, the joint venture commercial banks, wholly foreign-owned commercial banks, foreign bank branches, foreign bank ROs are required to meet specific conditions separately applicable to each type of these organizations in order to be licensed. After being licensed, wholly foreign-owned commercial banks, joint venture commercial banks and foreign bank branches must conduct business registration procedures under the provisions of the LI and LE, as described in Section 5 of this document; foreign bank ROs will register their activities as prescribed by law; and all of them have to publish information on the SBV’s media and on a printed daily newspaper in 3 consecutive issues or Vietnamese electronic newspaper for at least 30 days prior to the intended date of operation commencement.
Subject to specific licenses issued by the SBV, joint venture commercial banks and wholly foreign-owned commercial banks can offer a wide range of banking services and other services in Vietnam. The local partner to a joint venture commercial bank must be an existing commercial bank. The minimum legal capital level for joint venture commercial banks and wholly foreign-owned commercial banks is VND3,000 billion, equal to around US$150 million (effective 2010).
Foreign bank branches are entitled to provide the permitted banking services in Vietnam as specified in the license of that branch and the laws; excluding capital contribution, purchase of shares/ portion of capital contribution, and activities which parent banks are not allowed to perform in countries where they are headquartered. The minimum legal capital level for a branch is US$15 million. Like foreign economic organizations’ ROs which are described in Section 6 above, foreign credit institutions and other foreign organizations conducting banking activities may establish only one RO in each province or centrally-run city. Foreign bank ROs are only allowed to perform the following activities according to the contents of the licenses granted by the SBV: (i) functions of a liaison office, (ii) market studies, (iii) promotion of investment projects of parent banks in Vietnam, (iv) promotion and monitoring of the implementation of the contracts and agreements signed between the parent banks with Vietnamese banks and enterprises, and projects financed by the foreign bank in Vietnam, and (v) other activities consistent with Vietnamese laws.
Generally, joint venture commercial banks, wholly foreign-invested commercial banks, and foreign bank branches are subject to the same taxes applicable to other businesses herein, which are well described in Section 16 below.
Foreign Exchange and Transfer
The State management on this matter is shared amongst several State agencies. Amongst all, the Government charges with overall policy on foreign exchange management, based on the recommendation submitted to by MPI. MOF is responsible for making plans for implementing such overall policy, and SBV is liable for the day-to-day management and supervision of MOF’s plans.
(i) Bank Accounts
Under the prevailing regulations, foreign-invested enterprises and foreign investors can open bank accounts with banks licensed and operating in Vietnam. All the receipts and expenditures including capital contributions, in principle, must be made through such bank accounts.
Subject to the using purposes, bank accounts which a foreign-invested enterprise or foreign investor can open comprise the following:
(a) Foreign investor’s payment account in Vietnamese Dong or foreign currency at a credit institution licensed to operate in Vietnam in order to transfer investment capital meeting lawful expenses during the stage of investment preparation in Vietnam according to written agreements among relevant parties; transfer investment capital abroad in case of falling to obtain an IRC or discontinues the implementation of investment project in Vietnam; conduct transactions on purchase of foreign currency, transfer of investment capital and lawful revenues abroad in the event the foreign-invested enterprise has to close its direct investment account due to its dissolution or operational termination, or assignment of investment capital changing the initial legal status of the FIE. Payment account in foreign currency may be foreign investor’s account for borrowing and repaying foreign loans;
(b) DICA or IICA in Vietnamese Dong or foreign currency selected by the FIE; foreign investor conducting capital contribution to, purchase of shares/ portion of capital contribution in, local companies; or participating in PPP or BCC contracts. In principle, all the revenues and expenses related to investment activities, including capital contributions, must be made through this account. DICA may be also the FIE’s account for borrowing and repaying foreign loans.
(c) deposit bank account, and
(d) off-shore foreign currency bank account, which includes:
- Account of the FIE or foreign investor to implement money remittance transactions relating to foreign loans (capital withdrawal, repayment of the principal, payment of interest) according to agreements with foreign lenders. Each of foreign loans is only remitted through 1 (one) bank providing bank account service. The borrower may use 1 (one) bank account for 1 (one) or more foreign loan(s).
- Account of the FIE to satisfy conditions for licensing the establishment of operations of its branches and ROs as prescribed by the laws of foreign countries; to serve operations of its overseas branches and ROs; to carry out its commitments under the PPP contract with foreign party.
Practically, not every FIE is entitled to open off-shore foreign currency bank account because this requires to meet several criteria and be subject to a license from SBV.
(ii) Foreign Exchange Balancing
The State does not require investors to balance their foreign currency from exports to meet demand for imports. Based on socio – economic development orientations, foreign exchange control policies and the ability of foreign currency balance in each period, the Prime Minister shall decide to guarantee the satisfaction of demands for foreign currency of investment projects subject to investment policy decision of the National Assembly and Prime Minister as well as projects on investment in important infrastructure development. This assurance shall be extended for the entire duration of those projects.
When implementing the revenue and expenditure transactions relating to investment activities in Vietnam of FIEs and foreign investors, licensed credit institutions are responsible for selling foreign currencies to foreign investors to be transferred abroad on the basis of foreign currency balance of their organization and in accordance with the provisions of law.
(iii) Cash Transactions
In principle, all payments and receipts in Vietnam must be made in Vietnamese dong, except for some particular circumstances as permitted by the prevailing laws and depending upon SBV’s approvals, which include commercial banks and financial institutions, foreign exchange bureaus, etc. Foreign investors to BCCs and JVCs are permitted to withdraw cash in foreign currency from bank accounts for paying salary and other allowances to their expatriates, or paying travel allowance to local employees for work-related overseas trips.
To keep an international balance, the Government actively seeks to channel foreign currency inflows whilst strictly monitoring the outflows. There appears no restriction upon inward remittances, which however must be either converted into Vietnamese dong or deposited into a foreign currency bank account. With respect to outward remittances, they are allowable to some special circumstances which include:
- Payment for imported goods and services;
- Abroad remittance by foreign investors, of: invested and reinvested capital, earning profits from undertakings in Vietnam, principals and interests of off-shore loans and credits, and other legal benefits;
- Payment for travel allowances to employees traveling abroad, payments of salary to the executives of foreign capital enterprises and Vietnamese employees working in a foreign country; and
- Abroad remittance of salaries and other legal incomes of foreigners.
To limit cash transactions, prevailing Vietnamese laws require invoices worth VND20 million or more to have a certificate of non-cash payment for goods and services purchased (including those imported) of which the value is VND20 million or more, except for the cases where value of goods or services imported each time worth less than VND20 million; goods and services purchased each time worth less than VND20 million according to invoices at current prices inclusive of value-added tax and the cases where businesses imported goods which are gifts or donated things of organizations and individuals abroad, in order that the costs of purchase of goods and services according to the invoices will be considered as reasonable costs for calculation of corporate income tax.
(iv) Exchange Rates
Any conversion will be based on the exchange rates of the authorized bank affecting the conversion, which will be referred to the rates announced by SBV at the time of transaction.
Capital and Financial Market
The efforts made by the Government and State Securities Commission (“SSC”) has been responded by the first opening of the Securities Transaction Center (“STC”) in HCMC in 2000 (now called Ho Chi Minh City Stocks Exchange or HOSE/ HSX), and the smaller one in 2004, in Hanoi, called Hanoi Securities Trading Center or HASTC (now called Hanoi Stocks Exchange or HNX). Additionally, a Unlisted Public Company (UpCom) Market is organized in HNX. For more simplified procedures for listing by enterprises and more efficient management by State agencies, the Government has conducted a project on converting these two stock exchanges into two subsidiaries wholly owned by Vietnam Exchange (“VNX”), a State-owned company.
At the end of March 2021, there are 3,029,407 securities investment accounts in which 32,391 are owned by foreign individual investors and 3,983 accounts are owned by foreign institutional investors; 57 investment funds and 105 securities companies licensed by SSC are still active after 8 years of restructure on both HOSE/ HSX and HNX including UpCom market, and then restructure of the stock market and insurance market to 2020, with orientations to 2025. These companies provide a full range of services relating to securities business. They all have either head offices or branch/ liaison offices in Hanoi or HCMC. Three kinds of goods are well available for sale in the securities market. They are: (i) shares listed by around 402 enterprises on HSX, 362 enterprises on HNX and 913 enterprises on UpCom market in which many are enterprises equitized from the SOEs; (ii) bonds issued by the Government, banks and enterprises (31 listed on HSX); (iii) fund certificate (3 listed on HSX), Exchange Traded Fund – ETF (7 listed on HSX) and Covered Warrant – CW (79 listed on HSX) and (iii) derivative securities, which are financial instruments whose value depends on the price of an underlying asset. Those are permissible for being transacted on Vietnamese market include: forward contracts, futures contract, option contracts, and swap contracts.
Applying for the registration of securities trading code at Vietnam Securities Depository Center (“VSD”), opening the securities trading account with a securities company in Vietnam, opening an indirect investment account in Vietnamese Dong with a licensed bank in Vietnam, and opening the securities depository account with a commercial bank or securities company granted by the SSC with depositary activity registration certificate and registered as member of VSD are compulsory with respect to foreign individuals and organizations who wish to buy listed securities in the Vietnamese securities market, while the simpler requirements are made to a purchase of unlisted securities by foreign individuals and organizations in the Vietnamese securities market. With respect to listed stocks, foreign investors can hold up to 100% of the total of stocks in circulation of an issuer, except for some special cases such as investments in specific industries (e.g. banks) or in public companies operating with business lines where investment is conditional applicable to foreign investors but there is no specific regulations on foreign ownership (up to 49%) or the charter of a public or listed company limits foreign ownership and the SSC has been reported thereon. With respect to listed bonds, foreign individuals and organizations can hold up to 100% of the total of bonds in circulation of an issuer, of which a private individual can hold up to 5% and an organization can hold up to 10%. With respect to unlisted stocks, foreign ownership limits are different (which in theory may go up to 100%), varying from business sector to business sector, and in accordance with the Vietnam’s commitments to the WTO, other international treaties to which Vietnam is a party, and the relevant specific provisions of domestic laws. If companies operate with multiple business lines subject to different rules on foreign ownership ratio, the foreign ownership ratio shall not exceed the lowest of foreign ownership ratios applicable to these business lines (which are being conducted by the company), unless otherwise provided for by an international treaty.