A different perspective on Vietnam’s economy and doing business in Vietnam. Make sure to  subscribe.

how to guides

cheat sheets

snapshots

How to Open a Supermarket in Vietnam: Ultimate Guide 2024

This article is sponsored by: your business here (learn more)


Shopping at supermarkets in Vietnam is becoming increasingly popular as wages rise and the variety of products on offer expands. This presents a range of opportunities for foreign supermarket chains.

Opening a supermarket in Vietnam for foreign firms, however, is not always easy. Not only are there a number of technical and licensing requirements that need to be met, but Vietnam has also developed its own supermarket culture, putting its own twist on supermarket shopping experiences.

Understanding the nuances of Vietnamese supermarket culture and the complexities of business establishment procedures in advance of entering the market can therefore be crucial to the success of a new supermarket or chain of supermarkets in Vietnam.

Supermarkets in Vietnam: Overview

From the products they offer to the store layout to the payments they accept and the customer services they provide, supermarkets in Vietnam can be a little different to elsewhere in the world. This section outlines a few of these key differences, however, for a more detailed overview see: Vietnam Supermarkets: Foreign Retailer’s Guide 2024.

Products

Live seafood is common in Vietnamese supermarkets. Huge fish tanks are usually found in and around the meat and poultry section. Salmon and pangasius fish are widely consumed in Vietnam.

In the meat section, pork is typically the most popular alongside chicken. Beef is available but often badly butchered with the parts indistinguishable from each other–it is unusual to find a properly cut T-bone steak in a supermarket in Vietnam.

There is a broad range of fruits and vegetables available at Vietnamese supermarkets. Many of these are imported from the US, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea, particularly the less tropical fruits. Of note, fruits and vegetables are generally weighed and priced in the produce department rather than at the checkout. 

Dairy is also huge in Vietnam. Milk has become an important fixture in Vietnamese diets, particularly among children. Fresh milk, however, is not as common as long-life milk much of which is imported.

Customer service

Staff are typically paid pretty close to the minimum wage in Vietnam. This is around VND 22,500 which is about US$.94 cents an hour. With this in mind, a self-serve checkout would be very unusual given the cost of buying and running the necessary technology is far more costly than simply hiring someone to provide the checkout service.

There is also generally a customer service counter that accepts returns and exchanges and separately a bag check. This is sometimes a counter of its own run by a member of staff, although sometimes it is a bank of self-serve lockers–There is generally a security guard at the entrance and exit.

Payments

Vietnam’s banking industry has developed a QR code system whereby users can scan a QR code and make a direct bank transfer. This can be time-consuming and often causes delays at the checkout. The benefit to consumers and supermarkets is that they save on fees and transfers are instant.

Cash is still widely accepted in Vietnam and in many cases preferred. There are generally few problems accepting large notes at most supermarkets. This is as opposed to using a VND 500,000 (US$20.30) at a local wet market which can be challenging for local traders to break.

Card payments are not as popular in Vietnam as they are elsewhere in the world. The aforementioned QR code system may be part of the reason why but also credit cards have never really gained traction with Vietnamese preferring to spend only what they have.

Food courts

Most of the bigger supermarkets in Vietnam will have a small food court selling a range of local meals and dishes. It’s not unusual for there to be small dining areas as well which are popular among office workers looking for quick, cheap, lunch options.

Establishment procedures for supermarkets in Vietnam

Supermarkets in Vietnam with foreign ownership are generally established as a limited liability company either as a wholly owned foreign enterprise or a joint venture with a Vietnamese partner. This article provides a broad overview of establishment procedures with a more thorough, detailed technical guide available here: How to Form a Company in Vietnam: Technical Guide 2024

Wholly foreign-owned supermarkets in Vietnam

A wholly foreign-owned supermarket in Vietnam allows a foreign investor complete control over a company’s operations. It is, however, generally more costly and time-consuming.

Specifically, before they can apply to register a business, foreign entrepreneurs who want to set up a wholly foreign-owned company will need to first apply for an Investment Registration Certificate (IRC) which they do not have to do with a local partner.

An IRC is basically required to ensure that foreign firms are not engaging in business in restricted or forbidden business lines. The conditions for approving an IRC are outlined in the Law on Investment which also states that IRCs should be issued in between 5 to 15 days. In reality, however, it is usually around 30 to 45 days.

Joint venture supermarkets in Vietnam

With a local partner foreign business persons do not need to file for an Investment Registration Certificate, but rather the Vietnamese partner establishes the company and the foreign investor buys a share. In this sense, working with a local business partner can considerably reduce setup costs and application processing times. 

Joint ventures, however, can be risky. A mismatch in work ethics and management styles can cause conflict in the workplace, particularly in cross-cultural settings. For example, whereas in Vietnam it is common to financially penalise staff for arriving late or for using their phone during work hours, in Western countries, this would be unacceptable. Understanding these little nuances of cross-cultural communication, in a joint venture environment, may be crucial to a business’s success.

Economic Needs Tests (ENT)

Note that, retail outlets may need to complete an economic needs test. This only applies to the second retail establishment, however, this is worth keeping in mind in the planning stages. An ENT basically requires a retail business to prove that it is both needed in the geographical space in which it intends to operate and that it will not negatively impact the local community. A  decision on an ENT is generally made by the local government.

That said, the ENT has been removed for investors in member states of some international agreements. For parties to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, for example, an ENT is no longer required. It is also not required when the retailer intends to lease space in a shopping centre or mall.

Visas for foreign supermarket owners, operators in Vietnam

Foreign business persons who establish a supermarket in Vietnam are likely to qualify for investor visas. The length and cost of an investor visa will depend on the value of the investment. There are four categories of investor visas. They are:

Vietnam investor visas

Investor visas in Vietnam are known as DT visas (DT stands for đầu tư which translates to investor). There are four types of investor visas which vary in length depending on the value of the investment.

Investor visas in Vietnam 2023

CodeDescriptionLength
DT1Investments over VND 100 billion (US$4.15 million), or for investment into ‘prioritised’ sectors, professions, or areas of Vietnam.5 years
DT2Investments between VND 50 billion (US$2.07 million) and VND 100 billion (US$4.15 million), or for investment into ‘prioritized’ sectors, professions, or areas of Vietnam.5 years
DT3Investor visa: issued for investors with total investment capital between VND 3 billion (US$125,000) and VND 59 billion (US$2.07 million).3 years
DT4Investor visa: issued for investors with total investment capital less than VND 3 billion (US$125,000).12 months

Source: Law on Entry, Exit, Transit, and Residence of Foreigners in Vietnam

Choosing a location for a supermarket in Vietnam

Choosing the right location for any business can be the difference between success and failure. Firms and individuals looking to establish a supermarket in Vietnam should consider the best market for their style of supermarket–high-end supermarkets are better places in tier-one cities like HCMC or Hanoi, whereas more budget-friendly supermarkets will likely do better in smaller cities.

Market research

Market research is essential when choosing a location for a new supermarket in Vietnam. Given the number of supermarkets in Vietnam’s biggest cities and the propensity for consumers to frequent establishments closest to their home or place of work, the right location depends greatly on the individual establishment and therefore offering broad advice can be difficult.

It should be noted, however, that in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City there are specific enclaves in which the bulk of foreigners live. In Hanoi that area is known as West Lake and in Ho Chi Minh City it’s District 1. Boutique supermarkets may find these areas easier to penetrate with a more Western style of shopping experience, with more Western products. In other areas, supermarkets may need to double down on products catering more to local tastes.

Retail real estate rents in Vietnam

Rental costs can be a significant factor in choosing the right location and these will depend on a broad range of factors, however, the following ballpark figures for Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City from CBRE may be useful as a rough guide as to what to expect.

Average rent, ground/first floor, per-square-metre

Q2 2023Q3 2023Q4 2023
CBDnon-CBDCBDnon-CBDCBDnon-CBD
HanoiUS$162US$27US$162US$28US$162US$30
Ho Chi Minh CityUS$235∼US$45US$200 – US$350US$48.50US$240US$51

Source: CBRE Insights and Research

Commercial leases in Vietnam

The Law on Real Estate Business 2014 regulates leases broadly and this includes commercial leases. A typical lease agreement in Vietnam will have several key features:

  • The length of the lease: In Vietnam a commercial lease typically runs for about five years;
  • The payment terms: How often rent payments will be made and how. Typically, rent payments are made quarterly, however, they can also sometimes be monthly, every six months, or yearly; and
  • The division of responsibilities: who is responsible for what and when between the landlord and the tenant.

These are just the broad strokes but are also the most pivotal components of the agreement. Other aspects of the agreement can generally be negotiated between the landlord and the tenant without too much direction from the real estate law.

Key regulations for supermarkets in Vietnam

There are several key regulatory requirements that foreign entrepreneurs may need to satisfy when opening a supermarket in Vietnam. This will depend on the products they intend to sell but most supermarkets will need at a minimum a food safety certificate, a liquor licence, and a tobacco licence.

Getting a food safety certificate

With respect to the Law on Food Safety, a supermarket that intends to sell foods that are not prepackaged will need to apply for a food safety certificate per Decree No. 15/2018/ND-CP

To apply for a food safety certificate, an application must be completed and submitted to the Ministry of Industry and Trade. The application should include:

  • A photocopy of the firm’s business registration certificate.
  • A written request from the business owner for food safety certification.
  • Health certificates of any staff coming into contact with food in the establishment.
  • Details of the equipment, facilities, and appliances and assurance that they comply with food safety requirements.
  • Staff food safety training certificates.

Supermarkets in Vietnam that sell food without a food safety certificate may be hit with a fine of up to VND 40 million (US$1,662).

Furthermore, a failure to adhere to the standards set out in the Law on Food Safety could result in administrative fines of up to VND 100 million (US$4,156).

Getting a liquor license in Vietnam

Supermarkets in Vietnam that wish to sell alcohol will need to apply for a liquor licence. 

The sale and production of alcohol in Vietnam are generally covered by the Alcohol Law. Specific licensing requirements for supermarkets that wish to sell alcohol in Vietnam are outlined in Article 23 of Decree No: 105/2017/ND-CP (with some amendments in Decree 17/2020/ND-CP. New supermarkets need to apply to the Economic Department or the Economic and Infrastructure Department of the district People’s Committee.

The application for a  liquor licence should include:

  • An application form as outlined in the decree.
  • A copy of the business registration certificate.
  • A copy of the lease contract and documentary proof the business has the legal right to use the premises.
  • A copy of a contract or agreement with an alcohol producer, distributor, or wholesaler.

An application for a liquor licence in Vietnam attracts an appraisal fee of VND 1,200,000 (US$49). There is also an issuing fee of VND 200,000 (US$8). This is outlined in Circular 168/2016/TT-BTC

Getting a licence to sell tobacco in Vietnam

If a supermarket wishes to sell tobacco products as well, it will need a separate licence. This is governed by Decree No: 67/2013/ND-CP with a series of amendments in subsequent decrees.

To obtain a licence to sell tobacco products in Vietnam, supermarket proprietors must apply for a licence from the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Their application should include:

  • Application form for a licence to distribute tobacco products (there is no specific format for this outlined in the decree).
  • A copy of the establishment’s Enterprise Registration Certificate or Business Registration Certificate and Tax Code Certificate;
  • A copy of a contract or agreement with a tobacco producer, distributor, or wholesaler.
  • The business results of the enterprise if the business is applying for the licence to be reissued or amended.

As with liquor licences, an application for a licence to sell tobacco in Vietnam attracts an appraisal fee of VND 1,200,000 (US$49). There is also an issuing fee of VND 200,000 (US$8) per Circular 168/2016/TT-BTC

Hiring retail workers in Vietnam

Entry-level supermarket workers in Vietnam are generally paid around minimum wage. Minimum wages in Vietnam are different for each of one of four key regions. These are outlined in Decree 38/2022/ND-CP

Regional minimum wages, current as of June 2022

MonthlyHourly
RegionVNDUSDVNDUSD
14,680,000$19522,500$0.94
24,160,000$17320,000$0.83
33,640,000$15117,500$0.73
43,250,000$13515,600$0.65

See also: Minimum Wage in Vietnam 2024: Your Questions Answered

Supermarket manager wages in Vietnam

Whereas entry-level staff are paid close to minimum wage, managers of supermarkets in Vietnam can earn substantially more. According to labour recruitment firm Indeed, the average wage of a store manager in Vietnam is VND 12,017,493 (US$472.29). Note that Indeed’s data is taken from a relatively small pool, however, job listings for supermarket managers do tend to give a wage range from VND 10 to 15 million (US$410 to US$623).

See also: Average Salary in Vietnam 2024: Quick Guide

Intellectual property protection

Protecting intellectual property in Vietnam can be challenging. It is common for local businesses to use brand names and logos of other more well-established businesses. As of 2022, Vietnam remained on the Office of the US Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report which labelled IP enforcement as ‘a serious challenge’ for the burgeoning nation. That said, it is a signatory to most international intellectual property treaties and it has made a number of key reforms in recent years to strengthen IP protections.

Trademarking a supermarket’s intellectual property in Vietnam

With respect to establishing a supermarket in Vietnam, there are a number of items of intellectual property that supermarket owners may want to consider trademarking. A unique product name, a brand name, or a company logo could all be the subject of a trademark application.

Note that Vietnam is a signatory to the Madrid Agreement and therefore, firms with trademarks approved in other countries that are also party to the agreement will automatically have their trademarks recognised in Vietnam.

Likewise, businesses that register a trademark in Vietnam will automatically have protection in the other countries party to the agreement.

Filing a trademark application in Vietnam

In order to apply for a trademark a firm must first complete an application that includes:

  • A trademark registration declaration,
  • An image of the trademark between 3cm x 3cm and 8cm x 8cm,
  • A list of products and services that are to be registered;
  • A power of attorney, if necessary, and
  • Proof of payment of all necessary fees and charges.

Trademarks in Vietnam are then filed with the Intellectual Property Office of Vietnam (IPVN). It can take 12 to 18 months for a trademark application in Vietnam to be approved.

Fees and taxes for supermarkets in Vietnam

New businesses will need to register with the General Department of Taxation in order to pay their taxes and ensure they are tax-compliant. There are also a number of recurring fees and taxes that new supermarket owners in Vietnam should be aware of.

Business licence fees

Limited liability companies in Vietnam are required to pay a business licence fee annually. This must be paid by January 30. These fees depend on the registered capital of the firm.

Business licence fees, 2023

Registered CapitalFee (VND)
Less than 10 billion VND (US$415,671)2,000,000 (US$83)
Greater than 10 billion VND (US$415,671)3,000,000 (US$124)

Source: Decree No. 20/VBHN-BTC

Value-Added tax (VAT)

The specifics of the VAT are outlined in Law No. 13/2008/QH12. Broadly, this is a consumption-based tax on goods and services in Vietnam. It is generally charged at the point of sale for retail businesses. There are some exceptional circumstances in which VAT declarations and payments can be made quarterly, however, payments are usually made to the General Department of Taxation each month. VAT is generally charged at 10 percent of the sale price, though for select specialty items, it is only 5 percent, and some items are also exempt.

Personal Income Tax (PIT)

PIT is levied on a worker’s wages in Vietnam. The amount to be collected is on a sliding scale, the more a worker earns the more PIT they pay. Employers are required to collect PIT on an employee’s wages and pay said tax to the General Department of Taxation each month. If approved by the authorities an enterprise may be able to make tax payments quarterly instead. The PIT is governed by Law No. 04/2007/QH12.

Corporate Income Tax (CIT)

CIT is the tax a company pays. The standard CIT payment is 20 percent of assessable income, however, on large investments foreign firms have been known to receive tax breaks. This tax is paid yearly though firms can make payments quarterly. The CIT is governed by Law No. 14/2008/QH12

Getting help opening a supermarket in Vietnam

There is a broad range of tax agents, lawyers, market research firms, human resource professionals, and all-in-one consultancies in Vietnam that can assist entrepreneurs in opening a supermarket in Vietnam→Let us connect you with a market entry expert.

Furthermore, for up-to-date information on what is happening in Vietnam’s supermarket industry sector at any given time, make sure to subscribe to the-shiv.

share

get connected with an expert
contribute a guest post
send a letter to the editor
submit a press release

latest news

Hanoi university signs agreement with Australian mining firms

With reserves estimated to be the second biggest in the world after China, and rare earth minerals becoming increasingly necessary in a slew of electronics, miners from all over have been actively courting partnerships with Vietnamese mining firms. Needless to say, partnerships with local universities is one way for these firms to open doors…

Read More »

State Bank of Vietnam denies change of exchange rate policy

With Forex reserves being spent hand over fist trying to keep the dong from devaluing, there has been speculation that greater intervention may be needed, specifically an interest rate hike. On Thursday Bloomberg reported that Malayan Banking Berhad was expecting an interest rate hike possibly as early as this week…

Read More »

Korean credit card firms struggle to crack Vietnam market

Indeed, demand for credit has plummeted over the last year or two as thrifty Vietnamese have tightened their belts. By the end of March credit growth was at just 1.34 percent. That said, credit cards have not proven to be very popular in Vietnam in general, with consumers tending to spend only…

Read More »

UK Pork approved for export to Vietnam

Of note, back in March it was reported that the a submission had been made by Vietnamese meat producers to the Government of Vietnam requesting additional technical barriers on imported meats. This was necessary, they argued, to level the playing field with other meat producing countries.

Read More »

Vietnam News Roundup: May 17 to May 23

This week’s Vietnam news roundup covers the latest news on Vietnam’s foreign reserves, updates on VinFast’s mounting troubles in the US, conflicting claims over electricity conservation, the USDA trade mission to Vientam, bad debts, open market operations, and more.

Read More »

Unpaid taxes blamed on late payment from Electricity Vietnam

EVN was selling electricity at a loss for most of last year and 2022 and the start of this year too. This saw the state-owned enterprise accumulate losses of over US$1.5 billion. It has never been made clear how these losses have been covered but, in light of these claims, it could very well be that power producers may be footing the bill.

Read More »
Contents

advertising enquiry

submit a press release

Note that it will be marked as a press release/sponsored post.

guest post

We publish guest posts of 800 to 1000 words from experts who have something unique to say on topics relevant to our audience. 

get connected with an expert

letters to the editor

We review letters for quality and authority and generally only publish views that add to the discussion from experts in their field.