The 50 Numismas banknote, printed with the image of chicken, is imported from Australia and sold in Asian cities as “lucky money” for the Lunar New Year 2017. (File Photo)

HCM City (VNA) - The popular practice of exchanging new or special banknotes for a fee kicked off several weeks ago in many big cities, with one month to go before the start of Tet (Lunar New Year).

Every year, people use new or special banknotes as “lucky money” or charity offerings when they visit the pagoda during the Lunar New Year holiday.

Weeks before Tet, families begin to prepare for the tradition by buying new or special banknotes.

The notes are often freely exchanged by banks, but due to high demand, services in the black market have become even busier.

The note-exchange services are often also offered near pagodas, but this year social media networks like Facebook have become popular destinations as well.

Buyers can easily find websites online offering the services. Notes in high demand are those of smaller denominations, such as 500 VND, 1,000 VND, 2,000 VND, 5,000 VND and 10,000 VND.

The website www.doitienmoi.net, which offers a new money-exchange service, has told customers that it now has enough new money for all notes from 500 VND to 200,000 VND (8.7 USD), with a service charge ranging from 0.6 percent to 50 percent (for notes of 500 VND).  

The website offers its services in all provinces and cities in the southern region.

In HCM City’s Tan Binh District, a store representative said it had run out of 500 VND notes, but 10,000 VND and 20,000 VND notes were still available.

Notes of 50,000 VND will be available in about a week or so, it said. The store charges a 10-15 percent fee for its services.

Meanwhile, on Facebook, similar services exchange foreign currency, with the most popular item of 2 USD note.

This year, demand has increased greatly for 2 USD notes printed with an image of a chicken – the zodiac animal for Lunar New Year 2017.

A Facebooker, who began receiving orders for notes last Saturday, said the 2 USD notes with an image of a chicken sell for about 450,000 VND (20 USD).

An Australian coin with an image of Queen Elizabeth II and one with an image of chicken are also in high demand. The price is 200,000 VND for a gold coin and 150,000 VND for a silver coin.

Although the services have become even more popular this year, they remain illegal.  

Nguyen Hoang Minh, deputy director of the HCM City branch for the State Bank of Vietnam, said that banks could exchange notes freely if notes were ruined and could not be used.

However, he said that all money exchange activities with fees were not allowed.

Minh said that demand for new money peaked near the end of the year and up to Tet.

He said the central bank had told its branches in cities and provinces to educate people about saving small notes to use at Lunar New Year or when visiting pagodas and temples.

The bank has said it would supervise and punish cases that involve illegal exchanges of money at pagodas, festivals or online websites.

Dao Minh Tu, deputy governor of the State Bank of Vietnam, was quoted as saying in Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper that anyone engaging in illegal exchanges would be fined 20-40 million VND under Decision 96 of the Government.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the bank has not printed new small notes to meet demand at Lunar New Year, according to Tu.-VNA