Vietnam will celebrate the Lunar New Year, or Tet – its biggest holiday – on Monday but ATMs have entered an ‘out-of-service season,’ when demand for cash withdrawal spikes.

An increasing number of salaried workers in Vietnam are now paid by card and they need cash to cover Tet preparations at least a month prior to the holiday.

That ATMs break down and run out of money en masse during the season of high demand has happened for years, despite banks’ repeated promises to replenish their machines with sufficient amounts of money.

On January 31, P., a BIDV cardholder, visited an ATM booth on Hoang Van Thu Street in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City, but eventually had to leave with no cash.

“I tried all three machines there and they were out of cash,” he said.

P. then came to another ATM on nearby Phan Dang Luu Street, only to be able to get VND50,000 (US$2.4). His next attempts on several other machines in Binh Thanh District all failed.

Dao Minh Tu, deputy governor of the State Bank of Vietnam, the country’s central bank, has recommended that people come to bank offices to withdraw money from their ATM accounts, instead of using the machines.

Many cardholders in Hanoi have followed the recommendation, only to be asked to pay a surcharge for their withdrawal.

“When I asked to withdraw VND20 million $893 from my ATM account, the teller told me to pay a fee of VND22,000 $1,” said Phung Minh Tuan, a Vietinbank cardholder in Dong Da District.

Tuan had spent three days visiting different Vietinbank ATMs, but still failed to get the VND20 million he needed. Even his last resort proved disappointing.

“I do not understand,” he said. “The central bank official has suggested that people withdraw money from banks instead of ATMs, and I was charged for doing so.”

N. L. H., a Cau Giay District resident, said she would not want to directly get her money from the bank offices.

“I will have to wait and pay a fee if I come to a bank,” the Agribank cardholder said. “So I still wanted to draw my money from the ATMs.”

But H. could not find any working ATM in her locale.

“One machine ran out of money and the other was under maintenance,” she said.

Nguyen Hoang Minh, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City branch of the State Bank of Vietnam, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on Sunday that he had received myriad complaints about out of service ATMs over the weekend.

“The central bank will urge banks to ensure the operations of their ATMs during the holiday,” he said.

Tuoi Tre News - February 2, 2016