Read carefully: Taxis at HCM airport is the worst scam, and one of the worst experiences about visiting Vietnam. By reading below and taking the best of cautions, hopefully you will not have your visit ruined right from the start!
Background: The Saigon airport authorities have tried various systems over the years to raise money by offering a monopoly or quasi-monopoly to particular taxi companies (which of course results in higher fares for travelers.) The Vietnamese hate being gouged, however. (Probably 90% of landings at the domestic terminal and a majority at the international are Vietnamese.) Complaints and work-around resistance have tended to undermine whatever monopoly system was attempted. The result is a slow-motion cat and mouse scenario which could change over time. When the international terminal was first opened, a company called Saigon Airport Taxi had a total monopoly, and quoted fixed triple rates to everyone (not just foreigners). That system faded within a year, and lately, all the major companies can pick up at the terminal, though a 10,000 dong airport tax is added to the fare.
Instructions: At the ground floor (arrival floor) of international terminal, you have three options: 1. Go upstairs two floors by elevator (departure floor) and find Vinasun taxi stand at right-end terminal. (This taxi stand could not be found as of July 2012) 2. If you are light on your feet, and the options look dodgy, turn right out of the terminal and walk 200 m to the domestic terminal parking lot for better selection. (Unverified) 3. Right as you exit the International airport Arrivals, there is a taxi queue on the left. You will see taxis by several companies standing in a queue. You will likely be approached by several people. Some may insist that a ticket must be purchased at a certain counter. Ignore all of them. Just go to the queue of taxis, and look for a green Mai Linh taxi (pay attention to the spelling) in the queue. Unlike what you may expect, you DO NOT need to get into the first taxi in the queue, you can get into any taxi in the middle of the queue and it will immediately leave. If there isn't a Mai Linh taxi to be found, wait until one comes and joins the queue and get into it. As of July 2012, Vinasun taxis were not using this common queue.
From airport to district 1 (downtown), the metered taxi fare is around 140,000 dong (as of July 2012). A toll fee of 10,000 dong will be added.
At the Domestic terminal, a company called Sasco has the airport taxi concession and is the only company allowed to pick up directly adjacent to the building. Their cars are the first you will see by the curb as you exit customs. Less expensive rivals, however, can be found usually in abundance 100 m out into the parking lot, usually they have uniformed taxi wardens who will try to capture your business as you approach. Taxi rates are very reasonable in HCMC, as long as you get a reputable company and the meter is used. Vinasun ☎ +84 8 3827 2727 and Mai Linh are the largest fleets in the city and reliably honest, with meters that start automatically after the car has moved about 5 m. See the main taxi section below for other reliable companies. When in doubt, make sure the driver agrees to use the meter, and turns it on before you get in. Choosing carefully is important, since various over-price scams target foreigners in particular, usually involving eager touts who will try to get a hold of your luggage. A dishonest driver might start driving without starting the meter, and demand a high fare or try to negotiate for a fixed price at a location where it's difficult for a tourist to hire another cab. If can not find Vinasun or Mai Linh taxis outside the domestic terminal, cross the road and go to the right corner of the parking lot (just 1 minute by foot). The airport and official airport taxi "Sasco" does not allow another taxis to pick up customers at the Domestic terminal.
In lighter traffic periods (which only happens between 10PM-6AM or on a hot Sunday afternoon), the ride to the city centre takes as little as 15 min. More typically, taxis can creep along in near-standstill traffic for up to an hour. The fare from the airport to the city should range from 85,000 to 140,000 dong (not including airport tax) depending on time of day and exactly where you are going. Historically, taxi companies did not charge for time, only distance, but the dramatic worsening of traffic in recent years has caused time charges to creep in. The policy varies between companies and over time.
In general, use caution and common sense when hiring a taxi in HCMC. When locals avoid a particular taxi service/driver, you should sense something is wrong as well. Blindly queuing for taxis may cost you, so look for the taxi wardens usually standing around the queue line (Mai Linh wardens are in green shirt green tie, Vinasun warden are in dark green shirt maroon tie), and they will radio the taxi for you. At the airport, several taxi companies are not honest, so if you choose to buy a "taxi coupon" at one of the counters after the custom declaration and x-ray at international airport terminal, next to the exchange counter, it puts you at risk of being scammed.
Be cautious of taxis which resemble the above mentioned reputable companies, yet are actually scam artists. A lot of gangster taxis exist and some very closely copy names and markings of the more reputable taxi companies with very minor differences, e.g. VinasOn or VinasuM instead of VinaSUN, MEi Linh or Mai Lin or M Taxi instead of Mai Linh) To the unsuspecting visitor, they will charge outrageous fares. There have been instances of the fake cab services/drivers running off with unsuspecting, overly trusting visitor's belongings still in the taxi trunk/boot.
Caution; there are some taxis mimicking VinaSUN, even copying their phone number (written as 38 27 27 27) but omitting the prefix, that have meters that run three times as fast. This one is VinaMET. Also the same scam is going on with copiers of Mai LINH. Do not use these scammers.
Watch out for taxi touts who also dress in white shirt uniforms and brandish laminated "fixed prices" cards at 4,400,000 dong per car to the city hotels. They will be prepared to drop the price to 2,600,000 dong but it is still a rip-off. Ignore them, and stick to the metered taxis.
If you are to take metered taxi, you should change just enough amount of money (usually around US$10 is sufficient) at the airport. The exchange in the airport may charge a commission as high as 3%. Taxi drivers earn commission by taking customers to certain hotels, so be explicit about exactly which hotel you want to be driven. To trick visitors into staying at other (commission paying) hotels, drivers may come up with any kind of excuses, e.g., "no vacancy", "the circus is in town", "that hotel burned down recently" and similar stories.
editCar rental service and drivers
Recently, Budget car rental became the first international car rental company in Vietnam. They offer English speaking drivers and new model vehicles. One trip to the city costs a fixed price of 140,000 dong.
Airport pick up by private car (Hanoi Airport Taxi), Vietnam Transfer Service, Saigon tourist, SATSCO counter right at Tansonnhat arrival terminal.