Vietnam’s ascendancy is staggering and owes a lot to its Doi Moi reform policy, implemented in the 1980s, which has propelled it from a traditional to a modern economy. Many expats are drawn to Vietnam’s fast-growing tourism sector, but telecommunications, exports and finance are among the many industries on the up-and-up.
Moving anywhere new is bound to offer some unique challenges, and Vietnam is no exception. From finding the best jobs to getting the most out of your lifestyle in your new home in South-East Asia – here’s everything you need to know about living expat life in Vietnam.
Is Vietnam safe for expats?
Yes, living in Vietnam for expats is relatively safe. The country rarely experiences horrible natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. The security, especially in large cities, is acceptable.
However, the first thing you need to know about Vietnam is that it is a one-party communist country. Vietnam has a socialist republic form of government, so if you are coming from an urbanised, Western country, you are sure to experience a bit of culture shock.
For one thing, certain freedoms that you may have taken for granted will be severely limited in Vietnam. It ranks 175th out of 180 countries for press freedom.
Is Vietnam affordable for expats?
Absolutely. In fact, Vietnam is easily one of the most affordable countries in the world.
Expats in Vietnam can expect to earn a staggering salary – averaging US$78,000/£55,000 – especially if they are employed in a high-growth industry or multinational company.
Furthermore, the cost of living in Vietnam is very low. Even in the cities of Hanoi and Saigon, the average expenses for a small family won’t exceed US$1,500/£1,100 per month, including rent and eating out at restaurants.
Expat families earning a good salary can therefore expect to live a luxurious, metropolitan lifestyle, with cash left over.
Where should I live in Vietnam?
The standard of accommodation in Vietnam is, by and large, excellent. In the main tourist areas the range caters to all budgets, and though prices are a little expensive by Southeast Asian standards, the quality is generally quite high.
Grading accommodation isn’t a simple matter in Vietnam. The names used (guesthouse, mini-hotel, hotel and so on) can rarely be relied upon to indicate what’s on offer, and there are broad overlaps in standards. Vietnam’s older hotels tend to be austere, state-owned edifices styled upon unlovely Eastern European models, while many private mini-hotels make a real effort.
Some hotels cover all bases by having a range of rooms, from simple fan-cooled rooms with cold water, right up to cheerful air-conditioned accommodation with satellite TV, fridge and mini-bar. As a rule of thumb, the newer a place is, the better value it’s likely to represent in terms of comfort, hygiene and all-round appeal.
Which is the best location to live in Vietnam as an expat?
As a first time expat in Vietnam, you will probably want to stay close to the two major metropolitan areas – Hanoi in the North, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the South. You will probably find life in the major cities fairly similar to that in large Western cities, with plenty of access to food, leisure, entertainment, transport and so on. Two of the most popular neighbourhoods with English-speaking expats include Tay Ho in Hanoi and Binh Thanh in Ho Chi Minh City.
The coastal cities of Da Nang and Nha Trang are also popular locations for expats looking for a quieter way of life. Getting used to living in Vietnam might take expats some time as the country is a noisy place, and you are probably going to face much more noise than back home.
How much does it cost to rent in Vietnam?
Living in Vietnam is not ridiculously expensive. As an expat in Vietnam, you will find a fantastic selection of luxurious but reasonably-priced properties. Even in the centre of big cities, spacious two-bedroom apartments rarely cost more than US$1,500 per month to rent. To put that in perspective, a two-bedroom apartment in downtown San Francisco typically costs around US$5,000 per month.
And, if you are willing to live a little further out, you could find rents as low as US$400–600 per month for one-bedroom apartments.
Also, many of the apartments for rent in Vietnam’s major cities come fully-furnished, so you won’t need to worry about adding the cost of new furniture to your moving bill.
Can I buy land in Vietnam as an expat?
While actual land ownership is not possible at this time for non-Vietnamese, expats living in Vietnam can gain a 50-year lease for land and then build a house upon that land.
How do I find a job in Vietnam as an expat?
One of the most popular jobs for expats in Vietnam is language teaching. Many English language schools provide on-the-job training and qualified teachers can make substantial salaries.
If you’re looking to continue a career you’ve started in your home country, in a sector such as business, finance or marketing, you may find job opportunities thin on the ground. There are some multinational companies with offices in Vietnam, and many more companies are starting to move to Vietnam, especially those looking to relocate from China.
You may therefore want to see whether your current employer will allow you to transfer to their office in Vietnam, if they have one. However, nothing stops you from trying to find a job abroad or becoming a digital nomad in Vietnam.
by Joe Holden @ william-russell.com. Edited by Vietnam Insider’s staff