Vietnam is a young and energetic country that has a lot to offer expats.
Expats enjoy a high quality of life at almost unbelievably low prices. Cell phone and internet coverage is excellent and extremely affordable. Rents can vary considerably, but even a five-star luxury lifestyle will cost far less than you might expect.
Trains run almost the entire length of the country, connecting the bustling and historic capital city of Hanoi in the north to the modern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Highways are improving, and in both cities, light rail lines will be operational soon.
Vietnam has three main international airports, where non-stop flights to many Asian and European destinations are available. There are direct flights from Australia to Ho Chi Minh City too. Several budget airlines offer inexpensive domestic and international flights.
Although France’s lengthy occupation of Vietnam is long over, their legacy has lived on. Beautiful French mansions and public buildings are located throughout the country, parks are abundant, and trees line the city streets. Sidewalk bistros sell deliciously rich coffee and French-style baguettes.
The Vietnamese people provide the most compelling reason to live in Vietnam. They are hard-working and determined, but above all, they are unfailingly polite and welcoming. Earnest and curious, they will often approach foreigners in the hopes of practicing their English skills or learning about the outside world. It is not difficult to integrate into the Vietnamese culture, as these interactions seem to have a way of turning into lifelong friendships.
Vietnam is a long country that stretches from China in the north to the Gulf of Thailand in the south. Beach lovers will enjoy exploring more than 2,000 miles of coastline.
It is also a mountainous country, with many stunning waterfalls, mighty rivers, extensive cave systems, mysterious karst towers, verdant terraced rice paddies, and spectacular scenery.
The south enjoys warm and tropical weather year-round, while northern Vietnam has four distinct seasons. It may occasionally snow in the northern mountains.
Although English is not an official language, it is widely spoken and understood. Vietnam is considered one of the top Asian countries for English speakers. Even in the mo
st rural villages, there is likely to be someone who is proficient in English.
Tens of thousands of foreigners have settled in Vietnam. Many of them live in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, though smaller populations have found homes throughout the country. Expats in Vietnam tend to be quite social and welcoming. Smaller cities where plenty of expats can be found include Nha Trang, Hoi An, Da Nang, Vung Tau, and Hue.
Vietnam has one of the most diverse and healthy cuisines in the world, which has put it on the map as a top culinary destination. Yet people who want a break from local food can rely on a huge array of international restaurants and imported food shops.
A couple can live comfortably anywhere in Vietnam on a budget of less than $2,000 per month. Smaller cities, such as Nha Trang, Da Lat, and Hoi An, are affordable and expat-friendly. A monthly budget of $1,000 or less can be enough to provide a couple with a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle in these areas.
According to Standard Chartered Bank, Vietnam has the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia. Foreign investors have taken advantage of low local wages, a highly educated workforce, and a business-friendly environment. New skyscrapers tower over traditional markets in Ho Chi Minh City. Global restaurant chains, along with well-known high fashion clothing, jewelry, and accessory shops, have sprung up in glittery new shopping malls. Despite all the development, the heart of the city is still dominated by small, family-owned stores and wandering vendors. Hanoi remains an even more traditional city, with an abundance of historic temples and pagodas, yet even here, new highways, skyscrapers, and international brands are slowly making inroads.
In so many ways, there has never been a better time to come to Vietnam.
The Pros and Cons of Living in Vietnam
By Wendy Justice
Vietnam is a remarkably diverse country. Boasting more than 2,000 miles of coastline, modern cities, pristine mountains, and welcoming locals, there is enough here to keep you fascinated for a lifetime—but as with all things in life, it’s not perfect.
I’ve lived in Vietnam for more than nine years now, embracing the pros and accepting the cons. Here are a few of the pluses and minuses that I’ve discovered about living here.
Pros: Vietnam stretches more than 1,000 miles from China in the north to the Gulf of Thailand in the south, so you can choose the climate you like. The capital city of Hanoi has four distinct seasons; it sometimes snows in the mountains to the north and northwest and the city can be quite chilly during the winter. In the summer, the opposite is true; the temperatures will exceed 100 F at least a few days every year.
Farther south, the weather becomes tropical. Ho Chi Minh City is warm year-round, though it tends to be slightly cooler than Hanoi in the summer. The mountain town of Dalat, northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, is cool year-round due to its 6,000-foot elevation.
Mild winters and hot summers are typical for the central coast, though offshore breezes help make the climate comfortable even during the hottest months.
Cons: Vietnam is humid year-round. Sometimes, it seems as if you can feel the air, and laundry never seems to get completely dry. Wherever you live, you’ll likely want air conditioning at least occasionally in the summer; fortunately, energy prices are quite reasonable.
Warm, sunny climates make for lovely weather but sunburn can be a part of life here, especially if your lifestyle includes plenty of beach time. Many locals wear hats or use umbrellas for shade whenever they’re out and about.
Some parts of the country, especially those along the Central Coast including Da Nang and Hoi An, experience tropical storms and typhoons between September and November. Flooding may also occur during these storms.
Cost of Living
Pros: Vietnam’s cost of living is exceptionally low. Most couples find that they can live comfortably anywhere in the country for less than $1,500 per month—in many cases, they can live well for less than $1,000. If you eat Vietnamese food and buy local products, your shopping bill can be practically nothing. A big bag full of fresh vegetables purchased at a traditional market will probably cost $3 or less, and other items are similarly inexpensive. Alcohol and beer are great bargains—a glass of local draught beer costs about $0.55.
Most people in Vietnam, including expats, drive motorbikes. These little scooters have small engines and burn minimal gasoline. A full tank costs $3 to $4 and should last for a week. Maintenance is also cheap; I’ve sometimes wondered how mechanics make enough money to survive here. If you can’t imagine driving a motorbike, most cities offer good public transportation; a bus across town will set you back about $0.30 cents.
Entertainment in Vietnam is affordable by any standard. A movie ticket costs less than $4 and a ticket to the opera, with a good seat, is only around $30.
Cons: You can find almost any imported food in Vietnam though you may pay dearly for it. Some western-brand staples like pasta cost the same or less than you’re used to paying, though other imported items can be quite expensive. USDA beef is available but costs at least twice as much as Vietnamese beef, and a pound of South Korean apples might set you back $8 or more.
Ride hailing services such as Grab Taxi are available in most parts of Vietnam, making getting around hassle-free and inexpensive. Metered taxis may end up costing a lot more than a Grab. I’ve found that Hanoi Taxi Group in the north, Vinasun in the south, and Mai Linh throughout Vietnam, tend to have the most honest drivers. Even so, you still need to be vigilant.
Pros: Medical care has improved greatly in the past few years. Vietnam now has four JCI-accredited hospitals—one in Hanoi and three in Ho Chi Minh City. Prices are unbelievably low, averaging just 10% of what you would pay in the U.S.
Dental care is excellent and affordable. A check-up won’t set you back more than around $10 and many dental clinics include x-rays for free.
Medications that require a prescription in the U.S. are generally sold over-the-counter in Vietnam, and cost a fraction of the price.
Cons: Healthcare is provided in hospitals; there are few private medical clinics anywhere in the country. Outside of the major cities, medical care can be rudimentary or absent. Even in accredited hospitals, healthcare is not yet at international standards for complex conditions. Most individuals needing difficult surgery or treatments choose to travel to Thailand, Malaysia, or Singapore. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have medical insurance that includes evacuation.
Safety and Security
Pros: Violent crime is almost non-existent in Vietnam. It’s safe to walk the streets alone at night nearly everywhere, though you might want to use discretion if you’ve had too many mojitos. Local people tend to be exceptionally helpful; if you’re lost or needing assistance, someone will be there to lend a helping hand.
Roads are slowly improving; several major divided highways have been built in the last few years.
Driving isn’t the safest—it’s nothing like driving in the west—but many people like it because traffic laws are rarely enforced so they can drive however they like.
Cons: Everyone else can drive however they like, too. Minor fender benders are common, especially in urban areas, though serious accidents, especially on the highways, are also a problem. Rural roads, and even roads in urban areas, are often narrow and poorly maintained. You really do need to stay alert.
Proximity to the U.S.
Pros: Vietnam is expected to begin non-stop flights to the U.S. and Canada in the near future. Vietnam has several international airports, with direct flights to Australia, Asia, and Europe.
Cons: No matter how you go about it, a flight to the Western Hemisphere is long, and involves several time changes. Currently, the fastest flights (which still require at least one transfer) take at least 17 hours.
Activities and Recreation
Pros: You’ll never lack for opportunities to relax or challenge yourself in Vietnam. Explore the mountains, discover an empty beach, a hill-tribe village, or a hidden waterfall. Go for a trek or take a cruise. Sample the street food or indulge at a five-star restaurant. Shop in a traditional market or at a designer mall. Vietnam is so affordable, you can do all these things without denting your budget.
Cons: With so many friendly, English-speaking locals, your calendar might fill up with so many social visits; you’ll struggle to find the time to explore the country. We get around that by hiring a driver and travelling with a group of friends—accomplishing both at the same time.