Vietnam is an inexpensive country to live in. Most items cost less than half of what you would pay in the West, and anywhere from 5% to 25% less than what they would cost in many other Southeast Asian countries.

Vietnam’s most expensive city is Ho Chi Minh City, followed by Hanoi. Even in these two places, a couple can enjoy a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle for less than $1,100 per month. Many Westerners who live in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City get by spending around $500 per month, but it’s a no-frills lifestyle. A monthly budget of around $4,000 provides for top-end luxury, including a large, furnished home with a view of a lake or park, eating at 5-star restaurants, and taking frequent cruises and sightseeing trips throughout Vietnam.

If you live outside of Vietnam’s two largest cities, in places like Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, and Vung Tau, prices will be much less. In any of these destinations, a budget of around $800 to $1,000 per month will provide a lovely house or apartment, all utilities, housekeeping, groceries, dining out every day if you choose, and even the occasional massage. In all of these towns, you can find a place to live just a short walk from the beach, or even a home with an ocean view. If you can manage a budget of $3,000 to $4,000 per month, you can rent a modern villa with a private pool and live like royalty while eating and drinking at the best restaurants in town.

Of course, your lifestyle will determine how much you really need to spend. Western restaurants and imported food stores are easily found throughout Vietnam, but go to them often and you’ll be adding considerable expenses to your budget. If you are willing to buy locally produced groceries and household goods, eat and drink at restaurants where the locals go, and live a relatively simple lifestyle, you can reduce your monthly budget by at least 25%. Two people can enjoy a full local-style meal of rice or noodles, meat, vegetables, and a couple of draft beers for less than $5. For comparison, ordering one deluxe hamburger, fries, and a bottle of imported beer at a Western-style restaurant can cost about $10.

A cleaning lady will cost $2 or $3 an hour, and a full-time, live-in maid will charge around $100 per month. A pre-paid cell phone plan with unlimited data is about $3 per month, high-speed fiber-optic internet is around $11 per month, and cable TV is just $7 per month.

Medications that would require a doctor’s visit and a prescription in the West can be purchased over the counter in Vietnam at a small fraction of the price.

Here is a sample monthly budget for two people living a middle-class lifestyle in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City:

 Expense  U.S. $
 Apartment rental (one bedroom)  $450 to $600
 Electricity  $50 to $60
 Water  $2
 Cell phone with unlimited data  $3
 Gas for cooking  $2
 Internet, fiber-optic  $11
 Cable TV  $7
 Housekeeper (four hours a week)  $40
 Transportation (two monthly bus passes)  $14
 Groceries  $85
 Entertainment (eating out five nights a week, including beer or soft drinks)  $250 to $300
 Monthly Total:  $914 to $1,124

If you lived in Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, or Vung Tau, your monthly budget would be about 10% to 20% less than this.

If you are living in Vietnam with a three-month visa, you’ll also need to factor in the cost of trips abroad. The cost of a visa run will vary depending on where you decide to go—Bangkok and Hong Kong are two popular and affordable getaways that are served by budget airlines.

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