Thailand Expats Considering Vietnam
After receiving a lot of messages over the past year to Saigon Expat Services, we thought we would put this email together for the Stickman readers to give an overview about moving to Vietnam, and in particularly Saigon to give you an idea of what life in Vietnam is about. I read the article from Mega and thought I would share my experience after 15 years living in this country to help give Stickman readers an insight into living in Vietnam.
Vietnam is a fantastic place to live and the locals really enjoy having westerners in their country. They are very friendly and welcoming here Vietnam. Eating healthily is extremely cheap, the beach is never far away and the country is booming. Tourists are flocking to this amazing country and it’s firmly on the radar for expats from Thailand and from around the region, especially those looking to retire.
Saigon has a very large expat base with a hugely popular darts and pool league amongst other clubs and social groups. 10 years ago you may have been stuck finding a good quality restaurant. Now they are opening each week and we are blessed to have a huge range of international and local cuisines suitable for all budgets.
However, as soon as you leave the main cities and get in to the beautiful country side, you will find a slower and relaxing way of life not influenced by western culture.
Vietnam is a very safe place to live with very little violent crime aimed at westerners. You will also find the police don’t harass foreigners as much like in neighboring countries.
That said, nowhere is perfect and you have to be vigilant when investing in a home or business with a local. It’s always advisable to get a good lawyer, even if it’s your loved one, as there have been many expats who have lost money. This is certainly not confined to Thailand.
Arriving in Vietnam
The number of people coming here is significantly increasing, a lot more people are now retiring to Vietnam due to the low cost of living and slow pace of life. You only need to look back a few years ago at Tan Son Nhat airport in Saigon to see the difference. It can now take up to a few hours to get through customs these days due to the amount of people arriving. Tourism is up and long term visitors are definitely growing.
Fortunately, the airport in Saigon is only 7 km to downtown so it’s fairly quick to get to your hotel if you are staying in District one – the main business hub. Many visitors like to spend time in the outer lying districts where you will find a more Vietnamese way of life.
The good news is there’s a new airport being built 50 km away in Long Tan which will be able to handle 100 million people once completely finished! It will be interesting to see how this will affect the infrastructure around Saigon when the first stage is (supposedly) finished in 2025. Even with the new MRT system being built I doubt it could handle the influx.
On that note, be very careful about choosing a taxi outside the airport. Never get one from someone who approaches you (this should be the rule anywhere in Vietnam). There are many incidents off people getting ripped off. Always go to the Mai Linh or Vina Sun rank just outside on the left. You will see someone with a bright green shirt you can ask to help. If you are familiar with Uber, download GRAB APP, they are very reputable here in Vietnam, using both safe car drivers and motobikes.
Cost of living
Living as an expat in Vietnam can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. There are expats who get by in Saigon for 1000USD or less a month – which includes eating and drinking out a few days of the week at a western restaurant – whilst paying 250USD for a room in a shared house.
Other expats like to drink and eat at expensive restaurants and classy rooftop bars and don’t see much left from a 4000USD salary at the end of the month. Your money will go as far you want it to and you really do enjoy a good life here.
Living on a small budget doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy yourself. It just means you might be drinking in local places – which I might add, many expats prefer to do. The local food and drinking holes are great fun and very reasonable indeed on your wallet.
Most expats who come to work in Vietnam choose Saigon to live at first. A lot of people will move to the suburbs towns of either Phu My Hung in District 7, or Thao Dien in District 2. Both of these places have international hospitals, schools and a good range of expat bars and restaurants.
District 7 is generally more relaxing with nice parks and wide open boulevards. A 2-bedroom modern apartment starts from 500USD a month.
District 2 is where the upper-crust generally live with apartments starting at 600USD all the way up to 5000+ for a villa on a private compound.
Due to the traffic congestion in District 1, there’s no reason to leave D2 or D7 as they have all the amenities you need. These days there isn’t much you can’t get with large western style supermarkets and shopping malls selling high quality products.
As for beer and eating out prices – if you drink in the main tourist streets of Bui Vien and De Tham in the Pham Ngu Lao backpackers area you are going to pay over the price. Some bars are asking 3 – 5 USD a beer – and then there’s a high risk of being over-charged for things you haven’t bought.
This area is crowded every night with backpackers and tourists with the usual scams and pick-pocketers out in force. Most expats avoid this area like the plague due to the increasing crime rate in this area alone.
However, if you like this kind of atmosphere, there are some very inexpensive bars / restaurants parallel to De Tham that offer bottles of Tiger for as little as 1 USD. Some of the expat clientele have been drinking there for over 15 years and prices have hardly changed.
One of the main expat drinking areas in the central business district (D1) is around the Pasteur Street, Ton Thap Thiep Streets. There are a huge number of sports bars, hostess bars and restaurants in this area and it’s very rare you bump into any backpackers.
Prices also can vary a lot here. A sports bar may well charge 2.5 USD for a small Tiger draught whilst the Number 5 bar around the corner does an incredible happy hour of ‘drink as much as you want Tiger / Heineken’ for only 5USD from 3 PM till 7 PM – with the eye candy to go with it!
If you explore some of the outer districts and you can find some fantastic local street food areas selling all kinds of food. These places are where the locals go and there’s some real bargains to be had in a fun and lively atmosphere.
By far the biggest expense for a lot of expats in Vietnam are the education fees for children. Expect to pay from 20-35k USD a year for a good international school.
In fact, children’s education fees are one of the main factors for expats returning to their home countries from Vietnam.
If you’re planning on retiring in Vietnam and don’t want to be in the hustle or bustle of a major city then Vung Tau could be a serious option. Only 2 hours from Saigon, it can offer extremely good value in a peaceful and relaxing setting. Located on a peninsula next to the beach, there’s a large expat population living there with many expat bars and restaurants. Prices are extremely cheap with beers around 1 USD and western meals at 5 USD at an average place.
For more information about living costs you can click on our article here.
We get asked a lot about visas to Vietnam from Thai expats. The most popular is – does Vietnam offer a retirement visa? The answer is no.
If you are legally employed or married to a local then you can get a Temporary Residence Card (TRC) for a maximum of 2 years. Married expats can also apply for a 5 year marriage visa.
Some expats will get a business license or open a small business which means they can also get a 2 year TRC and supporting work permit.
Most expats however live and work on 3 month visas, which means doing runs to the Cambodia border (2 hours each way approx).
So far expats haven’t had any issues with extending their visa time and time again. How long will expats be allowed to do this? Nobody knows.
If you fancy a quick trip over to Vietnam for a holiday many European countries such as the UK now have visa exemptions for 2 weeks. The good news is they are looking to extend this to 30 days.
Fortunately for American citizens, they are currently allowed to get a 1 year tourist visa for Vietnam.
Most expats living in Vietnam rent a motorbike for around 40-50 USD a month. It’s both cheap and convenient getting through the traffic. Buying a good helmet and insurance before arriving could be one your best investments – traffic accidents do happen a lot and you shouldn’t trust the plastic helmets they sell on the street.
If riding a bike is not your thing then Grab-bike and Grab-car are extremely cheap. Think 1 dollar for a 4 km trip. This is also safer than flagging down one of thousands of unlicensed cabs who will charge you exorbitant prices.
Expats can also rent and drive cars. However, with how cheap it is for transport, it’s an unnecessary cost to many.
Read here for more details about transport apps.
Teaching is the most popular job in Vietnam. There’s a huge demand for people and salaries are very good. Even a backpacker with no degree can earn 20 USD+ an hour after tax as a teacher. This means even the teachers can afford to drink at the more upscale bars and have plenty spare to travel around Vietnam in their holidays.
There are fewer executive jobs being offered to expats these days as the locals are being taken on at a quarter of the expected expat salary. However, experience and competence goes a long way and usually westerners are needed somewhere along the supply chain to keep an eye on things. As in most Asian countries, having good relationships can help get you in to good positions.
With the rise of the Vietnamese middle-class and their disposable incomes, expats now have a large local market to target for business. This has opened a lot of opportunities for the budding expat entrepreneurs. Getting a business license is also straight forward and westerners are allowed to have it 100% under a foreign name.
For more info you can check out detailed article about how to get a job in Saigon.
Vietnam isn’t for everyone. Thailand certainly has better shopping, transport links and more things to see and do. However, with the strong baht and higher cost of living in Thailand, Vietnam maybe a place people move to out of necessity and not just a new experience.
Saigon Expat Services is the leading source of information for Expats moving to and living in Vietnam. We offer a FREE advisory service, FREE access to our popular blog and Saigon’s biggest business directory. For any questions about moving to Vietnam contact us through our website here.