As the cost of living goes up and the visa goalposts keep moving, many Thailand expats are talking about moving to Vietnam. But is Vietnam really all that better than Thailand? Is the cost of living lower? And what about the mooted visa rule changes coming to Vietnam in July? To get a better idea of what expat life in Vietnam is like, I put some questions to Dan Thomas, one of the partners at Saigon Expat Services.
We’ve never met yet and I actually don’t know that much about you so can you give us a bit of a run-down on what you do in Vietnam and how you came to be there in the first place?
Well, Stick, after traveling around Thailand and Asia in 2004 I decided to make the big move and head to Vietnam in 2006. Like many of your readers now, I was intrigued about Vietnam’s history and culture.
I arrived in Saigon really not knowing what to do and how long to stay. However, I fell in love with Vietnam immediately and I’ve never looked back.
I worked in real estate for many years which then evolved into my current business, Saigon Expat Services. It’s a free advice website for expats who want to settle in Vietnam. We cover everything from moving house and car rentals to insurance and travel.
As you know, there’s a lot of chatter on the forums and social media from Thailand expats who have had enough and are seriously looking at moving to Vietnam. Do you see evidence of this on the ground in Vietnam? And if you do, what do you make of it? And for that matter, what do medium- or long-term Western expats in Vietnam make of what some are saying could become an invasion of once-called-Thailand-home expats?
So far there has been a trickle of expats arriving from Thailand. I’ve met some and heard both positive and negative feedback. The consensus seems to be that Thailand is better to live, but Vietnam is cheaper.
Many are testing the water at the moment and coming over for a holiday to see if they can live here. I don’t think any local expats are worried here about an invasion as most people I know are settled in their jobs or businesses. In fact, some expat businesses would welcome more people coming over! There’s also a huge demand for teachers here as well so plenty of jobs to go around!
OK, I wasn’t going to ask about the teaching scene but now that you’ve mentioned it, what are the requirements for those who wish to teach? Is it the same as Thailand where a bachelor’s degree is needed for school and university jobs?
It’s a requirement but often overlooked at many of the language centres here.
If you plan to teach in Vietnam then most international schools or universities will require at least a degree in any subject to get you the work permit. Furthermore, an international school will require the full credentials such as a degree and teaching certificate from your home country. If you have this then you are the cream of the crop with regards to salaries and benefits!
However, many expats choose to work without a degree and work permit. It’s very rare that teachers get caught by the authorities but you should never take the risk.
These days expats in Thailand are a diverse bunch and the days when expats could be pigeon-holed in to one of a few categories (sex tourist turned resident / English teachers / diplomatic staff / expats with professional careers on 2- or 3-year contracts) are long gone. Today you can find expats in Thailand doing just about everything. How is the expat scene in Vietnam? Any idea on numbers? What’s the breakdown insomuch as which nationalities do you come across most in the expat scene, and what do they tend to be doing etc? And with Vietnam being communist, does that mean a bigger presence of Ruskies than you get in Thailand?
According to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, there are 83,500 expats living in Vietnam. The question is do these figures include all the expats on tourist visas? I doubt it.
Demographics change from city to city. Saigon and Da Nang has a mix of Westerners, Koreans and Japanese. In the capital, Hanoi you will find a large French community.
Vung Tau on the coast is very popular with Australian retirees.
8 – 10 years ago the good old Russians arrived and ‘took over’ a few beach towns with direct flights bringing in millions of tourists each year – especially in Nha Trang. It caused huge rent increases for businesses and most of the expats chose to close up and move on. You may only find 5 expat bars dotted around the area these days where as in the past you had streets lined with them. These days a lot of Russians have now left or can’t afford to travel and the Chinese have stopped going due to the virus. It’s a beautiful town – will the expats decide to move back?
As for expat jobs – most western expats in Vietnam are teachers. Think around 70%+. Most are from UK, Australia, US and now South Africa.
Salaries are high compared to Thailand. Think 20-25 USD an hour. Some only need to work 2 – 3 hours a day in the morning and spend the rest of their time sitting in the sun drinking – and they can save on that!
As for other jobs – many own businesses – which you can have 100% in your own name. There is also a big demand for managers in specialised fields with the growing economy.
Will this virus cause more businesses to move from China? Many were already planning it – maybe this will create even more opportunities.
There are two major reasons many expats are talking about leaving Thailand for Vietnam – the increasing cost of living and the increasing difficulty getting a visa and the seemingly ever-shifting goalposts. In other words, Thailand expats perceive these things will be better in Vietnam. Would you agree with them that things in these respects are better in Vietnam – or is it a case out of the cauldron and in to the fire?
That’s a good question and one we can only infer. Prices in the big cities such as Hanoi and Saigon are increasing – there’s no denying that. However, cities such as Da Lat, Da Nang and Vung Tau are still very cheap. Nobody can honestly say how long this will last. But it doesn’t seem to be changing soon – and most expats are very comfortable in these places.
As for visas, it really depends on your purpose to live in Vietnam. If you plan to come over and work legally – or open a business, or get married then the new visa rules that were mentioned in your column last week will be a huge positive to move here.
However, if you plan to live on 3 month tourist visas then you may want to wait and see if the new rules in July are enforced. Monthly border runs are going to put a lot of people off living here.
When I visited I got the impression Saigon had a lower cost of living, but I also know that visiting and living there are two different things. Do you have any thoughts on the general cost of living for an expat in Saigon compared to Bangkok? I know this is a bit of a how long is a piece of string question, but any general thoughts would be welcome.
Saigon can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it as an expat. I know people who live here comfortably on 800 USD a month eating where the locals go (which doesn’t mean it’s bad), whilst others get through 5000 USD a month eating and drinking at expensive restaurants and clubs.
Prices in downtown Saigon are creeping up for sure – especially in the tourist areas. Many people visiting Saigon from Bangkok may find the western restaurants and bars in the expat areas expensive. A little bit of local knowledge goes a long way though. You could be paying 15 USD for a breakfast in one restaurant whilst the same quality breakfast could be 5 USD around the corner.
For drinkers, Vietnam has some ridiculous cheap happy hours each evening. Take number 5 bar on Pasture Street for example – an institution in Saigon. From 3 – 7 PM each evening you can drink as much Tiger or Heineken as you like for 120K VND – that’s 5 dollars!
However, if you plan to bring your family with you then you may need to budget accordingly for school fees.. Expect 16,000USD+ for a kindergarten place and 25,000+USD for a teenager at a good international school.
Back to the visa issue in Thailand, what many expats fail to acknowledge is that there are many visa options available to them. You can get an Elite Visa which allows you to stay in the country year-round, and if you qualify for a retirement via by age (50+) but don’t have the necessary finances, there are some easy work-arounds. What’s the visa situation like in Vietnam at the moment?
Unfortunately for the retirees there is no retirement visa at the moment! Currently, most people do 3 month visas (think 120USD each time for a visa run), or are either married to a local or set up a business to get a 2 year Temporary Residence Card. Everyone can get the long term TRC whichever way you do it – but can be time consuming – and pricey if you do it 100% under your name – if you decide to open the business license to get it.
What’s the feeling on the ground amongst expats and the mood with the mooted upcoming changes to visa regulations?
There is some concern. Not only from the retirees and teachers working without a work permit but also from business owners who rely on them – especially from the bars and restaurants in the expat communities.
The new rules state that from July all tourist visas, regardless of nationality and length of visa, will only get a “permitted to stay stamp” of 30 days. So up to a year visa is still available but each stay is limited to 30 days. At the end of the 30 days you will need a new stamp for another 30 days. This is at the discretion of Customs – so it’s not guaranteed.
However, there are options to stay here as mentioned with the TRC so it might just mean having to jump through a few hoops to get the long term visa.
Salaries are good here, as well as it being cheap, so it might be a case of having to bite the bullet and get the TRC for many.
What do you like most about being an expat in Vietnam, particularly any things – be they tangible or otherwise – that you may not find or experience elsewhere?
For me it’s a sense of freedom and safety that Vietnam offers. There’re no stop and searches on the street like what I’ve read in Thailand from the police. There are active traffic stops and they regularly stop tourists and expats riding their motorbikes – but if you’re not drunk and have a license then there’s no problem.
Furthermore, the locals embrace foreigners as friends. I feel very safe anywhere in Vietnam and have had no real problems in 14 years.
That said, there have been many instances of bag snatching as you would expect in most places in Asia, so it’s always worth being vigilant.
I get the feeling that some Thailand expats considering heading east have a rose-tinted view of what life in Vietnam will be like. Would you care to piss on their parade and let them know a few of the downsides they may not be aware of? For me, one of the major downsides is the prevalence of smoking there. I can remember floating around Saigon with my pal Mega and we went in to a café for a coffee. We got a great coffee, but left sooner that we would have liked because so many people were smoking and the place reeked. You just don’t get that in Thailand.
It’s a smokers paradise here. Although some of the larger chain coffee shops and restaurants are starting to do no smoking, it’s prevalent in most expat bars.
If you plan to marry and have kids then education fees can really hurt as well unless you’re willing to put your child through a local school. However, I tried this and would advise against it until their medieval teaching methods change.
Traffic is also getting worse so choose a job near your house. Most people live in the expat enclaves of District 2 and District 7. Some people rarely venture to the main CBD to avoid the traffic.
The air quality in Hanoi and Saigon is similar to Bangkok. So if you are planning to live here you may want to consider one of the coastal cities for fresh air.
There’s also the small matter of who you meet in bars. And I’m not talking about the girls! One good friend from Bangkok who recently decided to live here found that most of the people in the bars in Saigon were teachers – this he found was very different to the clientele at the likes of the Robin Hood bar in Sukhumvit. He wasn’t too happy about breaking into conversation each night with them so moved away.
Please note: Due to the salaries here, even the backpacker teachers can afford to drink at the more affluent places. You will find a different kind of expat in other cities up the coast if hanging around teachers isn’t your thing!
Some of my readers are in Thailand primarily for the girly bar scene (or the ladies who don’t work in the bars). My limited experience is that the bar scene in Vietnam is not nearly as open as it is in Thailand and that Vietnamese ladies outside the bar scene are not nearly as easy as Thai women. How does that sound?
That’s correct. Their only option is to head to a few nightclubs where the freelancers hang out or get lucky on the dating apps. The only similar thing with the girl bar scene in Thailand is the lady drink culture. The many hostess bars that are around the Pasteur Street / Ton Thap Thiep area are all smiles and no action, I’ve been told! Plus be careful of the girls adding the drinks to your bar bill. In fact it’s best to avoid them all together and stay in Thailand or visit Phnom Penh. It’s not even comparable.
What about dating Vietnamese women? Is it similar to Thailand where – and I hate to say this but more often than not it is true – you usually hit a home run on your first date? I guess that’s one of the great things about dating in Thailand – it’s super easy – but also one of the worst things – you don’t tend to take a lady seriously when she drops her knickers so fast.
Haha. I guess that depends where you meet the lady. Most girls over in Vietnam tend to be a bit more conservative on the first date. They will usually ask to meet at a coffee shop or seafood restaurant first to ‘work’ you out (i.e. your job / salary). Oh… and it’s not uncommon for them to bring a friend as well for support!
If your readers are looking for a home run early on – then hit the ‘dating’ apps and get the small talk out of the way first. Tinder, Badoo, WeChat and VietnamCupid are the most popular.
If you could offer a would-be expat to Vietnam 3 pieces of advice, what would they be?
1. Have a trip around the different cities in Vietnam before choosing a place to live. Some people like the hustle and bustle of Saigon whilst Da Lat in the Central Highlands with its cooler climate is becoming popular for some.
2. Use the Grab app for taxis – Taxi scams are rife as soon as you walk out of the airport.
3. Keep an open mind when coming to Vietnam for the first time. It certainly doesn’t have the nightlife, shopping or beaches as Thailand. However, it can offer a great living experience with clean air, fantastic food and wonderful people.
OK, the money question for you? What can your company offer readers of Stickman who are considering giving Vietnam a go?
Saigon Expat Services offers a free advisory service, and the largest business directory in Saigon for new expats arriving or living in Vietnam.
We provide a platform for expats to find reputable businesses to make their lives as comfortable as possible when arriving here. All the businesses on our site have been used by multiple expats over the years so we can confirm their reputation.
For more information about looking for a job you can read our article here https://www.saigonexpatservices.com/saigon-expat-life-blog/finding-jobs-as-an-expat-in-ho-chi-minh/
I’ve attached our cost of living article here for your readers reference https://www.saigonexpatservices.com/saigon-expat-life-blog/saigon-cost-of-living-2019-edition/
If they have any questions then contact us through our site https://www.saigonexpatservices.com/saigon-expat-life-blog/
Last week’s photo was taken of Sanam Chai Station on the MRT, one of the newest – and certainly most beautiful, underground stations in Bangkok. This week’s photo was sent to me by a reader who suggested it might make for a fun mystery photo – and I agree.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
Thai working girls today.
In addition to trying to act more sexy and less sweet, Thai women in the prostitution industry are also objectively far less sweet compared to 10 – 15 years ago. Long gone are the days when it wasn’t uncommon to find fresh-off-the-farm girls, part-timers or other surprisingly normal, well-balanced girls on the game. You could easily find someone you’d want to spend a week with….or even marry. These days, virtually all working girls come from the bottom-of-the-bottom segment of Thai society, and most are women who consistently make bad choices (just look at all the awful tattoos, which do nothing for them), rather than just poor or even lower middle-class girls who found themselves in a bind (e.g. as single mothers), and see it as a way to make ends meet. Moreover, most girls these days have been around for a long time, and with rare exception, experience (not age!) tends to kill the sweetness. For me, it’s hard to find a working girl I’d want to stay overnight, if it were on offer, which it rarely is.
Give me sexy any day!
Sweet or sexy? For me? Sexy for sure… Big boobs, tattoos, slutty look. They look like porn stars, and I grew up getting turned on by porn stars. I wouldn’t want to date a girl that looked like that but if I’m in a gogo bar, those are the ones that catch my eye.
Prefer the natural look.
I agree with you that the harder, more aggressive look by girls (in the business and out) is unappealing. There is no antidote to being “killed with kindness”. I find the inked, pierced, dyed, implanted, blue eyed, overweight look of many young women in Asia to be very uncomplimentary. I hope (but doubt) that this trend will one day come to an end. The true beauty of naturally pretty Asian woman is undeniable.
Air pollution more of a worry than the coronavirus.
Regarding the coronavirus, I have been in Thailand for the last 4 weeks, and it seems the Thais are freaking out. Expats are taking it easier. But as you say we don’t know what will happen in the next weeks. Personally, I am more concerned about the air pollution.
Travel on hold while the corona virus is around.
You appear to be very dismissive of the coronavirus as do many others. I’ve read reports saying why worry, the seasonal flu kills 600 a year in the UK, which is correct, BUT what they don’t say is that this represents a mortality rate of just 0.13%. According to current statistics, the coronavirus has a mortality rate of 2.07% which is 16 times greater. We are also told the virus is transmitted much more easily, and victims are infectious several days before any symptoms are apparent. This potentially makes it a very dangerous virus indeed, and until more information on the virus is available, I personally wouldn’t travel to South-East Asia.
Sweet vs. sexy, what customers want today.
Regarding sweet v sexy, the whole game has shifted from the long-time girlfriend experience towards the short time racket and I find customers are more looking more for the porn star experience, 2 girl set up etc. This may explain the shift in appearance, even though porn is illegal in this part of the world. You can of course still find the sweet innocent farm fresh girls but they lack the experience punters demand when quoted the princely sum that are today’s rates. A 4,000 baht short-time starfish isn’t viewed as value for money. Bar manager, name withheld.
Bangkok this week.
I touched down in Bangkok at 1:00 PM on Tuesday. Walked straight up to an empty booth at Passport Control. Plenty of other lanes were empty. Not seen that since the coup. Walked through Passport Control and immediately got pulled by airport employee who wanted to see my boarding pass. ‘Sh*t, what I have done now!’ It turns out she wanted to check what flight I had arrived on so she could point me to the correct baggage carousel. That is definitely a first, and as far as I could see there was numerous other airport staff milling around aimlessly with nothing to do. I went to Nana Plaza for a beer on Tuesday night. I am not an expert on numbers, but they seemed well down on what you would expect for this time of year. All the girls I talked to said it was dead and they were craving attention. Heard much the same on Soi Cowboy from the Rawhide girls on Thursday night. The only punters I saw were the usual 7 Eleven crew swilling cans of cheap Chang and taking selfies. I’ve only been here a few nights but Bangkok has the feeling of low season about it.
Business hasn’t been great at Sukhumvit’s bar areas. The drop in business shouldn’t be a surprise given all the worries with the coronavirus which continues to get lots of press. Friends who visited Nana Plaza this past Thursday and Friday described it as very quiet, one saying it was the quietest he had seen in years. Bars where you may ordinarily struggle to find an empty seat had plenty of seats available. Less popular bars were empty. The worry is how long this will last.
One bar which bucked the trend was Spanky’s in Nana Plaza which celebrated its 11th birthday on Tuesday night, and was rammed all night long. That carried forward over the rest of the week with standing room only for latecomers most nights.
Thumbs up to Nana Plaza management which has placed hand cleansing dispensers at the entrance to the plaza. Keeping one’s hands clean will help to prevent catching Coronavirus and appears to be more effective than wearing a mask.
Word from a large, long-running hotel on Sukhumvit soi 11 that was once popular with the naughty boy set is that the current occupancy rate is just 30%. Entire floors have been closed off. Care to guess which group of guests make up the biggest numbers and who they now rely on most? Indians.
Over at Patpong, my most trusted source who has shares in a handful of Patpong soi 2 bars had the following to say about trade this week and the effects of the coronavirus: “It’s a little hard to tell of any impact from Covid-19. It has been a light high-season in Patpong but remember we don’t get or rely on Chinese tourists much at all anyway. So, the question, has there been a drop in the “usual” tourists coming here which could be attributable to fear of traveling due to Covid-19? I would say no, or at least it’s been minimal.”
Patpong will host a Mardi Gras this coming Tuesday, February 25th. Mostly it will take place in bars on Patpong soi 2 with the fun to begin at 8 PM. Beer will be just 90 baht.
In Sukhumvit soi 13,The Red Lion will open on Sukhumvit on March 15, and rumour has it that pints of a certain premium beer will be offered at just 99 baht / pint to get the punters in and to take a shot at another venue in the neighbourhood which charges substantially more for the same drop. That said, it doesn’t appear that work has started yet on Sukhumvit’s newest British pub.
Popular writer Bangkok Byron visited Enter on the top floor of Nana Plaza last weekend. He was about to buy a lady drink when one of the mamasans checked if he was ok with the price – 370 baht. Good on the mamasan for checking with him because he decided that was just too much and decided against it. Enter is just one bar and 370 baht lady drinks are not the norm. But numbers like this do put people off.
Banks and airports are amongst the places you’re asked not to wear a crash helmet or hat or mask that covers your face. You can add Nana Plaza to that list of places – or at least the main entranceway. When passing through the one and only entrance in to the plaza, security may ask that anyone wearing a mask lowers it. There is a reason for this. A number of people have been banned from the plaza and security has a list of them with mugshots. If someone’s face is covered, it prevents security from doing their job. Wearing a mask is allowed inside the plaza, but you will be asked to lower it for a moment as you enter the place. There had been some conjecture that wearing masks in the plaza was not allowed but this is absolutely not the case. Masks inside the Plaza are ok….just understand that you may be asked to lower it for a moment when you enter, that’s all. I hope this clarifies the situation.
In response to a reader’s email in the last column where crazy numbers were being thrown around about the going rate at the Thermae, a long-term reader insists that it is 2,500 baht. I imagine most ladies would be fine with 2,500 baht. Don’t forget that sometimes girls quote crazy numbers to put off a customer they’re really not interested in going with – and that may include a young, handsome guy. Some of these girls can afford to be choosy. Some prefer Asian guys. Some prefer old guys. Some prefer handsome Italians aged under 35 etc.
The one and only bit of news from Pattaya this week is that at long last, Angelwitch is being remodelled. It’s been closed for what seems like an eternity. No details of what’s going on there yet, other than that there are plans to do something.
Around the region, it’s not just Thailand feeling the effects of the coronavirus. Word out of Vietnam is that many teachers are struggling. With many schools closed for two weeks due to efforts to contain the spread of the virus, that means no pay for those on an hourly rate. In turn, teachers are spending less so businesses which rely on their custom are hurting too.
Thai nicknames are getting weirder and weirder. This week in the news there were references to a young Thai nicknamed “James Bond”. Thai nicknames are given by parents and it’s not like some crazy locker room nickname given to someone at school or in a sports team which you can understand might be a little unusual or even risqué. I do scratch my head and wonder about some of the more unusual modern nicknames you hear in Thailand these days – while at the same time I know Thais think nothing of it.
Some bars in Pattaya advertise on the side of songtaews but you don’t often see Pattaya bars advertising on the back of a tuk-tuk – because there aren’t many tuk-tuks in Pattaya. Look at the photo below and the tuk-tuk in question and tell me what is unusual about it. Does that style of tuk-tuk look familiar? It doesn’t, right? That’s because it is not in Pattaya, nor even in Thailand, but in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I wonder what the Phnom Penh expat crowd makes of a bar in Pattaya being advertised in their backyard. There they are enjoying their $1 beers when they see the ad for a bar in Pattaya where a beer goes for, what, 150 baht or so?
There has been huge growth in the food delivery business in Bangkok with new companies with new websites / apps allowing consumers to order food from the comfort of their condo or workplace and have it delivered to them, all for a very reasonable price. But spare a thought for the riders working for food delivery companies. If the restaurant is busy the rider has to wait until the food is ready. A long wait may cause them to miss out on other more lucrative delivery jobs. But that’s not so bad and it gets worse. Some customers waiting for their food can get impatient and have been known to cancel the order. The problem is that sometimes that happens after the rider has collected the food – and paid for it with money out of their own pocket. The motorbike rider may be out of pocket for anything from 100 to in excess of 1,000 baht. Apparently some of those who cancel orders like this and have left the rider in the lurch feel not an ounce of guilt. The system is flawed and one hopes measures are put in place so this doesn’t happen.
I was reading the Post online and the article had a photo of Thais walking along a street in the capital with the majority wearing face masks. The article was about face masks and how effective they are – or aren’t – as the case may be. I’ve previously said that if it was compulsory to wear a face mask at this time then I wouldn’t visit. The photos in the press and these short video clips on the news showing many people wearing face masks is really off-putting. I absolutely understand that you’re going to be greeted by airport officials and Immigration officers in face masks – they deal with so many people from so many places that they need to protect themselves. But going in to shops or restaurants or bars where staff may be wearing face masks would be an atmosphere killer. Maybe I am overthinking this but this article had me asking the question…should I delay my next trip? I bet I’m not the only one asking myself this. I’m not concerned about catching the virus, but visiting a place where people are nervous and the fun has gone….hmmm, it makes you think twice, doesn’t it?
Quote of the week comes from a friend resident in Bangkok, “If the Coronavirus doesn’t get you, the PM 2.5 will.”
Reader’s story of the week comes from Lukchang, “Thai Language As A Bridge – To Your Thai Mia, Her Family And Her Village“.
Richard Ehrlich says the mass shooting in Korat last weekend shows a lack of military discipline in the Thai army.
Thailand is considering collecting fees from international tourists.
The Ratchada Train Market is feeling the pinch with few Chinese visitors about.
An American expat in Bangkok has offered a 20,000 baht reward for information about a Thai female caught on CCTV stealing a camera and lens from his house.
The number of Indians visiting Thailand is growing rapidly.
The body of a foreigner was found floating in Pattaya Bay with a rock tied to his neck.
Immigration arrests an overstaying kangaroo who finds out that hiding out in a village doesn’t work.
A drunk Thai man has a fight with his girlfriend and then burns down their house.
A deputy village chief is in hot water after racy photos of her appeared online.
Coronavirus worries have caused a massive drop in visitor numbers. But for those who are willing to get on a plane and travel at this time, it might just be the best time to visit Thailand in…..well……a very long time. There are fewer visitors about which means no queues at the airport, less crowds at major attractions and your choice of seat in most bars. I expect hotel room rates and airfares will drop too. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, now is a really good time to visit Thailand.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org