Living In Vietnam: A Guide To Moving To Vietnam As An Expat

Are you considering living in Vietnam? As of 2022, there were around 100,000 migrants living in Vietnam, which accounts for ~1% of the total population (99,200,000).

How many expats are living in Vietnam?

On the World Population Review website, Vietnam is ranked 9th among the 10 most foreign-friendly countries in the world in 2021. Vietnam is an ideal destination not only for tourists thanks to its amazing natural landscapes, pleasant climate, and rich culture but also for foreigners to live and work in Vietnam thanks to residents' sociability and hospitality.

As of 2022, the number of foreigners living in Vietnam is over 100,000. Expats come from over 100 countries and territories in the world. Most of migrants come from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the United States and live and work in big cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Danang, Nha Trang, etc.

Train street in Hanoi, Vietnam

Climate in Vietnam

Located in the tropical monsoon climate zone, Vietnam has a high average humidity of up to 85% and high temperature ranging from 21°C to 35°C. The average rainfall is about 1016 mm and is usually high in the monsoon season. However, the diverse terrain is the reason why the temperature and weather are different among different places in Vietnam.

There are 3 main regional weather patterns in Vietnam. In Northern Vietnam, it is cold and dry from November to April and hot, humid, and rainy from May to October. July to September is the period of time with the highest rainfall in the Northern region. In Central Vietnam, January to August is hot and dry while September to December is rainy and cool. Monsoon rains will come mainly in October and November in the Central region. Unlike the others, Southern Vietnam has consistently warm temperatures all year round. However, the weather can be divided into 2 seasons - rainy season from May to November and dry season from November to May.

Transportation

You will see the most popular vehicle on every road in Vietnam is motorbike. The traffic could be a bit chaotic so many expats prefer to use public transport such as bus, taxi, or train or hire a driver instead of driving by themselves to avoid the stress of driving.

However, public transport is sometimes uncomfortable, infrequent, or not convenient. Therefore, if you want to save the cost and want to live like a local, getting a Vietnam driving license and renting a motorcycle or car is recommended.

Culture

Culture is one of the reasons many foreigners choose Vietnam for their expat life. Formed from the rice farming background, Vietnamese culture is a multi-ethnic culture with 54 ethnic groups, highly values traditional family culture, respects patriotism, and constantly adapts to harmonize with human civilizations.

There are up to 11 religious beliefs and Buddhism is the main belief that half of the Vietnam population are followers. Besides, Vietnamese respect the merits of the former generations, and always present their gratitude through religious rituals to worship ancestors. Traditional Vietnamese family culture is rich in humanity such as respecting the elderly, loving children, appreciating the love of husband and wife, taking care of parents or grandparents when they are older, etc.

Living in a long-lasting and well-preserved culture, expats, especially those who come from Western nations, may experience culture shock. However, this is also an opportunity for foreigners to discover the unique culture dating back thousands of years ago.

Languages

Vietnamese is the national language of Vietnam. It is the native language of the Kinh people (Vietnamese) which accounts for over 85% of the population and the second language of many other ethnic minorities such as Cham, Khmer, Nung, Muong, H’Mong, etc.

Vietnam uses the Latin Alphabet which makes it easier for expats to follow the instructions in life. English is the most popular foreign language in Vietnam, followed by French, Japanese, Chinese, German, Russian, and Korean.

Currency

The official currency in Vietnam is Vietnamese Dong. There are 9 denominations including VND1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000, 100000, 200000, and 500000. Only small denominations are paper notes (VND1000, 2000, and 5000) while the others are polymer.

Besides, US dollars are also accepted in Vietnam yet mainly at hotels, restaurants, tourist areas, and some other services.

Work permit and careers in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam

Work permit

To become an expat in Vietnam, a work permit is compulsory. This kind of paper has a maximum validity of 2 years and can be used to register a temporary resident card for you and your families. Since the work permit can be extended only once for another 2 years, it is better to apply for a resident card to save the visa extension fee.

In order to get a work permit, you must comply with all the following conditions:

  • You are at least 18 years old and have full civil act capacity
  • You are employed and sponsored by a Vietnam enterprise/organization with a legal status
  • You have adequate professional qualifications and working experience
  • You have a good physical condition
  • You must not have a criminal record, or be obliged for penal liability
  • You have a work permit issued by a competent Vietnamese agency

Careers

According to Expat Insider 2022, 21% of foreign workers in Vietnam work in the education sector, 15% work in the fields of manufacturing and engineering, 13% work in marketing & communication, and 51% in others.

Careers requiring certain qualifications such as manufacturing, finance, marketing, engineering…usually have fewer job opportunities unless your company has a representative office in Vietnam and you are ordered to work here for a period of time. If you are highly qualified for manager, executive, expert, or technical worker positions, you will have a higher chance to be recruited in Vietnam.

Language teaching, especially English, is recently more and more concerned by foreigners thanks to the appealing salaries and a myriad of job opportunities all over the country. The salary of Vietnamese teaching English ranges from USD 200-660 (VND 5 - 15 million) per month while a native English teacher can earn from VND 1,500 - 4,000 (VND 34 - 92 million) per month. Non-native English teachers are paid around 10-20% lower than native ones based on their ability but still much higher than Vietnamese teachers.

Accommodation in Vietnam

Ba Na Hills

Some expats may have accommodation provided by their company in Vietnam while others have to find it by themselves. There are many accommodation options for expats from budget hostels and homestays to fully-equipped apartments and houses for rent, or hotels and resorts.

In big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, you will have more options for accommodation as well as job opportunities. Tay Ho (Hanoi) and Binh Thanh (Ho Chi Minh City) are the 2 most famous and popular expat areas in these 2 cities. However, you can completely refer to colleagues or residents to find other accommodation in further areas with lower cost or choose coastal cities with less hustle and bustle such as Da Nang, Khanh Hoa, Vung Tau, Quang Ninh…when you get used to life in Vietnam.

Based on your budget and location, renting properties has a wide price range. You can find an apartment from an owner at the cost of US$300-400 per month in a 30-square meter area or a high-class apartment or house/villa at the cost of up to US$9,000-10,000 per month in a 150 - 300 square meter area.

If you intend to live in Vietnam for a long time and want to buy property, you can expect around US$2,000-4,500/sqm in Ho Chi Minh City and around US$1,300-2,500/sqm in Hanoi.

Although there are plenty of websites displaying rental information, using a service from a real estate agent may be helpful if you are overwhelmed by multiple sources on the Internet. This costs a bit but you will have well-selected options matching your need the most and save lots of time.

Moving and living cost

It is not very expensive and convenient to move to Vietnam. Next to the airway, sea-way is one of the favored ways that many expats choose thanks to a wide seaport system. 

Although the cost of living depends much on the way you spend, Vietnam is among the countries having a relatively low living cost, especially compared with Western nations. The living cost in Vietnam is over 40% lower than in the UK and over 60% lower than in the US (2022).

In an Expat Insider survey 2022, 24% of respondents have an income of $25,000-50,000; 19% get $50,000-75,000 and 14% earn $75,000 - $100,000 per year. Over 90% of expats said that their household income is enough or more to lead a comfortable life in Vietnam (compared to 72% globally).

Healthcare and insurance

Vietnam's medical and healthcare services are increasingly improving and developing. Besides free preventive health services such as immunization for children, most people have to pay for their own medical examination and treatment services.

Compared with Western countries, if medical services and equipment in public hospitals may not meet your expectation, there are many private hospitals with English-speaking medical staff and doctors/specialists who have been trained or worked abroad. This is also the reason why expats usually prefer private hospitals where they have fewer language barriers and may use their international insurance. Health services will be limited in some rural areas or small cities.

Expats are highly recommended to buy private health insurance before coming to Vietnam as well as check with the local hospital carefully to make sure the insurance can be used to cover the medical services and treatments.

Education

If you are moving to Vietnam with your spouse and kids, education in Vietnam must be of top concern. Vietnam's national education has 5 fundamental levels including kindergarten, primary school, secondary school, high school, and university or other higher education.

Due to the increase in expat communities, there are more and more international and private schools in Vietnam, especially in big cities. Many public schools still follow Vietnamese traditional teaching methods and lack innovative lessons. On the contrary, private and international schools focus less on academics and more on practical experience. That explains why expats usually choose private or international schools for their children to get an open and more dynamic studying environment. However, it means you have to pay high tuition and may be on the long waiting list for these schools.

Pros and Cons of Living in Vietnam

Living in Vietnam or any new country is an important life mark and requires foreigners to do deep research on every aspect. Here are some pros and cons of living in Vietnam you may need to consider:

Pros

  • Affordable living cost: Most goods and services are cheap. In many cases, smart negotiation during transactions can save a huge amount of money. You can find the salaries for foreign workers in Vietnam relatively high and enough or more than expected to cover the cost of living here.
  • Transport is varied and convenient: There are 12 international airports and 10 domestic ones which provide you with a bunch of options for traveling inside Vietnam and to nearby nations such as Singapore, Thailand, China, Campuchia, Malaysia, etc. For daily transport, you can choose a local bus, coach, train, high-speed train, taxi, or rent a car/motorcycle at a very reasonable price.
  • A good job opportunity for English speakers: The demand for native/non-native English teachers constantly increases. The language teaching job offers a relatively high salary and is the most popular job for expats in Vietnam currently.
  • Vietnam cuisine is superb: Not only healthy and delicious, but Vietnamese food is cheap and unique in different regions and places. If you are food lovers, Vietnam should never be ignored.
  • Weather is warm and more pleasant than in many other nations: Although you may see tropical monsoons or storms by season, natural disasters are extremely rare in Vietnam.

Cons

  • Scams in prices for a foreigner: This can be seen in some tourist areas in big cities when a local pays the same product at a much lower price than an expat does. If you want to shop around, check the listed price carefully or go with a local to make sure you do not lose money to scammers.
  • Traffic and air pollution is a challenge: You will face chaotic traffic with a large number of motorbikes moving every day along with air pollution in big cities.
  • Administrative procedures are complicated: If you are getting trouble with a visa/ work permit/ resident card, the service by a trusted local agency is recommended. This saves lots of time to find out the procedure and dossiers and follow the process.
  • Culture shock: Vietnam still has a lot of customs and traditions that have remained for a thousand years. Although there are lots of changes and adaptations, Vietnam culture requires those coming from Western countries some time to learn and get used to it.
  • Varied weather: Vietnam weather is varied from the North to the South. You may experience frigid weather with snow in winter and harsh sunshine and severe heat at over 40 degrees Celcius in summer in the North but warm weather all year round in the South.

Questions and Answers (03)

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Mbam Sunday peter
Nigeria on January 17, 2024

I have completed my National Teachers institute education in Nigeria where I studied English Language, how easily can I get a job in vietnam?

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Boniface ruto
Kenya on December 20, 2023

I have completed my tefl course in Kenya, which school is best for me to teach in Vietnam?

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Irene
United States on August 30, 2023

I was born in Vietnam has vietnam birthcertificate can I become Vietnam citizen ?

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A Lina Tran Answered on August 31, 2023

@Irene, If you were born in Vietnam and possess a Vietnamese birth certificate, you are eligible for Vietnamese citizenship. It is advised that you contact the nearest Vietnamese embassy for information on the procedures to obtain your Vietnamese passport.

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