If you're moving to Vietnam, read these tips for living to Vietnam. From what to bring (and leave behind) to culture shock, visas and more, their tips for moving to Vietnam is invaluable.
Vietnam Visa Information for Expats
The Vietnamese embassy in Washinton, D.C. offers Visa Information.
An expat giving advice about business visas in Vietnam advised: "Not sure what the policy is for U.K. passport holders, but US passport holders have a 1 year business visa available now. I've been here for 6 years on back-to-back business visas. For 3 years they were only for 3 months and I had to leave every 9 months and do a visa run to Cambodia (Quick trip to the border gate to get my passport stamped)."
Advice for Newcomers to Vietnam
"Learn the Vietnamese language or at least learn the basics because there are few people in Vung Tau that can speak English," mentioned an expat when asked about moving to Vietnam.
"Be prepared for lots of noise and pollution. Most people find learning Vietnamese very difficult. But other than that, it is a very interesting place to live, also lots to see outside the city especially if you have a motorbike! Most Hanoians are very nice to foreigners," said one expat who moved to Hanoi, Vietnam.
"Learn at least some basic Vietnamese so that you can interact with people. Young adults and below usually speak some English but middle age and older rarely do. Check with a resident on what you might need to bring from home that can't be found here. Most things can be bought here or on a quick trip to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) but there are always some things that we miss from home," commented one expat in Vietnam.
"Be open minded. Be prepared for a slower pace of life. If things don't get done today, they may get done tomorrow. Bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Be ready to smile and laugh every day. There are lots of new things to look forward to... food, people, rats, construction, the beach, dogs, tiny plastic chairs and Vietnamese coffee," remarked another expat in Da Nang, Vietnam.
International Schools in Vietnam
"There are many social activities for parents and opportunities to volunteer in the school. UNIS is good communicating with parents and releases a weekly newsletter to keep you abreast of activities," said one expat whose children attend United Nations International School Hanoi.
"ISHCMC has a great school community and my kids love it here. I would definately visit our school when you are moving to Ho Chi Minh City," added another expat with kids at International School of HCMC (ISHCMC) in Ho Chi Minh City.
"Go along and check it out for yourself to see if it suits your child's needs. My boy goes there and I've been very happy with his time in Year 6," remarked another expat with children in attendance at Renaissance International School Saigon.
"BIS (British International School) is a great school. Academically, in my opinon, they are the best school in Vietnam. They are often the only school to publicise their IGCSE and IB examination results, and the results are a testament to the standard of education provided at the school. We are very happy with the education that our children are getting here. I would advise anybody to come and visit the campuses to truly get a feel for the school and what BIS can offer their child," said another expat in Vietnam.
"Check out the school. It is definitely worth a visit. Phu My Hung is a great part of town where my family feels very safe and my older children can ride their bikes to school," remarked another expat with a student in Saigon South International School in Ho Chi Minh City.
What to Bring When Moving to Vietnam (and What to Leave Behind)
When we asked expats living in Vietnam what they wish they had brought when moving to Vietnam and what they wish they had left at home, they replied:
"I wish I had brought quality bed sheets and pillows, good hiking shoes and good lamps.
I wish I had left my bicycle, most of my books, CD's and dishes," said one expat who moved to Hanoi, Vietnam.
"Brought - Cutlery, wine glasses and bedding. Left - Leather jacket, old family photos (just bring copies) and dried foodstuff," mentioned another expat who moved to Hanoi.
"Everything can be bought here so there is no need to take anything with you - except quality clothes and shoes. I arrived 10 years ago with 1 suitcase of clothes and 5 kg chocolate," commented one expat who made the move to Vietnam.
"I wish I'd brought more clothes suitable for a VERY warm climate. The climate here is hotter than I anticipated (C32 degrees in the wet season and C37+ in the dry). I am of an average size in Australia, but all the clothes are too small for me here and I have them made. Everything else is pretty much available.
I wish I'd left behind the two pairs of 500-thread-count sheets I filled a small suitcase with - and brought clothes instead," remarked another expat in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
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Healthcare in Vietnam
"Perscription medicines are easily available here at the local pharmacies. I did not need a script for my thyroid condition," said one expat who moved to Da Nang, Vietnam.
"Medicine is available over the counter. I have a good pharmacy I go to but, you need to ask around about pharmacy's because, not all medicine is real or unexpired. I have for example, purchased ibuprofen that simply did not work," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Vietnam.
"If you have a serious issue, travel to Bangkok or, Singapore for medical care. In Da Nang, there is a woman at the Pasteur Clinic who can treat women's issues but, I would go to Bankok for more urgent/serious issues," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Vietnam.
"My Hoan is the hospital that I used for the medical clearance needed to get a work permit. Women have babies delivered at the Women's hospital. There is a Cancer Hospital (Da Nang Oncology Hospital) which is actually, brand new. There is an expat Medical Center called, Family Medical. You can use them and they organize evacuations for urgent care," said one expat who moved to Da Nang, Vietnam.
"Most friends will travel to Bangkok if they need special care ie: surgery of any kind, cancer, dermatology etc," said one expat who moved to Da Nang, Vietnam.
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Expat Culture Shock in Vietnam
We asked expats about the culture shock they experienced when they moved to Vietnam. They replied:
"Very significant! Before moving to Vietnam I was for a couple of years in the South of Europe; that was already a shock to me. When arriving to Vietnam I realized that I ain't see nothing yet," said one expat who moved to Phan Thiet, Vietnam.
"It was quite a big change but we just took one thing at a time and absorbed all that we could," mentioned another expat in Ho Chi Minh City.
"None at all. Vietnam is as different to New Zealand as you can get and it has several cultural differences plus the climate is very different. I knew all this before I arrived and they are the reasons that I came here. I have a sales baqckground and we are risk takers and change agents by definition so that made it easier for me," commented another expat.
"The first shocking thing is the temperature difference in that I am not from the southern U.S., so I'm not used to hot all the time. It's hot, then hotter, then in the sun unbelievably hot. What is remarkable to me is how far Viet women will go to not get a tan - it can be almost 100 degrees out, humid like a rain forest, and they will be wearing long pants, long sleeved shirt, a hat, and gloves!" remarked another expat in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
"Fantastic to be in a different culture... cross-cultural relationship with my girlfriend is tricky," said another expat in Vietnam.
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Deciding Where to Live in Vietnam
When we asked expats living in Vietnam to offer newcomers advice about choosing a neighborhood and finding a home, they replied:
"Look for established apartments with garden, close to work and shops, accessible but quiet, on the same side of town as airport, with trees and parks," said one expat who moved to Hanoi, Vietnam.
"Pure business matter - we could lease an industrial land plot on good conditions; housing was more difficult because of regulations at that moment," mentioned another expat in Phan Thiet.
"Having spent the past 6 years doing a long commute to work I decided to live close to my job if it was feasible - and it was. I live in District 7 of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) on the 14th floor of a group of 25 story apartment blocks. In the centre of the 4 blocks is a sort of village square with several swimming pools, a gym, small shops/cafes/hairdressers, a large good supermarket and two tennis courts. More shopping centres are within 5 minute's taxi ride, and I can get into District 1 shopping in 20-30 minutes depending on traffic. I used a local real estate office to find my apartment, someone recommended by a work colleague," reported an expat who moved to HCMC.
Meeting People in Vietnam
Expats living in Vietnam talked about meeting people in Vietnam and local clubs and organizations:
"Depends on interests of course. UNIS (United nations international school) is out of town but offers courses to everyone, including language classes. L'Espace (French) Goethe (German) and other national organisations offer courses, exhibitions and events. Cinematheque offers "arthouse" films for members. Hanoi Opera House offers wonderful performances, very reasonably priced tickets so enjoy. for other information on events/organisations google Hanoi Infoshare and New Hanoian," said one expat who moved to Hanoi, Vietnam.
"Yoga classes - held at The Lady Club
Volunteer work at local orphanages
The Vung Tau Beach Club - many expats drink at this bar," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Vietnam.
"Taking Vietnamese classes, hanging out at expat hang outs like Bread of Life, The Waterfront (both restaurants)," commented one expat who made the move to Vietnam.
"DaNang Expats, any school organization, Danang Expat Jobs is VERY helpful. We love to visit the 'Lady Buddha' and Marble Mountain. We take long walks on the beach day or night. We visit the markets, we travel by bus to hoi an, we eat at local restaurants," remarked another expat in Da Nang, Vietnam.
Expat Life in Vietnam
Here is what people had to say about Living in Vietnam:
"Locals definitely around family, and expats with kids have plenty of opportunity to meet people through school events, same as anywhere else. As the capital, there are many NGOs here this also makes the expat experience very interesting, you meet many people doing interesting and worthwhile things," said one expat who moved to Hanoi, Vietnam.
"Family life is their priority although many vietnamese people have to work every day of the week," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Vietnam.
"As elsewhere in VN, family is number 1. They are also busy working a lot to make a little money. With salaries and wages so low here everyone must work many hours to make a living.
Coffee shops and karaoke are where people relax, especially men," commented one expat who made the move to Vietnam.
"Our greatest joy is meeting new people, drinking coffee or drinking beers and talking about the adventures that everyone has had in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian cities. People love the beach here. They also like to travel to nearby towns. Don't miss Tams Restaurant. It is run by a local woman who grew up here during the Vietnam War. She is living history. There are a plethora of photographs all over her walls. She is full of stories some touching, some frightening and many heartbreaking. She has photo albums too. Jimmy Buffet sent her three surfboards from japan after visiting her here," remarked another expat in Da Nang, Vietnam.
What Expats Appreciate about Their New Culture
We asked expats in Vietnam what they appreciated about their new culture. Here's what they had to say:
"There's always something happening or something to see in Ho Chi Minh City that takes you by surprise. You don't know what you're going to see when you leave the apartment. A lot of entrepeneurs here, who have a positive attitude and we appreciate that alot, having moved from the doom and gloom and miserable attitude in Europe. Also we feel safe in the city and we're able to drive around independently on our scooter - something that can't be said of every city in south east asia," said one expat who moved to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
"I love this place. The people are just wonderful, the food is amazing, everything is super cheap, there is a dynamism about the place and it is great to be a part of a country that is growing rapidly," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Ho Chi Minh City.
"The culture is vibrant, and new. The cost of living is cheap, even in HCMC which is the viet equivalent to new York city. I actually stay in D7 which is close to Saigon South which is where most foreigners hide. Staying in Phu My Hung you could insulate yourself enough that you might forget you are in Vietnam all together. everyone speaks English there, and there are western restaurants everywhere," commented one expat who made the move to Vietnam.
"Prices mate, prices! Taxi $3 from anywhere to anywhere, but people are so nice, everybody calls you sir and I was feeling embarrassed being sir all the time. Food is magic and so cheap. Honestly we here in Perth don't have night clubs like those in HCMC," remarked another expat in HCMC.
The Most Challenging Aspects of Living in Vietnam
Then, we asked expats in Vietnam what was most challenging about their new culture. They replied:
"It's very difficult to be a Western woman living in Vietnam. The Vietnamese culture is very male-oriented, so it took several months before I was able to make any friends - & then it was just one friend. I felt lonely most of the time," said one expat who moved to Bien Hoa, Vietnam.
"We used to have a selection of dried herbs/spices/oils/vinegars etc for cooking at home, but very little of that exists here. We don't have time to go shopping for fresh herbs and fresh meat/fish every day like the locals do, so we eat out every night instead. It's cheaper but we miss cooking sometimes.
Nothing seems to work in a logical way here. It's as if each organisation is developing in different directions and so unexpected things happen a lot.
Vietnamese people can come across as very rude -but only if they don't speak english. They are embarassed to show themselves up. Otherwise, the locals who can speak english are very welcoming and will want you to stay in their country forever," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Vietnam.
"The traffic is a daunting when you are first exposed. The number one form or travel is motorbike (somewhere between a moped and a motorcycle) and everyone rides them except the ultra rich (cars--usually Mercedes) or students/ultrapoor(the bus---which I prefer actually). Taxis are a cheaper mode of transport, but the bus line is better since its so cheap. Its only drawback is that it stops at 7pm. Back to motorbikes: they put little kids between adults without helmets, and NO ONE follows traffic laws. Crossing the street is a new experience that most Westerners will find really frightening the first time, but you get used to it. Viets are very good at driving motorbikes since they have ridden them all their lives. You will be amazed at what can be transported on motorbike - tile, pigs, drywall, and the occassional refrigerator! Really amazing," remarked an expat in HCMC.
Diversity in Vietnam
We asked expats about diversity in Vietnam and whether locals are accepting of differences. They said:
"People in this town are very conservative and most accept the diversity that expats bring to this town. However the older people seem to be less accepting of expats and if an expat is dressed differently or has pink hair for example they are almost disgusted. So if you dont stand out you will be fine in Vung Tau. Blending in is good," said one expat who moved to Vung Tau, Vietnam.
"The vast majority are Vietnamese of course but being in Central Viet Nam means we have people from the north, the south and the central region living here. I find the people very friendly and seem accepting of cultural differences. There aren't that many foreigners here so people are generally curious about us and enjoy the opportunity to ask questions once they know you," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to Vietnam.
"The residents of DaNang are mostly Buddhist, although there are some Catholics and there are a few beautiful churches. These are remnants of the French occupation in Vietnam. The majority of people here are Vietnamese. Although there is large tourism industry. Travelers arrive every day from all over the world. All races, all religions.... I laugh though, as I am one of only a few Jewish folks here! They follow Vietnamese holidays...ancestral days, Buddha day, Lunar new year etc. But, they also celebrate Women's day, Teachers Day and Childrens Day too," commented one expat who made the move to Vietnam.