The last few decades of ever-increasing globalisation, pervasive Internet and cheap airfares has made our world much smaller. Emerging economies continue to expand and new options for the worlds would-be expats continue to open up. Vietnam, as one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies, attracts more permanent foreigners year on year and it’s easy to see why. Continued high economic growth has meant Vietnam ticks almost all the lifestyle boxes.
For starters the low cost of living in Vietnam, spectacular food and access to quality health care already make it stand tall over many other destinations. Add to that the warm sunshine, prevalence of strong coffee and the magnificent people and I’d be surprised if you needed any more convincing.
Thanks to these factors Vietnam can proudly lay claim to being home to some to some of the world’s happiest expatriates. Now, all that’s left before moving to Vietnam is to decide where to live and consider what you’ll do for an income once here.
Where to live in Vietnam
Most expats in Vietnam are found in the three largest cities which all offer something different. Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, is home to about 8 million residents and is a bustling Asian city. It feels much smaller than it actually is. Considered the most conservative city in Vietnam, in terms of culture and doing business, it remains home to a large and vibrant expat community.
Hanoi is in the country’s north and has four distinct seasons. It can get very hot or cold depending on the time over a year. A word of warning; Hanoi’s air pollution has recently been ranked one of the highest in Southeast Asia. Something you may want to consider.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is in the south and as the country’s financial capital has a much taller and more boisterous skyline. Formerly known as Saigon, HCMC is regarded for its laissez-faire way of doing business and living life in general. This fact helps to explain why it is home to approximately 50% of Vietnam’s expat population.
The maximum daily temperature in HCMC rarely drops below 30 degrees and there are only two distinct seasons; wet and dry. Recent construction booms have seen huge developments in housing in Ho Chi Minh City. Vinhomes Central Park is a mega-complex and home to Vietnam’s tallest building. It’s a popular place to live for expats who want western-style amenities and access to the gorgeous park.
Foreign investment in the Vietnam housing market continues to grow the supply of quality housing for expats in HCMC. District 7 and District 2 still remain the most expat popular districts for expats in HCMC.
Danang City or Da Nang City, close to the ancient town of Hoi An, is the country’s third largest city and where most of the remaining expats gravitate to. Surrounded by beautiful beaches and lush green mountains it’s much easier to access nature from this city.
To counteract these benefits there are some drawbacks to life in Danang. The weather in central Vietnam is much nastier and there are considerably fewer work opportunities. Despite this, it is quite common for many expats to relocate here after a few years in Vietnam. Hoi An, Nha Trang and Phan Thiet are the next most popular places for expats to live.
Working in Vietnam & Expat-Founded Businesses
Apart from where to live the next big decision for those who choose to live abroad is work. Expats in Vietnam are not exactly spoiled for choice but there are plenty of work and business opportunities available.
Many who come to settle into an easily found English teaching job. Teaching English in Vietnam can be very rewarding and offers a high salary and a good work-life balance. Many schools, however, require native speakers to have qualifications and experience.
The best schools in Vietnam are the well-established International Academies. VUS, Apollo and ILA are just a few of the many English language centres which have good reputations with ESL teachers in Vietnam.
Not all expats are teachers and many foreigners living in Vietnam work in the finance, law, tourism or manufacturing industries. There is an increasingly global business culture in Vietnam and opportunity awaits those who want to start a business in Vietnam.
Tung Do from XO Tours is a prime example of the resilient spirit being rewarded. Tung’s family left Vietnam before the fall of Saigon. Tung was only a toddler at the time and was born in Vietnam and raised in the US.
Decades later he returned on holiday and was captivated by the Vietnamese entrepreneurs he saw all around him. Those who had very little still had the motivation to work hard for what they believed in. Seeing this inspired him to return and start his own business. Inspiration was found in two of Vietnam’s most valuable assets – motorbikes and the incredible women.
XO Foodie tours help to showcase the incredible local cuisine that Ho Chi Minh City has to offer. From the back of a scooter piloted by a personal guide, visitors get to experience the city’s history and culture like a real local. Tung has developed a successful business by adapting his style to the Vietnamese business culture.
Another expat making a name for himself is Timo CEO, Cameron Warden. Timo is far from what you could consider to be a traditional bank and is riding the current Fintech wave in Vietnam. Rather than compete with the well-established banks in Vietnam Timo focuses instead on the customer experience.
Timo’s amazing online platform replaces the need for brick and mortar branches however four of Vietnam’s biggest cities still have a dedicated Timo ‘hangout space’. These places are very hip and resemble a boutique café way more than a bank. There are no queues, thee is a complimentary coffee and almost everything is done at your table with friendly staff.
Timo is popular with expats because it is one of the few banks in Vietnam where you can open an account without a work permit.
Business in Vietnam has become easier for the expat entrepreneur thanks to new initiatives that are spurring growth in the local startup scene. Recent amendments to regulations have increased the number of businesses in E-commerce, FinTech and AgriTech.
Wisepass, founded and run by French expat Lam Tran, is a membership-based payment system which has found rapid success in Vietnam. Lam has now expanded his operations to over 300 venues and more than 2000 passholders across three ASEAN nations.
Wisepass is one of the most popular apps in Vietnam to both locals and expats. Lam grew up in France but is of Vietnamese heritage. These returning minds that have been credited with enhancing the Vietnamese economy.
Should I Live in Vietnam
While Vietnam is far from perfect, however, there are unique opportunities and experiences that await those who take a chance. Most expats can live very comfortably here on very little. Many stay longer after experiencing life surrounded by some of the world’s most charming people. If you’re thinking of becoming an expat and moving to Vietnam learn to tap into your innovative side and embrace whatever comes your way. You can also read this reasons why you should move to Vietnam to have a little impression what Vietnam’s like for an expat.
Mark Ratcliff is an Australian expat living in Vietnam. Leaving his mechanic background behind, he pursued a few years of travel before settling in HCMC in 2013. He has since been focused on teaching, writing and attempting to understand all there is to know about sustainability. In his free time, you’ll see him heading to the countryside with camera in hand, turning spanners on bikes at home or sipping coffee in a leafy Saigon cafe.