Vietnam is a popular travel destination with a range of attractions and pull factors luring both tourists and foreign nationals looking to work and live in the country. From the diverse natural landscapes of tropical beaches, caves and rivers to the cosmopolitan city lifestyle, there's a lot on offer. However, there are both advantages and disadvantages to be aware of before moving to Vietnam – though expats may also realise some surprising benefits and drawbacks after arriving.
At the end of the day, it's how an expat adapts to their new environment and their perceptions and responses to both the good and bad sides. To help expats in their decision-making process, here is a selection of pros and cons when moving to and living in Vietnam.
Cost of living in Vietnam
+ PRO: Affordable cost of living
One of the biggest draw factors making Vietnam a popular expat destination is its low cost of living. The different currency (Vietnamese dong) may take some getting used to and seem like enormous amounts are being spent, but most goods and services are cheap. Beer and local wine are especially affordable, and low rental costs are also welcoming when searching for accommodation.
- CON: Increased prices and scams in tourist areas
New arrivals should be aware of the touristy areas in the large cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Though goods in these areas may initially appear cheap, tourists are often charged higher prices than a Vietnamese local for the same product or service. We recommend shopping around with a local to get familiar with fair prices and being aware of scams on tourists to avoid losing money.
Transport and driving in Vietnam
+ PRO: Many transport options
There are many options for getting around, especially in Vietnam’s major cities, and buses and trains allow easy travel around the country. Probably the most common mode of transport is a motorbike. Many expats report that it’s easy to rent a motorcycle – the challenge is riding it in the chaotic traffic.
+ PRO: Convenient and easy to travel to other Southeast Asian countries
Expats with an urge to travel find Vietnam to be a great base country from which to live and travel to other destinations. Affordable airline tickets can be found, and the country is home to several international airports, including Noi Bai and Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
- CON: Safety risks with getting around in busy cities
Most forms of getting around have safety implications. Riding motorcycles is dangerous, rules of the road appear non-existent and drivers will have to be especially vigilant of all obstacles, including other vehicles and pedestrians. Motorbikes are everywhere, including the pavements, and in busy traffic, crossing the road and even walking on a sidewalk prove to be daunting tasks.
Working in Vietnam
+ PRO: Easy to find a job
For global nomads and expat travellers, finding a job in Vietnam can prove easy – especially in teaching. Teachers are in demand in Vietnam, and teaching English as a foreign language appears to be the key to international travel. Teachers can quickly find well-paid positions after arriving in Vietnam through social media and networking. This ease may not apply across all industries and employment sectors, though, and finding employment before arriving has its benefits too.
- CON: Applying for visas and work permits is complicated
While a handful of expats may find the visa process simple, many applicants struggle with the paperwork when applying for visas and work permits for Vietnam. Visa processes are subject to change, which adds to the confusion, and going through a relocation company could be the best solution, though an expensive one at that.
Culture shock and lifestyle in Vietnam
+ PRO: Healthy and diverse food options
Foodies will love tasting authentic Vietnamese cooking and are sure to appreciate easy it is to eat healthily thanks to the many vegetable-based dishes. From tasty noodle fare to spring rolls, dumplings and pho – traditional Vietnamese soup – expats will never be short on meal options, whether homecooked, street food or eating at a restaurant. Expats can also find a range of cuisines from many cultures around the world. People in Vietnam are hospitable and will happily invite expats to eat with them too.
+ PRO: Lots of things to see and do
There is much to see and do in Vietnam, and locals are always keen to take a newcomer on all sorts of adventures. New arrivals interested in learning about the rich cultural heritage and history can visit the many museums and Buddhist pagodas or temples. The country's fantastic natural attractions are well worth exploring, from boating on the Mekong Delta and tropical beaches to Ban Gioc Waterfall as well as Hang Sơn Đoòng, the world's largest natural cave.
- CON: Major language barriers
New arrivals find it difficult to integrate into their new environment without speaking or understanding Vietnamese, especially in more rural areas. Vietnamese is a tonal language, so how a word is pronounced can change its meaning greatly, and getting the right tones takes practice. We recommend expats familiarise themselves with basic greetings and phrases; a little goes a long way.
- CON: Little personal space and privacy
Limited personal space and privacy are common elements of culture shock for Western expats. Vietnamese locals tend to physically position themselves close to the person (mainly of the same gender) they are talking to. Conversation topics can be quite direct and seem like prying into one’s private life when in reality people may just be curious and want to be friendly and get to know the other person. This culture of closeness can make someone unfamiliar with Vietnamese customs feel uncomfortable.
Healthcare in Vietnam
+ PRO: Private healthcare offers high standards
The Vietnamese private medical system offers excellent facilities (mainly in the cities) and far surpasses those of the public healthcare system. Private healthcare professionals and doctors are often from the USA, South Korea, Japan, France as well as Vietnam; all are well-trained and highly experienced, and their diverse backgrounds also reduce language barriers.
- CON: Pharmacies may not stock all medications
While pharmacies are relatively well-stocked in Vietnam and finding common prescription medicine is not too hard, not all medicines, vitamins and minerals are readily available. There are also restrictions on medicines that Vietnam categorises as ‘addictive’ or ‘psychotropic’, and treatments for anxiety, depression and other conditions may fall under this classification. We recommend expats do their research and ask their nearest embassy for specifics.
- CON: Concerns about air pollution
Living in a major city, such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, comes with heavy air pollution. Air pollution has major health implications and is a push factor for many, especially children, elderly expats and foreign nationals with pre-existing health conditions.
- CON: Mosquito-related diseases are common
Mosquito-borne diseases are prevalent especially during the rainy season, and these include malaria and dengue fever. Health risks aside, the annoying buzz of mosquitos and their itchy bites are a negative aspect to life in Vietnam. We suggest expats take the necessary precautions against mosquito bites.
Weather in Vietnam
+ PRO: Warm weather
Expats who hate the winter will enjoy the warm weather that welcomes them, and residents don’t need to worry too much about layering up in colder seasons. While this is a pro for many, there is a catch: the high humidity. Be prepared for the humid climate which can make things feel uncomfortably hotter than they are and can be unpleasant.
- CON: Flooding is common in Vietnam’s wet season
The weather in Vietnam is not only excessively rainy, but the country is also vulnerable to typhoons and tropical cyclones. Heavy rains arrive between June and September each year, bringing flooding, flash floods and landslides. Expats must prepare themselves for this and be aware of the disastrous health and living implications of floods.
Education and schools in Vietnam
+ PRO: Good quality schools
The standard of education in Vietnam is high. Some expat parents with young children may opt for a public school where the language of instruction is primarily Vietnamese and the costs are low. Private and international schools offer the highest standard of schooling, with international schools offering a familiar curriculum in one's home language.
- CON: International schools are hard to get into
Good selections of international schools are largely concentrated in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; however, it can be hard to get into these. Waiting lists are typically long and application processes must be done in advance. One of the biggest issues limiting entry to international schools is the high cost of fees: expat parents must often stretch their budget to ensure a private education for their children.
"I do like the freedom the most, the feeling that everything is possible, the weather, the easy ways to travel." Read more in our interview with Anne, a German expat in Ho Chi Minh City.
"Be attentive to yourself and the people around you. Respect other cultures. Try to understand the place where you are to make your life easier. And good luck with new experiences." Read more pros and cons from an expat's perspective in our interview with Anastasia.
Are you an expat living in Vietnam?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Vietnam. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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