What is life in Vietnam like? Home to 100 million people, including 100,000 expats, Vietnam is attracting foreign families like never before thanks to having one of the fastest-growing economies worldwide. As the country emerges onto the world stage, many Vietnamese industries are desperate for highly-skilled foreign workers and investors to help guide their small-and-medium sized businesses. PwC even predicts Vietnam will be a top 20 global economy by 2050.
There has never been a better time to become an expat, and that applies to Vietnam especially – but what should you know before you go? Our full guide on becoming an expat and living in Vietnam will help you. We cover the practical details expats should consider before making the move, including upfronts costs, the visa requirements to live and work in Vietnam, the Vietnam tax system, where to live and if you need international health insurance.
Vietnam’s ascendancy is staggering and owes a lot to its Doi Moi reform policy, implemented in the 1980s, which has propelled it from a traditional to a modern economy. Many expats are drawn to Vietnam’s fast-growing tourism sector, but telecommunications, exports and finance are among the many industries on the up-and-up.
Moving anywhere new is bound to offer some unique challenges, and Vietnam is no exception. From finding the best jobs to getting the most out of your lifestyle in your new home in South-East Asia – here’s everything you need to know about living expat life in Vietnam.
Is Vietnam safe for expats?
Yes, living in Vietnam for expats is relatively safe. The country rarely experiences horrible natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. The security, especially in large cities, is acceptable.
However, the first thing you need to know about Vietnam is that it is a one-party communist country with a predominantly agricultural economy. Vietnam has a socialist republic form of government, so if you are coming from an urbanised, Western country, you are sure to experience a bit of culture shock.
For one thing, certain freedoms that you may have taken for granted will be severely limited in Vietnam. It ranks 175th out of 180 countries for press freedom. Vietnam also ranks low in terms of religious freedom, with religious acts suppressed by the government if they violate the so-called “national interest” and “public order.”
How many expats and foreigners are living in Vietnam?
There are around 83,500 expats in Vietnam, according to the Ministry of Labour (2019 data). Total population is 98,186,856.
Is Vietnam affordable for expats and foreigners?
Absolutely. In fact, Vietnam is easily one of the most affordable countries in the world.
Expats in Vietnam can expect to earn a staggering salary – averaging US$78,000/£55,000 – especially if they are employed in a high-growth industry or multinational company.
Furthermore, the cost of living in Vietnam is very low. Even in the cities of Hanoi and Saigon, the average expenses for a small family won’t exceed US$1,500/£1,100 per month, including rent and eating out at restaurants.
Expat families earning a good salary can therefore expect to live a luxurious, metropolitan lifestyle, with cash left over.
What language do they speak in Vietnam?
The main language of Vietnam is Vietnamese.
Since Vietnam was a French colony, French tends to be the popular second language. Mandarin Chinese is also widely spoken in metropolitan areas. Many Vietnamese people in popular urban centres speak English, however, English speakers may struggle in more rural environments
Vietnamese uses the Latin alphabet, which can make it easier for to read on signs and in manuals.
Where should I live in Vietnam?
The standard of accommodation in Vietnam is, by and large, excellent. In the main tourist areas the range caters to all budgets, and though prices are a little expensive by Southeast Asian standards, the quality is generally quite high.
Competition is fierce and with the construction boom still ongoing rooms are being added all the time – great for the traveller, as it keeps prices low and service standards high. There has been a massive increase in the number of luxury resorts along the coast (mainly aimed at the Asian package tour market), while budget travellers and those travelling off the tourist trail will find good budget accommodation throughout the country.
Grading accommodation isn’t a simple matter in Vietnam. The names used (guesthouse, mini-hotel, hotel and so on) can rarely be relied upon to indicate what’s on offer, and there are broad overlaps in standards. Vietnam’s older hotels tend to be austere, state-owned edifices styled upon unlovely Eastern European models, while many private mini-hotels make a real effort.
Some hotels cover all bases by having a range of rooms, from simple fan-cooled rooms with cold water, right up to cheerful air-conditioned accommodation with satellite TV, fridge and mini-bar. As a rule of thumb, the newer a place is, the better value it’s likely to represent in terms of comfort, hygiene and all-round appeal.
Where do most expats live in Vietnam?
As a first time expat in Vietnam, you will probably want to stay close to the two major metropolitan areas – Hanoi (population 5 million) in the North, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon; population 9 million) in the South. You will probably find life in the major cities fairly similar to that in large Western cities, with plenty of access to food, leisure, entertainment, transport and so on. Two of the most popular neighbourhoods with English-speaking expats include Tay Ho in Hanoi and Binh Thanh in Ho Chi Minh City.
Once you are a bit more settled, you might find life in other cities appealing, especially those on Vietnam’s beautiful coast. Da Nang and Nha Trang are popular locations for expats looking for a quieter way of life. Getting used to living in Vietnam might take expats some time: Vietnam is a noisy place, and you are probably going to face much more noise than back home.
How much does it cost to rent in Vietnam?
Living in Vietnam is not ridiculously expensive. As an expat in Vietnam, you will find a fantastic selection of luxurious but reasonably-priced properties. Even in the centre of big cities, spacious two-bedroom apartments rarely cost more than US$1,500 per month to rent. To put that in perspective, a two-bedroom apartment in downtown San Francisco typically costs around US$5,000 per month.
And, if you are willing to live a little further out, you could find rents as low as US$400–600 per month for one-bedroom apartments.
Also, many of the apartments for rent in Vietnam’s major cities come fully-furnished, so you won’t need to worry about adding the cost of new furniture to your moving bill.
Can expats buy land in Vietnam?
While actual land ownership is not possible at this time for non-Vietnamese, expats living in Vietnam can gain a 50-year lease for land and then build a house upon that land.
Top expat tips for living in Vietnam
- • Ensure you have all essential documents and visas in place before departure
- • If you move with your kids, early application for school places is advisable
- • Have up to three months’ rent available upfront to secure a rental property
- • Be aware you have to submit and pay your own taxes bi-annually
- • Look at international life insurance and international health insurance that reflect your location needs. We have been supporting expats with international insurance for almost 30 years now
- • Stay healthy, immerse yourself in the culture and take language lessons
How do I get a Vietnamese residency card?
Vietnamese immigration laws are quite strict and there a number of hurdles you will need to clear before you can apply for residency. To be living in Vietnam legally, there are three levels of application you will need to make:
- A working visa
- Temporary residency permit
- Permanent residency permit
To get a working visa, you must first be able to prove that you’re:
- over 18 years old
- have a job offer in Vietnam
- are in good health
- have no criminal record
You must also be able to prove that you have the necessary professional experience for your life in Vietnam – either an undergraduate degree or equivalent professional training, or five years’ employment in your industry. A work permit is typically valid for up to 2 years and must be secured at least 2 weeks before the date you are expected to start employment.
Next comes the temporary residency permit. There are many categories of temporary residency permit, some lasting up to five years, but they are much harder to get hold of.
In order to get one, you will need to be approved to work in any type of business or be the owner of your own business, or be a professional with government approval to work/study in Vietnam. There is a lot of paperwork, so it’s best to work with a local law firm to make sure you have everything you need for the application.
Finally, the permanent residency permit is for foreigners who have lived in Vietnam for at least 3 years, who previously had a temporary residency permit and who can prove they have had a stable income during their time in Vietnam. Permanent residency cards need to be renewed every 10 years.
How do I find expat jobs in Vietnam?
One of the most popular jobs for expats in Vietnam is language teaching. Many English language schools provide on-the-job training and qualified teachers can make substantial salaries.
If you’re looking to continue a career you’ve started in your home country, in a sector such as business, finance or marketing, you may find job opportunities thin on the ground. There are currently only a handful of multinational companies with offices in Vietnam, although many more companies are starting to move to Vietnam, especially those looking to relocate from China.
You may therefore want to see whether your current employer will allow you to transfer to their office in Vietnam, if they have one. However, nothing stops you from trying to find a job abroad or becoming a digital nomad in Vietnam.
Make sure you secure a job offer in writing. This will help you to arrange a working visa, which will in turn help you to find somewhere to live and open a bank account. Because Vietnam is so affordable for expats, you may want to spend a few weeks living in a hotel while you shop around for the best apartments.
Real estate is another up-and-coming sector in Vietnam. The Vietnamese property market has seen exponential growth in recent years – property prices in Saigon increased by 90% between 2017 and 2020 as foreign investors poured into the market. Offices and hotels have also witnessed staggering value growth – meaning there is now huge demand for such jobs as sales representatives and property managers, especially in urban and tourist areas.
Expat of 8 years in Vietnam
How do I open a bank account as an expat living in Vietnam?
Before you apply for a credit card or bank account in Vietnam, you will first need proof that you have the right to settle in Vietnam for longer than 12 months. This means you will probably need at least a temporary residency card and proof of employment, such as a contract of employment. You may also need proof of an address during your life in Vietnam.
Once you have all that, the application is fairly simple – you must follow the bank’s application process, and you should be prepared to pay a small deposit.
If you want to open a business bank account, there are a few extra steps you must follow. You will need to hire a legal representative to counter-sign your application, and you may also need to provide evidence of your business’s legitimacy, such as a registered address in Vietnam, operations licences and evidence of tax returns.
What is the currency in Vietnam?
Vietnam currently uses three separate currencies; gold is used to purchase land and housing, US Dollars are used for luxury items and Vietnam Dong is used for day-to-day items.
How do I pay taxes in Vietnam?
Expatriates who have been living in Vietnam for longer than 183 days pay the same rate of tax as other residents, while temporary residents can often take advantage of Vietnam’s double tax arrangements, which it has with 70 other countries. (And don’t worry, Brits – your taxes in Vietnam won’t be affected by Brexit.)
- The Vietnamese tax year runs from 1 January – 31 December
- Income tax should be filed monthly, while general tax returns are due 30th March
- The amount of tax you pay is a flat percentage based on your income, with rates from 5% to 35%
If you work for a corporation, they will typically pay your monthly income tax on your behalf. If you need to pay tax for your own business, the sale of a property or from investments, you can pay via a simple bank transfer. Many expatriates also choose to hire an accountant to help them reconcile their tax before 30th March deadline each year.
The cost of living in Vietnam is relatively low, and is on average 38% lower than in the UK. It’s quite cheap compared to Western countries and your money will go a lot further. However, this will depend on your lifestyle and it can also differ from city to city. Life in Vietnam has a relatively low cost.
Foreigners are currently not allowed to rent or drive a car in Vietnam without a Vietnamese driver’s license. Motorbikes can be used.
The cost of moving to Vietnam will depend on where you are moving from, and how much you are bringing with you. With a long coastline and plenty of ports, it’s fairly easy to receive stuff in Vietnam sent via ship.
Thankfully, moving services within Vietnam are not expensive, so getting your items from their delivery point to your new home shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.
In any case, you should expect to pay no more than US$3,000 for a complete move, but most people will find moving costs far cheaper.
Overall, Vietnam has a very good and fast-improving healthcare system. The sector’s emphasis on prevention rather than cure was one of the reasons Vietnam was so quick to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Vietnam has a mixed public-private healthcare system, although it is slowly transitioning to a fully-public model. The healthcare model is far more advanced in metropolitan urban centres, but is slowly reaching the countryside too. Almost all preventative healthcare services are free in Vietnam, including inoculations and mother and child healthcare.
Expats typically choose to visit private hospitals in Hanoi or Saigon, as these are more likely to be staffed with doctors who speak English or French. For this reason, it is highly recommended you take out private medical insurance, especially if you live outside the urban centres. You may also want to look into adding medical evacuation cover, as you could find certain specialist treatments require you to travel to Bangkok, Singapore or Seoul.
Remember, if you are moving from Britain or the EU, your GHIC or EHIC can’t be used in Vietnam.
COVID-19 in Vietnam
Vietnam responded well to the coronavirus pandemic. As of December 31, 2020, Vietnam had reported 1,465 laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 35 deaths. They took a targeted approach to testing and took a strong stance on quarantine and lock downs.
One of the reasons Vietnam was able to act so quickly and keep the case count so low is that the country experienced a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 and human cases of avian influenza between 2004 and 2010. As a result, Vietnam had both the experience and infrastructure to take appropriate action.
International travel to Vietnam has now resumed, however you will have to meet some requirements to enter. We recommend you check your local government advice before making any travel arrangements.
It’s essential that you have medical insurance that covers COVID-19 treatment with a minimum liability of US$10,000.
Schools in Vietnam
What are schools like if you’re living in Vietnam?
The Vietnamese state education system is split into five levels:
- primary school
- secondary school
- high school
- vocational training or further education
Unfortunately, Vietnam’s state education is not particularly revered. While it is far from the worst country in Asia for education, with its underpaid teachers and a curriculum that has failed to keep up with the pace of the modern world, many expats in Vietnam prefer to send their children to private or international schools.
Where are international schools in Vietnam and how much do they cost?
International schools are especially common in the major metropolitan cities and cater for all types of curriculum, with American, International Baccalaureate and Australian education models all available.
If you want your child to be taught in English or French, an international school is essential. Fees for international schools range from US$10,000/£7,500 – US$30,000/£21,000 per year.
Before moving to Vietnam, make sure you check the following:
- ☐ Have you researched places you’d like to live in Vietnam?
- ☐ If you’ve found an apartment or house you’d like to rent, have you contacted the company offering the accommodation?
- ☐ If you’ve agreed a place to live, have you received your rental agreement?
- ☐ Have you asked your landlord or property manager to set up your home Wi-Fi ahead of your arrival?
- ☐ Have you received a job offer from a Vietnamese employer?
- ☐ Alternatively, do you have proof of income and your eligibility to work overseas from your existing employer?
- ☐ Have you started your application for your residency visa?
- ☐ Do you have the proof of income or proof of savings required to apply for a visa?
- ☐ Have you taken out international health insurance before moving to Vietnam?
- ☐ Have you looked into other forms of health insurance to support your life in Vietnam, such as life insurance and income protection?
- ☐ Does your health insurance cover emergency evacuation to another country with better medical facilities?
- ☐ Have you calculated a budget that takes into account expenses such as rent, taxes and other bills/fees?
- ☐ Have you set up a bank account?
- ☐ Do you have all the necessary payment cards to go with your account?
- ☐ Have you applied for a visa for yourself and your family at least two weeks before beginning your preparations?
- ☐ Have you arranged to get a mobile phone with a local SIM card?
- ☐ Have you checked to see if you can bring your pets?
- ☐ Have you researched the cost of relocation? If you’re bringing your own furniture from home, have you received a reliable quote from a shipping company?
- ☐ Have you looked into schooling for your children? If you are relying on state education, you may need to contact schools to see if they have places available.
- ☐ Have you learnt some basic Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese or French phrases to help you get by in day-to-day life?
Before you go…
Moving to another country can be challenging, but you can ensure peace of mind by making sure you have the right international health insurance.
For 30 years, we have helped expats like you move and settle into their new lives overseas, with the peace of mind of knowing their families are covered by a comprehensive and flexible health insurance policy.
Speak to us today to find out more about how international health insurance could benefit you and your family – and good luck moving to Vietnam!