- Cost of living
- Healthcare & Schools
- Accommodation & Communication
Vietnam is a terrific country with a young and dynamic population. The country as a whole has fought incredible odds and yet keeps on smiling and making real advances in the liberalisation from almost everything from economics to social affairs.
There are millions of people who are traveling in and out of Vietnam and bringing Vietnam to the world while at the same time bringing the world into Vietnam. You will find the openness and friendliness of the Vietnamese people difficult if not impossible to find elsewhere in the world.
Judging by the monumental changes in the last few years along with the willingness and desire of the people to create a better life, we will not be surprised if Vietnam becomes that icon of the ultimate tropical destination sooner than a lot of people who don't know the country think.
Vietnam is a densely-populated, developing country that in the last 40 years has had to recover from the ravages of war, the loss of financial support from the old Soviet Bloc, and the rigidities of a centrally-planned economy. Substantial progress was achieved from 1986 to 1997 in moving forward from an extremely low level of development and significantly reducing poverty. The results to date have been phenomenal and so Vietnam has emerged as a country with much to offer Expats.
Vietnam's varied topography and countryside allows for an incredibly varied weather experience!
The country offers everything from tropical coastal lowlands to cool temperate zones above 6000 feet.
In southern Vietnam, the rainy season lasts from May to November and the rains can be quite an experience by themselves. It's interesting to see how the Vietnamese handle these sometimes violent outbursts of rain by merely pulling their motorbikes to the side of the road, putting on a plastic poncho-like suit, hopping back on the bike and proceeding along their way.
Along Vietnam's central coast, the driest season runs from June to October. Visitors to North Vietnam are often surprised by the region's distinct seasons; summers are hot and humid while winters are invigoratingly cool.
Like all languages, Vietnamese is a blend of several earlier languages. The basic vocabulary evolved from Mon-Khmer (ancient Cambodian). Chinese contributed much of the more advanced vocabulary (and the original writing system) and much of the grammar and pronunciation came from the ancient Tai people of south-western China (who were also the ancestors of today's Thai people).
The two major Vietnamese dialects are those of the North and South. The differences between these are not as great as the Vietnamese would have you believe, although some regional dialects border on incomprehensibility for other Vietnamese. There are minor pronunciation, tone and vocabulary differences between the Hanoi and Saigon dialects, but they are comparable to the differences between mid-western American “CNN” English and British "BBC" English
Visas, Residency & Immigration
To enter Vietnam you will need a visa. Visa application forms now have the remark "All international border crossings of Vietnam". This simplifies the application process since tourists no longer have to specify exactly where they are entering or leaving.
There are multiple entry visas that are a little more expensive (USD 50 to USD 200). Multiple entry visas are especially useful if you would like to make a side trip to, say, Thailand, Laos or Cambodia or are living full time in Vietnam and would simply like the freedom to come and go as you please
It has been noted that Vietnam has been quite a bit more liberal than, say, Thailand on the issuance of multiple entry and longer term visas.
The cost of living in urban centres in Vietnam is quite inexpensive for Expats. Quality private homes are available for as little as $400 USD per month or up to many thousands of dollars per month for giant mansion-like homes with an incredible array of amenities that would rival any 5 star luxury hotel.
One of the main difficulties for Expats over the years had been easy access to more reasonable and affordable housing. However with several joint foreign owned real estate companies popping up in the country, especially in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), the access to higher quality and more affordable living has improved greatly, to the point where many Expats have started shifting focus toward Vietnam as a place to work.
Banking has opened up considerably in Vietnam in the past few years. Large international banks such as HSBC and Citi Financial are mainstays in larger cities such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, while Vietcom Bank and major Vietnam based banks can generally help the expat or travellers with cashing of travellers checks or personal bank accounts.
ATM machines are established throughout the country. Wire transfers are also becoming a usual occurrence in the county. With proper identification you should have no problems getting established with a local bank in Vietnam.
Vietnam is a socialist country and as such subscribes to the Marxist belief that a heavy progressive income tax should be applied to all income, individual and corporate.
However in recent years the country has exercised a policy called Doi Moi (new life) and has made much headway toward a more liberal system of taxation. In fact the rates of taxation have changed substantially over the years and are now almost in line with taxes in western countries like the UK, USA, and elsewhere.
Food, Entertainment and Transportation
The wide and exciting range of food in Vietnam is one of the true wonders to visitors and Expats. Market foods offer a rich range of delights at such low costs that they almost defy logic. Yet even meals at the 5 star facilities offer real value when compared with what you are used to paying back home.
Entertainment is another rich and varied experience in Vietnam. It includes a wide array of activities ranging from sports to sightseeing, adventure tours, shopping, eating out etc. There are numerous things to do in Vietnam for the people of the country as well as for the tourists and Expats. In the big cities of Vietnam ballroom dancing, discos and nightclubs feature as local forms of entertainment. Even opera lovers will be surprised by the Saigon Opera House, which boasts a rich French influence with incredible acoustics. All of these activities will surprise you with their true value for money.
Transportation costs are incredible value in Vietnam – whether it be taxis or internal air travel.
Healthcare is a very important issue in every country in the world. No country seems to have the total solution, with many countries having giant medical bureaucracies, less than quality care, high priced coverage, lack of coverage or a combination of all the above.
Vietnam is improving in its medical care, with new and modern hospitals and clinics springing up. There are good doctors in Vietnam as well as traditional Oriental medicine that abounds and if you make the effort to take care of yourself the basic medical care in Vietnam is as good as anywhere.
Nevertheless, Expats should hold private medical insurance cover to ensure they have access to quality medical treatment when required, as well as medical evacuation for more complex or serious treatment that may not be available locally.
Medical care costs in Vietnam are likely a fraction of what they cost in your home country and the market for medical treatment in Asia is growing by leaps and bounds.
Education changes in Vietnam are a seeing constant improvement and expansion. Many private schools are emerging all the time, attracting both local and Expat students. A number of International Schools are very popular.
In addition, university education is more and more popular. In fact in recent years, foreign universities have been established in Vietnam and these are increasingly popular, as well as producing quality graduates.
Language schools are present, in some areas seemingly on every corner. Their popularity is enormous and so graduates are joining the workforce to take positions that demand language skills.
Finding a private house for lease has become considerably easier over the years with licensed Vietnam real estate companies popping up all over the place. One of the difficulties has been the language barrier but even there it has become noticeably easier with joint partnerships also becoming quite usual. Costs in general are regarded by Expats as very good value, with some quite exceptional architecture being unique to Vietnam because of the previous infusion of designs from France.
Strong advances have been made in basic communications in just the last few years with broadband and other forms of high speed internet becoming much more available in Vietnam than in many countries in the west.
Whereas in just 2001 it was difficult to obtain a telephone line in some cases even in large cities, in just the last 2 years, not only are telephones the norm, but high speed internet connections of all types are becoming more common.
Mobile phones are extremely popular with all levels of society – made even more popular by low call and data costs when compared with many western countries.
International Phone Calls
International calls are relatively cheap to many countries. Internet telephone calls are common and are available at the many internet cafes in the country.
A regular international post service is available. In addition there are some new, special services such as Express Mail Service (EMS). The domestic EMS ensures that letters and small parcels are delivered within 24-48 hours. International EMS has relations with nearly 30 countries world-wide, with a delivery time ranging from 2 to 10 days. Air mail and small parcels must however be subject to additional charges. Express money transfer is also available; money is delivered to the receiver within 24 hours.
Internet access just a few short years ago was dismal, slow and expensive. But in recent years with the advent of microwave cable as well as the newly available DSL, Vietnam has arrived in the future, showing high speed connections at realistic prices.
Free Wi-Fi is available at a countless number of public places such as restaurants, hotels, cafes, bars and the like. Simply ask for their password and you’ll be given it immediately with a smile.
Internet cafes are everywhere and recently even private rental homes have internet connections on offer.
In each region of Vietnam, lifestyles differ, but there are some aspects of life which remain fundamentally the same.
The family is the centre of Vietnamese life. Many homes support large extended families with grandparents, aunts uncles, and cousins all living under the same roof. Although the government encourages, and rewards people for small families, the average number of children per couple is four.
Respect is important in the family. Each person has his or her own place with the father or eldest son as the head of the household.
A high percentage of the population of Vietnam live in rural villages scattered throughout the lowlands and mountains. Villages in the north consist of a group of houses with a temple or central building as a town center and social meeting place. Southern villages are houses lined up along a central road. Many houses are built on stilts to keep above flood waters.
People living in the lowlands live by farming. People grow rice, fruits and vegetables, sugarcane, tea, or coffee. Some families raise livestock for extra income. Along the coast, in addition to farmers, there are many fishermen.
The balance of the Vietnam population live in cities. They have jobs just like people living in cities all over the world have. There are construction workers, office secretaries, merchants, street vendors, teachers, government workers, factory workers, and many other occupations.
Cities experience more of the western influence than rural areas do. People wear clothing such as jeans and T-shirts. Most families live in small apartments, or in government housing. Cities are typically crowded, and streets are often crammed with bikes, motorbikes, scooters, cars and trucks.
In addition to an upbringing that teaches respect, Vietnamese people are gracious, usually with a smile.
Food sits at the very epicenter of Vietnamese culture. Every significant holiday on the Vietnamese cultural calendar, all the important milestones in a Vietnamese person's life, and indeed, most of the important day-to-day social events and interactions - food plays a central role in each.
Special dishes are prepared and served with great care for every birth, marriage and death - and the anniversaries of ancestors' deaths. More business deals are struck over dinner tables than over boardroom tables, and when friends get together, they eat together. Preparing food and eating together remains the focus of family life.
At the same time, the Vietnamese are surprisingly modest about their cuisine. High-end restaurants tend to serve "Asian-fusion" cuisine, with elements of Thai, Japanese, and Chinese mixed in. The most authentic Vietnamese food is found at modest or even quite cheap restaurants. Definite regional styles exist -- northern, central, and southern, each with unique dishes. Central style is perhaps the most celebrated, with dishes such as mi quang (wheat noodles with herbs, pork, and shrimp), banh canh cua (crab soup with thick rice noodles) and bun bo Hue (beef soup with herbs and noodles).
Many Vietnamese dishes are flavored with fish sauce, which smells and tastes like anchovies (quite salty and fishy) straight from the bottle, but blends into food very well. Fish sauce is also mixed with lime juice, sugar, water, and spices to form a tasty dip/condiment called nước chấm, served on the table with most meals. Vegetables, herbs and spices, notably Vietnamese coriander or cilantro (rau mùi or rau mgò), mint (rau răm) and basil (rau húng), accompany almost every dish and help make Vietnamese food much lighter and more aromatic than the cuisine of its neighboring countries, especially China.
Vietnam's national dish is phở, a broth soup with beef or chicken and rice noodles (a form of rice linguini or fettuccini). Phở is normally served with plates of fresh herbs (usually including Asian basil), cut limes, hot chillies and scalded bean sprouts which you can add in according to your taste, along with chilli paste, chilli sauce, and sweet soybean sauce.
Phở bò, the classic form of phở, is made with beef broth that is often simmered for many hours and may include one or more kinds of beef (skirt, flank, tripe, etc.). Phở gà is the same idea, but with chicken broth and chicken meat.
Phở is the original Vietnamese fast food, which locals grab for a quick meal. Most phở places specialize in phở and can serve you a bowls as fast as you could get a Big Mac. It's available at any time of the day, but locals eat it most often for breakfast.
Famous phở restaurants can be found in both Hanoi and HCMC. Street-side eateries in Vietnam typically advertise phở and cơm. Though cơm literally means rice, the sign means the restaurant serves a plate of rice accompanied with fish or meat and vegetables.
Coffee, baguettes, and pastries were originally introduced by the French, but all three have been localized and remain popular contemporary aspects of Vietnamese cuisine. Coffee shops that also serve light fare can be found in almost village and on multiple street corners in the bigger cities. Bánh mì Hanoi are French bread sandwiches - freshly baked white bread baguettes filled with grilled meats or liver or pork pâté, plus fresh herbs and vegetables. Most pastry shops serve a variety of sweets and quick foods, and are now owned by Vietnamese.
If you like seafood, you may find heaven in Vietnam. The ultimate seafood experience is traveling to a seaside village or beach resort area in the south to try the local seafood restaurants that often serve shrimp, crab, and locally-caught fish. Follow the locals to a good restaurant, the food will still be swimming when you order it, it will be well-prepared, very affordable by Western standards, and often served in friendly surroundings with spectacular views.
Vietnam has emerged as a very competitive area for sports in Asia. Martial arts are quite common as are a variety of sports such as soccer, football, golf, running, tennis, and more.
Vietnam is also beginning to emerge as a real player in the world of golf with courses from Vung tau to further north up the coast. While one often gets the impression that life never slows down in Vietnam, the Vietnamese actually display the adage "work hard, play hard" well!
Activities range from wonderful amusement parks such as Dem Sen Park in HCMC, the Ice House with its many hand carved ice sculptures including a very cool indoor ice slide that will delight you especially when the outside temperatures are above 32c!
There are fabulous beaches up and down Vietnam's coast with beaches in Danang being named in the top 20 of the world's greatest beaches. Phan Thiet, which is only about 3 hours up the coast from HCMC, is world class and there is an abundance of sightseeing there as well as throughout the country that will please even the best traveled.
From the incredible Halong Bay in the north to the far reaches of the Mekong, there's an abundance of leisure activities along with incredible food to keep your energy levels up throughout the country to keep you well pleased with your adventure in Vietnam.