10 PROS and CONS to living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
As many of you may know, I had never planned on moving to Vietnam. However, if there's one thing we learned in 2020, it's that nothing ever goes as planned. I have a little different perspective on life here than people who moved here on purpose, but as with everything, there are good and bad aspects. I thought I would write a little about what life is like in Vietnam since lots of people are curious about what it's like to live here. Here are 5 pros and 5 cons (in my opinion) of living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as an expat!
Pro: The cost of living is much lower than it is in many western cities.
If you’re a city person, this is a big pro. You can get a really nice apartment here for a fraction of the cost of living in a city at home. For a one-bedroom apartment (not a studio) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, you’ll expect to pay around $500 USD. For comparison, this is how much you would pay for a similar apartment in some of the world’s major cities:
London, UK: $2300USD
Sydney, Australia: $2000USD
New York City, NY: $3000USD
Los Angeles, CA: $2200USD
Toronto, Canada: $1600USD
+ Buffalo, NY: $900USD (shout out the 716!) (data found on numbeo.com)
Additionally, the cost of groceries - most meat (besides beef), fruits, and vegetables; and eating out is much lower here in Vietnam. You can live a really good life here for a fraction of what you would be paying at home.
Con: Hard to find work outside a city/not as an English teacher.
I am speaking from an English teacher’s point of view, but most jobs are located in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. Now, I’m not a huge fan of city living, so this is a huge con for me. I would much rather be working in a small town near the beach or in the mountains, but these jobs are much harder to find and usually with lower pay. I miss the fresh air and being outside in nature!
Unless you're bilingual in Vietnamese and English, or super highly qualified, it's very hard to find a job working somewhere other than as a teacher. Don't get me wrong, I love my students! But at the same time, I'd love to pick up a part-time job in a cafe or shop, but that's just going to have to wait until I'm living in an English-speaking country again.
Pro: It’s super easy to make friends here.
As an expat living in Vietnam, it’s not hard to make friends. There are some awesome Facebook groups where you can connect with other foreigners living in Vietnam, and you’re likely to make friends with your coworkers/neighbors. The best part is you’ll meet people from all over the world - there are so many people of so many different nationalities living in Vietnam.
Con: The language barrier.
I’ve had so many people from home ask me if I can speak Vietnamese yet, and the answer is a resounding (and slightly embarrassing) no. I do know some words, mostly ones having to do with food, but Vietnamese is a tonal language and they have so many different accents for each of the letters. This is how many accented letter A’s there are in Vietnamese:
a ẵ ắ ặ â ầ ẩ ẫ ấ ậ à ả ã á ạ ă ằ ẳ
Each one is pronounced differently, but I have no idea what the differences are. The Vietnamese people who have grown up speaking the language can hear the differences, but they all sound so similar to me.
Even though many Vietnamese people know at least some English (or you can communicate using Google translate! ), it is frustrating when things get lost in translation, and when you are unable to make small talk with people you encounter every day.
Pro: It's a beautiful country.
There are so many beautiful places to see in Vietnam. When you’re living here, it’s so easy to visit other cities and towns within Vietnam. The scenery here is gorgeous and there really is something here for everyone. Tiny mountain towns, relaxing beaches, and charming towns. I’ve seen a lot of places in Vietnam, but there are still so many more that I would like to visit! You could travel here for so long and not run out of things to see and do. Check out my list here (coming soon) for some of my favorite destinations in Vietnam!
Con: Confusing laws & hard to get accurate news as a foreigner.
This has been a big thing mostly because of COVID. It seems like restrictions change daily, and it’s hard to keep up to date as someone who only speaks English. Sometimes a similar article will be on two different news sites, but there will be a slight difference in the translation, so it’s hard to know which version is the correct one. Last month, we had our restrictions tightened due to COVID, and in one article it said gatherings of 3 or more were banned, and the other article said groups of more than three, so we didn’t know if three people were allowed to hang out or not.
There has also been a lot of confusion regarding visa and work permit laws for people who are already here. In the past, working on a tourist visa was never legal, but it was widely unenforced. In the past, many teachers were just here on tourist visas and did border runs (aka flew to another country for a day or weekend) to be able to renew their visas. Because these border runs can't happen anymore, many expats here aren't sure if they can continue working and living here. The future of foreign workers here in Vietnam is unclear, even for those who have been doing so legally.
Pro: Ease of traveling around Southeast Asia (outside of pandemic times).
Since the pandemic, Vietnam's borders have been closed to tourists. However, pre-pandemic (and hopefully post-pandemic!), Ho Chi Minh City was a great base for travel within Southeast Asia. There is a major international airport here where you could get cheap flights to other countries in Asia. HCMC is also very close to Cambodia, which made for a quick and affordable overland getaway.
Hopefully, in the next year or two, borders will begin to open in Asia as more people are vaccinated and COVID subsides. That way, people living and working in Vietnam will be able to travel affordably and easily through Asia again. Even with the borders being closed, there are many affordable places to travel to within Vietnam.
Con: The weather.
I know many people that chose to move to Southeast Asia for the weather. In HCMC, it's around 90°F/30°C all year round. Personally, this is way too hot of weather for me to be in year-round. I miss seasons and varying temperatures, and I haven't really been able to adjust to the heat here. I do know people that move here and love the heat and not having winter weather, so again, this all comes down to personal preference. Also, the more north you go in Vietnam, the more variation in weather you get. If you want that, Hanoi might be a better city to base yourself in - although it does get scorching in the summer there!
Pro: The food.
Vietnamese food is so yummy! There are so many different kinds of dishes to try - I could live here for years and not be able to try them all. Just like with many other countries, each region has its own specialties.
The food here is packed with fresh vegetables with many different types of meats and either noodles or rice. It's also super easy to be a vegetarian here if that is your diet of preference. Most fruits and vegetables are really cheap here, as are staples like rice and noodles. Whether you're cooking for yourself or eating out, food definitely is not super expensive here.
Con: Scams targeted at foreigners.
This is something that is common in many countries, and it's something that definitely can be frustrating. There are always people who want/need to make an extra dollar or two, and this is especially true during the pandemic when many businesses are closed and many people are out of work.
Many times, scams are quite small, such as being overcharged for your morning coffee or fruit at the market. This will only set you back no more than a dollar. While it is frustrating, I don't often mind paying a bit extra as I know expat salaries are much higher than those of the locals. Another common scam is getting overcharged in a taxi, but this can easily be avoided by using one of the many uber-like apps here which give you a set price ahead of time.
The most frustrating is when these scams take on a bigger nature. Most commonly, these scams have to do with extending visas or applying for a temporary residence card. It isn't uncommon for people to be grossly overcharged by visa agents. I have also heard of these agents telling people they have been blacklisted and making them pay $1000-2000 dollars to get off the blacklist when in reality they were never on the blacklist. While these scams sound scary, they can be avoided by going through your company. It's very important to be aware of the various scams that can happen here so you are able to avoid them.
There you have it, my five pros and cons of living here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. If you're interested in reading about some of the differences between my life here and life in the US, check out my post here!