Living in Vietnam. A Comprehensive Guide for Expats

Hanoi at night

Vietnam, a captivating Southeast Asian country, has emerged as an alluring destination for expats seeking new adventures and opportunities. With its vibrant culture, diverse landscapes, and rapidly growing economy, Vietnam offers an exceptional living experience. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the intricacies of expat life in Vietnam, exploring factors such as cost of living, visa processes, healthcare, education, culture, food, climate, transportation, and the real estate market.

The Cost of Living in Vietnam

Affordable and Attractive

Vietnam is renowned for its affordability, making it an attractive option for expats from more expensive regions. The cost of living varies across different cities, with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City being the most expensive, while smaller cities and rural areas offer even more affordable options.

Housing Costs

  • Rental prices for apartments and houses can range from $300 to $1,500 per month, depending on the location, size, and amenities.
  • Serviced apartments and luxury accommodations in urban centers can be more expensive.

Daily Expenses

  • Groceries and eating out are relatively inexpensive, with a meal at a local restaurant costing around $3 to $5.
  • Public transportation, such as buses and taxis, is affordable, with short trips costing less than $1.
  • Utilities like electricity, water, and internet are generally inexpensive, with monthly bills ranging from $30 to $100.

Entertainment and Leisure

  • Entertainment options like movies, concerts, and cultural events are reasonably priced.
  • Domestic travel within Vietnam is affordable, allowing expats to explore the country’s diverse landscapes.

Cost-Effective Living

With careful budgeting and a willingness to adapt to the local lifestyle, expats can enjoy a comfortable and cost-effective living experience in Vietnam.

The Visa Process for Vietnam

Visa Requirements

  • Most foreign nationals require a visa to enter Vietnam, which can be obtained through Vietnamese embassies or consulates abroad or upon arrival at international airports.
  • The type of visa required depends on the purpose and duration of the stay, such as business, tourism, or employment.

Temporary Residence Card (TRC)

  • Expats planning to stay in Vietnam for an extended period, typically over three months, need to apply for a Temporary Residence Card (TRC) after entering the country.
  • The TRC application process involves providing necessary documents, undergoing health checks, and submitting biometric data.

Work Permits

  • Foreign workers must obtain a work permit to legally work in Vietnam.
  • Employers typically handle the work permit application process on behalf of their foreign employees.

Visa Extensions and Renewals

  • Visas can be extended or renewed within Vietnam, but the process may require leaving the country for a short period and re-entering, known as a “visa run.”
  • It’s essential to stay informed about the latest visa regulations and requirements, as they can change periodically.

The Healthcare System in Vietnam

Public and Private Healthcare

  • Vietnam has a universal public healthcare system, with hospitals and clinics located throughout the country.
  • Private healthcare facilities, particularly in major cities, offer higher-quality services but at a higher cost.

Health Insurance

  • Expats are strongly advised to obtain comprehensive health insurance, as the public healthcare system may have limitations for foreigners.
  • Many international health insurance providers offer plans specifically designed for expats in Vietnam.

Medical Facilities

  • Major cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have well-equipped hospitals and clinics catering to the needs of expats.
  • In rural areas, medical facilities may be more basic, and expats may need to travel to larger cities for specialized treatments.

Pharmacies and Medication

  • Pharmacies are widely available in Vietnam, and many medications can be purchased over the counter.
  • It’s recommended to bring sufficient supplies of any prescribed medications, as availability and quality may vary.

Traditional Medicine

  • Traditional Vietnamese medicine, including herbal remedies and acupuncture, is widely practiced and can be an affordable alternative or complementary treatment option.

The Education System in Vietnam

Public and Private Schools

  • Vietnam has a comprehensive public education system, but the quality can vary, and instruction is primarily in Vietnamese.
  • International schools and private bilingual schools offer curricula in English or other languages, catering to the needs of expat families.

Curriculum and Accreditation

  • International schools follow recognized curricula such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge, or American/British systems.
  • Accreditation and quality assurance are essential factors to consider when choosing a school for expat children.

Tuition Fees

  • International schools and private bilingual schools can be expensive, with tuition fees ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 per year, depending on the school and grade level.
  • Some employers may offer education allowances or subsidies for expat employees’ children.

Extracurricular Activities

  • Many international schools offer a wide range of extracurricular activities, including sports, music, art, and clubs, providing a well-rounded educational experience.


  • Homeschooling is legally permitted in Vietnam, but expats need to ensure they comply with local regulations and curriculum requirements.

The Culture of Vietnam

Rich Heritage and Traditions

  • Vietnam boasts a rich cultural heritage spanning thousands of years, influenced by Chinese, French, and indigenous traditions.
  • Festivals, religious celebrations, and cultural events are an integral part of Vietnamese life, offering expats a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in local customs.

Family Values

  • Family is highly valued in Vietnamese culture, and expats may find a strong sense of community and support within their social circles.
  • Respect for elders and hierarchical relationships are deeply ingrained in Vietnamese society.

Language and Communication

  • Vietnamese is the official language, but English is becoming more prevalent, especially in urban areas and among younger generations.
  • Understanding and embracing local communication styles, which often involve indirect communication and saving face, can facilitate better integration and relationships.

Arts and Architecture

  • Vietnamese arts, including lacquerware, water puppetry, and silk painting, reflect the country’s diverse cultural influences.
  • Traditional and modern architecture, from ancient temples to contemporary skyscrapers, showcase Vietnam’s architectural heritage and development.

Adapting to Local Customs

  • Expats are encouraged to respect local customs, such as removing shoes when entering homes or religious sites, and dressing modestly when visiting temples or rural areas.
  • Being open-minded and embracing cultural differences can enhance the expat experience in Vietnam.

The Food of Vietnam

A Culinary Delight

  • Vietnamese cuisine is renowned for its fresh ingredients, bold flavors, and harmonious balance of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy elements.
  • From street food stalls to upscale restaurants, Vietnam offers a diverse range of culinary experiences for expats to explore.

Regional Specialties

  • Each region of Vietnam has its own unique culinary specialties, influenced by local ingredients and traditions.
  • Northern cuisine is known for its subtlety and balance, while southern dishes often feature bold flavors and tropical influences.

Street Food Culture

  • Vietnam’s vibrant street food culture is a must-experience for expats, offering an array of delicious and affordable options.
  • Popular street foods include pho (noodle soup), banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), and nem ran (fried spring rolls).

Vegetarian and Vegan Options

  • While Vietnamese cuisine is heavily meat-based, there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options available, especially in larger cities.
  • Buddhist vegetarian restaurants, known as “chay” establishments, offer flavorful meat-free dishes.

Cooking Classes and Food Tours

  • Expats can immerse themselves in Vietnamese cuisine by taking cooking classes or joining food tours, learning about ingredients, cooking techniques, and the cultural significance of various dishes.

The Climate of Vietnam

Diverse Climatic Regions

  • Vietnam’s climate varies from region to region, ranging from tropical in the south to more temperate in the north.
  • The country experiences two distinct seasons: a dry season from November to April and a rainy season from May to October.

Hot and Humid Weather

  • Southern Vietnam, including Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta region, experiences a hot and humid tropical climate year-round.
  • Temperatures can reach over 35°C (95°F) during the dry season, with high humidity levels.

Cooler Temperatures in the North

  • Northern Vietnam, including Hanoi and the mountainous regions, enjoys a more temperate climate with distinct seasons.
  • Winters can be cool, with temperatures dropping to around 15°C (59°F), while summers are hot and humid.

Monsoon Season

  • The rainy season, also known as the monsoon season, brings heavy rainfall and the risk of flooding in certain areas.
  • Expats should be prepared for potential disruptions to transportation and outdoor activities during this period.

Adaptingto the Climate

  • Expats in Vietnam should dress appropriately for the climate, opting for lightweight and breathable clothing during the hot and humid months.
  • It’s essential to stay hydrated and use sun protection, such as hats and sunscreen, to prevent heat-related illnesses.
  • During the rainy season, having waterproof gear and being aware of weather forecasts can help expats navigate the challenges posed by heavy rainfall.

The Transportation System in Vietnam

Public Transport

  • Vietnam has a well-developed public transportation system, including buses, trains, and domestic flights, making it easy for expats to travel within the country.
  • Public buses are a cost-effective way to get around cities, while trains offer a scenic option for longer journeys between major destinations.

Motorbikes and Scooters

  • Motorbikes and scooters are popular modes of transportation in Vietnam, offering flexibility and convenience for navigating through traffic.
  • Expats can rent or purchase motorbikes/scooters, but it’s essential to prioritize safety by wearing helmets and following traffic rules.

Ride-Hailing Services

  • Ride-hailing services like Grab are widely available in major cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, providing expats with a convenient and affordable way to travel.
  • Using ride-hailing apps can help expats avoid language barriers and ensure transparency in pricing.

Private Vehicles

  • Some expats may choose to own or rent private vehicles for added convenience, especially if they live in suburban or rural areas with limited public transport options.
  • It’s important to familiarize oneself with local driving regulations and road conditions before driving in Vietnam.

Traffic Challenges

  • Vietnam’s traffic can be chaotic and congested, particularly in urban areas, requiring expats to exercise caution and patience when navigating the streets.
  • Understanding the flow of traffic, anticipating maneuvers, and staying alert can help expats safely travel on Vietnam’s bustling roads.

The Real Estate Market in Vietnam

Renting vs. Buying

  • Expats in Vietnam have the option to rent or buy property, with renting being a popular choice due to flexibility and lower upfront costs.
  • Foreigners face restrictions on owning land but can purchase certain types of properties, such as apartments in designated residential developments.

Popular Expat Areas

  • Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are top choices for expats seeking vibrant urban lifestyles, with a range of housing options from modern apartments to traditional houses.
  • Coastal cities like Da Nang and Nha Trang appeal to expats looking for beach side living and a more relaxed pace.

Rental Prices

  • Rental prices in Vietnam vary depending on the location, size, and quality of the property, with central districts in major cities commanding higher rents.
  • Expats can find furnished or unfurnished rentals, and negotiating lease terms like duration and utilities is common practice.

Property Investment

  • Some expats choose to invest in real estate in Vietnam, seeing it as a lucrative opportunity given the country’s growing economy and property market.
  • Working with reputable real estate agents and understanding legal requirements can help expats make informed investment decisions.

Serviced Apartments

  • Serviced apartments are a popular accommodation choice for expats, offering amenities like housekeeping, security, and facilities such as gyms and swimming pools.
  • Serviced apartments provide a hassle-free living experience, ideal for expats who value convenience and comfort.

In conclusion, living in Vietnam as an expat offers a unique blend of affordability, cultural richness, and diverse experiences. From navigating the vibrant street food scene to adapting to the tropical climate, expats in Vietnam have a wealth of opportunities to explore and embrace. The country’s welcoming culture, coupled with modern amenities and a growing expat community, makes it an attractive destination for those seeking adventure and new perspectives. By understanding the nuances of healthcare, education, transportation, real estate, and other aspects of expat life in Vietnam, individuals can make informed decisions and fully enjoy all that this dynamic Southeast Asian nation has to offer.

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