Expat Guide To Living In Vietnam

Vietnam skyline illustration

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

In this expat guide, we explore some of the practicalities of living in Vietnam as an expatriate. In addition, we cover information foreveryday life and setting down roots in the Land of the Blue Dragon.

Vietnam, in Southeast Asia, is a stunning country home to around 83,500 international expats – with a large British contingent.

The country offers low living costs, incredible cuisine, and a vibrant culture across thriving megacities and tiny beachside communities.

From mountain villages to forests, the landscape in Vietnam is beautiful, and there are thousands of places to live, whether you enjoy the chaos of urban life or prefer somewhere a little more remote.

Vietnam borders Cambodia, China, Thailand, Laos and the East Sea, with the capital of Hanoi found in the north of the country.

It is a truly diverse place to live with over 95 million residents and more than 50 languages and dialects.

While newcomers to the cities may find the noise of developments and motorbikes overwhelming, hospitality is second to none.

As a country where everything moves quickly, Vietnam is becoming a hub for expats and international travellers. There are countless new buildings signalled by the thousands of cranes dotting the skyline in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh – but move a little further out, and you’ll find a tranquillity that’s hard to beat.

Reasons To Consider Moving To Vietnam

Compared to Thailand next door, Vietnam is still a low-cost place to live – and a primary destination for digital nomads and contractors working in the Asia Pacific on rest-overs.

There are flipsides, such as a scarcity of healthcare and little to no state provision, but the cost of health insurance is still minimal.

Some of the key reasons that so many foreign nationals choosing to relocate to Vietnam include:

  • Affordability – accommodation is cheap and easy to come by. Delicious street food is a staple and highly affordable, and everything from fuel to public transport and entertainment is available on a modest budget.
  • Safety – Vietnam is one of the safest places to live in Southeast Asia, with a stable economy and growing employment sector. Vietnamese people believe strongly in karma, so the communities are incredibly generous and welcoming.
  • Climate – yes, it’s hot. However, not as uncomfortably sticky as many other destinations in this part of the world. There are also multiple climate zones, and you can travel to the mountains to cool off.
  • Geography – the landscapes here are astonishing. From incredible beaches, waterfalls, national parks and rice plantations, there is a vast natural diversity.
  • Employment – while there are restrictions on foreign employment, there are plenty of opportunities for professionals. For example, thousands of British teachers work in Vietnam alongside skilled workers in tourism, sales, IT, and technology.
  • Cuisine – we don’t have time here even to scratch the surface of the breadth of Vietnamese food. From soups, barbecued meats, noodles, egg and rice dishes, there is a massive amount to sample – and if you haven’t tried Vietnamese coffee or chocolate, you’re missing a serious treat.

While the tourist spots are commercialised, take a step off the beaten track, and you’ll see how unique Vietnam is.

Over the last 30 years, the country has recovered from a troubled history to become somewhere remarkably welcoming and safe, with landscapes and cultures that need to be seen to be appreciated.

Visas And Residency For UK Expats In Vietnam

Getting a visa for Vietnam is relatively straightforward. The drawback of working expats is that you may need to go periodically on a ‘visa run’.

That means leaving the country and re-entering since many permits allow a limited length stay, which you can renew multiple times when passing back across the border. However, if you’re happy to take a short excursion, there are many exciting destinations to explore nearby.

Tourist visas

If you’re travelling to Vietnam on holiday, you’ll usually need a visa unless you visit for fewer than 15 days.

There is an e-Visa system, which means you can apply and pay the fee in advance.

Standard tourist visas are valid for up to 30 days, with more extended passes available for a small extra charge. While costs can vary between consulates, if you apply online, the prices are charged in US dollars:

  • $17 for a regular one-month single entry visa, plus $10 for one-working day delivery, and $37 if you need a visa to be approved within four hours.
  • $25 for a three-month single entry visa.
  • $65 for a three-month multiple entry visa.

You can also pay an extra $25 for an airport fast-track ticket to clear customs through a priority line and $35 for a personal greeting at the airport, including transport to your hotel.

All told, visas for Vietnam are cheap, fast, and easy to apply for.

For Vietnamese citizens looking to get permanent residency in the UK, look at our Tier 1 Investor Visa guide.

Work permits

If you’re moving to Vietnam for work, you’ll need a work permit issued by the Department of Labour, Invalid and Society.

Unfortunately, you can’t apply directly – you’ll need an employer to make the application on your behalf. There are rules about employing overseas nationals in Vietnam, and foreign businesses cannot have above a three% expat workforce.

There are also some mandatory requirements:

  • Foreign workers must be over 18, with no criminal record.
  • They must be specialists in their area, with experience in business, management, or another profession that the local labour market cannot offer.
  • Applicants must be in good health.

When an employer has secured a work permit, you’ll need that to apply for:

  • A temporary residence card – you are eligible to apply provided you have a work permit valid for at least one year.
  • A work visa to be permitted to enter the country. There are two work visas – an LD1 applies if you have an exemption (see below), or more typically, you’ll need to apply for an LD2 after your work permit has been granted.

Exempted work permits

Some foreign nationals are exempt from requiring a work permit. Instead, a different form is required, called a Work Permit Exemption Certificate, valid for up to two years.

Exemptions include:

  • Investors with a capital contribution of at least 3 billion VND (£93,640).
  • Professionals becoming a chair or board member of a joint-stock company with the same capital contribution threshold.
  • Directors or responsible persons for international organisations or foreign NGOs in Vietnam.
  • Those moving to the country to provide services for fewer than three months.
  • Overseas legal professionals with a Vietnamese professional practice license.
  • Students travelling to gain experience or practical training.
  • Professionals moving to work in state agencies.
  • Teachers certified by the Ministry of Education and Teaching.

If you are exempt from a work permit, you’ll still need to wait for your certificate to be granted and then go ahead and apply for your temporary residence card.

Best Places For British Expats To Live In Vietnam

Most expats in Vietnam move to the sprawling city of Ho Chi Minh. It’s hot, crowded, and the traffic is a sight to behold – but it’s also home to the largest businesses in the country.

Many residents of the megacity love the incredible diversity, manic pace of life, and adventure on every corner – and it’s incredibly cheap to find accommodation with more restaurants than you’d ever be able to visit.

Ho Chi Minh is specifically popular with expats working in technological, manufacturing and teaching positions.

Outside of the metropolis, there are some other slightly less chaotic places to live:

Hanoi

Hanoi is still a large city but slightly cooler and more laid back. Most government agencies are based in the capital of Hanoi, so there aren’t as many corporate jobs, but expats still opt for the city for teaching positions.

Da Nang

Da Nang is a world away and a much smaller city with incredible beaches and mountainous jungles nearby.

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a tourist area and popular with Russian travellers, so much of the work in the city is in the hospitality sector.

Vung Tau

Vung Tau has some smaller beaches and is relatively close to Ho Chi Minh, about two hours by bus. Many expats who can work remotely opt for the quieter beachside lifestyle in Vung Tau and commute into the city periodically.

The cities in Vietnam are bustling, with crowds of pedestrians and traffic competing for space.

As a result, most roads become heavily gridlocked and are managed by police traffic controllers, who you’ll often see standing in the middle of roundabouts directing the flow of vehicles.

If you live in the city, it’s advisable to familiarise yourself with the public transport system or hire a motorbike.

Driving can be stressful, and given the weight of traffic on minor roads, it can also take an extremely long time to get anywhere.

Cost Of Living In Vietnam

No matter where you live, the cost of living is low compared to anywhere in the UK.

Comparing the Vietnam living cost to the cost of living in Singapore is an eye-opener. Of course, geographically extremely close to each other, but expense wise, Vietnam is like a different world.

However, average salaries are also low, so your living standards will depend on whether you’re earning a western salary, drawing a pension, or supporting yourself financially through local employment.

For example, Vietnam’s average monthly take-home pay is 9.96 million VND (£311) compared to £1,947 in the UK.

Overall, though, the country is very affordable. Prices are 58% cheaper for rent, 34% lower for groceries, and consumer prices are generally 48% lower than in Britain.

The table shows some of the everyday living costs in Vietnam, compared to UK averages.

ExpenseAverage Vietnam Cost VNDAverage Vietnam Cost GBPAverage UK Cost GBP
Bottle of water11,241£0.35£0.95
Meal for two450,000£14£50
Domestic beer20,000£0.52£3.67
Public transport monthly pass200,000£6.25£65
Litre of fuel19,385£0.61£1.26
Monthly utilities1.42 million£44.40£156
Monthly nursery fees3.829 million£120£940
International school annual fees272.8 million£8,520£13,295
Monthly rent for a one-bed central apartment9.395 million£293£745
Monthly rent for a three-bed non-central house12.4 million£387£964
Source: Numbeo

If the cost of living is important, check out the other low-cost countries such as Indonesia and India.

Healthcare In Vietnam

The quality of healthcare in Vietnam varies considerably between the cities and rural areas.

Most citizens rely on private healthcare since there isn’t much state provision.

However, there are signs that this is changing, and more public clinics and health centres are beginning to crop up.

You can find modern hospitals in the cities, with good standards. Private clinics also provide relatively affordable healthcare.

There can be villages with no doctors or hospitals, though, so if you are travelling, it’s wise to check what is nearby and stock up on any prescriptions.

While there aren’t any mandatory vaccinations to travel to Vietnam, you’re usually advised to be inoculated against:

  • Viral hepatitis A and B
  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Polio
  • Typhoid

Malaria treatments are also recommended, particularly if you head to South Vietnam around the Mekong Delta.

Health insurance is vital, so if you require any treatment from a private hospital, you’ll be covered. It’s also worth making sure your policy includes repatriation.

Make sure you get the correct expat healthcare insurance and cover while travelling or living in Vietnam.

Costs depend on your age, any pre-existing conditions, where you’re travelling, and how long you expect to stay. On average, you’re looking at about £2,800 a year for comprehensive insurance for an individual from an international health insurance provider.

Local insurers are cheaper, although they won’t usually provide any travel-related cover and only offer care through a specific network of hospitals or doctors.

Schools And Education In Vietnam For Expat Families

If you’re moving to Vietnam with children, you’ll need to know a bit about the schooling system – and while international schools are relatively expensive, they’re also of good quality.

Most expat children go to a private or international school. While common in Southeast Asia, these schools are recent phenomena in Vietnam, with the first schools only having been around for 30 years or less.

There can be long waiting lists, given the number of expats in the country, so it’s advisable to apply as far in advance as possible.

Many Vietnamese international schools are British – teaching is the number one job for expats.

However, learning styles are somewhat different.

Vietnamese culture means that children are used to sitting quietly and having a passive education instead of active participation and practical learning that western children are more used to.

Contemporary private schools in Ho Chi Minh are a little more westernised and follow the American curriculum but seriously long queues.

You’ll also find a significant variance in fees and application process, which can include:

  • Academic ability tests to attend – similar to a UK grammar school.
  • Entrance exams covering English and Maths proficiency.
  • Interviews with parents and the students before a place is offered.
  • Upfront fees, and termly charges after that, often with a holding deposit required.
  • Additional charges for uniforms, lunches and transport.

While the most popular international schools can be pricey, further education is not. You can attend a course at a public university for as little as 4.6 million VND per year (£144).

Vietnamese Culture And Laws

The Vietnamese culture is amiable, and people generally welcome foreigners, given their collective drive for social improvement. Indeed, people often value their clan or local village as a priority over individual family units, so economic growth is seen as a good thing.

It’s always worth learning a little about the culture before you move anywhere new – but it can be hard to pin down since there are many religions, languages and customs.

For example, there isn’t one religion in Vietnam. Instead, there is a Triple Religion system, called Tam Giao, including Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. There are also Christian churches, Hindu and Islamic temples.

For a millennium, Vietnam was ruled by China and is influenced by its neighbouring countries, hence this blend.

Some of the key things to know about Vietnamese culture are that:

  • Study and education are highly prized, and you should always accept training opportunities with grace.
  • Manual labour is also seen as an honest pastime and is respected.
  • Cultural emphases are on worshipping ancestors and devotion to the country.
  • Trust is a big deal, and it takes time to establish. Contracts are standard, but you can find it hard to do business until somebody gets to know you.
  • Reputation is also important, and so people frown on public disagreements or mockery, which is seen as aggressive – violence is unusual in Vietnam.

Another factor essential for western expats to know is that the Vietnam War is sacrosanct.

War veterans and war heroes are never to be poorly spoken of. However, given the extreme hardships of this period of history, Vietnamese people will lose their characteristic humorous nature if foreigners joke about the horrors of the war.

Expat Guide To Living In Vietnam FAQ’s

Here we list several commonly asked questions about living in Vietnam:

Is Vietnam a safe place to live as an expat?

Yes, Vietnam is a safe country. There are occasional extreme weather conditions, but natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis are uncommon.

Apart from petty theft, there is little crime, and local people are generally very willing to help.

Do people speak English in Vietnam?

Most international businesses will speak English in the cities, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted. You’ll often need to have at least some conversational Vietnamese to be awarded any longer-term permit.

Vietnamese people won’t know English in other areas, and you’ll have to speak some of the local languages to get around and buy groceries.

Can expats find work in Vietnam?

British expats can usually find employment opportunities in Vietnam, but there are a few rules. First, most of the economy is based around agriculture, with rice being the primary export.
 
Vietnam also has industries in exports, petroleum products, mineral resources and tourism. However, most manufactured products are exported to China, Japan and the US.
 
Some parts of the labour market aren’t particularly open to foreigners unless a multinational or international employer with a Vietnamese base directly offers them a position.
 
The government encourages businesses to recruit local people if possible. So a company needs to demonstrate that the skills required for a specific role are not available locally to be permitted to employ an expat worker.
 
There is a limit of 3% expat employment for any foreign business established in Vietnam.
 
Job applications require a full CV with a passport photo and covering letter. You’ll also need to provide copies of medical records, criminal records and certifications, all of which must be notarised by the embassy.
 
As we’ve identified, many professional expats work as English teachers, with demand high in just about every region. There are several international school brands throughout Vietnam, such as Apollo English and British International Schools.

Is it cheap to live in Vietnam?

As a rough guide, you might expect to spend around 10 million to 30 million VND per month to live comfortably in one of the cities:

• Approximately 4.6 million VND rent (£144).
• Meals out and groceries add another 4.6 million VND (£144).
• Renting a motorbike plus fuel, around 1.38 million VND (£43) per month.
• Mobile bills cost about 115,000 VND (£3.60) a month.

That budget comes to 10.695 million VND – around £334.

What is the weather like in Vietnam?

The climate in Vietnam is tropical, with more humid temperatures in the north. As a result, there are monsoons in some parts of the country, while others remain relatively dry.

Dry seasons run from November to April in South Vietnam and the country’s centre from February to August.

In the south, the rainy season lasts from May to October and from September to January in inner Vietnam.

It can get scorching, with highs regularly reaching around 37°C in April and the coldest temperatures only dipping to 17 °C in December and January.

Below is a list of some related articles, guides and insights that you may find of interest.

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