Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 08/23/11
Personal Experiences from Hanoi, Vietnam
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
3rd expat experience.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
From Washington it takes about 17 hours flying time usually connecting through Tokyo, Seoul or Bangkok.
3. How long have you lived here?
Have been living in Hanoi 2 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Embassy staff are either in apartments closer in (of various shapes, sizes and configurations) but all have pools - some have tennis courts. Many also live in large houses usually with 3-4 levels. (Lots of stairs!)From the apartments commute time can be 15 - 30 minutes. From houses commutes would be more like 20-40 minutes depending on where you work.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You usually can find much of what you need here though imported goods are pricy.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Wax paper, mexican food items especially beans, large containers of peanut butter, good wine, chocolate chips, preferred cereal brands.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
No fast food except KFC and Pizza Hut, though I heard Subway was coming.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
There are some organic local vegetables but they are expensive and not widely available. Organic hasn't taken off here yet.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are the main problem which carry dengue. This is more of an issue for those living near the lakes.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is very easy to find. Most seem to pay somewhere between $250 - $350 a month for a full time maid. Many folks have drivers - not sure of the costs for them.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but people complain that they are expensive.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit cards are still not used in many places but there are ATMs around the city. Be careful though because some are not grounded properly and have electrocuted people when it's raining.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, I believe so.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Any would be helpful. I get by with enough Vietnamese to direct a taxi driver.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Many obstacles exist everywhere! It would be tough.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All are affordable. Taxi's are plentiful are fairly cheap. (Unless you get one that's trying to rip you off.)I haven't taken buses but I know some people who do.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
A small car (or no car) would be fine here. Some choose to buy scooters because it's easier to get around, park etc. We have a larger vehicle and are not unhappy we brought it because the streets are being torn up alot. Parking is not always easy though.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes - our "high speed" internet costs about $55 a month. (It's not very speedy though.)
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Possibly if you have NGO experience.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
The Vietnamese usually dress up a bit more than the average American. Most men wear collared shirts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Hanoi is relatively safe with a few caveats. Crazy traffic is the major security concern. Cars and scooters enter the road without looking, scooters are overloaded with everything imaginable, there are limited cross walks and during rush hour scooters use the sidewalks so even pedestrians are at risk. There are pick pockets especially around Tet. And there does seem to be a rise in house break-ins in the expat neighborhoods.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Hanoi has SOS, Family Medical Clinic and the French Hospital but care is very spotty. No major issues can be addressed here - you need to go to Bangkok or Singapore. For example, you can't even get a mammogram in Hanoi.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality can be very bad especially in the winter or when there is no wind to push it out of the area. It's not as bad as Beijing but can get close on bad days.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Springs are generally wet with thunderstorms in the afternoon. Summer is hot and humid. Fall is the best time of year. Winter can get as cold as the 40's.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
UNIS (United Nations International School) is where most expats send their kids although there are beginning to be more options for international schools such as a new American school that is just getting underway this year. UNIS has an IB curriculum from pre -k to 12.UNIS isn't perfect in all respects but it has excellent facilities, teachers and programs. We have kids in the Elementary school and most people we know are very pleased with UNIS.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There are lots of pre-ks that are for profit and it shows. However, there are a good number of them though and so people seem to generally find a pre-k they are happy with.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Only at the schools and they are limited.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large - very diverse.
2. Morale among expats:
Generally good - I don't know anyone who is miserable. I know many people who enjoy Hanoi even with its issues.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
People go to restaurants or entertain at home. Lots of expat get-togethers.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Hanoi is good for families due to the good school and low crime butit lacks parks and other places to enjoy family time during the weekend. I think singles find it just ok --- most bars and restaurants close around 11pm. Men would certainly find Hanoi more appealing than women!
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not really but it is rare to see someone of African descent here. I would think it would be difficult.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We've been able to travel to many places around Vietnam and SE Asia - Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Temple of Literature, Ethnology Museum, Old Quarter, exploring the street food, "Hanoi Hilton" and military museum, history museum. The famous Halong Bay (with the iconic limestone pillars of islands) is about 3 hours away by car.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lacquer, silk, furniture
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Good travel in the country and regionally. Food is good and the culture is interesting. Hanoi is buzzing and vibrant.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, I think so.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes - we complain a lot but Hanoi has a good school for our kids, interesting work and is generally a fascinating (though sometimes frustrating) place to be.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
need for traffic rules, sidewalks and quiet.
3. But don't forget your:
sunglasses, a good hat and your sense of humor.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
The key to happiness in Hanoi is getting out every couple/few months - luckily this is easy to do. Hanoi can be very claustrophobia inducing due to the crowds of people and honking scooters. But Hanoi also allows you a window into what most Asian cities used to be. And the political situation here is so interesting too.