Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 03/13/15
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?
No, Southeast Asia.
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?
1 stop in Korea or Japan to California.
3. How long have you lived here?
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?
For U.S. Embassy people, 20-25 minutes from the office. Not far but things are congested.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Mostly available. The hypermarkets are more towards the edge of town.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Not really in the world of Amazon.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Good mix of Japanese, Italian, Indian, French, Thai available and cheap. Americans are more used to Vietnamese food from the south, but it's good and you'll easily impress visitors here. Burger King, KFC, Popeyes, Dunkin Donuts recently setup shop here.
Street food is good for the adventurous. I rarely hear of people getting sick, though generally not located in the most hygienic surroundings.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some mosquitoes in the summer. Occasionally one hears of dengue.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO and Pouch for U.S. Embassy. Honestly sending a letter through international mail isn't that bad though.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Maybe US$250/month full time.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Available but more pricey relative to other things here.
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?
Haven't heard of ATM issues, though many machines have a small limit (US$100). Max is about US$250 at the ANZ ATM.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
If you want the bare minimum, you should learn a few pleasantries and directions. You also need to be able to pronounce your own address with the correct tones (not too hard to get that one down if you focus).
To blow away counterparts and do business will take a lot of work or marriage to a local (and oftentimes both).
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All pretty safe. Local buses aren't all that convenient. Affordable for sure. Taxis US$4 for a 20 minute driver. Uber is here now at the same price. There are some taxis that run up the meter, but after you have lived here a week it's obvious how to spot them (not one of the main 5-6 companies).
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?
I haven't seen expat Americans feel the need to purchase a car. Many do bring them from a previous transfer and drive slowly. Cabs are absurdly available, so why bother?
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, 24 Mbps fiberoptic for US$55/month. However the cable gets cut a few times a year by a "trawler" in the South China Sea and things get a little slow for a couple weeks.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked GSM phone.
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?
Very limited U.S.-level salaried jobs on the local market (you would have had to find it beforehand and gotten transferred here). Opportunities in freelancing, teaching, working at NGOs.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual normally. Ties and suits if external meetings.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not at all.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Air isn't great, need to wash vegetables well. Clinics, French Hospital, and Vinmec hospital can deal with the minor stuff (a colleague nearly lost a finger in a motorcycle accident), but the Embassy people will medevac to Singapore or Hong Kong for anything more serious.
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?
Unhealthy. Can be worse than Beijing at times. People who ride scooters/motorbikes wear facemasks with good reason. That being said it's much better than the South Asian capitals.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Warm humid summer, cold (50s F) very humid winters. Can miss the sun for weeks at a time in the winter.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Medium--good. Complain about the weather and abundance of open green space, but they know they have it good here.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Go the Hanoi Opera House, sit an an outdoor cafe, dinner parties, go to a brewery, drink a coffee with a view overlooking a lake, hang at the American Club.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all, though single expat women have mentioned it gets old fast.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's fine--not Bangkok or Saigon, but there is a community.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Motorbiking the northwest loop (Hanoi to Sapa, Dien Bien Phu, then return to Hanoi from the west).
6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Fascinating country, driven people, great places to visit. Not a typical SE Asia capital. Not hyper globalized (yet), not paved over with concrete (yet), lots of small businesses everywhere and the commerce is on the street.
7. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Really big car, sense of personal space, expectations that it's a quiet city.
3. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Hanoi itself is rarely a subject of film, but there are the classics about Vietnam, though all war-related (Indochine, Quiet American).
This is quite true but it might take you a couple weeks to get the references:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Vietnam: Rising Dragon
as well as Shadows and Wind: A View of Modern Vietnam.
Both great windows into Vietnam through a number of lenses (journalism, corruption, environment, dissidents, land issues)