Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 08/14/15
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?
This is our 4th tour
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?
Midwest; it takes 24+ hours with a long layover (8+ hours) in either Seoul or Tokyo
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?
Single houses, townhouses, and apartments mostly around West Lake. Commutes vary depending on traffic. The houses are about 30 minute commute if traffic good. Townhouses and condos are less
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Local food is pretty affordable. In season produce is cheap. Imported/Western goods are quite expensive. I was actually surprised at the cost of food when we arrived. I was expecting it to be cheaper.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Salsa, tortilla chips, baking spices, chocolate chips, all-purpose and whole wheat flour for baking. These can be found locally, but they're EXPENSIVE. However, of these (with the exception of salsa) can be ordered on Amazon.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Burger King, Dominoes, Dunkin' Donuts, Popeyes, Starbucks all recently opened. But really, why waste you time on this junk when there are lots of other delicious options?
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are annoying and can carry dengue. The real problems are roaches and rats. The best defense is a good offense - keeping your house scrupulously clean.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Pouch or DPO
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Readily available and inexpensive. Part-time, non-English speaking cleaner is probably US$200 a month. For a full-time professional, English-speaking nanny with experience it's US$450-500. Full-time drivers are about US$300/ month, again more if they have good English and lots of experience. A yearly Tet (Lunar New Year) bonus of one extra month's salary is expected. Severance pay of 1 month's salary for each year worked is also expected.
3. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Every little bit helps. There is a big push here to increase English ability, but your average person on the street (shopkeepers, taxi drivers, etc) won't have any. At minimum, it's good to know directions, numbers, your address, and a few greetings and pleasantries.
4. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. There is no accommodation made. I have a hard time walking by myself or with my kids in a stroller - I can't imagine doing it if you had a physical disability.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are plentiful and safe. I haven't every taken a local bus. They're cheap (about 30 cents), but the crowds and the heat make them look awful. I'd much rather spend a few bucks on a cab!
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?
We brought a minivan and have no problems. (Yes, we brought a minivan to Hanoi...) I'm very glad we brought a car - trying to drag kids in and out of cabs is a major hassle and there is absolutely NO WAY I would take my kids on a motorbike. People have all kinds of cars here and I haven't heard of anyone having problems.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
MANY! There are lots of opportunities through schools, local groups, NGOs, etc
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is pretty formal. Men wear suits and ties. Women wear dresses or skirts (sleeveless is ok b/c of the heat. No panty hose required!). Open toed shoes for women are ok. Unless you're on the beach, it's better to be relatively conservative. Shorts and Tshirts are ok, but not short-shorts, crop tops, bare midriffs.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No. I have never felt nervous at all. One of the benefits of living in an authoritarian regime?
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
There are international clinics, but I have not been super impressed with them. Anything serious is medevaced to Singapore or Bangkok
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?
Usually pretty bad, which is concerning. That being said, the Embassy does provide high-quality air filters. It's worse in the fall when they burn the rice chaff and in winter when people burn cheap coal.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Mold can be a problem in your house if you're not diligent. As in other parts of Asia, food allergies aren't really understood. For example, if you say you have a nut allergy, they may not put nuts in the dish, but they may cook it in peanut oil
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Humid all year round. Hot to VERY hot in spring, summer, and autumn. Winter can be chilly (50 F, but it feels colder b/c of the humidity and all the buildings are concrete)
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are LOTS of international schools for a post this size! UNIS, Concordia, Hanoi International School, QSI, St Paul's (new); as well as many others like Singapore International School, Japanese school, etc. My children go to UNIS and we love it! Concordia is building a new complex, but for now anyway, UNIS has by FAR the best facilities.
2. 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?
Yes, many. There are several different English-language schools that start at 18 mos- 5+ years old. Tuition depends on how often you go (full time, part-time, full day, half day), but tuitions are about $7000 for full time. UNIS and Concordia take kids starting at 3 years old, but tuition is MUCH higher.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. There are leagues. The schools also have sports programs and after school activities.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Big. Morale is pretty good, but it helps to get out of Hanoi every so often. The craziness of a large, dirty, noisy, urban area can be exhausting at times.
2. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Awesome regional travel, saving money, affordable household help (our first time ever having helpers)
3. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Travel, fancy restaurants, private school tuition
4. Can you save money?