Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 08/01/21
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, I am originally from USA and have lived in a number of European and Asian countries.
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?
West Coast, USA. Travel during pandemic is non-existent, but during normal times you could catch a plane flight to Seoul or Tokyo and then fly back to the USA directly. The journey is long, but relatively painless.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. 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?
Housing is more than adequate, generously sized. My housing is provided and furnished by the Embassy so I don't have a idea of costs. Commute times to the Embassy are via a shuttle service and typically take 15-30 minutes depending on traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Affordable and most brands are available. Imported goods from Europe and USA will be marked up, but staple foods are quite affordable. Quality and cuts of meat can vary.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Cleaning supplies, and some things like kitchen towels and toilet paper are subjectively higher quality in the USA. It's not the end of the world though, and if you search you can locate higher quality, it just might cost more.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
We live near Tay Ho / Truc Bach ward and many things are available here. Indian, Thai food is decent, but not exceptional. Plenty of pizza and pub food places are around. Use Grab and you can find English menu's and easy delivery ordering options. If you call the restaurant and check their website, and if they speak English or you speak Vietnamese, then it's cheaper for them to deliver food to you directly and you might have a larger menu available to you.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We've seen some ants, some geckos here and there, a roach or two, but overall not too bad. We did see a brief hornet infestation outside of the building, but that was taken care of quickly.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We use the embassy provided DPO and Pouch Mail, if necessary, and it works well. The US Postal Service is a bit of a disaster zone at the moment with long delays, and COVID has added delays in receiving packages from the USA, but you'll get most items. We have also used the Hanoi post office to mail things abroad and that has worked OK, and is quite affordable, but also is very delayed.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We do not use household help, but it is readily available and affordable. People utilize drivers, gardeners, housekeepers, and nannies regularly in our community.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many facilities either close-by, or in-house if you live in an apartment building.
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?
Yes, though NFC touchless communication is still in its infancy here. Paying with your phone is rarely supported. This is still a cash country in many ways, however, so you'll use a combination of the two depending on the shop/restaurant. Don't expect most small businesses to accept credit cards. I keep 1.5 to 2 million dong in my wallet at most times, for just in case. Grab taxi services do enable and use credit card, but it can take time and hassle to get a foreign credit card to work with your account.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
We don't frequent religious establishments other than for historical purposes, but they appear to have most denominations present, even a mosque!
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not necessary, but it helps. Language classes are available, if desired.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes, narrow stairs, limited and broken sidewalks, small elevators/lifts.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, most people have moved to Grab for taxi usage and cheap, but you can also find occasionally other people willing to take you.
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?
Mazda and other Japanese or Korean manufacturers dominate here. Mid-sized SUVs are popular and there are plenty of dealerships. If you are planning to spend the majority of your time in the city a car is not necessary. Parking is tedious and challenging. Trips outside of the city can be arranged with a driver, if you are so inclined.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet isn't bad, relatively fast, but lately there have been bandwidth issues as people spend more time at home. Installation can vary from a few days to weeks, depending on how busy the providers are.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
4G data plans are very cheap and plentiful. 2gb of data per day can be had for under $10 USA per month.
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?
We do not have pets, but services are plentiful and we know people that trust them. There is no quarantine at the moment. The Vietnamese have a wide variety of dogs and cats, and there are also mongrel dogs on the streets. I've been told they disappear into the cooking pot eventually,
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?
Lots of hippy teachers roam Hanoi and Vietnam, so you'll always find those people lounging about in cafes after (or during) a hard day's work. Spouses and partners tend to find work at the embassy, if they desire. I know of some spouses who telecommute.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
The embassy provides volunteer opportunities, but other services are also available.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Informal in public places. It is hot and humid for parts of the year, and it is not uncommon to see local men shirtless or pulling their shirt up displaying their corpulence and cooling down. At the embassy and government buildings it's common to see people in uniform or suit, or business casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
A very safe city for women and men.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
People with health concerns should probably not come here. Air quality is not good during parts of the year, medical facilities are adequate, but anything requiring specialty would probably be best to have procedures done in Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul or back to the USA, if possible. Anecdotally, I know of one expat who had a bad traffic accident in the countryside, and did not receive adequate care in time. That person now has permanent damage and partial use of one leg.
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 is not as bad as other post reports lead you to believe. It is definitely smoggy and unpleasant in winter time, sometimes very bad from November to March and you'll want to stay indoors then. However, spring and summer have been very good, comparable to a clean large city in the USA. Health could be impacted during bad times of the year, including producing some headache and it's dreary and gray. We have sealed up our windows to prevent draft and limit pollution indoors, and also have air purifiers provided by the embassy.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Probably avoid this country, it will be a challenge to meet your dietary needs, and parts of the year will be very polluted. The water quality is not bad, but it's not advised to drink right from the tap, unless it's filtered.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Winter is gray and smoggy. Summer is hot and humid, but not unbearably so.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hanoi does have seasons and it does get cold in winter. Cold enough to require a jacket. Summer is hot and can be muggy, similar to Florida in the midst of summer. Honestly we thought it would be more humid and hot, so have been pleasantly surprised. Though if you are exerting yourself outdoors during summer, you will be dripping wet in no time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We do not have children, but people seem generally satisfied with the international schools here.
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?
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Relatively large community, with niche interests like motorcycle riding, or other sports. Morale appears to be quite high and many people extend for a fourth year, but others are happy to be finished with their tour of duty here after three years and are ready to move on. It is not quite a love it or hate it city, but there are quite a few people who never find the magic here and are happy to move on.
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?
The embassy has many communities. There are many WhatsApp groups for various activities, and if you talk to the right person at a cafe in Tay Ho you can generally get in with these groups.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It works pretty well for all parties. If you're an outgoing single you'll do fine, if you're a couple you might be a bit bored depending on what phase you are in your life, young couples don't seem to have much problem. Families tend to do fine and they do what families do, which is mostly cart their children about to various activities.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
People are friendly with each other, but I have not seen many friendships between locals and expats here other than transactional. Financial and cultural disparity are probably the main driver for this. You don't see locals riding around with expats on BMW adventure bikes here. The faux-impoverished hippy expats are tolerated by the locals, but are not beloved.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Does not appear to be a problem. Gender equality issues, I'm not aware of. Women and men tend to be security guards, laborers, and farmers. Office and clerical work tends to be conducted by a majority of women. Drivers, gardeners and other physical work tends to be done by men.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Sapa, Ha Long Bay, Da Nang, the Northern parts of the country are beautiful.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Other than the cultural sites, the city has an abundance of cafes and people watching can be interesting. This city is a combination of frenetic activity and lounging about. The hot weather in summer contributes to this, and you tend to see people sitting around a lot, napping their days away.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not particularly if you are interested in high quality manufactured goods. Lots of generic tourist type knick-knacks are available, mostly of middling quality. We have not seen any antique stores of good repute. There are some porcelain stores, but again the quality is OK.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
As opposed to Ho Chi Minh City, you have seasons here and the city still maintains a certain character and rustic charm (though that is disappearing quickly as they develop "New Hanoi" megaprojects, so come while you can). During non-COVID times it has a relatively good airport which is a good hub to travel throughout South-East Asia.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Visiting versus living here is quite different. It's not hard living, most things are available, but it is also not particularly exciting after you get used to the frenetic traffic and the chaotic disorder.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
With the options available at the time, we would likely have chosen to go somewhere else.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Ideas of order and what is right and wrong. Anything goes here, except when the government brings the hammer down. That said people are friendly and things remain mostly lawful.
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Read up on French and America's history in Indochina, it makes it more interesting knowing what you are seeing.