Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 02/11/09

Personal Experiences from Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam 02/11/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No - lived in South and Southeast Asia.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Via Tokyo or Seoul to the U.S.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most people live in apartments or very narrow houses at the center of town. 20-25 minutes commute is the norm. Hard to spend more time than that commuting unless you live in the outskirts.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

A few stores are good for produce. The markets have outstanding qualities and selections. Most western goods are available.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Toiletries, especially makeup and deodorant. Ethnic groceries (Mexican, spices, etc.). Books.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Hanoi has many, many good restaurants, most of them offer home delivery, and all are affordable. You will eat well.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

No mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Domestic mail is very cheap and reliable. International less so.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Reasonable and readily available.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Plenty of workout options and parks.

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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 catching on. ATMs are pretty much everywhere.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Catholic mostly.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Vietnam News is pubished daily. State-run and cheap. You get what you pay for.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It is becoming less important to know Vietnamese. It's a romanized alphabet, you can make do with a few phrases. Having the language is always a plus.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

No handicap facilities of any kind.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are plentiful and very affordable. A typical 20-minute ride will cost $3.

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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 thought we would need a 4x4 SUV, but we were wrong. Still, it's nice to sit above the crowded, mostly-motorcycle, traffic.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Cheap and plentiful.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Excellent cell phone service available throughout the country.

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Pets:

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?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are some good vets in town, including some that board. I have had mixed experiences on boarding, but the vet care is good, especially the "French" vet.

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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?

Vietnam has a dearth of skilled labor, so there are many opportunities for work. With the economic crisis beginning to bite, many expats are being let go.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

A jacket with no tie is the preferred dress code. But ties are not rare.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

None really.

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Few. The following is a relatively rare problem. Some prey upon unsuspecting tourists. Airport and train stations are key spots for those. Some pickpocketing. Gypsy cabs are a problems -- and the main source of problems with tourists. Do not take a cab that looks makeshift. There are plenty of good companies, and they will have their logos painted (not pasted) all over the cars.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

A lot of dust from construction and traffic fumes. Otherwise, the air is not foul.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Seasonal. Always humid. The winter is mild, the autumn and spring are pleasant, the summer is brutally hot and humid.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Excellent UN school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Quite large for such a relatively small city.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty high. You met very few people who are not happy to be here.

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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?

Outstanding. Most places are forced to close by 11. But "underground" bars will stay open later. Check your Lonely Planet for details.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Excellent for all.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Probably.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

No.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Plenty of fun day-trips, plenty of sighseeing activities in the city. Cat Ba and Ha Long are 3 hours away. Sapa is on overnight train trip away.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Furniture. Art. Vintage motorcycles.

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9. Can you save money?

Of course.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Scuba diving and camping gear, unfortunately. Booze.

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3. But don't forget your:

Western-size clothes, especially shoes and sports gear. Haggis.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Sorrow of War.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Scent of Green Papaya. Indochine.

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6. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Sorrow of War.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Have patience with the people and the traffic, and you'll do well. The people will warm up to you if you try to talk. The traffic.. well it just takes patience.

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