Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 05/23/10

Personal Experiences from Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam 05/23/10

Background:

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

This is my 5th expat experience.

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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?

Washington, D.C. Trip takes about 24 hours or so, including layovers. Layovers are in Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong or Beijing.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

Diplomat with the US Embassy.

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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 singles and small families are in apartments, and larger families and section heads are in houses. Don't get your hopes up; housing here is well below par compared to other places I've served. There are constant problems with power outages, plumbing, etc. Everything breaks down all the time.

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

Local groceries and supplies are cheap. If you need U.S. brands, they are a bit more expensive than in the U.S.

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

Canned goods, spices, dried goods, paper towels, napkins, soft toilet paper, etc.

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

Local standard Vietnamese food is very cheap but not that yummy. Western foods are ok, not quite up to U.S. standards, yet they cost a bit more than in the U.S.

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

Not much that I can think of in Hanoi. We have little gecko-type lizards in houses and apartments, but I hear they're actually good for you, because they eat mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

Pouch and FPO. But for some reason, it takes a very long time. Several people I know, including me, have had to wait 2 months for letters and packages to arrive.

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

Domestic help runs about $250 a month, but the quality is not high. You get what you pay for.

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

There is a good gym in the embassy annex. Also, most apartment buildings have small gyms. You can also join a health club in a hotel, but I hear it is very expensive.

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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?

No credit cards are accepted other than at the fancy hotels. There are ATM machines all over, but the daily withdrawal limit is low, at around $100, I believe.

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

Yes, I believe they are all here, all denominations except Jehova's Witnesses.

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

Cable TV is normally provided for free by the apartment complex and includes English channels. I'm not aware of any U.S. print newspapers.

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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?

The quality of life will be limited if you don't know any basic Vietnamese. Most people do not speak Engligh, even in the city.

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

Mucho. The city was not designed for people with handicaps.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are cheap and affordable. I wouldn't try the buses, they are strictly for the locals.

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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?

Don't bring a car. The embassy apartments have very limited parking. Also, it's very difficult to drive here, because of the traffic and narrow streets. And even when you get where you are going, there is no parking.

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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?

Are you joking? They call it high speed, but it's low speed. You can surf the net most of the time, but at times, it can take minutes to load a page. And they charge about $65 a month.

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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?

The embassy will issue you a cell phone. If you need a second one, it's relatively cheap - pay as you go.

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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)?

Very poor. I'm not aware of any kennels. Most of the dogs and cats have fleas.

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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?

Not really, unless you can find a job inside the embassy as an EFM.

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

Business casual to semi-professional.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really. Petty crime is on the rise, but violent crime is very rare.

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

Medical care is below par. For any serious medical issues you will have to be sent to Singapore or Hong Kong.

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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?

They say the air quality is bad, but I don't think it's worse than in any major U.S. city.

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

Winters are nice. Summers are extremely hot and very humid. Pretty much unbearable. Fall and spring are ok.

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Schools & Children:

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

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

I think you might have problems here. There are no accommodations for physically-challenged people.

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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?

Not sure of the exact number, but I would say medium to large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Some like it, some don't. It's what you make of it.

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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?

Visiting with friends, meeting at restaurants, etc.

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

It's ok for singles, but nightlife is limited. It is very easy to find a girlfriend, though, but I'm pretty sure they are all looking for green cards. I hear it's better for families.

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

Yes, I hear there is a small underground community for gays. Also, Saigon and Bangkok are less than two hours away by plane.

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

Somewhat. The government, as well as the majority of the population, doesn't like catholics. Not so much racial prejudice, unless you are African-American. Inter-racial couples with Asian-looking wives may get harassed on the streets.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Travel to Bangkok and Saigon for extended weekend trips. You can save money if you can live a local lifestyle.

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

Visit with friends, play tennis, check out the French architecture, and visit museums.

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

Silk, furniture, and pottery.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

This is a nice quiet, city with low violent crime. There are some purse-snatchings and other petty crimes, but it is much safer than any major U.S. city. Also, it's relatively easy to travel the region from here.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't travel much and dine out at expat-type of restaurants.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Probably not.

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

Car, valuables, and fancy clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor. You will need it just to get by on a daily basis.

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

1956.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Lover.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

In some ways, because of the traffic and because of the population density, life in Hanoi can be very hectic.

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