Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 07/18/11
Personal Experiences from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
Baghdad, Iraq; Frankfurt, Germany
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?
East Coast, U.S. Takes a full 24 hours with connections. There are no direct flights to the U.S.
3. How long have you lived here?
8 months, here until 2012
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?
Apartments are a big plus. That is pretty much across the board. Most of my visitors ask me about my favorite place in HCMC, and I say my apartment. After all, almost every where delivers. Families are out in a compound outside of the city. You must have a car and you must fight this traffic. Most people dislike the commute, many try to find a place in the city in the long run.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Produce is super cheap. Household supplies are cheap as well. Get your domestic help to buy as much as possible. You will be taken advantage of as a foreigner, no matter how good of a price you think you're getting, the locals pay less.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Comfort foods and possibly more baking supplies. The fun stuff for the holidays. All in all, it's easier these days with amazon or whatever store. If you have a favorite, get it here, and good wine can be pricey, but not unobtainable. The wine store is also a good place to meet other ex-pats away from work.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
KFC, Popeyes, Hardees, Pho 24 and Lotteria. All for around 4 bucks a meal or so, more depending on how hungry you are. Portions are smaller here. There is a ton of decently priced restaurants here. Yes, you can eat for 50 cents, but why would you when for 2 dollars you can get a nice meal. For 10 bucks, you can get a good meal, for 20, you get a GREAT meal. I am not a challenge eater though, and like to know that a place at least has running water before I eat there. Call me a snob!
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Plenty of vegetarian options, they use the term loosely. If you have high dietary restrictions, then you'll be dining in frequently. You won't want the hassle of dining out often. It will rarely be exactly as you requested it. Again, you gotta be able to go with it.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes, roaches, other various and typical tropical bugs. Rats in the city. Apartments are fairly immune though, minus the occasional gecko intruder. Don't look too long at the sidewalks, etc. You're bound to see something moving. Same thing goes with food. I think I've eaten more than a few ants since I have been here. They were not on the menu.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Gov't employees have DPO, local mail is safe, but they open everything and charge duty, even on used items.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It is cheap and plentiful, but screen carefully. I have had no problems though. Inquire locally about current rates.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
most buildings have pools and work out facilities. Decent enough for free. There are some pay clubs as well, that some people insist on throwing their money to. Walking around and sweating is a great activity. Which you can do for free. Most Vietnamese people seem to think that westerners can't walk, they will always be offering you a ride. Again, the idea that strolling or walking could be for fun is an odd concept 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?
Most people want cash, they charge extra fees if you use a card. I doubt the security of anything having to do with electronics here.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic and LDS is what I know exist.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Use the internet if it's not blocked, you can have your late arrival magazines come from the U.S. There are a few local papers in English.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much. They don't really like to hear your version of Vietnamese.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be difficult, but I have met people here who are in wheelchairs and blind, etc. As ex-pats, it's possible, because the cost of care-givers is very cheap.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are cheap, VERY cheap, but you get what you pay for. They will drive you around for hours and still claim they know the way. Buses are scary and appear very uncomfortable. They are really cheap, like 20 cents a ride, I took one from the airport to Ben Thanh market and it was 20 cents just to try it out. If you were on a shoestring budget of five bucks a day for all costs, you would need to use buses, if not, then splurge for the 50 cent taxi flag drop, first kilometer included.
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 suppose in town a small cheap car would be best. Most people do without if you live in town. It's a hassle to drive around. Be ready, many hire drivers.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
around 60 bucks a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Cell phones are cheap, you can buy the sim card pre-pay. they make up the prices as they go along, but it's still pretty cheap.
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?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
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?
Getting the documentation can be hard, many ex-pat friends of mine are kind of in a limbo state with their paperwork. They don't have official diplomatic support though. The work around seems to be to be a contractor of some kind.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Men mainly wear long pants and short sleeve plain shirts and women are dressed up very, well. In a this would be too sexy for an ex-pat kind of way. Westerners can wear whatever they would like. Even to nicer bars and restaurants/clubs, you'll see westerners in flip-flops. In general, ex-pat men wear less than a full suit at work, and ex-pat woman go for comfort and style.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
General pick-pocketing and bag snatching, the usual grab and dash. Nothing extremely violent.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Not very good. Emergency care seems to be a possible concern. There are a few western style clinics.
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?
It seems to be very unhealthy. You'll get air purifiers for your apartment/sanctuary.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
2 seasons, dry hot and humid and rainy hot and humid. The dry hot and humid has less rain. Always hot and always a chance of rain.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Nannies are cheap, quality varies from what I hear.
4. 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?
medium, seems to be growing.
2. Morale among expats:
OK. Everywhere is what you make of it. There is a huge segment of ex-pats that seem to kind of be in that, I got offered a job in Vietnam and thought what the heck? Most make it work.
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?
Good. Getting events catered is cheap. Going out is cheap. Seems to be a limited crowd. It's fun though, most of the time.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Families - it seems like with the long commute, and after-hour work requirements, it can be difficult to make it home for quality time. Singles - easy for guys to date, hard to gauge intentions. More difficult for woman, again, hard to gauge intentions. Dating doesn't exist as westerners understand it here, but many date other ex-pats. Couples - Good if the spouse not working here can find something to occupy their time. Some work, some don't.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
It's not very open, but it does exist here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Pretty much men do whatever they want, it appears. Woman typically want what ex-pats may consider a out-dated sole female role of raising children and having a household. To women here, the idea that a man can cook and clean or take care of children and share these duties is laughable.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting away to beautiful beaches, enjoying the cheaper mid-level resorts (Vietnamese 4 star), HCMC is fairly international with a little bit of everything. Seeing the Me Kong Delta and attending some of the events that the Consulate puts on have been great.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Go the markets, haggle with the locals, just go with it and have fun, if you take things seriously, you'll be very frustrated. There are a ton of restaurants to try, and good bars. You can live it up for a fraction of the cost. That's nice
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lacquer stuff, maybe some clothes. There are some deals, quality varies.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
The biggest advantage is the cost of living is really low and regional travel to the beach, or Singapore is a 100USD flight away.
11. Can you save money?
Yes, but treat yourself occasionally.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Possibly. For a developing country, there are quite a few perks.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter wear and Facebook account.
3. But don't forget your:
Flexibility and patience.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city: