Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 05/21/14
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?
No. Perth, Australia & Cotonou, Benin.
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, DC. It takes a solid 24-26 hours.
3. How long have you lived here?
13 months so far.
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?
We live in an expat area with lots of compounds. Houses are fairly large, concrete. Split pack air conditioners. Commutes vary greatly based on where you live and work. From our house in district 2 to work in district 1, it takes anywhere from 15 minutes (Sunday morning) to 40 minutes on a rough morning with flooded streets and traffic.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Many things here can be found cheaper than in the States unless it is a specialty or brand item.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Kids toys and books, party supplies, laundry soap, baby food.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots. Recent additions include Starbucks, McDonald's, Popeyes, and Dunkin Donuts. There are lots of pho shops, banh mi sandwich shops, coffee shops. You can eat very cheaply here (US$3) or go to a fancy steak place and spend significantly more. You will not lack for food choices. However, you might find a favorite place only to discover it changes hands or is closed down the next time you try to go.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos (that carry dengue!), ants in kitchens, cockroaches...it is the tropics.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
We get this benefit through work but I hear the local post is not very reliable. I did send a document FEDEX to the U.S. but it cost US$75 and took 3 days.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
This will vary by hours and such. We have a Vietnamese nanny/cook/cleaner all-in-one. We pay on the "high" end at US$400/month but she works long hours for us M-F. Some people hire Filipino nannies who speak better English but they usually cost more as you pay for visa renewals and a plane flight home.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many apartment buildings and compounds have free on-site gyms. There are other gyms, like in the States, all over. I don't know the costs.
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?
We use a few of the trusted ATM machines and credit cards at some of the more established places. However, we try to use cash whenever possible to avoid anyone swiping our credit card details.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Catholic is the only one I know of.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much. We speak it rarely although it is helpful to know some.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. It is a mix of old and new. It is definitely not very wheelchair friendly.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Not really. People use buses and trains but they are often overcrowded or otherwise dangerous. Driving here is nuts. We do find Mai Linh taxis reliable though seatbelts in taxis are rare.
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?
Lots of expats here seem to drive Toyotas. We have a Honda and it has been easy to service. Parts can be expensive though. Bring a few spares of things you know you will need. I also wouldn't bring a big SUV although there are certainly people here who drive them.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. It is about US$80/month....but it is NOT very fast. There is lots of buffering and times when it just stops working. Not to mention, the times when they shut down Facebook and other sites. You definitely need a VPN here.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and get a local SIM card for a reasonable price.
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 quarantine. Vets are limited, but we love Dr. Nghia in district 2!
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 many outside of teaching or jobs in the finance sector with companies based in your home country.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Orphanages, schools...there are plenty of opportunities. Again, you just have to make an effort.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is professional attire with some leeway for the heat. Suits and ties are expected in any formal or important meetings. In public, women do not tend to wear a lot of shorts. Lots of dresses, skirts. The clubs/nightlife scene is anything goes!
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
We take the same precautions we would take in any other big city, there is a lot of "petty" crime like purse snatching. We are just very careful, especially since they target foreigners. We also don't use the local motorbikes for fear of getting ripped off or harmed in some other way. We use respected and well-known cabs.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Poor air quality. Medical care is very spotty. If you have anything serious, you should head to Bangkok or Singapore!
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?
Unhealthy, for sure. This is definitely a major issue here. There is a lot of smog and pollution and it seems the local government is not doing much in this regard.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and rainy. Hot and slightly less rainy, but still humid. Hot and rainy again. Think Florida in the summer. The good news is that rainy season does not usually entail all day rain. It does tend to come and go more than it did in West Africa.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Our kids are young but one went to the Montessori International School and then we switched to the Australian International School. We liked both, but the facilities at the latter are more up to date and the teachers speak more consistently in English. Still, we were very happy with the quality of teaching and care at both.
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?
There are cheap local preschools but kids watch a lot of TV and are not "taught" much. The ones with real programs and better student-teacher ratios tend to be connected to the larger international schools and start when they are older. The exception is Smartkids and the Montessori International School. They are not cheap, though!
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are but they are usually connected to the schools and are for older kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There are lots of expats from many countries here. You can find great friends from all over with a little effort. I think morale here is good.
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?
Bars, restaurants, sports, parties, movies, bowling....
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think it's great for all of the above. You can find whatever kind of community you are looking for, really. There are lots of activities for kids and there is certainly nightlife for the single set. The only thing is, as a single expat, it might be hard to find a "genuine" romantic relationship. I suspect single expat women have a harder time than single expat men, just as I suspect being gay here is harder. The society here is still very "traditional" with regard to gender roles and homosexuality - these issues are not always talked about or accepted openly.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
See above. I suspect it can be difficult although I do think attitudes are shifting in younger generations. Or perhaps maybe I just hope?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes. The Vietnamese stare at anyone who does not look like them, whether you have black skin, red hair, etc. Sometimes their prejudice is more blatant. Religious freedom is still a touchy issue here as well. The people are accepting and curious about different religions but the government is not as accepting.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The travel. It's a beautiful place with many other amazing places to see nearby. We all love the local food and the chance to do "nicer" things should we wish to spend a little more money.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is so much! It really depends on what you like to do but there is something for everyone.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Travel, travel, travel.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Great regional travel opportunities. You can save money and eat cheaply if you want. Childcare costs are very reasonable if you hire a local nanny.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, if you want to.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
You can really get anything you want here. We brought too much!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Bug spray, rain boots, sunscreen, and sense of adventure.
5. Do you have any other comments?
We love it! Just wish a) there was less smog and b) it wasn't so far from home.