Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 08/15/15
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, this is our second tour with the USG. Our first post was in Quito, Ecuador.
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?
We are a bi-coastal family. From LAX we took an 11-hour flight to Tokyo, then a 6-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City. From the NY area we flew 16 hours to Hong Kong and 2.5 hours to Ho Chi Minh City.
3. How long have you lived here?
We have been here for 16 months on a two-year tour, but I wish we could stay longer.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse of US Government employee.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We have many serviced apartments in District 1, which is where the consulate is. Out in District 2, which is a 15-20 minute drive to the consulate (30-40 with traffic), we have about 6 houses in a very nice compound on the main strip of Thao Dien with shops and restaurants. Then we have 8 apartments in Riverside. This is where we live, and we couldnâ€™t be happier. The apartments are a little outdated, but the outdoor space and amenities make living here great. We are next door to the International School of HCMC. Nearby there is a park, a pool, restaurants, spa, market, coffee shop, kids' garden, gym, yoga classes, Zumba classes, basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball court, and a bus and boat shuttle into D1 multiple times throughout the day. Riverside has one of the largest green spaces here.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
We can get most of what need here. I am gluten free, and other than gluten-free soy sauce you can find many options here at the expat stores. You will pay double the price, though. Produce is cheap, meats and salmon are pricier than at home, and anything that is imported will cost you more.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
With a consumables shipment half way through our tour and DPO I have been able to get what I need. I would probably have not shipped our televisions though. I shipped a ton of toilet paper, which was completely unnecessary since we are in a serviced apartment and they provide this for us.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
We donâ€™t eat fast food very often, but you will find Popeyes, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. The prices are a little higher than what we pay in the states. But you have thousands of other restaurants to choose from, ranging from $1.50 -$50 per meal. There are so many options to choose from --- itâ€™s awesome. There is a website (www.vietnammm.com) that will deliver from many restaurants around the area for free or a very small delivery fee.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes! Dengue is a problem here. There are also ants and cockroaches that are found in peopleâ€™s house. So far in this rainy season, three snakes have been spotted in our neighborhood.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO. Expats not affiliated with USG have used the local mail and have had things stolen and boxes rummaged through. They prefer just to have family and or friends that visit bring them things they need, or to shop for them when they are at home.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Domestic help is very affordable. Most consulate families tend to pay higher wages than other expats. I would say the average is about $400-$500 a month for full time. You can hire Vietnamese or Philippine nannies here.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Most residences have a gym that is â€œgood enough.â€ There are other gyms around - like California fitness for a higher price. There are a ton of exercise and yoga classes and personal trainers here as well.
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 choose to use cash (Vietnamese Dong) as much as we can here to avoid the overseas fees, but most places do take credit cards. There are many ATMs around.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can survive just fine without the language --- as many expats here do. However, you will run into occasional moments where knowing at least some of the language would be extremely beneficial. Learning how to give directions when taking a taxi will really come in handy.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are very few ramps and fully paved spacious sidewalks, but there seem to be elevators in all of the major buildings.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are safe and very affordable. A 20-minute taxi ride to D1 costs about $7. It is recommended to use Mailihn or Vinasun taxis and not the other ones due to honesty and reliability.
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?
Most locals and expats drive motorbikes here. Some U.S. Consulate families have brought cars --- mostly medium-sized SUVs, and either have a driver or drive themselves. We have a Honda CRV, and it is the perfect size. You can find what you need in the way of service for your car.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
We have Wi-Fi through our apartment, but we also pay for our own internet for our Vonage line and to stream TV shows and movies. We pay about $40 per month. However, every 6 weeks â€œa shark bites the undersea internet cableâ€ (according to the local government) and service is spotty for days. I am not making this up!
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked smart phone and get a sim card for about $4. I pay $5 for minutes every two weeks or so. I use Mobiphone, and my husband uses Viettel, and we have no complaints other than the absurd amount of spam texts we get.
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?
Yes, there are some opportunities. I know a few EFMs working in the International Schools as a teacher, counselor, or a nurse in the local health clinic. There are also EFMs who teach English. Getting a work permit here is not fun, but it is doable. If you are interested in working on the local economy, you should get your fingerprints and criminal background check done by the FBI or your home country law enforcement agency before you come, and also make sure you have your original degree.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are many volunteer opportunities here. I know many women who volunteer at local orphanages sponsored by the schools here.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Professional attire at work. When you go out in the day most of the local woman are covered from head to toe to avoid the sun. But at night, out come the short skirts.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There are bag/purse snatchings here by people on motorbikes, and there have been a few house break-ins, but not in the compounds. Other than that, I feel completely safe here. I just take precautions and carry a very small purse when I am out. I also donâ€™t wear any fancy jewelry.
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 not great. The nurse at the U.S. Consulate is amazing! For anything serious (and for labor and delivery) you are sent to the states or to Singapore. However, we do know non-USG expats who have delivered here.
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. There is a lot of pollution and smog here.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I have an allergy to gluten, so I donâ€™t eat out too much --- although there are a few restaurants here that actually have a gluten-free menu. You can get most foods in the markets for people with any type of allergy.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
We have about 3 months a year of very pleasant weather, followed by 3 months of hot and dry weather, followed by 6 months of hot and rainy weather ---a few hours a day. On the positive side, the sun is out almost every single day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
HCMC has a wide variety of International Schools located in D1, D2 and D7. International School of HCMC, British International School, Australian International School, European International School, Montessori International School, German International School, French International School, Saigon South International School and Canadian International Schools. Our children go to International School of HCMC in the pre-school program, and we have been very happy with it. Many of my friends feel the same way. I have heard very few (if any) negative comments.
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?
There are plenty of pre-schools here to choose from: Smartkids, Saigon Kids, and Noahâ€™s Club are just a few in D2 that I can think of in addition to all of the preschool programs at the International schools. The prices are all very similar and astronomically high for preschool: $9,000-$14,000 a year. Saigon Kids and Noahâ€™s Club are the only ones that are somewhat cheaper than the rest of the options.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
There are many sports programs available for kids connected with the International Schools. I know there is a soccer program in D2 not affiliated with the schools that some kids go to. My daughters take dance classes. Dancenter is a very nice and well run dance studio. There are places that offer art classes as well.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
The expat community is pretty large, and the morale is very high. Many people I have met have lived here for several years and are very sad when they have to leave.
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?
Eating out, bars, clubs, movies, shows, BBQs, game nights, bowling and birthday parties. Our social calendar is always packed with something.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great post for all of the above. There are tons of restaurants, clubs, shows, and movie theatres for adults. There are also many family-friendly restaurants and both inside and outside play areas for kids.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Definitely the travel opportunities, and getting to meet people from all over the world, and building friendships with them. Running in the 10k at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I love how family-friendly it is here. There are so many things for my young kids to do where we live.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There is something for everyone here unless you are into camping and hiking. Then you will have to travel far outside HCMC.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
The experiences of traveling, tailored clothes, artwork.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Traveling all around SE Asia at very reasonable prices, a large expat community, a variety of International schools to choose from, cheap and very good local food, thousands of restaurants with any type of cuisine you could think of. You can find pretty much anything you need here: tailors, markets, cheap pampering, affordable household help. Although it is very hot and humid, you can spend most the day outside. The city offers a variety of running races throughout the year, including the Color Run. You can save money if you donâ€™t send your kids to the pre-schools (which are very expensive).
8. Can you save money?
Yes, absolutely, but like I said, if you have kids in preschool and/or plan to travel, you probably will not be able to save much. Most travel requires an air ticket.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How much I would love it. It honestly is a great place to live.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes! I would love to come back one day.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
love for the seasons and any clothes that are not suitable for extremely hot weather.
4. But don't forget your:
bottles and bottles of bug spray, sunscreen, and patience.
5. Do you have any other comments?
This post is turning into a perfect place for families. We have made amazing friends, our kids love it, and we have had amazing experiences. Our only negatives would be the time change, distance from home, and the jet lag with young kids.