Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 03/15/16
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?
Not my first expat experience - I have also worked in the U.S. and Norway.
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?
Home base is Australia - very easy flights with a transfer in Singapore or KL
3. How long have you lived here?
I've worked here on and off for almost 10 years.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Work in the private sector in business and education
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Masses of huge apartment buildings are going up in District 2, which used to be semi-countryside, Villas in and out of compounds, local houses, as long as you can handle the noise from the neighbours.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Things have improved so much in the past few years. If something isn't available at the moment it will be in a matter of weeks. You can get lots of safe and natural cleaners as well.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More underwear - there is no hope of replacing anything here that is larger than size small.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
It's all here and very cheap - from what I hear.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mossies are everywhere, ants in the kitchen and anywhere that isn't sealed, cockroaches - all have to be dealt with.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I don't unless I am ready to pay for DHL - I have seen signs that the VN post office is starting to operate like a real postal service - but it has a long way to go. Absolutely don't send anything used or personal into Vietnam.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Lots of maids from Manila are here - and locals as well. There is a Facebook page for finding a maid - it's a huge improvement from the past.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Loads of gyms with good equipment. It's a long way from the mid-1990s.
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?
ATMs and cash cards are widely used - I prefer cash as I have had some difficulties using debit cards with retailers - credit cards area easier.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Numbers for bargaining really help - some transaction Vietnamese is good to have. The rest certainly isn't necessary.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Huge mobility issues - there are few real sidewalks or awareness of these needs. This includes the international schools - none of which are completely accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
There is now one local bus (no. 35) that runs from D1 to D2 that is acceptable. The rest forget it. Taxis - the nicest drivers are with Mai Linh Taxis. Very available. Also there is now Uber! - it's cheap and the cars are really nice. There is an elevated light rail line being built but it won't be ready for years.
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?
No need to bring a car but buying one locally is pretty expensive. No carjackings here - but people drive pretty badly - and you just have to learn not to look. Any car is fine in the city, and even on the highway. They have a real expressway heading north and to the coast - it's amazing.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It's not particularly high-speed - but it's available for about US$30 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked one and get a Mobiphone sim - super easy.
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 - but having a dog here can be difficult. There is almost no space for a good run, and taking your dog for a walk on the sidewalks is frankly like torture for them - dirty and noisy and dangerous. There are several vets but the one who everyone trusts is Dr Nghia in Thao Dien. He cares for rescue animals as well - all info on Facebook.
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?
Very decent - this year there is a surge of people starting their own companies - lots of artists and creative people are flooding and doing really interesting stuff. If you are looking for corporate mid-management work - then it's much harder - there is a policy of hiring better educated Vietnamese people to do the work that expats used to do.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Orphanages, fund-raising, animal rescues, Wildlife At Risk is a great organisation helping endangered animals.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
It depends on your work - but overall it's better to keep yourself groomed and clean - even Vietnamese people from the lower end of the economic scale keep themselves pretty clean and well-presented. There aren't any worries for women and covering up - local women tend to be pretty free - very short skirts and super low cleavage is totally fine.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Having your bag snatched pretty violently. There is a sad increase of violence among Vietnamese people - revenge killings and people getting beat up. Expats should keep themselves away from any of that - it's serious.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue and gastrointestinal infections are the biggest worries, but there is lots of endemic disease since many people fall through the vaccine programmes. It's best to update your vaccines really well before you come 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?
Bad, pretty bad, and horrible. It's bad most of the time and occasionally becomes dangerous.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
there are peanuts or peanut oil in almost all of the local food - so take care. If you live in a villa you might want to invest in a good HEPA air cleaner - the air is filthy and also mold grows really well here.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and dry or wet and dry. Hot, hot, hot.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many more than before - but the Big Three for the expat community are ISHCMC and BIS in District 2, and SSIS in District 7. There are many others but they are mostly for the local wealthy families.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not really anything. If you have a child who has developmental challenges then consider another post - or consider the Australian School - that has the reputation of at least accepting children with learning difficulties. ISHCMC is openly a non-supportive school for special needs.
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?
Loads of them - not cheap but they all try to be good.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Arsenal has a football program and there is a Saigon Sports Academy - also a Dance Centre that has lots of opportunities. The only issue is the lack of open spaces to run sports programs.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Really big - lots of sub-groups in different areas of the city. The morale totally depends on what you are doing and how long you have been here. For most, this place loses its charm after year 4 or 5. People complain but not as much as they used to. It's nicer here now.
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?
Restaurants, bars, clubs, biking groups, running groups, art exhibitions, it's pretty varied and full.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
As long as you don't mind the lack of open green areas - this city is great for all expats. There is so much to do for all ages and interests.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Indeed. Young modern Vietnamese culture is not judgemental at all about sexual orientation and there is every opportunity to mix with the local LGBT community
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
The worst you can be I think is to be Cambodian - and Vietnamese men can be pretty nasty to women - but it's rare anymore to be stared at or openly mis-treated.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Seeing the rapid development of this city from a sleepy Mekong Delta town to a heaving metropolis.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Weekends at the beach. Delicious food.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
If you love SE Asia - it's a pretty good base. You have to like hot weather to be here. Regional airfares aren't the cheapest - but it's easy to travel and explore the region.
9. Can you save money?
It used to be easier.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How polluted it is in the city - it's a strain some days.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Overall it's been a good experience - but it hasn't always been this way. Recently changes mean this is a great posting or place to live and work if you can get used to the lack of open clean spaces.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Expectations that things will be done to your liking the first time, need for cold weather and quiet natural spaces.
4. But don't forget your:
Patience. Books. Ability to say 'no' when you need to.