Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 12/26/08
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?
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Foreign Service Officer at U.S. Consulate.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Over 19 hours, usually through San Francisco and Hong Kong.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There is one compound for families and several high-rise full-service apartments with three bedrooms, two baths, pools and gyms.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries, for "American" or foreign brands can be twice the price of the U.S. Meats, seafood, vegetables and fruit all VERY inexpensive, plentiful and delicious...but you have to be careful with quality and cleanliness of the veggies/ fruits.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I would bring my own furniture and have the serviced apartment take out their standard issue furniture.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Fast food includes: lotteria, KFC, Jollibee and Pizza Hut. Lots of decent international and local food restaurants with a wide variety of prices.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
There is APO and pouch at Post.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Widely available, quality mixed. Go with a recommendation from the expat community. A decent cook was 85 USD per month for three visits each week. The serviced apartment staff "cleans" your apartment every day. Quality of cleaning fairly low and cleaning staff fairly nosy. Our cook was fantastic, though. I've heard good things about nannies, too. I think it's fair to say that most Vietnamese people LOVE children.
3. 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 are okay, credit cards are okay at larger establishments. I used my ATM card every week and never had a problem.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There is an English-language Catholic mass every week.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
CNN, Star TV on cable. Can buy FT and The IHT on the street for US$7 - 8. Any foreign magazine will be censored if it contains negative press about Vietnam.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
None, really; however, if you can learn just a little bit of Vietnamese a whole new world will open up to you.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Absolutely, yes. I do not recommend anyone with physical disabilities to live in Vietnam.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
On the right....sorta. Cars cut corners and motorbikes go anywhere they want...sidewalks, gutters, down the wrong way of one-way streets. Very little rule of law with traffic.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, affordable, safe...yes for the most part. The risk of a traffic accident with the tourist buses was the only thing that was scary about riding them. They drive fast to make good time.
3. 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?
People who live in the compound (about 45 mins away from the consulate by shuttle) had cars. Anything from SUV to smaller sedan would be suitable. You really don't need a car in Saigon, though...roads outside the city are rough and crowded...metered cabs from reputable companies in the city are safe and affordable.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, it's called "high speed" but it's not. US$90 per month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Skype. Mobile phone.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
There are several vets but their skill in feline care is limited. Note that it can be difficult to import/ export your pet not due to any restrictions by law but limited hours of customs. Check with GSO and use a pet shipping company.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Casual to dressy. Open toe shoes year round are okay.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pickpocketing, purse snatching in markets and pedestrian/ traffic issues.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Pollution, food poisoning, bacterial infections from who knows what. Medical care so-so. Better than some places, not anywhere close to Bangkok or Singapore. If you have a serious injury or health issue arise, Vietnam is not where you want to be.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot-wet and hot-dry.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Decent quality for younger children, families with teenagers said it was not as academically challenging for their gifted children.
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?
I don't know of any expats who used daycare...everyone had a nanny.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Very large and growing.
2. Morale among expats:
I thought it was excellent, especially among stay-at-home moms with younger children...Morale at the consulate is very good, even though it is a very busy and understaffed post with lots of high level visitors.
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?
Lots of stuff to do! HCMC has an entirely different persona at night. People entertain at home, meet up at bars or restaurants.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all. Easier for single men to find dates. Families with younger children love it. Older children (teens) difficult.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think so, yes, there is a lively gay community but it is still perceived as unconventional in Vietnamese society. You would not know this by the bars at night, though!
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I think there are some racial prejudices...not hatred but people of African-American or Asian-American heritage often encountered weird remarks about their backgrounds and assumptions about their nationality.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Travel: in the country and the region. Shopping galore. Spas. Tailoring, custom made furniture, framing, art lessons, photography, yoga, salsa dancing, learning the language, bar-hopping, cafe people watching. There's so much to do in HCMC!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
So much! Textiles, furniture, art, jewelry.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, if you don't travel outside the country much...but you are so close you have to travel!
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. It is a fascinating time for the country and U.S.-Vietnam relations. Highly recommended for a great consular experience or mid-level Pol/Econ/PD position.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Skis and conceptions about Vietnam as a war.
3. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, rain boots.