Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam 07/17/19

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I have also lived in Guadalajara, Caracas, and Luxembourg.

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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 is Washington, DC. There are no direct flights at this time between Vietnam and USA and must connect somewhere in Asia, usually Seoul or Tokyo.
DC to Seoul is 14 hours, Seoul to Hanoi is another 4+ hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

There are apartments/condos and single family homes. The current commute to embassy is 30-40 minutes for residents in Tay Ho.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

if you shop at local markets, the cost is minimal. Food is fresh and quality is good, and there are western style grocery stores that have almost anything you need. There are a few specialty markets (L's Place, Annam Gourmet, Veggys, Red Apron wine, Hanoi Small Goods) that carry harder to find western products and you pay for that. There is also a Costco like store (Mega Market) and, of course, Amazon Prime. This is a consumables post.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I didn't need anything thanks to it being a consumables post and the western markets. I shipped preferred cleaning supplies, toiletries, wines, liquor, and cooking products in my consumables shipment.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Everything is available by delivery: groceries, take out, wine! There is a variety of restaurants available, from street food to formal dining, BBQ, pizza, burgers to pho, bun cha and more.
New microbreweries are popping up around town, too.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

ANTS are everywhere in the houses. The best product is Terro liquid ant baits from US.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Diplomatic pouch; priority mail usually arrives 7-10 days.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Housekeepers, nannies, cooks, and drivers are all available and reasonably priced. Many want to be paid in US dollars. A PT housekeeper around $325/month. A FT driver around $400/month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Multiple gym and exercise facilities around, but they are expensive. Boxing and kick boxing gyms are popular at the moment.

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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?

Credit cards are widely accepted. I used often and only one time had an issue with card being cloned. ATMs are common and ok to use.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

I was surprised how little I needed Vietnamese. You can get by with little Vietnamese in the city. I recommend you learn some key phrases e.g., numbers and directions.
Google translate helps when in the markets and charades, too.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, no accessibility here.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

I only used local taxis, which are very safe and cheap. Grab (like Uber) is readily available, too.

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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?

A smaller vehicle recommended since roads are narrow and lots of motor bikes on the road. There are dearlerships for Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and Kia.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, there are a few companies around depending on where you live. We were able to stream Netflix without problems. It took two to five days to get it installed.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Take an unlocked phone and you can get SIM cards locally, multiple options: pay as you go, monthly rates, etc.

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Pets:

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?

There are a few vets that cater to expats; I really liked Asvelis in Tay Ho. There is no quarantine for Vietnam.

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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?

US embassy has a variety of EFM jobs. There is no bilateral work agreement between US and Vietnam, so spouses of American diplomats have harder time working on local economy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Lots of volunteer opportunities to include the Hanoi International Womens Club (HIWC). Volunteering at kids schools is also popular. Personally, I volunteered at a local museum and helped a different cultural site with English translation for social media posts

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

It is HOT in Hanoi and I recommend breathable fabrics. Business casual is acceptable most places. Formal dress only a few times a year if you go to Marine ball, Burns Supper or Latin Ball.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

No, it is one of the safest cities I have lived in. I felt comfortable walking around and taking taxis

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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 adequate. For more serious injuries (broken bones) or illnesses (cancer), you will need to seek treatment elsewhere like Bangkok or Singapore. There are a few western-trained doctors working in clinics in expat communities. Issues related to poor air quality will be a problem, e.g., a persistent cough (Hanoi hack) or asthma.

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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: Hanoi ranks up there with Beijing and New Dehli most days. Between pollution from transportation, coal power plants and burning fields/trash...it's bad and impacts breathing.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Be aware many foods cooked with peanuts/nuts, but restaurants can accommodate food allergies.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

During the winter it can be damp and grey, with no sun for weeks at a time. It's always good to get out of the city and head elsewhere for a break.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

HUMID year round, HOT during the summer, and damp and cooler in winter.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are multiple schools to chose from. UNIS and Concordia seem to be the most popular, the are also HIS, ISV and St. Paul's. My kids attended UNIS. They loved the campus and after school activities offered. Academics in ES not too challenging. Teachers tried to challenge students who were working above grade level. Interesting Units of Inquiry for ES students that let them research certain topics. ES did great job preparing students who were leaving the school for a new school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Ask the schools.

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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 a variety of preschools available. I know Systems Little House was a popular choice. I don't know about cost. UNIS did not offer before or after school care to my knowledge.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

There are limited local sports options. UNIS has great swim program and sports in MS and HS and soccer club on Saturdays. UNIS also has a music academy (UMA) with lessons in variety of instruments. (my kids took piano lessons there). Hanoi Football Youth League has several teams: Hanoi Capitals baseball club consists of mostly of Vietnamese kids, and a few Americans. They meet on weekends for practices and put together tournament teams for regional tournaments.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

US embassy has a large mission - around 150 USDH plus family members; it's a good-sized group. Hanoi itself has large expat community from all over the place.

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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?

Embassy has typical events like Halloween, Christmas, Easter. The CLO is active with excursions and cultural events and HIWC offers a lot of activities.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

All.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Yes, the Vietnamese are very friendly.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Traveling throughout the country (Sapa, Hoi An, Hue, Ha Long Bay) and region(Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, Bangkok).

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6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

It's definitely a shopping post: pottery, lacquer, tailored clothing, baskets,

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Fairly cheap and full of history.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

This was our first post in Asia; SE Asia is very different from other parts of the world. There is definitely culture shock. The traffic here is the craziest I have witnessed; the motorbikes outnumber people and cars and swarm everywhere. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is challenging. Enjoy the people, the food and the culture.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No, but I enjoyed my time and made the most of it.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen and breathable fabrics.

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Hanoi, Vietnam 04/05/18

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Yes.

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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?

DC. About 24 hours travel time. Connections through Seoul or Tokyo.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Spouse of a diplomat.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

We like our housing, but it’s kind of a mixed bag. Sizes can vary dramatically; it just depends on what is available when you arrive. Embassy housing is spread out. Each has its own perks.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can definitely live on the food available here, but there are times you spend all day looking for something (say, tahini) can’t find it, and then happen to see it weeks later. Cost is all over the place. Produce is cheap (more so if you have a local buy it for you). Grocery stores are “normal” prices. Nothing is a great deal. If you want quality, you pay for it. (We think local ice cream tastes like jet fuel, and a pint of Hagen Daz will set you back about $10). Household supplies are available, but who knows what’s in them or if they actually work well. Paper products are available, but poor quality.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

This is a consumable post. Ship brands if you are particular. If you’re particular about quality, or content (added fats, sugars, chemicals), ship it. Cereal is either muesli or Fruit Loops. I’m happy I shipped raw honey, maple syrup, plain Cheerios, quality select-a-size paper towels, and laundry detergent. Water is also very hard. I use a hard water treatment (Charlie’s Hard Water Booster) in the laundry. It’s helped tremendously with preventing clothes from becoming “crusty."

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Eating out is cheap. Ordering in is cheap (and so convenient). You can get local food for under $2/serving. Fine dining restaurants are well-priced as well (compared to the US).

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

I’ve seen only one roach. Geckos make their way inside but don’t bother us. Sugar ants are persistent and creep out of who knows where to find crumbs and left behind snacks. But they also seem to disappear quickly when the mess is removed.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We use pouch and DPO. Liquids are okay. We use Amazon, too. No experience with the local postal facilities.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Available, but quality totally depends on luck. We’ve had some not-so-great experiences. After a few trials, we’ve found help that makes us happy. Cost varies wildly depending on employer, job description, hours, language, and quality; there’s no real standard. In my mind, most are overpaid, and it ruins the market. There’s a nanny mafia and they ALL talk and make ridiculous demands. Nannies/helpers (regardless of quality) earn an upper-middle class living and earn more than locally employed staff at the embassy. Salary can range from $300-$550+ USD (hopefully paid in VND, not USD)/month, plus an annual month’s pay bonus for Tet. The end-of contract bonus of an additional month’s pay and annual raise (of up to 10%) are negotiable items. We’ve been happy for the help for shopping, cleaning, and watching our kids, but I haven’t been overly impressed.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Gyms are everywhere. Western type and lots catered to the Vietnamese. Cost is $50/month for local gyms to $100+ for western. Most of the housing areas (apartments) have little gyms (ours is a joke). Many people ride bikes outside, but the air quality and/or heat can be a hindrance. It is also not easy or safe to run on the streets. It helps to have a treadmill/bike/rower in your house you can use without breathing the air outside.

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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?

I have never used an ATM in Vietnam, but rely on the embassy cashier heavily. Credit cards are not widely accepted. We have only used them for travel and major purchases at some bigger stores (maybe twice in a year). This is definitely a cash society.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Some is necessary. You can pick up what you need rather quickly, e.g, numbers, directions, etc. I get by on very little. Depending on where you frequent, many Vietnamese will speak English. But I have found that if they don’t, in my experience there is no effort made to try to understand you or work with you. They won’t talk with their hands, or draw pictures, or use Google Translate. They just wave you away and ignore you. This is when hired household help comes in handy. It’s nice to have someone take care of some things I can’t. The embassy offers language courses for family members. There are also some classes available in the community, although I can’t comment on price.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It depends on the disability. Walking down the street can be a nightmare, especially with small kids. Cars and motorbikes are everywhere. The pavement is uneven and cracked. You can’t walk straight; you need to weave in and out and up and down and watch your head.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

I would never take local mass transit. Taxis are relatively affordable. You’ve got your nicer/expensive ones, and not-so-nice/cheap ones. We tend to use Uber/Grab (although Uber is no longer available),as the cars are nicer and the fare is half the cost of a taxi. You then don’t need to carry those small bills around to pay them, if you link to credit card. The only downside is waiting for it to arrive. From our housing to embassy is roughly 40,000 VND in Uber and 80,000 in a taxi.

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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 families have small SUVs or minivans. In theory smaller is better as not much space in the city is allotted to parking, but you can make do with anything. If you have a car, you will likely hire a driver (I'd say 20% drive themselves). If you drive, you need patience and tough skin.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is available. I think high-speed is a joke. We started with the second to highest speed available for about $120 a month. We gave up on it and downgraded. Now we pay 1,300,000 VND (~$60) for 4 MBPS. We get about 2. It’s usually enough to do what we want. We stream videos and shows without much problem most of the time. Every now and then it just doesn't work. Plan on using a VPN, and set it up before you arrive.

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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. Sim cards are easy to come by. There are a few major carriers, but it can be difficult to understand what you are signing up for or purchasing. I got a SIM card and fill up with scratch-off cards occasionally, but I still have no idea what I spend for calls/text/etc. I probably spent $40 to get the sim card, and about $10/month for data/text/calls. Much cheaper than the US.

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Pets:

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?

We don’t have pets, but I know friends with pets have had trouble leaving town due to the lack of and poor quality of kennels.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are quite a few different organizations. You can definitely find something that fits your interests. HIWC (Hanoi International Women's Club) is a good starting point.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

The Vietnamese always dress up. Or walk around in matching pajama sets. So, almost anything goes. Active wear is not very common. Only expats walk around in tank tops and yoga pants. Choose cuts and fabrics that will allow you to survive the humidity.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

It’s generally pretty safe. Occasionally we hear of crimes. In my opinion, the biggest danger is "opportunity theft." We’ve had money stolen out of our bag by a tour guide, but that’s the extent of it.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The air quality is tough for those susceptible to it, e.g., those who have breathing problems, allergies, sinus issues, etc. There are good international clinics for the basics. Any complex or “life threatening” issues should be addressed in Bangkok or Singapore.

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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?

The air quality is horrendous and it seems like it sucks the life out of you. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen blue sky. During the summer the air quality is better, but the weather is hot and humid. During the winter it can be really bad. I feel it in my lungs, and my head (perpetual migraines), and my kids and I have persistent coughs. Several times the air quality has been “hazardous," and it's not fun. We really appreciate the "moderate" days when they come around.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Peanuts are common in Vietnamese dishes. It’s easy to go gluten free, as so much is rice-based. There are quite a few vegan and vegetarian restaurants around.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot and humid summers and warm spring and fall. Cool and pleasant winters. It can get “cold” in winter, if you consider 60F cold (the marshmallow jackets come out in force). I find it a great time to wear jeans and light sweaters.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

A handful to choose from, but no direct experience. It seems the embassy kids are split between UNIS, Concordia, and St. Paul, depending on the best fit for the family.

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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?

Many preschools are available, but they are very expensive. The top international schools (UNIS, Concordia) may run up to $14k/year. The dedicated international preschools (Morning Star, Hanoi International Kindergarten, Systems Little House) are approx. $9k/year, not including summer terms.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

For older kids, yes, through the schools and some community-based. Not much is available for the preschool age.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

This is our first overseas experience, so I can’t compare it to much, but the expat community seems very large. A lot of Americans and Europeans. Australians. Plus a ton of tourists passing through. From what I can tell, most people enjoy their time here and morale is good.

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2. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Vietnam and SE Asia is travelworthy. There is a lot to see. Sapa in the north is beautiful. Halong Bay. Ninh Binh. Phu Quoc. HCMC. You have easy regional travel, and a major hub through Singapore.

The food is pretty good, too.

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3. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

We wander around Old Quarter and Tay Ho a lot. There is something about watching the people and traffic go by. If the weather is nice, visiting the botanical gardens or Temple of Literature is in order. The malls also have indoor trampolines.

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4. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

I didn’t think I would want to buy much, but my list keeps growing. There’s the cheap tourist souvenirs that make good gifts for children back home (I doubt much of it is real, and have a feeling it's made in China). Lacquer boxes and furniture (even in more modern styles), pottery (dishes/ tea sets), and oil paintings (even custom). Nothing is as good a deal as you think it should be, but there a variety of things to add to your collections.

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5. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Affordable household help. Most people have at least a cook/cleaner, some have 2 nannies and a driver. Reasonably priced dining options (Vietnamese, Indian, Western, local). Close to lots of regional travel.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. I would come again a first time, but I wouldn’t extend. 2-3 years is enough.

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2. But don't forget your:

Western-sized clothing and shoes.
High quality N95 face mask.

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Hanoi, Vietnam 12/12/17

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, have lived in nearly a dozen cities throughout East Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Near East.

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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?

Northeastern USA. Traveling to New England takes about 26-28 hours total and is a two-stop journey (Korean Air to Seoul, Delta to Detroit, then Delta to any other city) and traveling to Washington, DC is a one-stop journey if you take Korean Air (Delta codeshare) via Seoul.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US embassy assignment.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Larger families have the option of living in large, older stand-alone houses in the Tay Ho community, about a 40-50 minute rush-hour commute from the embassy. These buildings sometimes have a pool but rarely have much yard space. Other expat families live in the area and there are plenty of Western/Asian restaurants and small grocers nearby. My small family lived in one of the several apartment complexes located closer to the center of the city. Our apartments were smaller than the houses, but still huge compared to Washington, DC standards. And, you're much closer to the restaurants, parks, and sights of the inner city. Finally, maintenance and amenties that come with the apartments (often there are small gyms, pools, and/or a concierge) aren't available with the houses. I'd recommend opting for one of the larger downtown apartments, even if you have a family of four.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You can buy just about any Western product (including cheeses, meats, and wines) you want at one of the small foreign grocers, but you'll pay 25-50% more than U.S. prices. Hanoi has an increasing array of local, relatively modern medium-sized grocers where you can buy plenty of Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean products of reasonable quality and cheap price.



In the suburbs there are several warehouse stores (Big C and Metro - think a cross between Costco and Walmart) where you can buy Asian goods in larger quantities. Produce isn't as great in the supermarkets, however.



The best produce comes from either the local wet markets where Vietnamese shop (but you risk the possibility of pesticides or products of Chinese origin) or through specialty or on-call grocers who sell organic, "clean" produce, including arugula and other Western salads! Overall we were pleased with the variety of fresh produce available, as Vietnamese cuisine incorporates many fresh vegetables. The CLO can help broker an introduction. If you like Korean or Japanese groceries there are specific grocery stores catering to those communities (i.e. K-mart) throughout the city.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We shipped a lot of Costco and warehouse store items, including wines (much cheaper in the U.S.), toilet paper, heavy-duty paper towels, baking/kitchen supplies, and pet food. You can get a lot of items via DPO/pouch. We probably didn't need to ship all the toilet paper and paper towels, but what you can find on the local market is of slightly lesser quality.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Hanoi has incredible food options and great delivery services (including via smartphone apps). Vietnamese food (both hole-in-the-wall and fancy) is plentiful and tasty. There are large Korean and Japanese communities in town so there's excellent food from both cuisines near their expat enclaves. French food is plentiful and tasty, as is Thai and Chinese food (if you know where to look). There's a few decent pizza places, and if you want American fast food there there's Popeye's, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and a few independent burger/BBQ places. A cheap local meal will be less than $5, and a nice French dinner for two with wine can be had for less than $50-60. There are lots of nice hotels around town that do fancy buffets and dining options if you're willing to pay more, and there's a nice bar scene too. The food scene is one of the best things about living in Hanoi.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

We had ants, which traps took care of fairly quickly. You'll see the occasional roach or spider even if you keep your residence clean.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Never used the local post. DPO and pouch take about 2-3 weeks and are reliable.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Plentiful. US embassy families tend to use the same pool of maids/nannies -- on the one hand they (usually) are experienced, but on the other hand are overpaid compared to wages from other expats (at $300+ a month full time). If you speak some Vietnamese and don't mind training up your own help, you can find excellent employees for $200-250 a month who speak limited English. Some families had drivers as well.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

The embassy's downtown apartments typically had at least a small gym for free. There are nicer, Western-style gyms downtown, but monthly fees were expensive from what I heard ($100 a month or so). The embassy annex has a decent gym for less than $300 a year if you don't mind working out before or after work.

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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?

While the country is still primarily a cash economy, credit card use is growing quickly in Vietnam. Credit cards are accepted at hotels, most grocery stores, at higher-end restaurants, and at an increasing number of fast food or chain stores (both Western and local). ATMs are common and it's safe to use them if you take the usual big-city precautions. Most embassy personnel withdrew cash from the embassy cashier.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are a few large interdenominational Protestant services throughout the city (some with modern worship and others with traditional music), English-language Catholic services, Mormon/Latter-Day Saints services, and even a small Jewish community that holds Shabbat weekly. There are lots of missionaries working quietly in the city so there are lots of little Protestant house church communities as well. There's a mosque in the center of the city and plenty of temples catering to the Buddhist community. I think there's even a Ba'hai gathering, though it may be in Vietnamese only.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Younger Hanoians often understand basic English. Nicer restaurants and most places in the touristy area also can converse in English. Having at least basic Vietnamese (particularly food, money, number, and taxi/directions-related vocabulary) will help a ton, however. The embassy's post language program is excellent and affordable, and puts on language-learning outings for the whole family as well.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. Vietnamese streets are chaotic. Many sidewalks are poorly maintained and have potholes. Officially, the Vietnamese government is very supportive of disabled persons organizations and policies related to disabilities (in part to show support for its populace disabled as a legacy of the Vietnam War), but in reality has spent little money on physical infrastructure. There also remains a societal stigma among Vietnamese families about physical and intellectual disabilities. This is gradually improving societally though.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

There are lots of transport options available. Buses are cheap and (despite what the RSO may say) relatively safe -- but the bus network is limited and not so convenient. Hanoi should be getting its first elevated metro line in a couple of years, so stay tuned on that. Taxis are plentiful, but make sure to choose the right companies/colors if you don't want to be scammed/cheated (a growing problem especially in touristy areas of the city). The best option is to use Uber, which is reliable and has cleaner cars than taxis. There are also plenty of private car services that provide excellent, clean service, including for airport pickups -- as a colleague or the CLO for details. It's easy to rent a minibus and driver if you have family in town and want to do day (or even overnight) trips outside of the city.

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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?

You can have a fine experience without a car in Hanoi -- we didn't have one. But I regret not bringing a car because we missed out on day or weekend trips to parks, cultural landmarks, and other attractions outside of the city. I recommend bringing a small SUV -- while parking is difficult in Hanoi, having an SUV will help outside of the city and on Hanoi's sometimes bumpy streets. Any one of the "usual" brands (Toyota, Honda, Ford) should be fine. Some colleagues had motorcyles and loved it -- it's a great country for motorbike touring. I bought a local scooter and got a local license, which I found to be an incredibly fun and liberating way to travel around the city. After all it's what the locals do! But, traffic is crazy and takes getting used to. If you have a car, you may want to consider hiring a driver.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Decent high-speed internet is available, and the cost is zero to $50/month depending on where you live. Ours took a few days to install with the help of our apartment concierge. Internet speeds are DSL, so a bit slower than typical cable internet in the US.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring an unlocked mobile phone and use a SIM from Viettel, the most reliable provider. The embassy local staff can set you up with a decent plan (less than $30/mo for a decent chunk of minutes and 2-3GB high speed internet) but you can get even cheaper rates if you do a bit of your own research. Smartphones are incredibly useful here for getting around, as Google Maps and several local food rating sites work very well throughout the country.

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Pets:

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?

Vet and kennel services are widely available (there are multiple providers throughout the city) but we would rate the overall service as so-so. Our dog got fleas during one stay, and the facilities at some of the places (which cater to expats and rich Vietnamese) are spartan. No quarantine for pets. Vietnamese increasingly have pets (influenced particularly by Japanese and Korean trends in having pets) so there's a growing pet culture around the city. You'll still see plenty of roast dog meat stalls around the city so avert your eyes if that makes you uncomfortable!

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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?

The embassy has a good number of EFM positions. While there is no bilateral work agreement between the US and Vietnam, there are plenty of opportunities to work informally off the economy, whether as a teacher at one of the international schools, as an English teacher (demand is high), or for one of many NGOs or international organizations working in Hanoi. Local salaries are low but expat-oriented jobs typically pay higher than the local scale, and wages are rising year by year in Hanoi.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Plenty -- orphanages, English teaching, working with disabled persons, religious charities, sports groups, environmental organizations -- you name it. Despite being an authoritarian state that continues to crack down on civil society, there are lots of grassroots groups popping up around town that need dedicated volunteers.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Diplomats typically wear business -- sometimes business casual in the hot months. Vietnamese men typically wear business casual to work, while women tend to dress up a lot. After work, Vietnamese dress very casually at home or on the street. Bring a tux/gown to use at the Marine Ball and/or at one of the other formals that take place throughout the year.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Crime is about average compared to the typical American city. Stay aware of pickpocketing in touristy areas, but otherwise Vietnam is a very safe place to live. Risk of terrorism is almost nonexistent due to the heavy security presence in the country (you see uniformed policemen/guards/military everywhere!).

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Health care quality is growing but still subpar compared to the United States, so you will be medically evacuated to Singapore or Bangkok for any surgeries or major diagnostic tests. Avoid the public hospitals if you can - they are overcrowded and appear to have poor hygiene, even if they are conveniently located. That said, there are some new private hospitals cropping up that are of better quality for routine matters (i.e. Vinmec) and several small clinics with foreign doctors that cater specifically to the expat community that provide decent non-emergency/critical care. Routine dental care at one of the expat-oriented practices is adequate and inexpensive.

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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?

One of the biggest drawbacks to living in Hanoi is the poor winter air quality. It's not as bad as China or India, but is starting to get there. During the summer the air is wonderfully clean, but from October-April, a combination of industrial pollution, agricultural burning, and weather patterns can bring the AQI scale up to the 200-300s on some days. Outside of the city, the air is generally very clean. The embassy provides high-quality air filters but individuals with significant asthma issues may not want to live here.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

There's not a lot of awareness in Vietnamese society about food allergies (peanuts, eggs, gluten) so you'll have to be very specific/careful about asking about ingredients in restaurants. That said the food options in Hanoi are so plentiful and varied that you probably won't have too much difficulty avoiding food allergens, especially if you cook from scratch. Pollen isn't an issue but winter air pollution can exacerbate respiratory allergies.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Daylight is relatively consistent during the year so SAD is not a huge issue. I would say one mental health issue that affects some people is the fact that life in Vietnam can be overwhelming in some ways. Hanoi is a busy, noisy, chaotic, and sometimes messy city, and it can be hard to "get away" from it all and find quiet personal space. Thankfully, regional travel options and flight connections are plentiful so it's only a few hours away to a quiet Southeast Asian beach or mountain resort.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Vietnam has seasons -- a hot, humid summer (90s-100s), short but pleasant spring and fall (70s-80s), and a cool winter (50s-60s). Rain is scattered throughout the year. Overall the climate is similar to southern Georgia or Lousiana.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

We did not have school-age children, but based on what colleagues have said, there are two main English-language international schools: UNIS (one of only two official UN schools in the world -- uses the IB system) and Concordia (a smaller, American system-based school). Both are good and yet are different, so it's worth asking around. Both have good facilities and plenty of school activities and events for kids.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

Expat preschools are available but expensive. Local preschools are plentiful and cheap and several families sent their young children to private Vietnamese preschools. Your child will be well taken care of and will pick up some Vietnamese phrases (and mannerisms)!

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, at the international schools. Hanoi has little open green space (the park space that exists is often pretty crowded already) so it's not a great city for extracurricular sports and outdoor activities. Embassy events at the American Club (which has a small basketball court, a volleyball court, and a grassy lawn) take place from time to time and are great for families to come together. If you poke around you can find tennis/golf/sports instructors at the various club facilities available around the city.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

The Western (English-speaking) expat community is moderately sized and growing. There's one general community of backpacker/young English teacher/missionaries who congregate, and another tier of diplomats/NGO workers/international workers that exists as well. The Korean and Japanese communities are big and active but also stick to themselves for the most part unless you have a cultural/linguistic connection. There's also a small Spanish-speaking community which can be fun for those with EFMs from Latin America.



There are a few different organizations for diplomatic spouses that do social and volunteer activities. Because Hanoi doesn't have a huge Western expat community, we found that diplomats from other embassies are happy to meet and mingle with Americans (both families and singles). Morale is decently high, especially for those who are adventurous and don't mind the chaos and craziness of living in a Vietnamese city. Vietnam is an increasingly important player diplomatically and strategically and people have a sense that their work is meaningful. Vietnamese are also very pro-American and friendly, which is a huge bonus. The embassy community (especially among families) is pretty close-knit and people often hang out with others living in their specific apartment complex.

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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?

There are definitely expat clubs and groups (hash house harriers, sports clubs for rugby and soccer, international women's club, etc.) and vibrant expat church communities as well. There are lots of private NGOs working in Vietnam so there are lots of volunteer opportunities which will help you meet new expat friends, as well. Vietnam's food and bar scene is fun, reasonably priced, and always evolving.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes for all of the above. There's plenty of social opportunities for singles -- perhaps especially for men. For couples and families there's lots of places to visit near Hanoi and also in the region. Bangkok, Angkor Wat, Hong Kong, Singapore, Laos, and Vietnam's beautiful domestic sights are all less than an inexpensive three hour flight away.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes, probably one of the more open cities for LGBT individuals in all of Southeast Asia. Vietnam has a young but vibrant and growing public LGBT community with tacit tolerance from the government. The embassy traditionally has been active in supporting LGBT initiatives. While same-sex marriage is not permitted, the government also does not pressure or harass LGBT individuals, and while Vietnamese society is overall fairly conservative about gender roles, media (and Vietnamese youth) have progressive attitudes towards LGBT rights.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Due to Vietnam's strained relationship with China, Chinese-Americans (or especially EFMs from mainland China) may receive less than friendly treatment. African-Americans may find it harder to date on the local scene due to racial prejudices in Vietnamese society. The Vietnamese women you work with are incredibly talented and dynamic -- but don't forget that most of Vietnamese society still remains patriarchal and sexism, sexual harassment, and spousal abuse remain common in Vietnamese families. Police aren't great about taking reports of sexual assault seriously. NGOs (and the government to some extent) are trying to change this culture.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Incredible restaurant and food culture. The warm, friendly, and pro-American Vietnamese people. Visiting central and southern Vietnam -- beaches, mountains, forests and jungles. Taking quick, cheap flights across all of Southeast Asia and East Asia. Do a street food tour and then a Hanoi architecture tour. Talented and supportive local staff at the embassy. Knowing that you're working in a country that is growing in importance to the United States and the international community from a strategic perspective.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Chicken BBQ street on Ly Van Phuc -- go to the larger stall at the end of the road. Pho Bat Dan has the best Pho in Hanoi and is located on Bat Dan street in the Old Quarter. Xoi Yen (look it up on Google) has the best Vietnamese sticky rice. Find a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop and have famous Vietnamese egg coffee. Try local Vietnamese desserts, which are wonderfully sweet and tasty. Buy a scooter and explore the city -- after a rain drive down the government quarter's beautiful tree-lined boulevards and admire the French-inspired architecture.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

You can buy inexpensive gifts from Craft Link, an NGO with several locations who profits are invested back into minority communities. Many people get custom-made furniture (but be careful because the beautiful furniture can crack when brought into drier climes). Tailors are cheap and plentiful so get lots of custom-fitted suits and dresses -- I regret not buying more suits! If you don't mind haggling you can find all sorts of interesting knick-knacks in the markets.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

See above - food, culture, history, travel, friendly people. Hanoi is in that perfect middle ground where it's still developing (and is thus inexpensive) but is developed enough so you can find just about anything you need to find here.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

How useful a car would have been for day and weekend trips. That the winter pollution is bad. I wish I read up more on Vietnamese history and watched more documentaries on the topic.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Need for peace, quiet, and personal space. Preconceived notions about Vietnam as our "enemy" from the Vietnam War.

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4. But don't forget your:

Adventurousness, appetite, and tolerance for the unexpected.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Catfish and Mandala. The Sympathizer. Watch the Ken Burns PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War. The Tale of Kieu (Vietnam's most famous ancient epic poem).

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Hanoi, Vietnam 05/04/16

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

8th posting

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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 in Northern Virginia. Flying Korean Air via Dulles to Seoul onward to Hanoi is a long flight, but actually enjoyable. Korean Air is amazing, and if there is a layover at Incheon, they offer free showers in spa-like private bathrooms, as well as a lounge to sleep in. Another good flight is on Japan Airlines - but Korean Air is a pleasure. And good with pets...

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

USG posting

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Please listen carefully when I recommend that despite your position, tenure or family size, insist on living in one of the apartment complexes. The stand-alone houses/villas are maintenance nightmares, dark, moldy with on average 90 stairs. If they have a private pool, they're rarely used because the pool is cold, dark and under the house. In the houses, bedrooms are on many different floors - so your kids will likely not be on the same floor as you. There are zero closets, pantries, storage, parking or outdoor space. Bring armoires and shelving. Single family homes are also in and amongst locals. Sounds fun, until they sit outside of your gate and monitor your comings and goings. Some of the homes are connected to loud restaurants, bars and such. Constant noise. Conversely, the apartment complexes have amenities, are modern, have green space, are bright and people seem generally very happy at all options. They're great for singles, couples and families alike. They also don't seem to have that "fish bowl" lifestyle. Work has morning and afternoon shuttles to all housing locations. Insist on an apartment - while post told us they didn't have 4 bedroom apartments, there are actually many.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

More expensive than we expected (about US$40/night for dinner groceries). Availability is such a nuisance and you will need to go to many stores to 1) find what you need, 2) find what you need and make sure that it's not from China (contaminated). We ultimately hired someone to do our shopping, food cleaning and cooking. Well worth every penny.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We would ship fewer consumables. Everything is available here or through Amazon Prime. Do bring a lot of Nyquil and cough/cold medicine, as well as feminine products. Also, medicine sold in stores is often fake, so bring the real deal with you.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Unfortunately, US fast food chains have found their way to Hanoi...

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Tiny kitchen ants that want your sugar, big cockroaches that generally leave you alone, geckos that we love, and mosquitoes that may or may not carry dengue.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Very good quality, honest, hard working. We pay about US$600 a month for full time cook, cleaner, pet minder, house fixer, translator (you will need this). We pay more than we should (average is US$450 - $550) - we only wanted one person to work for us, so we paid up.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Most of the apartment complexes have workout facilities. The Rose Garden has an ancient gym. Those in single family homes will need to find a gym to join. Yoga, pilates are readily available

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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?

Easy to use but make sure your bank waives international ATM transaction fees. Otherwise you will spend US$8 each time you withdrawal money.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You actually do need a fair amount of Vietnamese. You will most likely take taxis everywhere, and they don't speak English, nor do the local shop keepers.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Able bodied individuals risk life or limb daily in Hanoi. I can't imagine navigating this city with a physical disability. There are no sidewalks. Rarely elevators. Houses have multiple, narrow stairs.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes

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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?

Hardly anyone brings a car to post because there is NO parking anywhere in all of Hanoi. Those who have brought a POV typically have an infant and want it for the car seat. But then you have to hire a full time driver at US$350 a month to drive your car (too dangerous to drive here) and to stay with your car when there is no parking.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes - again - this is included at the apartment complexes, but if you're in a single family home you will be paying about US$200 a month for several routers to ping through your concrete walls. You will also need to pay for TV whereas it is included in the apartments.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

readily available

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Pets:

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. Minimal vet care available.

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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?

No

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Many through orphanages and NGOs

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Same as DC. Although the locals often dress very provocatively at work. Skirt barely skimming their backsides.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Okay - here's the dark side of Hanoi: Domestic dogs and cats are stolen and eaten here in the most barbaric way. I thought this was fear mongering when we researched coming to post, but there are actually streets in the Old Quarter that sell dog and cat meat. Pets are stolen during Tet because some locals believe that by eating your pet, they will have good luck for the new lunar year. We live in the expat area, and have 3 dog meat "restaurants" within 1 mile of our home. Humans are plenty safe in Hanoi. Your pets are not. It's really dampered our tour. We worry about walking our dog. Dog nappers will grab your dog with a hook on a bamboo, and throw them into a ruck sack while zooming away on their motorbike. If they don't sell them for dog meat, if they're a "breed" they'll sell them. Google it. It's all true.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Yes. The air quality and motorbike accidents eventually take everyone down. Very minimal hospital care in Hanoi. Med medevacs almost all cases to Singapore or Bangkok.

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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?

Please, please do your research on this. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi just posted an alarming report (2016) stating that the air quality in Hanoi is 7 times worse than what the WHO recommends for safety. We came here with healthy children and 2 are on inhalers now. Most people in our community are constantly sick. Despite air purifiers put in our homes, the air is scientifically toxic and filled with carcinogens. Locals wear face masks when outside. In addition, the smell of raw sewage throughout Hanoi will knock you over, even in the expat Tay Ho housing area. Because of the pollution, 10 months out of the year Hanoi is "skyless". There are no blue skies or clouds, just smog.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Seafood is in almost everything.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

There are seasons. I didn't believe this when we landed in sweltering August, but come December you can wear winter jackets through March. The houses are not insulated and most are cement. It gets cold. (No need to bring jackets, NorthFace is made here and cheap). There is a mild, short spring and the temperatures spike around May.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Most use UNIS or Concordia. I have experience with UNIS and recommend Concordia for academics most similiar to the U.S. curriculum and style of teaching (they have a new campus opening this summer). UNIS has amazing facilities and is terrific for elementary. The middle and high school curriculum does not seem to be transferable to other IB or U.S. schools - they're about 2 years behind. Please keep in mind that UNIS typically has a wait list and does NOT give preferential enrollment to USG students. They receive no funding from DoS and could care less about embassy enrollment.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

HIS, UNIS and Concordia all make accommodations - UNIS will put your kid(s) and you through the ringer and they typically have a wait list and use "special needs" as a way to wait list your family. If your child has special needs, I recommend Concordia for a loving, positive experience.

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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?

Too many quality schools to list. Many options - they all seem darling.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes. Many except baseball, American football

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

All over the place. Don't be fooled by the extension rate. Most have to extend within a month of arriving at post, and do so willingly after spending a year back at FSI learning VN. After about 6 months at post, many regret extending. Morale is medium. Those with health/air issues are counting the days.

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2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Those happiest seem to be families/singles/couples living in apartments - all seem to have a fantastic, supportive community with a lot of fun activities. Those families/singles/couples living in the Tay Ho single family homes spend most of their time trouble shooting their latest housing crisis. There's a marked difference. Please think carefully before bringing children here - the air quality is almost like Beijing.

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3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes. Our current Ambassador is openly gay is married.

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4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

I'm aware that some African Americans have encountered prejudices - kids called the "N" word by locals during a school sports tournament.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

We enjoyed traveling out of Hanoi to Danang and Hoi An - charming little town and beautiful seaside village with pristine beaches. We have also been taken aback by the honesty of the Vietnamese. It's by far the most honest culture we've experienced. Yakushi! Weekly massages and facials at Yakushi. $15 for a 90 minute massage has been decadent.

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6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Most spend their time in Hanoi in or around the Old Quarter shopping and eating. If there's a 3-day weekend, flights out of Hanoi are cheap and most take advantage.

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7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Baskets are gorgeous, tribal fabrics from Sapa, pottery....

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8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Hanoi is a difficult place to live. We have served at 4 previous 30% hardship posts, and Hanoi seems so much harder than those - even without the crime element. We have enjoyed the food. But there are roughly 4 main dishes that you will be served repeatedly. With both spouses working, it's possible to save money. Some enjoy having clothes custom tailored, but by the time you choose fabric et al, the final price is similiar to what you would pay stateside for a better product. Household help is affordable and generally honest. But you'll use them more for home repairs and running to 6 stores to find dinner items.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes - if you choose not to explore South East Asia.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wish post would have been upfront about the air quality. We wouldn't have come here.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No. We're sorry that we came. This is the first posting that we've every felt this way. It's not been a good experience for us or our kids.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Love of the outdoors, green space, clean air, quiet, long dog walks and freedom of driving where ever you want to.

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4. But don't forget your:

Bug spray and linen clothes.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

This is a great post for first or second tour officers. Work is robust, high profile and you get to touch a lot of cool stuff that you otherwise wouldn't. But don't be intoxicated by "Hanoi". And certainly don't link here!

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Hanoi, Vietnam 08/14/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This is our 4th tour

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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?

Midwest; it takes 24+ hours with a long layover (8+ hours) in either Seoul or Tokyo

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Single houses, townhouses, and apartments mostly around West Lake. Commutes vary depending on traffic. The houses are about 30 minute commute if traffic good. Townhouses and condos are less

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Local food is pretty affordable. In season produce is cheap. Imported/Western goods are quite expensive. I was actually surprised at the cost of food when we arrived. I was expecting it to be cheaper.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Salsa, tortilla chips, baking spices, chocolate chips, all-purpose and whole wheat flour for baking. These can be found locally, but they're EXPENSIVE. However, of these (with the exception of salsa) can be ordered on Amazon.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Burger King, Dominoes, Dunkin' Donuts, Popeyes, Starbucks all recently opened. But really, why waste you time on this junk when there are lots of other delicious options?

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes are annoying and can carry dengue. The real problems are roaches and rats. The best defense is a good offense - keeping your house scrupulously clean.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch or DPO

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Readily available and inexpensive. Part-time, non-English speaking cleaner is probably US$200 a month. For a full-time professional, English-speaking nanny with experience it's US$450-500. Full-time drivers are about US$300/ month, again more if they have good English and lots of experience. A yearly Tet (Lunar New Year) bonus of one extra month's salary is expected. Severance pay of 1 month's salary for each year worked is also expected.

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3. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Every little bit helps. There is a big push here to increase English ability, but your average person on the street (shopkeepers, taxi drivers, etc) won't have any. At minimum, it's good to know directions, numbers, your address, and a few greetings and pleasantries.

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4. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. There is no accommodation made. I have a hard time walking by myself or with my kids in a stroller - I can't imagine doing it if you had a physical disability.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are plentiful and safe. I haven't every taken a local bus. They're cheap (about 30 cents), but the crowds and the heat make them look awful. I'd much rather spend a few bucks on a cab!

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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?

We brought a minivan and have no problems. (Yes, we brought a minivan to Hanoi...) I'm very glad we brought a car - trying to drag kids in and out of cabs is a major hassle and there is absolutely NO WAY I would take my kids on a motorbike. People have all kinds of cars here and I haven't heard of anyone having problems.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

MANY! There are lots of opportunities through schools, local groups, NGOs, etc

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Work is pretty formal. Men wear suits and ties. Women wear dresses or skirts (sleeveless is ok b/c of the heat. No panty hose required!). Open toed shoes for women are ok. Unless you're on the beach, it's better to be relatively conservative. Shorts and Tshirts are ok, but not short-shorts, crop tops, bare midriffs.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

No. I have never felt nervous at all. One of the benefits of living in an authoritarian regime?

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

There are international clinics, but I have not been super impressed with them. Anything serious is medevaced to Singapore or Bangkok

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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?

Usually pretty bad, which is concerning. That being said, the Embassy does provide high-quality air filters. It's worse in the fall when they burn the rice chaff and in winter when people burn cheap coal.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Mold can be a problem in your house if you're not diligent. As in other parts of Asia, food allergies aren't really understood. For example, if you say you have a nut allergy, they may not put nuts in the dish, but they may cook it in peanut oil

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Humid all year round. Hot to VERY hot in spring, summer, and autumn. Winter can be chilly (50 F, but it feels colder b/c of the humidity and all the buildings are concrete)

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There are LOTS of international schools for a post this size! UNIS, Concordia, Hanoi International School, QSI, St Paul's (new); as well as many others like Singapore International School, Japanese school, etc. My children go to UNIS and we love it! Concordia is building a new complex, but for now anyway, UNIS has by FAR the best facilities.

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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?

Yes, many. There are several different English-language schools that start at 18 mos- 5+ years old. Tuition depends on how often you go (full time, part-time, full day, half day), but tuitions are about $7000 for full time. UNIS and Concordia take kids starting at 3 years old, but tuition is MUCH higher.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes. There are leagues. The schools also have sports programs and after school activities.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Big. Morale is pretty good, but it helps to get out of Hanoi every so often. The craziness of a large, dirty, noisy, urban area can be exhausting at times.

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2. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Awesome regional travel, saving money, affordable household help (our first time ever having helpers)

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3. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Travel, fancy restaurants, private school tuition

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4. Can you save money?

Yes!!!

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Hanoi, Vietnam 03/13/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, Southeast Asia.

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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?

1 stop in Korea or Japan to California.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

For U.S. Embassy people, 20-25 minutes from the office. Not far but things are congested.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Mostly available. The hypermarkets are more towards the edge of town.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Not really in the world of Amazon.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Good mix of Japanese, Italian, Indian, French, Thai available and cheap. Americans are more used to Vietnamese food from the south, but it's good and you'll easily impress visitors here. Burger King, KFC, Popeyes, Dunkin Donuts recently setup shop here.

Street food is good for the adventurous. I rarely hear of people getting sick, though generally not located in the most hygienic surroundings.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Some mosquitoes in the summer. Occasionally one hears of dengue.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO and Pouch for U.S. Embassy. Honestly sending a letter through international mail isn't that bad though.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Maybe US$250/month full time.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Available but more pricey relative to other things here.

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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?

Haven't heard of ATM issues, though many machines have a small limit (US$100). Max is about US$250 at the ANZ ATM.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

If you want the bare minimum, you should learn a few pleasantries and directions. You also need to be able to pronounce your own address with the correct tones (not too hard to get that one down if you focus).

To blow away counterparts and do business will take a lot of work or marriage to a local (and oftentimes both).

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

All pretty safe. Local buses aren't all that convenient. Affordable for sure. Taxis US$4 for a 20 minute driver. Uber is here now at the same price. There are some taxis that run up the meter, but after you have lived here a week it's obvious how to spot them (not one of the main 5-6 companies).

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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 haven't seen expat Americans feel the need to purchase a car. Many do bring them from a previous transfer and drive slowly. Cabs are absurdly available, so why bother?

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, 24 Mbps fiberoptic for US$55/month. However the cable gets cut a few times a year by a "trawler" in the South China Sea and things get a little slow for a couple weeks.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring an unlocked GSM phone.

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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 limited U.S.-level salaried jobs on the local market (you would have had to find it beforehand and gotten transferred here). Opportunities in freelancing, teaching, working at NGOs.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual normally. Ties and suits if external meetings.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Not at all.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Air isn't great, need to wash vegetables well. Clinics, French Hospital, and Vinmec hospital can deal with the minor stuff (a colleague nearly lost a finger in a motorcycle accident), but the Embassy people will medevac to Singapore or Hong Kong for anything more serious.

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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. Can be worse than Beijing at times. People who ride scooters/motorbikes wear facemasks with good reason. That being said it's much better than the South Asian capitals.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Warm humid summer, cold (50s F) very humid winters. Can miss the sun for weeks at a time in the winter.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Medium--good. Complain about the weather and abundance of open green space, but they know they have it good here.

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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?

Go the Hanoi Opera House, sit an an outdoor cafe, dinner parties, go to a brewery, drink a coffee with a view overlooking a lake, hang at the American Club.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for all, though single expat women have mentioned it gets old fast.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

It's fine--not Bangkok or Saigon, but there is a community.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Motorbiking the northwest loop (Hanoi to Sapa, Dien Bien Phu, then return to Hanoi from the west).

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6. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Fascinating country, driven people, great places to visit. Not a typical SE Asia capital. Not hyper globalized (yet), not paved over with concrete (yet), lots of small businesses everywhere and the commerce is on the street.

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7. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Really big car, sense of personal space, expectations that it's a quiet city.

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3. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Vietnam: Rising Dragon
as well as Shadows and Wind: A View of Modern Vietnam.

Both great windows into Vietnam through a number of lenses (journalism, corruption, environment, dissidents, land issues)

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Hanoi itself is rarely a subject of film, but there are the classics about Vietnam, though all war-related (Indochine, Quiet American).

This is quite true but it might take you a couple weeks to get the references:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwgO7eQJBWE

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Hanoi, Vietnam 08/12/14

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Nope...other assignments in Latin America.

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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?

DC to Hanoi via Seoul is the official route. Approaching 24 hours door to door.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years: 2012-2014.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Worked at U.S. Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is limited to apartments for singles, couples, and small families. Only two or three apartment buildings are used to facilitate shuttle vans from home to the office. Each apartment building has pro's and con's so the housing pool is fairly egalitarian and 20-30 minutes to the Embassy. Higher ranked and larger families get houses 30-40 minutes to Embassy that are huge but lacking in character.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Fresh fruit, veggies, and meat from "wet" markets are very cheap. Western style grocery stores are available but inconvenient to embassy housing. There's also Metro which is a poor man's version of Costco. Recommend taking advantage of the consumables shipment.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Consumables is the main thing.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Hanoi is slow to embrace foreign franchises. Starbucks recently opened. Otherwise it's KFC, BK, Pizza Hut, a couple Filipino places and that's it. That said, you can order lots of food online and have it delivered quickly for a pittance.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Not many. Probably a lot of spraying.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Readily available and inexpensive. US$120-200/month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Apartments have gyms. Private workout facilities are avaialble at NYC prices.

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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?

Neither is terribly common.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You can get by without the local language. If you stray far from the tourist trail, it's going to be difficult.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

In Hanoi people in wheelchairs use the street. Sidewalks are unpassable for all but the most agile walkers. People with disabilities are rarely seen.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

People use all and all are cheap. A cab ride across town is rarely more than US$5-7. Buses are 10 cents (I think) and a couple brave expats use them. They can be hot and packed. Train service is possible with the best service to Sa Pa.

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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?

Probably only 1/3 of employees have them and those are the ones with kids. Smaller is better. Toyotas are the most popular and easily serviced.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Slow to moderate speed available. Free to US$50 depending on where you live.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

State control of the cell phone industry means dirt cheap prices. I paid US$5-10/month for 3G data. Well sometimes it was more like 2G or 2.5G but the price was right.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Very casual in public. Business casual to formal at work. It's a warm climate.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

IF you are a single guy, you may have some girls try to swipe your iPhone from you while another distracts you. Otherwise a very safe country.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Moderate level health care. Serious issues are medevaced to Bangkok or Singapore.

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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?

Declining unfortunately. I often biked on the weekends but was constantly getting sick. After I quit biking, I didn't get sick. Causation or correlation?

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

From April to October it's hot and humid to grossly hot and humid. Winters are pleasantly cool though it can go weeks and possibly months without any sunshine. Weather is not one of Hanoi's attributes.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Moderate. Few foreign business people in contrast to HCMC. Most expats are from foreign missions, NGOs, IOs, etc.

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2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for all. Endless street food options for those willing to pull up a plastic seat on the curb. Nicer restaurants are available too and not as overrun with expats as many other SE Asian cities.

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3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Surprisingly progressive for SE Asia. Not sure if i would go so far as to call it good though. That said, I doubt an expat gay couple would face any problems.

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4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Several African-Americans at post expressed uncomfortableness in Hanoi. Lots of stares.

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5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Touring the country. I highly recommend excursions outside of Hanoi to see the rest of Vietnam. Much of the population remains rural which is easy to forget in the loud, congested, increasingly polluted capital.

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6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

The mountainous provinces (not Sa Pa) are the real undiscovered gems of Vietnam. Google Ha Giang and you will see what I mean. Beaches are ok. Con Dao and Phu Quoc islands are supposed to be nice though I never made it to either.

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7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Paintings and lacquer stuff

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8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Cheap living, cheap international and domestic flights. Domestic help cheap and available.Compared to HCMC, Hanoi has far more cultural and historical sites to visit. The old quarter is great to walk around at any time of day. Riding a motorbike at night through the city brings a whole new perspective on the city.

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9. Can you save money?

Definitely.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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2. But don't forget your:

Spirit of adventure. Vietnam is a great country to explore.

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3. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Oodles of books about the Vietnam war.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Oodles of movies about the Vietnam war.

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Hanoi, Vietnam 12/13/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Second expat experience.

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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?

North California. From there flight has one or more lay-over, usually in Hong-Kong or Singapore. It is a 24 hour trip or so.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A year and a half.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Foreign Services, EFM.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

The embassy has several apartment compounds and houses for the personnel that are OK. Commute to the Embassy varies from 15 to 30 minutes depending of the location with no traffic, to 30to 45 minutes with traffic. The apartments are OK but the typical Vietnamese design (narrow and deep, on several floors) makes our apartment very dark. We have to turn on the lights during the day even when it is very sunny. Housing is all equipped with reversible A/C, which is a blessing with the hot and humid weather. You’ll find yourself using the heater at night a few weeks during the winter.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

I find almost anything we need here, but we tend to use local products as much as possible. It is quite cheap. There are two main types of supermarket SuperCenter and Metro. Metro is like Costco. I find that SuperCenter has more imported products. For veggies and fruits, I rely on my helper who goes to the market: it is usually cheaper. If you’re looking at high-end imported products, there are a few specialty shops, butchers and companies around Tay Ho lake that cater to foreigners’ needs. French Bakeries are everywhere around town.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Any brand that you cannot go without: imported products are expensive and you might not find the one you like. Also, good olive oil, non-sweetened muesli, shoes and clothes in your size (unless you are petite), facial care products (here they all contain whitener), soft laundry soap and dishwasher soap, unscented Clorox, baking goods (like your favorite whole wheat flour or yeast).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

KFC is here. There are two local brands: Highlander’s Café and Nguyen’s. Bia Hoi is the main gig for low cost beer and cheap food. There are thousands of small eateries everywhere, right there on your sidewalk, for a buck or two (beware of food safety). A lot of western and international restaurants from reasonable to extremely expensive (Thai, Japanese, French, Italian, Indian, Korean, German.) There is a newcomers guide available that gives you an idea of to start looking. The CLO provides it. The New Hanoian website is also a great resource.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

I haven’t seen a lot, but there is a small corner in the Fivimart in the Serenade center. Tofu is everywhere. Be aware that Mono Glutamate Sodium is used a lot in Asian cuisine and found in almost dish here in Vietnam.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes are the main worry, with endemic Dengue fever. Don't forget to bring mosquito spray with DEET. In the countryside during wet season, beware of fleas, ticks, and leeches.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Help is really cheap. Good help can take a little time to find. English- speaking help is rarer, but the CLO keeps track of the helpers who have worked for embassy personnel in the past. Having a helper is a life-saver if you do not speak Vietnamese, as they will do your shopping, pay your bills, and deal with the maintenance guys for you.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes. There are several fitness centers in Hanoi and several golf courses around. Most brand name hotels have a decent gym with membership. The embassy has a small gym, as do most compounds, which also have swimming pools and some tennis courts. The American Club has a volleyball court and a playground.

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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?

This is a cash economy. There are ATM in front of most hotels and compounds and main hotels accept VISA, Mastercard and Amex. There is some credit card fraud here, so I would be very careful in checking my statement if I were using it. I always pay cash, and carry only the money I am planning to spend with me. Never more.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

There is one English-language newspaper: Vietnam News. We have the cable in our apartment. It comes with it.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

A few words of Vietnamese will take you a long way to shop and go around. It will surely enhance your relations with the people you’ll meet.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

A lot of difficulties. There is no infrastructure to cater for disabled persons. Sidewalks -– when they exist -– are used to drive on, park on, display one’s shop’s content on, eat or drink, chat, but not to walk on. That would be too trivial! Apartments are often set on two floors with a set of stairs.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are cheap and you can go around town for only a few bucks, without ever needing anything else. They are everywhere, including in front of the supermarkets. To go further out, there are plenty of organized tours, trains that are relatively safe and comfortable (but noisy), if you chose the highest category. You can also fly –- lots of domestic connections.

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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 people do not bring a car here because of the crazy traffic, potholes, and driving habits. I found that having a car allowed us to go out of town on the week-ends, to the countryside, which is beautiful and doesn’t have the same crazy traffic (but you still have to be really careful). We have 2 bicycles that we use regularly on the trails, or we go for a walk. It gives us a breather. If you stick to Hanoi, any car will do, the smaller, the better for lack of parking space (there are none) and traffic. If you plan to go around, then a high clearance vehicle really makes the difference, whether you’re going to stick on the main roads, or venture on the smaller ones (dirt roads).

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is supposed to be high-speed, but actual quality has ups and downs. Speed tends to go down in the evening. We pay about US$55/month. It’s OK to browse, but VOIP can be a challenge at times. Don’t hesitate to change providers if you’re not happy with the service.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

SIM cards and pre-paid loads are available everywhere on the street. Real cheap. Plenty of shops to buy a phone. The Vietnamese love their cell phones and text all the time, including while driving their scooters.

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

No idea, but several people have pets here and they seem satisfied with what they found locally. If you have a dog, you have to be really careful of your surroundings. I’ve heard/read stories of dogs being kidnapped and then ransomed. And if you don’t want to pay, it’s ok: they’ll eat it. By the same token, cats should not be allowed outside.

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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?

Unless you are a English teacher or you speak Vietnamese, not really. Local wages are very low. Some positions in the mission are offered to household members.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual at work. Outside, casual.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Hanoi used to be very safe. However, this is NOT the case anymore. Beside the classic pickpocket activity you'll find in any big cities around the world, there are more and more report of mugging and organized team of thieves. You have to be especially careful at night in the Old Quarter. Don't go out alone and always take a taxi from a reputable company. Leave your passport in your locked suitcase or safe or at home and keep only a copy with you. Don't carry big handbag that shouts "snatch-me".



Never take a moto-taxi (xe om) late at night: they are not the same persons you'll see during the days and have been known to prowl on drunken tourist. There is also a lot of scam from unofficial taxi drivers, or even minibus drivers in some cases. Always use a “marked” and well known brand of taxi. Make a show of learning the license plate number before boarding and make sure they use the meter. During the trip, check that the meter doesn’t get a “fever”. If so, stop immediately the taxi, pay the fare (don’t discuss... this is useless and possibly opens to retaliation) and if possible report the license number to the taxi company or police station.

The main danger is the traffic: the favorite transportation means is the motorbike and everybody in Hanoi has one. If you plan on riding a motorbike, bring your own –- DOT certified –- helmet. Local helmets are more likely to serve as a bucket than a helmet. There are no rules whatsoever (well, they're must be some, but nobody cares) and traffic goes everywhere: road, sidewalks, both directions in one-way streets, red light are green, etc. Bus, taxi, bicycles, motorbike, cars, buses: all use their horn all the time and for everything, which means nothing. This is overwhelming at first you won't be able to stand outside for more than 5 minutes. Then you'll brave the noise and will juggle with everybody else to avoid been push, squash, bump, or roll over. Driving can be a challenge and a lot of people hire a driver. That being said, we have both a motorbike and a car and with a lot of extra caution, you can get by. Expect your vehicle to be bumped within the first month of arrival.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Basic health care is OK locally and you can have braces put on for cheaper than in the US. For anything serious you’ll get Medevaced to Bangkok.

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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?

There is a very unhealthy air pollution in Hanoi. A lot of people are suffering from respiratory problems, coughing, and allergies. And if you didn't have any before arriving, you might leave with some. Water is not drinkable and hard on the skin. Cholera is an issue. Food safety is an issue. You’ll have to be really careful to clean thoroughly everything you buy. There is also noise pollution: the traffic here is horrendous and every single driver uses the horn every second.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Winter is cold and dry, summer very hot and humid with a small chance of typhoon. Floods happen regularly in some areas, but we haven’t seen any.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

They are several international schools. Most families among the embassy community use UNIS.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, at UNIS.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Quite big, from all over the world.

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2. Morale among expats:

It varies greatly. Some like it, some hate it and some are in the middle, with a tendency to be worn-out towards the end of their tours.

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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?

It is what you make of it.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This city is good for everybody; families with kids will miss playgrounds, but UNIS offers some kids’ activities. Foreign men will have plenty of opportunity to date, unlike foreign women.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

There seems to be an underground gay scene, but I haven’t heard or seen of anything for lesbians.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes. Despite the local government line, freedom of religion doesn’t exist here and local Christian minorities encounter a lot of pressures. Buddhism/Confucianism is the main religion. Also, people of African-American origins might be stared at more than they are comfortable with. This is a machismo society. If you are a woman, forget expectations of gallantry.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Halong Bay's reputation is not misguided: plan 2 to 3 days of cruising to discover this magic place. Bicycling in the country-side around Hanoi is a real breather.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

People watching: this is a busy town. Have a drink at one of the hundred Bia Hoi restaurants; discover the remains of the French architecture. Travel around the country to discover Ha Long Bay, Sapa, Hoi An, Saigon, and the ethnic minorities. Visit the temples, museums, go to see a water-puppets show. Travel across South-East Asia. Join the Hanoi Hash House Harrier and run/ walk in the countryside every weekend, enjoying a much needed bowl of almost fresh air. Dine out every day for less than US$5/head. Take a Vietnamese cuisine class. Taste snake dishes. Go wild shopping in the different artisans’ villages (silks, cloths, pottery, arts, music instruments). Join the Women’s Club or one of the many NGO’s and get involved. Cultural life is somewhat limited to a few museums, a scarce opera program and some cinemas of questionable qualities (but they show international blockbusters in English version with Vietnamese subtitles). Nightlife is said to be good but very young.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Artwork, hand-made clothes, silk, lacquer, gems, pearls.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It is a good point of departure to travel through South-East Asia. And if you avoid traveling extensively, you can save a lot of money. But then you'll miss a lot of things.

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11. Can you save money?

Plenty, if you don’t spend it traveling all the time through Vietnam and around, or going out to nice restaurants.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

For a hardship post, it is not that bad. It is still pretty safe to go around if you take basic precautions. Life around here is mostly what you make of it. I’m glad we are here, it is a rich experience, but one time is enough.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Expectation of privacy. Expectation of gallantry if you are a woman. Dream of aquiet beach under the sun.

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3. But don't forget your:

Zen attitude. Shoes in your size. Travel guide to south-east Asia. Motorcycle helmet.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Hanoi, Vietnam 08/23/11

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

3rd expat experience.

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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?

From Washington it takes about 17 hours flying time usually connecting through Tokyo, Seoul or Bangkok.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Have been living in Hanoi 2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Embassy staff are either in apartments closer in (of various shapes, sizes and configurations) but all have pools - some have tennis courts. Many also live in large houses usually with 3-4 levels. (Lots of stairs!)From the apartments commute time can be 15 - 30 minutes. From houses commutes would be more like 20-40 minutes depending on where you work.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

You usually can find much of what you need here though imported goods are pricy.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Wax paper, mexican food items especially beans, large containers of peanut butter, good wine, chocolate chips, preferred cereal brands.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

No fast food except KFC and Pizza Hut, though I heard Subway was coming.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

There are some organic local vegetables but they are expensive and not widely available. Organic hasn't taken off here yet.

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes are the main problem which carry dengue. This is more of an issue for those living near the lakes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help is very easy to find. Most seem to pay somewhere between $250 - $350 a month for a full time maid. Many folks have drivers - not sure of the costs for them.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, but people complain that they are expensive.

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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?

Credit cards are still not used in many places but there are ATMs around the city. Be careful though because some are not grounded properly and have electrocuted people when it's raining.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, I believe so.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Any would be helpful. I get by with enough Vietnamese to direct a taxi driver.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many obstacles exist everywhere! It would be tough.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

All are affordable. Taxi's are plentiful are fairly cheap. (Unless you get one that's trying to rip you off.)I haven't taken buses but I know some people who do.

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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?

A small car (or no car) would be fine here. Some choose to buy scooters because it's easier to get around, park etc. We have a larger vehicle and are not unhappy we brought it because the streets are being torn up alot. Parking is not always easy though.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes - our "high speed" internet costs about $55 a month. (It's not very speedy though.)

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

Possibly if you have NGO experience.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

The Vietnamese usually dress up a bit more than the average American. Most men wear collared shirts.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Hanoi is relatively safe with a few caveats. Crazy traffic is the major security concern. Cars and scooters enter the road without looking, scooters are overloaded with everything imaginable, there are limited cross walks and during rush hour scooters use the sidewalks so even pedestrians are at risk. There are pick pockets especially around Tet. And there does seem to be a rise in house break-ins in the expat neighborhoods.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Hanoi has SOS, Family Medical Clinic and the French Hospital but care is very spotty. No major issues can be addressed here - you need to go to Bangkok or Singapore. For example, you can't even get a mammogram in Hanoi.

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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?

Air quality can be very bad especially in the winter or when there is no wind to push it out of the area. It's not as bad as Beijing but can get close on bad days.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Springs are generally wet with thunderstorms in the afternoon. Summer is hot and humid. Fall is the best time of year. Winter can get as cold as the 40's.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

UNIS (United Nations International School) is where most expats send their kids although there are beginning to be more options for international schools such as a new American school that is just getting underway this year. UNIS has an IB curriculum from pre -k to 12.UNIS isn't perfect in all respects but it has excellent facilities, teachers and programs. We have kids in the Elementary school and most people we know are very pleased with UNIS.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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 lots of pre-ks that are for profit and it shows. However, there are a good number of them though and so people seem to generally find a pre-k they are happy with.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Only at the schools and they are limited.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Very large - very diverse.

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally good - I don't know anyone who is miserable. I know many people who enjoy Hanoi even with its issues.

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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?

People go to restaurants or entertain at home. Lots of expat get-togethers.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Hanoi is good for families due to the good school and low crime butit lacks parks and other places to enjoy family time during the weekend. I think singles find it just ok --- most bars and restaurants close around 11pm. Men would certainly find Hanoi more appealing than women!

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not really but it is rare to see someone of African descent here. I would think it would be difficult.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

We've been able to travel to many places around Vietnam and SE Asia - Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Temple of Literature, Ethnology Museum, Old Quarter, exploring the street food, "Hanoi Hilton" and military museum, history museum. The famous Halong Bay (with the iconic limestone pillars of islands) is about 3 hours away by car.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Lacquer, silk, furniture

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Good travel in the country and regionally. Food is good and the culture is interesting. Hanoi is buzzing and vibrant.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, I think so.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes - we complain a lot but Hanoi has a good school for our kids, interesting work and is generally a fascinating (though sometimes frustrating) place to be.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

need for traffic rules, sidewalks and quiet.

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3. But don't forget your:

sunglasses, a good hat and your sense of humor.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

The key to happiness in Hanoi is getting out every couple/few months - luckily this is easy to do. Hanoi can be very claustrophobia inducing due to the crowds of people and honking scooters. But Hanoi also allows you a window into what most Asian cities used to be. And the political situation here is so interesting too.

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Hanoi, Vietnam 05/23/10

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

This is my 5th expat experience.

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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, D.C. Trip takes about 24 hours or so, including layovers. Layovers are in Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong or Beijing.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomat with the US Embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most singles and small families are in apartments, and larger families and section heads are in houses. Don't get your hopes up; housing here is well below par compared to other places I've served. There are constant problems with power outages, plumbing, etc. Everything breaks down all the time.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Local groceries and supplies are cheap. If you need U.S. brands, they are a bit more expensive than in the U.S.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Canned goods, spices, dried goods, paper towels, napkins, soft toilet paper, etc.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Local standard Vietnamese food is very cheap but not that yummy. Western foods are ok, not quite up to U.S. standards, yet they cost a bit more than in the U.S.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Not much that I can think of in Hanoi. We have little gecko-type lizards in houses and apartments, but I hear they're actually good for you, because they eat mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Pouch and FPO. But for some reason, it takes a very long time. Several people I know, including me, have had to wait 2 months for letters and packages to arrive.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help runs about $250 a month, but the quality is not high. You get what you pay for.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a good gym in the embassy annex. Also, most apartment buildings have small gyms. You can also join a health club in a hotel, but I hear it is very expensive.

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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?

No credit cards are accepted other than at the fancy hotels. There are ATM machines all over, but the daily withdrawal limit is low, at around $100, I believe.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, I believe they are all here, all denominations except Jehova's Witnesses.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Cable TV is normally provided for free by the apartment complex and includes English channels. I'm not aware of any U.S. print newspapers.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

The quality of life will be limited if you don't know any basic Vietnamese. Most people do not speak Engligh, even in the city.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Mucho. The city was not designed for people with handicaps.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are cheap and affordable. I wouldn't try the buses, they are strictly for the locals.

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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?

Don't bring a car. The embassy apartments have very limited parking. Also, it's very difficult to drive here, because of the traffic and narrow streets. And even when you get where you are going, there is no parking.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Are you joking? They call it high speed, but it's low speed. You can surf the net most of the time, but at times, it can take minutes to load a page. And they charge about $65 a month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The embassy will issue you a cell phone. If you need a second one, it's relatively cheap - pay as you go.

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Very poor. I'm not aware of any kennels. Most of the dogs and cats have fleas.

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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 really, unless you can find a job inside the embassy as an EFM.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual to semi-professional.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Not really. Petty crime is on the rise, but violent crime is very rare.

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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 below par. For any serious medical issues you will have to be sent to Singapore or Hong Kong.

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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?

They say the air quality is bad, but I don't think it's worse than in any major U.S. city.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Winters are nice. Summers are extremely hot and very humid. Pretty much unbearable. Fall and spring are ok.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

I think you might have problems here. There are no accommodations for physically-challenged people.

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Not sure of the exact number, but I would say medium to large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Some like it, some don't. It's what you make of it.

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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?

Visiting with friends, meeting at restaurants, etc.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It's ok for singles, but nightlife is limited. It is very easy to find a girlfriend, though, but I'm pretty sure they are all looking for green cards. I hear it's better for families.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes, I hear there is a small underground community for gays. Also, Saigon and Bangkok are less than two hours away by plane.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Somewhat. The government, as well as the majority of the population, doesn't like catholics. Not so much racial prejudice, unless you are African-American. Inter-racial couples with Asian-looking wives may get harassed on the streets.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Travel to Bangkok and Saigon for extended weekend trips. You can save money if you can live a local lifestyle.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Visit with friends, play tennis, check out the French architecture, and visit museums.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Silk, furniture, and pottery.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

This is a nice quiet, city with low violent crime. There are some purse-snatchings and other petty crimes, but it is much safer than any major U.S. city. Also, it's relatively easy to travel the region from here.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't travel much and dine out at expat-type of restaurants.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Probably not.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Car, valuables, and fancy clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor. You will need it just to get by on a daily basis.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

1956.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Lover.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

In some ways, because of the traffic and because of the population density, life in Hanoi can be very hectic.

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Hanoi, Vietnam 12/19/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No.

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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?

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing is worse than at most other posts. The houses are farther out and have an unappealing commute (on an ugly, slow road) into the city center. They are large but have almost no yards and are mostly on a somewhat dangerous street full of brothels. The apartments are small, lack closet space, and are often unattractive. However, they are serviceable and close to work and after-hours entertainment.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Limited availability. You get a consumibles allowance, so tht can help fill in any gaps.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Food is very good and reasonably priced.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

You name it. Dengue has become a serious concern, and several embassy persons have gotten it.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Embassy staff can use DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Fulltime $200-300/month.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

The embassy has a very good one. Some of the apartment buildings also have gyms.

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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?

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It really helps to learn Vietnamese. Not many locals speak English. But this is a very difficult language, so you have to be somewhat committed.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Nothing is wheelchair accessible.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are cheap and plentiful.

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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?

Vietnamese mechanics are great. They can keep anything running for a modest sum. You see a lot of Japanese and Korean cars on the roads, so that would be a good choice.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, works fine.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

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Pets:

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?

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Very unhealthy, unfortunately. Some days are simply awful and you shouldn't even venture outside. When the city gets a breeze, though, things improve.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Very little crime, mostly pickpocketing.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Medical care is good and often cheap. Great place to put the kid in braces.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

For 6 months it is very, very hot and humid. The other 6 months are fine: cool winter and pleasant spring, fall.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

UNIS has become a very good school. Most parents are pleased with it. It's not an American school, so your kid won't get as much American social studies as in an American school - and there are a lot of PC-ish topics like global warming. But it's a well-run place for the most part.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Almost none.

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

UNIS is the place for that. Otherwise, the offerings are limited.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally high. Most people seem delighted to be here and accept the associated hardships.

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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?

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Singles tend to like it. There's a good nightlife among expats. Single guys can date always-willing Vietnamese women. Families like it for the excellent school, cheap household help and low crime.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes, Vietnamese don't know how to act around foreigners and can be bothersome. This can be especially uncomfortable for those of African descent.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Vietnam is a great country to travel in - mountains, beaches, cultural spots.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

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9. Can you save money?

Yes. Even with the weak dollar, Vietnam remains a cheap country.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

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3. But don't forget your:

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

You should have no illusions: Hanoi is a hardship post. The air and noise pollution is bad, and it's largely an unwalkable city. There is also not an abundance of things to do. Single western women will generally not date here. It won't work with Vietnamese men, and Western men will be beating off 19-year old Vietnamese women with a stick. If that bothers you (and I mention it because a few Western women seemed troubled by that unfortunte, sexist imbalance), don't come. Having said that, Vietnam is a real cultural immersion. I haven't met a single employee of the mission who said he/she regrets having come here, although some say 2 years is sufficient. You just have to accept the downsides and enjoy the amazing cuisine, cheap lifestyle, plentiful $10 massages, excellent international school, etc. There are worse, much worse, 25% differential posts out there.

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Hanoi, Vietnam 02/11/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No - lived in South and Southeast Asia.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Via Tokyo or Seoul to the U.S.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Most people live in apartments or very narrow houses at the center of town. 20-25 minutes commute is the norm. Hard to spend more time than that commuting unless you live in the outskirts.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

A few stores are good for produce. The markets have outstanding qualities and selections. Most western goods are available.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Toiletries, especially makeup and deodorant. Ethnic groceries (Mexican, spices, etc.). Books.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Hanoi has many, many good restaurants, most of them offer home delivery, and all are affordable. You will eat well.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

No mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Domestic mail is very cheap and reliable. International less so.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Reasonable and readily available.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Plenty of workout options and parks.

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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?

Credit cards are catching on. ATMs are pretty much everywhere.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Catholic mostly.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Vietnam News is pubished daily. State-run and cheap. You get what you pay for.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It is becoming less important to know Vietnamese. It's a romanized alphabet, you can make do with a few phrases. Having the language is always a plus.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

No handicap facilities of any kind.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis are plentiful and very affordable. A typical 20-minute ride will cost $3.

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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?

We thought we would need a 4x4 SUV, but we were wrong. Still, it's nice to sit above the crowded, mostly-motorcycle, traffic.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Cheap and plentiful.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Excellent cell phone service available throughout the country.

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Pets:

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.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are some good vets in town, including some that board. I have had mixed experiences on boarding, but the vet care is good, especially the "French" vet.

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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?

Vietnam has a dearth of skilled labor, so there are many opportunities for work. With the economic crisis beginning to bite, many expats are being let go.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

A jacket with no tie is the preferred dress code. But ties are not rare.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Moderate.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

None really.

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Few. The following is a relatively rare problem. Some prey upon unsuspecting tourists. Airport and train stations are key spots for those. Some pickpocketing. Gypsy cabs are a problems -- and the main source of problems with tourists. Do not take a cab that looks makeshift. There are plenty of good companies, and they will have their logos painted (not pasted) all over the cars.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

A lot of dust from construction and traffic fumes. Otherwise, the air is not foul.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Seasonal. Always humid. The winter is mild, the autumn and spring are pleasant, the summer is brutally hot and humid.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Excellent UN school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Quite large for such a relatively small city.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty high. You met very few people who are not happy to be here.

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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?

Outstanding. Most places are forced to close by 11. But "underground" bars will stay open later. Check your Lonely Planet for details.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Excellent for all.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Probably.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

No.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Plenty of fun day-trips, plenty of sighseeing activities in the city. Cat Ba and Ha Long are 3 hours away. Sapa is on overnight train trip away.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Furniture. Art. Vintage motorcycles.

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9. Can you save money?

Of course.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Scuba diving and camping gear, unfortunately. Booze.

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3. But don't forget your:

Western-size clothes, especially shoes and sports gear. Haggis.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Sorrow of War.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Sorrow of War.

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Scent of Green Papaya. Indochine.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Have patience with the people and the traffic, and you'll do well. The people will warm up to you if you try to talk. The traffic.. well it just takes patience.

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Hanoi, Vietnam 09/27/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No; Bangkok, Beijing, Jakarta, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Two years.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Connections to/from Hanoi are very limited with over 80% of international air traffic taking place through Ho Chi Minh City. From the the east coast of the U.S. to Hanoi is about 28 hours total travel time including lay-overs. Most common routes from Hanoi to the U.S. are via Seoul or Tokyo. Flightss leave Hanoi at mid-night and 1 a.m. with early morning arrival in Japan and South Korea. Lay-overs in Tokyo can be 8-12 hours and Seoul are about 5 hours. Flights back to Hanoi generally arrive late in the evening. Some fly through Bangkok but this requires an overnight stay in Bangkok before connecting to Tokyo. Flights through Hong Kong and Taipei are also available but due to lack of competetion are expensive and often cost as much as a ticket to the U.S. or Europe.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing can be spacious but problematic. Hanoi has only opened up to the international community in the past 10 years so the pool of housing that most expats would expect is very limited and new construction slow. Coupled with limited supply and an increase in expat population due to Vietnam's economic growth, there is high demand for housing with new units often rented in days at high prices above the normal value of the unit. Construction quality is poor (one person said houses in Vietnam age in dog years) and even brand new homes require extensive maintainence. My house is less than two years old and there is at least one repair needed daily. My driver has become a full time handyman and would recommend anyone with a house find someone that can be available part time to take care of problems. Electrical outlets are not grounded and six months ago the transformer outside our house failed surging power across the powerlines into our house. Any electrical appliance plugged into the wall was ruined including the stove, frig, microwave, water pump, all a/c units, tv's, dvd players, stereo, phones, cell phones on chargers, etc. The only item saved was the computer as it was plugged into an expensive surge protector. Vietnamese like wood for doors, windows frames, shutters, floors etc however the wood is green and untreated so wooden elements warp and crack quickly. New doors and windows quickly become jammed and will not open. Selection of Embassy housing pool is very limited. While most people are satsified, few are impressed. Embassy housing is a mix of apartments with unusual lay-outs and free standing homes. Hanoi is relatively small and one person said a commute to any location is about 15-20 minutes. However traffic is becoming increasingly worse and the small old French alleys which are most of the roads in downtown are Hanoi are quickly becoming jammed. Twice in the past six months our normal 20 minute commute home has taken 2 to 4 hours.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Unless you are shopping for tourist items, shopping in Hanoi is limited. There are no moderngrocery stores although there is a Metro and Big C which are something like a Wal-Mart with some food items as well as clothes. There are a few very small gourmet-style stores in Hanoi with importanted items from Europe and the U.S. which are about 2-3 times the price. In addition, they receive their shipments every few months qnd items can be out of stock. We like one shop that imports good cheeses from France and Europe but once supplies are out they may not get another shipment for months. So if you like it and they have it, buy it. Local Vietnamese stores carry a moderate variety of mostly off-brand items (mainly from China) which are very inexpensive and of questionable quality. We bought a kitchen knife from one that shattered the first time we used it. For the U.S. Embassy Vietnam is a consumables post and would recommend using the allowance to purchase all your basics. We brought everything including diapers, baby-food, baby-formula, shampoo, your favorite wine/beer by the case, over-the-counter medications, baby meds (a must as there are none here), mustard, Tabasco hot sauce, pasta sauce, cannned goods, paper towels, household cleaners, chips, breakfast cereals, and any other item with a long shelf life. In addition, Embassy staff are allowed to be members of the commissary at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and dedicated commissary flights from Bangkok come about once every 2-3 months. Otherwise Hanoi is an APO and Netgrocer.com is an option to get food. Local produce and meat is inexpensive but there are questions about sanitation. Meat is typically slaughtered and sold that day in open stalls on the side of the road. Imported beef from Australia is available at one shop. Local fruits are plentiful, cheap, and safe to eat, however are usually sold only when in season. Name brand detergints, soaps, and shampoos are available on the local market but selections are limited.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

We used our full 3,000 lbs of consumeables so we have had everything we have needed. I would do a consumeables shipment again and include more mosquito repellant.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Very limited fast food options. KFC just arrived a few months after we came here and now has about a dozen outlets. Lotteria, a Korean chain, is also making inroads. Save these two there are no other major fast food franchises in Hanoi. Outside French food Vietnam also has very few other international specialities available. Finding a good hamburger, steak, sandwich or salad, is difficult as well as restaurants with good Italian, German, or even Chinese. However, this is not a problem as Vietnam cuisine is terrific and generally cheap. There also is no Starbucks but Vietnam has developed their own version called Highlands coffee which serves Vietnamese coffee and in some ways ise superior to Starbucks in terms of decor, location, coffee, and price.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Hanoi has APO/FPO access which is a godsend. The local Vietnamese post is slow and unreliable, with packages broken or lost. Fedex has just begun service to Hanoi for priority packages.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Domestic help is cheap but annual inflation of 35% has impacted on the local popluation and begun something of a wage-price spiral. Full time maids/nannies/drivers all cost about US $200 per month (for a limited English speaker) but have local workers been demanding higher salaries due to inflation. Part-time or cooks that only work afternoons are about US $100-150 a month. There is also growing wage gap as those that speak English demand about 20-50% higher wages than those that do not. We have fired three maids and interviewed about a dozen before finding one that would work full time for a reasonable wage. Many wanted to work short hours of 9-3 including lunch and one hour siesta for full time wages.

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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?

Outside major hotels and a few restaurants or tourist shops, credit card use is limited as Vietnam remains largely a cash-based economy. Items are billed in both U.S. dollars and Vietnamese Dong and either are accpeted for payment. ATMs are common, however frequent fraud has been reported when using ATMs associated with Vietnamese banks. ATMs for larger non-Vietnamese international banks are generally safe, but less in number.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and evangelical donominaitons have limited services available.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

All press is controlled in Vietnam. The one English newspaper is the mouthpiece of the government and is cheap. International publications are available in very limited locations and limited supplies about 10-20% more expensive than outside Vietnam. Cable television with CNN, BBC, ESPN, MTV, STAR (world, movies, sports), HBO, Cinemax, Discovery, NatGeo, Hallmark,CCTV (4 and 9), TV Monde, Arirang, and some Russian channels, are all available and uncensored. The price for expats is about US$50 a month but if you can register in the name of a Vietnamese the price is about half.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Get as much Vietnamese language as you can get. You can function in Vietnam without the language but you will be severly handicapped. Business contacts, landlords, workers, employees, electricians, plumbers, cable guys, internet repair technicians, taxi drivers, bill collectors, and other individuals upon which you will rely on a daily basis only speak Vietnamese. You will eventually need a maid, driver, or staff who can be available to translate for you in order to get routine tasks done. We took only three months of Vietnamese which covered only th basics (learning the basic sounds and tones takes a month) and it was not enough to be able onvey simple ideas other than directions to taxi drivers.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes; there are no provisions for those with physical limitations. Due to the small space and high density population most residences are narrow units with several sets of stairs. Sidewalks are uneven, broken, or nonexistant. Crossing walks are not clearly marked and not heeded.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Vietnam drives on the right side of the road with the steering wheel on the left of the car.(The same as the U.S. and continental Europe.) Cars with steering wheels on the right are not allowed.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

There are no mass transit trains in Vietnam's cities. Train travel between cities is acceptable and many expats have enjoyed using trains to see the countryside. Buses are crowded with limited routes and long waits. Petty crime is also a problem so few use buses for transportation. Taxis are reliable and inexpensive. Use of larger well known companies is advised as smaller independent taxi operators have been know to rig the meter or take passengers on longer routes. Even the drivers from large companies have been know to take the long way there but customers can call and complain with the taxi number to seek redress. Preferred companies are CP Taxi, Hanoi Taxi and Mei Linh Taxi. Taxis from these companies must frequently be called as the generally prefer to wait near large hotels or other tourist areas and do not roam the city looking for fares. Business cards with addresses for destinations are very helpful as taxi drivers do not speak English.

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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?

Roads in downtown Hanoi are small and better suited for a smaller cars. However, road quality even in Hanoi is poor and most people prefer SUV's due to large potholes or poorly maintained roads. Popular models are Landcruisers and locally made Ford's SUV's. Again due to the boom in expats there is a waiting list for new Landcruisers. The second hand car market is currently limited as the number of cars in Vietnam is just starting to grow. Small 125 cc engine motor scooters are the preferred method trasport for most Vietnamese as well as a few adventurous expats. Traffic is utter chaos and few traffic laws are obeyed even though there are limited attempts at enforcement. Expect your car to be involved in an accident and that scooters with scrap you doors, fenders, and mirrors as they inch by in the congestion. So would recommend against bringing a new car. One U.S Embassy officer brought a new Ford Mustang and his apartment garage decided to paint the ceiling without telling anyone dripping paint on the shiny new sports car. Not to worry as the workman used gasoline and steelwool brushes to remove the spilled paint. In an effort curb traffic congestion, the Vietnamese government has placed high tariffs on car imports as well as a high sales tax which is now at 80%.These fees are waved for diplomats. Mirrors ornaments, lights, and other exterior components must taken to a local shop to be modified and bolted to the car as thieves frequently steal them. We had two hub caps stolen and one officer had both sideview mirrors taken. Gas tanks must be secured as thieves will siphon gas if the car is left out over night. Car theft is rare and carjackings unheard of. Parking is also a problem, as there is little to no designated parking in downtown Hanoi. This is another reason expats frequently employ drivers who will drive the car to a side street to wait and watch the car while their employers are dining or shopping. Car repair and maintainence is reasonable and reliable.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

ADSL high speed internet is available. It is reliable and speeds are acceptable but not as fast as in other more developed locations. The internet is not censored. The price for expats is about $60 a month but if you can register in the name of a Vietnamese the price is less than half. Dial-up is also available at much lower prices but quality is poor and the number of users dropping.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Cell phones are plentiful, cheap, and readily available, and most people have and use cell phones for their communication needs. However they are generally limited to calling and text messages and do not have the more advanced options of internet surfing or email. Most use prepaid phone cards. There are seven local cell phone providers with Mobiphone and Viettel being the most popular. Cell service is generally not bad but there are a few locations such as inside buildings or the remote countryside where coverage is weak. International roaming is only available for cell phones with contracts. In order to sign up for a contract service one must have identification indicating residence in Vietnam and go to the main post office to fill out the paperwork and make a substantial deposit. The Embassy provides cell phones to all staff but requires certification of all international calls.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Vietnam has the most expensive international phone rates in Asia. Almost everyone uses Skype, Vonage or some other internet calling option to make international phone calls. The U.S Embassy has a tie-line available to the staff.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Poor. A local kennel lost the dog of one Embassy family and killed the puppy of another Embassy officer. In both cases foul play was suspected in that the dogs may have been sold instead of returned to their owners. There are no dog parks and few places for dogs to play. Strays with a number of diseases are also common and Vietnamese often allow their dogs to roam free. Vietnamese also regularly eat dog. Cats are less of a problem.

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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?

English teachers are in demand although wages are not high stating out at less than $800 per month. Other expats have tended to carve out their own employment with some writing freelance journals, others starting distillaries, and some opening their own restaurants. Work permits are relatively easy with the help of a Vietnamese lawyer and some well placed

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

While business suits are worn for the most important meetings, business attire expecially in the summer months can be more casual such as no ties, no jackets, and open collar dress shirts. Dress in public is similar to other developed countries although highly revealing clothing may provoke disapproving looks and some temples do not allow shorts.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Good to moderate. Some dust from massive ongoing construction and vehicles. Compared to other Asian cities it is good.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There is some minor petty theft from pick-pockets. Much safer than similar size U.S. or European city though.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Health care in Hanoi is generally considered poor. Chlorea and H5N1 bird flu is endemic to Hanoi. Dengue is a problem during the summer months. Tap water is not potable. There are problems with fake drugs in the local pharmacies. There are two clinics in Hanoi with staffs of expat doctors; Hanoi Family Medical Practice and SOS.These clinics are quite good for average medical issues however they are reluctant to address chronic medical problems or serious emergenies. The U.S. Embassy prefers to medivac individuals to Bangkok or elsewhere in case of serious emergency in which travel is still possible. The French hospital is also considered not bad and has acceptable levels of care. However one Embassy officer was forced to negotiate the price for his treatment with his doctor while the doctor was stitching up his forehead.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hanoi has four seasons which is often a surprise for new comers who assume it is tropical. Fall from Nov-Dec is best. Winter is easily tolerable but can get wet and cool down to around 10 C in the early morning from Jan-Mar .So bring a jacket. Spring from April to May is short and generally wet. Summer begins in June but the months of July and August are the hottest (28-32 C) and the most humid. More humid and uncomfortable than in Ho Chi Minh City. The humidity drops and weather cools a bit to 24-26 C by September but it is still warm until Nov.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Hanoi International School and the United Nations International School (UNIS).There are also French, Korean, and Japanese language schools. The U.S. Embassy only accredited the HIS and UNIS with meeting U.S. standards for the first time in 2006. Prior to that families with school age children were not encouraged to come to Hanoi. Education is still the number one concern among the U.S. Embassy community. Parents feel the curriculum is not challenging and that children are studying material covered in earlier grades in the U.S.In addition and like housing, demand is growing and supply is limited so getting children into these two schools is increasingly difficult. As of this writing there are over 200 students on the waiting list for both HIs and UNIS so get your application in early. There are no summer activities associated with the schools.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

UNIS offers special needs education but have limited resources and no dedicated teachers. HIS has no program for special needs. Therefore U.S. Embassy does not recommend families with speciaL needs consider Hanoi.

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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?

Unlike primary and secondary school there is a large supply of preschool options at reasonable rpices ranging from less than US$100 a month for the lowest quality to US$400 a month for half day and US$550 for a full day at the best schools. Our son attends preschool for half-days and we are very happy with the cost and quality.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Small and mostly diplomatic. The international business community is centered in Ho Chi Minh City.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good altough most have the usual complaints about traffic, quality of goods and services and lack of activities.

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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?

Social life is limited. There are enough restaurants to avoid monotony and new ones are opening quite often. However, you will frequently find yourself going to the same old favorites. People also entertain at home as an alternative to visiting the same locations every weekend. That said parties are often attended by the same crowd as the community is small. Local Vietnamese restaurants are endless but quality (noisy, crowded, no A/C, poor food, smells) and sanitaton often deter people from dining in these establishments. There are about a dozen small but decent bars/nightclubs available but they close at midnight. Actually midnight is when the staff goes home so last call is usually 11 pm. There are one or two underground locations that remain open past 12 but they are not open on a regular basis. There are only one or two real discos. Local coffee shop bars, karaoke lounges catering to Korean/Japanese/Vietnamese are abundant but seedy. There is a dingy bolwing alley and electronic casinos (slots and electronic blackjack) in some major hotels but only foreigners can enter. There is one movie theater that shows recent movies in English, but pirated DVD's from China are plentiful so most watch movies at home. There are seedy karaoke bars that cater to Korean and Japanese businessmen and small roadside coffee/tea/beer shops frequented by Vietnamese.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Decent for families but there is a lack of activities for children and teenagers complain of few options for entertainment. There are limited parks, playgrounds, or amusement centers for small children and playing outside a house or compound dangerous due to traffic. Singles have also expressed disappointment claiming Hanoi is equivalent to a small town atmosphere with limited social activities for them. Couples find more activities to fill their time such as going to restuarants, playing tennis or golf, shopping, etc.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

There is a GL community in Hanoi however like others they complain there is little in terms of social activities and options.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Vietnam is a male oriented society and there are minor complaints of sexism. Ethnic Vietnamese returning may also experience some wariness or expectations that are not the same for non-Vietnamese. There are some limited religious activities/services available for buddhists, catholics, christians, and muslims. There is not overt discrimination but there have been recent conflicts between the government and catholic community over land disputes.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Vietnam is still a back-packers paradise and hotels and travel inside Vietnam can still be done cheaply. Get out and experience the country and history. There are good museums on the unique aspects of Vietnam, the history, the War, ethnic groups, etc. There is the water puppet theater. There are great sites in the countryside and some of the best beaches in Southeast which are not yet cover with mega resorts or hordes of tourists. For those wanting a taste of modernity, Bangkok is less than 1 hour and 20 minute flight away and roundtrip tickets are less than US$300.Ho Chi Minh City is also modern, though not as nice as Bangkok and a great place to visit. Women find that there are decent hair saloons that give wonderful head massages, manicures, pedicures, and other beautification rituals at low prices.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Lacquerware, art work (paintings) by renowned local artists, embroidary, silk, furniture, Asian style household decorations, porcelain, ceremics, and pottery. Tailor-made clothes.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, easily.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Oh yes. Obviously there daily challenges with living here but that is what makes life in Hanoi fun. There is never a dull moment or a drive home without something to laugh about.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes, nice cars, anything you do not want lost or broken.110 V appliances since the power is 220 V.

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3. But don't forget your:

Winter clothes, nice cars, anything you do not want lost or broken.110 V appliances since the power is 220 V.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Indochine, Platoon, broadway muscial Ms. Saigon

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Some Americans are concerned about the legacy of the Vietnam War and that Vietnamese may be unfriendly or angry towards Americans in general, as well as Australians, French, Koreans, and other nationalities that took part in the conflict. However, for most Vietnamese the Vietnam War is in the past (also they are proud of the War as one must remember they won) and there is little to no resentment towards Americans or others by the average Vietnamese at this point. Over 70% or the Vietnamese population is under 30 and therefore has no direct memory of the conflict. Vietnamese are friendly, warm, hospitiable, and helpful towards all foreigners, including Americans, and are wonderful people to know, meet, and befriend no matter where you are from.

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Hanoi, Vietnam 05/17/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I've lived in San Jose, Costa Rica.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

20+ hours regardless of which direction you go or what city in the U.S. you go to. You can gateway through Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Korea or Taiwan.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

I am assigned to the U.S. Embassy Hanoi.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Few stand alone houses, usually assigned to section heads, most others are assigned to various apartments, condo style housing.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Most everything you want or need is available, just not necessarily at the same store. Depending on what you are looking for, you may need to go to 3 to 5 stores to find it. The 2 main super markets are Metro, which requires membership and is cash and carry only, and Big C. There are several smaller stores, Veggies and L's Place that carry a lot of western foods, not just American brands, but are very expensive.

We also can order out of the embassy commissary in Bangkok several times a year. In conjunction with support flights for the DOD office that coordinates the location of military remains from the Vietnam War, you can join the commissary in Bangkok for US$40 upon arrival and the CLO coordinates with the support flights. This is a consumables post, so in hind sight, I would recommend using it prior to arrival, this will give you the chance to figure out the shopping scene once you get here. Local fruits and vegetables need to be washed with a chlorine solution prior to consumption. Local beef is not very good, there are at least 2 butchers we use with very good results for pork, chicken and Australian beef. Both also deliver at no charge. Both also offer lamb, various sausages and luncheon meats.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Use your consumables prior to arrival to help you get settled without having to bust your butt on the local market while your still trying to get over the jet lag.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Pizza Hut just opened a couple months ago here in Hanoi, no other American fast food is available. Ho Chi Minh city offers others if you're willing to fly 1200+ miles to fulfill your fast food craving. There are also some decent restaurants, cost and quality vary greatly.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Vietnam does have an acceptable postal system, though the embassy does have both pouch and an FPO. FedEx and DHL courier services are also available.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Maids are plentiful, they will find you shortly after your arrival, most will have worked for a departed expat. CLO also maintains lists of maids and drivers on file. Average cost, about US$150 per month, full time which may even include cooking. Most also have at least limited English. We pay ours US$170 a month, she started at US$120 2 years ago. She is extremely reliable, extremely honest, very protective of the children and has truly become a part of the family. Live-in maids are extremely rare.

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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?

You can use credit or debit cards in all the Western hotels without a problem. Most ATM's are not part of the international banking systems so you get charged any where from the usual US$2 transaction fees up to US$5.There are no U.S. banks doing business here with the exception of Citi Bank and they are strictly for corporate customers. There a couple of Australian and European Banks but they do not have many offices. Most Vietnamese banks are at least partially government owned and do little international business nor offer services to foreign customers.

Many businesses may show the Visa or Master Card logo's in their windows, especially in the more modern malls, but they may not necessarily accept the credit cards. I once tried to buy an item with my credit card and the cashier looked at me very strange and tried to say they did not accept credit cards, then another employee pulled the card machine out of a drawer, still in the box and attempted to set it up without success. Basically, they did not know how to use it.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes, do not know which denominations. No LDS.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

One English language newspaper. Star Network, CNN International, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, ESPN on the cable. No charge through my apartment complex. Other bootleg satellite system also available.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None, unless you want to travel extensively out in the country.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many, the sidewalks are used as parking lots for motorbikes and street vendors are numerous, all of which minimizes the use of the sidewalk for its intended purpose of walking, much less someone having to use crutches or a wheelchair.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Right, left, middle, sidewalks, wrong way, right way. It doesn't matter. Officially, they drive on the right. In reality, just about anything goes.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Taxis, yes. Trains and buses, no.

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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?

You really do not need a car here. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. You can also hire them all day long to run you around or even out of town. Buses are crowded and the RSO does not recommend using them. There is train service to one mountain resort.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

High speed is a relative term here. I pay US$100 a month for 3MBs ADSL but have never gotten more than 1MBs out of it and there are times when it dips below 100kbs. 80% of the time, the service is good enough to run Sling Box on my laptop and watch U.S. programing from my house in Florida over the Internet. I pay about US$100 per month since the service package I have is based on downloaded usage. Most people pay an average of US$30 to US$50 per month.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Cell phones are a dime a dozen here. Limited CDMA service, everything else is GSM. Embassy will issue a cell phone for the employee. Prepaid SIM cards are available everywhere and service is dirt cheap. I am not aware of anyone using their cell phones for long distance so cannot comment on costs doing so. The embassy issued phones have roaming enabled for all surrounding countries, so calling home when TDY within the region is no problem.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

IVG, or any VOIP.I use Vonage, no problem. Most embassy people use VOIP, those more computer challenged still rely on the Embassy IVG lines.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

I hear, yes. But do not know personally, I have fish.

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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 really, mostly because of the extremely low wages paid.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

At work, depending on your position, fairly relaxed, polo's and slacks to suits to jeans and polo's. Outside the embassy, pretty casual. It does get cool during the winters, down to around 10C on average. This year we actually had a few days down around freezing.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Unhealthy, this is the land of the million motorbikes and an increasing number of automobiles. Many street vendors still use little coal fired cookers, an influence from Vietnam's Chinese dominated past. Add in the industrial pollution from surrounding areas outside the city, and you have an unhealthing situation.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Few, there is something to be said for the strong fist of the communist government. I have heard of some minor petty theft and pickpocketing in the touristy old quarter and some minor harassment at the local Metro Mart, especially leading up to the Lunar New Year shopping frenzy.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Dengue in the country side, an outbreak of cholera this year, sporadic outbreaks of bird flu, various intestinal bugs if you decide to eat on the street, respiratory problems due to the air pollution. There is SOS, the French Hospital and Hanoi Family Practice. All offer a mixture of Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese doctors. All offer acceptable care for non-emergency health care. All imaging techniques are available, MRI, CAT Scan, X-Ray, etc., Regional med evac point is Singapore.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Summers are very hot and humid. Winters are pretty mild. short rainy seasons both in the spring and late summer/early fall.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Yes, most diplomats from all countries have their children in the UN International School (UNIS). A few are in the smaller, Hanoi International School (HIS). Both schools have a good reputation and academic programs.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Both HIS and UNIS accommodate certain special needs, but not as extensively as schools in Europe or the U.S.

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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?

Several preschools including one of the most popular, Mourning Star. Cost is expensive, especially for a third world country.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large, Vietnam is the emerging Tiger economically and became a member of the WTO in 2006, there are many diplomatic missions here as well as a large contingent of business personnel.

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2. Morale among expats:

Just so-so. I do not know of anyone who loves it, but by the same token, I have not heard anyone say they hate it either. This was a 30% differential post, now 25%. It is probably one of the easiest 25 to 30 percent posts you can find, but there are still many difficulties to try and live a quality life here, between the horrendous traffic, pollution, mediocre medical and limited recreational opportunities in the north.

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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?

Some entertaining within the embassy community, bbq's, limited clubbing, the city shuts down at 11:30 pm. Major hotels all have night clubs, etc., but are extremely expensive. Oh yeah, did I mention karaoke?

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

More for singles or couples. We personally do not think Hanoi is a very child friendly city. The people love children and are extremely accommodating towards children, there just is not much for children to do, especially teenagers. UNIS offers some good after-school activities but unless you are comfortable allowing your 13 to 16 year old children to run around the city with their friends unsupervised, there is little for them to do. There are a couple of good movie theaters which show movies in English and one bowling alley. Otherwise, Hanoi is a good jumping off point for regional travel opportunities, though it is not cheap.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I do not know about how good the gay experience is here, but it does not seem to be an issue. There are a couple of gay individuals, both Vietnamese and direct hire Americans in the Embassy.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not that I am aware of. The only prejudice I have heard about is directed towards Vietnamese women who may be accompanied by non-Vietnamese men. People will make comments to them on the street. They Vietnamese will stare at you, especially here in the North, foreigners are still something unique to many and especially foreign women. My wife is from Latin America and she and the children draw a lot of attention just walking down the street.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Here in the North, not many. As previously stated, Hanoi offers little for entertaining children. There are few clubs as we would define them in the U.S. Karaoke is very popular with the Vietnamese. If you go out with the local staff, you can be guaranteed the night will end at a karaoke club. There are many 4 and 5 star beach resorts in Vietnam but they all are in the Central and Southern parts of the country.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Personally, not much. You can have clothes hand made fairly cheap. Show a craftsman a picture and they can make it, clothing, furniture.......

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, unless you jump on a plane every weekend to go to Saigon, or the beach or Bangkok or Laos.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Sure, the people are friendly, work load at the Embassy is average. Enough things to do to keep your interest.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Ideas that the war is still going on. Snow ski's. Car, unless like me, you just don't want to get rid of it.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience. Trying to get anything done here can be difficult and workmanship/repairs are not very good quality sometimes requiring the repair to be done several times before they get it right.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Ho chi Minh City (Saigon) is the economic capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is the political. There is a world of difference between the North and the South. HCMC is much more Westernized where Hanoi still suffers from that depressing, repressive cloud of the communist government. Knowing what I know now I would still come to Hanoi, but if give a choice between HCMC and Hanoi? It would be HCMC hands down.

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