Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 07/26/19

Background:

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

No. Spent a lot of time in Taiwan, and did a tour in China.

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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?

East Lansing, Michigan. Plan for 24 hours of travel time, because there are no direct flights between Vietnam and the U.S. (yet). Transit through Seoul or Tokyo.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Two years: 2017-2019.

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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?

We lived in a serviced apartment downtown near the Independence Park. I usually walked to work (10-15 minutes). Three-bedroom, two-bath. The building is excellently maintained, the staff are very responsive. Small gym, indoor pool, yoga room, and small playroom for little kids.

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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 dare to shop in the local “wet markets,” food can be ridiculously cheap. However, there is the real and great danger of buying food that is contaminated from ground pollution or the over-use of pesticides. Organic produce in grocery stores is a safer bet. Quality is good, variety is average. Produce spoils very fast due to the lack of a cold supply chain in Vietnam. Produce is harvested and brought to market as quickly as possible, but not in refrigerated trucks. Bananas, for example, go from green to brown in three to four days. Expect to go grocery shopping several times a week if you need fresh vegetables.

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

Not available or very expensive: peanut butter that doesn’t have added oil or sugar. Brown sugar, maple syrup, and chocolate chips. Tex-Mex food including salsa, beans, tortillas.

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

When we first arrived, we were wildly enthusiastic about Vietnam. Like Uber Eats, it’s a centralized clearinghouse for restaurant delivery. Delivery is free or cheap, and fast. However, we came to realize that using the service generates a heart-breaking amount of plastic waste. Eventually we realized it was probably greener to go out to eat than to order in.

There is a nice range of options for eating out. In Vietnam, you can get a meal for a dollar or for a hundred dollars. Both ends of the spectrum have their charms. Of course, Vietnamese cuisine dominates the restaurant scene, but French, German, Japanese, Korean are also well-represented. A surprising amount of good Indian food as well. Not much good Chinese food, though.

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

We lived on the 5th floor (really the 6th floor, since Vietnam follows European custom of calling the first floor the ground floor), too high for mosquitos to fly. I saw one or two cockroaches in our apartment the entire two years we were there. Occasionally saw the “wall tigers” (geckos) in our apartment.

On the street is a totally different story: geckos everywhere. Cockroaches and mosquitos are a constant problem. Vietnamese rats are the most cocky rodents I’ve ever seen, walking around the city with an attitude of entitlement. Experienced a gush of schadenfreude when I saw a rat try to cross the street and was flattened within seconds. The vermin bring disease. Dengue fever is a real problem here.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. My life changed forever when I discovered peanut butter would ship through 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?

I didn’t hire anyone, but most people did. Part-time cooks and nannies are the most common. Cheap and good. One friend had a problem with a cook and had to fire her. Another friend had a wonderful experience with her nanny. For many Vietnamese people from the countryside, domestic work is a way out of poverty.

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

My building has a small gym, adequate for my needs (staving off decrepitude is my goal). Some people joined local gyms. I never heard them complain about it, but neither did they rave.

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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?

Still mostly a cash-based economy, but the government wants to change that. Many merchants charge a 3% surcharge for credit cards. ATMs are common. Fraud is a persistent problem, so it’s safest to use one inside a bank.

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

The Notre Dame cathedral in town has an English-language mass.

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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?

Language is a real paradox in Vietnam. Inside the city, local people seem reluctant to interact in Vietnamese. It’s quite easy to live your life in the city without a word of Vietnamese. And it’s actually hard not to use English. But when you go out of the city, outside the tourism bubble, you find that many people over the age of 20 do not speak any English. English is very common and popular among students, so most young people have at least serviceable English.

Vietnamese is (in)famous for being hard. Many people come to Vietnam with the goal of learning Vietnamese, and give up. There are classes available, but quality varies greatly. It’s discouraging, but nonetheless, I took private language classes for the entire two years I was in country, and my language improved. Making friends with Vietnamese people helps a lot. One of my coworkers attends a local church that has services in Vietnamese, and she has great colloquial language skills.

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

Yes. Sidewalks are in disrepair. Wheelchairs would not do well. Also people ride their motorcycles on the sidewalk, especially along one-way streets (going the other way). Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way, so walking is dangerous even for people with no disability.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are cheap. Uber was here, then went under. Grab (Singapore’s version of Uber) is about half the cost of a taxi, but quality varies. Drivers are not as familiar with the city layout as taxi drivers. I prefer to take a taxi. From my apartment to the airport costs $4. I never paid more than $12 for a taxi.

The train system was built by the French a hundred years ago, and it is substandard. Slow and not comfortable. For intercity travel, many people rent a car. It’s actually cheaper to rent a car with a driver than to rent a car without a driver.

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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?

Traffic in the city is bad, but moves slowly. A big car might feel safer, but parking will be a challenge and you don’t need the protection and security. Japanese cars are popular. Many people have CRV or RAV-4 cars.

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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?

My building came with internet, but it was cheaper to get service through an outside vendor. We paid about $40/month for high-speed internet. Usually had no problems streaming Netflix, HBO, etc.

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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?

Easy to get a local SIM. Viettel had the best coverage. I had a prepaid plan. 10 gig of data for $10/month. Calls were charged by the minute. Any unlocked phone seems to work.

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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?

Lots of people have pets, I don’t, but I heard good things about the quality of vet care.

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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?

EFM jobs in the Consulate. Always possible to teach English, pay is not as high as in China, Korea or Japan, but the cost of living here is also low. Many local companies hire foreigners with specific skills, but beware. Local labor laws and contract laws are on the books, but are often not honored. I met someone who worked as a branding expert for a local conglomerate. One day she was told that her contract was terminated and tomorrow was her last day.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are many opportunities to do volunteer or charitable work. Vietnam is still a poor country, and the countryside is especially in need of help. You can help out in orphanages, soup kitchens, and centers for job skills and English language training.

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

Vietnamese people like to look good, but the local definition of “good” is very...local. Because of the hot climate, sleeveless dresses and low-cut clothes are common for women. It can be quite jarring to see so much exposed skin. Men tend to wear short-sleeved shirts. Shorts are rare. Ties are common for business meetings, rare otherwise. In the Consulate, business attire is the standard.

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Health & Safety:

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

Petty crime and crime of opportunity is common. Many people are victims of snatch-and-ride theft by thieves on motorcycles. As a male, I never felt vulnerable, even at night in sketchy areas. My female friends have told me that they feel otherwise. Travel with a friend is safer.

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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?

Dengue fever, Zika, hepatitis, you name the tropical disease, and it’s here in Vietnam. Food hygiene is a problem in Vietnam. I got food poisoning more times in two years than I have in my 50 years prior to coming here. Same for other GI distress.

Medical care is far lower than international standards. Typical problems of poor countries: too many people, not enough doctors, not enough hospital facilities. There is a Vietnamese word for two people sharing a hospital bed, it’s that common. Basic care in the Consulate is good. The full-time nurse is competent, and dispenses OTC drugs. The Consulate does not have a doctor on staff, but contracts with an American doctor. Medivac to Singapore or Bangkok is common.

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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, but not China or India bad. Ho Chi Minh City is near the ocean, so a lot of the bad stuff blows away. Hanoi is much worse. That being said, it’s bad. Too many motorcycles on the road at the same time creates a cloud of poison twice a day at rush hour(s). Also, Vietnam is a tropical country, and something is always blooming. People with sensitivity to pollen will suffer from allergies.

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

Vietnam suffers from a dangerous cocktail of poverty and lack of governmental transparency. Poor farmers and struggling businesspeople make questionable choices with regard to environmental protection and product safety. The government suppresses media stories that try to expose these issues. As a result, there is a “buyer beware” culture, and a distrust of local products in general. Things are cheap here, but you get what you pay for.

There is a growing awareness of food allergy and dietary requirements, but mainly in upscale places. Also a growing supply of organic food, but it’s impossible to verify just how clean and organic it really is.

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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)?

No winter = no winter blues. :-) General culture fatigue can be a problem, but that’s not unique to this country.

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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 does not have a winter. Think Washington, DC, in August. That’s what it’s like in Ho Chi Minh City year-round. The rainy season is annoying, because the sudden fierce downpours cause flooding in the streets, and traffic slows down considerably. On the upside, the rain washes away the air pollution.

Hanoi has a “winter” where the temperature drops to a frosty 60° F. The colder temperatures there are accompanied by a rise in air pollution.

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Schools & Children:

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

Very good schools: American, British, Australian, and German.

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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 people have nannies for their preschool-aged children. Not sure about preschool education.

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

Yes.

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Expat Life:

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

Largish community. Great variety, from students to English teachers to businesspeople. Morale in the community is generally high. I get the feeling that most people are in Vietnam by conscious choice, and have specific goals. There are lots of activities organized by the expat community, and many opportunities to interact with Vietnamese people as well.

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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?

Language exchange get together are common and numerous. The Community Liaison Office (CLO) organizes some activities and trips. The locally-engaged staff association also organizes team-building and charitable activities that Americans can join in.

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

Single men will enjoy Vietnam, but should be aware that many women are interested in emigrating at any cost. There is a lot to do for couples, like dinner clubs, travel, and cultural activities. Vietnam seems to be a family-friendly place.

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

Vietnam is one of the most LGBT-friendly Asian countries. Although they don’t enjoy legal protection or the right to marry, the society in general is open to LGBT, and they suffer from a relatively low level of discrimination. One of our former Ambassadors was openly gay, married, and shared his family life on social media. He was widely popular with Vietnamese people, and I think that helped raise the profile of LGBT rights.

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

White people will be popular. People of color will be less accepted, but are not discriminated against at the level they are in other Asian countries (China, Korea, Japan). Given the antipathy towards China, Chinese-Americans can expect dirty looks, especially when speaking Chinese in public.

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

There are 50+ ethnic minorities in Vietnam, and they are typically discriminated against by city dwellers, and distrusted by the government. Religion is a strong presence in Vietnamese society, but doesn’t seem to be the cause of friction in society. In Ho Chi Minh City there is a healthy blend of Catholics and Buddhists and they seem to coexist. There is a small Muslim population, largely the Khmer minority, and are under scrutiny by the government more for their ethnicity than for their religion. The government doesn’t trust organized religion for many reasons, and heavily regulates it.

Women appear to be second-class citizens in society, and seem to succeed in spite of that.

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

Travel in country is enjoyable. There is a lot to see, and it’s relatively easy to see it. The Vietnamese people are friendly to Americans, and are open to making friends. Regional travel is also a nice benefit. Siem Reap is an hour away by plane, Singapore only a little more. Direct flights to Taiwan. Sapa was disappointing, as was Hoi An, but I’m glad that I went and encourage you to go, too. History enthusiasts will like Hanoi.

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

Similar to other places, the best food will not be in restaurants on he main road, but will be in side streets and alleys. Everyone should do a food tour on motorcycles. There are many tour companies that offer this service. Around the lunar new year (Tet) there are fun markets where you can buy decorations, dress up in traditional clothes and take photos.

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

Lots of handicrafts, but make sure that you’re buying locally-produced work, not imported from China. There are some good tailors in town, fast and cheap, don’t skimp on the quality fabric, though.

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

Ho Chi Minh City is user-friendly. It’s easy to get around, sort of walkable, pretty safe, and not expensive (by American standards).

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Words of Wisdom:

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

They say you come to Vietnam and you understand a lot in a few minutes, but the rest has got to be lived. Vietnam is a fascinating country. I wish that I had more time to experience it. Also, Vietnamese is really, really hard.

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

Yes.

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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:

Umbrella.

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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 Quiet American is still relevant and insightful. The movie with Michael Caine is good.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

The Vietnam War is irrelevant to people’s daily lives, but the scars are deep. Agent Orange can contaminate DNA, which means that birth defects can be inherited. Crippled veterans beg on the street. There is no resentment or animosity toward America from the war, you don’t can talk about it, just couch your comments in terms of the tragedy of war. For many people in the south, post-war “unification” under communism is another foreign invasion. This does not yet seem to be a unified country.

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 03/15/16

Background:

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

Not my first expat experience - I have also worked in the U.S. and Norway.

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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 is Australia - very easy flights with a transfer in Singapore or KL

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3. How long have you lived here?

I've worked here on and off for almost 10 years.

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

Work in the private sector in business and education

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Masses of huge apartment buildings are going up in District 2, which used to be semi-countryside, Villas in and out of compounds, local houses, as long as you can handle the noise from the neighbours.

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

Things have improved so much in the past few years. If something isn't available at the moment it will be in a matter of weeks. You can get lots of safe and natural cleaners as well.

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

More underwear - there is no hope of replacing anything here that is larger than size small.

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

It's all here and very cheap - from what I hear.

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

Mossies are everywhere, ants in the kitchen and anywhere that isn't sealed, cockroaches - all have to be dealt with.

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Daily Life:

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

I don't unless I am ready to pay for DHL - I have seen signs that the VN post office is starting to operate like a real postal service - but it has a long way to go. Absolutely don't send anything used or personal into Vietnam.

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

Lots of maids from Manila are here - and locals as well. There is a Facebook page for finding a maid - it's a huge improvement from the past.

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

Loads of gyms with good equipment. It's a long way from the mid-1990s.

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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?

ATMs and cash cards are widely used - I prefer cash as I have had some difficulties using debit cards with retailers - credit cards area easier.

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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?

Numbers for bargaining really help - some transaction Vietnamese is good to have. The rest certainly isn't necessary.

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

Huge mobility issues - there are few real sidewalks or awareness of these needs. This includes the international schools - none of which are completely accessible.

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Transportation:

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

There is now one local bus (no. 35) that runs from D1 to D2 that is acceptable. The rest forget it. Taxis - the nicest drivers are with Mai Linh Taxis. Very available. Also there is now Uber! - it's cheap and the cars are really nice. There is an elevated light rail line being built but it won't be ready for years.

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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?

No need to bring a car but buying one locally is pretty expensive. No carjackings here - but people drive pretty badly - and you just have to learn not to look. Any car is fine in the city, and even on the highway. They have a real expressway heading north and to the coast - it's amazing.

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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?

It's not particularly high-speed - but it's available for about US$30 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?

Bring an unlocked one and get a Mobiphone sim - super easy.

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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 quarantine - but having a dog here can be difficult. There is almost no space for a good run, and taking your dog for a walk on the sidewalks is frankly like torture for them - dirty and noisy and dangerous. There are several vets but the one who everyone trusts is Dr Nghia in Thao Dien. He cares for rescue animals as well - all info on Facebook.

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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 decent - this year there is a surge of people starting their own companies - lots of artists and creative people are flooding and doing really interesting stuff. If you are looking for corporate mid-management work - then it's much harder - there is a policy of hiring better educated Vietnamese people to do the work that expats used to do.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Orphanages, fund-raising, animal rescues, Wildlife At Risk is a great organisation helping endangered animals.

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

It depends on your work - but overall it's better to keep yourself groomed and clean - even Vietnamese people from the lower end of the economic scale keep themselves pretty clean and well-presented. There aren't any worries for women and covering up - local women tend to be pretty free - very short skirts and super low cleavage is totally fine.

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Health & Safety:

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

Having your bag snatched pretty violently. There is a sad increase of violence among Vietnamese people - revenge killings and people getting beat up. Expats should keep themselves away from any of that - it's serious.

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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?

Dengue and gastrointestinal infections are the biggest worries, but there is lots of endemic disease since many people fall through the vaccine programmes. It's best to update your vaccines really well before you come here.

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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, pretty bad, and horrible. It's bad most of the time and occasionally becomes dangerous.

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

there are peanuts or peanut oil in almost all of the local food - so take care. If you live in a villa you might want to invest in a good HEPA air cleaner - the air is filthy and also mold grows really well here.

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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 dry or wet and dry. Hot, hot, hot.

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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 many more than before - but the Big Three for the expat community are ISHCMC and BIS in District 2, and SSIS in District 7. There are many others but they are mostly for the local wealthy families.

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

Not really anything. If you have a child who has developmental challenges then consider another post - or consider the Australian School - that has the reputation of at least accepting children with learning difficulties. ISHCMC is openly a non-supportive school for special needs.

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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?

Loads of them - not cheap but they all try to be good.

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

Arsenal has a football program and there is a Saigon Sports Academy - also a Dance Centre that has lots of opportunities. The only issue is the lack of open spaces to run sports programs.

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Expat Life:

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

Really big - lots of sub-groups in different areas of the city. The morale totally depends on what you are doing and how long you have been here. For most, this place loses its charm after year 4 or 5. People complain but not as much as they used to. It's nicer here now.

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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?

Restaurants, bars, clubs, biking groups, running groups, art exhibitions, it's pretty varied and full.

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

As long as you don't mind the lack of open green areas - this city is great for all expats. There is so much to do for all ages and interests.

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

Indeed. Young modern Vietnamese culture is not judgemental at all about sexual orientation and there is every opportunity to mix with the local LGBT community

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

The worst you can be I think is to be Cambodian - and Vietnamese men can be pretty nasty to women - but it's rare anymore to be stared at or openly mis-treated.

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

Seeing the rapid development of this city from a sleepy Mekong Delta town to a heaving metropolis.

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

Weekends at the beach. Delicious food.

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

If you love SE Asia - it's a pretty good base. You have to like hot weather to be here. Regional airfares aren't the cheapest - but it's easy to travel and explore the region.

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9. Can you save money?

It used to be easier.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How polluted it is in the city - it's a strain some days.

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

Overall it's been a good experience - but it hasn't always been this way. Recently changes mean this is a great posting or place to live and work if you can get used to the lack of open clean spaces.

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

Expectations that things will be done to your liking the first time, need for cold weather and quiet natural spaces.

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience. Books. Ability to say 'no' when you need to.

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 08/15/15

Background:

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

No, this is our second tour with the USG. Our first post was in Quito, Ecuador.

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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?

We are a bi-coastal family. From LAX we took an 11-hour flight to Tokyo, then a 6-hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City. From the NY area we flew 16 hours to Hong Kong and 2.5 hours to Ho Chi Minh City.

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3. How long have you lived here?

We have been here for 16 months on a two-year tour, but I wish we could stay longer.

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

Spouse of US Government employee.

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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 have many serviced apartments in District 1, which is where the consulate is. Out in District 2, which is a 15-20 minute drive to the consulate (30-40 with traffic), we have about 6 houses in a very nice compound on the main strip of Thao Dien with shops and restaurants. Then we have 8 apartments in Riverside. This is where we live, and we couldn’t be happier. The apartments are a little outdated, but the outdoor space and amenities make living here great. We are next door to the International School of HCMC. Nearby there is a park, a pool, restaurants, spa, market, coffee shop, kids' garden, gym, yoga classes, Zumba classes, basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball court, and a bus and boat shuttle into D1 multiple times throughout the day. Riverside has one of the largest green spaces here.

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

We can get most of what need here. I am gluten free, and other than gluten-free soy sauce you can find many options here at the expat stores. You will pay double the price, though. Produce is cheap, meats and salmon are pricier than at home, and anything that is imported will cost you more.

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

With a consumables shipment half way through our tour and DPO I have been able to get what I need. I would probably have not shipped our televisions though. I shipped a ton of toilet paper, which was completely unnecessary since we are in a serviced apartment and they provide this for us.

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

We don’t eat fast food very often, but you will find Popeyes, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. The prices are a little higher than what we pay in the states. But you have thousands of other restaurants to choose from, ranging from $1.50 -$50 per meal. There are so many options to choose from --- it’s awesome. There is a website (www.vietnammm.com) that will deliver from many restaurants around the area for free or a very small delivery fee.

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

Mosquitoes! Dengue is a problem here. There are also ants and cockroaches that are found in people’s house. So far in this rainy season, three snakes have been spotted in our neighborhood.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. Expats not affiliated with USG have used the local mail and have had things stolen and boxes rummaged through. They prefer just to have family and or friends that visit bring them things they need, or to shop for them when they are at home.

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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 affordable. Most consulate families tend to pay higher wages than other expats. I would say the average is about $400-$500 a month for full time. You can hire Vietnamese or Philippine nannies here.

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

Most residences have a gym that is “good enough.” There are other gyms around - like California fitness for a higher price. There are a ton of exercise and yoga classes and personal trainers here as well.

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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?

We choose to use cash (Vietnamese Dong) as much as we can here to avoid the overseas fees, but most places do take credit cards. There are many ATMs around.

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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 survive just fine without the language --- as many expats here do. However, you will run into occasional moments where knowing at least some of the language would be extremely beneficial. Learning how to give directions when taking a taxi will really come in handy.

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

There are very few ramps and fully paved spacious sidewalks, but there seem to be elevators in all of the major buildings.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are safe and very affordable. A 20-minute taxi ride to D1 costs about $7. It is recommended to use Mailihn or Vinasun taxis and not the other ones due to honesty and reliability.

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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 locals and expats drive motorbikes here. Some U.S. Consulate families have brought cars --- mostly medium-sized SUVs, and either have a driver or drive themselves. We have a Honda CRV, and it is the perfect size. You can find what you need in the way of service for your car.

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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?

We have Wi-Fi through our apartment, but we also pay for our own internet for our Vonage line and to stream TV shows and movies. We pay about $40 per month. However, every 6 weeks “a shark bites the undersea internet cable” (according to the local government) and service is spotty for days. I am not making this up!

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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 smart phone and get a sim card for about $4. I pay $5 for minutes every two weeks or so. I use Mobiphone, and my husband uses Viettel, and we have no complaints other than the absurd amount of spam texts we get.

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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?

Yes, there are some opportunities. I know a few EFMs working in the International Schools as a teacher, counselor, or a nurse in the local health clinic. There are also EFMs who teach English. Getting a work permit here is not fun, but it is doable. If you are interested in working on the local economy, you should get your fingerprints and criminal background check done by the FBI or your home country law enforcement agency before you come, and also make sure you have your original degree.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are many volunteer opportunities here. I know many women who volunteer at local orphanages sponsored by the schools here.

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

Professional attire at work. When you go out in the day most of the local woman are covered from head to toe to avoid the sun. But at night, out come the short skirts.

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Health & Safety:

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

There are bag/purse snatchings here by people on motorbikes, and there have been a few house break-ins, but not in the compounds. Other than that, I feel completely safe here. I just take precautions and carry a very small purse when I am out. I also don’t wear any fancy jewelry.

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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 not great. The nurse at the U.S. Consulate is amazing! For anything serious (and for labor and delivery) you are sent to the states or to Singapore. However, we do know non-USG expats who have delivered here.

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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. There is a lot of pollution and smog here.

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

I have an allergy to gluten, so I don’t eat out too much --- although there are a few restaurants here that actually have a gluten-free menu. You can get most foods in the markets for people with any type of allergy.

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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?

We have about 3 months a year of very pleasant weather, followed by 3 months of hot and dry weather, followed by 6 months of hot and rainy weather ---a few hours a day. On the positive side, the sun is out almost every single day.

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Schools & Children:

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

HCMC has a wide variety of International Schools located in D1, D2 and D7. International School of HCMC, British International School, Australian International School, European International School, Montessori International School, German International School, French International School, Saigon South International School and Canadian International Schools. Our children go to International School of HCMC in the pre-school program, and we have been very happy with it. Many of my friends feel the same way. I have heard very few (if any) negative comments.

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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?

There are plenty of pre-schools here to choose from: Smartkids, Saigon Kids, and Noah’s Club are just a few in D2 that I can think of in addition to all of the preschool programs at the International schools. The prices are all very similar and astronomically high for preschool: $9,000-$14,000 a year. Saigon Kids and Noah’s Club are the only ones that are somewhat cheaper than the rest of the options.

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

There are many sports programs available for kids connected with the International Schools. I know there is a soccer program in D2 not affiliated with the schools that some kids go to. My daughters take dance classes. Dancenter is a very nice and well run dance studio. There are places that offer art classes as well.

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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 expat community is pretty large, and the morale is very high. Many people I have met have lived here for several years and are very sad when they have to leave.

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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?

Eating out, bars, clubs, movies, shows, BBQs, game nights, bowling and birthday parties. Our social calendar is always packed with something.

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

This is a great post for all of the above. There are tons of restaurants, clubs, shows, and movie theatres for adults. There are also many family-friendly restaurants and both inside and outside play areas for kids.

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

Definitely the travel opportunities, and getting to meet people from all over the world, and building friendships with them. Running in the 10k at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I love how family-friendly it is here. There are so many things for my young kids to do where we live.

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

There is something for everyone here unless you are into camping and hiking. Then you will have to travel far outside HCMC.

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

The experiences of traveling, tailored clothes, artwork.

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

Traveling all around SE Asia at very reasonable prices, a large expat community, a variety of International schools to choose from, cheap and very good local food, thousands of restaurants with any type of cuisine you could think of. You can find pretty much anything you need here: tailors, markets, cheap pampering, affordable household help. Although it is very hot and humid, you can spend most the day outside. The city offers a variety of running races throughout the year, including the Color Run. You can save money if you don’t send your kids to the pre-schools (which are very expensive).

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8. Can you save money?

Yes, absolutely, but like I said, if you have kids in preschool and/or plan to travel, you probably will not be able to save much. Most travel requires an air ticket.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

How much I would love it. It honestly is a great place to live.

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

Yes! I would love to come back one day.

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

love for the seasons and any clothes that are not suitable for extremely hot weather.

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4. But don't forget your:

bottles and bottles of bug spray, sunscreen, and patience.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

This post is turning into a perfect place for families. We have made amazing friends, our kids love it, and we have had amazing experiences. Our only negatives would be the time change, distance from home, and the jet lag with young kids.

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 05/21/14

Background:

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

No. Perth, Australia & Cotonou, Benin.

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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, DC. It takes a solid 24-26 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

13 months so far.

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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?

We live in an expat area with lots of compounds. Houses are fairly large, concrete. Split pack air conditioners. Commutes vary greatly based on where you live and work. From our house in district 2 to work in district 1, it takes anywhere from 15 minutes (Sunday morning) to 40 minutes on a rough morning with flooded streets and traffic.

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

Many things here can be found cheaper than in the States unless it is a specialty or brand item.

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

Kids toys and books, party supplies, laundry soap, baby food.

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

Lots. Recent additions include Starbucks, McDonald's, Popeyes, and Dunkin Donuts. There are lots of pho shops, banh mi sandwich shops, coffee shops. You can eat very cheaply here (US$3) or go to a fancy steak place and spend significantly more. You will not lack for food choices. However, you might find a favorite place only to discover it changes hands or is closed down the next time you try to go.

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

Mosquitos (that carry dengue!), ants in kitchens, cockroaches...it is the tropics.

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Daily Life:

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

We get this benefit through work but I hear the local post is not very reliable. I did send a document FEDEX to the U.S. but it cost US$75 and took 3 days.

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

This will vary by hours and such. We have a Vietnamese nanny/cook/cleaner all-in-one. We pay on the "high" end at US$400/month but she works long hours for us M-F. Some people hire Filipino nannies who speak better English but they usually cost more as you pay for visa renewals and a plane flight home.

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

Many apartment buildings and compounds have free on-site gyms. There are other gyms, like in the States, all over. I don't know the costs.

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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?

We use a few of the trusted ATM machines and credit cards at some of the more established places. However, we try to use cash whenever possible to avoid anyone swiping our credit card details.

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

Catholic is the only one I know of.

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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?

Not much. We speak it rarely although it is helpful to know some.

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

Yes. It is a mix of old and new. It is definitely not very wheelchair friendly.

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Transportation:

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

Not really. People use buses and trains but they are often overcrowded or otherwise dangerous. Driving here is nuts. We do find Mai Linh taxis reliable though seatbelts in taxis are rare.

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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?

Lots of expats here seem to drive Toyotas. We have a Honda and it has been easy to service. Parts can be expensive though. Bring a few spares of things you know you will need. I also wouldn't bring a big SUV although there are certainly people here who drive them.

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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. It is about US$80/month....but it is NOT very fast. There is lots of buffering and times when it just stops working. Not to mention, the times when they shut down Facebook and other sites. You definitely need a VPN here.

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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 and get a local SIM card for a reasonable price.

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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 quarantine. Vets are limited, but we love Dr. Nghia in district 2!

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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 many outside of teaching or jobs in the finance sector with companies based in your home country.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Orphanages, schools...there are plenty of opportunities. Again, you just have to make an effort.

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

Work is professional attire with some leeway for the heat. Suits and ties are expected in any formal or important meetings. In public, women do not tend to wear a lot of shorts. Lots of dresses, skirts. The clubs/nightlife scene is anything goes!

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Health & Safety:

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

We take the same precautions we would take in any other big city, there is a lot of "petty" crime like purse snatching. We are just very careful, especially since they target foreigners. We also don't use the local motorbikes for fear of getting ripped off or harmed in some other way. We use respected and well-known cabs.

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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?

Poor air quality. Medical care is very spotty. If you have anything serious, you should head 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?

Unhealthy, for sure. This is definitely a major issue here. There is a lot of smog and pollution and it seems the local government is not doing much in this regard.

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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?

Hot and rainy. Hot and slightly less rainy, but still humid. Hot and rainy again. Think Florida in the summer. The good news is that rainy season does not usually entail all day rain. It does tend to come and go more than it did in West Africa.

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Schools & Children:

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

Our kids are young but one went to the Montessori International School and then we switched to the Australian International School. We liked both, but the facilities at the latter are more up to date and the teachers speak more consistently in English. Still, we were very happy with the quality of teaching and care at both.

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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 cheap local preschools but kids watch a lot of TV and are not "taught" much. The ones with real programs and better student-teacher ratios tend to be connected to the larger international schools and start when they are older. The exception is Smartkids and the Montessori International School. They are not cheap, though!

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

There are but they are usually connected to the schools and are for older kids.

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Expat Life:

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

There are lots of expats from many countries here. You can find great friends from all over with a little effort. I think morale here is good.

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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?

Bars, restaurants, sports, parties, movies, bowling....

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

I think it's great for all of the above. You can find whatever kind of community you are looking for, really. There are lots of activities for kids and there is certainly nightlife for the single set. The only thing is, as a single expat, it might be hard to find a "genuine" romantic relationship. I suspect single expat women have a harder time than single expat men, just as I suspect being gay here is harder. The society here is still very "traditional" with regard to gender roles and homosexuality - these issues are not always talked about or accepted openly.

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

See above. I suspect it can be difficult although I do think attitudes are shifting in younger generations. Or perhaps maybe I just hope?

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

Yes. The Vietnamese stare at anyone who does not look like them, whether you have black skin, red hair, etc. Sometimes their prejudice is more blatant. Religious freedom is still a touchy issue here as well. The people are accepting and curious about different religions but the government is not as accepting.

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

The travel. It's a beautiful place with many other amazing places to see nearby. We all love the local food and the chance to do "nicer" things should we wish to spend a little more money.

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

There is so much! It really depends on what you like to do but there is something for everyone.

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

Travel, travel, travel.

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

Great regional travel opportunities. You can save money and eat cheaply if you want. Childcare costs are very reasonable if you hire a local nanny.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes, if you want to.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

You can really get anything you want here. We brought too much!

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

In a heartbeat.

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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:

Bug spray, rain boots, sunscreen, and sense of adventure.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

We love it! Just wish a) there was less smog and b) it wasn't so far from home.

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 07/18/11

Background:

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

Baghdad, Iraq; Frankfurt, Germany

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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?

East Coast, U.S. Takes a full 24 hours with connections. There are no direct flights to the U.S.

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3. How long have you lived here?

8 months, here until 2012

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

U.S. Consulate

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Apartments are a big plus. That is pretty much across the board. Most of my visitors ask me about my favorite place in HCMC, and I say my apartment. After all, almost every where delivers. Families are out in a compound outside of the city. You must have a car and you must fight this traffic. Most people dislike the commute, many try to find a place in the city in the long run.

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

Produce is super cheap. Household supplies are cheap as well. Get your domestic help to buy as much as possible. You will be taken advantage of as a foreigner, no matter how good of a price you think you're getting, the locals pay less.

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

Comfort foods and possibly more baking supplies. The fun stuff for the holidays. All in all, it's easier these days with amazon or whatever store. If you have a favorite, get it here, and good wine can be pricey, but not unobtainable. The wine store is also a good place to meet other ex-pats away from work.

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

KFC, Popeyes, Hardees, Pho 24 and Lotteria. All for around 4 bucks a meal or so, more depending on how hungry you are. Portions are smaller here. There is a ton of decently priced restaurants here. Yes, you can eat for 50 cents, but why would you when for 2 dollars you can get a nice meal. For 10 bucks, you can get a good meal, for 20, you get a GREAT meal. I am not a challenge eater though, and like to know that a place at least has running water before I eat there. Call me a snob!

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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?

Plenty of vegetarian options, they use the term loosely. If you have high dietary restrictions, then you'll be dining in frequently. You won't want the hassle of dining out often. It will rarely be exactly as you requested it. Again, you gotta be able to go with it.

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

Mosquitoes, roaches, other various and typical tropical bugs. Rats in the city. Apartments are fairly immune though, minus the occasional gecko intruder. Don't look too long at the sidewalks, etc. You're bound to see something moving. Same thing goes with food. I think I've eaten more than a few ants since I have been here. They were not on the menu.

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Daily Life:

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

Gov't employees have DPO, local mail is safe, but they open everything and charge duty, even on used items.

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

It is cheap and plentiful, but screen carefully. I have had no problems though. Inquire locally about current rates.

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

most buildings have pools and work out facilities. Decent enough for free. There are some pay clubs as well, that some people insist on throwing their money to. Walking around and sweating is a great activity. Which you can do for free. Most Vietnamese people seem to think that westerners can't walk, they will always be offering you a ride. Again, the idea that strolling or walking could be for fun is an odd concept 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?

Most people want cash, they charge extra fees if you use a card. I doubt the security of anything having to do with electronics here.

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

Catholic and LDS is what I know exist.

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

Use the internet if it's not blocked, you can have your late arrival magazines come from the U.S. There are a few local papers in English.

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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?

Not much. They don't really like to hear your version of Vietnamese.

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

It would be difficult, but I have met people here who are in wheelchairs and blind, etc. As ex-pats, it's possible, because the cost of care-givers is very cheap.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are cheap, VERY cheap, but you get what you pay for. They will drive you around for hours and still claim they know the way. Buses are scary and appear very uncomfortable. They are really cheap, like 20 cents a ride, I took one from the airport to Ben Thanh market and it was 20 cents just to try it out. If you were on a shoestring budget of five bucks a day for all costs, you would need to use buses, if not, then splurge for the 50 cent taxi flag drop, first kilometer included.

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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 suppose in town a small cheap car would be best. Most people do without if you live in town. It's a hassle to drive around. Be ready, many hire drivers.

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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?

around 60 bucks 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?

Cell phones are cheap, you can buy the sim card pre-pay. they make up the prices as they go along, but it's still pretty cheap.

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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?

Getting the documentation can be hard, many ex-pat friends of mine are kind of in a limbo state with their paperwork. They don't have official diplomatic support though. The work around seems to be to be a contractor of some kind.

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

Men mainly wear long pants and short sleeve plain shirts and women are dressed up very, well. In a this would be too sexy for an ex-pat kind of way. Westerners can wear whatever they would like. Even to nicer bars and restaurants/clubs, you'll see westerners in flip-flops. In general, ex-pat men wear less than a full suit at work, and ex-pat woman go for comfort and style.

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Health & Safety:

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

General pick-pocketing and bag snatching, the usual grab and dash. Nothing extremely violent.

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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?

Not very good. Emergency care seems to be a possible concern. There are a few western style clinics.

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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?

It seems to be very unhealthy. You'll get air purifiers for your apartment/sanctuary.

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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?

2 seasons, dry hot and humid and rainy hot and humid. The dry hot and humid has less rain. Always hot and always a chance of rain.

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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?

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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?

Nannies are cheap, quality varies from what I hear.

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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?

medium, seems to be growing.

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2. Morale among expats:

OK. Everywhere is what you make of it. There is a huge segment of ex-pats that seem to kind of be in that, I got offered a job in Vietnam and thought what the heck? Most make it work.

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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?

Good. Getting events catered is cheap. Going out is cheap. Seems to be a limited crowd. It's fun though, most of the time.

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

Families - it seems like with the long commute, and after-hour work requirements, it can be difficult to make it home for quality time. Singles - easy for guys to date, hard to gauge intentions. More difficult for woman, again, hard to gauge intentions. Dating doesn't exist as westerners understand it here, but many date other ex-pats. Couples - Good if the spouse not working here can find something to occupy their time. Some work, some don't.

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

It's not very open, but it does exist here.

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

Pretty much men do whatever they want, it appears. Woman typically want what ex-pats may consider a out-dated sole female role of raising children and having a household. To women here, the idea that a man can cook and clean or take care of children and share these duties is laughable.

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

Getting away to beautiful beaches, enjoying the cheaper mid-level resorts (Vietnamese 4 star), HCMC is fairly international with a little bit of everything. Seeing the Me Kong Delta and attending some of the events that the Consulate puts on have been great.

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

Go the markets, haggle with the locals, just go with it and have fun, if you take things seriously, you'll be very frustrated. There are a ton of restaurants to try, and good bars. You can live it up for a fraction of the cost. That's nice

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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 stuff, maybe some clothes. There are some deals, quality varies.

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

The biggest advantage is the cost of living is really low and regional travel to the beach, or Singapore is a 100USD flight away.

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11. Can you save money?

Yes, but treat yourself occasionally.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Possibly. For a developing country, there are quite a few perks.

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

Winter wear and Facebook account.

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3. But don't forget your:

Flexibility and patience.

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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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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 09/02/10

Background:

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

Not first expat experience. Have lived in Bangkok, Thailand, Ljubljana, Slovenia. Lisbon, Portugal. Milan, Italy.

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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 DC. Usually travel 3 flights. DC to west coast SFO then Pacific route to Japan,or Bangkok or Singapore, then need to change to connect to Vietnam. But last post was Bangkok so did a direct transfer.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Have been here for 2 years, 1 more to go.

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

Trailing spouse, husband works for State Dept. at US Consulate

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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 live in the very center of HCMC in a furnished Condo with 12 floors, a pool and a small restaurant. We can be anywhere within 20 mins or less. There are good taxi's and also motor bike taxis called Xe Om (pronounced Say Om. If you get to know a couple of the old guys that stand on your street corner with their motor bikes, they make very good modes of transport, they look out for you. Helmets must be worn here it's the law and is enforced, but they are mostly building site plastic things. we brought 2 good strong helmets from the USA (made in China of course sigh!)Across the river a longer commute, 20 minutes from center on a motor bike, 40 minutes in a car not rush hour,as bad as a couple of hours if in rush hour and construction going on. This area is called Anh Phu and is where all the compounds and schools are, good facilities for families with children.

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

I buy all my veg and fruits from (Vietnamese grown)the local markets and supermarkets, I have a Vietnamese housekeeper 2 mornings a week and she does all my shopping for me, as you really need the language for the markets and the patience for the pushing crowds. Imported goods are available and expensive, nuts, breakfast cereals, Olive oils, bread is wonderful here and Coffee is good. You can save if you want.

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

Any products for your pets, we brought Clumping cat litter and are so happy we did, malt paste and good quality cat food. Electronics are expensive. we bought big 5 Lb bags of walnuts, almonds etc at Costco and keep in the freezer. Nuts and cheese cost a lot. Medicines are untrustworthy sold from open air pharmacies and can be fake. So bring any cold remedies, antacids, Aspirins, NSAID's etc you need. Main brand names are not found here, so even if the Dr, prescribes it, you can't always buy it here such certain cholesterol drugs.

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

There is only one Franchise here KFC. No McDonalds etc, Which I am very happy with as I don't like fast food franchises. There is a coffee group known as Highland Coffee, they have high prices like Starbucks, $4 for a coffee more for fancy ones, but I go there sometimes to escape the frenetic streets, to sit with other foreigners and not be stared at, read a paper and soak up the A/C, wifi Internet is free too. Then there are lots of Mediterranean restaurants like Jaspas, Kita Cafe, Black cat, prices mid range, can be costly if with family. French restaurants like Ty Coz more up market. The local "Pho" noodle soup restaurants are clean and the food quick, tasty and cheap, $2 to $4 for a big bowl of broth, noodles, chicken and the leafy Vietnamese fixings. The big hotels do amazing all you van eat Buffets for various prices around $25 Good for a Sunday treat. There are German, Cuban, Mexican places, steak houses and lots of Japanese places. All price ranges.

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

Mosquitoes. Dengue fever is on the rise. Although not an insect, there are a lot of parasites here, best not to go barefoot to avoid hook worm (The local population use the streets as a toilet frequently) All veg and fruit needs to be soaked with a cap of bleach, rinsed and air dried. Pick restaurants wisely, Some food handlers can have poor personal hygiene.

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Daily Life:

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

Do it all by APO and 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, easy to find, need references though, the Anh phu neighbours website is a good source, always check out person you want to hire with their previous employers. There are full time, part time house helps and nannies too. My housekeeper comes 2 mornings a week for 4 hours, I pay her $90 a month. She does all my marketing and cleaning of the veg, fruit, meat etc, and ironing and any errands we need run. She could cook but I prefer to that myself.

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

The gyms in the big hotel chains can be expensive, they have nice gyms in a lot of the Condo's and in the housing compounds in Anh Phu. We joined a local Vietnamese gym around the corner for $120 a year! Down side are the noisy speakers and blaring music, we wear ear phones and bring our own music.

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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?

Never use them, always cash. Very tricky here need to be careful, a lot of fraud and stealing.

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

Yes, Catholic Church has services in English. I don't know of any others.

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

Yes, we have cable TV with CNN, BBC, HBO, Star TV, Max, Discovery, Animal planet, Sports,AXN, Australian, German and Japanese TV channels in English. The news channels get delayed and out of Sync. and the movie channels are censored from time to time.

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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?

If you have a home help, that is huge, she can do all the shopping. I speak 3 other languages, Thai, Italian and French, I could not learn Vietnamese to save myself, a very frustrating time we had trying to learn this without formal language training. It really helps a lot to speak the language but the Hanoi speakers refuse to understand the Ho chi minh accent and vice versa.

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

Navigating the streets here is a nightmare, can 't imagine a wheelchair or crutches being easy along these pavements and crossing these roads of unending streams of motor bikes. However, I have seen the odd tourist in a wheelchair and on crutches,as a tourist you could manage it, but living here would present challenges. Stairs everywhere and shamefully bad pavements.

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Transportation:

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

Taxi's yes we use the Mai Linh taxi company, never any problems. Buses and trains hmm why would you want to put yourself through that mayhem and crush, if you are on a shoe string and really counting the pennies,or very adventurous,I suppose. I have a friend here who takes the buses, she is very intrepid and speaks the local lingo adequately.

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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't bring a car if it is more than 6 years old, you need to check the regulations, I am sure they change, we had to leave ours behind. I would say, if you have young children bring a nice big car to create a safe boundary for your family on your travels. If you are a couple or single, hire a car and driver if you want to go traveling, otherwise a taxi cab far is never more than $6 on the meter anywhere in the city even to the airport. Walk or Xe Om, bike taxi is fine.

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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 available. About $65 a month not unreasonable

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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?

Because everyone gets their cell phone stolen here, the "mobi phone" company have a head office on Nguyen Du street, that are truly excellent at re-issuing you your old number again (without a paid plan. I buy a phone (Nokia)for less then $1 the give you a new SIM card with your old number, you do lose all your old numbers though. I buy minutes each month over the counter for 100,000 Dong = $6. A smal scratch card. Denomination is huge here 1 Million is $60.You have to carry around wads of notes. Brings trousers with lots of pockets and zips, and a hand strap for your phone for when you talk,with ahook to fasten to your pants. Hold all conversations and text all messages away from the kerb, and the passing bikes. Go over by a wall, but not the one used as a unrinal.

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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, no quarantine.

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

There is a very good Vet in Taho Dien, Anh Phu, called Dr. Nghia, trained in the UK, teaches at the University. Excellent pet care and facilities for dogs and cats etc. Unfortunately they eat dogs in Vietnam, Dr. Nghia rescues the puppies from Kitchens and has them adopted. Beware there is "dog napping "here. Animals don't enjoy a lot of special treatment here.

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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 so much, English teachers, yoga or pilates teachers, translators.

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

Men mostly wear dark trousers and a light long sleeve shirt in the office, women wear tight little skirts and trousers and high heels and ride around on motor bikes with the heels. The dress code is pretty relaxed, I see a lot of skin on the younger girls, spaghetti straps etc. Older women are more conservative.

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Health & Safety:

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

Yes. Petty theft, phone and bag snatchers, pickpockets. The most common theft I hear of, is 2 guys speeding by on a motor bike will knock cell phones from your hand or unhook or wrench bag straps from pedestrians and speed off. Usually these are crimes of opportunity, when you are out and about you are always being observed, especially in the markets. Everybody I know here has had their cell phone stolen at some point. My bag was strapped over my shoulder and under one arm, I felt the strap go, the robbers had wrenched it from the leather bag so fast and sped off causing the strap to spin off my body and leave me running after them yelling. Hopeless. There are house break-ins across the river in a district called Anh Phu where families live in residences, they have security guards, but here in the heart of the city we live in a Condo and the security is very good. I know of people who had their passports stolen when their hotel room was broken into. Never leave anything lying anywhere at any time, it will be stolen. The local culture is very tolerant of untruthfulness, you will often not be told the truth. Domestic help will lie to you, it is not unusual, make sure references are good, a lot of theft can be an inside job. The yoga studio I once attended had money stolen from the lockers by a family member of the owners. If you have something of value make sure it is locked a way in a secure place.

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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?

Any thing serious would be a Medevac to Singapore or Bangkok. There is the Family Medical clinic and a few others in the center of town and FV hospital just outside town.

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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 is not very good in HCMC, heavy traffic, millions of motor bikes. Many people suffer respiratory problems. Better air out in the countryside

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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?

Vietnam has a very long coast line, about 3,000 miles long. Climate is tropical Monsoon. Weather patterns in the north vary from the south. Northern winters can be cold, summers hotter than HCMC. The South west Monsoon May to Sept. Northeast Monsoon Oct.to April. In HCMC Dry season is Dec to April. The weather is perfect in Dec and Jan. Daily Torrential downpours, humid in rainy season.

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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 good International schools here, mostly across the river in Anh Phu. I have no experience with them, but know friends with children who attend and are happy with the education.

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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?

Again, over in Anh Phu is where nearly all the families with young children live, there are support groups and social network groups and activities for the young. A very valuable source of information is "Anh Phu Neighbours" a google group network runby a headmaster there. You apply to join and once in can ask for any help and all the neighbors chip in, selling things, finding tutors and so on. No advertising though.

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

I believe so.

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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.

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2. Morale among expats:

Mixed, it is not easy living here. You have to try to be positive, if you can mix only with ex-pats and live in your own little enclave you can be fine, if you must work and mix with the locals it can be exhausting and frustrating. The thing is to try to find a balance, surround yourself with friends of all kinds and keep your morale up.

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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?

Movie theaters, films are in English with Vietnamese sub titles, the audiences love to use their cell phones and talk during the movies, so I gave up and watch DVD at home. The Vietnamese love loud noise, Karaoke and huge blasting speakers, they have social events out in the streets which makes the windows rattle. Be careful where you decide to live, we had to move. to escape the barrage of noise outside our apartment.

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

It's a great city for singles, I have heard, you need friends though, so as long as singles can hook up with pals, there is a lot to explore and do here, night life, restaurants, markets, travel, it helps if you speak Vietnamese). Regarding Families, the city center itself is not kid friendly, motor bikes all over the place going anywhere they please, the wrong way down one way streets all over the pavements, diagonally you name it, I am always being winged when I walk, they skim past you. Pavements are a nightmare, big holes, rubble from numerous building sites, walls used as public urinals, Electric cables overhead festoon the streets and catch you round the neck if you are not alert. As is usual in Asian countries the Vietnamese love to touch your children, especially if fair haired. Families are better off driving or going in taxis. But can have a good life here in the ex-pat community and doing road trips with a driver. Couples, yes absolutely, very nice here, lots to do as couples, gyms, parks, restaurants, Tutors in the ex-pat community who teach anything from Spanish, french and Italian to Tai chi and yoga

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

I have gay friends who live here, and I believe there is a good scene for them but not widely accepted. It is seen by the government as a social ill. There are no gays in Vietnam!

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

There is a large Catholic church in the center of HCMC with religious services. Some religious groups are under closer scrutiny than others. Not for their underlying philosophies and values, but for their perceived intervention in the political arena. In general if you practice your religious beliefs in a quiet fashion you are fine just don't engage in any missionary or conversion activities. Men are definitely respected more here, women are considered inferior. In restaurants or at public events I have found the man will always be bowed to, respected a lot and dealt with first. Male children are much favored and desired here. Black skin is rarely seen here and will cause the locals to stare maybe just a bit longer than they stare at any foreigner here anyway. We all get stared at, get used to it. But they will not be unfriendly to you because your skin is darker. It always seems to me they are being aggressive and rude to me, until I learned that this is the way it is in this society. There is a distinct lack of personal space and social graces are non existent out in the streets and shops, you will be shoved out the way. It's a good lesson in not taking yourself too seriously I suppose.

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

Exploring the old streets and amazing wet markets, with my camera and notebook (NO Bag). The beautiful old French colonial buildings (already sadly crumbling,dilapidated and unloved) are slowly being demolished and replaced with giant condo's and shopping malls. The city is changing dramatically on a daily basis, there doesn't seem to be any protection for old historical buildings. Money speaks here. Land is sold and suddenly a whole row of old shop houses and interesting buildings is gone overnight. Rents are tripled by greedy land lords and long time residents turfed out. The weeks before TET are a feast for the eyes, photographers and budding authors will love it here, so many colors and weird sights to see. I love to soak it all in, write about it, film it.

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

If you like Latin dancing there are Cuban and Latin American restaurants and dance clubs. In the the center of town are 2 large parks which are nice to walk in, very green and you can people watch, see all the local Tai chi and sword dance practices. Take a boat up the river from the pier by the Riverside hotel.

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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 is very beautiful, plates, trays, pots, vases etc. Some very nice art work. Solid wood Furniture with Rattan or Water hyacinth. There is a nice China Factory Than Long.

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

You can save money here if you buy local food, and don't eat out much. A lot of the cheapest fruit and veg is imported from China and the use of pesticides can be heavy, balance buying cheap and avoiding possibly toxic produce with more expensive and organic products from farms in Dalat in the North. There are many nice cafes and restaurants here, some great some not,which can suck up your money. There are a lot of spas and massage places around, it's a hit and miss experience. A lot lack finesse and quality of training that doesn't seem to be available here. If you find a place you like here or a therapist, hairdresser, restaurant, clothes shop etc, grab it, and make sure you get phone numbers, as the next time you go they have just gone, up and moved out. When the landlord's see a business becoming successful they raise the rent, the small businesses have no choice but pay up or to move. I have lost many places I liked due to this practice. The cool season in Dec to Feb is lovely for traveling, walking, exploring. We don't travel much in Vietnam as we have all we need in the city, but friends tell me Halong Bay, Dalat, Mui ne are lovely to visit. There are lots of opportunities for cycling, joining gyms. Personal trainers are affordable here.

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11. 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?

Maybe.

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

Art work as you will buy more here. Any warm clothing at all, it's always hot here, even the cool season just needs a long sleeve shirt maybe. High heels, pavements are treacherous, rains are heavy. Nice hand bags, may be snatched. Jewelry, stick to costume jewelry.

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3. But don't forget your:

Capri pants or trousers with lots of pockets for phone and money, so no need to carry a bag. Good strong, light weight foot wear, Theva's Geox, river sandals, any thing that can get wet, heavy rains, crumbling pavements can ruin nice shoes. Over the counter medications, cold remedies, antacids, antibiotic creams, NSAIDS, that you use. Patience.

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

Up Country, by Nelson De MilleTears of War by Bao Ninh (view from the north rather than HCMC)

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The Quiet American.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 11/22/09

Background:

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

My fourth 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?

Home base is Sydney, 10-12 hours with a stopover in Bangkok or Singapore.

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3. How long have you lived here?

6+ years.

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

Educator.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Compounds of varying quality, huge apartment blocks, local houses for expats; and prices have finally come down.

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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 get so much more than before, but of course you pay a lot. What is wonderful is the Canadian organic produce delivery service - reliable and they are opening a retail shop very soon.

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

Organic foods (the pesticides in the foods here make people sick), more books, underwear, bicycle helmets, high-quality sports equipment (for those shrinking playing fields).

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

Still no McDonald's, but there is Lotteria (Korean burgers) and loads of KFC.

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

Mosquitoes full of dengue - they need to be managed. Ants all the time - I keep foodstuffs in the fridge.

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Daily Life:

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

I don't go through the post office. I have great luck with DHL It's worth the money.

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

Lots available, but you have to check references carefully. Local maids are often the way thieves can access houses. Local maids are about $200 a month. Filipina maids are around $300-$400, but they are much more reliable.

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

Very good gyms are available. Not cheap but clean and well-equipped.

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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?

Fine - I use them all the time. You can get a debit card and use it, so no need to carry loads of cash.

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

Lots: the Mormons have a growing community with bi-lingual services. There is an expat group of charismatic Christians, and also a couple of other services. I know a rabbi came a few years ago, but I'm not sure if he is still here. Catholic services are available, of course, and also Jehovah's Witnesses.

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

Getting less and less. The government wants the vast majority of any media to be in Vietnamese, so TV isn't what it used to be here.

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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 more you know, the lower the prices in the markets will be. But you can survive with very little, as locals do not expect foreigners to know any Vietnamese at all.

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

Do not come here. It is hard enough to get around on two feet.

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Transportation:

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

No trains. Buses are crowded, and the locals do not appreciate your presence. Taxis are safe if you take the ones used by foreigners - there are three main companies. But Vietnamese drivers have a strange way of using the gears (only manual cars are allowed by the government); they will drive 20km per hour in 5th gear as they think it saves gas. Really irritating, but they will not change.

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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 need something with high clearance to get through the flooded streets and also with good suspension to navigate the torn-up main roads into the city. There are no carjackings, as traffic is so slow they would just sit there after throwing you out of the car.

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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?

They say it is high-speed, however.... But you can access the internet - prices are about $20 a month depending on your usage. What can be troublesome is the government closing things down at times. Facebook is now being shut down here - everyone is working on finding ways to get past the walls.

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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?

Easily arranged. Get a plan through your workplace so you don't have to buy the top-up cards.

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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, but you will want to keep your pet quarantined from the local environment and the local population, who are keen to kidnap your dog for ransom or to eat. (not joking)

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

There is one well-known vet everyone that goes to, but the care is really pretty mediocre and getting worse. There is one new local vet who will come to your house and is a proper vet. Kennel care is a problem. The well-known vet just sticks your dog in a cage for the duration, and that is it. Feline care is hard to find, as cats are seen as bringing bad luck, so not much care and information is 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?

Teaching ESL, marketing managers at local-hire salaries (low).

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

Shirts, trousers, tie. Women need to look as professional and attractive as possible to hold their own in the face of local women, who tend to dress provocatively.

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Health & Safety:

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

Pretty unhealthy and getting worse, mainly from the breathtaking number of motorbikes on the roads.

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

I have been robbed twice on the street, pretty violently I might add. I now take taxis everywhere. As the global economy crashes, people become more desperate, so you have to be careful. But there is no chance of being held up at gunpoint. One growing danger is the rising rate of house break-ins and home invasions. This used to be a problem for the local population only, but now it has spread to expats as well. Ironically, the area with the most danger of this is the big expat compound.

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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 is a danger all the time. Medical care is ok, SOS is very reliable. There are hospitals here which are somewhat clean, like the FV, but it is just better to get yourself evacuated for any surgery or serious illness. Local nurses are underpaid, overworked and not nice at all.

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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?

Rainy and hot or dry and hot.

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Schools & Children:

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

ISHCMC is good - an IB world school with an expat international feel. The rest are primarily for local rich families, with the resulting emphasis on exams and rote learning. All schools have space issues and no real playing fields to speak of any more.

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

None, and they are very up-front about it. The Australian School, due to its generous admissions policies, has become the place where people are able to put their children if they have learning difficulties, but there are no specially-trained staff or special resources at the school.

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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?

Lots of decent ones around.

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

Through the schools. But with the demise of all playing fields at the schools, this can be a real problem. There is a soccer/football program for locals run by Arsenal - which can be really good if you have transport to get your kid there.

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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, with many different country groups. Last year there was a big exodus due to the global crash, but some are returning.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends on how long you have been here. People who have been here longer than 2 years start to be affected by the constant irritations of the local culture, and by 5 years things become a little disfunctional.

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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?

Clubs, bars, restaurants galore. Dinner parties and gatherings, balls, whatever. There is always something happening.

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

It is great for families with small kids. Couples had better be solid, as the competition and temptation of the local ladies can be extreme. Singles find the local clubbing scene adequate for a while. Families with teenagers find this place tough. There is nothing to do, and they are able to access the clubs and bars from a very young age.

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

Super great for gay men, from what I have been told. Not sure about lesbian expats. It is best to come with your partner, I think.

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

Well, the local women are treated like slaves by the local men, who do nothing. There is prejudice, but nothing is deeply felt or expressed. There is safety in the cultural blandness here. All foreigners are seen as outsiders, no matter how friendly people can appear to be. So we are all in the same situation.

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

Other then the immense expat drinking scene? Hmmm, there are a few local excursions you can do once: Mekong Delta tour, going to Mui Ne (beach about 4 hours away) for the weekend, Cu Chi tunnels. Once you have done that, it is time to book weekends in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur to maintain sanity.

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

There are warehouses full of lacquer wares, little wood things, badly made silk items, and loads of furniture which will fall apart at your next posting. The jewelery shops downtown will make up cute things for a reasonable cost, and there are a couple of shops which make excellent quality handbags - not cheap but worth the money.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, but less and less all the time, due to rising prices for healthy and safe food and needs to fly away frequently.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

No. It is ok for one posting, but there just isn't anything here which one needs to explore in depth. After the first flush you realise it is one of the more boring places to be.

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

expectations that people will tell the truth about most things, ski equipment, wool clothes, nice shoes, desires to mingle with the local population in a relaxed way.

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3. But don't forget your:

flip flops, sunscreen, decent books, and wariness in negotiating anything.

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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:

The Quiet American, there is a new film called Saigon Exposed (I think) that is supposed to be good.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Bring as much of your life here as you can - you will need it to fill the large gaps of culture which exist here. You can be happy here if you do not expect the local environment to provide what you need in terms of activities and interests.

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 12/26/08

Background:

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

No, many.

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2. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

Foreign Service Officer at U.S. Consulate.

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

Over 19 hours, usually through San Francisco and Hong Kong.

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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 is one compound for families and several high-rise full-service apartments with three bedrooms, two baths, pools and gyms.

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

Groceries, for "American" or foreign brands can be twice the price of the U.S. Meats, seafood, vegetables and fruit all VERY inexpensive, plentiful and delicious...but you have to be careful with quality and cleanliness of the veggies/ fruits.

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

I would bring my own furniture and have the serviced apartment take out their standard issue furniture.

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

Fast food includes: lotteria, KFC, Jollibee and Pizza Hut. Lots of decent international and local food restaurants with a wide variety of prices.

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Daily Life:

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

There is APO and pouch at Post.

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

Widely available, quality mixed. Go with a recommendation from the expat community. A decent cook was 85 USD per month for three visits each week. The serviced apartment staff "cleans" your apartment every day. Quality of cleaning fairly low and cleaning staff fairly nosy. Our cook was fantastic, though. I've heard good things about nannies, too. I think it's fair to say that most Vietnamese people LOVE children.

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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?

ATMs are okay, credit cards are okay at larger establishments. I used my ATM card every week and never had a problem.

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

There is an English-language Catholic mass every week.

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

CNN, Star TV on cable. Can buy FT and The IHT on the street for US$7 - 8. Any foreign magazine will be censored if it contains negative press about Vietnam.

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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, really; however, if you can learn just a little bit of Vietnamese a whole new world will open up to you.

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

Absolutely, yes. I do not recommend anyone with physical disabilities to live in Vietnam.

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Transportation:

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

On the right....sorta. Cars cut corners and motorbikes go anywhere they want...sidewalks, gutters, down the wrong way of one-way streets. Very little rule of law with traffic.

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

Yes, affordable, safe...yes for the most part. The risk of a traffic accident with the tourist buses was the only thing that was scary about riding them. They drive fast to make good time.

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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?

People who live in the compound (about 45 mins away from the consulate by shuttle) had cars. Anything from SUV to smaller sedan would be suitable. You really don't need a car in Saigon, though...roads outside the city are rough and crowded...metered cabs from reputable companies in the city are safe and affordable.

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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, it's called "high speed" but it's not. US$90 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?

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

Skype. Mobile phone.

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Pets:

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

There are several vets but their skill in feline care is limited. Note that it can be difficult to import/ export your pet not due to any restrictions by law but limited hours of customs. Check with GSO and use a pet shipping company.

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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 sure.

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

Casual to dressy. Open toe shoes year round are okay.

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Health & Safety:

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

Unhealthy.

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

Pickpocketing, purse snatching in markets and pedestrian/ traffic issues.

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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?

Pollution, food poisoning, bacterial infections from who knows what. Medical care so-so. Better than some places, not anywhere close to Bangkok or Singapore. If you have a serious injury or health issue arise, Vietnam is not where you want to be.

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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?

Hot-wet and hot-dry.

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Schools & Children:

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

Decent quality for younger children, families with teenagers said it was not as academically challenging for their gifted children.

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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?

I don't know of any expats who used daycare...everyone had a nanny.

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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 and growing.

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2. Morale among expats:

I thought it was excellent, especially among stay-at-home moms with younger children...Morale at the consulate is very good, even though it is a very busy and understaffed post with lots of high level visitors.

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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?

Lots of stuff to do! HCMC has an entirely different persona at night. People entertain at home, meet up at bars or restaurants.

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

Good for all. Easier for single men to find dates. Families with younger children love it. Older children (teens) difficult.

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

I think so, yes, there is a lively gay community but it is still perceived as unconventional in Vietnamese society. You would not know this by the bars at night, though!

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

I think there are some racial prejudices...not hatred but people of African-American or Asian-American heritage often encountered weird remarks about their backgrounds and assumptions about their nationality.

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

Travel: in the country and the region. Shopping galore. Spas. Tailoring, custom made furniture, framing, art lessons, photography, yoga, salsa dancing, learning the language, bar-hopping, cafe people watching. There's so much to do in HCMC!

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

So much! Textiles, furniture, art, jewelry.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't travel outside the country much...but you are so close you have to travel!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Absolutely. It is a fascinating time for the country and U.S.-Vietnam relations. Highly recommended for a great consular experience or mid-level Pol/Econ/PD position.

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

Skis and conceptions about Vietnam as a war.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, rain boots.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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