Addison in Ho Chi Minh City: "The Vietnamese lifestyle is incredibly relaxed"

  • Addison in Ho Chi Minh City
Published 2015-09-17 00:00
Addison comes from the USA. He moved to Ho Chi Minh City with his friend Sarah in March 2015. English teacher, Addison enjoys writing in his journal, relaxing a the cafe, in a park or by the riverfront.

Where are you from, Addison, and what are you doing nowadays?

I am from United States of America. After I graduated from the University of Delaware, I took a job as a math teacher for a local public school. As I taught there, I was involved with the robotics team, swim team, maths club, and tennis team. After five years of teaching my favorite subject, I ventured into the world of brewing beer. I worked for a brewery in Wilmington, DE for a few years. I mostly performed as a server and bartender with some minor roles with bottling and producing beer. However, it didn't stop me from trying out my own experiments at home. I then decided I wanted to pursue my adventures abroad. I am currently am an ESL/EFL teacher in Vietnam, but I have signed a contract to teach maths in an international school.

Why did you choose to expatriate to Vietnam?

Vietnam wasn't my first choice actually. At first, I was drawn towards China. Sarah and I did some research for places that suited our lifestyles. As we continued to venture into the thought of teaching abroad, we began looking into other countries. Japan and Korea were a bit out of our price range since we'd like to save money. Thailand and China were options, but reviews of teaching in Thailand were sub-par. We then started looking into Vietnam. The price seemed perfect, reviews from expats were mostly positive, opportunity was high and the weather was a constant tropical climate which gives us the feeling of vacation everyday.

What has attracted you to Ho Chi Minh City?

Ho Chi Minh City was our final choice for relocation due to lifestyle and job availability. I never thought I would venture abroad to teach English, and with the little experience I had with teaching English, I figured a school would eventually pick me up if I searched hard enough. The lifestyle of HCMC is more comfortable for a new expat. There are better opportunities to meet new people, enjoy nightlife and take affordable trips to explore what Vietnam has to offer.

What were the procedures to follow for a US national to move there?

At first, I thought the process was quite strenuous. Once Sarah and I got started on the paperwork, it moved like clockwork. In order to move to Vietnam, you need a proper visa (tourist visa works). Once you've acquired a job, the work permit process is the biggest pain. It's best if the paperwork is done prior to coming over, which is something Sarah and I researched (luckily) before jumping on a plane. What you need for a work permit is a Bachelor's Degree (copy notarized by the USA and Vietnam and translated), a Police Background Check from your home country (copy notarized by the USA and Vietnam and translated), a CELTA/TESOL certification (copy notarized by USA and Vietnam and translated) and a passport (copy of passport notarized by Vietnam and translated). Once in the country, you will also need a background check from the justice department.
At the 3-month mark, I had to renew my visa for a work or business visa. I had to make a random trip to Cambodia.

How long have you been in the country?

I arrived on the 23rd of March 2015. It's been six months now.

What are the local labor market's features?

It seems that English teaching positions are plentiful. I showed up without a job and began applying to a number of English centers and International schools. Within three days, I had interviews set up and in a week I had a position with VUS. There are other jobs than teacher available. I've met many expats who are involved in the fields of IT, dentistry and graphic design. Many places will offer a position paid in USD and an allowance for rent or living expenses.

Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation that are available?

Flats, houses, hotels, etc., are all available. We were looking for a place with a reasonable price. It isn't hard to find a place if you aren't picky regarding the price. Sarah and I didn't know what we were looking for, so we took about a week to check out some different apartments and houses. In the meantime, we had a home-stay in district 5. It was very affordable. We found a cute apartment in district 7 that didn't have the luxury of a maid or utilities included, but the location was quiet and comforting. I think when our lease is up we will move into the city with roommates and have a lower rent.

How do you find the Vietnamese lifestyle?

The Vietnamese lifestyle is incredibly relaxed. There isn't much of a sense of urgency with many folks. From 2 to 4 pm, it seems like everyone sleeps. Time isn't much of an issue as long as you show up around the proper time. If you don't drink coffee, you need to learn because this place is cafe central. I often sit at a cafe enjoying some Vietnamese ca phe sua da (iced coffee). When you first, arrive the intensity of traffic can be overwhelming, but I recommend purchasing a motorbike as soon as possible and learning to drive it around. Traffic doesn't seem as chaotic once you learn the road traffic regulations (which are few).

How about the expats living there?

Expats here are great. I've met quite a few and have grown close to some. They always want to experience new things and join in on new adventures. It doesn't seem like there are any issues with expats and Vietnamese, unlike the annoyances you pick up when handling a "backpacker". All in all, it's been a very positive experience with my fellow expatriates.

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

Adapting is a natural instinct for mammals. For the time I've lived here, I can safely say I've become part of my surroundings. Street food isn't an issue for me and I prefer it to any restaurant dining. Driving around has given me a better feel and understanding for the life in HCMC. The Vietnamese are always willing to help if you are lost and need assistance (even if it may be for a small fee).

What does your every day life look like in HCMC?

Wake up to the rooster around 7 or 8am, clean up the apartment, put on some music, take a shower and get ready for whatever activities are ahead. If it's super hot outside, I might stay in and read or go to a pool and enjoy the luxury of lounging around while getting a tan or floating aimlessly. If the day seems comfortable, I'll run some errands in D1, stop off at a cafe for some relax time and explore some other areas. Teaching hours are usually at night and all day on the week-ends. So from 6 to 9 pm I'll teach (except for Saturday and Sunday), and afterwards, either go home or go out with colleagues. The nightlife is always a fun time and it seems beer is the cheapest liquid you can purchase here.

What has surprised you the most at your arrival?

The rats. There is a large population of rats that people pay no mind to. They'll run around the streets in and out of sewers and trash bins. You'll find them sitting on your motorbike or running around your feet while you eat. After a few times, you begin getting used to it. Rats and cockroaches are just a part of everyday life now. I don't know if that's a good thing or not.

Any particular experience you would like to share with us?

If anybody ever wants to head down to the beach, take a taxi and don't try to make the drive by motorbike. If a trip is going to take about three hours by motorbike, you have no idea what is in store for you. We drove down South and experienced all different types of weather systems. It was slightly cold, then light rain, hard rain, sleet, and finally blazing hot. On top of that, it's incredibly dangerous and scary to drive on the main highways. I think I grinded my teeth the entire way down. 18-wheelers drove past at high speeds and would honk their horns directly into your ear. The wind they produced at those speeds would shake your bike left and right. The whole trip was so nerve racking that I was willing to leave the bike and take a taxi home.

Your favorite local dishes?

I'm a simpleton. I enjoy pork/chicken with rice. It's always accompanied with slices of cucumber, tomatoes, dish of fish sauce and peppers, and a small bowl of cabbage soup. It's the best street food ever. It also is an incredibly cheap dish, coming around 17.000-20.000VND, which is less than $1. Perfect!

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Vietnam? Is it easy for an expat to live in there?

It's incredibly easy. Sarah and I live in an apartment located in Phu My Hung, which is a very nice area to live, for about US$ 470 per month. As I mentioned before, you can buy a meal on the street for less than a dollar, and if you go out, beer can cost you about 50 cents. There are places that can be expensive, but you learn that they don't offer the experience and food that you can acquire from the street vendors. I came here to save money, and with the money I'm spending, I'm still saving a lot.

How do you spend your leisure time?

Pools are a popular place for expats to enjoy their time. Surfing the Internet at a cafe is seen a lot. I've taken up writing in a journal, finding quiet parks or spots along the riverfront to relax. Traveling is cheap. So many expats will venture off when they have a day off.

What are the differences between life in Vietnam and in the US?

Time. There never seemed to be enough time to do anything in the US. Vacations were short, people expected you to be in a location at a specific time. Tardiness is a huge issue in the US. The working week was an average of 40 to 60 hours, but in Vietnam it's closer to 30 hours. Time doesn't seem to be much of an issue in Vietnam and it shows. People are more relaxed. There is a time of day when everyone takes a nap and continues their business in a couple hours. This lifestyle gives the city and country a feeling of contentment with their lives. You don't see road rage, street fights, or any other negative effect that the US seems to engage in.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

Live performances (Music Concerts). There seems to be a lack of international bands that come through HCMC or Vietnam. Back in the US, I would enjoy a major performance once a week with friends. If the performer isn't a pop singer or a house DJ artist, they won't be performing in HCMC.

Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates?

Come prepared. Don't think you can just show up and find a job. There are some major laws that have changed over the years that have made obtaining visas, permits and other legal documents a pain to get. Just make sure you do your homework before arriving. If you do that, I assure you that your experience will be positive. It's a great place as long as you have the ability to be social and enjoy your surroundings.

What are your plans for the future?

As I have signed a two-year contract with an international school, I will be stationed in HCMC till then. I can see myself continuing the teaching career in China at some point. I do want to explore the world some more and visit friends' home countries at some point. In the end, I will venture back to America to continue an education career on the West coast. Teaching is in my blood.

1 Comment
4 years ago

Hi, Great post enjoyed reading it very much and makes me feel very restless as I want to come and live in Vietnam myself. On the work permit are there any other alternatives to having a Bachelor's Degree? I don't have a degree (didn't do Uni) but I do have a trade certificate and many IT Industry certifications, and I am planning on doing the TESOL Diploma in a few years in the lead-up to becoming an ex-pat. BTW, the photo where was that taken?

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