Why Vietnam attracts more and more expats?

Article
Published 2019-06-25 15:35

In a recent survey conducted by Expat.com and global research agency,  Kantar, Vietnam came fourth in the list of popular destinations for expat professionals. Abundant career opportunities, low cost of living and a comfortable lifestyle are what seem to attract travelers to the region. Some come on a holiday, some visit for longer and some stay for years. So, is Vietnam the new up-and-coming expat hub in Asia? That’s what we are looking into in this article.

Low cost of living

This is the first reason most expats cite when explaining their relocation. While the trend for downshifting may have passed, the worldwide search for countries that offer a good quality of life at a bargain continues. Vietnam seems to offer just that having outscored Thailand as the cheapest expat destination.

So is living in the country really that cheap?

One of the cheapest— at least, according to Numbeo, an online database that collects information on the cost of living in different cities. As of June 2018, Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh have ranked 7th and 9th accordingly in the list of the world’s “cheapest to live in cities”. 

Naturally, how much you will spend in Vietnam will depend a lot on your lifestyle and habits. In general, however, most necessities in the country will cost you up to 25% less than in most other Southeast Asian countries. The most expensive city in Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City, followed closely by Hanoi — but even these big urban centres are quite modest in their financial demands. If you are okay with a “no frills”  lifestyle, you will be able to live comfortably in any of the big cities for under $500 (including rent). A budget of $1,000 a month, on the other hand, can grant one access to a pretty snug life with living in a nice apartment and going out to eat every day. 

Naturally, the further you travel from the country’s major cities, the less expensive life gets. This is even true for the popular tourist spots like Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang and others where, on the same $1,000 budget, you can live in a place that is just a short walk from the beach and enjoy regular massage sessions by the beach. Go higher than that, and you are pretty much living in the lap of luxury.

High internet speed

Freelancers, digital nomads and simply the office-free are often the first to discover new “hot” expat hubs. And for them, Internet accessibility and speed are the two key components that make or break a destination. Vietnam is praised for its connectivity: high-speed Internet is easily accessible in large cities like Ho Chi Minh City and is said to be speedier than in Thailand. Smaller towns and even island villages also have Internet access but you should be expecting a drop in speed.

Bountiful job market

A lot of people have become expats in Vietnam by chance. Joseph Lau had been living and working in China for close to five years before he went on a quick vacation to Vietnam — four months later he made the move.

“A friend of mine was working in an international school in Hanoi. One day, I just visited him at work and sort of fell in love with the atmosphere. I checked with my friend and he said they were in constant need of experienced English teachers. This was an easy transition for me as I was a head teacher in an English school in China,” — explains Lau. 

English teaching is one of the most in-demand vacancies in Vietnam — as is the case with its neighbours, Thailand and China. 

With that, professional opportunities in other areas are also aplenty as more and more international expertise is needed to fuel the country’s economic growth. Fields where expats are needed the most include banking, retail, marketing, engineering, software development and others.

As Lau notes, salaries in Vietnam may be lower than, for instance, in top tier cities in China. However, the difference is easily cancelled out by the lower cost of living. In fact, most expats living and working in Vietnam note that they have been able to save more money here compared to other countries. When working in Vietnam, you will generally be making from 30% to 50% more than local exployees — plus, if you hold a management position in an international company, other perks (rent allowance, medical insurance, transportation) are to be expected. 

Interesting culture and friendly locals

Almost all expats living in Vietnam mention the culture and people as one of the reasons that has made them stay in the country this long. It’s one of the oldest cultures in Southeast Asia with several UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a variety of places of interest. 

Local residents in their majority are very friendly to foreign visitors and you should be able to get about using English — at least at the beginning of your stay.

Climate and travel options

As most countries in South East Asia, Vietnam has a tropical climate, which some travelers also find appealing. However, with that come monsoon season, high humidity and frequent rainfall. While it can be occasionally unpleasant, most expats are very happy with the weather conditions in Vietnam. And, in our survey, it ranked third for pleasantness of climate. 

Vietnam had a lot to offer for those who love exploring. Noted for its rich selection of idyllic Islands, hiking trails, caves and national parks, it gives one plenty to discover without leaving the country. 

Marina Grankova, a 3-year long expat in the coastal city of Hoi An says that this is what won her over in the first place: "Living in Vietnam is an everyday adventure. There is so much to try, do and see – all I wish for is some more free time off work". 

Diverse local cuisine 

"Trust me, good food matters," says Terrence Baker, an American with two years of experience as an expat in Vietnam. 

"I never thought I'd be the one relocating over taste preferences, but here I am", he laughs. Having initially moved to Shanghai, China on a work opportunity, Baker made the move 6 months into his contract. "Chinese food simply did not agree with me and buying things that I was used to was just too expensive. It's a different story here."

Why different? 

A former French colony, Vietnam offers an interesting mix of forms and flavors resulting in a truly one-of-a-kind cuisine. Here, you will find both Western and Asian dishes, either separately or arranged in a creative fusion. A good example of that is a popular fast food called bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette), which consists of a rice flour baguette with a variety of stuffings. Vietnamese coffee is ever present and you will be able to grab a quick sandwich-based breakfast for under a dollar in most of the local establishments. 

The "asian" portion of the local cuisine also has lots to offer from signature hearty phos (spicy Vietnamese soup with noodles and meat stock) to light gỏi cuốns (summer spring rolls) and more. 

Safe and convenient

Vietnam is a mostly safe place to live — but caution should still be exercised. Petty theft and tourist scams are quite common in big cities and local expats recommend staying vigilant in busy urban areas.

With that, life in Vietnam is generally relaxing and not fraught with too many problems. For Andrei Romanov this “ease of life” was what convinced him to move. As a freelance programmer, he can live anywhere in the world with a good Internet connection and, after having stayed in China, Canada, Thailand, Spain and France, he has earmarked Vietnam as his destination of choice and has been coming here regularly for close to four years. 

“What I was looking for was simplicity and convenience — and Vietnam seems to be the best option for this, at least for now. The fact that it’s also cheap is a great perk”, he concludes.

While Vietnam is still a developing country, it looks like its potential as both a tourist and professional expat destination is growing. However, while some have dubbed the country “the new Thailand”, the nickname, though flattering, may not do the country justice. Balancing its long and complicated history with speedy modern development and its respect for tradition with openness to new foreign ideas, Vietnam is very much like its signature street food, bánh mì — an unfolding fusion that is new with every bite.