What You Should Know Before Moving to Vietnam

Tired of living as if you were in a constant rat race? Ever think about relocating somewhere quieter, more peaceful, where the lifestyle is laid back, things cost a lot less, and even though you’re earning less, you can actually get more? It’s possible, if you were to live in Vietnam.

Beautiful Vietnam

Most people dream about living in a place where every day seems like a holiday, where the beach is just a few steps (or a couple of minutes’ drive) away, where the food is fresh and exquisite, and the cost of living is low. That’s why many expats look to Southeast Asia for job assignments and opportunities, as most of the countries here fit the bill for an ideal place to live. Vietnam is one of the top spots for most expats, and here, we’ll take a closer look at this country, as well as the pros and cons of living here.

The Culture

Any Westerner who moves to Vietnam may experience a bit of culture shock within the first few weeks. At first, it may be somewhat flattering that people notice you and pay extra attention to you. But the novelty wears off and after a few months, you’ll want to be unnoticed and blend in. That can be hard to do if you obviously look like a foreigner. You’ll also notice that when you talk to someone face to face, they’ll have a hard time looking at you in the eye as you attempt to converse with them. For Westerners, looking someone in the eye connotes respect and sincerity. To the Vietnamese, direct eye contact may be misconstrued as an act of aggression, and they find it extremely rude and disrespectful. Try glancing at a person’s face before letting your eyes roam at the scenery while you’re talking to a local.

facial piercings
Woman with pink hair and facial piercings

People in this country are very conservative and most of them accept the diversity that expats bring to this place. However, older people seem to be less accepting of expats, and if an expat is dressed differently, or has pink hair or extreme facial piercings, then the elders are almost disgusted by this. So if you don’t stand out, you’ll be fine in Vietnam. Perhaps, it would be wise to keep your natural hair color, and take out your eyebrow, nose, and lip piercings, if you have them. Dress in a manner that won’t make people do a double take, such as simple cotton shirts and pants, or shorts that are not too short. Anyway, it’s going to be too hot to make a fashion statement in anything other than cotton clothing, so dress to fit in, and dress for comfort.

One thing that can be a source of comfort for any tourist or expat is the absence of guns in Vietnam. This is a particularly safe country. The crime rate is very low, especially major crimes. The closest thing to danger that you’ll probably experience is from snatch and grab thieves. They can be aggressive, but rarely confrontational. They’ll want to grab what you have, then get out of there as fast as possible. One should use common sense here, especially while carrying valuables. Ladies, leave the signature bag at home and use a good, sturdy handbag with a zipper closure in a neutral color. Gentlemen, leave the gadgets at home. Avoid texting while walking, or checking your email on your tablet or iPhone while you’re on busy city streets. You’ll be a prime target for snatch and grab thieves on motorcycles if you flash any of your gadgets or cash. Keep your eye on your belongings and avoid walking in some places at night, and you’ll be fine.

The Language

Vietnamese is a tonal language so it can be particularly hard to hear the differences between similar words. That’s why it can be a difficult language to learn for native English speakers. If you pronounce a word even slightly incorrectly, the locals will have no idea what you’re talking about. Some expats who live in Vietnam find that it is easier to read and write in Vietnamese than to speak it. And depending on where the accent mark is, what looks like the same word can mean 10 different things. Fortunately, some people in Vietnam speak English, especially those connected with the tourism industry and people who are in contact with English speakers on a regular basis. However, the average English proficiency is quite low throughout the country, so you might face communication problems from time to time. But you don’t have to be fluent to get by. In fact, just knowing a few key phrases will help you establish rapport with the locals.

Employment Opportunities

If you plan on working in Vietnam for a short time, you or your employer can apply for a business visa which allows you to visit Vietnam on a business capacity. If you plan on working longer than three months, then your employer will have to apply for a work permit for you and you’ll have to prove your skills and qualifications.

Although there are lots of people who work in Vietnam for an indefinite amount of time or retire here, the country does not offer a long term or retirement visa scheme as of the moment. The only way to work or stay here for a long term period is to renew a tourist or business visa continually as it expires. As of now, the maximum length for a temporary resident permit is three years, and the longest tourist visa available is for 3 months.

If you’re coming to Vietnam without having secured a job first, don’t worry. The tourism, finance and manufacturing industries are seeing rapid growth here and jobs in these sectors are available to foreigners. Or you could try looking for jobs online. So far, the largest job search repository for Vietnam is VietnamWorks.com. You could also try to look for expat groups on Facebook for job opportunities.

A lot of native English speakers are also able to find work here as ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers. Though there is a high demand for English teachers, take note that without proper certification, it might be hard to find a teaching job here. Most agencies that place teachers in Vietnam will only recruit teachers with a CELTA certificate and with the correct number of hours of experience. But if you want to look for jobs independently without going through an agency, the only way you’ll get to teach without the right credentials is if you’re hired as a private tutor, or if you were hired directly by the school. For you to be able to teach at international schools, you’ll need to go to international job fairs or have contacts within the administration of the school itself.

Food and Restaurants

If you want to save money on food, you can eat at local restaurants where the prices are astonishingly low when compared to cheap meals anywhere else in the world. It’s possible to have a hearty and complete meal for less than the cost of a fast food burger/fries/drink combo. Western or high end restaurants are more expensive in comparison to local eateries but most of the Western restaurants are considered to be inferior by international standards.

Delicious Pho

Of course, if you want to save up even more, you can always have a bowl of hot, steaming pho. Cheap, filling, and available any time of the day, you can find this dish at almost every street corner in Vietnam, along with other street foods that are equally yummy and inexpensive.

There are more things that you should consider before moving to Vietnam, so stay tuned for the second part of this article next week!

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