Vietnam is a stunning country filled with delicious food, incredible landscapes, welcoming locals, and a low cost of living. After living in Vietnam for 3 years, I can safely say that moving to Vietnam was a great decision for my husband and me and I can only hope that it'll be the same for you.
In this guide, I'm going to walk you through the big things you need to know when planning how to move to Vietnam. We'll cover things you'll like and probably not like, the best places in the country to live, visa options, and how you can comfortably settle into your Vietnamese life.
So, if you're planning to move to Vietnam for a few months, few years, or indefinitely, you're in the right place.
Why Give Living in Vietnam a Try
Whenever I'm helping people decide if moving abroad is right for them or the best steps to take to put their plan into action, I like to start from the beginning. And that's, "Why Vietnam?" From all the countries in the world you could set your eyes on, why this one?
While you might be like me and prefer bouncing from country to country every few years, you might instead be looking for a more permanent solution to living abroad. The whole expat vs. immigrant debate runs deep after all. Regardless though, the first decision you'll need to make is to decide if you'll actually enjoy living in Vietnam or if maybe a different country is better suited for you.
If you've already been to the country and know you love it, you can skip ahead to the next section but do realize that living somewhere vs. traveling somewhere is totally different.
Things You'll Love About Living in Vietnam
OK, I'm a "tell me the good first" kind of person so that's what we'll do here. Some of things you might love about living in Vietnam include:
- A comparatively low cost of living
- A lot of incredible nature to explore
- The relative ease of getting a visa (more on this later)
- Ease of access to travel to other Southeast Asia countries
- Affordable and delicious street food
- Friendly locals
- The relaxed attitude in the air
- The thriving expat community
- The motorbike life (this was a pro for me at least)
Things You Might Not Love
Now, some not so great things that might trip you up about moving to Vietnam:
- The motorbike life (if motorbikes or hectic traffic scare you, you'll have to put in some work to overcome this)
- The high amount of litter and usage of single use plastic
- The rats at every single corner
- The difficulty learning (pronouncing) the language
- The difficulty to befriend locals
- The comparatively bland Vietnamese cuisine (I think the food is fresh and delish but I heard plenty of complaints from others - especially those that lived in Thailand first)
- The grey zones of visas
- Long travel times from place to place within Vietnam if you don't fly
Best Places to Live in Vietnam
Vietnam is a shockingly big country with a lot of ground to cover but most expats move to one of 3 big cities. From my experience, these are the best places to live in Vietnam:
- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
- Ha Noi
- Da Nang
Other cities that you might want to consider are Nha Trang, Hoi An, and Hai Phong. For brevity, I'm going to focus on these 3 big cities since this is where a majority of people decide to move thanks to job opportunities, large expat communities, and, in general, more things to do.
Living in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City, previously Saigon, was the first place we moved to in Vietnam. We had visited the country a few months prior and while I had my sights set on Da Nang, we decided to move to HCMC instead.
This was mainly for job opportunities. At the time, I was looking for a job to teach English in Vietnam after having spent a year teaching English in South Korea. My husband was working freelance with a company in Germany but he liked the idea of being around international companies and more professional expats to network.
I'm not a huge city girl so I wasn't so sure how I was going to like living in Ho Chi Minh City but after a few weeks, I was hooked. The city is chaotic, grungy, and super busy but something about all of that combines into something charming instead of overwhelming. What I always found so fascinating about living in HCMC is that on a main street you'll fully believe about 9 million people live here but turn down an alley and all of the sudden it's as those you're in the teeniest of towns.
I would recommend living in Ho Chi Minh City if you're moving here for work, enjoy busy cities, and want an endless variety of things to do. The restaurant, bar, and cafe scene is buzzing, you can afford a high quality of life, and you'll have a lot of opportunities to meet people and make friends.
Since HCMC is located in the south of the country, you can expect the weather to be hot all year. The only real difference in weather you'll get is the between rainy and dry season. Rainy season shouldn't be taken lightly here - when the rain comes it comes hard and usually floods the streets. Plan your best time to visit Vietnam based on the seasons and where in the country you go.
If moving to Ho Chi Minh City, consider living in one of these districts (quận): 1, 2, 3, 7 and Bin Thanh.
- District 1 is the heart of the city and here you'll find the most things to do but it can also be the most touristy.
- District 2 (Thao Dien) is where most expats choose to live. It's overflowing with international restaurants, co-working spaces, tree-lined streets, and in general, a more aesthetically pleasing environment. Since it's surrounded by the river though, it does flood badly in rainy season.
- District 3 is District 1's quieter neighbor. You'll still be in the city center but it's a lot more laidback and quieter here than in the D1.
- District 7 is a budding expat neighborhood a little farther outside of the hustle and bustle. The ambiance is a lot more calm here than in other areas of the city.
- Bin Thanh District is common neighborhood for locals but also hosts the high-end Vinhomes Central Park and Landmark 81, the tallest building in SE Asia.
- District 4, as a bonus, is a local area between D1 and D7. This is a great area to live if you want to immerse yourself totally into life in Vietnam and are on a tighter budget since accommodations here tend to be much cheaper.
Living in Ha Noi
Next up, Vietnam's capital city, Ha Noi. Personally, I never lived in Ha Noi so what I'll share with you here is taken from what friends of mine who did have told me. I visited the city plenty of times but, like I said earlier in the article, living somewhere vs. traveling somewhere is a completely different experience.
Like Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Noi is a great place to live if you're hoping to get a job in Vietnam. Most international companies are based in HCMC but there are still plenty of international schools, private schools, and English centers looking for foreign nationals to teach their students.
From my experience, it feels as though there are English teachers living absolutely everywhere in the country but, to generalize for a second, it seems as though most foreigners living in HCMC work for a variety of companies, most living in Ha Noi are teachers, and most living in Da Nang are digital nomads.
I'll cover more about getting a job below when I talk about visas so if you're curious about that, hang tight!
Since Ha Noi is located in the north of the country, here you'll get more distinction between seasons. Winter even gets pretty chilly in Ha Noi so if you're not a huge fan of hot, humid days and nights, you might prefer living farther north. Plus, Ha Noi is the gateway to some of the best places to visit in Vietnam so weekend getaways are plentiful.
Like Saigon, Ha Noi is a big, hectic city divided up into districts. If you're moving to Ha Noi, you might want to consider living in one of these districts:
- Tay Ho District is the equivalent of D2/Thao Dien in HCMC. This neighborhood is built specifically with foreigners in mind so the services and lifestyle there are a bit more Western-minded.
- West Lake is right near Old Town and is another popular area for expats to live in. Just like Tay Ho though you can expect to pay higher rent prices than in other areas. This neighborhood is more centrally located though.
- Old Town is always an option but I wouldn't recommend it if you're planning to stay for a longer period than just a few weeks. Here you'll always be treated like a tourist even if you're not and I don't know about you but that can get old when you're trying to make the place your home.
- Ba Dinh District is on the other side of Ho Tay Lake. It's in between Tay Ho and the city center. This is a good option for those that want a local way of life and a more affordable cost of living while still being centrally located in the city.
Living in Da Nang
Last but certainly not least, my favorite city in all of Vietnam: the lovely Da Nang. Da Nang is a coastal city right in the center of the country and home to my favorite Vietnamese dish, Mi Quang.
Given it's location, you'll get the best of the country at your fingertips. You're on the coast so if you're a beach person, it'll be right outside your door. The landscape surrounding the city is lush and jungly so there are plenty of wild places to explore. You're minutes away from famous Hoi An and the international airport can be reached in just about 15 minutes from anywhere in the city so weekend getaways to anywhere in Southeast Asia are easy.
It's obvious, I know, I loved living in Da Nang.
Making friends is pretty easy here but unlike the other cities in Vietnam, it's important to realize that the expat community is pretty small. We always said there's one degree of separation in Da Nang so even if you don't know someone personally, you're bound to have a mutual friend.
Although the city is home to about 1 million residents, it feels much smaller than this. I'd blame that on the division between the city with the Han River. The beachside is more laidback and home to many expatriates, digital nomads, and tourists while the cityside feels more like any other Vietnamese city, just with a smaller population.
If you're craving a local experience, consider moving to the cityside. If though, you want to be as close to the sunny beach as possible, any of these beachside neighborhoods will be good options:
- An Thuong isn’t a neighborhood but instead a zone of streets all conveniently named An Thuong 1, An Thuong 2 and so on. This has been deemed the foreigner area, which you’ll quickly see why when you get there. For me, this is a great place to go out at night if you want to meet people but not my choice for where to live.
- My An is technically the home of An Thuong but, taking out that zone of streets, this area is a great place to live. You'll be close enough to walk to the bars and restaurants you might end up frequenting but outside of the noise and expense of those streets.
- Son Tra is another popular neighborhood to live in or stay in in the north of the city. Personally, I only think Son Tra is best if you’re in Da Nang to explore the Son Tra Peninsula, or Monkey Mountain, or want to spend your weekends driving up the Hai Van Pass towards Hue. The more north you go up towards the peninsula, the more the beach turns into a fishing village, which isn’t ideal for those of you planning to sunbathe and swim.
- Khue My is where we lived in our last few months of living in Vietnam and I loved it. The neighborhood is quiet and extremely local. Instead of being on the beach, it's on the Han River and has a lot of green spaces, ideal if you have a dog like we do.
Visa Options in Vietnam
Alright, here's where the legalities come into play. Your two main visa options are either a tourist visa or a business visa. As of 2023, there is no retirement visa in Vietnam so if you're moving to Vietnam with the idea to retire, you'll still have to go one of these two routes below. Same goes for digital nomads. This isn't one of the countries with freelance visas so if you'll need to rethink your plan or the country entirely if you have your hopes set upon that.
A tourist visa is exactly what it sounds like. It's a visa for the sole purpose of tourism. As far as I'm aware, every nationality is required to apply for a tourist visa before entering Vietnam. It's easy to do online and very affordable, just don't forget to do it about a week before your arrival.
This visa is valid for 90 days. After 90 days, you'll need to leave the country and enter again. Unlike many countries that have a requirement of days you must spend outside before entering Vietnam again, you can leave and enter on the same day if you'd like.
There are even companies who offer visa runs as part of their business. They'll take you to either the border of Cambodia or Laos, cross the border with you, bring you to lunch, and drop you off back home with a fresh 90 day Vietnamese visa all in the same day. Another option is take advantage of your visa renewal by booking an international trip every 3 months. Manila, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong are all short flights away.
In reality, many expatriates live and even work on tourist visas while in Vietnam. Other than during COVID when the Vietnam immigration department decided to crack down on this, they tend to turn a blind eye to it.
Business Visa & Work Permit
If you do plan on teaching English in Vietnam or have found work at another type of company, it's best to go the legal route and get a business visa and work permit. It's actually possible to buy a business visa without a job, giving you 1 year in Vietnam without having to do visa runs, but you might have to have a connection at a visa agency to do so.
This type of visa doesn't automatically give you the legal right to work though, it's the work permit that does that. This you'll only be able to get if your company is willing to sponsor you. Some schools are happy to do this and others are not. It's important you realize though that there are requirements set by the government about what type of paperwork you'll need to get a work permit so a school might be willing to hire you but you might not meet the government's requirements.
A common example is if you're a non-native English speaker teaching English. Many schools don't care so long as your English is a high level but the government requires that your passport comes from a native English-speaking country to be accepted. If you meet this requirement, you'll also need a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. You can take classes online for this. It's not only a requirement needed for your permit, having this will help you secure a better job and give you the confidence in the classroom if this if your first time teaching.
If you're a digital nomad or retiree planning to move to Vietnam, you'll find yourself in a legal limbo. There aren't visas with you in mind just yet so you'll most likely need to slide between the cracks.
Temporary Residency Permit
If you've been able to secure a work permit in Vietnam and want to have a few more rights (like buying an apartment), you could apply for a temporary residency permit. A perk about getting this permit is you then don't have to deal with visa renewals for 2-5 years.
Permanent Residency Permit
For those hoping to permanently stay in Vietnam, you have the chance to get a permanent residency permit. There are only 4 cases where a foreigner is eligible for this:
- If you have contributed to the protection or development of Vietnam and have been given an award from the Vietnamese government
- You're a scientist or field expert residing in Vietnam
- You parent, spouse, or child is a Vietnamese citizen and has residency in the country
- Or you've had temporary residency since 2000 or earlier
Settling into Life in Vietnam
Before I send you off to Vietnam to live, there are a few last things worth covering.
Vietnamese culture is unlike others in Southeast Asia. If you're expecting it to be like Thailand for example, you'll be greatly mistaken. As a country that only gained independence in 1945 (but still had to deal with foreign invasions), their history is one mixed with outside influence, creating something completely unique within its borders.
The fact that its a socialist republic adds to that.
In general, I found Vietnamese people to be incredibly warm and welcoming. But, I did find it harder to befriend them more so than I have felt in other countries I've lived in. It felt as through their was a higher barrier than usual but that could be just a one-off experience and not yours at all.
The Vietnamese language was really tough for me. That's because it's a tonal language and I'm completely tone dead. The dialect changes by region, too. Each vowel makes 6 sounds so the intonation of the word changes the meaning completely. I'm talking the fact that "fish" and "yes" still sound exactly the same to me in Vietnamese - just imagine how many people I confused with that one!
The perk of the language is that the grammar is incredibly simple. There are no tenses and it really scraps a lot of filler words and letters (plurals, articles, verb endings). So if you can get past the pronunciation, the rest of learning the language is a breeze.
If you plan on learning Vietnamese, get a head start by learning on Mondly before moving to Vietnam. Once there, I recommend switching to in-person classes to really nail down the pronunciation.
If you move to either Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Noi, or Da Nang, learning Vietnamese isn't necessary as many speak English but it will help you to have a more local life and make local friends. If you plan to move to a smaller town, learning the language will be pretty important.
I found the healthcare in Vietnam to be fantastic and affordable. I had ankle surgery here, went to physiotherapy, got an IUD and regular check-ups, and my husband was hospitalized twice with kidney stones. So, I'd say we had our fair chance of testing out the hospitals and clinics. We always opted for the "nicer" ones though and were willing to pay more to get access to doctors or nurses who spoke English.
I'd still recommend having health insurance - I prefer SafetyWing - but paying out of pocket isn't totally insane like you might be used to if you're from the US.
Something that I wasn't used to but is helpful to know is that ambulances are privatized and don't work with the hospital. So if you have to call an ambulance, they'll ask you what hospital you want to go to and will require cash payment upon arrival.
Mental healthcare is lacking in the country though so if you have serious issues that require constant support, Vietnam might not be the best place for you to live.
In general, living in Vietnam felt very safe. There's not a lot of major crime. Even petty crime is rare and most likely targeted to the tourist areas.
That being said, many women, myself included, were verbally assaulted while living there. The most common way of abuse, and what happened to my friends and me, is a man would pull up on a motorbike and show himself to you, typically hinting that you should come with him "for a good time." I never heard of anyone being forced into anything but it still makes you feel uneasy. I would avoid walking around at night by yourself.
The main safety risk you'll experience while living in Vietnam is road safety. Most people on the road drive motorbikes instead of cars. If you have the confidence, driving your own bike will open your doors to really explore the place you decide to call home. That being said, I wouldn't recommend renting a bike on day one, even if you're an experienced driver. Give yourself a few days on the back of a Grab bike (like an Uber) to see how traffic flows and the unwritten rules of transit. Most days I felt perfectly safe on my motorbike but there is certainly a learning curve.
Will You Move to Vietnam?
What do you think, is moving to Vietnam right for you? For me, living in Vietnam was a dream come true. We were able to explore much of Southeast Asia and travel the country from north to south. We made fantastic friends from all over the world, ate delicious Vietnamese food, and the low cost of living gave me the time I needed to start A Way Abroad which I'll forever be grateful for.