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A Guide to Live Abroad in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

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Ho Chi Minh City (previously Saigon) is a hectic and energetic city. Hordes of motorbikes cover the streets, buzzing by like bees, their drivers all fueled by cà phê sữa đá (strong coffee with condensed milk). 

The estimated 8.6 million population just doesn’t seem like a big enough number some days. The streets are never empty. Bars and restaurants are always open and there are tiny alleyways you’ve passed every day but never noticed until now. 

The city feels alive at any minute of the day, especially in District 1.

HCMC is divided into 24 districts but the ones you’ll hear the most about are probably District 1, 2, 3, 7 and Bin Thanh. This doesn’t mean the others aren’t worthy, it just means those 5 are the ones you’ll most likely live in and find the most job and housing opportunities. The most common job for a foreigner in Vietnam is as an English teacher.

If you don't have time to move there or just want to suss the city out to see if living here is right for you, give yourself a 5-day itinerary for Ho Chi Minh City to really get to know it before packing up your life and calling this buzzing metropolis home.

After a year of chaotic fun living in Ho Chi Minh, we moved to Da Nang to enjoy a relatively quieter beach lifestyle.

Short on time? Here’s the cheat sheet:

💭HCMC is a chaotic and energetic city. It’s grungy on the outside but if you give it a chance, there’s seriously something for everyone here. 

🏠The best neighborhoods for expats are District 1, District 2 (Thao Dien), and District 7.

🛏️Start off by booking somewhere well-located and easy to get around, like Unforgettable Saigon Experience in District 1 where you’ll be smack dab in the heart of the city.

💰The cost of living will vary based on your lifestyle and the area you choose to live in. D2 and D7 are much more expensive than other parts of the city. Earn travel rewards on all expenses with a Capital One Venture Card.

📚Make your transition easier and get a headstart learning the language with Mondly. Just know Vietnamese grammar isn’t super tough but the pronunciation is killer. 

☂️The pollution is bad, the traffic is ruthless, and there are a lot of rats but…

🏙️The energy of the city will get under your skin if you let it. There are so many things to do here so if you allow yourself to explore and trust me, you’ll fall in love with Saigon.

‍A Breakdown of Ho Chi Minh City's Best Districts

A view from an apartment balcony of the skyline of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam at sunset
View of the city from my apartment in Thao Dien

With 24 districts to navigate between, it can be hard to decide where to live in Ho Chi Minh City. While you might find a better spot suited for your needs, these are my top recommendations as the best areas of Ho Chi Minh City to stay.

By the way, you'll notice the places I recommend you rent to get a feel for each neighborhood are on Vrbo, not Airbnb. Personally, I like Vrbo because you're able to cashback on each stay that you can then use on your next trip. Whereas with Airbnb, there are no rewards for users. But if you still prefer that platform, most rentals are on both Airbnb and Vrbo.

District 1

A lot of businesses and “tourist must-do’s” are here as District 1 is considered the heart of the city.

The Bến Thành Market, the War Remnants Museum and the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral are a few of the biggest ones.

There is also a lively night scene in D1 but it’s definitely catered to the wild partier. There's plenty of chill rooftops bars and hidden speakeasy's too. One of my favorites for good drinks and live music is The Alley Cocktail Bar. Stroll down the alleys at night and you'll be sure to find your new favorite. If you're more of a beer person though like I am, there are plenty of great craft breweries in D1 you won't want to miss.

Lastly, as any HCMC blog will tell you, brace yourself for a loud and crazy night on Bui Vien Walking Street.

Don't miss out on these 10 must-have experiences while in Saigon!

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in District 1 is a good choice for you.

District 3

District 3 shares a “border” with D1 and is very similar, just a little quieter in its social scene. Very few expats actually live in this area but it's a good recommendation for those that want to be in the city center yet avoid the heart of the chaos.

I used to work in D3 and while there is a lot going on, I didn’t spend much time here outside of work hours. Although there are a handful of cute spots to grab a coffee and quick meal.

But, before you move on! Take a peek at the infamous pink church, Tan Dinh. It honestly looks like Barbie's Dream House more than a church.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in District 3 is a good choice for you.

There aren't many vacation rentals in District 3 but there are plenty of hotels for you to dip your toes in the water to living here.

  • Budget Stay: Maison Royale: This hotel offers studios that are small but have everything you need to settle in while you go apartment hunting in D3.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Sai Gon Pavillon Bà Huyện Thanh Quan: Here you'll have an entire apartment to yourself with a pool and city views.
  • Luxury Stay: Mai House Saigon Hotel: Want to spoil yourself? Do it here. Although you'll have to forego the kitchen, you'll have luxury amenities and a staff waiting on you at this boutique hotel.

District 2 (Thao Dien)

A woman in a red dress sitting infront of a baby blue motorbike in a crowded park at night
Waiting for the fireworks from Landmark 81 on Tet

District 2, or more specifically Thao Dien in District 2, is the heart of the expat community. It’s tree lined streets overflowing with cafes, new restaurants, co-working spaces and shops are definitely aesthetically pleasing.

Most people who have recently moved to the city chose one of the high-rise apartment complexes in the area, with the Masteri as the most popular. Thao Dien is famed for is “neighborhood” vibes while still being close to the city center. People from all over the world live here, meaning you can easily get international cuisine and groceries.

Since it’s catered to foreigners, it’s typically considered one of the more expensive neighborhoods.

Living in Thao Dien is super convenient but is definitely home to the expat bubble. If you decide to move to this neighborhood, just be sure to get out from time to time to really immerse yourself in what it's like living in Ho Chi Minh City.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Thao Dien is a good choice for you.

There aren't any apartments on VRBO in Thao Dien but there are plenty of furnished apartments on Booking for you to dip your toes in the water to living here.

  • Budget Stay: Notre Maison 5 Saigon: Situated a few blocks from the main street of Thao Dien, you'll be within walking distance to plenty of things to do but nestled on a quiet street.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: ambiHOME 2BR 2WC in Masteri: This isn't our old apartment but this is the building we used to live in. Enjoy great amenities, about a 10 minute walk to the center of Thao Dien.
  • Luxury Stay: Mia Saigon – Luxury Boutique Hotel: Farther down from the center of the neighborhood, enjoy the life of luxury with scenic river views at this boutique hotel.

Binh Thanh District

Binh Thanh District is huge so this explanation might feel overly simplified but work with me here. It’s a common neighborhood for locals but also hosts the high-end Vinhomes Central Park and Landmark 81, the tallest building in SE Asia.

The apartments and facilities here are on the luxurious side, if that's what you're looking for. This area has an open green space along the river, a brand-new mall (with ice skating rink!) and a big variety of food and drinks. At the bottom floor of the mall is a food court with a variety of Asian delicacies. So you know, the mall has Lamborghini and Bentley dealerships so prices aren’t typical for Vietnam.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Binh Thanh is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: The Soulmate Studio: Ideal for 1-2 people, this apartment comes with a shared swimming pool. It's small but has everything you need for a comfortable stay.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Luxury Smart Apartment at Landmark 81: Stay in fancy Landmark 81 and get access to all building amenities like a pool, gym, and great city views.
  • Luxury Stay: Amavi Luxury Vinhomes Apt: Moving to Saigon with your family? This 4 bedroom apartment has plenty of room and high-end finishes.

District 7

The district itself is on the outskirts of the city center and is newer in construction. District 7 is the new haven for foreigners living in Ho Chi Minh City.

The streets are wider, buildings are gleaming and are typically much quieter than the rest of the city. D7 hosts a small weekend market above Boomerang Bistro that’s worth checking out if you’re a shopper like me and enjoy checking out local products.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in District 7 is a good choice for you.

There aren't any vacation rentals in District 7 but there are plenty of hotels for you to dip your toes in the water to living here.

  • Budget Stay: Golden Tree Hotel & Apartment: Trust me, you won't feel as though you're in a budget accommodation when you book your stay to scope out D7 here.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: RichLane Residences: This pet-friendly spot offers a fitness center, basketball court, swimming pool, and a restaurant.
  • Luxury Stay: LAKEVIEW Park Villa: Certainly not your typical place to stay in the middle of such a big city but this private villa is absolutely stunning and big enough to accommodate up to 15 people.

District 4

Looking for a more local and more affordable cost of living? District 4 is for you.

Located in the city center between District 1 and District 7, you'll have everything you need right at your fingertips but will save a lot of money on rent, groceries, and eating out if you do most of that in your neighborhood.

It's common to find shared houses in District 4 to keep your expenses even lower.

If you're hoping to enjoy a local way of life, living in Ho Chi Minh's City District 4 is a great choice.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in District 4 is a good choice for you.

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Tips to Settle into Living in Ho Chi Minh City

A woman smiling at the camera in front of a converted apartment complex that is now all shops, bars, and restaurants.
The famous converted apartment complex in D1

Not sold on Ho Chi Minh but still want to live in Asia? See what it's like to live as an expat in Hong Kong or what it's like living abroad in Taipei.

1. Let a realtor do the work for you

Finding an apartment in Vietnam is impossibly easy and one of the things you shouldn't have to stress about when moving to Vietnam. You can effortlessly find Facebook groups to rent apartments and houses. Check the group I linked to get a good idea of prices and standard of living. If you comment on a post, be ready to have a ton of realtors PM you asking if they can find you your dream home.

We used the agency Honeycomb and they were beyond helpful, even after we moved in. There's no additional cost for you to use a realtor, so why not let them do the heavy lifting? Our agent was more than patient with us as we vetoed most options she sent us. Sorry, Amy!

2.Get ready for endless motorbikes

Once housing is settled, you'll need to get around. The streets (and sidewalks) here can be full of traffic going in whichever direction the driver pleases. Traffic jams are just a way of life here.

I’d recommend using the apps Grab, GoViet or Bee (Viet versions of Uber/Lyft) and chose the motorbike option. The rides are cheap and it’s a great way to get use to the driving etiquettes- let’s be honest, you just do what you want- before you start driving for yourself. 

When you’re ready, it’s easy to rent a bike for a day, week or extended period of time. You can also buy a bike for cheap (mine cost about $300 USD) just make sure it comes with a blue registration card and you test drive it before you hand any cash over. Take some time driving in quiet streets (Thao Dien or D7 are great) before going for it in D1, D3 or the highway. 

Keep in mind monsoon season is from May to November, more or less. It usually pours in the afternoon each day so try not to schedule your first time on the bike in heavy rain and flooding. The rest of the year is hot and dry.

Speaking of, rainy season can be daunting if you're a newcomer to the city. Don't worry though, there's still plenty to keep you entertained and dry with rainy day activities

3. Don't be scared to get lost

A quiet street corner in Vietnam with a villa on the corner and a highrise apartment complex in the background with a woman on a bicycle wearing a conical hat cycling past.
A sleepy corner in Thao Dien

There are high end rooftop bars and clubs all boasting a ladies night on a different day of the week, chill bars and craft beer breweries and endless amounts of cafes serving up local coffee and sweet treats. All of these entertainment options are one of the reasons Saigon is one of the best places to live in Vietnam.

Walking down any given street you’ll find a stand serving up Pho on the sidewalk, an international restaurant from any given spot of the world and always someone on the corner selling a variety of fruits with spicy salt.

The best way to see the city is by foot or bike, without a set destination

Explore alleys you've never been down, taste street food from push carts and enjoy a coffee on a tiny little stool on the sidewalk.

Vietnam also boasts cheap, quick flights for you to easily explore the rest of the country, not just Saigon. Enjoy a weekend in Hanoi, a beach getaway to Phu Quoc or explore the endless rivers in the Mekong Delta.

4. Try all the coffee

Get your taste buds ready for Vietnamese coffee! They have more varieties here than I ever thought possible. Plus, plenty of adorable coffee shops to have your drinks at.

‍Coffee with condensed milk, orange juice, salt, or coconut are all the norm and absolutely delicious.

No matter how long you stay here I guarantee you'll continue to find flavors that surprise you. The coffee is also a lot stronger than anything I've had before so drink it slowly, sometimes it hits me like jet fuel!

5. Don't shy away from street food

A woman wearing sunglasses smiling at the camera holding a big cup of coconut ice cream in front of a lot of yellow and orange flowers
Don't sleep on the coconut ice cream in Vietnam

One can't move to Vietnam and forget about the delicious food! Ho Chi Minh is home to expats from around the world so there's no lack of international cuisine but that doesn't mean you should look past the local dishes.

Vietnamese food is delicious and Saigon is a great place to try it all. From amazing restaurants to bountiful street food stalls, you'll find great food on every corner.

6. Join the Female only Facebook group

For extra tips and a safe space to meet people and ask questions, join the Facebook page Fexpats Ho Chi Minh. Just by using the search function you can get most, if not all, of your questions answered and if not, ask away!

The females in Saigon are helpful, open-minded and willing to help out a newcomer to the city!

7. Get used to wearing a mask

You might think wearing a face mask in public was just something that happened in 2020 but when you move to Asia, you'll realize it's not. And no, it's not because of sickness, it's because of the air pollution.

This is especially noticeable if you get around by motorbike. Getting around the city like this means you'll spend a lot of time breathing in exhaust from countless motorbikes and cars. Wearing a face mask will help protect you from this.

And, while you're at it, go ahead and cover up ninja style like you'll see Vietnamese people doing when on their bikes. The sun in Vietnam is no joke so this is the best way to protect from the strong UV rays.

You'll Love Living in Ho Chi Minh City

rooftop view of Thao Dien, expat neighborhood in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Another view from our apartment, overlooking Thao Dien

Saigon is really a city of contradictions that somehow all melds into one truly unique spot.

I'll be honest, I was a bit anxious to see how the locals would treat me. As an American, I know the first thing that pops into our heads, consciously or not, when we hear Vietnam and I assumed it'd be the same for them.

Upon arriving I forgot about those worries. People smile at you in the streets, taxi drivers try to impress you with their best English and the only looks I received were curious ones. The War Remnants Museum is a heavy, emotional place but I'd recommend you go. It gave me extra respect for these people who can live with such a devastating recent past and still welcome me, and other Americans, with open arms.

I thoroughly enjoyed my year living in Ho Chi Minh City and can't believe it's come to an end. Although I loved it dearly, the beach was calling my name in Da Nang, Vietnam.

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