Moving to Vietnam? Good choice! Now that you've narrowed down the country you want to call your current home, it's time to decide which city is best for you.
I was lucky enough to call Vietnam home for 3 years - 1 in Ho Chi Minh City and 2 in Da Nang. During that time we were able to not only experience life in those two cities but also travel around the country and meet expats living in other parts.
At a quick glance, I'd recommend living in:
- Da Nang
- Ho Chi Minh City
- Ha Noi
- Hoi An
- Nha Trang
With those places in mind, let's dive into the nitty gritty of each one and which is the best place to live in Vietnam for you.
Da Nang: My Top Recommendation
I absolutely loved living in Da Nang. To me, this beach city had it all. Its international airport right in the city center meant weekend trips or traveling around the country was easy, its shift between city and country life allowed me to have a little bit of it all, and it's booming digital nomad and expat community made making friends easy. Plus, it's home to favorite Vietnamese dish: Mi Quang.
Da Nang, located right in Central Vietnam, is divided in half by the Han River, making it feel like 2 cities in one. There's the beach side, where it feels more touristic and where most expats choose to live. Then there's the city side, where it's more local and feels more like any other Vietnamese city, with maybe just more greenery.
Here's a breakdown of the best places to live in Da Nang:
- 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, in the north of the city, is another popular neighborhood but not the first I would recommend. It's great for a more tranquil lifestyle but otherwise you're a little farther away from everything, unless you dream of spending more weekends on Son Tra Peninsula, or Monkey Mountain. The farther north you get, the more the beach turns into a fishing village.
- 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.
Right outside of Da Nang are lush mountains, hidden waterfalls, plenty of beautiful beaches, and a lot of places to explore if you're willing to hop on your motorbike and go. Within the coastal city, you'll have everything you need to live in comfort: big grocery stores, modern amenities, a variety of apartments and houses for rent, and international restaurants when you're craving something a little different.
While Vietnam in general is a hot country, Da Nang does get a slighty variety in seasons. From about November to March, the temperatures lessen and some days might even be chilly enough to comfortably wear jeans and a sweater. This is also the rainy season in Central Vietnam so expect some flooding and typhoons.
The cons to living in Da Nang is that sometimes the beaches aren't all that clean, especially during typhoon season when litter is swept in from the entire region. If you try and go swimming right in My Khe Beach, you'll most likely find very strict lifeguards that won't trust you to swim out past your waist (go farther down the beach and you can bypass this though). Da Nang has direct flights from South Korea and other nearby countries so do know that in the summer months it's filled with tourists and that can make it less than idyllic.
To me, Da Nang is the most livable city in Vietnam because apart from those cons, its natural beauty, relative tranquility, and peaceful lifestyle still within city amenities is pretty great. So, if those things are as important to you as they are to me, this is certainly one of the best places to live in Vietnam.
Ho Chi Minh City: For a Chaotic & Busy Life
Before moving to Da Nang, we lived for a year in Ho Chi Minh City, also still called Saigon or HCMC for short. This busy city isn't the capital but is the biggest in the country. Most tourists don't like HCMC and usually suggest to others to skip it, but here's the thing: living somewhere is completely different than traveling somewhere.
As a tourist with just a few days to make the most of your trip, you're looking for those iconic things to see, do, and check off your bucket list, and that's where Ho Chi Minh City falls short. But as an expat or nomad, you're looking for a lifestyle, not just attractions, and that's where HCMC comes through.
Living in Ho Chi Minh City, you can have the life you can afford. There are incredibly nice and modern high rise apartments or quaint homes you and your friends can share. You can live in the epicenter of the hustle and bustle and have all of the chaos at your fingertips or you can choose a quiet alley where somehow the noise doesn't permeate.
If you're moving to HCMC, consider living in one of these districts:
- 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 one of the biggest expat communities is. It's overflowing with international shopping and dining options, 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.
Sitting in Southern Vietnam, Saigon offers two seasons: wet and dry but both of them come with hot, hot weather. In the rainy season, the rain comes down HARD. You can expect the streets to flood, especially in areas along the river like in D2. Sometimes after the rain, the weather does cool down for a bit but I would never consider Ho Chi Minh City to get "cold." If you're just going to come here for a vacation, do yourself a favor and plan your trip according to the best time to visit.
But do know that it comes with the fact that this city is sprawling, chaotic, and a little bit grungy. Getting from Point A to Point B is always an adventure and getting the courage to drive your own bike - or even ride on the back of a Grab - might come with a learning curve. If you're looking for a slow lifestyle, you'll quickly tire of living in Saigon.
For those that crave an urban lifestyle and want more entertainment options, bars, restaurants, and trendy cafes, Ho Chi Minh City will be one of the best places to live in Vietnam for you.
Ha Noi: Embrace Culture in the Capital City
While I never lived in Ha Noi (commonly written as one word: Hanoi), I had many friends that did. I did visit this city plenty of times but like I mentioned above, living somewhere vs. visiting somewhere is a completely different experience.
Like HCMC, moving to Ha Noi is a great idea if you're hoping to get a job here. These 2 big cities have the most job opportunities for foreigners and will have the best chance for you to legally get a job and a sponsored visa. Most likely that job will be as an English teacher, although there are certainly exceptions to this rule.
If moving to Ha Noi, consider moving to 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.
Since Ha Noi is located in the north of the country, you'll get 4 more distinct seasons than you'll find elsewhere in Vietnam. While snow isn't likely to fall, you will get a more consistent cold season than in other cities so if you're not keen on always being hot, living in the north of the country might be preferable.
Northern Vietnam is also known to be the most beautiful part of the country, housing most of the best places to visit. This will make it easier for nature lovers to get out of the city on the weekend and see some spectacular sights.
Living in Ha Noi does come with its challenges though. The culture here is much stronger. They weren't as influenced by the US and were the leaders of the Viet Cong. This is just to say that the culture shock might be stronger here than in Ho Chi Minh City.
On that same side, if you're craving Vietnamese culture, four seasons, and unique landscapes, you'll Ha Noi is one of the best places to live in Vietnam.
Hoi An: Small Town Charm Awaits
Hoi An is an ancient city (well, really, a small town) that sits about 30 minutes south of Da Nang in Central Vietnam. Hoi An has been made famous for its bright yellow Old Town strung with bright lanterns. Day or night, it really is a sight to see. It's easily one of the best places to visit in Vietnam and tops most tourist's bucket list.
Because it's such a popular destination though, many people don't think about living in Hoi An, more just visiting it. But that's not to say it doesn't have a big digital nomad and expat community. Instead of living in Old Town that tends to get flooded with tourists, especially in the summer, the expat community here is spread out through the smaller neighborhoods in the rice fields and along the coast near An Bang Beach.
In Hoi An, you might find fewer job opportunities though when compared to the other cities on this list. If you're a certified teacher though, there are a few international schools between here and Da Nang, otherwise you might find it a little difficult to find an in-person job if that's what you're looking for.
Hoi An is one of the best places to live in Vietnam if you crave tranquility and want to have your own house or villa. Here you can rent a fantastic property with a private pool and endless vistas of the rice fields for a far more convenient price than in many other countries. While you might avoid Old Town in peak season, An Bang is where you'll find your community with the plethora of bars and restaurants along the coast.
Nha Trang: A Small City & a Stunning Beach
Another coastal city that is worth mentioning as a great place to live in Vietnam is Nha Trang. While I personally didn't live here, I had friends that did so I'm taking this from their experience.
Much like Da Nang, by living in Nha Trang, you'll have the beach and city amenities all tied into one. The city is just a little bit smaller and the beaches are a little bit better. With numerous islands strewn in front of its coastline, beach bums will love living here. The water sports, like snorkeling and scuba diving, are also better in this area.
A unique thing about Nha Trang compared to other cities in Vietnam is that it has a large Russian community, so much so that you'll see menus, signs, and services offered in Russian. It feels a little bit like Phuket in that way.
Here though you'll find a growing expat community, mainly from those that are looking to get away from the typical hubs of the places mentioned above and want a quiet coastal city to call home. Since it's not yet internationally recognized as one of the best places to visit, it's a bit more affordable than Da Nang, which is the city it's most comparable to.
For a small city that offers fantastic beaches, Nha Trang City is one of the best places to live in Vietnam.
Before You Move to Vietnam
Before you dive right in and buy your plane ticket, there are some things you should keep in mind when moving to Vietnam.
The Reality of Visas
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.
In reality, many people take advantage of the ability to easily renew their tourist visa and stay indefinitely on that. Currently, you can get a 3 month tourist visa and continuously renew it by leaving the country and entering back in, even on the same day. Most people will take advantage of this forced exit and visit other Southeast asia countries for a long weekend as their "visa run." Living near an international airport makes this a lot easier and more fun.
Most expats though are living in the country on a business visa - more often than not working at local schools as English teachers or at international schools. There are a lot of job opportunities for teachers throughout the country. To legally work in other industries, Ho Chi Minh City and Ha Noi will have the most options but know that these aren't as likely unless you work for an international company that transferred you.
The Culture & Language Hurdle
Vietnamese culture is unlike others in the region. 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. This might be in part to the big language barrier, could be more cultural, or maybe I didn't try as hard as I have in other countries. In all honesty, since the expat community is so large throughout Vietnam, it's pretty easy to make foreign friends.
While I was surprised by how many people speak basic English, the language barrier is big. Vietnamese is a tonal language and I'm completely tone deaf. Each vowel makes 6 sounds and I found it nearly impossible to differentiate between them all. Reading a menu was one thing but making myself understood was completely different. If you want to get a head start on the language, I recommend learning on the app Mondly.
How Long to Stay
Living in Vietnam is a lot of fun and allows you to have a high quality of life with a pretty low cost of living. Because of this, so many nomads and expats move to the country with the intention of staying a few months or a year but end up staying much, much longer.
To me, the kicker was the unsteady visa and knowing that if I wanted to work remotely, I'd have to always be on the precarious tourist visa. Choosing how long to stay will greatly depend on if you're able to get a long-stay visa or are OK with the fact that the tourist visa could change (like it did during the pandemic) and force you to leave.
Where Will You Live in Vietnam?
With so many places to live in Vietnam, where will you choose? While the 5 cities here are my top choice, there are so many more places to choose from if you want to get off the beaten track. With beaches, mountains, big cities, ancient towns, and delicious food, there's one thing for certain: you'll love living in Vietnam.