Expats Life in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: 31 Pros & Cons to Know

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post thumbnail Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam as Expats Featured

Is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, a desirable location for tourists and expats to settle down? We concur!

Ho Chi Minh City (commonly referred to as Saigon and HCMC) is a well-liked location because of its low cost of living, accessibility to delectable food, abundance of things to do, and general culture and atmosphere.

This city is active and bustling all day long because it is the largest in Vietnam. The hectic environment might not be right for you depending on your comfort level.

In this article, we’ll discuss 31 advantages and disadvantages of residing in Ho Chi Minh City as well as what to anticipate.

As Americans who have lived in Saigon since December 2017, choosing to do so was one of our best moves. It was a no-brainer to take advantage of living abroad for the first time as we already loved visiting Asia and had the perfect opportunity for our major relocation.

One thing to keep in mind is that this blog article is exclusive to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and does not reflect life in Vietnam as a whole. Living in Dalat, a small city in the Central Highlands, is considerably different from living in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.

Without further ado, read on to learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of living in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City.

Benefits for Expats Life in Ho Chi Minh City

1. There are numerous neighborhoods in Ho Chi Minh City from which to pick.

There are a total of 22 districts in Ho Chi Minh City, including 17 major districts and 5 rural districts. The main districts in Ho Chi Minh City are 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, Go Vap, Tan Binh, Tan Phu, Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan, Binh Tan, and Thu Duc City. The rural districts are Cu Chi, Hoc Mon, Binh Chanh, Nha Be, and Can Gio.

Highlights of a few expat-friendly areas are provided below:

The majority of the upscale eateries and nightclubs are found in District 1, which is regarded as the city core. Due to its proximity to tourist hotspots and museums including Saigon Skydeck, Cafe Apartments, Independence Palace, and War Remnants Museum, District 1 is where most visitors choose to stay.

Many people choose to stay in the more tranquil Dakao ward if they want to live in District 1.

Nguyen Hue Walking Street Daytime Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
Here is a famous Ho Chi Minh statue along Nguyen Hue Walking Street in District 1.

Thao Dien, Thu Duc City (Formerly District 2). Both families and foreigners frequent this area. International schools, bars, and numerous Western eateries may be found in the area. Walking around and staying there are both convenient.

This region has poor drainage, therefore be warned that it will flood during the rainy season. Furthermore, bag snatching occurs more frequently and with more intent in this neighborhood.

District 7 – Due to its peaceful atmosphere, wide open spaces, and lush vegetation, expats prefer to live in District 7.

Living on the Phu My Hung side is advised. There are more eateries and outside areas, and the residences are newer. As there is a sizable Korean community, you will notice a ton of Korean restaurants. Places in District 7 are more spread out here so you’ll need to have transportation to travel.

Binh Thanh District is a sizable district with a lot of charm. It is bordered by Phu Nhuan District and is situated between District 1 and Thu Duc City.

In this region, there are a ton of cafes and eateries to try. We suggest that you try the delicious foods on Pham Viet Chanh such as Kiyota Sushi, Bento Bistro, and FiftySix.

Visit Vinhomes Central Park as well to take in the scenery and witness Landmark 81, the city’s tallest structure at 81 floors. We have been residents at Vinhomes Central Park for many years and appreciate the facilities and neighborhood.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City Vinhomes Central Park
This is Vinhomes Central Park, where Landmark 81, the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City is located

Important Advice for Choosing Your Ideal Location

Consider staying in Airbnbs or short-term rentals when you first arrive in Ho Chi Minh City so you may explore different neighborhoods and spend a few days in each location.

You should reside within a 10-minute commute of the job or in the same neighborhood if possible. Even though 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) may not seem like much distance, traveling can take an hour. You don’t want to be stuck in traffic with poor drivers and raise your stress levels in Ho Chi Minh City’s hectic and congested traffic.

2. Housing in HCMC is reasonably priced, depending on your demands.

The price of lodging will differ per person depending on your comfort level and spending limit.

Here are some things to consider: 

  • Which district do you want to live in?
  • Will you stay in a high-rise apartment building or service building?
  • Are you living in a house?
  • How many rooms and bathrooms are needed?

A furnished apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms typically costs between $500 and $1200 per month.

We are residing in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in the Binh Thanh District’s Vinhomes Central Park. At $900 per month, the price is on the higher side. We have access to the community park, the building’s fitness facility, and the pool from our apartment, which also has a washing machine and air conditioning. Our landlord pays for the Internet and monthly HOA fee.

Note: Once you find a long-term rental, don’t forget to have your landlord register you at the local ward’s police station. This is especially needed if you’re applying for a Temporary Resident’s Card.

3. Ho Chi Minh City is a safe city.

Whether you’re staying in Saigon by yourself or with a family, you don’t need to worry about crime.

Petty thievery is the main issue. Quick snatches allow for the theft of purses, smartphones, and jewelry.

Being aware of your surroundings is advised because the theft could occur at any time. In expat neighborhoods, there are typically more robberies (ie: Thao Dien, Thu Duc City).

Here are some tips: 

  • If you are lost and need to check your phone, do not scroll or look for something on a corner of a street. It’ll get taken immediately! Instead, go further into the sidewalk, turn your back to the street, and use your phone.
  • Avoid using a handbag. Instead, use a backpack or a crossover purse.
  • If you ride a motorbike, use the seat trunk to store your purse and valuables.
  • When eating at a sidewalk vendor, do not leave your phone on the table. It can easily be swiped by people who sell things.

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no chance that you will get your phone back. The police probably won’t try to get it for you even if you ask them to.

Harassment, molestation, and catcalling are problems that affect women. The Fexpat – Female Expat Facebook group has frequently mentioned them. This article about the safety of women in Vietnam was written by one of the group’s members.

You must notify the police when a serious incident like this occurs so they can treat it seriously. At least you didn’t remain silent, even if the abusers face no consequences.

4. The nearby markets and shops offer a variety of groceries and fresh products.

We enjoy strolling through our neighborhood market to look for the fresh soymilk, seasonal vegetables, and tropical fruits. It resembles a farmer’s market the most in the United States. You may be sure that the produce is fresh because a lot of it comes from Dalat or the nearby areas.

The local market is frequently more affordable than the grocery store. Although there may be some haggling to reduce the price, the prices are often extremely fair.

Along the way, we love just seeing how life is like relaxing to walk down an alleyway or a side street to see how people go about their daily lives – selling fruit, operating a coffee shop, a restaurant, repairing scooters, and other occupations to make a living.

Produce delivery to your accommodation is also available if you don’t want to go to the markets.

Tropical Fruits in Vietnam Dragon Fruit 1
Dragon fruits are plentiful in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo creditL spopov via Depositphotos.com

5. Almost everything can be purchased here.

There are many shopping malls and grocery stores that sell clothes, home appliances, other essentials, and anything else you need.

You can also inquire around to find out if there is a particular neighborhood that sells the specialist things you require if you need them. For instance, there is a street where all toilet and bathroom supplies are sold, another where bedding is sold, etc.

It is also possible to order online straight from a vendor or through a website like Shopee or Lazada, which is similar to Amazon.

We made the mistake of bringing too much luggage to Vietnam. We had a shipping palate of kitchenware and clothing that came from the U.S.

Due to the fact that our flat was fully furnished with beds, bedding, kitchenware, and dishes, the majority of the items we brought were eventually sent back home.

Bring only what you really need and don’t overpack!

In the opinion of expats, here are some items you should bring with you that are hard to find in stores or ridiculously expensive:

  • Any imported foods – spices, snacks
  • Personal medication
  • Clothing – underwears, bras
  • Shoes for larger feet
  • Skincare, lotions, and sunscreens (You’ll notice that Vietnamese lotions have tons of whitening agents. The sunscreens are SPF 50+.)
  • Make-up such as non-waterproof mascara
  • Tampons

6. There are tons of coffee shops.

How many cups of coffee do you need per day? Ho Chi Minh City will satisfy your caffeine needs.

Simply walk down a block to find one, two or even more cafes. There are plenty of roadside vendors selling takeaways if you’re in a hurry.

Even at three in the morning, you can obtain coffee! Numerous coffee businesses are operating around-the-clock. Alternately, you can visit a seller on the side of the road and sit on the short plastic seats to sip coffee or other beverages.

7. Local Vietnamese street cuisine is inexpensive and affordable.

One of the best experiences in Vietnam is eating street food, especially if you get the chance to eat a meal on the low squatty plastic chairs and tables.

In Ho Chi Minh City, you can enjoy all kinds of Vietnamese dishes, including hot noodle soup (phở, hủ tiếu, bún bò Huế), sandwiches (bánh mì), BBQ, rice plates (cơm), sweet desserts (chè), as well as regional specialties. from North and Central Vietnam, and much more.

You can order more food to fill up because portions are lower than in the US. Meals cost $1.50 and above to start.

Metta Vegetarian Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam Jackfruit Salad
You can also get vegetarian Vietnamese food such as this jackfruit salad.

8. There is a wide variety of dishes to suit every taste.

Ho Chi Minh City offers a vast variety of cuisine options if you wish to branch out from eating Vietnamese food. You have a variety of options, including Western, Japanese, pizza, burgers, Italian, vegetarian, and vegan dishes.

These cuisines will be more expensive to eat than Vietnamese food. Nevertheless, the cuisine is excellent and occasionally even tastes better than what we would have at home.

Every month, new restaurants open, so foodies will enjoy checking out the new spots.

Olivers Pizza Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam
Check out the pizzas at Oliver’s Pizza in Binh Thanh District.

9. Ordering food for delivery is simple.

To be honest, we don’t do much cooking. We only make stir-fried vegetables and fried eggs as far as cooking goes.

We regularly order food and beverages because it is more practical and less expensive. On one day, we eat Thai food, and on another, we eat burgers.

To place an order, use an app like Grab, Now, or Capichi (for Japanese food). Depending on the distance and whether there is a surge price during busy hours or inclement weather, you will have to pay a delivery fee.

You will have to wait for your dinner for 30 to 45 minutes after your driver has placed your order at the restaurant.

You can find out where your driver is if you utilize Grab. In addition, Grab runs specials and discounts on food orders.

Another choice is to place your order straight through the eateries. The favored solution eliminates the requirement for restaurants to pay a commission to the internet app. You can phone the restaurants directly, visit their website, or connect with them on Facebook.

To handle the deliveries, the restaurants will either employ their own drivers or a third party (such as Grab or Lalamove).

10. Activities take place every day in Ho Chi Minh City!

You won’t get bored living in Ho Chi Minh City as daily activities and events occur.

Find the upcoming craft fair, open mic night, or weekend market. These events are frequently promoted on Facebook groups and event pages.

Check out these Facebook groups for more information:

11. Enjoy the nightlife.

Ho Chi Minh City is a lively city, as was already mentioned. Once the sun has fallen, you may find both locals and visitors out and about taking advantage of Ho Chi Minh City’s nightlife.

You’re sure to find something you like among the restaurants, roof bars, sunset cruises, and evening performances. It’s entertaining to observe the people on Nguyen Hue Walking Street at night.

Ho Chi Minh City at Night City View
You’ll see some incredible nighttime views of Ho Chi Minh City from the rooftop bars.

12. Beer is cheap.

The beer culture is strong in Vietnam. You’ll hear the phrase, “Một, Hai, Ba, Dô” (pronounced “moht high baa yo”) which means “1, 2, 3, drink!”

Beer costs between $0.50 and $1.00 each, so it’s also reasonably priced.

Be aware that canned beer is not refrigerated. In restaurants, the beer is poured into a mug that has been with ice.

13. Relax and take a break. 

We observe that breaks are required throughout the day in Ho Chi Minh City, which is one thing. The heat can exhaust you because it is hot all day.

Breaks can take many different forms, such as lying on the ground and sleeping, drinking coffee or tea while sitting on the pavement, or relaxing in a hammock.

Additionally, a lot of individuals leave the office to take a 1- to 2-hour lunch break (11:30am to 1:30pm). Due to the shutdown, you might not be in luck if you had any appointments or planned to visit a museum.

14. Easy access to travel internationally and domestically.

International (particularly in Southeast Asia) and domestic travel are both convenient through the Tan Son Nhat Airport.

When Vietnam has a long holiday, you can travel abroad quickly for the weekend. Singapore is two hours away by plane, whereas Bangkok, Thailand is 1.5 hours away.

Due of the short travel times between SEA destinations, airline tickets are reasonably priced (between $100 and $200). Just take caution while using low-cost airlines to avoid paying additional fees for bags.

There are also domestic flights available. Flying time from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is two hours.

15. Healthcare is affordable.

If you plan to stay in Ho Chi Minh City for an extended period of time, you’ll need to see a doctor, a dentist, a chiropractor, and other medical specialists.

The cost of visiting doctors and having operations done is less expensive than it is in Western nations and the US. Because of this, getting things done here won’t set you back a fortune if you don’t have health insurance.

There are several foreign hospitals in HCMC, however you should investigate the doctors and patient reviews on your own.

At Westcoast Dental in District 1, we visit the dentist every six months. Each person must pay $80 for dental cleaning, x-rays, and a check-up. The cost of a filling is $55.

16. SIM cards and monthly data plans are reasonably priced.

Get a SIM card at the airport or a phone store when you first arrive in Saigon. There are two companies to choose from – Mobifone or Viettel.

You can top up your phone by purchasing credits at a convenience store after the month is up or by using the app.

Our Mobifone plan for the month costs $5 per person and includes 2 GB of data each day. It’s so affordable!

With Google Project Fi, we paid about $30 per month in the United States ($15 for a flexible plan and $10 for each GB of data consumed), which is on the low end.

Side note: We love using Google Project Fi as there is unlimited data and text to over 200 international countries. It’s the perfect international phone plan for us as we do not need to buy separate SIM cards.

17. Soccer matches are one way Vietnamese people display their pride in their country.

Everyone pays close attention to the game whenever the Vietnamese teams are playing in the semifinal or championship rounds of competitions like the U23 or SEA Games.

Everyone will be sporting yellow headbands, red t-shirts with a yellow star in the middle (representing the national flag of Vietnam), and vuvuzelas.

On Nguyen Hue Walking Street in Ho Chi Minh City, there are sizable projector screens set up to watch the games.

The crowds go wild after the Vietnamese team wins! Motorbikes, automobiles, and people waving Vietnamese flags are all lining the streets. Plus, people blow the vuvuzelas and blow into them all night long.

Observing a sports team’s sense of national pride is awesome!

Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam U23 Football Celebration
Once the Vietnam team wins a soccer (football) match, you’ll see the roads filled with excitement and national pride.

18. In general, Ho Chi Minh City’s monthly cost of living is reasonable.

How much do we spend on living expenses in Saigon each month? Here is our typical breakdown for 2 persons residing in a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom flat in Binh Thanh District. Each month changes.

Monthly Expenses Cost in USD Comments
Rent (with Internet included) $900
Water $5
Electricity $40 We do not use AC all day long so our electricity bill is lower than others.
Food & Groceries $600 We tend to eat out or order delivery for lunch and/or dinner.
Transportation $100
SIM Card $10
Miscellaneous $50 Such as hiking excursions, day tours, etc.
Total $1705

Other things to consider, but we don’t have these expenses:

  • Cable TV
  • Online streaming services (Disney+, Netflix)
  • VPN services
  • Motorbike or bicycle parking at apartment
  • Monthly management fee
  • Home cleaning services

Limitations when living in Ho Chi Minh City

1. The city is extremely crowded and busy.

There is no such thing as personal space because over 9 million people reside here.

When you’re in line at the grocery store, for instance, individuals will approach you quite closely. While waiting at a stoplight, motorcycles are parked close to one another. The tables are close together so you can hear what your neighbors are saying even when you’re eating.

2. Traffic is BAD because there are so many cars and motorcycles on the road, especially during rush hour.

As a result, you’ll hear a lot of motorcyclists and vehicles honking on the road (more as a heads-up than as an act of violence). When the honking happens every few seconds, it becomes bothersome. Constant honking is like an involuntary reaction.

Crossing Vietnam Streets Ho Chi Minh City Traffic
The roads are always crowded in Ho Chi Minh City.

3. The state of the air is unpredictable.

The air is clean and blue on certain days, grey mess and polluted on others.

As industries close for the week during Tet (the Vietnamese Lunar New Year), the sky are pristine and you can see for kilometers.

4. HCMC has hot and humid weather. 

For most individuals, the weather in HCMC is hit or miss. There are two seasons in this city (and all of South Vietnam): hot and humid and hot and rainy.

Ho Chi Minh City is the ideal destination for you if you enjoy year-round temperatures in the 30-32°C/86-90°F range that are hot and humid. You don’t need bulky jackets or pants here because the weather is predictable. The majority of individuals spend the day indoors before venturing outside at night.

We didn’t enjoy the humidity at first, but as our bodies adjusted, we couldn’t survive without it! Your skin becomes silky and pleasant because to the dampness. We no longer enjoy visiting regions with dry weather, such as the Bay Area in California, which is where we grew up.

It’s not too bad during the rainy season from April to October. A severe downpour does not occur every day. Rain falls for 30 minutes before ceasing for the remainder of the day.

There is air conditioning available in many locations in HCMC to help you escape the heat. We enjoy going to a mall to shop and wander around.

5. Ho Chi Minh City is very noisy as a result of urbanization.

Every day, including occasionally late at night, there are construction projects being worked on.

Tip: To be aware of potential noise issues, you should look at what is currently being built nearby when looking for your future home. You need to have your beauty sleep!

6. New construction is not built with high quality.

Buildings for apartments and businesses are finished quite quickly, as was already indicated. However, because to the use of less expensive materials and overall quality shortcuts, the building quality is not superb.

Our Vinhomes Central Park apartment was newly constructed when we moved in, having only been open for one year. This home was kept immaculately by the former tenant. Nevertheless, we observed poor construction quality due to wall fractures, baseboards that weren’t fastened to the wall, and some flooring that were lifting. We are currently living in the same apartment, so these weren’t a deal-breaker for us.

7. There is poor public transportation.

You might not have much luck in Ho Chi Minh City if you’re used to using public transit to navigate around a city. Although there are local buses and a planned metro system, most people choose to ride their motorcycles to get around.

The District 1 city center’s Ben Thanh Market will serve as the system’s starting point for the metro, which will run until it reaches Thu Duc City’s Suoi Tien Amusement Park (formerly District 9).

Since a motorbike can easily pass larger vehicles, riding one is frequently faster. Additionally, buying new or used is less expensive than buying an automobile, which has a 200% tax if it is brand new. There are also monthly rentals available.

You may find great deals on motorcycles because many individuals sell them on the HCMC Expat Facebook groups each week.

Since we didn’t ride our motorcycle very often, we sold it. Additionally, Justin experienced frequent police harassment and resented having to pay weekly “coffee money.”

You can take a metered taxi (Mai Linh or Vinasun) if you can’t ride a motorcycle like I can, or you can use a ride-hailing app like Grab or GoJek to get a ride in a car or on a motorcycle. We frequently use Grab to travel to Downtown. Grab cars cost between $2 and $3 one way.

Another option is to walk, however owing to the heat, most people don’t. Vietnamese folks believe that even walking one kilometer (.60 miles) is too long and will instead rent a motorbike.

Additionally, because the cars don’t stop, crossing the street isn’t the simplest.

It is not very common to use a bicycle as a form of transportation. Even though we’ve seen bicycles on the road, riding one is considered to be a pastime.

A new bicycle-sharing program in District 1’s Downtown area allows people to rent bicycles for a set period of time. Since you need a MoMo account and app to make payments, tourists may encounter difficulties when renting one.

Dambri Waterfall Bao Loc Vietnam 1
Check out Bao Loc’s Dambri Waterfall during a weekend trip.

8. You’ll need to find greenery because Ho Chi Minh City is a concrete jungle.

It gets tiring looking at the tall grey buildings in Saigon. To find greenery and experience nature spots in Ho Chi Minh City, head to local parks in your district. It’s better than nothing!

In Binh Thanh District, we recommend visiting Vinhomes Central Park, Van Thanh Park (a pool is also here), or Binh Quoi Tourist Village. There are several walking paths to explore at these spots.

Alternatives include day visits to Can Gio Island, Tan Lap Floating Village, or the Vung Tau region. At Big Mountain, Dinh Mountain, or Minh Dam Mountain, you can go hiking.

If you have spare time, think about taking weekend vacations to Cat Tien National Park, Bu Gia Map National Park, Dalat, Bao Loc, or Con Dao Islands to discover the natural world.

9. The sidewalks and the roads are covered in trash and dog poop.

Trash can be found everywhere, including on the pavements, close to tree trunks, and in other public areas.

Even while trash is picked up and swept up by city personnel every evening, there isn’t enough education and awareness raising about recycling and proper disposal of items. Vietnam doesn’t really practice recycling. When finished, most individuals have a tendency to throw things like plastic bottles on the side of the road.

Even if there is a cleanup staff, you will still see people burning trash and plastic bags by the side of the road.

Dog waste may be present on the ground. Due to the widespread practice of not cleaning up after pets, it is present everywhere.

10. It can be difficult to make friends.

It seems more difficult to meet people as we age. Fortunately, the chance presents itself when taking part in new seminars, classes, hikes, networking events, language exchange, and other activities.

Because they are more receptive to speaking English, younger people tend to be more outgoing and friendly with foreigners.

11. Vietnamese is a difficult language to learn.

Without knowing any Vietnamese, it is possible to live in Ho Chi Minh City, especially if you choose to dwell in an expat neighborhood like Thao Dien or Thu Duc City.

We signed up with Vietnamese Language Studies for 80 hours of instruction because we wanted to learn the language. Knowing our numbers and how to greet people helped us after our first week of study. At a nearby market, we bought produce using our newly acquired knowledge.

Our 80 hours of instruction took some time to finish, but we did it!

We decided not to go on after that. The language was too difficult for us to understand, even though we appreciated the VLS instructors and the courses.

Vietnamese is a tonal language, and there are 6 tones and 11 vowels to learn (with various tones). It’s challenging to choose the right tones. People won’t want to understand if you use the improper tone when speaking. (We find that learning Chinese with only 4 tones is much simpler).

In the end, it was better for us to just communicate in English and use very basic Vietnamese when necessary, such as when placing an order at a neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant or requesting a bill.

12. Motorcycle parking is done on sidewalks.

Ho Chi Minh City, as was previously said, is not a pedestrian-friendly city. People frequently ride their motorbikes on the sidewalks, which are frequently damaged and in poor condition. The front section of the shop or restaurant is used to park motorbikes because there isn’t enough parking space.

If you walk on the sidewalks, you’ll need to walk on the streets for a little bit.

13. Ho Chi Minh City is not accessible-friendly.

Ho Chi Minh City might not be the greatest destination for you if you need a wheelchair or have mobility problems.

As was already mentioned, the sidewalks are frequently blocked by motorcycles or are dangerous to walk on due to their unevenness.

The buses are frequently older and don’t have a ramp for wheelchair access.

The only way up and down in many of the older buildings is by using the stairs because they lack elevators or escalators.

Final Reflections

Even after all these years, we still enjoy living in Ho Chi Minh City. Even when certain things are not perfect or accord with us, we adapt and get by.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us or post a question in the comments below if you’re moving to Ho Chi Minh City and need further guidance.

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