Having emerged as an economic center of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City might be the most convenient and dynamic region you can find in the country. If you are still unsure about visas upon entering Vietnam, check out this website from the Department of Customs of Vietnam. In this article, we are going to take a look at cultural spotlights, accommodation tips, transportation tips, market tips, and major financial concerns.
Before You Arrive
Vaccination: You should check the latest country-specific information and advice from a high-credit site. A good site to check is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides up-to-date information on important vaccines and immunizations. When you are in Vietnam, if you need emergency medical assistance, dial 115.
Important vaccines to have include, but are not limited to: Japanese Encephalitis, rabies, tetanus, and Typhoid. You should also think about having with you stomach aids, Azithromycin, and Malaria pills. Check with your insurance before you leave. Rabies and Japanese Encephalitis are expensive vaccines and some insurance companies do not cover preventative vaccines. These two vaccines also must be administered before a month of travel, the rabies vaccine is a series of three shots.
You can find good treatments for minor injuries in Ho Chi Minh City. There are very good hospitals and health care centers that you can find here. For more complicated treatment, you may need to go abroad. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. There are many types of travel insurance out there, so make sure you pick one that covers the activities you will be participating in while abroad. One to keep in mind is motorbike coverage, you may have insurance but it might not cover bike accidents.
Warning: Some rice wines sold without recognised brand names have been found to have very high and sometimes fatal levels of methanol. Some have fake brand names. You should buy rice wines in recognized supermarkets.
Dengue fever is prevalent in the summer months, especially during the rainy season in the south. So watch out for mosquitoes. Some medicines are hard to find in Vietnam. Hence, if you take prescription medication into Vietnam, put it in your hand-luggage with a copy of the prescription. If your medication has the import value greater than 100 USD, you should declare it at customs.
There are restrictions on “addictive” or “psychotropic” medicine. Those medicines used for the treatment of addiction, anxiety, depression, insomnia and other conditions are in this category. You must not have more than the quantity prescribed by a doctor for seven days (addictive medicine) or ten days (psychotropic medicine). The prescription should be in English or Vietnamese. It must include your name and age and list the name, volume and dosage of the medicine(s), and doctor’s signature or address. If you’re unsure if your medication falls within these categories or if you need to bring in more medication, you should contact the Vietnamese Embassy before you travel.
Things to Bring
Prepare for your travel with clothes that are pertinent to your wardrobe, and that you may not find in Vietnam. Women will not have as much trouble as men, but do keep in mind that garments like underwear and swimsuits might be more difficult to find. For men, if you are thinking about teaching, you may want to bring a few nice dress shirts and slacks that fit. This also goes for shoes. You will find clothes eventually but you may want to have the appropriate attire right away. In big cities like Saigon, you still can find places to buy large clothes with good prices. Saigon Squares or the Russian Market on Vo Van Kiet street, District 1 are what I recommend. You can also have things tailored! But again, this will take at least a week after alterations, so think about whether you need these clothes right away.
- Tourist visa: Think about whether you will need a one-month or three-month tourist visa. Then determine if you will need to re-enter the country during this time in order to determine whether you want a single-entry visa or multi-entry visa. You can apply for a business visa while you are still in the country later if you decide to stay longer, but you will have to leave and then re-enter in order to legitimate it.
- Business visa: Applicants need to get official entry clearance from their sponsor (usually the employer). You have the permission for multiple entries for up to one year. You have to obtain the approval from the Vietnamese Immigration Department through your sponsor. If you don’t have a sponsor party that can provide you with an entry clearance, you can also apply for a business visa for up to 90 days. You can check here to apply for the business visa.
- Working visa: This visa allows you to be officially and legitimately paid by the Vietnamese government. If you are planning to work in the country as a teacher or something else, you will need this type of visa. Before you leave your home country, be sure to have the appropriate documents such as college diploma, college transcripts, vaccines confirmation, passport copies, and criminal record. A few of these documents also have to be notarized by your home country embassy.
- Diplomatic or official visa: You need to bring important documents with you from your country if you want this. An official letter from your government office or foreign mission is compulsory.
People in Ho Chi Minh City immigrate from all around Vietnam (and the world). Hence, the city nurtures an open-minded culture. You can live in your own style and you should feel free to be yourself in town. This is an exciting city to live in right now, there are so many people coming together following their passions and creating connections. Be a part of this vibrant culture and contribute your love for life and for new relationships.
Besides being yourself, there is also a certain set of etiquette that you should notice in order to create a good first impression with the locals, yet not many. In terms of religion, most of the Saigonese are Buddhists, Christians, or non-religious people. Most people who are non-religious worship their ancestors and the Bodhisattva. And most importantly, religious discrimination is not accepted.
There are three popular data providers that dominate the market, including: MobiFone, Vinaphone, and Viettel Mobile. The cost for the SIM itself starts at around 40,000 VND. After buying the SIM, you need to register the account. The documents you will need to do this are: copies of your passport, visa, place of residence, and the address of the company you work for.
After that, in order to make a phone call, you will need to either buy data, or register to pay the monthly fee. If you find your way to 80 Nguyen Du, District 1, you can do all the registration there. If you need this right away, you can also take care of it in the airport, just watch out for the extra fees.
Most districts in Ho Chi Minh City are quite developed these days, so it should be easy to spot an apartment building that offers good services. However, it is more comfortable if you settle down in a community that shares your concerns as an expat. If you are not sure how to rent a house on your own, you can contact some intermediaries (such as Hoozing) for better insight. In that case, District 1, District 2 and District 7 are the best places for expatriates!
District 1: At the heart of the city, District 1 houses the most important office buildings and premium apartment blocks. While the rental fee is high, the convenience and access is abundant. Vinhome complex, for example, is a great place to try. The average prices range from $800 to $1,500 USD per one-bedroom apartment per month. However, you will find old apartments with very low rental fees (roughly $400 to $500 USD per month).
District 2: With Saigon Pearl, Thao Dien area and the upcoming Sala Residential Side, District 2 is an ideal choice if you would like to immerse yourself in an expat community. It is only a 15-minute ride to District 1. You never have to worry about the traffic. The average prices range from $600 to $1,000 USD per one-bedroom apartment per month.
District 7: If your office is not in District 7 and you usually have to travel to work, I highly recommend not settling down in District 7 due to heavy traffic jams during peak hours. Do you work here? This district is an ideal stay then! With the well-known Phu My Hung residential area, now Sunrise City complex, RMIT International University, and many high-end commercial centers emerging, District 7 seems to be built for expatriates to live and work. The average prices range from $550 to $700 USD. Team Christina’s also hosts a very cool house in District 7, let’s check it out.
Walking: The Saigonese do not walk much! Vehicles on the street do not give much priority to the walker for the time being. If you would like to cross the street, make sure you step on the pedestrian crossing, and watch out for vehicles coming from both sides. You can either step forward or stand still, but don’t step back! And don’t run, the oncoming vehicles expect you to walk steadily across the street so do not deviate.
Public transportation: The bus is the only means of public transportation in town. These buses are not as fancy as the airport bus line, but are still in fine condition. If you catch the bus, be sure that you get on and off the bus quickly! You can check the bus map and a comprehensive set of relative information about each bus line here.
Bikes: With a net of small streets and a lack of public means of transportation, bikes suit the city’s infrastructure condition the most. Do spend your time carefully studying the laws and notices before you have fun with your own bikes. Wearing a helmet is a must, otherwise you’ll be fined 100,000 to 200,000 VND/ person. In Saigon, you can get away with taking Grab motorbikes everywhere; however, if you are settling down for a long time, you might think about buying a bike. Check out the local expat Facebook pages and be sure to take your bike for a test-ride before you purchase it. They can range from anywhere between 130 to 400 USD depending on model and year.
Car: Since the streets are not big, yet always full of bikes, no internal highway is available, and parking lots are limited, we highly recommend you avoid owning a car. Instead, Grab cabs and taxis are always available if you do not wish to travel in the radiant sunlight.
Not only are markets a place to buy food and inexpensive gadgets, they represent the face of the Vietnamese social life. Depending on where you stay, you can choose to visit a local market or a supermarket with AC.
I recommend not opting for a local market until you have some knowledge of Vietnamese, this is key for bargaining. If you still really want to live like a local, learn how to say numbers one through ten and have the calculator on your phone ready. It is really easy to bargain by typing your price into the phone and using hand motions. People usually go to these markets to shop for basic household items – those that do not require great quality or guarantee. Here are several local markets that will give you a great experience:
- Fabric Wholesale Market: you can head to Soai Binh Lam market on Dong Khanh street, District 5 (China Town), or Tan Binh market on Ly Thuong Kiet street, Tan Binh District.
- Cheap Household Products: Cho Lon is always first ranked if you are looking for wood, and handmade materials.
You should have a Co.opMart membership card! They operate everywhere in the city, and there are a few stores across Vietnam. Although you may find their ambience a bit old-fashioned and noisy, and at points slightly dirty, you can find everything you need at home on a daily basis here! They offer very good prices, which really brings people back despite the interior.
Several stores that are close to the expat community:
- 189C Cong Quynh street, District 1
- 168 Nguyen Dinh Chieu street, District 3
- 1 Nguyen Van Linh street, District 7
Lotte Mart is a typical hypermarket chain in Asia. In Ho Chi Minh City, they offer a great range from either medium or high quality food and groceries. They also sell electrical products, but you may want to consider other vendors for better prices.
- 69 Nguyen Huu Tho street, District 7
- 968 Ba Thang Hai street, District 11
This is a chain of 17 small yet premium supermarkets located around Ho Chi Minh City. They often settle in upscale buildings or high-class office complexes, so as to capitalize on customer convenience. If you are looking for certain imported cookies, candies, chocolates, and cannot find them in any other stores, Citimart might have it! However, fresh items are limited here. The prices are also higher compared to most other markets in town.
Among their many stores, below are close to the expatriate community:
- 230 Nguyen Trai street, District 1 (Citi Plaza)
- 35Bis – 45 Le Thanh Ton street, District 1 (Parkson Le Thanh Ton)
- 30 street 15, District 2 (An Khang)
- SC – 10 Green View, Nguyen Luong Bang street, District 7 (B&B Green View)
- SC 02 Ton Dat Tien street, District 7 (Garden Plaza)
Annam Gourmet Market
These stores sell high quality imported goods, and because of this, they are favored by the expat community. They offer fresh fruits, vegetables, gourmet groceries, good cheese, processed meats, organic items, gluten-free foods, alcohol to name a few. While their products are inviting, the prices are on the premium side.
- 16 – 18 Hai Ba Trung street, District 1
- 41A Thao Dien, District 2
There are many Big C centers in Ho Chi Minh City, so you can consider signing up for their membership card to enjoy a lot of promotions during the year. They sell a whole lot of things, from fresh foods to fine electric items. The best part is the prices are very reasonable! You can also bring your e-waste to Big C and they will take care of it for you.
- 138A To Hien Thanh street, District 10
- 202B Hoang Van Thu street, Phu Nhuan District
- 729 Nguyen Kiem street, Go Vap District
- 1231 National Road 1A, Binh Tan District
- 212 Thoai Ngoc Hau street, Tan Phu District
Foreign currencies must be exchanged into VND if you wish to use it. Find a gold shop, or money exchange shops on Dong Khoi street, District 1 for good rates. Don’t be afraid of the three last ‘000’ in VND. Everyone in Vietnam is a VND millionaire for the time being! We don’t use cents, so if you happen to have some, keep it as a souvenir or go to a bank. The smallest denomination of our currency is 200 VND (which is on the edge of extinction), and the largest one is 500,000 VND (also the biggest one in size). Make sure you don’t mistake the color of the 20,000 note and 500,000 note!
While most shopping centers let you pay with a card, the local stores still don’t have a POS machine. Hence, it’s always advisable to have cash with you. There are several helpful e-wallets that you can try, such as: MoMo (with a lot of promotions), VTC Pay, and Zalo Pay.
Also keep in mind that many international banks will only let you pull out 3,000,000 VND which amounts to around 130 USD depending on the exchange rate. Keep this in mind if you must pay a large bill, such as rent. Try different ATM machines with your card, a few will allow upwards of 5,000,000 VND.
If you already have an account with a bank that has offices in Ho Chi Minh City, great! If you want to open an account with a local bank, Vietcombank is a safe and good choice. You may also want to create a Timo account, which helps you transfer money among different banks very quickly without any inter-banking fee, however, they do not allow international bank transfers. International bank transfers are still a bit tricky at the moment. A few banks, such as Vietcombank, will allow you to switch money from an international bank to your Vietnamese bank account and vice versa with very clear paperwork. These include payslips, tax slips, and a valid work visa. This also comes with a hefty fee.
There are many international banks that have a presence in Ho Chi Minh City for the time being. Which one to choose depends on your personal situation. Rest assured that you can withdraw money from ATMs of other banks, with the fee being around 5,500 VND per time withdrawal. The maximum withdrawal amount per time usually ranges from 1.5 million to five million VND. Several popular international banks in the city are Shinhan Bank, HSBC, CitiBank, to name a few.
While many expats in Vietnam choose to improve their finance with a language teaching position, you also can utilize your skills to find other jobs. If you are good at art, try operating painting workshops (Tipsy Art is doing this very professionally), a trendy entertainment form among the young Vietnamese generation. You can also think about translation jobs, copy-editing jobs, and business related teaching positions. There are many choices out there if you do not want to teach English.
As an expat, your personal income tax may fall in one of these five categories:
(1) Individual who resides in Vietnam indefinitely but does not have a Vietnamese citizenship
(2) foreigner who works in Vietnam but lives in Vietnam for less than 183 days during the consecutive 12 month period
(3) pay taxes like the locals. The taxation regulations may change, so make sure you consult your case with a specialist.
It is not too difficult to get used to Vietnam. There are still social problems to be addressed, such as small robbery, littering, and non-queuing. Yet, the hospitality of the Vietnamese people compensates for what the country lacks. You only need to be easy-going, understanding, and eager to experience a new lifestyle. This city will welcome you with warmth and happiness. We hope you will have a good time in town!