Healthcare in Vietnam operates on a two-tier system of both public and private health insurance coverage, and has been improving in recent years, but it is unlikely that, as an expat, you will be able to access the public health insurance scheme. You will therefore need to take out private health cover.
Although the principle of universal coverage has been growing in the country, it is still patchy, particularly in rural areas, and in any case you are unlikely to be eligible for the national insurance scheme. Healthcare itself suffers from underfunding and structural problems. You can still access public healthcare itself, but will need to pay some out of pocket payments. Moreover, your employer may either sign you up with a private policy as part of your employment package (check the coverage on the policy, however) or may give you the money to arrange your own health insurance provision.
Note that you will still need to pay social security contributions via a monthly payroll deduction, despite your lack of access to public healthcare. At present this is around 8% of your salary.
How to register for healthcare in Vietnam
If your health insurance provider covers Vietnam, consult them for a list of approved private medical providers. If you wish to register with your local clinic, check online or with the expat community. In Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the French Hospitals have an excellent reputation: these are government hospitals and you will need to pay for treatment directly, but as we note below, this is usually inexpensive.
You can find a list of hospital medical personnel here.
You will need to pay out of pocket for state medical care in Vietnam but this is usually low cost. For example, an X-ray is in the region of USD$1.50 and an ultrasound is under USD$5.
As an expat, your dental treatment is likely to be within the private sector. However, as a destination for dental tourism, Vietnam is very competitively priced, particularly in comparison with the USA. Treatments that could cost you around USD$3K will be available in Vietnam for under USD$1K, for example. There are a large number of private clinics, particularly in urban areas: it is advisable to shop around, compare prices, and consult your local network, especially if you are planning to undertake cosmetic procedures.
Creighton: The first thing that you will notice, when you come to Vietnam, is how narrow a lot of the homes are. I think, way back in the day, you were taxed on how big the front of your house was. So, everybody built these narrow houses, which were super long and super high, but the front of the house is small.
The other thing is that, typically, the bottom floor is going to double – for whatever it is, plus a garage. You’ll also find that, really, almost in all places, except for your nicer hotels, almost everything is marble tiled floor.
And then, I think the other big thing that will shock people is a lot of the bathrooms, because they’re not that big. Basically, the shower and the toilet are in the same spot.
Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus podcast. Today, we’re exploring some of the need-to-knows if you’re planning a move to Vietnam. My guest is Creighton Wong, an American who owns a digital marketing agency. In more normal times, he would be based not just in Vietnam, but in other parts of the world as well, as a digital nomad.
Creighton’s going to share his opinions and, at times, pretty amusing experiences with visas, Vietnam’s healthcare system, working in the country as a foreigner, finding places to live, and learning the language.
So, Creighton, how did you come to be living in Vietnam?
Creighton: Gosh, it was completely accidental and serendipitous at the same time. I knew that I had a passion and a love for being a world traveller and experiencing different cultures and different foods. And I wanted to dip my toe in the water to work remotely. And so, I got accepted into this programme called ‘Hacker Paradise’. You can look it up online.
What they do is: they set up workplaces and living spaces for people who would like to travel and work abroad. And so, that was a wonderful turn of events. And the first place that they were going was Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is exactly where I wanted to go. Because it was kind of the spot for—
Carlie: Yeah, for bloggers, for digital nomads, etc.
Creighton: Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean, I did end up living in Chiang Mai for about three months. The thing I loved about Chiang Mai, and the reason it was such a hotspot for expats, is there are so many expats there that you’re never really alone.
You’re always going to bump into somebody who’s got an interesting travel story. And my joke was that I never ate dinner alone. Even if I would go out to eat by myself, I’d always bump into somebody.
But anyway, getting back to your original question, ‘Hacker Paradise’ changed their itinerary. And so, they were going to go to Da Nang in Vietnam first, then Bali in Indonesia second, and Chiang Mai in Thailand third. And so, I was faced with a question of: do I just dive in, or do I wait for Chiang Mai?
I really made the decision, saying to myself, ‘Look, if you make an excuse not to go to Da Nang in Vietnam, there’s always going to be a reason not to go. Things come up. There’s always a birthday party here, an anniversary there, a thing to go to …’ And so, I just made the decision.
Carlie: So, you mentioned that Chiang Mai was, you know, on your bucket list. Was Vietnam up there as a destination, before you ended up in Vietnam?
Creighton: I wanted to explore through Southeast Asia, and Vietnam was definitely a destination that I wanted to check out. I guess, I didn’t realise how much I would end up, first of all, spending time here, and also, enjoying it. You know, like I said, it was a serendipitous surprise.
Carlie: So how long have you been in Vietnam now?
Creighton: I think it was a little over four years ago when I came to De Nang, and then I’ve been sort of off and on, because I’ve had to go back to the States for business. And so, yeah, I’ve been just jumping over the pond, except for this time, because I am not getting on an airplane anytime soon.
Carlie: I was going to say, how much has the COVID-19 crisis, for you as a digital nomad, really changed your plans?
Creighton: So, from a working standpoint, it hasn’t changed my day a whole heck of a lot, because I’m used to working at home and working in coffee shops and coworking spaces. It hasn’t really impacted me, from a daily routine standpoint. From a world traveller digital nomad standpoint, Vietnam’s borders are still closed.
I can’t fault the methodology of it, but certainly I have the itch. I definitely have the itch to get going and get exploring again. But right now, if we’re going to explore, it’s going to be within the borders. We’re not going to stray outside of the borders at all.
Carlie: Would you say that COVID has really illustrated, I suppose, some of the starkest differences between the United States and where you are in Vietnam? Or are there other really big differences between the two countries for you?
Creighton: I mean, it’s almost night and day when we talk about the government responding, because I think they also realised, very honestly, that they did not have the healthcare infrastructure in Vietnam to be able to deal with a massive outbreak and that a lot of people would have died. And so, when we talk about Vietnam being shut down … It was shut down right after the Tet holiday.
Tet holiday is Vietnamese New Year’s. It coincides with the Chinese New Year’s, and it was early this year. It was in January. And so, you know, I had these great ideas of getting back in the pool and swimming. I had made about six trips to the pool.
I was getting into my rhythm, and then boom, the pools just shut down for three months, because they shut down the schools and they shut down the public places like that. And soon thereafter, non-essential businesses were shut down too. But the people were by and large compliant with it, because they understood that this is just a sacrifice for the greater good.
The other thing, too, is … For example, we had one of our renters here travel to Dubai and back, and there was some intense tracking involved in that. So, they tested her and asked her questions when she was at the border. But then there was a follow-up, and they sent health officials over to our place to interview her and run a temperature check and just check on her. So they were very, very diligent and very, very on top of things.
Carlie: I want to get back to the healthcare aspect of Vietnam, because in this episode today, we’re talking about elements for other expats that might be looking at a move to Vietnam, obviously not right now, but possibly in the future.
And I wanted to jump into some practicalities. To start with, talking about visas … I’m guessing you’re an American passport holder, so what visa did you come to Vietnam on? And what are you there on today to be able to live and work in the country?
Creighton: I came here on a tourist visa. A tourist visa is very easy to get, except for now. Under normal circumstances, it’s very easy. They have a thing that’s also called ‘visa on arrival’. You basically do all the paperwork, and you get a letter from the government, and then you get off the airplane and you show this visa on arrival, and everything is stamped and taken care of at the airport.
And you can get everywhere from a one-month in and out visa to … I think the maximum is a one-year visa, but I have to do border runs every 90 days. So, rewind to a couple of months ago. And so, I’m married now. And my tourist visa that I got right before getting married was expiring. And I went down to the immigration to say, ‘Hey, look, I want to turn this into a marriage visa.’
At the time, I would do border runs to Cambodia, or jump on an airplane and go up to Bangkok for a weekend. But those avenues were closed. The lady is sitting there looking at me, and she’s like, ‘Well, you already have a visa.’ And I was like, ‘I know, I want a marriage visa.’ And she’s like, ‘Well, you have to leave the country and come back.’ I said, ‘I’m not leaving the country.’
Carlie: How is it possible?
Creighton: I mean, the moment I step out of Vietnam, you guys aren’t going to let me back in. And even if you do let me back, you’re going to put me into a two-week quarantine. (By the way, that was another thing for anybody that was entering at the time.) And I’m not getting back in.
And, by the way, you guys have about three months to figure this out for all the people that have been hanging out in your country. And I don’t want to be on an airplane, and you don’t want me on an airplane. Can we work this out? And the answer was no.
So, fortunately, over the years, I’ve made some friends. And one guy works in – that’s his job – he works in visas. And what we were able to do – now, this is because I’m married to a Vietnamese woman – I was able to get a temporary residency card out here.
And that was the only way that I could do it, without physically leaving the country, because at that point, my two options were … Well, I’m grateful that that was an option, because I could do it and everything was above board and legal.
The other thing was to just let the visa expire and just hide here until … Right? It was, like, do it this way and then just beg for forgiveness later. Because I’m like, ‘I’m not getting on an airplane, and nobody’s going to let me in except for the United States.’ And the last thing I want to do is spend 18 hours on an airplane.
Carlie: Yeah, absolutely. Definitely not in this current climate. I’m curious, you mentioned about knowing people and how that worked in your favour. We interviewed Steve McGinnis on this podcast about working as an expat in Asia, and he said they have a very different attitude towards, for example, bribes and doing favours in Asia.
Whereas in the West, we see that as incredibly unethical and illegal behaviour, in Asia, it kind of flies. And that’s how you get things done in some circumstances. Have you had experience of that dealing with administration in Vietnam?
Creighton: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll give you two stories on that. One is: I did a border run over to Cambodia, and quite frankly, it was probably a racket. I could’ve probably just done the whole thing myself and gone through it. It would have probably taken about an hour or an hour and a half to get to do the loop and everything.
But the hustle is, you know, a guy comes up, and he’s like, ‘Oh, I can push you through faster, blah, blah, blah.’ And it’s $5 here and $10 there. And the next thing you know, I’m out 50 bucks, which was fine, because I was able to do that border run and the entire process in like 15 minutes. If you want it done, you’ve got to put in a little money.
Carlie: It’s like fast-tracking through the airport.
Creighton: You know what? It was pretty much like that. And then, there’s just other places, where if you want this piece of paperwork signed and you want that piece of paperwork retroactive, there’s a dollar amount that’s attached to it.
Oh, I’ll tell you this story. So, my first time through Vietnam, I thought incorrectly that I had gotten a 60-day visa. So, I knew I was going to be there for at least about 35 days, which is obviously more than a 30-day visa, so I thought I had a 60-day visa. I was incorrect on that front.
So, I didn’t find out until I was trying to leave Vietnam. And they’re like, ‘Do you know you’ve overstayed your visa?’ And I’m like, ‘I’ve got a 60-day visa.’ And they’re like, ‘No, you don’t, you’ve got a 30-day.’ And so, I’m stuck.
These guys take my passport. I don’t even know where they’re going. And I’m like, ‘Ah, he’s got my passport. Can I have it back?’ I’m trying to figure it out. I’m calling my travel agent, trying to be like, ‘What do I do at this point?’ And then I just kind of figured it out.
And I was like, ‘You know what, these guys are going to make me sweat it out a little bit.’ Fortunately, the airline rep that processed me came and helped speed things along. Because I was also running late for my flight. And I knew what the deal was.
I said, ‘Look, there’s nothing going on here, because if you really want to penalise me, you want me to leave the country. So just tell me what the fine is.’ And quite frankly, the fine probably never made it up to the government. It was probably split between all the cops at the airport, and they probably had a nice evening buying a lot of beers.
But I knew what the deal was. I was like, ‘All right, I’m going to have to pay you money. So just tell me how much money.’ And of course, I’m trying to hide the big bills, so that they don’t think that I have a lot of money on me, that I’m just a poor traveller.
Carlie: You’ve got a residency visa now. I’m guessing that means no more visa runs?
Creighton: Yeah. It ends up being much cheaper in the long run. So, it’s a three-year temporary residency, and I do not have to do any visa runs.
Carlie: Are there any restrictions being on a residency visa in Vietnam, or do you essentially have all the same rights as a citizen?
Creighton: I haven’t tested it, so don’t take my word for this, but I don’t believe that I have full citizenship rights. I do think that there’d still be an issue if I were to leave the country and try to get back in. And I do think that there are certain issues with government programmes, for example, certain insurance programmes that I’m not available for.
Carlie: Can you get healthcare, or the local, I suppose, public healthcare, in Vietnam?
Creighton: You know, I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t really tried. The reason I haven’t is that, coming from the US, just walking in off the street … Everything is so much less expensive over here that you start to understand why people do medical tourism.
So, I’ll give you a couple stories here. When I was in Chiang Mai, I found this very highly recommended and reputable clinic. And I went over there. I hadn’t had a check-up in a long time. And they’re like, ‘Well, which tests do you want me to run?’ And I was like, ‘Well, how much for all of them?’
And I think it came out as something like $70 USD to run every single test under the book that they could run on a blood and a urine sample. And I was like, ‘Oh, run them all.’ And everything was fine.
Recently, I just got a check-up here in Vietnam, and it was about the same amount. Once upon a time, my wife was having problems with her upper spine. It was really tired, and it was really sore. And finally, I was like, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got to go get this thing checked out.’
Well, we go, and we ended up at a really nice hospital. I’m thinking that she’s getting x-rays. She ended up getting an MRI. So now I’m freaking out, because in the United States, an MRI can cost, depending on where you go, anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. And then, probably, multiply that up if you come off the street, because that’s the negotiated rate.
Well, we go to the clinic and meet the doctor. Then they got us a cab and came over to the bigger hospital with us. She got an MRI, got in the cab with us, went back to the little clinic, and drugs … The whole entire thing costs like $150.
Carlie: That’s insanely cheap.
Creighton: It really, really is. And the thing, too, is we can speak Vietnamese, or at least maybe not the brand names of the medications that you take, but the actual scientific names. There’s a pharmacy on every corner here.
I met a family, not too long ago – we were having Mexican food in the heart of Saigon, and I heard them speaking English. I was having a chat with them for a little bit, and they were out here because the husband was getting some form of treatment that was either unavailable or unaffordable in the United States. So medical tourism is definitely a thing.
Carlie: And Creighton, looking at your bio, I notice you’re a former competitive paratriathlete, and you happen to be missing a right leg. So, I’m curious, when it comes to more specialist services, such as something like a prosthetic, how is that in Vietnam? And have you had any experience navigating those kinds of services and support in the country?
Creighton: No, this is where I am 1000% American, because the prosthetic units that I wear are from Össur, and I’ve got a great relationship with them and they take great care of me. They’re just a wonderful, wonderful company. And my prosthetist is over in the US, and he’s the only one that I’ll trust to build me what I need.
So, we talked about how wonderful that the pricing is here. The ugly part is … I met a gentleman who had his leg blown off in the Vietnam war, and I think he had supported the Americans. And so, he was able to fly over to America. They gave him a prosthetic leg, and he came back. He hasn’t changed that prosthetic leg since the 1970s.
He’s got the technology that I was wearing when I was a child. I don’t see that many amputees on prosthetic legs. What I do see is amputees being pushed around in wheelchairs. Okay. So that sort of availability and access to modern technology, it really doesn’t exist out here.
Because of the disparity in the dollar, it’s so unaffordable to the average Vietnamese citizen, that the only way they can get anything is with the blessing of the government, and the government’s just simply not paying for those sorts of things.
When I took my wife to the hospital, it was a really nice hospital. I walked in, and I was like, ‘This is as nice as any hospital that I’ve ever been in in the United States.’ Unfortunately, we’ve run around and gone to many hospitals throughout my time here, for various different reasons. And, quite frankly, they’re not up to par.
The facilities are old and dirty, and they’re overrun. The Vietnamese government would have what you would term as universal healthcare, but the standard of that healthcare isn’t really all that high.
So, for example, my wife’s grandfather was out here, and he got really sick a year ago, and he was in the hospital. They gave him baseline care, but we were responsible for continuing to pay for and bring in necessities, like food and diapers, and those sorts of things. Because it simply just wasn’t covered.
Carlie: It’s a different standard of universal healthcare to what you might have, you know, where I’m from in Australia, or where I’m living in France.
Creighton: Yeah. I know that there’s a call for universal healthcare, especially in the United States. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘Hey, we want universal healthcare.’ It’s like, ‘No, we’ve got to really think this out and make sure that we have a well-thought-out baseline level of care that’s accessible to everybody and affordable to everybody.’
Carlie: I want to move on to finding work as a foreigner in Vietnam. Obviously, you’ve come to Vietnam and you have your own business. What industries do foreigners that you meet in Vietnam typically work in, if they are working locally?
Creighton: The number one local business that people come to Vietnam for – or, quite frankly, anywhere, especially in Asia – is to teach English. So, there are a lot of English teachers out here. There continues to be a high demand for that, because a lot of the young kids want to learn English, because English is their ticket to levelling up their life and their lifestyle from a financial standpoint.
Carlie: What’s the pay like if you’re teaching English in Vietnam, compared to in other countries in Asia? Is it competitive, or is it not the best place to be looking to earn good money as a foreigner?
Creighton: Well, I think, as an English teacher, you can make a decent living for Vietnam. But maybe you’re not going to be saving up tons and tons of money, if your plan is to go back to a developed country, where the cost of living is significantly higher. But you can definitely come here, get paid, and live a wonderful life out here. Because, I mean, things are just cheaper, especially if you eat locally.
Carlie: I can imagine. And where do people generally look for work, as foreigners in Vietnam? Are there Facebook groups or particular websites that are known among the English-speaking community?
Creighton: Yeah. Oh boy, it’s a massive group. They call it the mean group, because these guys flame each other all the time, but there’s a Facebook group called … I can’t remember if it’s Expats in Vietnam or if it’s specifically expats in Ho Chi Minh.
I think, if you do a basic Google search, there are agencies that will place you for English-speaking businesses. Having said that, if you really want to make good money and have a low cost of living by being out here, anywhere in Southeast Asia, you can do the freelancer route. Although, you’ve got to hustle for your own business, so that’s not appealing to some people.
Or the other way is you go and get a job where people are okay and comfortable with you working remotely. And so, you just become a remote worker for hire.
Carlie: I want to move on to finding a place to live in Vietnam. I’m curious how you went about finding where you’re living, and what the differences are between a typical home that you will have in Vietnam compared to in Western countries.
Creighton: So, if anybody’s coming here for the first time, what I would suggest, if you know somebody over here, is to talk to them about the different areas and where to live. There are actually districts where there are more expats hanging out. In Ho Chi Minh City, where I am, it is all locals.
I get super excited if I see somebody that I think can speak English, because there are days where I go through life and, with the exception of my wife, I can’t communicate with a single solitary person. And so, I would say, just lock in a place for about a week, just so that you can get your bearings, and then go explore, and figure out where you want to live and where the amenities are that you want.
And finding places is super simple. You can just go to regular places, like hotels and Agoda.com. We’ve got hotels that are as little as $9 a day. So, at $9 a day, you can sort of figure out where you want to be.
Carlie: And why do you need to live in a house, when you can afford to live full-time in a hotel?
Creighton: Yeah. Well, houses are nice, because they tend to be bigger and have a kitchen, if you’re going to be around long enough to do some of your own cooking.
Carlie: This is true. Practical things.
Creighton: Yeah. We’ve found places on Airbnb, ranging anywhere from $13 a night to up to $100+.
So, it just depends on what your budget is and what experience you’re going for. There are a lot of these luxury condominiums, where you can rent out the condominium for about $1,500 a month, and they come with a full-blown gym and swimming pool, and probably even a rooftop bar that you can access. So, that’s a really, really nice way to go.
Do you want to be in the heart of the city, where all the action is? If you do, I strongly suggest you get [accommodation] on a floor that’s higher up, so that you can be a little bit further away from all the street noise and all the traffic noise. Or do you want something with a little bit of a slower pace, out in the suburbs? It really depends on what you want, but the experience can be found, whatever your comfort level is.
Carlie: You mentioned these $1,500 a month condos. How do they compare to renting from a private landlord and going through a local real estate agent? Or is that not how it works there?
Creighton: No, you can. My wife goes down that route, and she’ll talk to the agents and stuff like that. For me, just between Airbnb and the aforementioned booking sites, I’ve been able to find places without too much work or too much of a problem.
Carlie: What’s a typical Vietnamese home like?
Creighton: They are different. The first thing that you will notice, when you come to Vietnam, is how narrow a lot of the homes are. And the reason that they’re so narrow, I think, is that, way back in the day, you were taxed on how big the front of your house was. So, everybody built these narrow houses, which were super long and super high, but the front of the house is small. So, the first thing you’ll notice is that the width of the house isn’t very big.
The other thing is that, typically, the bottom floor is going to double – for whatever it is, plus a garage. You’ll also find that, really, almost in all places, except for your nicer hotels … Because of the humidity out here, almost everything is marble tiled floor, because it dries faster. The problem, for me, is that it’s incredibly slippery. And so, don’t spill any water on it. But yeah, you won’t find a heck of a lot of carpet here.
And then, I think the other big thing that will shock people is a lot of the bathrooms, because they’re not that big. Basically, the shower and the toilet are in the same spot. So, whenever you take a shower, the whole bathroom gets wet.
Carlie: Kind of like a bathroom on a boat or something.
Creighton: Yeah, pretty much, exactly. And so, that’s a different thing. I kind of joke with all the US COVID stuff, where people were hoarding toilet paper. Getting toilet paper here is not a problem, because most people use the little bum gun to wash themselves. But yeah, the units are typically smaller out here.
But again, we’ve found places that are really large and nice to live in. You can find whatever experience you want.
Carlie: It sounds like there’s a lot of variety there.
Carlie: And when you are renting, do certain things come as standard? I know I was surprised when we started looking for rentals in France, that it’s not necessarily the case that there’ll always be a kitchen installed. For some rentals, you have to put in your own kitchen, for example.
Creighton: I mean, again, I think this goes back to … When you’re searching on the websites, and even talking to the host, you need to be very clear about what it is you want, and ask those questions. The guys that service, they’re usually very much on the ball, and they’ll get back to you with that.
But yeah, there are places where there’s no kitchen, but instead just a hot pad. For some, hot pads are more than enough for what they need. Whereas for others, it’s really not enough. And so, you do have to be very clear about what it is you want.
I would also caution to always check out the place to make sure that things are exactly what they are. I would do this anywhere, not just in Vietnam. For example, we ran into a place, not too long ago …
We were actually homeless for a little while, because our neighbours were putting an addition onto their home. And we were like, ‘We’ve got to get out of here. We can’t work here, because it’s a construction zone.’
We went into this one place, and it looked like a great deal. It was in the heart of district one. All the boxes were checked. And then, we get in there, and it’s a non-smoking place, and somebody has been in there, and somebody has been smoking.
And so, fortunately, we had only booked that for, I think, two or three nights. And we’re like, ‘Yep, we’re out of here. We’re not going to stick around here.’ We loved the location, but we didn’t love the place.
Carlie: Is smoking inside a lot more common in Vietnam?
Creighton: Not so much inside, but smoking is definitely much more prevalent out here. You need to remember, too, that I come from Oakland, California, and California has made it very difficult for smokers to smoke in any sort of indoor or public space. And, as a non-smoker, I appreciate that very much.
But out here, for example, there are four to five coffee shops on every single block. You literally can’t go 20 metres without seeing a new coffee shop. But what we look for, because I work out of coffee shops quite a bit … We stay away from the open air coffee shops, partly because I need air- conditioning – it’s too darn hot out here in Vietnam – but also because most of the open air coffee shops are smoker friendly. And I also don’t want to be anywhere near that.
Carlie: I find that really jarring here in France, too. In Australia, it’s much less common to have public areas, like restaurants and cafes and parks, where smoking is still a thing. But here, even undercover at a tram stop, someone will just light up. And I’ll be thinking, That is so inconsiderate. But what are you going to do?
Creighton: Yeah. There are a lot of things out here that are culturally different, and, at some point, I had to learn that I’m in their country and not going to change it.
Carlie: Creighton, you mentioned sometimes looking for other English-speakers and being really happy when you found them. How is your Vietnamese?
Creighton: It’s poor. I try, you know? I think it’s one of those things, where if my intelligence were based on my ability to pick up a foreign language, I would be on the far, far left side of the curve, for sure.
But Chinese was really difficult for me to pick up, and there are like four tones in Chinese. And I think the Vietnamese have around 11 tones. And, quite frankly, I can’t hear the difference in the tones. And so, I struggle.
I’m really excited when I can actually pick up a word. When my wife and her family are talking and it’s like, ‘Wait, hold on. I know that word. I know that word. I’m excited here. Let me jump in!’ And never mind the tonalities. Then the speed that they talk, too, is a challenge.
Carlie: How do most foreigners go about learning the language? Are Vietnamese courses often offered? Or is it more one-on-one tutoring, or trying to learn through families?
Creighton: I think that for most people – not me, but most people – if they’re hanging around enough here, they are going to be able to start picking things up. I had a friend of mine who came out for our wedding last year, and in one week, she picked up more Vietnamese than I had picked up in three years.
So, some people just naturally pick it up, and being immersed in it is super helpful. Here’s a little, little tip: (not right now, but pre-COVID) you could go down to the park, and there would be a lot of people there trying to learn English. There would be, on any given day, anywhere from three to five guys there, and they would just sit on a park bench and, for an hour, talk English with any of the Vietnamese there.
You would see them, and after a while, they would be like the Pied Piper. There would be this group of anywhere from eight to 12 Vietnamese, just listening to this guy talk English. Because they’re just trying to soak it in and learn and understand English. Well, guess what? If you go do that and just start talking English, well, you’re going to end up talking English and Vietnamese. And so, you can kind of teach each other.
Carlie: So, it’s pretty easy to find a tandem partner if you really want to learn?
Creighton: Yeah, because the thing to remember is that English is the higher commodity, right? Because it’s more rare. Everybody speaks Vietnamese, but only a small portion of people speak English.
So, if you’ve got English, then people want you. And so, if people want you, then you’re going to be able to find people that you can teach a little bit of English, if they teach you a little bit of Vietnamese. I think it’s super easy to find that dynamic.
Carlie: And how much Vietnamese do you need to get by day to day?
Creighton: I have developed an entire behavioural pattern to be able to go into foreign countries and get away with not being able to speak the language.
Carlie: Shame on you.
Creighton: And, by the way, this was before cell phones. I used to just be able to get away with a smile and just sort of pointing with a fake marionette, and people figure out what you want. And it also was a lot of trust to just give over the money, for example, when trying to buy something. And I knew generally what it would cost, and you trust the people to be honest and give you the exact change back, and that sort of thing.
But, in today’s world, it’s stupid easy, right? Because for $5 out here, I think, you can get a data card for your phone, and you insert that into your phone, and between Google translate and Google search, you can pretty much communicate anything you want.
So, yeah, instead of trying to play charades and explain that you need toilet paper, you can actually just type in ‘toilet paper’ to Google and show them a picture of it. And the store will show you where to go and buy toilet paper.
Carlie: Do the Vietnamese take offense if you don’t try to speak their language, or are they pretty fine?
Creighton: I think it’s like everywhere. If you’re going to give it the good old college try, people are really thankful, and they enjoy that you’re trying – especially when you’re messing up, because they get a good laugh out of it, as well. But for the most part, most of the people out here have been very open and generous in trying to help make it work.
You’ve got to keep in mind, too, that in some of the more touristy areas, there are more English-speaking locals available. I am literally in the heart of a place where there’s nothing but locals. And, I mean, I can barely talk to my neighbours sometimes. I just point thumbs up and smile. We’re good.
Carlie: Finally, Creighton, I just wanted to get your thoughts on your move, initially, to Vietnam. Based on your experiences, is there anything that you would have done differently?
Creighton: Boy, I don’t know if I would’ve necessarily done anything differently, because my transition was super slow over here. I just kept bouncing back and forth from the States for a couple of years. Like I said, I originally came over here through a group called ‘Hacker Paradise’, and that was a wonderful, wonderful experience.
We had our leader, who would plan all these cool events, so I didn’t actually have to do any other research, or any of the planning, to go and visit places, like the Standing Buddha or Hoi An lantern festivals, or there’s an island down there that we went to. Those things were all taken care of for me. And that really helped, because that freed me up to do more work.
And then, number two – and maybe call this good or bad – I had an instant network of people who didn’t know anybody else out there. And so, we had a Flack channel, and we’d be like, ‘Hey, I’m going out to dinner. If anybody else wants to go out to dinner, meet me down in the lobby at six o’clock.’
And so, you never ate alone. You always had somebody that you could share the experience with. And so, I also had an instant social network.
Carlie: You had an instant support network around you when you moved.
Creighton: Yeah. But having gone through this several times and having lived in different places, like Chiang Mai and Bali, what I would say is: for most people, it sounds really romantic to come out here and do the digital nomad thing and the work and the travel. But the first thing is: it’s work and it’s not a vacation. Number two: you have to find ways to ground yourself.
A friend of mine, Pauline … We would talk a lot, and we always would say, ‘There are challenges still. It’s not a vacation.’ And so, it’s very important, whenever you move to a new place, to ground yourself. And what I mean by that is … It could be a routine. If you do yoga all the time, or you pound weights all the time, or you go for runs all the time, the first thing you need to do is: get in here and get your fitness regime back on board. That’s probably something that I could’ve and should’ve done a better job at.
It could be the person or people you’re traveling with. They can ground you, because when things go a little sideways, you always have that safe place. And so that, to me, is something that is really important for anybody who is thinking about doing work and travel. Find ways to ground yourself, to anchor yourself, so that you’re not just floating out there. Because when you’re just sort of floating through the wind, it can be a little bit difficult.
And taking care of your mental health is definitely a thing, especially when you’re in a foreign place with foreign people, foreign lands, foreign cultures, etc. – when everything is not normal to you. What’s the one thing that you can grasp to keep you calm inside the chaos?
Carlie: That’s it for this episode. If you have questions for Creighton or want to share your own experience of expat life in Vietnam, head over to expatfocus.com. At the bottom of our homepage, you’ll find links to our Facebook groups.
Be sure to check out our other episodes. We interview expats, and experts, on all aspects of life abroad. If you like what we do, please leave us a review on your favourite podcast app, and I’ll catch you next time.
The State Bank of Vietnam, formerly known as the National Bank of Vietnam, was first established in 1961. As the country’s central bank, it is responsible for a variety of duties, including: maintaining currency reserves, securing monetary stability, and managing the circulation of banknotes. It also regulates all other banks operating within the country. The first solely commercial bank opened in Ho Chi Minh City in 1987 to handle personal savings and to extend loans to enterprises and individuals.
From 1992 onwards, Vietnam’s banking system had consisted of a combination of state-owned, joint-stock, joint-venture, and foreign banks. The state-owned commercial banks were suffering from high levels of non-performing loans (NPLs), most of them to state-owned enterprises. Consequently, in 2005, Vietnam decided to equitize all five state-owned banks. In addition to NPLs, Vietnam’s banks have been said to suffer from low public confidence, as well as regulatory and managerial weaknesses.
Experts have noted an absence of international auditing and a lack of compliance with the Basel capital standards. Currently, large foreign banks are having to balance their interests in serving multinationals and expats in Vietnam with their frustrations over the continuous restrictions. For example, the foreign investment limit into national banks of Vietnam is currently set at 30%.
Banking options for expats
A number of international banks have a presence in Vietnam, including HSBC and ANZ. Many expats in Vietnam choose to go with these banks, and many already have an international account with one of them before their arrival. Those looking to bank with a Vietnamese bank will find that Vietcombank is the most popular choice among foreign nationals. If you do not already bank with an international provider, the wisest course of action is to keep your home country account open. This will allow you to maintain your credit history and credit rating there. You can then open a new local account upon arrival.
Vietnam ranks first in the world for helping foreign workers save money. Around 72% of expats agree that moving to Vietnam helped them do this. In a separate survey, another 72% of foreign workers stated that they had more disposable income in Vietnam than they did in their home country. Additionally, around 66% of surveyed expats in Vietnam said that they felt confident about the current economic climate in the country.
Many expatriates express an interest in offshore banking, and this can be for a myriad of reasons. If you are considering this, then bear in mind that offshore banking in the region has become increasingly difficult. Various restrictions have been implemented to crack down on money laundering. Therefore, the best way to deal with offshore banking legitimately is to employ the services of an experienced financial advisor
How to open a bank account in Vietnam
At the beginning of July 2019, significant changes were made, which impacted on expats looking to bank in Vietnam. Opinions have been somewhat divided on these. Some report that the rules seem to have relaxed to a degree, whilst others claim the complete opposite. The main focus of the legislation was that foreigners and expats would be required to prove residential status. In other words, they must prove they have spent a minimum period of six months living in the country, in order to open a Vietnamese bank account.
The result is that, unless you are living and working in Vietnam for at least six months, you will only be able to open a restricted bank account. You will not be able to make cash deposits at the bank. Foreigners and those on tourist visas may be able to open a restricted account by writing an affidavit certifying that they are not conducting any paid work in Vietnam.
Most banks in Vietnam have English-speaking staff, websites, and brochures outlining their services and packages. Therefore, you are unlikely to find that the language barrier causes problems. Typically, when opening a new bank account, customers will be given the option of banking in Vietnamese Dong or US Dollars.
In order to open a bank account in Vietnam, you will need several documents to support your application and prove your identity. These documents include:
- A valid passport (you may also need to provide photocopies of the biometric data and working visa pages)
- A copy of your employment contract
- Proof of address in the form of utility bills OR a confirmation from your landlord that you are legally renting a property in Vietnam
- Initial monetary deposit to secure account (exact amount varies between banks)
You simply need to visit the local branch of your chosen bank and speak to an advisor. You will be given some application forms to fill out and sign, and your supporting documentation will be checked. The process itself is quite simple, provided that you are residing and working in the country legally and have the correct visa.
More on banking in Vietnam
Bank opening hours vary between banks. However, the majority of banks in Vietnam are open from 08:00 to 11:30, and then from 13:00 until 16:00. These hours are applicable from Monday to Friday. On Saturdays, select banks and branches may open for a half day, usually from 08:00 to 11:30. Some international banks may choose to operate over the weekend, but most banks close for the entire day on Sundays, as well as on public holidays.
In addition to the internationally operating banks in Vietnam, there are a number of local banks to choose from. Vietnam’s top five banks by registered capital are:
- VietinBank $1.56 billion (32,661 billion VND)
- Agribank $1.39 billion (29,154 billion VND)
- Vietcombank $1.10 billion (23,174 billion VND)
- BIDV $1.10 billion (23,011 billion VND)
- Eximbank $0.59 billion (12,355 billion VND)
You will also be able to find various expat-orientated banking services, from the international experts at HSBC to the more local financial advisory firms, such as Credenda Associates, A&C Consulting Services, and Infinity Solutions.
Many people choose to use complementary therapies alongside conventional medicine, often as a way of managing their symptoms or of de-stressing during a turbulent time (particularly during traumatic or intense treatments). Complementary therapies differ from conventional mainstream medicine. While conventional medicine is based on scientific research and evidence, which has been subjected to rigorous testing, the research and scientific backing associated with complementary therapies is often less substantial.Complementary therapies (and holistic health as a whole) tend to elicit a mixed response, with some people viewing it in a negative light. Some complementary therapies, such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, have worked their way into the sphere of acceptable holistic remedies and practices on a global scale.
The effectiveness of some complementary therapies has been proven, while the effectiveness of others has been more difficult to measure in a tangible way. Meanwhile, some complementary therapies have been disproven and are considered to mostly benefit patients on a placebo basis.
Studies have been conducted into various traditional herbal medicines in Vietnam, with interesting results. For example, the “Black Hmong” tribe in Northern Vietnam typically utilise the Artocarpus tonkinensis tree, using its leaves in medicines to treat arthritis and backache, with a reported lack of adverse side effects. Later on, studies using rats found that Artocarpus extract decreased arthritis incidence and severity and delayed disease onset.
Historically, two types of traditional medicinal practice were common in Vietnam, one being thuoc nam (the medicine of the South) and the other being thuoc bac (the medicine of the North). The differences in traditional practices between the North and the South likely existed for a number of reasons, including the geographic climate – and therefore the local ingredients that were immediately available – and the proximity to other influencing countries – the Northernmost tip of Vietnam borders China and the Southern portion of the country sits adjacent to Cambodia. Nowadays, the two have become intertwined and are more or less the same.
Most traditional medicines are typically only used by ethnic minorities and tribes, who are often poor and live in remote areas, with little access to modern healthcare and medical treatment. However, with more and more studies being conducted into the effectiveness of various traditional medicines, it’s possible that we will see these being integrated into mainstream healthcare and used as complementary therapies alongside conventional treatment.
How to access complementary healthcare
Where can I find a complementary healthcare practitioner?
There are a variety of ways to go about finding complementary therapies in Vietnam. Your GP or hospital physician may suggest the notion directly to you, or they may refer you for a consultation with a specialist practitioner. You can also open the conversation with them yourself, to see whether they think you would benefit from complementary therapies, or you could request that they refer you to a specialist (or at least point you in the right direction, if they are unwilling to provide a referral).
Your health insurance company is also likely to have a directory of reputable practitioners and facilities, so it may be worth calling your insurance provider to see whether they can offer some suggestions. Unfortunately, since the concept is not as well-known in Vietnam as in other countries, you may find less options at your disposal.
There appears to be a distinct lack of up-to-date directories available to the public, so your health insurance provider or local GP will probably be your best bet. Discussing complementary therapies with your GP may prove a little difficult if they are not well versed in the area, especially as there may be language barriers, so you may want to take a friend or translator with you to your appointment.
More on holistic health and complementary therapies in Vietnam
Studies, historical and cultural context, and more.
In the modern healthcare space, complementary therapies are designed to be used in conjunction with (not in place of) conventional mainstream medicine. However, in various parts of Southeast Asia, it is not uncommon to find the opposite of this. This can be the result of various factors, including the potential expense of medical treatment and the ease of access to quality healthcare.
Typically, in Vietnam, traditional medicine has always been the main route of treatment, with perhaps the only exceptions being for some of the tribal and ethnic minority groups. Holistic health in the Western sense does not really exist in Vietnam. That being said, there are many ancient and traditional Eastern philosophies, alternative medicines, and traditional treatments that have existed for hundreds of years. Some of these have influenced, or are similar to, the holistic therapies that are well known in the Western world. Vietnam’s traditional medicine is heavily influenced by traditional Chinese medicine, incorporating various herbal remedies and operating on similar theologies of the body.
Interest in holistic health, alternative medicines and complementary therapies has been growing in recent years though. In terms of physical treatment, yoga is gaining a lot of traction. Even in mainstream medicine, yoga is beginning to become integrated into treatment plans, particularly for rehabilitation purposes. Scientific studies have shown that yoga does indeed have a number of benefits. For example, it can decrease the secretion of cortisol (the primary stress hormone), relieve symptoms of anxiety, alleviate chronic pain, mobilise joints and improve overall flexibility, and increase grip and strength.
Studies have also shown that herbal medicines and acupuncture are the most popular complementary therapies employed by medical practitioners in Vietnam. Acupuncture has gained global interest in the last decade or so, with a plethora of research proving that it helps with a range of musculoskeletal problems (such as back and neck pain). It can also relieve nausea and migraines. It works by stimulating specific anatomic sites (referred to as acupoints), which promote the body’s natural self-healing process. This is usually done by the insertion of very fine, sterile needles into the acupoints. Such is the growing validity of acupuncture, that many health insurance providers cover it in their policies.
The State Bank of Vietnam, formerly known as the National Bank of Vietnam, was first established in 1961. As the central bank of the country, it has a number of responsibilities. For example, it maintains currency reserves, secures monetary stability, and manages the circulation of banknotes. It also regulates all of the other banks operating within the country. The first solely commercial bank opened in Ho Chi Minh City in 1987 to handle personal savings and to extend loans to enterprises and individuals.From 1992, Vietnam’s banking system had consisted of a combination of state-owned, joint-stock, joint-venture, and foreign banks. The state-owned commercial banks were suffering from high levels of non-performing loans (NPL), most of them to state-owned enterprises. Consequently, in 2005, Vietnam decided to equitize all five state-owned banks. In addition to NPLs, Vietnam’s banks have been said to suffer from low public confidence, as well as regulatory and managerial weaknesses.
Experts have noted an absence of international auditing and a lack of compliance with the Basel capital standards. Currently, large foreign banks are having to balance their interests in serving multinationals and expats in Vietnam with their frustrations over the continuous restrictions. For example, the foreign investment limit into national banks of Vietnam is currently set to 30%.
Banking options for expats
A number of international banks have a presence in Vietnam, including HSBC and ANZ. Many expats in Vietnam opt to use these banks, especially if they already have an international account with them before they arrive. Those looking to bank with a Vietnamese bank will find that Vietcombank is the most popular choice among foreign nationals. If you do not already bank with an international provider, the wisest course of action is to keep your home country account open (thereby maintaining your credit history and credit rating there) and to open a new local account upon arrival.
Vietnam ranks first in the world for helping foreign workers save money, with around 72% of expats agreeing that moving to Vietnam has helped them save more. In a separate survey, 72% of foreign workers stated that they had more disposable income in Vietnam than they did in their home country. Additionally, around 66% of surveyed expats in Vietnam said that they felt confident about the current economic climate in the country.
Many expatriates express interest in offshore banking, and this is for a myriad of reasons. However, offshore banking in Vietnam has become increasingly difficult. Various restrictions have been implemented to crack down on money laundering. Therefore, the best way to deal with offshore banking legitimately is to employ the services of an experienced financial advisor.
How to open a bank account in Vietnam
At the beginning of July 2019, significant changes were applied to expats looking to bank in Vietnam. Opinions on these changes are somewhat divided, with some reporting that the rules seem to have relaxed to a degree, whilst others claim the complete opposite. The main focus of the legislation was that foreigners and expats would be required to prove residential status (a minimum period of six months living in the country) in order to open a Vietnamese bank account.
The result of the above is that, unless you have been living and working in Vietnam for at least six months, you will only be able to open a restricted bank account. You will not be able to make cash deposits at the bank. Foreigners may be able to open a restricted account by writing an affidavit certifying that they are not conducting any paid work in Vietnam.
Most banks in Vietnam have English-speaking staff, websites, and brochures outlining their services and packages, so it should not be a problem if you cannot speak Vietnamese. Typically, when opening a new bank account, customers are given the option of banking in Vietnamese Dong or US Dollars.
In order to open a bank account in Vietnam, you will need several documents to support your application and to prove your identity. These documents include:
• A valid passport (you may also need to provide photocopies of the biometric data and working visa pages)
• A copy of your employment contract
• Proof of address in the form of utility bills or a confirmation from your landlord that you are legally renting a property in Vietnam
• An initial monetary deposit to secure the account (the exact amount will vary between banks)
You simply need to visit a local branch of your chosen bank and speak to an advisor. You will be given some application forms to fill out and sign, and your supporting documentation will be checked. The process itself is quite simple, providing you are residing and working in the country legally and have the correct visa.
More on banking in Vietnam
Bank opening hours vary. The majority of banks in Vietnam are open from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and then again from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. These hours are applicable from Monday to Friday. On Saturdays, some banks and branches may open for a half-day, which is usually from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Some international banks may choose to operate over the weekend, but most banks are closed on Sundays and public holidays.
In addition to the internationally operating banks in Vietnam, there are a number of local banks to choose from. Vietnam’s top five banks by registered capital are:
1. VietinBank $1.56 billion (32,661 billion VND)
2. Agribank $1.39 billion (29,154 billion VND)
3. Vietcombank $1.10 billion (23,174 billion VND)
4. BIDV $1.10 billion (23,011 billion VND)
5. Eximbank $0.59 billion (12,355 billion VND)
You will also be able to find various expat orientated banking services, including from the international experts at HSBC and from the more local financial advisory firms, such as Credenda Associates, A&C Consulting Services, and Infinity Solutions.
Vietnam has had a substantial expat community for many years, with a large number of Americans and Australians living there, as well as citizens of many other nationalities. Particularly in popular areas, there are organisations and networks that may be able to help you locate and negotiate property rentals and purchases, and they can guide you through the processes involved.There are many local agents on the internet, especially those covering Ho Chi Min City, Da Nang and Hanoi. They are now increasingly geared up to facilitate property negotiations for foreign clients. The legal procedures in Vietnam are not particularly difficult to navigate, and your local agents can assist you. They also frequently have in-house notaries to help complete the formalities.
English is becoming more popular as a second language for Vietnamese business people, but translation standards vary. However, in the major centres at least, most agents and their solicitors are proficient in English.
Renting property in Vietnam
Anyone with a valid passport can rent property in Vietnam. Local agents maintain listings, which are widely available on the internet. Property is available both furnished and unfurnished – see individual property listings for details.
The local agents will explain legal procedures and the terms of contract. They will facilitate deposits and rental payments, negotiate notice periods, and sort out a suitable length of tenancy for you. They can also help you negotiate with the utility organisations.
How much does it typically cost to rent property in Vietnam?
If you are new to a particular area and need a short-term solution, while you explore and make local contacts, ‘Backpacker’ single rooms are available in many regions for as little as $100 to $200 a month. Quality varies considerably, but you get what you pay for.
For larger properties and long-term occupancy, rental costs vary considerably. However, even in the major city centres of Da Nang, Ha Noi and Ho Chi Min City, unfurnished two-bedroom apartments can be secured for as little as $1000 a month. For a furnished equivalent, you can expect to pay upwards of $1500. Suburban properties vary considerably, but it is possible to rent a four-bedroom house in some cities for as little as $1600 a month.
Buying property in Vietnam
Vietnam has opened up its property market to foreign investors since 2015, and property prices have risen considerably as investors have moved in. Vietnam is seen as a golden opportunity in South East Asia.
Foreigners can now buy property even on a simple tourist visa. For major property investors, there are legal restrictions on the number of units (per condominium) a foreigner may own. If you are considering a multiple unit purchase, the limits need to be confirmed locally through the developers or agents.
It is much more difficult to buy from locals, and there are regional restrictions on the number of foreign owned properties (30%).
All land in Vietnam is owned by the people and managed by the state. Leases are for 50 years, but they are renewable, and the government is currently considering extending the lease period to 99 years.
There is a ‘Pink Book’, which is a Certificate of Land Use Rights (LUR), and this is given by the government on transfer. Your agent or developer will guide you through the steps necessary to secure your LUR.
Foreign residents can buy individual houses but not sub-let them, and there is also a strict regional limit of 10% foreign ownership for landed properties.
What is the property buying process?
Condominium apartment units are most frequently purchased direct from the developers, or from other foreigners who have already done so. If you are reserving a property in a new development, a returnable deposit of typically $2000 to $5000 is payable.
Property is also widely advertised on the internet by both agents and individuals needing to move out, and prices and timescales are generally negotiable.
There is a 10% Value Added Tax on property transfers, and a 0.5% registration fee. Agent/solicitor fees are likely to be 1% to 3%, and there is an additional maintenance fee of 2% on new developments.
How do I pay for the property?
Unless you are married to a Vietnamese national, it is quite difficult for a foreigner to obtain mortgage facilities. Some international banks, such as HSBC and Citibank, do have branches locally, so may be able to assist you.
Deposits, final payments, charges, etc. can be arranged via a local bank, if you have an account, or via one of the international banks.
New developments often have a structured payment scheme that is agreed directly with the developer. These vary considerably and can spread costs while the condominium is being built.
Your local agent will usually have an in-house notary, who can be used for the exchange of contracts. They will also guide you through the process of paying the deposit, transferring the funds, and conveyancing.
What are typical Vietnamese property prices and how do I find local agents?
Property prices are still lower in Vietnam than in many of the Asian powerhouses, and the Vietnamese housing market is considered to be a sound investment.
Whilst some popular districts of Ho Chi Minh City are more expensive, the average price is around $2,500 per square metre for a city centre apartment. Property in suburban areas can be as low as $1,100 per square metre. New condominium developments might be cheaper, but it is vital to contact reputable developers and to use a solicitor. Local agents can assist you with the process.
In the bigger cities, such as Ha Noi, Da Nang, and Nha Trang, there are apartments available from $40,000 to $100,000 upwards.
There are many local and international agents who deal with property in Vietnam, and you can find these online. Here are just a few who provide comprehensive property services for renters and buyers:
Which type of visa you need to visit Vietnam depends on your nationality. Many nationalities can enter Vietnam for tourism or business purposes for a period of up to 15 days, inclusive of entry and exit dates, without a visa. If you are intending to visit Vietnam for these purposes for between 15 and 30 days, you can apply for an e-visa online prior to arrival. For visits longer than 30 days, you will need to apply for a visa, before you travel, at your nearest embassy or consulate.
There is a separate visa waiver in place for the island of Phú Quốc, which allows the majority of visitors to visit visa-free for up to 30 days. This does not apply to anywhere outside of Phú Quốc.
Spouses or children of Vietnamese nationals / citizens / permanent residents can apply for visa exemption certificates. These certificates are valid for up to five years at a time and permit multiple entries for six-month periods. You can apply at your nearest embassy, or at the Department of Immigration in Vietnam.
When visiting Vietnam, your passport should have a minimum validity of six months from the date you arrive. It will also need to have at least two blank pages. It is possible to have your entry refused if your passport has been damaged, and numerous cases of this have been reported.
It is common practice in Vietnam, when you are registering at a hotel, to hand over your passport. This is so that they can take your details and register your presence with the local police, which is required of all foreigners by law. However, they should always give your passport back to you, and shouldn’t have to keep it behind the desk for any reason. If you are staying in private accommodation, you will need to register your presence yourself.
There are many different types of visa available to foreigners travelling to Vietnam. Ensure you apply for the one that best suits you. Visa overstays are taken very seriously and often result in large fines. The types of visa available are as follows:
Those who are not visa exempt will require a tourist visa. Those who are visa exempt, but who are planning on staying in Vietnam for longer than 30 days, can apply for a tourist visa that lasts for up to three months. Tourist visas can usually be obtained on either a single-entry or a multiple-entry basis. The 30-day tourist visa can be extended for a further 30-day period once or twice, up to the three-month maximum.
Usually valid for a period of three to six months, a business visa allows its holder to work and conduct business. However, a business visa is not the same as a work permit; it only allows you to enter the country for the purpose of work. In order to legally work in Vietnam, you will need to have a work permit.
Once you have been accepted into an approved educational institution in Vietnam, you will be able to apply for a student visa. This is usually done before you enter the country, but it is also possible to enter on a tourist visa, enroll in a study programme or language course, and then change your immigration status and visa retrospectively.
Transit visas for Vietnam can be for up to five days. Most often, this visa is issued to groups accompanied by a licensed tour guide. Exact itineraries and accommodation details must be provided. A guarantee from your tour guide or travel agency might also be required.
Diplomatic and official visas
Diplomatic and official visas are usually granted to government workers or those visiting on diplomatic terms. These visas do not require a visa fee like many of the other visas do. Applicants for official visas will need to produce an official letter (note verbale).
It is a legal necessity to hold a valid work permit when working in Vietnam for a period of more than three months. Usually, your employer will apply for this on your behalf with the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Care (MoLISA). This must be obtained prior to starting your work contract. In order to be considered eligible for a work permit in Vietnam, applicants must not have a previous criminal record.
In some circumstances, you may need to apply for the work permit yourself. If this is the case, the application process for a Vietnamese work permit is as follows:
1. You will need to obtain a letter from your employer that confirms the contract you have been offered
2. You will need three passport-size photos
3. You will need a full health check-up and a medical certificate; this can be done in your home country or in Vietnam
4. You will need proof of your criminal record check from your home country and your country of residence (if applicable)
5. Check for any other necessary supporting documents, and then submit your application to the Department of Labour in Vietnam
In some circumstances, foreigners may be eligible for a permanent residence card (PRC) application. This card is valid for a period of up to three years on a renewable basis.
Official sources state that the below qualify as eligible:
• A person who fights for the freedom and independence of the Vietnamese race, for socialism, for democracy and peace, and for science, but who is suppressed
•. A person with a special skill set that is desirable and highly in demand
• A spouse, child or parent of a Vietnamese citizen residing permanently in Vietnam
Applications for PRCs are filed at the Immigration Department of the Ministry of Public Security.
When making your application for a PRC, you will need a photo, adhering to the specifications set out by the Ministry of Public Security, and a copy of your passport. You may also need to provide copies of birth certificates and/or marriage certificates. Such certificates may require official translation, if they are issued outside of Vietnam. You may be required to submit your CV and/or copies of your education and qualification certificates.
Vietnam is an increasingly attractive destination for expats seeking employment. As the country becomes more and more industrialised, foreign specialists are in demand, and the range of jobs is developing beyond the education and tourism sectors. Unemployment is currently low. Salaries in Vietnam are not comparable to Western nations, but the cost of living is also not as high. Further to this, some jobs, such as teaching, may come with accommodation. The number of foreign workers in Vietnam has been steadily rising, although most expats work for international companies running FDI (foreign direct investment) projects.
What are the legal requirements for foreign employees?
The legal requirements for working in Vietnam are relatively straightforward compared with those of many other countries. You will need a work permit, which you can apply for either in your home country or once you are on the ground. Your employer will need to prove that, with the exception of some managerial or specialist positions, they have advertised the vacancy locally, since the government is trying to prioritise local hires.
However, note that you can work in Vietnam without a permit if:
• the duration of your employment is less than three months
• you are a member of a limited company that includes more than one member
• you are the owner of a one-member limited company in Vietnam
• you are on the board of directors at a joint stock company
• you are undertaking service sales activities for a foreign company in Vietnam/ you are coming to Vietnam to market products and services
• you are a foreign lawyer with a law practice license issued by the Ministry of Justice
• you are coming to Vietnam for less than three months in order to resolve an emergency or technologically complex situation that could affect production, which Vietnamese experts or foreign experts currently in Vietnam are unable to resolve
• you are the head of a representative office, the chief of project offices or someone working for a foreign non-government organisation in Vietnam
• you are internally transferred within an enterprise that has a commercial presence in the committed service list of Vietnam with the World Trade Organisation, including: business service, information service, construction service, distribution service, education service, environment service, financial service, health service, tourism service, cultural and recreational services and transportation service
• you are coming to Vietnam to supply consulting services on tasks serving to research, build, appraise, monitor and evaluate, manage and process programs and projects that use Official Development Assistance (ODA)
Be aware, however, that the Vietnamese authorities are strict with both employees and employers who violate the law, so double-check with immigration if you think that you may not need a work visa. If you fall foul of the law, you could be deported and your employer could be fined.
If you do not come into one of the above categories, you will need to supply:
• work permit form
• health check certification
• criminal record clearance (issued within 180 days) – if you have been in Vietnam for more than six months, you will have to provide both Vietnamese clearance and clearance from your home nation
• qualifications (university or higher)
• working experience confirmation document from former employers
• approval document from the Vietnamese authorities permitting your employer to hire foreign personnel
• employer’s business certification
• two passport-size photos
Currently, work visas are valid for three years and are not renewable.
Are any skills in particular demand?
Tourism is still a big sector, with hotel workers, swimming instructors and diving instructors in demand.
TEFL teachers are also wanted. You will need a TEFL certificate and ideally a university degree.
What are typical working hours and annual holiday entitlement?
Typical business hours in Vietnam tend to run from 7.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. The maximum number of working hours is 48 per week, and you are entitled to one day off per week.
Annual leave is set at 12 days per year. There are seven public holidays.
Maternity leave is set at six months and is fully paid at 100% of your salary. This is one of the most generous provisions in Asia.
Can my spouse work?
Your spouse will need an entry visa, but will not be entitled to work unless they apply for a separate work permit.
Are speculative applications to companies common?
You can make speculative applications to companies, both when you are outside the country and when you arrive.
What is the best method of finding a job?
There are many online job boards and recruitment agencies that cover Vietnam. There are also some government-owned employment service centres.
What is the recommended format for CVs/resumes and covering letters?
One page CV/resumes are recommended. You may wish to have your information translated into Vietnamese.
Which questions are illegal / can be asked in an interview?
Anti-discrimination law in Vietnam is gradually improving, particularly with regard to gender equality, but may not be commensurate with legislation in some Western nations.
Qualifications and training
It is advisable to have your qualifications apostilled and translated into Vietnamese.