How To Move To Vietnam - The Definitive Guide
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Apply For A Visa[back to top]
Vietnam is the destination for an ever-increasing number of tourists and expats who wish to experience the unique landscapes, hospitality and delicious food that this welcoming nation has to offer. However, an important part of your planning must involve obtaining the legal right to enter and stay in the country.
There are a number of nationalities who can enter Vietnam as short stay tourists without a visa. Citizens of Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos and Indonesia may visit Vietnam for up to 30 days. If people from these countries intend to stay longer, they must obtain a visa.
Citizens of the Philippines may visit Vietnam for a maximum of 21 days without obtaining a visa.
Citizens of Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Germany, France, Spain and Italy may arrive in Vietnam without a visa and stay for a maximum of 15 days, including the days of arrival and exit.
Since July 2015, short term visitors holding a British citizen passport (issued by the UK and Northern Ireland) have been able to stay up to 15 days without obtaining a visa. However, this arrangement is due to end on 30 June 2018.
All other visitors must obtain a visa to enter Vietnam, even for a short holiday, including people from Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Anyone arriving in Vietnam for business purposes, for a longer visit, or to relocate there permanently must obtain the necessary visa documents, regardless of their nationality.
It is important to get your visa arranged before you arrive in Vietnam so that you have it ready to hand to immigration officials. If you don’t, you will be refused entry, even if this is due to a misunderstanding. You will be asked for the details of where you will be staying, so have this information ready.
If you have booked to visit Vietnam via a travel agent, the agent will send you your visa confirmation letter and Vietnam visa entry and exit form, which are to be handed to the immigration officials on your arrival.
If you are staying in Vietnam for up to 30 days, you can apply online for an e-visa. There are a number of sites offering visas, many of which are bogus or designed to make money out of you, so be careful to use the official website. If you arrive in Vietnam with a counterfeit visa obtained online by accident, it will not be accepted. You can find useful information about how to fill out the e-visa, with step by step instructions, on the US embassy website.
Everyone else must apply for a visa from their nearest Vietnamese Embassy.
Multiple entry visas are available for those who will be visiting Vietnam frequently, or who will be returning within 30 days of their first trip ending.
Certain nationalities, such as British citizens, can obtain a five-year visa exemption certificate if they are married to, or the children of, Vietnamese citizens. This allows multiple trips to the country without having to obtain a visa each time. To apply for an exemption certificate, you must make an application to your nearest Vietnamese embassy or to the immigration department in Vietnam.
You may hear of local border crossing points between Vietnam and its neighbours Cambodia and Laos. Western travellers are not permitted to use these routes, so do not be tempted or persuaded to try them.
When you arrive in Vietnam, your passport must be in good condition and valid for at least six months, regardless of your length of stay. If you are arriving for a longer holiday, your passport must also be valid for a full month beyond the validity of your visa. You must carry a photocopy of your passport and visa everywhere and produce it if the police or immigration officials ask to see it. The passport should be kept somewhere safe.
If you are staying at a hotel or in private accommodation, you will be asked for your passport. It will be used to complete mandatory guest information, which is shared with the local police. This should be done in front of you, and your passport returned to you immediately.
If you bring prescription medicines into the country – and if you have a medical condition, it is advisable to ensure you have the medication you need with you – keep them in your hand luggage, and also bring a copy of the prescription. Drug use and drug smuggling are not tolerated. Prison conditions are significantly harder than those in the west, and the death penalty is in use.
If something happens to your passport in Vietnam, you must obtain UK emergency travel documents. Before you can leave the country, the Vietnam immigration department must issue an exit visa, which can take five working days.
Only short-term tourist visas can be obtained online. Everyone else must approach their nearest embassy. Contact details for your local embassy as well as information about the applications process can be found online. For example, the site for the embassy in London details its opening hours, telephone hours and other key information.
Applications to the embassy can be made in person, by post or by email. Turnaround is fast, and some services allow a next day pickup. The photograph you use must have been taken within the past 12 months. You must also submit a valid passport and application form, plus you will have to pay the non-refundable fee. Depending on your method of application, you will pay this by cash, cheque or bank transfer. The embassy will request further documents if they need them.
The procedure for a business visa is essentially the same as for a tourist visa that comes via the embassy. However, you will also need to supply an invitation letter and a return flight booking. You cannot make visa applications online for a business visa.
If you are travelling to Vietnam in order to get married to a Vietnamese citizen, you can submit your documents to your nearest Vietnamese embassy either by attending in person or by using the postal service.
You need to complete an application form, and produce a medical certificate to confirm you have no mental illnesses or issues that the authorities deem may affect your decision to proceed with the marriage. Certified copies of your passport must accompany a certified affidavit that no records of a previous marriage exist; you will need to employ a notary to do this, before a further certification is added by the foreign and commonwealth office.
If you have been divorced and this is a subsequent marriage, you must submit your divorce decree. Again, this must be certified by the notary as well as the foreign and commonwealth office.
If you were previously married and your spouse died, the death certificate needs to be submitted, with the same certification.
Once you have been living legally in Vietnam for some time and have not had any issues, such as brushes with the law, you may apply for a temporary residency card.
Migrants who have professional work in Vietnam with international companies, who own businesses in the country that they actively manage, or who are students on authorised study programs can be considered for temporary residency, along with their parents, spouse and children.
A formal application must be accompanied by a valid visa, recent photographs, identity documents and supporting documentation to confirm eligibility for temporary residency.
The application is typically processed within five days. The temporary residency will be permitted between one and three years, depending on how long you requested and the fee you paid. At the end of the residency period, your right to stay can be renewed if you still meet the eligibility criteria, but you will need to formally apply again and pay a new set of application fees.
If your circumstances change during the period of your temporary residency, you must inform the authorities in writing.
Permanent residency is difficult to obtain as there are very narrow definitions of who is eligible. People who have married a Vietnamese citizen, have legally and law-abidingly lived in the country and have children may still have to wait several years before they are accepted. Even once permanent residency is issued, it must be renewed every three years, with a hefty fee to pay each time.
Because of this, most migrants living in Vietnam are happy to keep their temporary residency card.
It is important not to overstay your welcome in Vietnam, even by forgetting to renew your visa in time. The fines can be heavy, and can prevent you from returning to the country in the future.
While you are in Vietnam, you may wish to drive a car or motorcycle. Government guidance was updated in December 2017, advising migrants to obtain a Vietnamese driving license before driving vehicles there. Driving licenses issued in the UK or US, for example, are no longer permitted. To obtain a Vietnamese driving license, your visa must be valid for at least three months. The local offices of the department of public works and transportation processes the application. Once the driving license has been obtained you must, by law, obtain insurance before driving.
Find A Job[back to top]
Despite the rigid system of work permits for every expat who wants to work in Vietnam for more than three months, the numbers of people arriving to work in the country has increased each year, and now reaches almost six digits. The government has therefore reviewed the work permit system, and introduced important exemptions to the rules under Decree 11, which took effect on 1 April 2016.
If you are eligible for an exemption, your employer must officially request exemption documents from the ministry of labour, war invalids and social welfare. This must be done at least seven days before you start work. The process is much less onerous than obtaining a work permit. There are a variety of employment conditions which allow you to be eligible for the exemption.
If your company has transferred you to Vietnam, and they operate in one of eleven sectors, then you do not need to obtain a work permit regardless of whether you are there for a short-term or a long-term role. However, you will still need to obtain a visa to enter the country. These eleven sectors are:
• Information Technology
Exemption rules apply to teachers arriving to work in international schools, under the control of international organizations. Teachers can arrive to take up work for any length of time, without having to obtain a work permit. Fluent English-speaking teachers who hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have experience in the classroom will be a popular choice for international school recruitment. Teachers for local state schools must be authorised by the ministry of education and training. It is usually difficult for migrants to obtain teaching jobs in state schools.
Authorized volunteers from international organizations, experts working on official development assistance projects, and international students working as interns in Vietnam are all exempt from work permit requirements.
Professionals who are coming to do short-term work in Vietnam without a company transfer, who hold a bachelor’s degree and have at least three years of experience in their field do not have to obtain either a work permit or an exemption certificate. However, these conditions are strictly applied. You have to be deemed a manager, an executive director, an expert or a technician. Plus, you may not work in the country for more than 30 days at a time, or 90 days in total during the year.
There are also exemptions for those who own companies.
If you don’t meet any of these exemption requirements, you will need to obtain a work permit. These are obtained from the ministry for labour, war invalids and social welfare. You must submit the application at least 15 days before you start working in Vietnam, and enclose the mandatory supporting information:
• A notarized copy of your passport
• Two recent colour photographs of passport standard
• A medical certificate issued in Vietnam or elsewhere, issued within the past 12 months
• A criminal record from your country of origin, or Vietnam if you have been living there already
• Official evidence of your professional qualifications, skills and experience
• An employer’s written request for your work permit
• Evidence from the employer of the grounds for hiring an expat rather than a Vietnamese citizen
• Payment of the official fee
If you are granted a work permit, which will be valid for two years, you and your employer must sign an employment contract before sending a copy to the ministry of labour, war invalids and social welfare.
Holding a work permit or exemption certificate will help you obtain a temporary residence card.
If you need to renew your work permit, you can do so up to 45 days before it expires. The final deadline is five days before the expiry date.
If you work in Vietnam without receiving a work permit or the exemption certificate, or continue to work once these have expired without obtaining a renewal, you will be expelled from the country. This will happen quickly; the local department of labour is expected to request your deportation within fifteen days. This will also impact on your ability to re-enter the country at a later date.
Vietnam has a relatively young population; more than a quarter of all residents are children. As the income for the country and households increase, more families are educating their young to degree level. However, average income levels are still very low, with most work centred around unskilled or low qualification work. Young graduates from families without the right connections struggle to find work experience which has the potential to develop a professional career. There is a significant and increasing skills gap as the private sector in Vietnam brings in ever larger amounts of international business.
As a result, there is a great appetite for recruiting international managers, professionals and other highly qualified staff into Vietnam, especially by companies that already have an international presence. Many expats arrive in Vietnam because their employers have offered them the opportunity to do so.
Salaries and other benefits that are offered to the right candidates for high level management and professional work can be more than 100 times the rate paid to local unqualified staff in unskilled work.
IT, banking and finance, law, health and pharmaceuticals and engineering are all sectors which have a constant demand for graduates with relevant experience and strong CVs. Vietnam Works, Glassdoor and Reed are some of the companies advertising vacancies in Vietnam.
The Federal Government Jobs website lists an interesting range of skilled federal jobs available in a number of countries, including Vietnam.
VUFO-NGO lists available paid and unpaid positions offered by charities and NGOs working in Vietnam.
Conversely, this means that Westerners looking for less skilled work will find the job search difficult. Tourist areas may welcome the English language abilities of bar or restaurant staff, but local people will be prepared to work hard for longer hours and may be seen by employers as more reliable.
As Vietnam increases its business with international trade, several countries have established a chamber of commerce there. The British Business Groups Vietnam (BBGV), an accredited British Chamber of Commerce, has been operating since 1998. The US Chamber of Commerce is based in Hanoi, whilst Ho Chi Minh City is home to the American Chamber of Commerce.
Rent Property[back to top]
Renting a property in Vietnam for a medium to long term stay is a challenging process which can lead to the inexperienced being overcharged or even ripped off. However, if you follow a few simple rules, you should be able to find an affordable, comfortable home from which you can enjoy your new life in Vietnam.
Ensure that you arrive in Vietnam with a visa which permits you to stay more than three months. Under housing law, a landlord cannot accept you as a tenant unless you have the right to live in the country. Stay in a guest-house or hotel before you make longer term accommodation arrangements. This will give you time to adjust to the weather, culture, lifestyle and food, and will then give you time to work out where you want to live for the foreseeable future.
Being near available properties gives you the chance to look around and compare the real estate agent’s hype to the reality of the accommodation and its surroundings. If you get to know some local people, you will not only discover many of the advertised rents are much higher than the real average rents for the area, but you may find yourself being offered affordable properties owned by someone’s relative.
Waiting a while also gives you a chance to work out what sort of property is right for you. The hot and humid weather may mean that it’s worth the extra expense of a swimming pool for your children, or you may decide there are too many cool months when the costs of an outdoor pool can’t be justified. If you are single, you may decide to rent a room with a family, a practice that is much more common than in western Europe, rather than paying substantially more to live in a one-bedroom apartment.
You might be told that certain districts are off limits to expats. The reality is that some landlords don’t want the hassle of documenting your presence with the police, so would prefer a local tenant. Where expats are willing to pay premium rental prices, the landlord is will be more motivated to arrange the paperwork!
Be wary of real estate agents and online websites. You will see listings for two bedroom detached homes which are actually for a double room in a guest house, often with shared bathroom. Or advertised rents within a low-price band may all turn out to be unavailable, meaning you are pushed to consider properties at twice the monthly cost. The real estate agent will be working for commission, so wants to persuade you to take on the highest rent possible, but will also charge you for showing you around, meaning you can easily spend time and money looking at unsuitable properties. Of course, if your time is more precious than money, then having a fluent English speaker arrange an afternoon of viewings and liaising with the landlord will justify a higher rent. If you chose a property online before arriving, you have little chance of pulling out without high costs, so you should avoid doing this.
When you are exploring the streets of an area you’d like to live in, you may see nhà cho thuê (for rent) signs which include the landlord’s contact details. Many Vietnamese cities have alleyways and dead-ends that are packed with apartments, and so are well worth exploring for these signs. The alleyways tend to be quiet, and the absence of passing expats means the rent will be reasonable. It is unlikely that the landlord will speak English well, so find a Vietnamese speaker to help you negotiate with them over the phone; if the rent level is acceptable then arrangements can be made for you to visit the property.
Another useful way to save money when renting in Vietnam is to only consider unfurnished properties. The difference in cost would justify buying new furniture and appliances for your own use over the next year and more. If you start by getting the basics, you can cheaply collect more possessions when expat friends head home or to their next destination. There are some surprising things even furnished homes won’t offer, such as an oven, because the local population doesn’t use them.
Once you have found the property you want to live in, you and the landlord must sign a tenancy agreement. This is your legal protection should things go wrong. Make sure the contract sets out who pays all the various costs and what they are. As a legal minimum under the housing law, the lease must set out:
• Names and addresses of landlord and tenant(s)
• Description of the property
• The tenancy start date and duration
• Rights and obligations of the two parties
• Any undertakings
• Signature of all parties, to be dated
You need to consider all the extra costs that renting a particular property incurs. Electricity, water, cooking gas, TV and internet access are some of the many extra services which must be covered. Air conditioning units make summer temperatures bearable, but they use a lot of electricity. If housekeeping is provided, you will be paying for it somehow. Don’t assume any of these costs are included in the rental rate unless they are specifically included in your tenancy agreement. Internet speed can be very good in some city locations, but you may need to investigate data packages if you live further afield.
Rising rents is an issue in Vietnam which expats may not realise they have signed up for. The state owns all land across Vietnam, which means that real estate sales are only for the leasehold properties sitting on the land. However, property prices have risen dramatically over the past decade. Since 2015, restrictions on foreign ownership of property have largely been lifted, but there are strict limits of the number of properties migrants can buy in each local government ward or individual apartment block. Otherwise, anyone living in the country or elsewhere can purchase leasehold property in Vietnam. This is likely to keep the market buoyant in areas popular for investment. Landlords try to capitalize on this by increasing the rents, sometimes even monthly, to a point where the tenant is prepared to move on.
Does your tenancy include a break clause? If something happens to your family back home, or your employment position changes, you will be legally required to keep paying the rent for the rest of the tenancy term unless you have one of these in place.
If your tenancy will last less than six months, the agreement does not need to be notarized. Otherwise, housing law requires this to be done.
Landlords in Vietnam typically ask for three months’ rent in advance. This is quite a sum for most people to find.
Unfortunately, some expats have fallen prey to scams at this stage. Some bogus landlords have rented out properties which aren’t theirs, or rented out properties flagged for demolition. Other landlords have returned signed leases because they have found new tenants willing to pay higher prices. It is difficult to mitigate against these risks, but talk to Vietnamese colleagues and friends about your rental plans in case they have relevant local knowledge, and always walk away where a situation feels wrong. Problems getting access to view an apartment, requests for reservation payments in cash, or the promise of rent which seems unbelievably cheap are all red flags. Always make payments from your bank account so that an electronic record exists in case you need to take court action or contact the police. Avoid making any cash payments at all to a landlord or real estate agent.
Your residence must be registered with the local police, and a copy of the tenancy agreement submitted; the landlord will normally do this. This involves an inspection of your passport. The landlord is expected to have checked your right to stay in the country before accepting you as a tenant.
Throughout the duration of the tenancy lease, you have legal right to live in the property as long as you continue to pay the agreed rent at the agreed time. This applies even if the property is sold to a new landlord.
Buy Property[back to top]
Vietnam has recently enjoyed strong economic growth. In addition, significant changes have been made to laws regulating property purchases by migrants in the country. These two factors mean that many expats have taken the step of buying their own home in Vietnam.
No one other than the government can own land in Vietnam. This is a blanket rule that applies to everyone in the country regardless of nationality or residence. However, land can be leased for 50 years, with options to extend this further. Properties that sit on leased land can then be bought and sold as leasehold properties.
In July 2015, significant changes were made to the laws regulating who could obtain leasehold real estate in Vietnam, removing the outright ban on foreign investment. Now, any expat who is legally living in the country or who has a tourist visa allowing a three-month stay is allowed to make a property purchase, although this is subject to a number of specific conditions.
Firstly, only a 50-year leasehold can be purchased by expats in these situations. There are options for this to be extended at a later date, and it is possible that further changes to the property market may have happened by then.
Secondly, only 250 homes in any local government administrative ward can be bought by migrants. This is unlikely to matter in rural locations, but Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi are popular destinations for expats to live and work in, so at some point the allocation limit will be reached.
Finally, only 30 percent of any apartment block can be owned by expats.
Therefore, before you begin your search for the ideal home in Vietnam, you need to start by finding out if the allocation limit for your preferred destination has already been reached. There is no point looking at properties if your purchase will later be blocked by law.
On a positive note, housing laws in Vietnam provide good levels of protection to the owners of leaseholders. Once your investment has been correctly registered by your notary, you have the same legal rights as owners with Vietnamese nationality.
Vietnam experienced a sharp increase in expensive homes which ended with the global financial crisis in 2008. For several years, unfinished resorts in particular were visible symbols of the collapsed property market and absence of investors.
Since late 2014, the market has started to rise again. Most of this increase is due to rising wages and continued urbanisation, as people move from rural areas into cities and large towns. Urbanisation is expected to continue for several decades, putting pressure on city accommodation to meet demand. This would be likely to significantly increase purchase and rental prices in the long term. Added to this, the total population in Vietnam is expected to increase by approximately 25 million people over the next 25 years or so.
In Ho Chi Minh City (HCMH), each district has a distinctive character. Districts One and Three, on the west side of the river, are the business core of the city. Skyscrapers and luxury hotels sit alongside expensive apartment blocks in District One, while a little further out, the apartment blocks of District Three are conveniently placed for trendy socialising spots. District Two is popular with expat families, given its proximity to international schools, retail provision and upmarket restaurants. It sits across the river from the business centre; the connecting bridge gets very congested at busy times of the day
Hanoi is a political centre rather than a business city. As such, it doesn’t boast the skyscraper developments seen in HMHC, and the expat community is smaller. However, there are a number of international schools located there, and it boasts a wealth of cultural and social amenities. Tay Ho is the most upscale area, whilst Hai Ba Trung will be more affordable for many expat families.
Da Nang is Vietnam’s third largest city, and is a popular destination for those seeking city living that is also by the sea.
The Unesco world heritage site of Ha Long Bay joins other coastal regions such as Nha Trang, Mui Ne and Phu Quoc island for popular property investment opportunities. Many of these areas are aimed at rental for the tourist market, and second homes for city dwellers.
If you are buying a new property from a developer, you need to exercise caution. As in many other countries, if the funds run out, the developer will cease work, and many factors may delay completion.
When local Vietnamese families are looking for a property to buy, they will ask around their friends, families and other contacts. With the arrival of expat investors, real estate agents are getting established in the country. Very few international investors speak Vietnamese, meaning that real estate agents usually speak fluent English. The estate agent will charge you a percentage of the purchase price for their services, which should be agreed and set out in writing before you visit any properties.
Real estate agents in Vietnam set up their own websites, giving you contact details and the details of properties on their books. These websites will be as good as those available in the US and Europe, with searchable databases to identify those properties within your price range. They will also have a wide range of photographs and information to give you a good impression of the property on offer, but visits in person are always recommended before considering an offer.
The purchasing process is bureaucratic, so you will need a competent notary to act for you. Finding a reputable notary within Vietnam who can speak English fluently will help the process run more smoothly.
Regardless of whether you are buying a new property or a resale, asking for a full report from a reputable building surveyor is a good investment. They will spot any major structural issues as well as more minor repairs to be undertaken before you hand over the purchase price.
You will have to pay a registration fee of 0.05 percent of the property value, plus VAT of five percent. The land tax due will depend on your property’s size, but will be between 0.03 percent and 0.15 percent of the value.
In the event that you decide to rent out your Vietnamese property, you will be expected to pay 20 percent of the income in taxes.
When the time comes to sell your home, under current rates you will be charged 0.15 percent capital gains tax on any profit you made.
Recent years have seen a big rise in the popularity of golf in Vietnam. This is driven by a combination of rising tourist numbers, an increase in managerial expats and a growing domestic interest in the sport. As a result, new courses are springing up, and bringing with them quality homes aimed at a particular lifestyle. These may be of interest to you if you are an expat looking to buy property in Vietnam.
Register For Healthcare[back to top]
QUICK LINK: Vietnam health insurance
Vietnam is moving on from its impoverished, war-torn recent history, and is on its way to becoming a modern, thriving nation. The nation’s health services reflect this stage of development as well as the problems of delivering care to all areas of a huge country.
The average life expectancy for women born today in Vietnam is 80.7 years, and 71.3 years for men, more than 50 percent of whom smoke. Whilst this is lower than predicted for US citizens, at 81.6 years for women and 76.9 years for men, it is a surprisingly positive statistic given how low the country’s GDP is and that the wage of the average worker is less than $150 per month. In addition, the country has a number of high-risk health issues.
The water in many areas of Vietnam is not safe to drink as the water supply and sewerage systems need investment. Malaria, dengue fever, typhoid and cholera are some of the diseases spread by contaminated water and the mosquitos which breed there. Antimalarial drugs and treatment have led to a dramatic reduction in the number of sufferers since the 1990s.
Despite government programmes aiming to tackle tuberculosis in Vietnam, that disease remains a real and present danger. Since it is easily passed on by an infected person coughing near you, make sure all your TB jabs are up to date before arriving in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War or the Resistance War Against America, saw North Vietnam and South Vietnam in heavy conflict between 1955 and 1975. Other nations were active participants, most notably the US. In order to destroy the food resources of the guerilla fighters and the forest canopies which gave them cover, the US sprayed other 4.5 million acres of land with the herbicide known as Agent Orange, which contained dioxins. The effects of this carcinogen lead to cancer, health defects, immune deficiency, reproductive and developmental issues, and nervous system disorders. Even today, the dioxin levels of people living in the affected areas are much higher than other populations, because it continues to be present in the soil, local wildlife and locally grown food.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) which, if left untreated, can cause a wide range of minor and serious illnesses and result in Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), has reached most areas of Vietnam, from major cities out to tiny rural villages. Thousands of new cases are diagnosed every year in the country. The stigma that people living with HIV and AIDS often have to face means they can be reluctant to access necessary treatment. Be aware of this risk, and avoid unprotected sex with men or women, using dirty needles, or any other contact with bodily fluids which can lead to infection.
Vietnam suffered major food shortages even as late as the 1980s. Today, some impoverished households still struggle with malnourishment. Vietnam, along with Bangladesh, has the lowest obesity rates in the world. However, researchers have identified an alarming increase in the number of overweight adults and children. There are a number of reasons for this. Sugary, fizzy drinks are popular, and Western fast food has recently arrived in the cities. Families were encouraged to give their children plenty of milk drinks each day, mixed with sugar-loaded flavouring powders. Meanwhile, exercise has yet to become a popular pastime, and facilities to enjoy sport are limited.
Smoking is still very common in Vietnam; most smokers are men and most men are smokers. There are no laws to prevent anyone from smoking in a public area, even indoors in a public place. One in five deaths in Vietnam is due to stroke, which is associated with the high blood pressure side effect caused by smoking.
Since the 1908s, all residents in Vietnam have been expected to pay for all medical services they receive. However, the government does subsidise some of these costs for lower income patients and target populations living in disadvantaged areas.
There are a lot of hospitals in Vietnam, but the ones in big cities have the best equipment and more highly trained medical staff. Even at the best hospitals, the services that can be offered are more limited than available elsewhere. As a result, people in rural areas travel great distances to receive treatment in overcrowded national hospitals, where occupancy is often more than 100 percent, whilst those who can afford it travel abroad. Medical services in the US earn more than $1 billion each year treating Vietnamese patients who have travelled there for private treatment.
Ambulance services are notoriously slow, and the staff will probably have limited English skills. In an emergency, you can call 115, but the reality is many that people prefer using a nearby taxi, as these are likely to get you to hospital faster.
The health care services in Vietnam have worked hard to reduce infant mortality rates. Immunisation programmes have protected babies and young children from a wide array of life threatening illnesses. However, in some areas, access to maternity services are very limited, especially in rural communities; data studies have confirmed infant mortality is much higher in these areas. Where ultrasound technology is available, pregnant women will be offered several scans to check the health of their unborn child.
Given the overcrowding in national hospitals, there is limited access to the latest, most effective medicines. Since treatment is limited, if you are going to live in Vietnam, you should prioritise private medical health insurance. The government aims to upgrade and overhaul the health service by 2020, but the priority will remain treating as many of the country’s poor and middle-income households as far as possible. It is probable that the private health sector in Vietnam will strive to keep its private customer base happy by upgrading and improving its own services further, which may ultimately reduce the need to travel abroad for treatment for some patients.
Unfortunately, mental illness carries a stigma in Vietnam. Attitudes are slowly changing as more people leave their families in the countryside and move to the cities, where more modern attitudes to mental health are developing. However, mental health services are underfunded and still based around committal to a facility. For expats, the long working hours in an unfamiliar environment far from friends and family can take its toll. With adequate private funds or access to health insurance, it is possible to be treated by psychologists and physiatrists who have moved to major Vietnam cities from Western countries. The services of these professionals are invaluable, as they can fluently speak English, understand and identify with cultural issues, and have training and attitudes which allow treatment on a par offered in the UK or US.
Open A Bank Account[back to top]
Vietnam has enjoyed strong economic growth over the past few years and the stable, modern banking regime in the country has supported that process. Expats arriving here can confidently expect banking services – in branch, over the telephone or online – on a par with their home country.
Migrants are permitted to open bank accounts in Vietnam. Using a debit card in Vietnam or withdrawing money from ATM machines can incur fees if you hold a foreign card. If you are going to live in Vietnam for any length of time, the costs saved by using a domestic ATM or debit card will justify the administrative work required to open a Vietnamese bank account.
You may find foreign owned banks such as HSBC and ANZ Bank are more willing to accommodate expats through their transition process, accepting hotels or guest houses as a valid home address at least for the first three months. However, if you are likely to live outside Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, opening an account with a Vietnamese bank such as Vietcom Bank, Vietin Bank or ACB (Asia Commercial Bank) will give you better access to ATMs and local branches.
The currencies you wish to bank in will also affect your choice of bank. Vietnamese banks will deal in Vietnamese Dong (VND), US Dollars and Euros, so if you wish to have accounts with other currencies you should look at foreign owned banks. This is relevant if you have outgoings back in your country of origin, or are generating a source of income from there, whilst living in Vietnam. Alternatively, you may wish to use international money transfer services such as those offered by TransferWise, which uses the mid-market exchange rate without a mark-up, but instead charges a clearly advertised transaction fee for its services.
Branch opening hours vary between banks and branches. Generally, financial establishments will open at 8am, and close for lunch at 11.30am. In the afternoons, they may be open from 1pm until 4pm. Many branches will be open on a Saturday morning, but all banks close for the rest of the weekend.
Opening a bank account in Vietnam is normally free. Monthly account fees are a normal part of account conditions in Vietnam. However, if you are prepared to transfer a specified amount of money into your account and then maintain a minimum amount, some banks will waive their monthly fees.
Vietnam’s banks are required to meet international standards of checks to prevent money laundering and other criminal activity. Therefore, you should expect questions about the source of large deposits and your income.
When applying for an account, you will need to prove your identity and right to be present in the country; a passport, visa and your employment contract will need to be produced. As long as you have these documents and they are in good order, the process will be fast and efficient, regardless of whether you apply online or in a branch.
Alternatively, you can ask your current bank to open an account for you in Vietnam if they operate there. This would mean that your account is ready when you arrive in your new home.
It is possible to take out loans as an expat in Vietnam. Banks will do thorough checks to ensure they will receive their money back. They will look at your credit history, income and any likely changes in your circumstances, such as returning to your home country.
In Vietnam, the official currency is the dong. You will see this abbreviated as VND (Vietnamese Dong). Each dong is worth a fraction of a US cent or UK penny, so it takes tens of thousands of them to make a meaningful amount of money. Because of this, you may hear local people dropping the thousands when discussing money; 10,000 will be referred to as 10, for example.
Notes start at 10,000 VND; after that comes 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 and 500,000. Coins are available in 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000 and 5,000 denominations. Local businesses will normally prefer notes, but many will be reluctant to accept the larger denominations.
The 20,000 VND looks very similar to the 500,000 VND note, as does the 10,000 to the 100,000, especially in poor lighting. You may wish to keep the larger note in a separate part of your wallet to avoid error.
The US dollar has long been accepted as a viable alternative to local currency. However, the government is trying to discourage this practice. Therefore, you will find all price lists offered in VND, while the number of people willing to accept US dollars is rapidly declining.
You can exchange currencies in a number of locations. Banks and airport currency exchanges, along with some smaller hotels, often charge higher rates. Jewellery and gold shops can offer a competitive solution.
ATM machines are within easy reach of city and town dwellers in Vietnam; those heading out to rural areas will have restricted access. A six-digit PIN is usually required to use these machines. Some will charge a fee, depending on agreement which the bank that owns the machine has with your own bank. Be aware that the screen might not tell you how much the fee will be. Each machine has a strict limit on how many VND may be withdrawn. Check the notes are in good condition, as torn ones are likely to be rejected when you try to spend them.
Debit and credit cards are a normal feature of smart Vietnamese business, but you are likely to be charged a transaction fee. Small traders, bus drivers, taxi drivers and street food traders will usually only accept cash, so you will need to keep some money on you for most transactions. Card Chip and PIN machines are not widely used; the magnetic strip is more likely to be electronically read. Contactless payments are not used.
Whilst restaurants and department stores have fixed prices, small shops and businesses expect each customer to haggle. Although this is unfamiliar for Westerners, with practice you will achieve better prices. In tourist areas, sellers will be less flexible with prices as they know that inexperienced tourists will come along later and pay over the odds. Do be careful to clearly agree prices; it can be easy to confuse 15 and 50 for example, and once you have agreed, the discussions are at a close.
Vietnamese people are warm and welcoming. However, much of the population live on very low wages and in various degrees of poverty. If you leave valuables, such as smartphones, lying on a table, they will make easy pickings for thieves. Stealing from sleeping passengers on overnight buses is a well-known trick, and wealthy migrants withdrawing large amounts of money from an ATM can make themselves targets for pickpockets and muggers. Keep cash withdrawals hidden and avoid dark places, especially after a night out. Expats generally enjoy safe and untroubled life in Vietnam, but protecting yourself against petty theft applies anywhere.
Metered taxis, which are clean and professionally presented, will get you safely to your destination. Mai Linh and Vinasun taxi services come highly recommended. Unfortunately, there are bogus taxi drivers happy to scam unwary migrants. They lock the doors, demand high rates of payment, and can become very aggressive. It is worth paying higher fares with reputable taxi companies than finding yourself in a threatening situation for the sake of a few dollars.
Learn The Language[back to top]
The majority of people in Vietnam speak the country’s official language, which is Vietnamese. This is the national language that dominates business, mainstream communities, public life and state education. TV and radio productions made in Vietnam will be in Vietnamese.
However, there are also several minority languages spoken by particular communities, usually as a second language to Vietnamese. Sometimes these reflect the countries their speakers’ ancestors have left. For example, the descendants of Chinese people may speak Mandarin, or more typically Cantonese, because these languages have been spoken at home. In some cases, these languages will also be taught at school. Tày and Muong are regional minority languages spoken in the north of the country, while Cham, Khmer, Nùng and Hmong are other regional languages spoken by tens of thousands of people in their distinct communities across the country.
For more than seventy years, Vietnam was part of the huge French colony of French Indochina. Despite this colony only having come to an end in 1954, you are unlikely to meet many people in Vietnam who are able to speak French, unless they are working in some capacity with French tourists or have studied the language. In this respect, Vietnam is very different to other ex-colonies, such as in the African country of Morocco, where French is a second language spoken by a significant percentage of the population. In Vietnam, French can be offered as a foreign language subject at school, which can be furthered with study at University, but other languages may be offered instead.
Other languages spoken by small numbers of people in the country include German, Russian, Polish and Czech, reflecting the wide range of nationalities who have made Vietnam their new home.
English is widely spoken in the tourist areas of Vietnam and is taught in a lot of schools. Waiters, hoteliers and other staff working with Westerners will invest their time and money in learning to speak fluently with their customers, to raise their job prospects or improve their business. Menus and price lists may be in Vietnamese and English in these areas, along with clear signs.
In cities, expats and well-educated Vietnamese people will often live in the same neighbourhoods and share common cultural pursuits. In global companies, expats may find themselves working alongside Vietnamese professionals who have learned English to a fluent level and have travelled for either leisure or university studies. You are therefore likely to come across many English speakers.
However, fluent English cannot be taken for granted. If you are going to live in Vietnam for any length of time, learning some basic Vietnamese will help you settle more quickly and earn respect from those you meet.
Vietnamese is not an easy language to learn, not least because the vowel sounds are so unfamiliar. However, there are a number of factors that can help.
Firstly, the language uses the familiar Latin alphabet, albeit with additional accents and symbols. This is a legacy of the French colonial system, which replaced the difficult Chinese-style lettering with a new alphabet to be used consistently across the country.
Secondly, much of the language has simpler forms than that of its European equivalents. There are none of the male and female nouns of French and German, there are no plurals or different tenses for nouns. A word means the same in any context, so it doesn’t change because it happened yesterday or because there were two of them. Nor are nouns introduced with words equivalent to ‘the’, ‘a’ or ‘an’.
Verbs do change to reflect different tenses, but this is done by placing a word in front of the verb. There are several of these tense setting words, but only five are commonly used, and many sentences make sense if they are skipped.
Vietnamese words are typically descriptive, which means you can understand what someone is talking about without learning a whole new word, plus the straightforward grammar cuts out unnecessary words. There is, therefore, simply much less that you have to learn before you can competently communicate with someone in Vietnamese.
In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, you will easily find a number of language schools running Vietnamese language lessons for migrants. They give you the chance to be heard and corrected in your speech, as well as ask questions about the use of the language in particular settings.
Alternatively, there is a wealth of online resources which you can use to build up proficiency. Duolingo, for example, is free and includes both written and aural language tasks to learn at your own pace.
In the busy city streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, it is possible to find imported magazines in English and the occasional imported newspaper. However, for up to date information about news and events in Vietnam, there are a number of online resources in English. Viet Nam News is an English language, online, daily news site. They cover the latest politics, law, society, economy, lifestyle, sports and environment news.
Vietnam Net has a more magazine style, whilst the English online site Voice of Vietnam has a distinct focus on the country’s industry and business news. Meanwhile, the Tuoi Tre News website is produced for expats living in Vietnam, and for the Vietnamese living abroad by the Tuoi Tre Newspaper.
You do not need to obtain a TV license in Vietnam. The state broadcaster, Vietnam Television (VTV), transmits six channels all in Vietnamese, as do other regional broadcasters.
Cable TV, which can help you get used to hearing Vietnamese being spoken, can be supplied by Vietnam Cable (HTCV) and Saigontourist Cable Television Company (SCTV). You will need to take out a contract with them, and pay both an installation fee as well as a monthly fee.
In Vietnam, the television transmission standard is PAL (Phase Alternating Line) which is also used in most of Western Europe except France, South Africa and Australasia. This is different to the NTSC (National Television System Committee) standard used in the US and Canada. Televisions, DVD players and games consoles can only be used by both systems if they are specific multi-standard items. If you are moving to Vietnam from the US for the long-term and are intending to bring all your possessions, this may a factor to consider when packing electronic items.
Going to the cinema is a popular leisure activity in Vietnam, and there are a number of cinema chains operating around the country. These are often modern venues offering food and drink in addition to the latest movies from Hollywood and China, although IMAX technology has yet to take off here. More basic venues will be very cheap to attend but may lack the state of the art visual and audio equipment.
The majority of films will be screened in their original language, with Vietnamese subtitles added. One exception to this is animated films, which are dubbed to reflect the fact young children make up a significant portion of the audience. Cinema websites will normally state which language a film is to be screened in, along with subtitle information.
Choose A School[back to top]
Vietnam offers a good range of private and international schools preparing children for top universities and careers for those expats who are able to afford the tuition fees. The most highly regarded of these are located in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, in an English-speaking environment.
Educational facilities at these establishments are modern, well-designed and equipped with the latest resources. Modern health and safety standards are incorporated into school building designs, which provide clean and modern environments for children to learn in. High quality sports fields and gymnasiums are complemented by well-stocked libraries and learning resource rooms. Some private schools offer large indoor or outdoor swimming pools. Science, music, art and drama may be supported through modern laboratories, a range of specialist teachers, well-resourced art blocks and purpose-built theatres.
Class sizes tend to be fairly small, with 20 to 25 pupils. Teachers from Europe or North America often work in these schools, providing an authentic English-language learning environment.
Most of the international schools will accept nursery pupils from the age of three, and will educate these children right through to the age of 18, although typically the secondary school campus will be on a separate site away from younger pupils.
The first International Baccalaureate (IB) course to be offered in a Vietnamese School was introduced in 1996. Today, there are 12 schools offering this programme of study, delivered in English, which is recognised by all international universities.
The schools offering IB courses in Ho Chi Minh City are:
• American International School
• Australian International School
• British International School
• Canadian International School
• European International School
• International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC)
• Renaissance International School Saigon
• Saigon South International School
The following schools in Hanoi offer IB courses:
In addition to the IB schools, a number of other private schools in Ho Chi Minh City also deliver quality education according to an international curriculum.
In Hanoi, some of the other private school options include:
• Concordia International School. Established by the US Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), this is an English-speaking school.
• Lycée Français Alexandre Yersin (LFAY), which delivers a French education leading to the French Baccalauréat.
• Wellspring International School. Established by Vietnamese Real Estate and Education group SSG, this bilingual school has an international outlook.
Quality Schools International also runs a school in the northern city of Haiphong, delivering a US curriculum in the English language.
It is possible for the children of expats to attend state schools run by the ministry of education and training. Vietnamese will be spoken at all times, except for foreign language classes, so a family’s individual circumstances will determine whether this is the right choice for their child.
Literacy rates in Vietnam are high and continue to improve despite the absence of universal free education. Primary school is compulsory for all children aged six until the age of eleven. There are no social or regulatory barriers to prevent girls attending school. The government provides subsidy for primary schools, but in some areas the poverty of local people means they struggle to afford the uniform, text books, pens and other items required for their children to attend.
Second school is not compulsory, and parents are nearly always charged tuition fees. For families in poverty, especially in ethnic minority areas, the choice between receiving extra income and help now from child labour or paying out for school costs in the hope it pays off at some point in the future is easily made.
Kindergartens and pre-school nurseries in Vietnam accept children from about eighteen months until school starts at the age of five. These are privately run facilities, and so tend to be based in middle-class urban areas.
At the age of six, all children start primary school, which they will attend for five years. This is followed by four years of intermediate education.
In late August, the new school year begins with semester one. There is a break in December. Semester two runs from January until late May.
Pupils who are able to achieve high scores in academic tests may be offered a place at one of the grammar schools known as trường trung học phổ thông chuyên (specialized secondary schools).
At the beginning of secondary school, some prestigious schools offer specialist classes for high ability children who pass exams in maths, English, literature and a chosen subject. The workload is heavy and pushes children to achieve learning targets at least a year ahead of their peers.
Pupils take the national high school graduation examination, which is administered by the ministry of education, at the end of secondary school.
Higher education is seen as a valuable route to professional employment in Vietnam. As a result, entrance is highly competitive, even though there are more than four hundred universities, institutes and colleges offering diplomas and degrees. National high school graduation exam scores are used to determine which higher education institutions will accept students on to a degree course. Since 2015, separate university application tests have been removed.
However, Vietnamese degrees are not internationally recognised unless they have been issued by an international university that has a campus in the country. For expats whose children are thinking about university study in Vietnam, this factor must be considered.
The school system in Vietnam is unpopular with some parents, due to its emphasis on test results and competitiveness. As in Singapore and many other countries around the world, high rates of stress and unhappiness are reported by pupils who feel under constant pressure to excel at school. Additional academic tutoring after school is common, and poorly paid state school teachers will often work very long hours to bring in additional tutoring income. It is alleged that tests sometimes include content which is covered in private tutoring time, so those pupils who only attend school are at a genuine disadvantage. This helps perpetuate the practice of additional tuition.
Schools and educational bodies in all sectors are aware of the effects of exam stress on young people, and debate continues as to the best way to help pupils prepare for adult life.
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