YOUR INSIDER'S EXPATRIATION GUIDE
IN HO CHI MINH CITY 🇻🇳 SINCE 2008
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation 12 THINGS THAT HAPPEN WHEN YOU MOVE TO VIETNAM
Any ex-pat living in Vietnam will agree that a lot of things change when you move here.
In fact, your life is pretty much flipped on its head. From the obvious things like housing, the language barrier and quality of living, to the more complex issues that you may not even have thought of, like how you will get your child to school or yourself to the office. To what office? Where will you be working? And how will you replace those gorgeous Italian leather work shoes when their soles wear out on the knobbly sidewalks around your Vietnamese apartment?
The good news is that change is a positive thing. Even if some things that happen when you move to Vietnam seem disastrous, I can bet you there is a positive thread of gold in there somewhere. From the perspective of a young lady who moved to Ho Chi Minh City just over a year ago with $600 to her name and no university degree, I can advise you on two very clear things: firstly that an almost innumerable amount of things happen when you come to live in Vietnam, specifically Saigon, and secondly that when they’ve happened you’ll look back and be darn glad that they did.
You stop being short
I personally have never been short, per se, but I have been petite before. I was womanly, small, dwarfed by my brothers, average height…and now? Now I am a giraffe without the spots and the tail. I tower over everyone here, my bones are chunkier, my clothes don’t fit and my feet are like flippers!
Even the shortest of Westerners will feel average or tall here in Vietnam, and whether you find that positive or not is up to you. I personally find it funny, especially when I try to fit onto one of those tiny street stall stools.
Your money expenditure is like a backwards bell curve
When you first move to Vietnam you have no idea what a ‘dong’ even is, let alone the fact that the smallest valid monetary division here is VND 200. You have no idea what prices are reasonable or where you can buy most products, so at first, you tend to dish out the dong far more lavishly than you do when you’re a bit more settled. In the first few weeks, you’re a millionaire with a pauper’s bank account, but as time progresses you slowly learn to spend more wisely.
You leave all Facebook groups
There is no ex-pat group in all of Vietnam that does not suffer from an infestation of sarcastic, obnoxious twits, and for that, they are becoming more of an area of harassment rather than a community. I’m not sure why, but the people who prowl those groups seem to be more interested in making everyone wish they’d never contributed to it rather than answering simple questions or voicing objective opinions. Either way, you will probably join many ex-pat Facebook groups when you move to Vietnam, and invariably leave them within a month or two.
You discover a love for wet wipes
Either this or you get used to being a human water fixture. The honest truth is that all year, rain or shine, winter or summer, Vietnam is like a sauna. It’s just so hot and sticky and if you don’t sweat like a pig then you seriously deserve a medal. In fact, someone should invent a ‘Sweatless Champion’ award for the least moist ex-pat. Yuck. But the point is valid – I learned to love wet wipes when I moved here because without them I would not be the fresh, clean lady I like to be.
You get a job
Vietnam is one of the few places in the world where it is 100% guaranteed that you will find a job. Ok, actually there is one condition – are you white?
Hundreds of schools and language centers operate around the country that all regularly hire a steady turnover of “native speakers” to help with pronunciation and to bring their business credibility in the eyes of their student’s parents. The only issue is that many of these foreign “teachers” are in fact novices in the trade.
People move here to teach English as a way to make money fast before heading off on their travels, or as an easy, “low-hours high-pay” job to support a few years of mid-20s partying. Many “teachers” know more about their beer than their children or care more about their trip than the future they are dictating for their students. A lot of them aren’t even native English speakers – they just look right. Such is life!
There are many other opportunities for work here, however, and as one of the fastest developing economies in the globe, Vietnam is the place for all budding entrepreneurs. If you want to come to a place with few rules, countless loopholes, catching enthusiasm, and booming opportunity, get started in Vietnam.
Your concept of a “bathroom” is re-defined
So, you’re in Vietnam! Just to let you know, bathrooms are no longer tidy, white tiled boxes with a clean glass-walled shower and a dry, flushable toilet… We in Vietnam feel no need to separate toilet and shower, and your bathroom will now be perpetually moist.
Toilet paper is impractical, since moist toilet paper tends to be too mushy to be effective, so the delightful bidet is now your bottom’s best friend. And if you’re feeling extreme then why not make your bathroom even more irritating with a couple of huge plastic tubs full of dirty washing, or better yet invest in some rope to string up your clean shirts and trousers and let them drip all over your already slippery bathroom floor.
Another great thing you can apply to your bathroom is packing it full of bulky plastic furniture or miscellaneous things that are vaguely associated with washing. My own boyfriend has an excellent obsession with washing our dishes in our bathroom since it’s the only private tap we have, stacking the dishes on a fantastically ugly blue rack of plastic shelves in one corner, and leaving vast piles of manky shirts soaking in soapy water while he goes to work.
You learn to squat
Whether you’re putting something into your body or passing something out of it, squatting will become a large part of your digestive life. From sitting on a tiny street stool as you slurp your hu tieu or sip on your ca phe, to bending your knees as you prepare to relieve yourself. Squat toilets are rampant in Vietnam, though the more expensive you live the less knee bending you will have to subject yourself to.
You become increasingly textured
Anyone who isn’t already scarred and scuffed should prepare themselves for a complete body transformation when they move to Vietnam. As soon as you step into the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, or onto one of the dusty highways that join these two cardinal points together, you will begin that slow process of erosion that we residents all come to know very well.
Your skin will be bronzed (unless you cover it) and you’ll be increasingly scuffed. One famous texture that most Saigon ex-pats will know well comes with the introduction to motor riding. The “Saigon Kiss”, a welt from your motorbike’s exhaust, can be found on most ex-pat legs across the city.
You get used to being confused
When you move to Vietnam you will absolutely, one hundred percent never live through a whole day without misunderstanding something. Even if you spend the day with your foreign mates, speaking to people in your native language, you’ll probably still meet with some situation or another that confuses you. Why? Because this country makes no sense. It’s almost as if people look at a process and ask themselves 3 questions:
- Does it need to work?
- Does it need to be efficient?
- Does it need to be cheap?
And then disregard every answer they thought of and go ahead with making something completely and utterly bizarre. And you know what? It’s great. Simply because life becomes so hilariously strange that everything is turned upside down and you feel like you’re walking on your ears. And then you laugh because it’s reality.
You replace your iPhone and your wallet
If you’ve managed to hold onto your valuables so far then you have two options – either buy a leotard and become a superhero or lock them up somewhere dark and hidden because if you haven’t lost them yet then you will soon. Very soon. It’s science, particularly in Saigon.
The city is not a dangerous one for real, organized crime, but petty theft is rife and even if you’re being careful it’s easy to be stolen from. My friend once had her phone ripped out of her hand by a man in a flower shop, who then sprinted onto the street and hopped on a moped. She thought she’d be ok since she was inside! But…no.
Luckily second-hand goods aren’t so expensive here and we’ve taken the time to find a great option for replacing your stuff, which you can read about here. But ideally, just don’t lose things. A good rule of thumb is look around you before you take your phone out, don’t put stuff in back trouser pockets, lock everything up if you’re not standing within a meter of it, and don’t wear expensive jewelry on the street.
You eat every illogical part of a chicken and forget that ‘breast’ exists
I go to the market every day and they either breed breastless chickens in Vietnam or they scoff it all themselves beforehand because I swear to you – there is never even one piece of succulent chicken breast meat. Feet? Yep. Heads? Gosh, they’re first on the table! Wings, and thighs? Mmmmm getting a bit mainstream there but ok, we stock them.
Chicken stomachs are a favorite around here, and apparently that part of the bird, given its all-too-close association with poo, would be my ABSOLUTE last choice.
You invest in cats
Either this or you just start talking about investing in cats, yes feline animals, because you become convinced that you will be forever alone. This one applies mainly to Vietnam’s female ex-pats, and though I will admit I don’t see many cats in Ho Chi Minh City I do hear many impending cat women complaining about male expats’ obsession with Vietnamese girls. Why do so many foreign men in Vietnam swear against Westerner-Westerner relationships? What’s their problem huh?
Well whatever the issue is, something’s gotta give. Either Vietnam will be swamped with an influx of compensatory cats in the next 5 to 10 years or all our women will move to South America to find themselves a beautiful bronzed hispanic. But wait ladies, what about Vietnamese suiters?
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation SHIPPING THINGS TO VIETNAM: A WARNING
Importing goods into any country is subject to certain restrictions & prohibitions
In this respect, Vietnam is no different. In order to check the prohibited and restricted items, the British Royal Mail website (royalmail.com/viet-nam), has some useful information. In addition to this, it is worth remembering that the country of origin will also have regulations as to what can and cannot be exported.
It is almost always safer to use one of the recognized courier companies like FedEx, DHL, or UPS, rather than unknown companies or the postal service. Things have a habit of getting “lost” as soon as they hit the country. Using a courier will cost you more, but at least it will arrive.
"Professional courier services can be expensive but prove to be the most secure method."
It is also worth remembering that your parcel will more than likely be opened by customs as soon as it hits Vietnam. So accurate labeling as to the contents is important. You don’t want to fall foul of customs services here. They deliver a white slip of paper informing you that a parcel has arrived and that it must be collected from an exact location within a certain time frame. If you happen to be traveling when this happens and miss the deadline, your parcel will be sent back to whence it came and the sender will be liable for charges. Also, the internet is full of horror stories when it comes to the postal service. People can sometimes get bounced around from one post office to the next before finally finding their item, only to be informed that ridiculously high import duties are liable before the parcel will be released.
"Miss your collection time and your parcel will be sent back to its place of origin."
The problem is not restricted to Vietnam – this seems to be relevant to all of Southeast Asia. When I emigrated to Thailand in 2008, I put all the things that mattered to me in a rather nice chest of drawers and paid a courier company in the UK £170 to ship it out. I was told that the fee charged in the UK covered all import duties in the destination country.
It arrived about three months later and I was told to go to the docks to collect it. I duly arrived at the customs office and was told that the import duty was well over $5,000 dollars. The whole lot was worth nowhere near that. Despite things of sentimental value, I decided against it and lost the lot forever. No doubt the customs guys had a great time sharing it all out.
The problems don’t end here either. Many people, upon hearing of the shortcomings of the Vietnamese postal service, decide to simply put valuable items on a plane when they are traveling out to Vietnam. However, putting anything valuable in the hold of an aircraft is never a good idea, and not just in Vietnam. By 2014, airlines were losing almost 22 million items of luggage per year, and that was down by more than half on the staggering figure of 47 million in 2007 (The Wall Street Journal).
Whilst only one in every 2,000 mishandled bags is lost forever (The Independent) that still represents more than 10,000 items per year that are never reunited with their owners. In 2008, Essex CID conducted Operation Bruno, which led to the arrest of 22 baggage handlers at London’s Stansted Airport, who was caught stealing from luggage.
"Airlines are losing almost 22 million items of luggage per year."
I hate to sound so negative about all this but the only safe way to get your valuable items arriving safely at their destination is to use one of the well-known reputable companies, as named above, or to hand carry it on the plane yourself and never let it out of your sight. Letting it out of your sight opens up a whole new level of airline theft.
Passengers have been reporting items stolen from hand luggage in increasing numbers. In 2012 Vietnam airlines reported 28 cases of valuables stolen from hand luggage. In 2013 nine thieves were caught in the act (Vietnam.net).
The bottom line is unless it is imperative, don’t bother. The costs are high and the risks are higher. Using reputable courier services is definitely the way to go; or if you can, carry it on board your flight and sit on it!
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation VIETNAM is ONE OF THE BEST PLACES TO BE AN EXPAT!
Vietnam’s relatively low cost of living and high wages are unrivaled
Jobs abound in a country with a growing economy and limitless career opportunities.
A modern, convenient lifestyle in Vietnam is not only accessible–it’s the norm.
Meals for $1, weekly transportation for $10, rent for $100, and a minimum monthly salary of $1000… sounds impossible, right? In Vietnam, not only is this possible, it’s the reality for many ex-pats!
Major cosmopolitan hubs like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Da Nang are some of Vietnam’s most popular gathering places for ex-pats from all over the world seeking low cost of living, an abundance of career opportunities, and the famously friendly welcome of Vietnamese locals.
Vietnam is a country that beckons ex-pats from all walks of life to jump right into the middle of the action. Read on to find out why Vietnam is consistently ranked one of the world’s best places to be an expat.
High Salary, Low Cost of Living
For ex-pats looking to save money, Vietnam is a financial paradise. Last year, Vietnam jumped up 3 places on the 2018 InterNations survey of the world’s best countries for ex-pats, ranking 9th overall, and climbing all the way to 4th for countries with the lowest cost of living. Expats living in Vietnam consistently report more savings, more expendable income, and lower expenses than almost any other country in the world.
What exactly can you expect to earn in Vietnam? According to a 2018 Go Overseas survey, most ex-pats are English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers earning an average wage of 22.7 million VND (US $1,000) to 45.5 million VND (US $2,000) per month, which places Vietnam in the world’s top 9 countries paying the highest EFL salaries.
A 2018 HSBC survey found that taking all professional fields into consideration, the average annual ex-pat income in Vietnam is $90,000 US. Coupled with the cost of living, Vietnam ranks first in the world for increased savings and expendable income.
Housing in Vietnam is incredibly easy to come by as cities like Ho Chi Minh are rapidly expanding, with new houses and apartments flooding real estate listings daily. Almost all housing available to ex-pats includes furniture, parking, western appliances, and weekly or daily cleaning services (often including laundry service).
For all of these perks, plus utilities, you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $300 US per month for a private room, including an en-suite bathroom, in a comfortable house share near the city center. Of course, those looking for a little more opulence can rent spacious modern apartments at a monthly average of $500-$1000 or more, depending on what your budget allows.
How about meals? Street food in Vietnam is the cheapest way to go, with a delicious and freshly-prepared bowl of noodles usually averaging less than $2 US! Gone are the days when eating out is a luxury.
Many ex-pats prefer eating out as it is comparable in cost to buying groceries, and saves precious time for those with busy work schedules. With an endless variety of mouth-watering local dishes to try, you’ll not only save money on meals in Vietnam, you’ll discover and crave new foods you never knew existed.
With less money spent on cost of living, most expats in Vietnam experience unparalleled financial freedom, allowing them to travel more often, repay debts like student loans, and set aside money for retirement. It is, without a doubt, the number one reason anyone should consider moving to Vietnam.
Career Opportunities in Vietnam
Vietnam is also a fantastic place to build a career, and though most ex-pats teach EFL for a living, there is a growing and thriving community of ex-pats in a variety of professional fields such as business marketing and advertising, graphic design, hospitality, physical and mental well-being, real estate, non-profit organizations, small business ownership, and many more.
Vietnam is the world’s number one country for ex-pats to find a job, according to the 2018 InterNations report. Not ready to commit to a job remotely? No problem! Expats routinely move to Vietnam on a tourist visa and find themselves newly employed within days.
How is this possible? Coupled with unprecedented economic growth, Vietnam’s booming business sector is constantly on the hunt for foreign experts to take critical roles in young companies experiencing rapid expansion.
The nation’s education system is expanding and improving rapidly as well, with new job openings not only at traditional schools, but increasingly popular language centers offering classes on weekday evenings and weekends. Not only are low-experience or first-time teachers welcomed here, but seasoned academic professionals looking to fill higher positions at prestigious private and international schools are highly sought-after as well.
Professional opportunities abound for ex-pats in Vietnam. As of June 2018, an estimated 105,000 ex-pats lived and worked in Vietnam. With that number set to increase dramatically year over year, there is no better time than now to take advantage of the fertile job market and exciting career choices available to ex-pats in Vietnam.
A Fully Modern Lifestyle
Anyone moving from their home country will consider to some degree what they’ll miss about the comforts of home. Fortunately, foreigners living in Vietnam report very little compromise for the incredibly low cost of living and comparably high salary.
In major urban centers like Saigon, Hanoi, and Da Nang, there is no shortage of modern amenities like convenience stores, grocery stores, and shopping malls stocked with familiar Western brands and products.
Among the greatest concerns for any expat is safety. Vietnam not only ranks as one of the world’s safest countries for expats, but also as one of the top 10 friendliest places on earth according to the 2018 InterNations report.
Health-conscious individuals, those with sensitive diets, and self-proclaimed gourmands increasingly have access to hundreds of modern restaurants featuring high-quality ingredients and international cuisines ranging from Korean to European, even Mexican!
Most importantly, the nation’s healthcare system has dramatically improved over the last few decades, with modern facilities and a variety of private Western hospitals and clinics staffed with international experts in major urban centers.
Vietnam is Waiting for You!
There are few places in the world with comparable amenities to Vietnam. Numerous ex-pat surveys from the world’s biggest ex-pat networks including InterNations, Expat Insider and Go Overseas, consistently rank Vietnam as one of the world’s best countries for ex-pats thanks to the famously low cost of living, fantastic career opportunities, and a fascinating and friendly local culture comfortably coupled with all the modern amenities a foreigner could want for.
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation 10 MOST COMMON EXPATS COMPLAINTS ABOUT VIETNAM
An ex-pat life in HCMC has challenges
Expats living in Vietnam will generally go through several phases. Once the honeymoon period is over, you will hear more and more complaints, justified or not. Our resident French writer, Fabrice Turri, has come up with a concise list of the Top 10 most common complaints we hear from fellow foreign residents in Vietnam.
As an ex-pat living in a new country there are always things from home you miss and things in your new country that are different, strange, scary, or just downright weird. There’s a certain masochistic joy, or entertainment, in pointing out and complaining about those differences.
Although Vietnam is overflowing with wonderful and exciting aspects that we’ve explored ad infinitum, some things about the country are just frustrating, bizarre, and confusing.
1. Crossing the street
2. Renewing my visa every 3 months
3. Negociating prices with “xe om” and taxi drivers
4. Fighting one mosquito all night long
5. Being asked 10 times per week, “Are you married?” (and “why?” if you’re not)
6. Communicating with waiters who obviously don’t even try to understand you when you’re desperately trying to order something in Vietnamese
7. People laugh at you after cheating you
8. Discovering my mobile has been stolen for the third time this year
9. The noise
10. Having to say “Cheers!” every 2 minutes with people
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation 18 TIPS TO GET YOU BY IN SAIGON
How to facilitate your stay in Ho Chi Minh City?
Visiting or moving to a new city can be pretty daunting at first, but the sooner you adapt to your new environment, the easier it is to go with the flow. With Saigon’s clutter and chaos, and surrounded by a language that’s both hard to comprehend and speak, adjusting to life here can be a challenge.
Thankfully, there are also workarounds that will make life easier. These tips were all suggested by both locals and foreigners living in Saigon, and have been tried and tested. Lastly, don’t worry. Everything in here is legal.
1. Not sure where you’re going? Use Grab or GoJek instead of a taxi
This is not to downplay the legitimacy of taxi companies, but mainly to make it easier and cheaper for you to get from point A to B if you don’t understand the language or are totally new to the city.
Grab and Gojek allows you to input your destination, which is then shown on the driver’s mobile device with a GPS to guide him, and a fixed price that’s made known to you when you make the booking. There are also plenty of promotional codes from the app that are released almost every fortnight so you get to save a lot too.
Unless you know how to give directions in Vietnamese, taxi rides can be challenging in some of the city’s grid-like road systems. A wrong turn will result in higher fares, as the meter will keep running.
Another tip: When you’re making a booking, try to make sure you’re standing next to a local. Grab drivers tend to call you to confirm the booking, and a lot of them don’t speak English. So just pass the phone politely to the local beside you and he/she will most likely let the driver know your exact location. Don’t forget to thank him/her after.
2. Make a photocopy of your passport
Whether you’re visiting for a short holiday or for work, it’s highly advisable that you make an official photocopy of your passport and keep it with you at all times.
Firstly, that will work as your main form of identification should you be required at some point to show it. Secondly, according to Vietnamese law, your landlord has to register your residency with the local police, and one of the requirements is a copy of your passport.
3. Always carry small changes
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone around with change for a VND500,000 note. Most xe om (motorbike taxi) riders and street vendors prefer exact change, and even a VND100,000 note would be pushing it. If you happen to have a VND200,000 or VND500,000 note, your best bet is to go to a convenience store to break it before you head to the street.
Another tip: When withdrawing money at the ATM, choose an amount that’s not divisible by 500,000. For example, instead of withdrawing VND1 million, choose VND900,000 instead, that way you will get a bunch of smaller notes, which will be useful if you’re in a rush with no time to look for a convenience store to get smaller change.
4. There’s Google Translate, and English-speaking youths too
Vietnamese is a tough language. Even if you think you’ve got the spelling right, you’d probably get the pronunciation wrong. There’s Google Translate, which may not be 100 percent reliable but gets the job done for really common words. However, what if your mobile phone battery runs out or you have no signal?
Look for a young adult or a teenager nearby. There is a higher likelihood that he/she might know at least some basic English compared to someone much older, and that will be good enough to help you. The English literacy rate among Vietnam’s younger population has been steadily increasing, mainly due to the belief that learning the language will secure a better future.
5. There’s more than just Ben Thanh Market
Ben Thanh Market is the go-to venue for many foreigners to get their hands on local items. However, you actually have other (cheaper) options, as you can see here. If you’re looking for a bargain, you can either choose to haggle if you’re good at the language, or just politely nod with a smile and walk away and then hear the seller magically drop the price almost immediately. That trick usually works pretty well if you have a poker face.
6. Turn your fashion catalog into real clothes
If you don’t already know, Vietnam has a large textile industry and extremely skilled tailors everywhere. Do you like the suit you saw online? No problem, take a picture and bring it to the tailor and he’ll get it made for you for a tenth of the retail price.
Alternatively, just make your own fashion catalog with clear shots of the outfit’s front, side, and rear and let him know your preference on the fabrics, or get them yourself. Pass the materials to him, get measured, and then watch him work his magic.
7. If it’s cheaper than it should be, then your coffee is most likely not real
This was covered extensively in an earlier article. Vietnamese coffee is pretty popular around the world, but there’s a difference between a cup of coffee and the idea of one. Plenty of stores in Vietnam sell coffee without a single coffee bean in it. Featuring a mix of roasted soybeans, corn, and random, unidentified chemicals, you’d really be better off not having one.
A good way to gauge if the coffee you’re drinking is real? It should not be cheaper than VND20,000.
Further Tip: This logic also applies to alcohol. There have been many cases of fake alcohol sold across Vietnam, so if your glass of vodka costs as much as a glass of water, say no instead of dzô (the Vietnamese version of cheers).
8. If it’s bigger than a car, don’t cross.
Crossing a road in Saigon can be a life-changing experience. Traffic signs are mostly just suggestions and if you’re standing along a curb expecting vehicles to stop for you, you’ll most likely draw a few chuckles from passers-by.
Take a leap of faith and just walk, slowly. The majority of the vehicles on the roads here are bikes, and they will go around you. If you need more visibility, just raise a hand to indicate your presence.
However, if you see a vehicle bigger than a car, just stop and let it pass and then continue.
9. If you’re getting a haircut, just bring a picture.
This is especially important if you’re looking for a specific hairstyle. The best solution to this is to find a clear picture of that hairstyle and pass it to the barber. There are plenty of skilled barbers in Saigon, and a number of them do speak and understand English. However, a Vietnamese “undercut” may differ slightly from the American version, so a picture really helps.
Further Tip: If you have a local friend who’s willing to spend 30 minutes watching you get a haircut, bringing him/her along would be a good idea too.
10. Never underestimate the importance of a raincoat/poncho.
Especially between the months of July to December, the heavens will open up and unleash its fury upon you, mostly while you’re on your way to work, or stuck in a jam on the way home.
Most convenience stores sell them for about VND100,000 and you can find even cheaper ones from some street vendors. It’s highly advisable to keep one in your bag at all times.
11. There are apps for almost everything. Use them.
Need to get from point A to Point B? There’s Grab and Vinasun has one for its taxi services. Looking for a date? There’s Tinder and OkCupid. Feeling hungry? There’s Vietnammm and Foody.vn. Made a few Vietnamese friends and you plan to stay in touch? Facebook Messenger, Zalo, Viber, LINE, and WeChat are the most commonly used instant messaging apps in Vietnam.
12. Arrange your money in order of value.
There’s a very simple and practical reason for this. The VND10,000 and VND200,000 notes are almost identical in color, just like the VND20,000 and VND500,000 notes. By arranging your notes in order of value, the chances of you paying VND500,000 for a VND20,000 xe om ride will be much slimmer.
In addition to the low food production, much of Vietnam’s agricultural land had been damaged during the war. Rice paddies were laden with mines and Agent Orange had seeped into the soil.
Nobody, not even those who had previously enjoyed the benefits of being in the upper echelons of society, had enough rice for three meals a day. People were forced to mix their rice with white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sorghum, a grain known for being particularly difficult to chew. By the 1980s Vietnam was ranked as one of the poorest nations in the world.
It may seem strange, but this mix-up has happened more times than you can imagine. It’s also a good way to help you keep track of how much you’ve been spending throughout the day.
13. If you’re buying plastic bottles of water, go big.
This will not immediately elevate you to the status of Planeteer, but a five-liter bottle of water will cost just twice as much as a 1.5-liter one. So not only do you save some money, you’re also contributing less plastic waste as compared to buying three smaller bottles for almost the same amount of water. It’s simply the lesser of two evils. The bigger bottles also allow you the more creative freedom to reuse and recycle them.
Another tip: It’s best not to drink water from the tap because Vietnam’s water treatment system and infrastructure aren’t advanced yet, and there are impurities that may still remain in the water. So err on the side of caution.
14. There’s plenty of free WiFi everywhere so you might as well use it.
Vietnam is much more connected than you may think and this is proven every time you turn on your phone’s Wi-Fi or use the Wi-Fi-finder app listed in No.11 to see an entire list of networks available.
There is also a site that has an updated list of all the Wi-Fi hotspots in the city. All you need to do is take a seat in a coffee place or a restaurant and get the password and you’ll enjoy pretty high-speed access to the internet.
You can also find free public Wi-Fi in some parts of Saigon, although it’s not recommended to use it if you need to perform any logins or transactions due to possible security risks.
15. Join Facebook groups catered to foreigners for useful insights.
They’re one of the best ways to get the latest news, scoops for room rentals, recommendations on services or places to visit, and other entertainingly informative reads. Apart from the thousands of posts each day, these groups also have valuable information for you to get what you need. You just need to do some serious scrolling.
Another tip: You can also find a subreddit on Reddit dedicated to Vietnam. There are a few threads where users talk about current events and share the latest news related to the country.
16. Get a face mask. You’ll need it.
It’s almost a must-have accessory. Although not very fashionable, it will help you handle the pollution in the city. A face mask is also useful if you’re feeling under the weather and you don’t want to spread your cold or flu.
Another tip: The cloth and medical masks don’t do much, Look out for N95 masks, which block out PM2.5 particles, the tiniest and most dangerous of the pollutants in Saigon.
17. If you don’t want it, don’t look.
One trick to avoid mobile street vendors, touts and the occasional man on a motorbike asking you if you want a massage or “boom boom” is to not look. Ignorance is bliss, and in this case, it really should be taken literally.
Sure, it gets annoying if they just stay there and continue hassling you but after a minute or so, even the hardiest of the lot will eventually give up and leave you alone. For the next 10 minutes at least.
18. Change your currency in Vietnam
This is a very valuable one. Always change your Vietnam Dong in Vietnam either before you travel or after you return, as most other countries will charge you a huge fee for the exchange and you’ll end up taking a loss.
On the flip side, you also get very good rates on foreign currency if you change it here, which will come in useful if you’re planning to visit an expensive country like Singapore or Japan. The best places to exchange money in Saigon would are gold shops. One notable one would be Kim Mai Gold Shop along Cống Quỳnh Street in Phạm Ngũ Lão.
We hope this list has been useful for you. If you feel that we’ve missed any other crucial tips, do let us know and we will include them in a sequel. Enjoy Saigon and stay safe. Also, check this out If you are wondering how to get safe from the food during your trip to Vietnam.
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation WHY are FACEBOOK EXPAT GROUPS IN VIETNAM often SO TERRIBLE?
Tom Braley had just been in Ho Chi Minh City a scant four days before a large, worrying blister appeared on his foot. Feeling a bit marooned already and now with a visible infection, Braley was feeling, in his words, “a bit down” and was doubting his decision to leave the United Kingdom to come to Vietnam.
So, he did what everyone who’s been lonely since the mid-aughts has done: he logged on to Facebook. But because Braley’s in Saigon, he sought refuge in the bee’s nest that is the city’s ex-pat’s Facebook groups.
A Little Bit of Everything
The city’s Facebook groups are higher in headcount and output than quality. It’s an atmosphere that has pushed some to start smaller gated communities of users. To ask about his foot, Braley went to the 51,942-member group Expats & Locals in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), one of the largest clusters of people with Facebook accounts in Ho Chi Minh City.
What Braley got in response was the Saigon Facebook community’s mix of camaraderie, trolling and the typo-laden amateur comedy the city’s social media groups have made themselves known for.
Each of the post’s 100-ish comments came within 24 hours. Responses ranged from supportive—suggestions for where to go get treatment links to web materials detailing similar infections—to the callously wistful: “u are getting new skills, spiderman could shoot spider web, u can create a bubble. soon u can fly [sic],” one user wrote.
Like the wall of a bathroom stall that’s over the years become a community board of sharpied wisdom, whatever Facebook was made for probably wasn’t this.
“[E]veryone’s always got the guards up, ready for an argument,” Nguyen Dang Khoi, one of Expats & Locals in Ho Chi Minh City’s administrators, said adding “there’s [sic] always too much drama, negative behavior in these groups its [sic] frustrating and sad.”
Khoi said it narrowed down to a mix of boredom, jadedness, and a want for attention. He said, “generally people who are always itching for a fight online… seek validation to a point, I guess.”
Khoi is one of two admins who manage the over 50,000 members who belong to the group. Khoi said the group’s activity can be overwhelming for a small monitor group like theirs, “so the trolling and inappropriate posts fall thru more often than other groups.”
The skeletal staff contrasts with the larger oversight body in Vietnam is Awesome: the group’s two admins are supported by a team of eight moderators.
Phillip Veinott, the founder of Vietnam is Awesome, said he sees some of the same users who troll there “but they don’t act like that” inside his group. “I just think it’s a really positive group,” he said.
Veinott explained that Vietnam is Awesome has to be a little more “on brand” than others because at the time he was anticipating the launch of an associated business: Saigon Expat Services—an online triage center for ex-pat service needs from real estate to personal assistants—officially went active just before the close of 2017.
As Veinott created Vietnam is Awesome to make a better space for Ho Chi Minh City’s social media users, female expatriates created the group Females Expats and Locals of Ho Chi Minh City in the summer of 2014. Today group has around 167,000 members!
Susan Li, a founding member, and admin said the group is a “safe space” where females on social media can “discuss with our girlfriends [subjects] we wouldn’t discuss with our guy friends. We created a forum where we can help each other.” But why a group for females only?
“I guess it comes down to females feeling safer with other females. If men were in the group, many of us wouldn’t feel safe asking questions” like where to get a pap smear or find tampons.
“Men should not be offended!” she asserted. To the question of why men are excluded: “…There were plenty of groups for ex-pats and locals, which include both sexes. Why to create something that’s already out there?” she said.
Nguyen wasn’t speaking directly to the question of men’s role in the failure to engender an online civil society in Ho Chi Minh City’s social media groups, but he theorized that trolls’ output online is meant to “project whatever issues they have personally to a wider audience.”
Veinott said his group was founded on and has retained a distinction for being a positive space. “We started it to get people to share positive stories and photos from their trips all over vn and not city-based only,” he said.
Nearly 10 percent of Vietnam is Awesome’s 167,000 or so members are located outside of Vietnam. The greatest share of the group’s members, 22 percent, are older millennial men aged 21 to 34. Braley said his experience with Expats & Locals in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) was mostly positive. “One dickhead, but that’s to be expected.”
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation WHO IS AN “EXPAT”, AND WHO IS AN “IMMIGRANT”?
Ho Chi Minh City is known for boasting a thriving ex-pat community
Upon perusing Facebook you can find dozens of groups designated for ex-pats to communicate and give each other advice about living in the Southern Vietnamese metropolis.
Expats in Ho Chi Minh City enjoy a relatively high standard of living. I spoke with Suzie*, a 31-year-old Filipina woman who lived in Sydney and Brisbane, Australia for four years before moving to Ho Chi Minh City this year. I asked her how she felt about the standard of living she enjoys. “I get cheap massages! That’s important!”
It’s a simplistic statement, but one that speaks to a broader point. Often, people who move from western countries to Ho Chi Minh City enjoy a quality of life that they often could not afford back in their native homes.
Conversely, they almost certainly would have difficulty enjoying a high standard of living if they were living in their native countries as migrant workers and not citizens. Do the differences in these experiences denote the distinctions between the phrases ‘ex-pat’ and ‘immigrant’, or are there more complicated dynamics involved? If so, then what is the difference between an expat and an immigrant?
The term ‘expat’ has a generally positive connotation. It denotes class, wealth, privilege and even race. Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Sympathizer, and more recently his collection of short stories, The Refugees, expounded on this point in the below video published on YouTube by Annenberg International.
“It’s really interesting. I think that there are these different terms that we use to categorize people as immigrants, refugees, and ex-pats. They all describe people who move across borders but they have different meanings that are attached to them.
‘Expats’ is the term that they use for people who move with wealth and privilege to different countries, and typically we use them to describe white people. Oftentimes, we don’t talk about Asian ex-pats for example.”
Wikipedia defines an ex-pat as “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing.” This definition is non-race specific but, as is often the case, hidden meaning is coded within the language. City Pass Guide sat and talked about these differences with a diverse group of English-speaking foreigners in Saigon.
Jason*, a second-generation Australian of Vietnamese descent talks about his family’s experience. “Guys like my dad and my uncles, when they came from Vietnam to Australia, even though they were highly skilled, they weren’t considered ex-pats.”
A blog published by the Wall Street Journal came to a series of conclusions. “Some arrivals are described as ex-pats, others as immigrants, and some simply as migrants. It depends on social class, country of origin, and economic status. It’s strange to hear some people in Hong Kong described as ex-pats, but not others.
Anyone with roots in a western country is considered an ex-pat … Filipino domestic helpers are just guests, even if they’ve been here for decades. Mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese are rarely regarded as ex-pats … It’s a double standard woven into official policy.”
Double-Standards and Country Bashing
In comments made in front of the United States Congress, Donald Trump referred to African immigrants as people coming from “shithole countries”. His comments ignore the research showing that African immigrants to the United States are not only the most educated of all immigrant populations there, but they are also on average even better educated than people born in the US, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Still, these populations of African people working in the United States do not enjoy the distinction of being called ‘ex-pats’, they are considered ‘immigrants’. We live in a time where immigration and migrancy are at the forefront of mainstream discourse.
In the United States, government agencies have taken measures to round-up people considered to be ‘undocumented immigrants and have been placing these people in cages, as they await further long-term imprisonment or deportation. Some of the detainees only months old are placed into ‘Tender Age’ facilities.
Many say that in Great Britain, public concerns over immigration drove the infamous Brexit vote, which was a step towards separating the United Kingdom from the European Union. In late June, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the European country would be rolling back its open door policy for refugees as a political means of appeasing critics of the policy in the Baltic States.
In Vietnam, identity can provide or deprive one of the benefits, whether the person in question is identified by skin color or a passport from a particular place.
Vietnamese Americans experience Vietnam differently from both their local Vietnamese counterparts, as well as their white American compatriots. Some English centers will hire non-native-speaking teachers who are white, while refusing to hire non-white teachers from English-speaking countries, using the reasoning that parents of their students don’t think of non-whites as native speakers.
Distinctions Hide Discrimination
Clearly, not all foreigners are created equal, sometimes regardless of their country of origin. Even Americans of Vietnamese descent encounter trouble attaining work as English teachers because doubts are cast about their proficiency in English because of their genealogy.
Nomenclatural categorizations of people have ways of creating distinctions between them, the effects of which are experienced palpably and can lead to frustration and a loss of self-worth for those on the wrong side of the noun.
Some people might argue that the terms “ex-pat and immigrant” are interchangeable and innocuous, but language is loaded with hidden meanings, and these categorizations have real-world consequences for people in the ways in which they uphold privilege for some while marginalizing others.
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation 14 VIETNAMESE PHRASES FOR THE CLUELESS FOREIGNER IN SAIGON
What basic Vietnamese you need most to get by in Ho Chi Minh City?
Not long ago, we published an article with 15 Vietnamese phrases for the English monolingual (read: “clueless”). However, there were some common, basic phrases we missed, so here are another 14 useful phrases for those in Saigon who want to ask for the bill or greet others like a local.
With the help of some of our Saigonese colleagues, we’ve made a list of phrases and their translations to help get you by in Saigon, even if it’s the only Vietnamese you know. The list is also numbered in English and Vietnamese, so you can learn how to count at the same time!
Một (1) – Anh/em (salutations) – ơi
In Vietnam, when you are referring to another person, you use either anh-ơi or em-ơi. The general rule is to say anh for an older person and em for a younger one. The use of ơi is meant to emphasize this call. However, in flirting, if you’re a guy, a girl is always called em, regardless of her age. When addressing an older lady advanced in age, you refer to her as Chị-ơi.
Hai (2) – Dừng lại đây (“Stop here”)
If you’re in a taxi or on a motorbike and you want your driver to stop, you can point to the specific location and tell the driver, “Dừng lại chỗ này”.
Ba (3) – Chỗ đó ở bên trái/phải (“keep left” or “bear right”)
If the driver is on the right-most lane but your destination is on the left, y can say, “Chỗ đó ở bên trái”, or “chỗ đó ở bên phải” if it’s on the right. If your destination is on the other side of a two-way street, you can say, “Bên kia đường”.
Bốn (4) – Tính tiền/Bao nhiêu tiền? (“The bill, please” and “How much is it?”)
After a hearty meal at a restaurant, you can call for the bill by saying, “tính tiền”.
The unit of measurement for money in Vietnam are as follows: trăm (hundred), ngàn/nghìn (thousand), triệu (million), and tỷ (billion). For example, VND30,000 is read as ba mươi (ngàn/nghìn) đồng and VND100,000 is một trăm (ngàn/nghìn) đồng. Some locals would prefer to shorten it by saying just một trăm, which technically means a hundred. The “thousand” is implied. VND1 million is một triệu and VND1.5 million is usually shortened to một triệu rưỡi.
Năm (5) – Đồ ăn (food)
Here are some basics to help you in a restaurant that only has a Vietnamese menu. Rice is cơm, bread is bánh mì and rice porridge is cháo. Noodles are a little complicated, as there are many types of noodles from bún (rice vermicelli noodles), mì (egg noodles), bánh canh (tapioca noodles), and phở (rice noodles and broth, though the word can be used for each one alone).
Sáu (6) – Cà phê (coffee)
There are plenty of coffee shops across the country, but not all of them will have English-speaking staff. So how do you ensure you get your preferred drink? Black coffee is called cà phê đen, black coffee with ice—which is common in Saigon—is cà phê đen đá or cà phê đá. If you like your coffee with condensed milk, ask for cà phê sữa, or if you want it with ice, cà phê sữa đá. If you want your milk coffee with less coffee in it, just say bạc xỉu.
Bảy (7) – Đi nhậu không? (“Want a drink?”)
Planning to ask someone out for (alcoholic) drinks? The general term for alcohol in Vietnamese is nhậu. If you want to be more specific, beer is known as bia, wine is rượu and if you’re looking for local rice wine, it’s called rượu đế. Just make sure you don’t turn into a bợm nhậu (alcoholic).
Tám (8) – Mấy giờ rồi? (“What time is it?”)
Forgot to bring your watch or your phone out and you’re in a rush and really need to know the time? Just approach someone and ask, “Mấy giờ rồi?” Now that you’ve asked this question in Vietnamese, prepare an answer in Vietnamese. If it’s 10:15 p.m., he will most likely say, “Mười giờ mười lăm tối”.
If it’s 10:15 a.m., it will be mười giờ mười lăm sáng. To break it down, mười giờ is 10 hours, mười lăm is 15, tối is p.m. and sáng is a.m. So just remember, giờ is the hour, so 10 o’clock is mười giờ, and any number mentioned after that is referring to the specific minute. If you know how to count to at least 59 in Vietnamese, then all it takes is some practice and you’ll be able to tell the time like a local.
A commonly used shortcut for “half-past” is rưỡi. So for example, 10:30 p.m. is also known as mười giờ rưỡi. Although very uncommon and only used in academic writing, the minute is referred to as phút. So 10:15 is mười giờ mười lăm phút.
Chín (9) – Hôm nay là thứ mấy? (“What day is today?”)
If your time machine stuttered a little and you’re not sure if it actually worked, you can head out and ask, “Hôm nay là thứ mấy?” to ask the day of the week. Or, if you want to know the date, just say “Hôm nay là ngày mấy?”
In Vietnamese, the days in a week are: thứ hai (Monday), thứ ba (Tuesday), thứ tư (Wednesday), thứ năm (Thursday), thứ sáu (Friday), thứ bảy (Saturday) and chủ nhật (Sunday).
The date is ngày and the day of the week is thứ.” Week” is as tuần, “month” is tháng and “year” is năm. So if today’s date is 16 October 2017, you say ngày 16 tháng 10 năm 2017
Mười (10) – Em chào (Greeting a teacher)
This is for a classroom setting. If you’re a student greeting a teacher, you say, “Em chào thầy” if the teacher is male, and “Em chào cô” if the teacher is female. If you’re a teacher, you say, “thầy/cô chào em,” depending on your gender.
Mười Một (11) – Màu (colour)
Obviously, it will take an entire article on its own to translate all the colors into Vietnamese so we chose the six colors of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers instead. Also, these are the most commonly used colors.
Each word is preceded with màu, so it’s màu xanh dương (blue), màu Đỏ (red), màu Đen (black), màu xanh lá (green), màu trắng (white) and màu vàng (yellow).
Mười Hai (12) – Cẩn thận! (“Be careful!”)
This is useful if you spot a poisonous creature nearby and want to warn others. If you hear someone yelling this, you might want to run. Cẩn thận means “be careful”. Rắn is the snake and rắn độc is the poisonous snake. Other creatures include bọ cạp (scorpion) and rết (centipede).
Mười Ba (13) – Quần áo (clothes)
Looking for new clothes? If you’re going to a local shop or tailor then it’s useful to know the Vietnamese names for the articles of clothing. Áo sơ mi is the shirt, áo thun is a t-shirt, quần refers to pants and for shoes, just say giày.
Mười Bốn (14) – Hôm nay trời thế nào? (“How’s the weather?”)
If you’re indoors and would like to know what the weather is like, you can use the sentence above—the typical response you would get is, “Trời đang mưa” (it’s raining). Other words to take note off are nóng (hot), lạnh (cold), gió (windy) and bão (storm). If it’s really hot and you need a conversation starter, you can say nóng quá to your partner while furiously wiping sweat off your forehead.
Keep This Handy
Feel free to print this list, or show it to someone from your phone screen if the person you’re speaking to still doesn’t get it. Vietnamese is a tonal language and some words may sound similar, but a shift in tone could change the entire meaning, leading to confusion. Enjoy Vietnam and don’t be afraid to use some of your newly learned Vietnamese, bằng ơi (friend)!
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation FINDING THE PERFECT FIT: EXPAT SHOPPING IN SAIGON
As a Western man living in Vietnam, the benefits are well-discussed. However, what is little documented are the hardships we have to endure: sitting on plastic stools that could collapse under our weight at any moment; hitting our heads on hobbit-sized door frames, or having random strangers plucking the hairs on our forearms while waiting at traffic lights (it’s happened to me on three occasions!).
But perhaps the biggest difficulty is clothes and shoe shopping. The indignity of trying on a supposedly XL shirt but not being able to get that bottom button to close, or the frustration of finding a pair of shoes you like but there’s no size available over 42, has been experienced by many a “Tay”, or foreigner.
If you are lucky enough to find something that fits, it’s usually the wrong color or a terrible design.
I am 185 cm tall (6’1’’) and 85 kg (187 lb). I wear size 44 shoes and my waist size is 34 inches (86 cm). I’m not huge by Western standards, but in Vietnam, I’m a giant. From asking fellow ‘giant’ friends and colleagues, the general consensus is that people wait till they go home or to other countries to do their clothes and shoe shopping, or they go to a tailor and have shirts and trousers made to fit.
However, I’m determined to find everything I need in shops here in HCMC at affordable prices, and have been on a mission to scout out what is available for the broad-shouldered, (slightly) portly-bellied, big-footed ones among us.
Shirts, Professional and Casual
For work shirts, An Phuoc (Pierre Cardin) or Viet Tien are popular choices. There are branches all over the city and large sizes are available. Prices usually start at VND 600,000. However, Vietnam is a producer of clothing for a wide range of international brands and some of these find their way into local clothes markets or shops.
Two of the larger markets are Saigon Square (corner of Le Loi and Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D1; and 176-181 Hai Ba Trung, D3) or Taka Plaza (102 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D1). There is a wide selection of brands and prices are negotiable; however, the authenticity is often questionable.
If you do not fancy facing the crowds, there are some factory outlet shops that offer the same or better. Garment Factory Outlet sells brands such as Gap, American Eagle, Old Navy and Seidensticker, from around VND 300,000 to 500,000. It has four branches around the city: SD23, Sky Garden 2, D7; 8 Thai Thuan, D2; Imperia An Phu, D2; and E2 0.14 Him Lam Nam Khanh building, Ta Quang Buu, D8. Another option is MQ Shops at 164 Vo Thi Sau, D3. It specializes in shirts from Dockers, Strellson, American Eagle, and Zara. But be warned: this website doesn’t have an English language option.
Where to find Trousers in Go Chi Minh City?
Finding work pants seems to be a challenge for all. What was advertised as large can end up cutting off circulation to parts that traditionally require a lot of blood flow? As mentioned earlier, tailor shops are one option. As with work shirts, An Phuoc (Pierre Cardin) has work pants and khakis from VND 700,000, although finding waist sizes over 36 inches is rare.
Where to find Shoes in Go Chi Minh City?
Vietnam is one of the world’s top manufacturers and exporters of shoes. And yet, finding a pair that fits and does not look like clown shoes is a challenge.
Factory Outlet Store sells clothes but mainly deals in shoes. Prices can be a little high, but it offers a deal of two for the price of one if you recommend it to three friends on Facebook. There are three stores in HCMC – 212B/D90 Nguyen Trai, D1; 540/30 Cach Mang Thang Tam, D3; and 117/3 Tran Ke Xuong, Phu Nhuan District – and one in Vung Tau. Giay Xau Gia Cao is a small shop at No. 158 in the middle of Saigon’s shoe street, Ly Chinh Thang, D3. It offers big sizes from Eur 44 to 47. Prices start at VND 500,000. Brands such as Clarks, Skechers and Caterpillar are available.
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation PROS AND CONS OF RAISING CHILDREN IN EXPAT ENVIRONMENT
Entire families have created distinct new ex-pat culture
Anita North, a child psychologist with Ethos Asia in Ho Chi Minh City, has experience raising children internationally firsthand. Originally from Australia, she worked as a psychologist in Thailand for five years while raising her two boys.
“As they grew up, they used to say they were Thai,” she said. “We’ve sent them to school in Australia now that they’re in high school, partly to give them a sense of their culture as Australians.”
Azrael Jeffrey, Psychotherapist, and Educational Specialist at the International Center for Cognitive Development (ICCD) said the movement of not only parents but entire families is creating “third-culture ex-pats”. “We see kids who have French parents, were raised in Africa, and who spent years in the Philippines,” he said, also noting that a British or Australian international school might add more cultural variation. So how does this affect the development of children?
No Cookie Cutter Answer
For North and her colleague Nessa Maguire at Ethos, it’s a difficult topic to discuss particularly because every child, and every situation is different and demands an entirely individualized approach. While some children become more tolerant, accepting, and worldly thanks to their experiences overseas, other children might lash out, or become introverted, anxious, or depressed.
While the majority of their clients come from Vietnamese families, North said around 30 percent of the children they see moved here when their parents accepted an HCMC-based job. “Most of these children come from families who move quite frequently, to a new country every two or three years,” Maguire said.
“This brings difficulties because the children aren’t able to establish a close friendship group. Then you have the parents who perhaps see this as a more long-term move. Then you have the difficulty of, ‘Okay, where’s home?"
“It’s a catch-22,” North agreed. “You don’t want them to be so rooted in a home that they can’t fit in with the current culture. But you need them to have enough of an understanding with their home base that they can connect with their family and friends there.”
The professionals at Ethos Asian aver that most of their clients are special needs children who need support for issues like behavioral problems, attention deficit disorder, and autism. For parents used to a high level of support for conditions like these in countries like the UK, the US, and Australia, the change to Vietnam, which has less of a developed understanding of special needs support, can be challenging.
Jeffrey, on the other hand, does come across cases in which children need help processing a shift between cultures, especially at school. “Academics is the law here,” he said simply. “Even with the international schools, a high precedence is set first and foremost on the test scores.” He said that while the most popular kid in a US high school might be the football star, popularity and social acceptance in an Asia-based school can be centered much more around intelligence and book smarts.
“I’ve had cases where an athlete who doesn’t get the best test scores will feel isolated here,” he said. In those cases, Jeffrey will encourage the student and the parents to branch out and develop social networks outside the school. “There’s not as much of an emphasis on the ‘whole student’ here,” he said.
The School’s the Thing
All the child psychologists we talked to agreed: when it comes to making sure a child has a smooth and healthy transition to another culture, the school is the most important factor. Schools are important for any child, and doubly so for one with special needs. “In Australia, the UK, the US, a lot of [school-provided] support is mandated by law,” North said.
“Here, because they go into a private school system, the level of support is dependent on what school they choose, and what that school allows.”
This support might be allowing the parents to make their child a peanut butter sandwich for lunch rather than opting for the school-provided option, providing extra tutoring or even the presence of full-time care. Even basic logistics can be a deciding factor: if the child has a physical disability, does the international school have ramps and elevators? If the child has a tendency to wander off, is there security present outside the school?
If the special needs are severe enough, Jeffrey says that some international schools will consider it bad business to bring these cases on board—they would require costly resources, and other parents might choose another school if they think one is focused too much on special needs. He declined to say which schools.
“It’s all about the school’s and the family’s expectations,” he said. “There are no bad schools, just different personalities.”
Your Transition Checklist
If your family is headed to a new country soon, the child psychologists at Ethos Asia and ICCD have provided some tips.
Prepare well in advance. Children need to feel like part of the decision-making process, or else they might feel powerless and act out. Let them take control of small things, like choosing the color of their new room, or picking what furniture they want to bring with them overseas.
Make sure there’s closure. When you’re leaving your home base, make sure you do it the right way. Give the child time to say goodbye to their friends, and provide ways for them to keep in touch in the future.
Prepare a scrapbook. Get your child ready and excited about the new country by creating a country scrapbook. You can include pictures of the currency, information about the climate, easy phrases in the national language — anything that will help them understand their new home before they get there.
Pay attention to the details. If your child is attached to any food item or product, it’d be a good idea to make sure it’s sold in the new country. If it’s not, try changing the product before the move. It’ll help the child get used to the change and not associate it negatively with their new home.
Get excited! As parents, you’re the leaders here, and kids will pick up on any stress or unhappiness you might be experiencing with the move. Put on a brave face and show your kid that they should see the next country as both an adventure and a challenge.
Create a social network. Relationships with both the community and other children are important. For the first three months, sign up your kid for anything they might be interested in: pottery class, baseball, yoga, you name it. Preventing isolation is key in a new country.
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation IDENTITY: AMERICAN VIET KIEU MILLENIALS
The Overseas Vietnamese Coming Home Experience is Largely Positive
Tax breaks and other benefits for Vietnamese sojourners who return to Vietnam
Reverse Migration is Having a Considerable Effect on Vietnamese Culture and Economy
More than ever, in places like the US, the UK, and the EU, immigration is a hot-button topic. Whether this influx of immigration is welcomed with open arms or met with derision, there is an intuitive understanding by most as to why these immigrants and asylum-seekers look to transition from their homelands to new territories in search of greener pastures. It’s a no-brainer, as the countries they gravitate towards have better economies and generally higher standards of living.
While it is true that most Vietnamese immigrants moves outward and overseas from Vietnam to the West, there is a significant population of foreign-born of Vietnamese descent who are repatriating to the homeland of their ancestors. What drives Vietnamese-American millennials to return to Vietnam to live, and what effects do these migrations have on their identities, and Vietnam as a developing economy?
What Does it Mean to Be Vietnamese-American?
The term “Viet Kieu”, which literally translates as “Vietnamese sojourner” originally had a derogatory connotation, but these days the phrase is more benignly used to distinguish people of Vietnamese descent who live in the diaspora. Since 2004, the term has also indicated a legal status, as the communist government at that time officially declared “Viet Kieu” living abroad as being a vital part of the Vietnamese community.
In 2007, the “Viet Kieu” status became more highly elevated when the government began making exemptions for members of the diaspora who could prove that they were of Vietnamese descent. Presently overseas Vietnamese or “Viet Kieu” benefit from tax breaks, loosened restrictions on business licences and property ownership, in addition to having the ability to bring to the country foreign spouses and progeny.
Vietnamese-Americans Changing Society and Economy in Vietnam
The re-establishment of these connections, including repatriation by Vietnamese Americans, has from the onset had a considerable impact across the country. Remittances have always contributed greatly to the Vietnam economy. In 2017, the US$13.8 billion in remittances it received accounted for 6.7% of the economy, with Ho Chi Minh city receiving a US$5.2 billion share. Overseas Vietnamese entrepreneurs have played a significant role in reshaping the cultural and economic landscapes. As Peter Cuong Franklin, chef-owner at the new-school restaurant ănăn explained to Vice Magazine…
“Viet Kieu's are making great contributions in the creative fields such as food, art, literature, music, and fashion. They bring an international perspective and help to connect Vietnam with the rest of the world”.
Family and Reasons for the Return ‘Home’
For many Vietnamese American millennials, repatriation is a step towards bridging complicated and deep familial chasms following their parent’s move to the US after the Vietnamese resistance.
Chrissa Nguyen, 29, is a Vietnamese American makeup artist with her own business that does creative party makeup and costuming for special events, and is a live performer. She spoke with #iAMHCMC about her experiences living in the state of North Dakota, and her migration to Vietnam, her parent’s homeland.
“I always knew I’d come back to Vietnam. The area I lived in was very White, but my parents raised me in a very Vietnamese household, studying the language, and eating almost exclusively Vietnamese food. When I was young I didn't fit in. I always knew I wanted to come back to Vietnam”.
When asked about how her family felt about her decision to repatriate to Vietnam, she explained, “They were really unhappy, because I think as is with a lot of Vietnamese there’s a lot of trauma from war and what life was like after the war. Now they see that I’m happy here, so they’ve totally come to terms with it and accepted it. I don’t know if they’ll ever visit me here. I don’t really have hopes for that. I think they realise that I’m a lot happier here than I ever was in the US and that’s what matters to them now”.
Christina Bui, 26, a Vietnamese American woman from Virginia, USA, and project coordinator for the non-profit organization Pacific Links Foundation, has been a resident of Vietnam since 2015. Like Chrissa, she was met with resistance when expressing her desire to move to Vietnam with her parents. Her mother and father both emigrated to the United States, after Vietnam’s successful resistance, in 1975 and 1986 respectively.
“They hated it at first. I encountered a very strong pushback, especially from my mom, who was vehemently against it (which was understandable given the trauma my family experienced). After talking to my boss on the phone (for three hours, no less) and meeting her in person, my mom became a bit more ‘OK’ with me going. (Also because she thought I’d only be gone for a year! Little did any of us know…)”.
Vietnamese-Americans in Vietnam often find more job opportunities and enjoy a higher level of status than they do back in the United States. Many of them are bilingual, but speak English with a native accent, which both makes them valuable in the job market and gives them a lot of social mobility. Some also express that they feel a greater amount of freedom in Vietnam than they ever did in the states.
‘Yeah, I pretty much do whatever I want! It’s really great, because coming from New York City which was my home for over ten years, I feel pretty New York in a way. But here, I feel so much freedom, and so much more able to freely express myself than I can in New York. I did creative stuff in New York, but not like the stuff I’m doing here.
It was hard to think of myself as artistic or anything before I came here. Coming from America, and especially New York oh, you get a lot of “Oh, this country is the best! There’s nowhere better than New York. New York is the best! You have the best of everything here!” I was attaching myself to that. I almost wondered how I could be cool outside of New York. I realized after a while that although I love New York, I was never happy there.”
Identity Through Repatriation
For many Vietnamese American millennials, coming to Vietnam helps them to achieve a deeper sense of self, having straddled both Vietnamese and Western identities.
Chrissa says, “It was difficult when I first came because growing up the way that I did, in between two cultures. Not being White, I couldn’t really identify with being American. Coming here I thought that because I grew up in a really Vietnamese household that I understood and knew Vietnamese culture. I had to let go of everything that I thought I knew about Vietnamese culture, and also part of my identity.
Like, ‘Oh, I’m not actually Vietnamese’. That was something I had to reset in my mind, but it was actually quite freeing to let go of these identity markers. I’m not Vietnamese, I’m not even American. I’m not any of these labels that people assigned to you because of how you look or how you speak”.
Christina echoes Chrissa’s sentiment…
“I think I’m more certain of my dual identity now—neither completely American nor completely Vietnamese. At times I feel ‘too American’ for Vietnamese people, and ‘too Vietnamese’ for Americans, but I’ve grown to be more comfortable with those labels. And, of course, it becomes a point of pride to be lauded by my Vietnamese coworkers that I’ve become ‘real Vietnam-Vietnamese’, since it does say something about my assimilation here”.
Chrissa reflects on her consistent excitement about living in Saigon, “It hits me every day. I’ll be in traffic and see some signs in Vietnamese or I’ll see a guy welding something wearing sunglasses and think, ‘Oh, my god. I live here!’”
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation DOG POISONING STIRS UP EXPAT COMMUNITY IN SAIGON
Pet safety can be a real issue in HCMC
Security issues continue to raise alarms as at least 11 dogs and cats in an affluent neighborhood in Ho Chi Minh City have been poisoned to death this month. Ten dogs and one cat on Streets 2,3,4 and 5 in Thao Dien, District 2, have been killed and two dogs have been poisoned but were luckily saved.
Most of the dogs were poisoned inside the properties in private gardens and yards. Ex-pats living in Thu Duc District and other parts of the city have been signing an online petition calling on HCMC police to investigate the poisonings.
The incidents were broadcasted to the public after Fernando Ruizbo, a Colombian expat who lives in Thao Dien, wrote a post on Facebook saying that his dog, a young yellow labrador named Sophie, was poisoned at his home on Street 4 on August 22.
According to the emotional post, which has since been shared nearly 1,400 times, someone put poison on the street or inside his yard and Sophie ingested the toxic chemicals. She was rushed to the nearby Saigon Pet Clinic but could not be revived.
Some locals and expats who have experienced similar tragedies shared their own stories in comments under the post. The next day, ARC Vietnam (Animal Rescue & Care) posted that 10 dogs and one cat had died from poisoning on Streets 1-5 in Thao Dien. They also shared a picture of what the poisoned items may look like.
Following his post, Ruizbo organized a gathering called “Sophie and Friends Run to the Sky” at 2 p.m on August 27 at the intersection of Thao Dien and Truc Duong Streets in order to educate pet owners on how to care for their dogs and cats without disturbing their neighbors.
He also gathered signatures from local residents to present to local police in the hope that authorities will take action on the matter. So far, he has collected nearly 200 signatures. He set up a petition to call on HCMC police as well as the police of District 2 and Thao Dien Ward to investigate the mass dog poisonings.
“Our children could have been killed with [the] toxic substances inside our own homes. We are working residents with legal working permits and residence permits and we contribute to society with payment of taxes and volunteering activities like [the] cleaning up of surrounding areas,” the petition reads.
“Our dogs were very dear to us and they were part of our families; they were killed with poisoned meat thrown through the closed gates and that meat could have been easily taken and ingested by children. The effect was so immediate that there was nothing we could do to save them. The dogs not only have an emotional value but also some of these dogs [were] pedigreed and are valued [at] more than US$1,000.”
The news website kenh14.vn reported that around 20 dogs and cats in Thao Dien had been poisoned, but only ten of them were brought to veterinary clinics.
Thao Dien Ward’s police are investigating the cases, according to the report.
SAIGON Inspiration Expatriation HOW TO OBTAIN A TEMPORARY RESIDENT CARD IN VIETNAM?
In which case can a foreigner can obtain a temporary resident card in Vietnam?
– He/she is a member of diplomatic missions, consular offices, representative offices of international organizations of the UN, intergovernmental organizations in Vietnam, or the spouse, a child under 18 years of age, or housemaid that comes along during his/her term of office. In this case, he/she will be issued a temporary resident card NG3.
– He/she has a visa of type LV1, LV2, ĐT, NN1, NN2, DH, PV1, LĐ or TT. In these cases, he/she will be issued a temporary residence card NG3.
What do the codes of common visa types in Vietnam mean?
NG3: Issued to members of diplomatic missions, consular offices, representative offices of international organizations affiliated with the UN, representative offices of intergovernmental organizations and their spouses, children under 18 years of age, and housemaids during their term of office.
LV1: Issued to people who come to work with units affiliated with Vietnam’s Communist Party; the National Assembly, the government, the Central Committee of Vietnamese Fatherland Front, the People’s Supreme Court, the People’s Supreme Procuracy, State Audit Agency, ministries, ministerial agencies, governmental agencies, the People’s Councils, the People’s Committees of provinces.
LV2: Issued to people who come to work with socio-political organisations, social organisations, Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
ĐT: Issued to foreign investors in Vietnam and foreign lawyers practicing in Vietnam.
DH: Issued to people who come to study or serve internships.
V1: Issued to journalists who have permanent residency in Vietnam.
LĐ: Issued to people who come to work.
TT: Issued to foreigners who are parents, spouses or children under 18 years of age of foreigners issued with LV1, LV2, ĐT, NN1, NN2, DH, PV1, LĐ visas, or foreigners who are parents, spouses or children of Vietnamese citizens.
What are the documents needed to obtain a temporary resident card in Vietnam?
The main required documents needed for the temporary resident card are:
– A written request from the inviting entity
– A declaration bearing a picture
– The passport
– Papers proving your status (such as: Proof of residence registration with ward police where the applicant lives; Work permit (if applicable); Certificate, business registration certificate, licence of establishment of representative office, company branch (including announcement of activation), certificate of seal registration. In the case of family members, proof of relation can include a marriage certificate, birth certificate, or family book).
Note that any papers that are not in Vietnamese must be translated and notarised or legalised according to Vietnamese regulations.
Where can you apply for a temporary residence card?
According to the 2015 Immigration Law, an application for the NG3 temporary residence card must be made to the competent authority of the Ministry of Affairs while applications for other types of temporary residence card must be made at the immigration authority in the same administrative division in which the inviting entity is based or residing.
Therefore, for other temporary residence cards than NG3, your documents need to be filed with the Immigration Department. The government fee varies according to the duration of the temporary resident card, such as: one year: US$80; one to two years: US$100; two to three years: US$120.
How long does it take to obtain a temporary resident card in Vietnam?
Theoretically, the time frame for processing is between five and seven working days.
What is the address of public authority that you need to know to obtain immigration papers?
Office of the HCMC Public Security
337 Nguyễn Trãi, Phường Nguyễn Cư Trinh, D1, HCMC, Vietnam; +84 28 3829 9398