Skip to content

City Pass Guide

Table of Contents



Your Insider's Working guide

In Ho Chi Minh City 🇻🇳 Since 2008

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors


Understanding Vietnamese workplaces is vital for integration and success. Of course, the following are generalisations and stereotypes, but they indicate the behaviours that are fostered in most companies:

– Men continue to dominate the Vietnamese business world, though things are changing.

– Women working in Vietnam traditionally occupy lower-status jobs, but they tend to work harder.

– Most men are able to work with foreign women in more senior roles and will treat them equally.

– Status is an important aspect of Vietnam’s business world and society. It is achieved not through age alone but also through education.

– Companies function in a hierarchical manner.

– Generally speaking, the older generation is more loyal than the younger generations.

– Decisions are made at the top and the decision maker is often the oldest, though this is also changing.

– Vietnamese are respectful of their colleagues, especially those senior in age.

– Business relationships take time to develop as Vietnamese prefer to get to know their foreign counterparts before conducting business.

– Vietnamese names start with the surname followed by the middle and lastly the first name. It is important to use titles whenever possible.

– When referring to one another, Vietnamese people will use the appropriate title followed by the first name.

– The nap after lunchtime is a cultural norm and is counted as part of the total working hours. It raises staff efficiency, allowing them to return to work refreshed and refocused.

– It is common for senior managers to be out of the office enhancing their ‘personal’ relationships and conducting ‘social’ intercourse on a daily basis.

– Disregard of personal responsibility and accountability is a major problem. You cannot rely on diplomas alone to establish someone’s competency.

– Trying to reduce work pressure and creating a friendly and relaxing office atmosphere is great.

– Vietnamese institutions often do not select the best and brightest, but rather their family members or closest friends.

– Business relationships are relatively formal.

– Disagreements are handled in a subtle manner, and if you adopt this, you will likely find it effective.

– Chatting or sharing a snack with colleagues is part and parcel of office life.

– Most Vietnamese would benefit from coaching in phone manners when introducing themselves on the phone.

– If a colleague (or a colleague’s family member) is sick, Vietnamese people will take the time to visit, usually bringing along a small gift.

– Vietnam is well known for its disciplined, hard-working and fast-learning population. Still, sometimes you may need to repeat things more than once. Make sure your message is well understood.

– Remember that family is very important here, and you should enquire from time to time about your colleagues’ families.


Do you currently work in a local or foreign company? How would you define the work environment at your firm?

Ky: I currently work for a foreign company. I feel comfortable with the environment as it favours transparency and open communication, besides training and focused development.

Duong: I am at a local company. [The] work environment is friendly and they are flexible about time, given that I finish my tasks for the day.

When you look for a job, what are the key qualities you’re looking for in a company? Do you find these are met more often in international or local companies?

Ky: Democratic leadership, attractive C&B (compensation and benefits) packages, learning and development opportunities. International firms seem to offer these more often.

Duong: First, the company’s business should be of my interest. Second, professional and human relationships among the staff should be good. Last but not least, time flexibility since I have a family and many things to take care of for them. Both firms (local and foreign) may satisfy the first and second criteria; however, Vietnamese companies tend to meet the third one more easily.

Do you believe that understating the local culture is an important aspect to the working environment in Vietnam? What hurdles do you think expatriates face when working in domestic firms or with Vietnamese?

Ky: Sure. Understanding the local culture and responding to it with an open mind is a huge advantage for expats who want to work well with Vietnamese, especially when dealing with people from Hanoi and the North.

I believe language is one of the biggest hurdles that expats face, notably in local firms where not all employees can communicate in English or other foreign languages.

Duong: Yes, grasping the local culture is really important. If an expat adopts an individualistic attitude, it will be difficult for him/her to understand, be understood and integrate into a Vietnamese group.

Being group-oriented doesn’t simply mean hanging out or having beers together, but instead supporting others when they face difficulties (when a colleague is sick for example).

Moreover, if an expat doesn’t speak Vietnamese (which happens quite often), it will hard for him/her to deeply understand both local people and culture. While speaking Vietnamese (even the minimum) might be a great advantage, many expats look for excuses in order to avoid learning the language. Therefore, the circle of people with whom they end up working/communicating/making friends becomes limited and so does their understanding of local life.

Are team building activities any different between local and foreign companies? Do you often hang out with co-workers after working hours? If so, do you engage more with Vietnamese or expats?

Ky: Foreign firms tend to have more team building activities along the year (they usually host them on special dates such as Christmas, Women’s Day, New Year, etc.). They are usually focused on staff management. On the other hand, these activities are seen as bonuses from the Labour Union in local companies.

I don’t usually hang out with my colleagues after work. If I do, I prefer hanging out with Vietnamese as we can chit chat in a more comfortable way, plus we match lifestyles so we all like going to local restaurants and coffee shops. My foreign friends tend to go to lounges, bars or clubs where other foreigners go.

Duong: While foreign firms seem to have more adventurous and sportive activities, the staff at Vietnamese companies often expect more time to sit together and learn more about each other.

I used to hang out with my coworkers, but not anymore due to my children. Undoubtedly, those who go out with coworkers after working hours are often single.

If a company employs both local and foreign workers, what kind of HR practices could possibly create an ideal working environment?

Ky: [A] Fair evaluation system, [a] result-oriented environment, frequent feedback and [a] coaching culture.

Duong: HR departments should create more opportunities for team members to talk and be heard. For a company that employs both local and foreign workers, the HR department should definitely pay more attention to communication among team members due to cultural differences/particularities. Again, this [requires] a lot of listening and talking.

Inventing a New Bean

The US-based World Coffee Research is developing new varieties of coffee plants. It is testing new varieties and new techniques like growing under forest shade.

A US$6 million project is underway that takes experimental beans raised in Nicaragua for a four-year experiment in Vietnam and Cameroon.

In July 2017, coffee shipments globally amounted to 9.4 million bags at 600kg each, 11 percent-plus more than last year, but exports present a different picture.

What are the major pros and cons of working in local companies versus international ones?

Ky: It’s hard to come up with the pros of local companies once you have experienced both working environments. I am now interested in multinational firms since learning and growing are priorities for my career at the moment. I feel like international corporations offer more room for [development] as well as exploring new fields.

Duong: For local companies, I see time flexibility as a major perk. If a family issue arises, my co-workers don’t hesitate to ‘cover my back’ or even help me with due work. Furthermore, colleagues become a family when relationships flow. They take care of each other and even worry about each other’s family . Sure, it’s not like that all the time, relations can also be very bad in Vietnamese companies.

As for the cons, I need to understand that my colleagues have family issues as well and I have to be less demanding about their quality of work, or simply do their job when they are absent.

For foreign firms, you just need to focus on results; if they are good, then things are great. I see that as a pro. On the flip side, you don’t often find ‘close’ relationships as in Vietnamese companies.

Have you noticed any major differences in management styles between local and international firms?

Ky: The biggest difference in management styles is the coercive style in local companies versus a more democratic one in foreign firms.

In local corporations, there seems to be a king who holds the power and makes all decisions; meanwhile, associates in foreign companies have their own voice and are empowered to deliver good results.

Duong: In local firms, the HR department knows all the ins and outs of me (for instance, they have the phone number of my parents or know about their health). In the institution where I work, the management board visits the family of those who have lost a loved one. In international companies, they know when I check in and check out and whether I reached my target last month.

Foreign investment usually goes hand in hand with an increase in foreign labour. As Vietnam continues to attract more foreign investment, will Western practices take over the Vietnamese way of working?

Ky: Due to foreign investment and the rise of IT, many people say that we now live in a ‘flat world’. It is true that companies in Vietnam are catching up fast with trends in the market. Globalisation comes with both pros and cons, but it is necessary for development. Western practices help to progress in management and leadership capabilities but I am not sure about them taking over the Vietnamese way of working, especially in local firms.

Duong: Of course, the work environment in Vietnam will become more globalised. I believe so. In the end, this is not so bad given that the Vietnamese are able to maintain the ‘human’ aspect in their relationships.


Tran Thi Thuy Duong: A lawyer who specialises in International Trade Law, she currently teaches at HCMC Law University.

Mai Chinh Ky: Experienced in Corporate Communications and B2B Marketing, he is the Communication Manager (Employer Branding) at Coca-Cola Beverages Vietnam Ltd.


Getting a work permit may not be the sexiest topic among expats in Vietnam, but often it is one of the most hotly discussed.

Whether they have just moved here or have been in the country for years, expats are always on the lookout for the most efficient and hassle-free way to work legally here.

Do a quick search in Google and you’ll find a number of websites and Facebook groups providing reams of advice. One company even offers a “complete hand guide” for a small charge.

But with a lot of varying information it is hard to get to grips with exactly what is required, whether it be documentation or otherwise.

So, here’s a breakdown of the process as well as some advice from expats who have already gone through the steps.

The Process

Work permits are issued by the Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs and are valid for three years, after which foreign applicants have to apply for a renewal.

You need to tick a few boxes, including being over 18 years of age and providing satisfactory health checks such as basic sight and hearing tests.

Unsurprisingly, you must have no criminal record in your home country, Vietnam or any other country.

You will also need a university degree or another form of professional skills certificate, as well as a work contract and support from your employer.

In addition to this, your documents must be notarised – either in your country of residence or in Vietnam.

Get Organised

Organisation is key to getting your work permit as quickly and as smoothly as possible, particularly when it comes to getting your documentation notarised.

“I think it’d be easier to at least start the process while you’re in [your country of residence],” says one expat, who now works as an accountant in Vietnam. “For example, definitely get your notarised work forms done at home. I did these while I was here and it made life a lot harder.”

Another expat, who works as a teacher in Ho Chi Minh City, agrees that getting various documents notarised in Vietnam can make the process longer.

Starting the process at home is particularly crucial to getting your police checks done with minimum fuss, since they can take a while to sort outside your country of origin.

You’ll need a criminal background check from your country of origin, unless you have lived in Vietnam for over six months – though this requirement has been known to change from one month to the next.

“Most people forget their police certificate and it has to be six months valid from your country,” says another expat.

“If you forget this, like I did, or you don’t have one, then you have to go to your country’s embassy in Vietnam, which can cost more time and money.”

Work Permit Exemptions

There are exceptions to the rules, though, which means you could be exempt from having to get a work permit in the first place.

For instance, if you are working in Vietnam for less than three months, a work permit is not required.

Likewise, if you are the head of the representative office or branch of an international company in Vietnam you will not need one either.

If you still feel in the dark, however, companies such as Resident Vietnam can help with this process.

“I cannot recommend them enough,” said one expat who used the company’s services this year. “They answered my questions almost immediately.”

Failing that, many companies taking on foreign candidates are willing to take care of the application for you.

“My company fixed mine for me,” says one expat. “I just gave them the paperwork and they did the rest for me so it was easy enough. You’ve just got to tick the necessary boxes and get everything together one step at a time.”

Expats who are already in Vietnam often report having to do a ‘border run’ in order to leave the country on their tourist or resident visa and then return through immigration with their offer of employment. Thailand and Cambodia are typical destinations for these quick trips.

Just remember, the best advice is to get as much of your documentation sorted ahead of time and be as organised as possible in order to avoid any delay.


We’ve looked at some of the most popular meal plans in Ho Chi Minh City and evaluated how they fare for people with different dietary needs. Read on to find out which service is best for you!


Phone: (+84) 932 060 542

Plans: Smartmeal only offers 2 weekly meal plans covering Monday-Friday. You can choose Plan 1 (3 meals/day) or Plan 2 (2 meals/day). Prices will vary based on diet type and calorie intake, and their handy calculator helps you determine how much is ideal for your body type and fitness schedule.

Vegetarian/Vegan options: Smartmeal has a weekly vegetarian meal plan that varies based on your calorie intake, however they often include egg and dairy products. Be sure to make a special request if you prefer vegan–though you may end up paying the same for less.

Special diets: Smartmeal offers a “Low-Carb Diet”, a “Healthy-eating Diet”, a “Body-building Diet”, and a “Vegetarian Diet.”

Vietnamese cuisine: The menu features a mixture of Vietnamese European-inspired cuisines.

Best for: Anyone looking for a simple, straightforward weekly plan catered to your body type.


Phone: (+84) 932 788 120

Plans: FitFood only offers weekly meal plans for 2 meals per day, but their “Full” and “Meat Lovers” plan can be upgraded to 3 meals per day. For a fee, you can customize which meals are delivered on a daily basis (i.e. breakfast and lunch on Monday, lunch and dinner on other days). 

Vegetarian/Vegan options: FitFood offers a weekly vegetarian meal plan. Vegan customers can specify no animal products in the special request form, but may end up paying the same for less as a result.

Special diets: Fitmeal offers their standard “Fit” plan, a “Meat Lovers” plan, and a “Vegetarian” plan. 

Best for: People who like meat! No other service offers a “Meat Lovers” plan.


Phone: (+84) 90 148 2092‬

Plans: Weekly meal plans offer 2 meals per day (no breakfast options). A la carte options are available if you prefer just one meal or only want to cater for just a few days per week.

Vegetarian/Vegan options: Flavorbox offers a vegetarian meal plan. For a vegan meal plan, you’ll have to specify no animal products, but may end up paying the same for less.

Special diets: Flavorbox offers “Light,” “Hearty,” “Vegetarian” and “Keto” meal plans.

Best for: People who need a flexible meal service that can be modified on a per-day basis.


Phone: (+84) 28 3930 9394

Plans: 8020fit has a comprehensive array of options: 2 meals per day, 3 meals per day, and 3 meals per day + 3 snacks to cover absolutely everything you need to eat in a day.

Vegetarian/Vegan options: There are currently no vegetarian or vegan meal plans offered.

Special diets: 8020fit is named for its 80% nutrition, 20% fitness philosophy. These meals are specially catered to people who do not have dietary restrictions and are looking for meals to supplement their fitness programme. Therefore, their meal plans are quite simply Menu A (lowest calorie count), Menu B (medium calorie count), and Menu C (highest calorie count).

Best for: People who take their fitness and calorie consumption seriously.

Smoothies and Juice Cleanse: Luminus Smoothies

Phone: (+84) 888 168 008 (D3), (+84) 888 912 008 (D2)

Plans: Luminus offers a 7 and 12 day detox plan using natural ingredients with no added sugar or condensed milk. In addition, you can order any of their smoothies or juices a la carte. An added benefit is that you can visit their storefront locations in D2 and D3 yourself, if you happen to be in the area or want to grab something on the go.

Vegetarian/Vegan options: All of their products are vegetarian, however many contain chocolate, dairy, and bee pollen, so vegans should read ingredients carefully before ordering.

Best for: This is a great option for someone who wants a liquid-based boost in addition to a healthy eating schedule.


A native of the Philippines with decades of working experience in Manila’s hyper-competitive advertising world, 38-year-old creative director Maria* is used to straight-talk. She gave me a taste of this as we discussed one of the hottest issues in the working world: millennials in the workplace — roughly those born between 1980 and 2000, also called Generation Y.

Compared to the awards-driven ad world Maria was used to, some would think Vietnam’s equivalent, still in a nascent stage, would be a breeze. However, the HR world usually has her against the ropes.

Discussing one recent acquisition to her department, Maria tells me, “She was good, she was fresh. […] I hired her because of her plates in school. She has a free mind, she can work without a brief, and she has lots of ideas.”

It’s this hunger and creativity that Maria wants more than anything, and it’s precisely this that she sees lacking in the millennial workers she works with today.

A Nebulous Definition?

Millennial workers have come in force into the workplace and are here to stay. A recent Forbes article, for example, predicts that by 2030, 75 percent of the workforce will be millennials. Even today, depending on the industry or company, as much as 95 percent of the workforce might come from this generation.

As digital natives, the way millennials work is markedly different from older generations. What are some of the defining characteristics of this generation, and how does it affect the workplace?

Jeremy Maman, Business Development Strategist at Green Digital and Co-Founder of the soon-to-be-released UpUp App, has made understanding the millennial worker (he is one himself) his bread and butter. The first hallmark of this group? A heavy reliance on technology, which many young workers use as the primary means of communication. “Everyone is on their smartphone and social media,” he said.

On a broader level, a millennial worker’s outlook, both on their job and life as a whole, is something quite new. “They expect more,” Maman shrugged. “They expect more from the manager, and they want to make a bigger impact on the company.”

Tran Thi Thu Trang, the human resource manager for CMC Saigon Integration Co., Ltd., notes that many of her younger employees care much more about a work-life balance than she’s seen in older generations. “They have more choices in work and life,” she said via email. “A company can’t [expect to] retain them if they’re not giving them new opportunities to get more benefits and higher positions.”

For many HR representatives and managers across Vietnam, this mix between a hyper-technological, multitasking working style and a more demanding, ambitious outlook has created a unique challenge for businesses. In a nutshell, Maman says: “They want to feel free, but they still want to [make] an impact in the company.”

Diagnosing the Disengaged

The contrast between the traditional work model — one that emphasises company loyalty, hard work and little recognition — and the new millennial worker has, so far, produced less-than-stellar results. A recent Gallup poll, for example, states that a staggering 87 percent of employees worldwide are not currently engaged.

Many are quick to disparage the millennial generation for not adhering to traditional workplace mores (“They’re proud of themselves, not of the work,” Maria laughed), and it’s easy to see why.

For Maria, used to the traditional work-all-night-to-meet-deadlines approach, the emphasis on a work-life balance, mixed with a lack of loyalty to any one company, can have disastrous consequences for a company’s creative output.

“This is what frustrates me,” she said. “You hire someone. You train them. They get to be who you want them to be. And then they quit and you have to retrain people.”

The question becomes how to keep employees engaged and happy while also getting the necessary results.

Traditionally, this might have been a pay rise or a title promotion every couple of years. With the increase of social media and instant gratification, however, the rules of the game have changed. “Millennial employees right now are more motivated by benefits; they want rewards more than a pay raise,” Maman reasoned.

And if they feel like they’re not getting what they want from one company, many can rest assured that another company will embrace them with open arms.

Top-Down Solutions

Solutions to this problem, however, aren’t as clear-cut as they may seem. Rather than trying to train employees to become happy with a traditional workplace model, Maman says the problem lies more with the managers than the employees. “When the employees don’t feel engaged, it means the leader, the manager also feels disengaged.”

For managers and HR department heads alike, it comes down to how millennial workers are treated by their superiors, and everyone has their own tips of the trade.

For Trang Tran, it’s about relating to young employees with technology: “Businesses should invest in information technology systems to maximise Gen Y’s passion and potential,” she wrote.

For another human resource professional, My, it’s about providing mentorship rather than cut-and-dried management. “We need to be stronger people as managers who are able to coach these young people, be able to show them what their areas of development are and explain their development plans and milestones.”

For Maria, it’s all about a mixture of friendship and authority. “My advice? Have them love you. I’m playing the mother all the time, so I get that devotion, I get that love.” And what if there’s an imminent deadline? “They’ll do it if you’re scary enough. It’s a mix of that — love, and being scared.”

A Whole Different Approach

While many businesses in HCMC focus on management styles to engage their young proteges, Maman and his business partner have devised an entirely different approach to engaging millennial employees and hitting company targets: the UpUp App.

This new business model embraces the technology-driven workforce through its user-friendly, gamified interface. As Maman explained, a manager can set a goal and provide “checkpoints” that the worker must fulfill along the way.

As employees input accomplishments in real time, they accrue points, which they can then turn in for awards like coupons for restaurants, hotels and even travel tickets.

Think GrabBike’s promotional awards, but for your work.

The app is due to be launched in September, and Maman hopes that this instant-reward set-up will engage employees where traditional work models have fallen short. Maman sees it working particularly well for industries like sales and marketing, where goals are clearly and easily defined.

Maria, a self-titled “old-school” manager, sees things differently, especially when it comes to creativity. “When I ask people a question, here’s the go-to method of answering it: open Google; find inspiration; twist it slightly; hand it in.” For her, the problem lies within the literal box, and her job is to encourage her employees to explore outside of it.

“I tell them, ‘Come on, let’s take a walk. Let’s have a conversation.’ I try to get them to be comfortable and try to dissuade them from [the computer] being their default. I try to encourage them that experiences are better; seeing things is better.”


Pop quiz: if an equally qualified foreigner and Vietnamese employee are being considered for a promotion, who gets the promotion?

The Asian employee usually gets held back in this scenario. In My Nguyen’s experience, it’s a combination of a lot of factors: Western extroversion, their ability to navigate business culture better, the Vietnamese tendency toward deference and humility.

Cultural Differences

Nguyen currently works as a senior graphic designer at a well-known local multinational company that has both Vietnamese and foreign employees. She manages a team of six staffers and a rotating cast of freelancers.

Simply put, “in Western companies, you get promoted faster than in Vietnamese companies,” she said. As a graphic designer, she worked for one year at a Western company before being offered a promotion.

She explained that a Vietnamese company will typically require at least two years of service before a promotion is offered from an entry level position. At least three more years are required before the same employee is offered a junior management position.

Anyone who stays after six years is considered a lifer.

Nguyen said an otherwise well qualified Asian employee may be uncomfortable demonstrating qualities that may lead to promotion: ambition, hunger, a willingness to offer ideas and challenge norms. A desire to advance is seen as status chasing and greed.

“Even if they don’t agree with their manager about the target or something, they just agree with the boss as long as they pay enough salary.”

As a Vietnamese employee, Nguyen said she’s been taught that pushing against plans that come from management is a no-win. A foreign employee is usually received better in these sorts of situations.

“For the expat, they welcome these people to talk to them. For the Vietnamese, they barely talk about [conflicting ideas],” she said.

A Matter of Perspective

Nguyen said that in her experience there is a perception that Western staffers are better versed in how to handle these situations. From a young age, Western people are taught to present and own their ideas in a way that Nguyen says is not asked of a Vietnamese student and, later, employee.

If Nguyen gives her Vietnamese employees an assignment with specific deliverables, they will usually produce something to her exact specifications, no more and no less. A Western employee, however, might produce something that looks similar to the assigned work — maybe they skipped a few steps because they viewed them as unnecessary — and they may feel free to go over and above the required work because they’ve been culturally trained to be responsive to incentives in a different way, she said.

“That makes [an Asian employee] stay in the same position. Like, they do the same work for every month, every year,” she said. “They don’t want to show off.”

Of course, there are exceptions. Nguyen said maybe one in 10 of the qualified Vietnamese peers she works with overcome these limitations and move on to senior positions. That will increase as Vietnamese get more comfortable handling themselves in advancement settings and even recognising them when they’re not obvious.

That’s what happened to her.

She started at her current company three years ago working under a manager who wasn’t contributing much to the team or the company, and she ended up doing a lot of his work for him.

She took on an unofficial leadership role in her team and others in the company acknowledged her as the de facto head of her group.

“I wasn’t complaining, and I didn’t fight with him [the former manager],” she said.

Things stayed that way for one year before her former manager was outed. The company didn’t know her boss was not fulfilling his duties. In her words, they were “pissed off” when they found out. He was fired and Nguyen was offered his position.

It was a lot to handle at first, she said. She even left the company briefly before coming back to a reduced workload and clearer target.

She values the work and the team, but for Nguyen life and fulfillment are about other things than how you generate an income.

“That’s the culture of the Vietnamese: do enough, enjoy your life and don’t take work so serious.”


 Why does having purpose even matter?

 What is Ikigai & how do we find it?

“The real test of knowledge is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us.” – Yuval Noah Harari, “Sapiens”


For as long as I can remember, I have always been working towards a goal or a dream. As soon as I managed to accomplish one of my objectives, a desire to target the next big thing would start forming. The process of working towards these goals has been a large part of what I feel has given my life meaning and purpose.

Early on, I attained my dreams through trial and error. Fortitude was one of my strong points, so even when the path wasn’t easy I prided myself on never giving up. Yet, as I got older and I gained wisdom I realised something: the forward motion I felt while working towards a goal was really only part of the deeper experience. There was a bigger question looming beneath it all.

Why Does Having Purpose Even Matter? 

This primal question had no immediate answer. Other animals are content finding purpose by simply surviving. Humans seem to need more than that. But why?

I began by asking myself the following questions: 

– Why was I motivated to wake up every day?

– Are we rational beings?

– Is searching for purpose rational?

– Can the lack of purpose be what damages us the most?

Some of these questions were easy to answer. I knew what motivated me was to inspire and share with others in order to create a better world. In Part 2 of this essay, I will discuss the concrete ways I go about doing just that. However, before I could continue on my quest, I needed to know what made the desireto succeed at my self-imposed goals burn so bright? And, perhaps even more importantly, what might be holding me back?

The Rationale for Being Irrational 

Let me be blunt and provocative. For starters, humans are, in essence, irrational beings living in non-existent societies. By this, I mean that societies have been created by usThey are essentially figments of our imaginations. Certain things that we know to be true, like the fact that France borders on Switzerland, are actually human creations. Animal and plant life don’t see any difference between the two countries on either side of the Alps, yet, we insist on creating invisible borders. Humans are masters at creating stories and then deeply believing in them to the point that an alternate reality can no longer exist. 

Storytelling is what humans do best. We’ve created stories to explain and organise what we perceive to be real for millennia. It has allowed us to create complex and vast ever-changing systems that bind us together so that we can easily dominate other species. Without such a remarkable capacity to create fiction that makes us believe in Government, Money and Religion, we humans could not be at the top of the food chain. The ever changing stories we build over and over are the actual cement of our societies and cultures

Yet, despite our deep-seated beliefs in our stories, there is also something within us that thrives on paradox. To put it more clearly, can we all agree that when we say/think something, we often end up doing exactly the opposite? Is this as true for you as it is for me? Do you think that accepting such behavioural patterns as “normal” is rational?

If tobacco has repeatedly been proven to result in cancer, why do we continue to sell it? To smoke it? If healthy food is essential to a healthy life, why do we continue to make the decision to eat so poorly? We can all agree that if we continue to abuse our plastic consumption that we put ourselves, our children and all life on Earth at risk of extinction. Yet, how many of us have managed to decrease our plastic use? … and the list goes on.

At heart, we are all irrational beings and this implies that humans have an incredible capacity to find comfort in contradictions. It is important to realise that our basic need to seek meaning in life is also irrational. Yet, that doesn’t make it any less essential.

What Holds Us Back From Our Goals? 

I hope that I’ve demonstrated two important things by now: our irrational capacity goes well beyond beliefs, and created fictions are a powerful force. Yet, what does irrationality have to do with needing to find purpose? 

Our quests for purpose are simply another part of our personal storytelling. They are built upon generations of fabricated knowledge. So if purpose was invented and therefore irrational can’t it also be limitless? In light of this, why can’t each of us create a beautiful story that resembles us, so that we can each strive in our imaginary world, and be exactly as successful as we choose to be?


Anyone who has made it this far into this article might find some inspiration in the beautiful Mandy Hale quote that states that… 

“Sometimes all we can do is to embrace the uncertainty. Focus on the wait, enjoy the beauty of becoming. For when nothing is certain, anything is possible.”

Knowing that your options are truly as broad as your imagination can be liberating but it can also be overwhelming. Initially, I too struggled to have a clear view of my ultimate purpose until, while researching, I stumbled on an ancient Japanese concept called IKIGAI

Ikigai literally means “A Reason for Being”. Not only does this concept help define who a person truly is, it also creates a framework for what that person should strive to become. Joseph Campbell poignantly explained this concept when he wrote… 

“People say that we’re searching for the meaning of life. I don’t think that is it at all. I think that what we are seeking is an experience of being alive.”

Ikigai is a simple, practical and effective way for anyone looking to have a deeper and more meaningful experience more in their lives. Ready to begin? 

A Lesson in Ikigai 

Take a look at the four central questions featured in this conceptual framework and address each one with a verb, name or concept that relates to how you see yourself. List as many elements you hold for each question. If you use the same words in several questions as in the below sample, this is fine. Be honest with yourself, and take your time, do it over and over. It may take weeks to nail down the true essence of each personal category. 

Once you’ve completed your list, review the chosen words. Now it’s time to be truthful—you’ll grade yourself on how you truly excel at each concept. To do this, rate yourself on how proficient you think you are compared with a random group of 100 people. Take a look at one of my client’s sample tests. The word “creativity” appears repeatedly under each question category. He gave himself a score of 100%, meaning he felt strongly that he was a master at being creative. Finally, classify each word by order of importance. If a word scores below 80-85%, you may choose to remove it.

As you work, you may realise that some verbs are similar and can be grouped. For example, negotiating and persuading have a close enough meaning that they can be summarised by one word such as “influencing”. If you’re still unsure about the right verbs/skills/capacities and its ratings, ask your partner, your mother or someone else who knows you very well, and validate your findings together. 


A Japanese term for “Reason for Being. “The word ‘Ikigai’ usually refers to the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile.

What I can be paid for

What I am good at

What I love to do

What the world needs most
























Public Speaking

Public Speaking

Public Speaking

Public Speaking




























What I love to do

What the world needs most



 A personal mission statement, which offers the opportunity to establish what’s important to you. It can also help guide you towards a decision in a particular job, company, or career field.


















What I am good at

What I love to do



 Represents a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm or desire to do something. 















What I can be paid for

What I am good at



 This is an occupation, practice, or vocation requiring mastery of a complex set of information and skills through formal education and/or practical experience.















What I am good at

What the world needs most



 What am I destined to become? A vocation is not something that you can switch like a profession or a career.











Healthy Lifestyle

Healthy Lifestyle


Your next step is to search for one word that can effectively summarise the other verbs, names or concepts that have been identified within each section. This word should be written on the right side of the table and should truly describe the essence of who you are. 

For example, “To Flow” is my client’s Passion. He arrived at this word because of his skills of waterskiing, skiing, driving and improvisation. All of these talents require the ability to focus and react promptly as well as effective navigation capacities within the flux of the environment, whether that be flying through the air above a lake or sailing his way through a speech in front of a room full of business colleagues. He felt that the epitome of those skills was his ability to effectively “flow” through any situation. This is the same process of self reflection that he went through for each section.

Once completed, you’ll know what words are the most important to you. These words, though extremely specific, will also be general enough to cover a wide variety of activities in which you can choose to partake. Your next step is to identify which activities will serve you best within this framework.

My client discovered throughout the process that his Ikigai is “To Inspire”. Striving to inspire others requires “Consciousness” of thoughts, words and actions, which describes his Vocation. In order to find new ways to inspire others, he also needs to constantly continue to learn and to “Grow”, which is his Mission. As a business owner, “Leading” is a necessity. It is also an essential part of his character, making it his Vocation. Last but not least is his Passion for “Flow”. He is constantly seeking new ways to maximise his creative flow, in order to remain as long as possible in his most productive state. Reflecting in depth on these keywords helped him to narrow down his career paths to being a Mentor, Coach, Healer or Entertainer. 

For me, my Ikigai has become my compass. The gained knowledge of realising that my possibilities are limitless in the human construct of our society, along with my deep beliefs in creating my life story with this guidance have provided deep and long lasting fulfilment.

Discovering your own IKIGAI, Passion, Vocation, Mission and Profession is not as easy as it may seem. It may be more evident for some people than others. It often relates to each person’s capacities to reflect inwardly. If you face difficulties, ask for the support of a wise analytical mind and/or a wordsmith. Believe me, with sustained concentration and sufficient time, you’ll find it too, and once you do, you’ll be able to guide your storytelling path towards true meaning. Remember, your purpose in life may evolve over time, thus it is important to continue to re-examine your Ikigai every few years or so.

The next time you find yourself needing to make an important decision concerning your life or career, ask yourself if doing so will serve your Ikigai? This will guide you, and give you strength to pursue your goals with a newly gained sense of purpose. Afterall, when you are living a passion-filled life you are living on purpose, and that is the purpose of life.


For 10 years, we have run a successful small publishing and creative agency in Ho Chi Minh City. During that time, we have recruited, managed, trained and evaluated more than 120 Vietnamese employees and more than 40 expatriate workers.

Our conclusion is that at equal qualifications, employers are most often
better off with female Vietnamese employees.

Many experienced foreign managers would even dare to say that the best candidates are divorced women older than 35 with a child. Why? Sadly, since they’ve gone through hardship before, they know the meaning of responsibility that comes with being a single parent and know the value of a stable income.

Obviously, this is not a hard-and-fast rule, but most foreigners I’ve met who have done business in HCMC agree with this statement. Without fail, they give credit to the loyal and intelligent Vietnamese workforce and their hard-working spirit. The tables below illustrate a few things we’ve noticed.

Vietnamese workers can be…

But we’ve also seen workers who are……

Team players

Hesitant to take initiative


Reluctant to speak up

Passionate about technology


Positive and optimistic

Short-sighted in terms of vision and planning

Respectful and polite

Hesitant to disagree with a superior

Friendly and helpful

Reluctant to say “no”

Hardworking and eager to learn

Not used to giving praise

Proud of their heritage

Not straightforward

Expat workers can be…

But we’ve also seen workers who are…

Well-trained and qualified

Overly confident

Experienced and independent

Expectant of a high salary

Creative and free-thinking

Adventurous and not dependable

Open-minded and curious

Inclined to look down on other cultures

Flexible (to a point)

Demanding and needy

Behaving critically

Overly individualistic


Overly provocative

Let me clarify that these are personal experiences while working with educated, white-collar Vietnamese employees with at least a bachelor’s degree, more than two years of prior work experience and good English speaking skills. Ultimately, the one thing managers of Vietnamese employees agree on is the challenge of dealing with a very high average turnover rate of more than 20 percent.

Further constraints include education and traditional value systems that do not promote team-building and decision-making skills. This is why managers should invest plenty of time and energy into training and professionally developing their employees.

Of course, this advice can’t be applied to everyone in Vietnam. You shouldn’t lose sight of each employee’s individuality and reduce a population to stereotypes. There is an important difference between saying, “In Vietnam, people represent their community rather than themselves,” and saying, “All Vietnamese think and act cooperatively.”

Born in 1968 in Hanoi, Pham Nhat Vuong was able to secure a scholarship to study in Moscow. After graduation, he got married and moved to Ukraine with his wife. There, he started his first business, a Vietnamese restaurant.

Then he began making instant noodles under the brand Mivina, something completely novel to the taste of Ukrainians, and it became an immediate success. When he sold his noodle company, Technocom, to Nestle in 2009, it was making US$100 million in revenues.

So, a successful foreign manager should:

(1) understand and respect their Vietnamese workers’ cultural values and practices;
(2) integrate these into the office culture; and
(3) have a well-functioning HR practice and, more specifically, good communication with employees.

More than anything, let’s remember that most Vietnamese are keen to grow with foreign managers, as long as foreign managers respect Vietnamese culture and make efforts to grow with their workers, too.

How to behave with Vietnamese 

How not to behave with Vietnamese 

Communicate sensitively and identify indirect communication channels

 Don’t assume that your culture is somehow superior

Be patient and strengthen your relationships

 Never lose your temper or shout

 Be relaxed and do not anger easily

 Don’t complain about someone in front of others

Use simple English; avoid slang and cursing

Don’t expect people and society to change to suit you

Smile as often as possible

 Don’t criticise any family members in any way

Respect and try to understand local manners and lifestyles

Don’t criticise temple traditions

Learn a bit of the Vietnamese language, geography, history and culture

 Don’t criticise political figures or the government

Respect the elderly in your actions and words

 Don’t speak disrespectfully about President Ho Chi Minh


should be in your Employment Contract when working in Vietnam?

compensation and working hours

rights as an employee in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh
 is the economic capital of Vietnam and where many expats and Vietnamese locals choose to find work or set up a business. The
city has become a target for many who want to live and work in Vietnam, due to a growing number of attractive job,
business and networking opportunities. Here is some important information you need to know on what it’s like to
work in Vietnam

Employment Contracts in Vietnam

Work contracts are very straightforward in Vietnam and generally do not differ too much from their Western counterparts. When working abroad, in any other part of the world, the employer and employee must directly enter into a written employment contract. It is best to be specific and stringent with your employment contract as standards may differ across the globe. For temporary work of less than three months, an oral employment contract is allowed.

Some stipulations may differ from your contract in the west, you may want to turn your attention to very specific items in your contract such as your salary, health benefits and the like. Note that local companies must have employment contracts in both Vietnamese and English.

Payment Terms

The most important factor to consider when working in a foreign country is how you’re getting paid. By default, you are going to get paid in Vietnamese Đồng. But you’re always free to ask if there is an option to be paid in a different currency, especially if you would like to take your hard-earned money out of the country.

Working Hours in Vietnam

The regular working hours in Vietnam is 8 hours a day or 48 hours a week. For unconventional jobs that follow schedules on a weekly basis instead of your regular 9-5 office hours, you cannot exceed 10 hours working in a day.

According to Vietnam’s labour law, the maximum number of working hours shall not exceed 48 hours a week. Working hours may be distributed on an hourly, daily or weekly basis subject to the employer’s requirements. These working schedules should be specified in your contract before starting with the work to avoid inconvenience to both parties.

As specified by the competent authorities, regular working hours must not exceed six hours a day for jobs that fall on the list of extremely heavy, toxic or dangerous working conditions.


Overtime work arrangements require the consent of both parties. Employees must compensate employees for any overtime hours worked and needs to be outlined in the employer’s internal labour rules. The amount of overtime cannot exceed 50% of regular working hours a day, 30 hours a month or 200 hours a year. Special cases can bump up the yearly hours to 300. For a weekly working regime, combined regular and overtime hours cannot exceed 12 hours a day.

The rates for overtime pay as required by the Labour Code are as follows:

– At least 150% of the agreed-upon salary on regular working days

– 200% for working on weekly days off

– 300% for working on public holidays and leave days with full pay

Women in their seventh month of pregnancy or later, or women who have babies 12 months old or younger, are forbidden from working overtime.

Night Shifts

Night-time working hours or graveyard shifts run from 10 pm to 6 am of the subsequent day. Further, overtime cannot exceed 50% of regular working hours a day, 30 hours a month or 200 hours a year. Special cases can increase the yearly hours to 300. For those with a weekly working regime, combined regular and overtime hours are not allowed to exceed 12 hours a day.

An employee working at night must be paid an additional minimum of 30% of their regular salary when working overtime. Along with this, any employee working overtime at night must be paid an additional 20% of their salary in addition to the rates described above for work conducted in the daytime.

Probationary Period

Arranging a probation period is common in Vietnam, especially with new employees. A probation period should be indicated in the contract or through a separate letter and the conditions for work should be specified and agreed to by the employer and employee.

The parties may agree on the following probationary periods:

– Up to 6 days for positions that require no training.

– Up to 30 days for trained staff or those with intermediate level qualification

– Up to 60 days for jobs requiring professional or college qualifications.

By law, the employer is only required to pay 85% of the full salary expectation during this period.

Health insurance

Employers in Vietnam must offer health insurance to all employees by law. Some companies offer more comprehensive packages in line with international standards.

Employee Rights in Vietnam

The current Labour Code went into effect on 1 May 2013 and introduced several changes that concerned labour subleasing, maternity leave, work permit duration and revised work hours, amongst others. In general, the new set of laws tends to favour employee rights and has made it harder for employers to terminate employment. We highlight some of the relevant changes below, though this is not a complete list:

– A probationary period does not exceed 30 days of employment with a position requiring vocational and professional level qualifications; 60 days of employment with a position requiring a college level qualification or above; and six days for all other cases.

– The wage for the probationary period is at least 85% of the wage scale rate of that position.

– The maximum validity of a work permit for a foreign employee is reduced from 36 months to 24 months.

– The annual Lunar Tết holiday will increase to five days from the original four.

– Maternity leave is increased to six months from the original four.

– The current labour code is now under review and changes are expected.

The number of expat jobs in Vietnam at the moment are not that high, but if you have experience in a certain field that requires your expertise then it shouldn’t be a problem at all. Take note that foreigners who want to work in Vietnam need to secure a work permit and the process can be tedious—something that the government is simplifying.


lessons to guarantee success in a foreign culture.

cross cultural environment.

There are many reasons why global companies struggle to succeed in new markets like Vietnam, but one of them rises above the
rest. That reason is invisible and intangible, but ever-present and enormously impactful. Unfortunately, most global
companies are not even aware of the problem within their workplace. They often repeat the same costly mistakes, failing
to get to the root of the problem.

To adequately address this problem, we need to consider what the greatest challenges are that businesses face, as well as the most important skills required to confront them. According to Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist and cross cultural researcher, “The greatest barrier to business success is the one erected by culture.” With regards to skill sets, the Harvard Business Review recently concluded that… 

“…the number one most valuable skill for the 21st century manager is the ability to successfully work across cultures…”

Experts agree that the main reason global companies struggle around the world is due to cultural differences, and a lack of cross-cultural skills in leaders and expats.

Eight Key Concepts for Cross-Cultural Success in Vietnam & Abroad

One important lesson culturally-sensitive leaders have learned is that effective leadership traits in their native culture do not guarantee success in a foreign culture. Aside from generic company values, there are eight key concepts to bear in mind when building a successful team of expats and locals.

1. First, it is important to consider the CQ (Cross-Cultural Quotient) of expat team members. Most employers are aware of IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient). Other important quotients are Psychological (the ability to anticipate people’s thoughts and actions) and Relationship (the ability to build fast, long, and lasting relationships). However, CQ has proven to be a critical metric to success in an international, cross-cultural setting.

2. Second, it is important to consider the criteria with which to hire expats. These criteria will differ from those used in their home countries, including OAI (Overseas Assignment Inventory) which measures qualities like openness, flexibility, adaptability, curiosity, willingness to change and learn, patience, empathy, etc. 

3. Expats must receive cross-cultural training within 2 months of arrival to their new host country. Failure to implement adequate cross-cultural training program will directly and negatively impact expats’ ability to work in a foreign country. There is no way they can operate successfully in a business setting without first understanding the culture in which they do business.

4. Of course, the longer an expat lives in a foreign culture, the more intimately they will understand it and adjust their attitudes and business practices accordingly. At least 2 years is recommended for an adequate understanding of a foreign culture, including a grasp of the local language.

5. Global companies must work diligently and carefully to integrate local leadership into their corporate structure, or else they will come to rely exclusively on expat leaders. In Vietnamese culture, leadership is hierarchical, while Western leadership tends to be more egalitarian. This requires a shift to the “middle”, as well as active structural efforts, because most employees will not simply change themselves. For Vietnamese leaders to adapt to global companies, they should learn to compromise on cultural values such as hierarchy, face-saving behaviour, harmony, respect for elders, and family relationships.

6. Having culturally sensitive local Vietnamese upper management directly impacts the cultural sensitivity of local Vietnamese middle management. This is critical to avoid a scenario where the staff is divided between expats and Vietnamese employees who each operate under very different cultural workplace values. This, in turn, reduces productivity, engagement, motivation, and finances.

7. Creating a new, local corporate culture is key to a successful cross-cultural corporate environment. Everyone must adapt their own cultural values because no culture is superior to another–each of them brings different strengths and weaknesses to the table. Success can be found only when all team members shift their cultural positions to meet somewhere in the middle to create a cultural mix.

8. Above all, the top leaders working in the corporate head office must be aware of this reality and be intimately familiar with the cultural subtleties and cross-cultural challenges faced by their global companies. They must give expats S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based) business objectives adapted to the unique challenges of their cultural environment.

Conclusion: What Are the Solutions to These Problems Vietnam Businesses Face?

From these points we can conclude that it is crucial to select expats with the right profile and cross-cultural skills. Expats and executives alike must be systematically trained, mentored, and coached to develop these skills and deepen their knowledge of local culture.

Sending local managers abroad for some time can help broaden their cultural sensitivities as well and help them meet their expat counterparts in the middle. Training, mentorship, and coaching is also important for local employees so that they can better understand the culture of their global company. Perhaps most importantly, expat workers must learn to respect and understand the local working culture, values, and practices.

“Living in a foreign culture is like playing a game you’ve never played before and for which the rules haven’t been explained very well. The challenge is to enjoy the game without missing too many plays, learning the rules and developing skills as you go along.” – Robert Kohls

This “game”, the corporate world, and the lives we lead are all subject to fast-paced changes. With this change comes growth, and the most important skill for workers in a cross-cultural environment is to be willing to change and adapt. It is the rate at which global companies adapt that will determine their success further down the road, not only in Vietnam, but in any other foreign culture.


Julie Huynh, marketing and operations manager at Ho Chi Minh City-based bespoke tailor Rita Phil, has had a few experiences that remind her she’s not in Los Angeles anymore.

Speaking to #iAMHCMC, she said one that stands out to her was working with a local photographer. Huynh has worked with photographers in the US in the past, and the interaction there usually begins with a contract and a discussion of the fee.

But “photographers here [say] ‘oh, we’ll give you a good deal,’ ” Huynh said.

“I’m still learning to finesse that.” While she speaks Vietnamese well enough, “I still have a very Western attitude. I’ve been told I’m too aggressive,” a remark she said was more about her role as a foreigner in Vietnam than being a woman. She said Viet Kieu of both genders have to tread lightly here.

Untapped potential

Huynh moved to Vietnam to join her sister at her a couture garment firm she founded, called Rita Phil. Huynh, a California-educated Vietnamese professional who was at that time working at an accountancy firm, made the leap to Vietnam in 2015.

Why? “It just seemed like the right time. I just wanted something different in my life,” she said, adding her mum and sister already lived in Vietnam.

Nguyen Phuong Mai, managing director for executive recruitment firm Navigos Search, said family is a commonly reported reason for Viet Kieus coming to Vietnam. Those who make the journey also express an interest Vietnam’s nature and a love of Vietnamese food as their big draws in coming back.

There are around five million Vietnamese overseas, according to the World Bank. In 2015, the Communist Party reported around 12,000 Viet Kieu—or “overseas Vietnamese”—had come to Ho Chi Minh City to either relocate permanently or to live as long-term residents.

This may only be a fraction of the potential size of this community. Recruitment firm Robert Walters conducted a survey in which 70 percent of overseas Vietnamese professionals expressed an interest in returning.

The top reasons for returning were caring for ageing parents, a perceived ability to earn a higher salary in Vietnam and a love of Vietnamese culture.

The top factors overseas Vietnamese look at in evaluating a return was a suitably high salary in comparison to local rates, a clear career path forward and flexible work arrangements.

However, Nguyen said micromanagement was one of the biggest fears the Viet Kieu have expressed to her in coming to work in Vietnam.

Their biggest fear is “empowerment”, Nguyen said. “They’re afraid of [a] micromanagement style.”

A Western-educated employee has been invited to have a critical role and look for opportunities to innovate. So, she advised companies that want to successfully recruit and retain the overseas Vietnamese to offer recruits roles with a high degree of agency and self-determination. Like the Western classroom they come from, a Viet Kieu educated abroad will expect to have their questions and criticisms heard, something that may not be welcome in a more traditional setting.

Huynh said she’s seen that with new Rita Phil employees who’ve moved in from other firms with a more culturally Vietnamese setting.

“It’s a culture where you have to save face,” she said. For example, “if you have an argument with a coworker, [traditional Vietnamese employees] don’t want to engage that at all.”

Rather than trying to make her employees more like her, Huynh described a process in which a middle ground is negotiated between her Western training and the Vietnamese staff she oversees. For example, Rita Phil’s work schedule does not permit afternoon naps as some Vietnamese staff enjoy elsewhere, but she is working with her staff to decide the right length of time for their Tet holiday vacation.

“That’s an example of us transitioning and adapting,” she said. “When the Viet Kieu [perform] under the Vietnamese culture better, we can adapt our perspective better.”

The Three Kinds

Returning Viet Kieu broadly fall into three categories.

The first is what Nikkei Asian Review in 2016 called “pilot” actors helping foreign companies expand into Vietnam, such as Henry Nguyen, the prime minister’s son-in-law and McDonald’s’ first franchise partner.

The second are entrepreneurial actors who enter Vietnam and build something new, as Duytan Tran did. In 2010, he started eSilicon Vietnam, a semiconductor producer that Nguyen said was originally started with a group of 20 engineers. The US investors who acquired it a year later acquired a successful firm that had grown to a 100-person staff, Nguyen said.

The third are highly qualified professionals who move to Vietnam and are installed in leadership positions at local firms, as Nguyen has as head of Navigos Search. Online publication Vietcetera profiled Crystal Lam, a University of Chicago-educated Vietnamese woman who is currently managing director of lumber retailer Vinawood.

Huynh’s role as one member of Rita Phil’s leadership team doesn’t excuse her from performing some of the business’s toughest work. “We’re still just a startup,” she said, adding the business has been able to expand globally—her responsibilities are specifically the US, Australia, Canada and United Kingdom markets. The company has done so on a lean staff you could count on two hands.

So, “any great idea you do have…you have to do it yourself,” Huynh said, laughing.

In the Office as in the Classroom

Vietnamese living abroad to who come to Vietnam have a complicated relationship with their work environment almost immediately.

For one, corporate structures in Vietnam tend to be more top down and hierarchical, according to Nguyen.

She said Vietnamese management expects more deference from their employees and adherence on the agreed-to goals. It’s a reflection of the typical Vietnamese classroom where rote memorisation and lecture-style instruction are the mainstays of the educational philosophy. Because colouring outside the metaphorical lines or giving anything other than the back-of-the-book answer in school would earn a Vietnamese reprimand or even punishment in a school setting, the work environment that students move into after schools tends to hew very rigorously to standardards and authority, Nguyen said. Management can feel empowered—and often is, if not officially then implicitly—to tightly manage staff.

City Pass: How to create a perfect cup?

Dung: Nothing is perfect. Working with artisan coffee is a world of trying and experimenting. In the past, people thought dark roasted beans make the best coffee. The community of speciality coffee lovers discovered that roasting light brings out the best flavors. We always try new things.

But to make a good cup of coffee, you need great beans, filtered water and the right temperature.

However, the most important piece of equipment is the grinder. Invest in your grinder. You can buy a decent machine for around VND 700,000 up to VND 2,500,000. Electric grinders may be even pricier. The coffee should be ground evenly and not like dust or sand.


If you crave to taste Dung’s expertise firsthand, I recommend visiting The Workshop in 27 Ngo Duc Ke, Ben Nghe, District 1 ( on the 2nd floor) yourself. Pick one of the three beans they have on the menu, combine it with your favorite brewing method and you’re ready to go.

This, Nguyen said, was a key concern for Vietnamese abroad thinking of making the move to Vietnam.

Nguyen said the other big bugbear for Vietnamese who are recruited overseas is the local business culture’s tendency to mix emotions and business. It’s a conflation that a Western-educated worker steeped in a work culture with a heavy emphasis in meritocracy may bristle at.

Here, “people treasure [the] relationship,” Nguyen said. “Many Vietnamese companies here, they let the relationship or personal feelings get in” to their business dealings.

Those entering the local business scene “need to be more aware of that.”

“We Need a Viet Kieu”

By law, only if a company can’t find the necessary talent at the local level can they expand their search. Nguyen said companies said Viet Kieu are usually among the last candidates to be looked at, although she has in the past worked with clients who’ve specifically asked for a position to be filled by a Vietnamese abroad.

“We’ve seen that. Companies will say ‘We need a Viet Kieu,’” Nguyen said. These are roles where the experience of a business person living abroad while also having an understanding of Vietnamese culture are needed.

“It’s better still if they can speak Vietnamese,” she said.

For companies that are recruiting a leader who will themselves recruit and build a new department within the company, a Viet Kieu is preferred, Nguyen said.

Nguyen said it can take maybe two years for local Vietnamese to see a returning Viet Kieu as one of them. Until then, they’re just another Westerner.

That’s usually the proper amount of vetting time a Viet Kieu would need to see if their life in Vietnam has legs, Nguyen said. Those who come have many reasons for living here, but after a year or two, those who have settled here either do so permanently or find a stopping point for this chapter in their lives.

Huynh spoke to #iAMHCMC having recently decided to extend her stay in Vietnam another two or three years.

Professionally, “I’m not really giving up…anything.”

“People [who want to] make the jump to come…that’s what they think,” she said. “I’m following a path I wasn’t sure I wanted,” Huynh said.

“Vietnam is obviously growing. The economy is getting better. I think it’s prime time for Vietnam.”


A lot of what you do focuses on the digital sphere. Are there still opportunities to market successfully on non-digital platforms?

For me, marketing is marketing. Online and offline are just means or platforms for me. At the end of the day, a brand is all about a promise and performance. And marketing’s job is to make that promise so appealing that customers engage with the brand. With regards to whether using solely online or offline or a hybrid of the two, again it’s about the product, the market and, of course, the resources the marketing team has. Many marketers, I guess, will relate to the fact that we don’t have unlimited resources. So one of the key skills for a senior marketer is to be able to identify which channels or platforms will best serve their brand goals. I believe that businesses who are following a B2B model lean towards more offline marketing investment like events and activations where they can directly have a person-to-person touchpoint with the audience. But then again, as I said, it really depends on the product, market and budget, among many other things.

Are there any digital technologies currently being developed that you’re excited to market with? How do you think digital marketing will change in the next year or two?

Digital technologies on virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is what I’m really excited about. I think it’s a completely different league, although challenges on the hardware side might limit mass access of a full-on VR experience. Big players like Apple are investing on mixed reality (MR) and AR, so I believe the next trend of marketing campaigns will be in this field. Here in Vietnam, however, there are still a lot of opportunities untapped in terms of the possibilities on video ads and the mobile ecosystem.

How do you communicate effectively with a millennial audience? What do they want to hear, and what pushes them away?

Communicating to millennials for me is all about a conversational approach. This I believe is the impact of more personal screens like our mobile phones and laptops, which this generation is accustomed to. Hence, we call them the digital natives. We say in marketing that the type of content we publish will also depend on the type of screen it will be placed on. Less personal skills like billboards or digital out-of-home (OOH) placements, which use more “announcement” type of content, while personal screens like our mobile phones use a more conversational approach. Millennials have a “Me, Me, Me” approach to the way they behave in the online ecosystem. Hence the birth of selfie and all those other apps and product features showcasing none other than “ME”. This I believe translates to an approach in content writing where the reader, millennials in this case, can immediately relate to the subject. They have short attention spans and it gets shorter every year. So what they see, hear and experience in the first five seconds is crucial.

The news is now talking about Generation Z, the younger generation after millennials. How does this younger generation differ from millennials in terms of optimal marketing strategies?

Generation Z is a target market for me, that will materialise a 100 percent digital-only funnel. This generation is so used to using and engaging through gadgets that the need for a phone call or a meeting with a sales rep won’t be needed as much as with previous generations. This, however, poses a great challenge not only to marketers but product owners on how to make their websites or apps at their optimal level of UX/UI [user interface/user experience]. This also implies that marketers need to be, more than ever, digital savvy.

Engagement is a big issue in digital marketing. What incentives (emotional or physical) are necessary to drive up engagement, and how does this potentially translate to ROI?

So in my previous answers, I tapped product, placement, price… I guess this question falls under promotion. So we completed the basic 4Ps. Not the pizza! Promotion is part of the framing strategy in marketing. A campaign may or may not have it; it depends on how it will, as you said, engage users. Now there are different levels of engagement. One of the most basic and frequently used interpretation of this is Social Media Engagement, because Facebook labelled it as such and it is easily trackable. Engagement can also be a simple ad click by your audience or it can be an actual conversation you had with the audience on the forum discussion panel. So it varies. What’s important is a positive touchpoint between the audience and the brand. And again, with or without incentives or promotions. Big brands like LV, Ferrari and all these top tier brands never use discounts as a promotion strategy, for example, because it goes against their brand positioning. Group buying sites, for example, like NhomMua or HotDeal use it on a regular basis because they use low prices to initiate sales. As to how engagement converts into an actual ROI, I suggest that brands should build a proper Funnel. From awareness to revenue and to repeat purchases. And this is not only a marketing job—sales and other senior leaders should be involved in this process.

Your biggest advice for anyone trying to get into the digital marketing game?

For those folks wanting a career in digital marketing: don’t rely on what’s taught at school. This industry is very exciting but whatever we do today can be completely irrelevant tomorrow as technology and user behaviour change so quickly. Having said that, the possibilities of discovering and pioneering new things in this field are massive. Don’t try to do what’s already done. The rapid changes in the industry also mean opportunities for new bloods and the old to create and innovate new ways of communicating brand promise to your audience, be it digital or on another platform.


• Connectivism Can Change the Way We Work

• Psychologists are Divided About the Implications of Being Constantly Connected to the Digital Sphere

• Developing Connections Within Networks is Actually More Important Than Acquiring the Knowledge Itself

Almost everything these days revolves around our gadgets and, more specifically, the networking apps that help us get through the simplest of daily tasks as well as social or professional situations. This is evident everywhere from catching up over social media with friends or e-meeting potential business contacts to finding a personal assistant through a gig economy app or even getting a virtual doctor’s check-up!

Everything is networked. Everything is connected. This newfound sense of being connected has led the academic world into a tailspin as social scientists and psychologists try to understand the implications. While there are many different theories that explain individual elements of the impact of digitalisation and how networking has changed the way that modern society functions, none are quite so poignant as the emerging study of ‘Connectivism’.

What is Connectivism and How Does it Affect the Workplace?

Connectivism is rooted in the belief that everything belongs to a network. Networks are the basis for biological life—the integration of cells to form a living object. Networks are the basis for social life— the integration of relationships to form a community. Networks are the basis for technology: nodes connect to hubs to create complex digital applications.

Connectivism emphasises that the capacity to learn through these networks and foster them are a core life skill. Essentially, it is through networks that all knowledge is acquired and distributed.

The originator of the connectivism theory, George Siemens, wrote in his article “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age” that “Connectivism also addresses the challenges that many corporations face in knowledge management activities. Knowledge that resides in a database needs to be connected with the right people in the right context in order to be classified as learning”.

Connectivism also highlights the surprising idea that learning to maintain and develop connections within networks is actually more important than acquiring the knowledge itself.

One example of this is recent research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research publications, which has found that being connected to a large social network within an organisation is more influential than being knowledgeable or holding an important title.

Social media platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn are great examples of connectivism at work in the business sector. These networking sites demonstrate that the more followers you have, the more influence you have to disseminate information. LinkedIn has recently capitalised on this accessible connectivity by creating an invite-only LinkedIn Influencer program.

According to the Nordic media monitoring company,, the program is made up of “… a global collective of 500+ of the world’s foremost thinkers, leaders, and innovators”.

While LinkedIn Influencers are primarily made up of public figures, social media influence is present even on a smaller scale across the internet. The research report, “Enabling Community Through Social Media”, published by JMIR Publications, comes to the conclusion that “Prominence in the network appears to be related to familiarity with individuals, for example, more active participants receive more attention in terms of mentions and retweets”.

This opens the possibility for employees who may have been confined to the ‘lower ranks’ of an organisational hierarchy, to gain an audience as large as the managing board, dependent on their ‘connectivism’ skills to entice followers.

In this way connectivism is already organically encroaching into organisations large and small. Traditional hierarchies, which place power at the top level of management, are being replaced with models that allow for greater levels of power distribution. Models that promote feedback networks in which reflexive learning and decision-making give a voice to employees at all levels of the organisation are starting to be seen as the future in office culture.

Workplaces are necessarily moving away from “Do as I say” to “What do you think?”, promoting employee engagement. This demonstrates that connectivism is helping companies to fully value each member of the team, while equally supporting each member to become more invested in the company’s goals. Both results are achieved in companies that perform as an integrated network, rather than a top-down pyramid.

How Does Connectivism Relate to Vietnam?

Connectivism, and understanding its role in Vietnam, is perhaps most important when applied in training the next generation.

Corporate Connective Open Online Courses (COOC) should be used to make the future Vietnamese workforce more connected, according to Nguyen Manh Hung’s article “Using Ideas from Connectivism for Designing New Learning Models in Vietnam”, published in The International Journal of Information and Education Technology, Vol. 4. A COOC is basically a networked way of learning that allows corporations to offer targeted online training courses for future employees or clients.

Nguyen expresses the need for Vietnam to move away from traditional learning methods in the education systems towards COOC, which can be used successfully in “education environments with developing infrastructure like Vietnam”.

The digitalisation of the workplace has created an increasing demand for employees who are flexible, agile, resilient and able to make connections—to learn as the job requires. The recommendation to promote skills that make us effective lifelong learners, which started as a whisper, has turned into an urgent cry.

It is no longer enough to train youth in industry-specific knowledge. Now it is necessary to train them to know how to make connections. Future leaders need to know how to make connections between information pools in order to create, innovate and make refined decisions. They need to be able to connect to networks in order to become influencers, visionaries and leaders. Connections are what will allow them to continue to be a part of our evolving human story.

A giant in the research of networks, Dr Barabasi, said, “Each of us is part of a large cluster, the worldwide social net, from which no one is left out. We do not know everybody on this globe, but it is guaranteed that there is a path between any two of us in this web of people. Likewise, there is a path between any two neurons in our brains, between any two companies in the world, between any two chemicals in our body. Nothing is excluded from this highly interconnected web of life.”

Like this article? Read more about Business and Networking on


What are the qualifications for obtaining a work permit in Vietnam?

If you’re an expat living in Vietnam and want to qualify for a work permit, you have to satisfy the following conditions:

– You’re capable of performing civil acts as prescribed by law;

– Your health is suitable for your job;

– You’re not a criminal or liable to criminal prosecution according to Vietnamese law and your home country’s law;

– Your past employment is approved in writing by a legitimate authority, proving you have three years experience in your chosen field of employment;

– Be a manager, executive officer, expert or technician. If you provide medical examinations, medical treatment or work in educational and vocational training, you must meet the particular conditions for these services as prescribed by Vietnamese law.

What are the definitions according to the latest Decree 11/2016/ND-CP (Dated 03 February 2016)?

– A “Foreign Expert” is defined as someone recognised as an expert by a foreign organization or with a Bachelor’s degree (or higher) and at least three (03) years of work experience in their field. The proof of this must be presented in writing by a foreign organization.

– A “Foreign Executive, Operation Director/Manager” is defined as a chief or deputy of an organization and Operation Director/Manager is a department head responsible for the department’s operation.

– A “Foreign Technician” is defined as someone who has had technical training or other specialised training for at least one (01) year, and at least three (03) years of work experience in their field.

What paperwork will you need to apply for a work permit in Vietnam?

– A written request for a work permit made by the employer in accordance with the regulations of the Ministry of Labour – Invalids and Social Affairs;

– A health certificate issued in your country or in Vietnam as prescribed by the Ministry of Health (in most of cases, expats obtain a health check certificate in Ho Chi Minh City);

– A written certification that you’re not a criminal or liable to criminal prosecution according to Vietnamese law and the foreign country’s law, made within the previous six months from the day on which the application is submitted. A criminal record from your home country is required, even if you have not lived there for years. If you have lived in Vietnam for more than six months, you will need to apply for a local criminal record as well;

– A written certification that you are a manager, executive officer, expert or technician. Or, a written certification of your qualification, such as: written certification issued by a competent authority of the foreign country if you are an artist in the traditional sense of the word (painting, singing, acting etc); documents proving experience as a foreign football player; a pilot certificate issued by a competent authority to foreign pilots; a licence for airplane maintenance issued by a competent authority if you maintain airplanes;

– A written approval for the employment of foreign workers given by the Department of Labour – Invalids and Social Affairs;

– Three passport colour photos, 4x6cm, taken within the previous 12 months from the day on which the application is submitted;

– A copy of your passport or an equivalent paper, which is still valid;

– An assignment letter (for internal transferees) or labour contract (for local hires);

– Additional documents may be required depending on the form of employment/assignment.

Where can you go for a health check in Vietnam?

Authorised Hospitals in Saigon:

– Careplus International Clinics (Associate of Singapore Medical Group)
Branch 1: Level 2, Crescent Plaza, 105 Ton Dat Tien street, Phu My Hung, District 7
Branch 2: 107 Tan Hai Street, Ward 13, Tan Binh District ( Next to Etown)

– 115 People’s Hospital at 527 Su Van Hanh, W. 12, D10

– Van Hanh General Hospital at 781/B1-B3-B5 Le Hong Phong (extension), W.12, D10

– Thong Nhat Hospital at 1 Ly Thuong Kiet, W.7, Tan Binh District

– Cho Ray Hospital at 201B Nguyen Chi Thanh, W.12, D5

– SOS International General Clinic under branch of International SOS Vietnam Co., Ltd. at 167A Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, W.7, D3

– FV Hospital under Far East Medical Vietnam Co., Ltd. at 6 Nguyen Luong Bang, South Saigon (Phu My Hung), D7

– Trung Vuong Hospital at 266 Ly Thuong Kiet, W.14, D10

– Thu Duc District Hospital at 29, Quarter 5, Phu Chau St., Tam Phu W., Thu Duc District

– An Sinh General Hospital at 10 Tran Huy Lieu, W. 12, Phu Nhuan District

Authorised Hospitals in Hanoi:

– Bach Mai Hospital at 78 Giai Phong St., Phuong Mai W., Dong Da District

– Xanh Pon (Saint Paul) General Hospital: 12 Chu Van An, Dien Bien W., Ba Dinh District

– E Hospital at 89 Tran Cung, Nghia Tan W., Cau Giay District

– L’Hôpital Français de Hanoi at 1 Phuong Mai W., Dong Da District

– International SOS General Clinic – OSCAT Vietnam Joint Venture at 51 Xuan Dieu, Tay Ho District

In the event that foreign workers are issued medical certificates by foreign hospitals, such certificates are subject to translation into Vietnamese and consular authentication.

What documents will you need to apply for a criminal record certificate in Vietnam?

– A completed application form (form 03/2013/TT-LLTP – which you can get at the Department of Justice);

– A copy of your passport and a copy of your residential certificate in Vietnam (your landlord should have this). These documents must be legalised and the original copies must also be submitted for comparison;

– In case you ask for a third person to help you to apply for the criminal record certificate, he/she will need a completed application form 04/2013/TT-LLTP; your written proxy, certified by the People’s Committee of communes where you or your proxy are residing (if you are in Vietnam); or by competent authorities of the country where you are residing. The proxy must be legalised. If this third person is one of your parents, spouse or children, the proxy document is not required, but the relationship between you and this person must be proved. Lastly, you will need a copy of his/her passport.

Where and how can you apply for a criminal record certificate in Vietnam?

You take all the above-mentioned documents to the Department of Justice in Ho Chi Minh City at 141-143 Pasteur, D3 or 1B Tran Phu, Van Quan, Ha Dong in Hanoi. There, you can fill out the form 03/TT-LLTP if you haven’t already done so. Once you have completed this, get your ticket and wait with everyone else until you are called to Station No. 1. The clerk will take a look at your documents to see that they are in order. If they are, you will pay a processing fee of VND400,000.

It will then take from 10-15 working days to process the record and you will be contacted by text or email to pick up your record (if not, simply go back to the Department of Justice after 15 days).

When should you ask for a work permit in Vietnam?

Your employer must apply for a work permit at least 15 days before your potential employment.

What is the length of validity of a work permit in Vietnam?

A work permit is valid for a maximum of three years. Also, if you leave the job for any reason, the work permit will no longer be valid.

What governmental agents do you have to visit for a work permit in Vietnam?

– To apply for a criminal record in Ho Chi Minh City:

Department of Justice in Ho Chi Minh City | 141-143 Pasteur, D3 | +84 28 3829 0230

– To apply for a criminal record in Hanoi:

Department of Justice in Hanoi | 221 Tran Phu, Van Quan, Ha Dong | +84 243 3546 151

– To apply for a work permit in Ho Chi Minh City:

Department of Labour – Invalids and Social Affairs | 159 Pasteur, D3 | +84 28 3829 1302

– To apply for a work permit in Hanoi:

Department of Labour – Invalids and Social Affairs | 75 Nguyen Chi Thanh, Lang Ha, Dong Da | +84 243 8358 868