The Secret Lives of Uber/Grab Drivers

Blogs - Vietnam: Feb. 9, 2018

Uber and Grab have just entered Vietnam for a few years, but they are increasingly popular among both users and drivers. As more people choose these services over regular taxis in order to take advantage of the frequent promotion codes and lower fares, more drivers also switch from their regular driving jobs to become Uber or Grab drivers, or both.

Some are between jobs, some are starting their life over, and some are looking for better means to provide for their family and save for the future.


Studying IT at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology, Manh moved to Saigon to work for 15 years. A few years ago he quit his job to start a business selling electronics in installments, backed by a financial company. As the partnership went sour, Manh could no longer keep his business or his interest in starting a new one.

He blamed his business partner for betraying his trust, as well as himself: “I only looked at the profits in the short term, but could not see the risks in the long term.”

After this loss, he decided to return home, hoping to find another job in his original field. However, finding an IT job would not be easy for someone at his age. While waiting for his ship to come in, he turned to Uber for a source of stable income.

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Duc has always been a driver for the past eight years. After finishing high school in his hometown in Nam Dinh, he came to Hanoi, learning to drive at the University of Fire Fighting. In the first year of his career, he drove for a taxi company. Then he worked as a driver for a pharmaceutical company, chauffeuring the director and even driving trucks.

The switch, first to Uber, and then to Grab, came only recently, and as he explained, because of the better benefits and bonuses that these companies offer, compared to a regular driving job. However, unlike in developed countries where Uber drivers often own their car, Duc said he and many other drivers in Vietnam have to take bank loans to pay for the car in installments.

“If Uber and Grab stop doing business in Vietnam, many drivers like me would not know how to pay back the loans, and banks will face difficulties too,” he claimed.

Duc hopes to keep working with Grab until he can finish paying the installments, and eventually, with enough money, he can buy a new car of his own, and continue driving to support himself and his wife when they get old.

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Thien is from Buon Me Thuot, Dak Lak province. He used to own a shop selling and repairing mobile phones in his hometown, after learning his trade in Hanoi. One fateful night, some burglars took away everything in his store and in his life. He was devastated after losing about 300 million dong, and seeing no future, his wife also left him.

That’s why when his uncle in Hanoi, who lost his daughter in a road accident, invited him to come and stay for good, Thien agreed. He and a cousin shared the money to buy a car in installments, and took turns driving it.

Having no friends in the city, on the days that he doesn’t work, he stays at home sleeping or goes to a café by himself. He has no intention of returning to his old way of life, fixing phones all day. Driving allows him to go outside and interact with people, especially as he is new to the city and trying to rebuild his life from the ashes.

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Tho’s part-time job is driving. His full-time job is repairing pianos. He even has his own advertisement for his piano repairing service inside the car. His website is called

His market is niche, and it’s not every day that someone would come to him with a broken piano. But he learned his trade from people who did the same thing and he talked about it with passion. He even gave me tips on where to buy a good, inexpensive old piano.

“Learning to play an instrument gives you pleasure in life,” he said. “You don’t have to invest too much time in it to be able to enjoy it. Just 10 minutes a day is enough.”

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It may be unusual to meet a female Uber driver, but Hien is a single mother, after her husband died in a mining accident when their son was less than a year old.

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She had lived with her son in Saigon since, and only returned to Hanoi for a few months to try to sell their old house. Uber provided her with the option of an immediate temporary job.

As she didn’t know Hanoi’s streets very well, and GPS sometimes could not show the exact address or direction, she kept asking me if she was going the right way. This is something our male drivers would never do; some would even be willing to argue with their customers over which way is right.

She also had an unopened bottle of water in the car, and she insisted that I took a sip, because “it’s good for your health”.

*Names have been changed.

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