A Newbie’s Expat Guide for Ho Chi Minh City

A Newbie’s Expat Guide for Ho Chi Minh City

If you’ve stumbled upon this page, chances are you’re seeking information about the expat life in Saigon. When I was searching for an expat guide for Ho Chi Minh City, it was frustrating sorting through Google; much of the information was either outdated or unhelpful. While I may not have all the answers, I’ve been putting together this post since I arrived with newbie expats (like myself) in mind.

Before we get started, I will say that I’ve found Saigon to be an easy transition from the western world. Although there are some aspects of the city that are quite shocking – the traffic, for instance – it’s been pretty breezy. As some of you may already know, I moved here from New Zealand, where I was living on a Working Holiday Visa for nine months. Prior to Auckland, I’d lived in Seoul, South Korea for a little over two years. I can’t make the comparison between Seoul vs. Saigon quite yet, but I will say Vietnam has been good to James and me so far.

Upon arrival, I recommend booking an Airbnb or a hostel for a week or two to get situated. While it may not be an ideal scenario, your mind and body will thank you later. We stayed in a private room in a [what was meant to be quiet] hostel near Bui Vien and it was one of the most stressful weeks of our lives; construction started no later than 6:30 AM. Combine that with the pressure of moving, jet lag and uncertainty… REAL FUN, YOU GUYS.

One of our housemates stayed in an Airbnb when she first arrived and was unable to sleep due to the chickens outside each morning. TLDR; Saigon is loud.

 

An Expat Guide for Ho Chi Minh City: Where to start

First things first: Facebook groups and websites. Anyone who’s lived abroad will know that expat Facebook groups tend to be a bit of a cesspool from time to time. While the groups can be helpful, they are also rampant with sarcastic comments from curmudgeons and trollops. For those of you new to the game, don’t worry. Here are some of the Facebook groups/sites I’ve found valuable:

 

Apartment hunting

  • Living in Ho Chi Minh City – This has been the most helpful; listings are posted frequently by expats and locals alike.
  • Expats and Locals in Ho Chi Minh City – In all honesty, I don’t recommend asking relevant questions in this group as it will most likely be met with brass sarcasm. The apartment section is definitely worth your while, though.
  • Saigon Apartments – Worth mentioning, but I found the two aforementioned to be a bit more active.
  • Craigslist – This goes without saying. As always, be careful.
  • Houseshare/Flatshare/Room for Rent in Saigon – Lots of great options.
  • Outsider Apartments – This website is run by an expat and Vietnamese people who aim to assist non-Vietnamese people get apartments without getting taken advantage of.
  • Batdongsan – Cheapest option out there. Have a Vietnamese friend help you with this one.

 

Job searches

  • Ho Chi Minh City ESL Teaching Jobs – This is a valuable source, although some of the job offers seem somewhat sketchy. Skim with caution.
  • Expat.com – There are jobs other than teaching if you’re keen to try to find a job outside the ESL world. There are plenty of expats here who aren’t teaching!
  • Craigslist – Duh.
  • English Teachers in Saigon – This is a great option for teaching jobs.
  • Saigon Teachers – This is a viable option as well; be wary of sketchy postings.
  • Vietnam Teaching Jobs – There are jobs posted pretty frequently.
  • Jobstreet – This is a bit difficult to navigate but worth checking out.
  • Go Overseas – It takes a bit of searching, but it’s worthwhile.

 

General questions

Fair (but fruitless) questions abound. There’s drama every single day.

 

It wouldn’t be a legit expat guide for Ho Chi Minh City without telling you the best apps to download, would it?

 

While there aren’t too many “must have” applications, there are a few that will make life here a bit easier.

  • Grab – This is the Vietnamese version of Uber. If you’re like me and absolutely terrified to get on your own motorbike, don’t fret. This service is efficient and budget-friendly, although it does come with a few quirks. Customers can pay using cash or card; the cheapest option is a motorbike taxi, but you can also order a car. Once you order a ride, the driver will call you within minutes to confirm the ride. When he/she does, just say, “Hello? Grab taxi!” and they’ll be on their way.
  • Vietnammm – This is one of the most widely-used apps among expats. The delivery is quick, cheap ($0.50-$1.00 USD) and efficient. You can order literally any type of cuisine you want in Saigon, which rocks. My personal favorites at the moment are Saigon Bagel and Nonla Guys.
  • TransferWise – If you’re looking to save a bit of cash on bank fees, I suggest setting up an account with TransferWise. Although you can’t send money OUT of Vietnam to your home country bank account, you can send money TO Vietnam. Essentially, this is a superb option for paying rental fees each month prior to setting up a Vietnamese bank account.
  • Revolut – I used this service when I traveled Southeast Asia last year, but they canceled services to USA citizens without notice while I was in Malaysia. That was fun. At any rate (no pun intended), I highly recommend this card if you’re an EU citizen; James swears by it and it saves him lots of money.
  • Maps.me – If you’ve traveled Southeast Asia at all, it’s more than likely you’ll already have this app. While it’s not always the most accurate, it’s worth it to download the Vietnam map as the offline capabilities are valuable.
  • WhatsApp – Many people are most likely familiar with this app, especially if you live in Europe. This is what many realtors will use to chat, so it’s good to have on hand – one you get a number, that is. Which leads me to…

 

Okay, so the expat guide for Ho Chi Minh has just been apps and websites so far. What’s next?

expat guide for ho chi minh city www.willfulandwildhearted.com

 

I’m assuming you’ve ensured your phone was unlocked prior to arriving in Saigon. If you have, this next part will be easy. There are a few wireless carriers to choose from, but at the end of the day, we chose Viettel as it is reputable for superior service.

Although there are plenty of places to purchase a SIM card in Saigon, we personally went to an official Viettel store to purchase our SIM cards. You can find a list of all the official stores here. Please keep in mind that it’s not advised to buy a SIM card from convenience stores or street stalls because the Vietnamese authorities are cracking down on un-registered SIMs, so it’s best to obtain a registered one.

Remember to bring your passport with you when signing up for a data plan at the official stores. For more information regarding this process, check out this website. We found it to be extremely useful when we first got here.

 

I have a number and sufficient data. Now, what should I do?

This next bit is relative; it will depend on your individual needs and wants. While we’d originally planned on getting a job first and then a house, we shifted our goals a bit upon arrival. No need to go in this order, but I’ll detail how we did it for simplicity’s sake.

 

An expat guide for Ho Chi Minh City housing

Since James and I had been traveling almost non-stop from New Zealand through Europe to Asia for two months with ALL OUR LUGGAGE, we needed a place to take a breather, sort our lives out and settle. We looked at quite a few housing options and settled in a shared house in District 1, where we live with three other English teachers.

I was initially turned off by the idea of sharing a house; this option is not only cost-effective, but it’s an awesome way to meet new people. Our housemates are super chill and fun to hang out with. Our street is quiet and tucked away from the hustle and bustle. Like, I can hear birds tweeting in the morning and children are safe to run around and play. HALLELUJAH!

expat guide for ho chi minh city www.willfulandwildhearted.com

expat guide for ho chi minh city www.willfulandwildhearted.com

expat guide for ho chi minh city www.willfulandwildhearted.com

 

The best part? It only costs $350 USD ($175 each) for this room, a massive walk-in closet/storage space, a balcony, a huge, private bathroom, a cleaning service twice a week and utilities (excluding electricity.)

While we did certainly luck out with this house, the process itself wasn’t difficult. We contacted the landlord on Facebook, set up a time to see the apartment, and moved in within 48 hours. As I mentioned in the apps section, we used TransferWise to send over 1 month’s worth of rent and a deposit that we will get back once we leave.

Of all the places we searched, there was only one place that didn’t want a couple living in the house. Other than that, if you are moving to Saigon with your significant other, don’t worry – you’ll be able to find shared housing just as easily as those ridin’ solo.

 

Tips for newbies looking for housing in Saigon:

  • Do not trust the images you see on the internet. Always arrange to see the place in person.
  • Don’t sign a year-long lease from the get-go. Look for places that allow three-to-six months, as this will enable you to find your bearings and determine if you want to stay in that district.
  • Have a walk around the neighborhood to ensure it has amenities and feels safe.
  • Check to make sure all of the appliances are working – especially the AirCon!
  • Know that many places will not factor electricity into the rent. Electricity is the most expensive bill in Saigon.

 

Questions to ask potential landlords and/or housemates:

  • What’s included in the cost of rent?
  • What’s excluded in the cost of rent?
  • On average, how much is the electricity bill?
  • Does the bedroom door lock? Are there spare keys or somewhere nearby I can make a pair?
  • How often does the maid come?
  • Is there laundry available?
  • How secure is this house/neighborhood?
  • Where is the nearest supermarket? (NOT convenience store!)
  • How long have the current tenants lived there?
  • Will I get my deposit back after I/we leave this apartment?

 

Wondering where to plant your roots? 

There are quite a few districts in Saigon, and each area offers its own vibe. We live in the Southwest part of District 1 and I love it so far.

expat guide for ho chi minh city www.willfulandwildhearted.com

 

The main expat neighborhoods are in District 2 and District 7. While we have yet to venture out to District 7, District 2 felt a bit too easy. The streets are quieter and there’s a sense of community in both areas – which will be great after some time – but for now, we want to be central. If you’re unsure and are looking for details on the districts of Ho Chi Minh City, I recommend these two resources:

 

An expat guide for Ho Chi Minh City job hunting

First off, be sure to have your documents in order upon arrival.

  • Original copy of higher education diploma
  • An original copy of a state or federal background check
  • The original copy of your TEFL/TESOL Certification
  • A copy of your passport and visa
  • A CV and cover letter (but you know this, obviously)

Once you’ve got all your docu-ducks in order, you can start skimming through job listings online. You can reference all the websites and groups I mentioned in the first section; be sure to cross-check the companies on Reddit. If you have previous experience in a classroom, it might be a good idea to compile some of your resources into a basic WordPress website. I developed a basic site that includes a video sample of my teaching as well as some activities, which was effective in my job search.

expat guide for ho chi minh city www.willfulandwildhearted.com

 

If you’re keen on standing out, I recommend creating a bold CV on Canva or VisualCV. Send your resume out like crazy and be sure to read the fine lines on any contractual agreements. While some jobs may be listed at $20 USD per hour, they might be significantly less once you factor taxes and lesson planning into the equation. Be sure to ask the following questions during your interviews:

  • What are the average work hours per week?
  • Does the school provide materials?
  • Will I be assigned one school or will I travel often?
  • How long in advance will I find out about the school location?
  • How long have the teachers been working at the center?
  • Does the school provide a work visa?
  • Will I have to pay for the business/work visa?
  • Will you help me set up a bank account?

Here’s a list of some reputable schools and language centers:

  • VUS (Private English learning center)
  • ILA (Private English learning center)
  • Yola (Private English learning center)
  • Vinalearn (Recruiter for public schools)
  • Compass Education (Recruiter for public schools)

One of the perks of working in the ESL realm in Saigon is the fact that the education centers are much more lenient than neighboring countries. What this means is that you’ll be able to create your own schedule and work as you please – within reason. If you choose to work at a private learning center, it’s unlikely you’ll have weekends off. While this is pretty standard throughout Vietnam, I can understand those of you who are keen to stick to a schedule you’re familiar with.

If you do want to have weekends off, I suggest applying to work for the Vietnamese public school system.

 

Which supermarkets are recommended?

While the markets are where you’ll find the best bargains, you’ll often have to barter. If you’re anything like me, sometimes (er, almost always) you’d rather just pay for something without having to deal with uncertainty and confusion. Here are a few of the most popular grocery stores within Ho Chi Minh City:

  • Co.opmart
  • Satrafood
  • Vinmart (the larger ones sell select fruits and veg for a decent price)
  • Big C (Vietnam’s version of Walmart)

 

Where to purchase home goods

While the Co.opmart is definitely a one-stop shop, Nguyen Kim electronics is the most popular. You can find just about anything for your home – blenders, ovens, televisions – you name it!

 

Where to find Western amenities in Saigon

Food

One thing I found lacking when searching for an expat guide for Ho Chi Minh City was the fact I couldn’t find a proper list of conveniences. Like everywhere else in Southeast Asia, there is an abundance of local markets around town for basics like fruit and veg where you can get cheap deals.

However, there will come a time when you’ll be craving Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or salsa. Give it a few months – trust me. It’s also worth knowing that you’ll also be able to stock up on lotion that doesn’t contain Whitening cream (aka skin bleach.)

The two popular food shops in District 1 are Phuong Ha and Thai Ha. I actually visited them for spices like turmeric and cumin, but I noticed they also sell protein powders, U.K. snacks and – much to my surprise – FLAMIN’ HOT CHEETOS. Boo-yah.

Here’s a list of some stores where you can get a taste of home:

*Much more expensive than the others. Worth checking out, though.

 

Gyms

There are plenty of spots to exercise throughout town. I’ve listed a few gyms in Ho Chi Minh City in this guide. Feel free to check it out!

 

Craft breweries

expat guide for ho chi minh city www.willfulandwildhearted.com

 

Beer snob expats, rejoice! If your palate favors IPAs, porters or stouts (among others), you’re in luck! The craft brew craze has certainly taken hold here in Saigon, although the pints will come at a cost. Here are a few of the popular craft breweries in town; if I’m missing any please send me an email or drop a comment below:

 

Organic/vegetarian/vegan shops

I was a bit worried about being able to find items such as Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar and quinoa (#bougie) before I arrived. I was super giddy to discover that these goods exist here; it came as no surprise these luxuries come at a cost.

It’s worth noting in this expat guide for Ho Chi Minh City that I’ve only purchased the Bragg’s ACV because that ish is my legit life force; everything else is too pricey. Here’s where you can buy some of the more extravagant amenities from home:

 

Meal delivery services

While I mentioned the incredible Vietnammm app earlier, this is a bit different. There are quite a few options for those who prefer a healthy diet without the hassle.

expat guide for ho chi minh city www.willfulandwildhearted.com

*Offers a vegetarian option.
*** For every meal you order, one will be donated to Children’s Hospital. Vegetarian only.

 

I hope this newbies expat guide for Ho Chi Minh City helps get you settled in and clarifies any questions or concerns you may have. If you think I need to add anything or have any questions, please feel free to comment below or shoot me an email. Thanks for reading!

 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and I will earn a percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at no extra cost to you. It’s a win-win for everyone!

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21 Comments

  1. August 2, 2017 / 10:17 am

    This is such a helpful guide for expats. I wish I had one for Amsterdam. Apartment hunting was the worst. It took a couple of days to find the right site. I like how you list those out. Accommodation is so important!

  2. August 2, 2017 / 10:58 am

    This is duch a great guide. I am an expat in Quito, Ecuador. Even though it is not the same country I wish I knew these tips. It took me a while to find the facebook groups but they are so useful and perfect to get friends too. ☺I am sure this guide will be handy for so many. ☺

  3. Wow, everything that I need to know about the ways of living and how to survive in Saigon is just here. This is just a perfect guide for those that are planning to stay in Saigon for good. I haven’t been here though, and your giving me an idea on what to expect about saigon. I would love to traipse my feet here and amble around while enjoying all the beautiful things that this place has to offer. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  4. August 2, 2017 / 2:05 pm

    This is a great guide for expats! I’m pinning it now. 🙂 I really like the idea of staying in a Airbnb or hostel when you first arrive to give yourself some time to adjust to the new environment. It sounds like you found an excellent house sharing arrangement in Ho Chi Minh City! I would have hesitated, too — I’m not someone who loves sharing a house with strangers. But I can see that between the cost and their chill outlook, how it could actually be fun and a good way to ease into the new city.

  5. August 2, 2017 / 3:03 pm

    What a fantastic guide – and it is so comprehensive. Its really nice to see all the apps, places to look for work and to live in one place. Sometimes we don’t know where to start when we move abroad – but this is a great resource. I wish there were more formats like this for all countries!

  6. Megan Indoe
    August 2, 2017 / 3:37 pm

    Wow this is perfect and full of useful information! We are actually flirting with the idea of coming to HCMC and this guide will be super helpful with that transition if we do! This should be shared across all those forums of people asking questions on teaching in Asia too!

  7. August 2, 2017 / 5:22 pm

    This is an awesome guide for newbie expats. I remember when I first moved to Singapore and then Hong Kong years ago, there was no such thing as blog posts and it was really hard to get things started. It’s awesome that getting a place with a couple isn’t an issue because that was a big issue I ran into plenty of times when living in other countries. And that house looks amazing. I wouldn’t mind sharing that either 🙂

  8. Sandy N Vyjay
    August 3, 2017 / 1:51 am

    This is indeed a wealth of information for people looking for a long haul in Ho-Chi-Minh city. We have not moved cities in recent time, but can really appreciate the value of these kind of posts. Wish we had these kind of resources when we moved cities. We learnt by trial and error. But this makes it so convenient.

  9. August 5, 2017 / 7:09 am

    This looks like a really handy resource for those considering or planning (or actually in the middle of) moving to Ho Chi Minh City for a longer term stay. I can imagine the initial move and first settling in can be quite stressful! So any advice to reduce stress is a great thing to find.

    • August 5, 2017 / 7:34 am

      Thank you! Exactly – I couldn’t find anything, so I wrote this with the hopes others won’t be left in the dark should they choose to relocate. 🙂

    • August 5, 2017 / 7:33 am

      Thank you! It’s really a great place – so much going on at all times. It’s a bit overwhelming, but I love it!

  10. August 5, 2017 / 8:16 am

    What a fabulously helpful guide. If I was thinking if moving there this would be great. I have to confess though I really didn’t like HCMc. The traffic, the smog, the smells, the noise. It was a relief to leave

  11. August 5, 2017 / 11:20 am

    This guide is great, so much detail! I feel like I’m moving there the way you described how to do everything!

  12. August 5, 2017 / 2:04 pm

    Yasss Laura, this is awesome! Btw I had to lol at the drama in Ho Chi Minn expat fb groups- I thought it was just in Korea that things like that would happen but it must be global! 😂

  13. Susan R
    August 5, 2017 / 2:12 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this guide, it’s so complete and with so many personal insights. I’d heard that driving there was tough but didn’t realize that a lot of accommodation was in such noisy areas so that’s good to know. The craft breweries sound very tempting

  14. August 5, 2017 / 2:36 pm

    I’ve been thiniking of moving to Vietnam to do some work too. This seems like a really helpful blog post and very comprehensive. I definitely bookmarked it. Wish you had a Hanoi version of this.

  15. August 5, 2017 / 5:06 pm

    Everything you need to know about moving to a city, great detailed guide. I think the hardest thing about being an expat is finding a house and the right area. I went to Pasteur St Brewing company when I was in Ho Chi Minh the best beer we had all holiday. Although the local beer prices won most of this time!

  16. August 7, 2017 / 5:21 am

    Very detailed and exhaustive guide, Thanks for sharing.

  17. August 7, 2017 / 9:49 am

    A well researched and highly comprehensive guide. Love your comments about some of the groups and websites.

  18. August 9, 2017 / 5:37 am

    Wow–that house looks so cute and I can’t believe the price! Great find! So many wonderful tips and resources in this post. Great job on putting it together–very helpful!

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