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for an expat guide for Ho Chi Minh City, it was frustrating sorting through Google; much of the information was either outdated or unhelpful.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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Female Expats and Locals in Ho Chi Minh City – This group is by far and large the most helpful one I’ve come across. Everyone answers questions thoughtfully and kindly; it was created as a spin off of the one below.
- Expats and Locals in Ho Chi Minh City – This one has some helpful tips every now and then but is mostly just space for people to complain and post inane commentary. Example:
- Saigon Female Expats Meetup – While this is primarily a group page for meet-ups, there are random job postings and helpful tips as well.
- Expats in Ho Chi Minh City – This is another helpful group and way less spammy than the Expats and Locals in HCMC group.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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:
- 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
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.
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!
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:
- Pasteur Street Brewing Company
- Bia Craft Artisan Ales
- Saigon Cider
- Heart of Darkness Brewery
- Winking Seal Beer Co.
- Phat Rooster Ales
- Fuzzy Logic Brewing Co.
- Lac Brewing Co.
- Tê Tê Craft Beer
- Quán Ụt Ụt – American BBQ & Craft Beer
- Belgo – The Belgian Craft Beer Brewery
- B3 – Steakhouse & Craft beer
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:
- Veggys Specialty Foods
- La Holista
- Organik Vietnam
- Organic Market Vietnam
- Vinamit Organics
- Happy Vegi
- Annam Gourmet Market
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.
*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!
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