Hanoi, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 12/19/09
Personal Experiences from Hanoi, Vietnam
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is worse than at most other posts. The houses are farther out and have an unappealing commute (on an ugly, slow road) into the city center. They are large but have almost no yards and are mostly on a somewhat dangerous street full of brothels. The apartments are small, lack closet space, and are often unattractive. However, they are serviceable and close to work and after-hours entertainment.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Limited availability. You get a consumibles allowance, so tht can help fill in any gaps.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Food is very good and reasonably priced.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
You name it. Dengue has become a serious concern, and several embassy persons have gotten it.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy staff can use DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The embassy has a very good one. Some of the apartment buildings also have gyms.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It really helps to learn Vietnamese. Not many locals speak English. But this is a very difficult language, so you have to be somewhat committed.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Nothing is wheelchair accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Taxis are cheap and plentiful.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Vietnamese mechanics are great. They can keep anything running for a modest sum. You see a lot of Japanese and Korean cars on the roads, so that would be a good choice.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, works fine.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Very unhealthy, unfortunately. Some days are simply awful and you shouldn't even venture outside. When the city gets a breeze, though, things improve.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Very little crime, mostly pickpocketing.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is good and often cheap. Great place to put the kid in braces.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
For 6 months it is very, very hot and humid. The other 6 months are fine: cool winter and pleasant spring, fall.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
UNIS has become a very good school. Most parents are pleased with it. It's not an American school, so your kid won't get as much American social studies as in an American school - and there are a lot of PC-ish topics like global warming. But it's a well-run place for the most part.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
UNIS is the place for that. Otherwise, the offerings are limited.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Generally high. Most people seem delighted to be here and accept the associated hardships.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Singles tend to like it. There's a good nightlife among expats. Single guys can date always-willing Vietnamese women. Families like it for the excellent school, cheap household help and low crime.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, Vietnamese don't know how to act around foreigners and can be bothersome. This can be especially uncomfortable for those of African descent.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Vietnam is a great country to travel in - mountains, beaches, cultural spots.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
Yes. Even with the weak dollar, Vietnam remains a cheap country.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
You should have no illusions: Hanoi is a hardship post. The air and noise pollution is bad, and it's largely an unwalkable city. There is also not an abundance of things to do. Single western women will generally not date here. It won't work with Vietnamese men, and Western men will be beating off 19-year old Vietnamese women with a stick. If that bothers you (and I mention it because a few Western women seemed troubled by that unfortunte, sexist imbalance), don't come. Having said that, Vietnam is a real cultural immersion. I haven't met a single employee of the mission who said he/she regrets having come here, although some say 2 years is sufficient. You just have to accept the downsides and enjoy the amazing cuisine, cheap lifestyle, plentiful $10 massages, excellent international school, etc. There are worse, much worse, 25% differential posts out there.