Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Report of what it's like to live there - 09/24/21
Personal Experiences from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, central Asia prior to this tour.
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. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. 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 mixed: large villas in a gated community with all the amenities, and near schools; spacious apartments (as big as five bedrooms) with many amenities also near schools; or smaller apartments walking distance from the Consulate. They just added a new apartment building to the pool, but it is furthest away from Consulate. It is not walking distance to anything worth walking to...there is only one small family there now.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries are plentiful; you can find pretty much any and everything you might want, but you also will pay a premium for anything imported outside of SEA. I repeatedly order corn chips (or make them with the stiff corn tortillas I get for $6/bag), cereals, dried berries (Craisins/blueberries). Reasonably-priced beef is hard to find, and berries will be costly, as well - but all the tropical fresh produce you can dream of will be ready pretty much year round, at a good price and delicious quality! Allergy-friendly foods are decently easy to find, at a specialty (expat) store, with dairy-free being harder to find. Soy or nut free would be hard to handle here. I'm also glad I brought a bulk supply of paper towels, as the local ones are not very good quality. TP is just fine, though.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I should have shipped more hair products (I'm quite particular about mine, though). I also filled my consumables up with a bunch of mexican food ingredients, other sauces/dressings/condiments. The mayo and ketchup are simply NOT the same. And cinnamon is surprisingly difficult to find at a non-imported cost. Aside from the specialty cuisine and baking ingredients (choco chips/vanilla/canned pumpkin/spices), I've been able to order or find anything else needed.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are all kinds of cuisines on the restaurant circuit - you want it? You'll find it. Grab is a one-stop shop app for taxi/food delivery/grocery ordering/parcel delivery between people/and more. Most of the popular restaurants are walking distance, too!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos are year round and can carry dengue, so be sure to protect yourself with clothing and sprays. Little gecko lizards are abound, but don't cause any problems. Ants will gather sometimes, but again, not too problematic. The birds will wake you up at 5:30 with their songs, but at least it's a pleasant sound.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Send and receive via DPO, although I believe the Saigon post office runs things regularly for everyone else. There are often times issues with receiving things through the local PO, though, in regards to import taxes, and random fees that are applied - according to other expats.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Availability is high, and cost is low (~$3-5/hr for full time help). Nannies and housekeepers are most common, with gardeners, drivers, and cooks also frequently hired.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
I believe most, if not all, housing has gyms as part of their amenities. If that isn't adequate enough, there are many, many, many types of gyms/fitness studios to join around town.
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?
CC are widely used, safely. ATMs are also available and safe to use.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I have not heard much about religious services of any kind. I know they're here, but they are not widely known.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's not super necessary, but would be extremely helpful. The Consulate offers a language program as interest presents.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Oh yeah, this is NOT an easy place to navigate with physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transportations is plentiful and safe to use, primarily Grab.
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?
Bring something small, that you don't mind getting dinged up. The roads are narrow and PACKED with motor scooters, and road rules are not followed, except for the occasional traffic light...maybe. Grab is really the easiest way to go - both for convenience and your stress level.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Available and reliable. The kids finished the 2020-21 school year virtually, and have been virtual all of 2021-22 school year, so far. All three have been able to be on class meetings simultaneously, without issues. We're also able to stream on multiple devices at a time. The only thing that gives us problems is having wifi reach upstairs through all the cement walls.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
There are two mobile companies most of us use: Mobifone and Viettel. Some people pay monthly, and others pre-pay for a certain amount of data/month. It's reliable service and very inexpensive...I think I spend $5 or 6 a month for data.
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?
There are some reputable vets and clinics that people use. No quarantine is necessary, and there are plenty of places to walk you dogs. We were advised (during a COVID PCS) NOT to bring our pets, because of added complications (primarily, quarantine in Hanoi), and getting them in afterwards was exorbitantly expensive.
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?
Most EFMs are able to find work at the Consulate, if they want it. There is not a bilateral work agreement, so working locally is not an option.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities, though - orphanages, animal shelters, and helping locals acquire daily essentials during lockdown, to name a few.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is business casual; public is always casual - unless attending a gala of some sort.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
The traffic is definitely a security concern - it seems like a live-action version of Frogger when trying to cross the street. I have heard there have been some purse snatching and phone snatching amongst some of the Consulate community, but nothing that can't be replaced. Otherwise, just be aware of your surroundings, and don't make yourself an easy target...that's what they're looking for - easy. I have never felt unsafe walking around our district or downtown; I just keep my hands on my purse, and my phone in my pocket.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue is a real concern, and maybe pollution during the dry season (rainy season cleanses the air every day). If you're sensitive to mold or mildew, you'd have to be vigilant about keeping your dehumidifiers emptied, and bringing everything inside for climate control. Medical care is adequate for most things. Serious issues (broken bones, childbirth, etc.) are given the option to medevac.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is moderate - hot and humid, all day, every day. Pollution is worse in the dry season (Oct-May). All Consulate housing is supplied air purifiers in every bedroom and living space, as well as a few dehumidifiers.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There is always something in bloom. Vehicle exhaust is inescapable. Soy or nut allergies would be very difficult to manage here. Soy sauce and peanuts are served in/with just about everything.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
As long as the city isn't in lockdown mode, things are pretty easy here... perpetual summer and plenty to do to occupy your time with. You tend to find your own fun/entertainment around town than bonding with others at the mission.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Always hot. Always humid. May-Oct will rain every single day - often multiple times a day.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Most commonly used schools amongst Consulate families are ISHCMC and BIS (Int'l School of HCMC and British Int'l School). Both offer IB programs; both are located in District 2, near villa-gated neighborhood and family apartments. Parents are equally happy with both schools and their admin teams, as well. BIS tends to be a bit more structured, but has had issues with bullying as young as elementary grades. ISHCMC is a Contiga school, and seems to be more free-thinking, student-led, while still following a specific academic itinerary. Both are great options.
There is also AIS, the Australian Int'l School, that Cons families have attended. I don't know much information about that school.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Best to reach out to the schools, individually.
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?
Many preschools, some that offer dual languages. They are all expensive (~$10K+) for a 3/4 year old to attend every day.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The schools offer some sports - soccer, swimming, basketball, etc - and have other after school activities to join, as well. Some are free, others are at a cost. Music lessons are also offered through the ISHCMC school campuses. You can find various other lessons, such as skateboarding or tennis, on the local economy.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Overall expat community is very large and active! Pretty much everyone here loves it - many expats have been here for close to a decade!
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Simply talking to your neighbors is the easiest way to socialize with other expats.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all people - plenty to do for singles, lots to explore for couples, and very affordable for families! Come one, come all!
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
The locals are very kind and accommodating.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There's a bustling LGBT scene here.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't witnessed any problems. I feel like they turn to the women for approval more so than then men, actually.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
There is a lot of beautiful country to see! Phu Quoc Island, Halong Bay, Danang, Hoi An, Mekong Delta - not to mention the many countries that are just a hop and a skip away. We were fortunate enough to do some in-country exploring before the 3rd and 4th waves of COVID hit and locked everything down. Hopefully, we can squeeze in a couple more places before our tour ends. Sadly, we will probably miss out on visiting other SEA countries so easily.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Discover the open markets for treasures: fabrics, dried fruits and nuts, pho stalls, fresh young coconuts on the street...so many things to explore and discover.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Absolutely yes! The reed baskets have been a favorite of mine, and having custom made linen clothing is nice, too. Artwork, and handicrafts are abundant.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Year-round summer, delicious foods, beautiful vacation spots, friendly locals... the list goes on and on. There's really not much to complain about.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
This was actually my last choice when making a list of possible assignments, because I don't like big cities. However, I am so glad we are here, and am enjoying what HCMC, and Vietnam as a whole, has to offer! Just don't leave anything with fabric outside. It will get covered in mildew, and you will end up having to throw it away.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter gear, unless visiting Sapa is a priority for you. Even still, you can order warm clothes when the time comes.
4. But don't forget your:
Sunscreen, mosquito repellant, and sense of adventure and exploration!