Vietnam: The #1 Underrated Country to Teach English and Live as an Expat?

Why Vietnam of All Places

Pham Ngu Lao Street in Saigon
Start your day with strangers and coffee

Sunny Vietnam is a rising star on the world stage. From the bustling Saigon to the island of Phu Quoc and back to the Mekong Delta, the beaches of Da Nang and Nha Trang all the way to the capital of Hanoi – this country is hot for English teachers right now. It’s a major retirement destination, a Digital Nomad sanctuary and may just prove to be the biggest winner of the US-China Trade War. Read below for how to get your life started in Vietnam as a TEFL Teacher, digital nomad, retiree…if you want to live the expat life, Vietnam is the most affordable and most convenient place to start. And it also is the most interesting choice.

Table of Contents

  • Vietnam: The #1 Underrated Country to Teach English and Live as an Expat?
  • Why Sunny Vietnam of all places?
  • Thailand vs Vietnam
  • Mobile Lifestyle Design for Teachers
  • My First Visit to Việt Nam
  • Teaching at Vietnamese Uni’s
  • Even the highways can be unpredictable at times
  • A word on the name controversy: To Saigon or to Ho Chi Minh
  • Vietnam & Its Many Peoples
  • The Diverse Ethnicities of Vietnam
  • How Do You Get Started Teaching English in Vietnam
  • First things first: For those who plan to go to Vietnam first and then job-hunt. 
  • Vietnam Visa On Arrival Key- Tourist visa table
  • Retirement visa in Vietnam
  • Why you should get the VIP service for your Vietnam Visa
  • Get Around Smart & Avoid Scams
  • Where to stay- Real Estate In Vn
  • Staying in Saigon
  • The Greater Ho Chi Minh City area
  • You can Own Your Home in Vietnam?
  • Short Term Rentals in Vietnam
  • Popular ESL Teacher Expat Destinations
  • Landing the Best Teaching Jobs in Sunny Vietam
  • Areas other than the Greater Ho Chi Minh City Area
  • Hanoi & the Mountainous North
  • Da Nang Has It All: Beaches, Mountains, City
  • What’s a Province?
  • Provincial Life Has Its Charms & Benefits for the Savvy Expat
  • There Are No Secrets in Small Towns
  • Getting around Outside the Big Metro Areas
  • Motorbikes
  • Rules of the Road in Vietnam
  • Cost of living in Vietnam
  • Food & Beverages
  • Making new friends and meeting people
  • Being Active in Saigon
  • Tiếng Việt – the sound of the Viet people
  • Do’s & Don’ts of Vietnam
  • Teaching English in Vietnam: What to Expect
  • How much to get paid in Vietnam
  • Teach English in Vietnam without a Degree
  • NNES English Teaching Listings in Vietnam
  • Facebook Groups to Find ESL Jobs in Vietnam
  • Thriving in Sunny Vietnam
  • How to be a very unhappy expat teacher in Vietnam
  • VietQ
  • RESOURCE Section
  • Real estate
  • Studying Vietnamese: 
  • Getting ESL jobs
  • Get Online ESL jobs 
  • Meeting People in Saigon:
  • Books & Blogs
  • Get a TEFL

After having lived in Japan for 6 years teaching English and translating Japanese, I decided it was time for a change. I wanted more adventure. Nothing against Japan of course, but when you’re on the archipelago of Japan, it’s farther than it looks and more expensive to get to other countries than if you were in the mainland of Asia. I wanted a change of climate, and a little more of a roughing it on the road feel. That pretty much sums up what it’s like transitioning to live in sunny Vietnam. 

Thailand vs. Vietnam

On our journeys to South East Asia, with the overwhelming majority of podcasts, digital nomad bloggers and youtubers all raving about Chiangmai , Krabi, Koh Samui, Bangkok…well anywhere in Thailand(!), it’s easy to think Thailand is all there is to South East Asia. I found out that couldn’t be further from the truth. You want a transparent-affordable visa process, great teacher pay-cost-of-living ratio, tropical fruit, great weather…awesome food and people: Give next door Vietnam a try.

I first started in Thailand. However, at that time I was just getting into a new career as a freelancer. I translated Japanese to English for clients on the internet. As my income wasn’t stable, I needed somewhere that I could stay a while with lower cost of living than Tokyo. At first I thought Thailand had all I was looking for…the food (uhhh-MAZIN!), the sun,  the smiling Thais and there were even a lot of Japanese expats there so it felt like a perfect transition from Japan to South East Asia …except one problem: The visa! 

While I was in Bangkok, I found out that as an American citizen, I could get into Thailand with no problem by just showing up at the airport with my passport. But, you only get 30 days and then you have to register with the police or some other official government body to extend to another 30 days. After that, you have to physically leave the country to re-enter and from the chatter I was seeing online at the time, the Thais were getting stricter on foreigners coming in and out. 

If I had wanted to teach full time in Bangkok where I was, sure, I could’ve just gotten hired at a school to get them to sponsor my visa. In Vietnam, Americans are allowed up to a year and many other passports can purchase visas for 1 month, 3 or more. All visa stamps come at a cost to the state and to the middle man agency that sends the invitation letter. Still, that is all easier than Thailand. There is a new “Smart visa” for Thailand, but in my book, Vietnam still has Thailand beat here for ease of use.  As you can see below, I’m not the only one that struggled there. 

Mobile Lifestyle Design for Teachers

 I tend to prefer to be more mobile. These days, I teach English online to Chinese students which helps support my more mobile lifestyle. Thus, I needed somewhere that would allow me the freedom to come in and out with great weather (mostly great), lots to do and wasn’t a vacuum on the wallet. Vietnam’s where it’s at. Saigon in particular is known as one of the top Digital Nomad & location independent entrepreneur hubs worldwide. With the wifi cafes on just about every other block and co-working spaces throughout the city, Saigon is a great destination.                       

If you prefer to explore a few countries before settling in one, teaching English on the internet is a great way to go. You can’t teach or tutor students by working for companies like Qkids, DaDa, Whales English, Magic Ears, VipKid, on platforms like iTalki, or just finding your own private students possibly via apps like Wechat (Not just useful for connecting with the Chinese!), Line (Mostly Japan, Thailand…), Kakaotalk (great for S.Korea), or just plain old Facebook. Usually, you want to be able to see each other face to face.

Skype, WeChat, Zoom, iTalki’s app and all the other apps mentioned above will work for that. I prefer to be able to share my screen on apps like Zoom or Skype so I can share my browser to show images and Ppt’s. With the private companies, usually, they have their own apps so you just follow their protocols. Those companies are great, but you’ll be able to get paid substantially more if you cut out the middleman and negotiate directly with the end client (usually the parent of the kid you tutor or the adult taking your classes). For most of these cases, you absolutely need a 120 Hour TEFL certificate to do teach online by the way! 

My First Visit to Việt Nam

While I was on my first trip to BKK (Bangkok), I had a friend in Ho Chi Minh City a.k.a. ‘Saigon’ in Vietnam. One of the things I love love love about South East Asia is all the very affordable airlines like AirAsia. After taxes with a curry lunch plus one drink later, I paid no more than 60 USD to fly from Bangkok (I hate leaving that city 😭) to land in the Tan Son Nhat International Airport which is conveniently located right off center of the city of Ho Chi Minh. In low traffic times, you’re talking a 30-40 min max trip to the heart of the city (Districts 1, 3, 2, Binh Thanh). 4 years later, I’ve been living on and off in Saigon ever since. As much as I didn’t want to leave Thailand, Vietnam made for an awesome trade in ways I’d only later understand. 

After I moved to Vietnam, eventually I started teaching English and upper level writing courses at Hu Tech University. Nowadays in Asia, it is more common to see private ESL companies collaborate with local universities. That was my case. Under contract, I worked for ELC (English Language Company) an Australian English language school. That was great actually as they provided a lot of help for us teachers. ELC is definitely a great organization to work for. The Hu Tech University students are very warm and inviting. Not everybody’s super passionate about English, but they will be great hosts either way. 

My students got me two cakes, not just one for my bday. 

We had full and part time teachers assistants, our own air conditioned office. All our ELC classes were air conditioned. One thing you absolutely must know before you accept a contract at any school is where you will be teaching. I am a northerner from Michigan in the USA. I can take a non-air conditioned classroom for about 10 minutes and then all I want is to take a shower and go home. One problem with our floor having AC is that all the students who took our classes would come to our lunch area so you could practically hardly sit there. That wasn’t too bad though since you got to meet lots of local students that didn’t have you in class. I think ELC knew that and let them come anyway since those kids would later sign up for more of our classes. 

While I love the digital nomad lifestyle and it generally suits my wanderlust the best, I do love teaching at universities and I highly recommend it for you. It’s nice being able to have an adult conversation and still influence young minds at the same time. Ultimately, you get to teach older students who are much closer to your age or at least maturity level. I was 28 at the time and these were mostly 18, 19, 20 year olds so it was more like teaching your younger brothers and sisters. 

Teaching at Vietnamese Uni’s

One word of caution if you teach at a university: Don’t date your students. Not long after, I’m sure all your colleagues will know, it’ll affect the other students, and you might get fired. The gossip will travel even faster if you date one of your TA’s (Teacher’s Assistants) which in real life…happens a lot. Besides, your life will be put on blast on Facebook faster than you know it! The Vietnamese might even use Facebook more than Americans. That’s just a word of caution. I stuck to that rule and I’m glad I did. Hey, If you do find “The One”, go for it. It seems professor-student, teacher-student relationships are commonplace in Asia. 

In the last years, I would move in and out of Vietnam, China, and Thailand, prolonged trips to visit family in the US and back to Vietnam again. Something about the streets of Saigon, the cafes around every corner (sometimes 3-5 on a block!), the fruit, the motorbikes, the roof bars, craft beer, and the very direct to the point Vietnamese people kept me coming back. There’s a rhythm to life in Saigon and in other cities like Da Nang, Can Tho, Muy Ne, Hanoi..and then something totally different yet in the same range in the countryside areas of Vietnam that you just can’t find anywhere else in the world. 

You may get in the Parisianesque habit of just sitting at an outdoor cafe and watching traffic go by. There’s always something different. People wheeling carts, beautiful motorbikes, ugly motorbikes that shouldn’t be on the road, people coming by selling food or lottery tickets…hours and hours can pass by just like that. Other days, it seems your Grab (which essentially bought out Uber in Vietnam) bike can’t come fast enough to get you through rush hour traffic to make some appointment. The day can zoom by and next thing you know, you get an invite to a rooftop bar. 

One thing I can tell you for certain, there is no such thing as a typical day in Saigon. Stuff like this here below is why most cafe’s face the street. It’s like free entertainment. Other times, it’s like a free lesson. 

Even the highways can be unpredictable at times

On regular roads, it is very common to go the opposite way of traffic. There are just too many one ways to keep track of. When traffic gets stuck, expect to see riders on the pavement (there are no sidewalks in Vietnam) and riders going the opposite way. This writer may have done such things on occasion as well but he will plead the 5th on that issue if asked directly. 

Not all riders walk on two legs in Vietnam

*If you get a dog or cat, keep them protected. Sometimes people take pets and eat them. That’s not a joke. Just be careful with your pet if you get one. 

And if you get flooded on real bad, there’s always a way

Besides my personal experience, it is amazing to see a country grow so fast! It’s also a bit sad. There are streets in Saigon I knew well that only had local shops and street vendors. Now, only several years later I see more chain brands, Japanese noodle shops, name brand cafes like Highland Coffee, craft beer and the like. On one hand, it’s convenient. I mean, I love having all that stuff around me and I’m sure many locals feel the same. On the other, that old world charm you couldn’t find anywhere else but Saigon seems to be slowly disappearing. I hope it takes a long time to go away though. 

A word on the name controversy: To Saigon or to Ho Chi Minh

Should we call this place Saigon or Ho Chi Minh? Well, depends on who you’re talking with really. For many of my southern friends, it’s a word of pride. Even people I knew in other surrounding cities like Binh Duong (super close to Saigon, up and coming area much cheaper with some new malls and cool areas, great place to teach and live!) would exclusively call this city, ‘Saigon’. Later I worked for a real estate company owned by the Vietnamese government under the “People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City”. In work capacities, it was always called Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh (Thành phố= City)

I’ve had some locals lecture me on why I must call it HCMC and others use the words interchangeably. Interestingly, the biggest box office hit to ever come out of Vietnam was a movie called Furie. In the movie, people speaking Vietnamese pretty much only called the city ‘Saigon’. I thought that was rather unexpected, though very natural since the movie was entirely set in the south. 

 When I speak Vietnamese though, I only know to speak the Southern dialect and it just feels more natural to say, ‘Sài Gòn’. I get a lot of southerners who quietly compliment me for it. See this Wikipedia article chronicling the many numerous names this very historical city has been called over time (we’re only scratching the surface with these two names). Technically, the locals in the south use the term ‘Sài Gòn’ to refer to the main areas of the city like D1, D2..while HCMC is more the entire huge area that is allocated to that city even though much of it has no resemblance to a city at all. It’s not secret that Ho Chi Minh was the leader of the Communist Viet Kong that won the wars with France, then the US backed south. So the name has a lot of meaning to those who fought in those wars. Those wars are a subject the locals hardly ever bring up with me even knowing I am an American and I try not to either for obvious reasons. So you can see how this name controversy can touch on a very sore wound.  

Long story short, it’s a complex political issue on the surface and a deep issue of the heart. As for me, it’s not a political issue personally. I don’t have a stake in it going one way or another. It’s too difficult a problem for me as a foreigner to solve, so I just say whatever the people around me say. I guess, “Ho Chi Minh City” is politically more correct and safer when in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam…

Vietnam & Its Many Peoples

There are approximately 100,000 Vietnamese people with the majority of them living in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – Cộng hòa xã hội chủ nghĩa Việt Nam. Much of the first peoples of the nation formed a rice farming feudal enclaves covered by the mountains facing modern day China providing defense during the Bronze Age. Later in opposition to the Qin Dynasty of China, the north and middle of the Vietnam of today were joined together along southern Chinese areas such as Canton to form the Nan Yue kingdom (south Yue). To this day, the Chinese know Vietnam as Yuenan 越南 (Yue of the south, or the southern most Yue). The Sino-Vietnamese word, ‘Viet’ and the Sino (Chinese) word, ‘Yue’ are often theorized to be the same word just pronounced differently. 

After this period, during the Han Dynasty of China, all of the Nanyue area which stretched from the middle of southern China to the middle of Vietnam was taken over. The Han was remembered as a rather oppressive rule. Though accounts vary, the true legend of the two Trung Sisters emerges who waged a several year long rather successful rebellion against the Han. These two sisters are often remembered as the mothers Vietnam for declaring openly that they wished for their people to be free and separate from China. In the end, they reached a tragic death and their heads are supposedly carried to the emperor of China at least according to Chinese records. How this history is remembered by each side certainly still colors how these two neighbors see each other to this day. 

  The south until that time seemed to much more influenced by the Indo than China if you think of the region as “Indo-China.” The Hindu Cham people, The Khemer and others had a large influence on the region. The region along with Cambodia and southern Thailand were unified under the more Hindu-Bhuddist empire of Champa for quite some time. To this today the south tends to be much more religious with peoples practicing Buddhism, Catholicism, and others. 

Over time, the Dai Viet empire which ruled northern Vietnam took over the southern Vietnam region that was under Champa control. This is the first time the borders we know now under Vietnamese control most closely resemble what we see today.

During the modern 19th century era, the south of East Asia saw three great powers. To the west we had the Siam empire ruling mostly over Thailand, bits of Cambodia, Laos. To the North we had the Qing Dynasty of China. And at the east we had Vietnam. This stability wouldn’t last for long. Eventually under Napoleon, France took over Vietnam and progressively more of South East Asia entirely. The French rule would be briefly paused by Japanese rule during World War II. After this war, the French went back to ruling Vietnam until the people rebelled. Then the US backed southern separatists  but as we know, the Communists of the north won. The American forces left Saigon in 1973. Next China and Vietnam had a brief war known as the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979: Chiến tranh biên giới Việt-Trung/ 中越战争 Zhōng-Yuè Zhànzhēng

For an epic rundown on Vietnamese history in video see 

Epimetheus’ channel on Youtube

That’s a whole lot of years of war. Finally, since the 80’s the Vietnamese have experienced this prolonged peace time. Today, largely because of the boom in population after World War 2, Vietnam is a very young nation. Now, 70% of the population is under 35 (that is a very high percentage for any nation) according to the World Bank. One of the biggest differences between Japan and Vietnam that I noticed immediately was seeing so many young children everywhere in Saigon. If you spent time in a city like Tokyo, Seoul or Beijing, Vietnamese cities will surprise you with just how many young people from the tots to the college students and young professionals. 

The Diverse Ethnicities of Vietnam

The World Travel Connector reports on its website that: “ Vietnam with officially 54 ethnic minority groups is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the World. About 74 million, out of 90 million people living in Vietnam, are Kinh ethnic group or true Vietnamese. The rest of 16 million goes to ethnic minorities of Tay people (about 2%), Tai people (≈1,8%), Muong people (≈1,5%), Khmer Krom people (≈1,5%), Hmong people (≈1,2 %), Nung people (≈1,1%), Hoa people (≈1%) and others.” 

Khmer Krom (Khmer: ខ្មែរក្រោម, Vietnamese: Khơ-me Crộm, Khơ-me hạ, Khơ-me dưới), are ethnically Khmer people living in or from the region of Kampuchea Krom, the south western part of Vietnam” – Wikipedia

You may notice in the region of South East Asia that there are a lot of these T/Th/D/Dh + ai/ay people. Interesting to say the least. It’d be difficult to say if they are actually related.

Here is me visiting the Dai tribal people in southern Yunnan, a province in China. 

The girl in the green is a student of mine. I would speak in Mandarin Chinese to her and she would interpret the Dai language (which is undoubtedly a cousin of the Thai language of Thailand) to me. Only the young people and a few other adults could speak the official language of the nation-state of China, Mandarin Chinese. This is the same type of phenomena you may observe with certain tribes in Indo-China: Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar/Burma. 

All of the people groups of Vietnam have their own languages, traditions and customs. Vietnamese is the lingua-franca of the country though some of the more isolated people groups in Vietnam may not speak Tieng Viet all the well – particularly if they are older and haven’t been to state run schools. 

Most of the tribes in the whole region don’t have their own states. So they’re spread all throughout SEA (South East Asia – which in my humble opinion includes specific regions of China). 

 When we want to trace the origins of these peoples, a lot of times, we only have ancient records from the larger empires like the Khemer, various Chinese dynasties or by Jesuit missionaries. All had their own political goals so records about their neighboring tribes and kingdoms should be taken with a grain of salt. History is written by the victors they say…or the disgruntled in some cases. 

Though each tribe may have their own traditions and customs collectively, they do not necessarily have the same religions. Many of the Hmong of Northern Vietnam were among the first to convert to Catholicism in the country. Meanwhile, other Hmong may be Buddhist or follow a mix of other local spiritual practices. Also note that there are various groups of people that go by the name, “Hmong” in Indo-China. There is no one lingua franca variant of the Hmong language. Sometimes English is the best language to use for the tribes across different subregions in SEA. 

A Hmong woman and child in northern Vietnam

If you are looking for a real adventure, search for programs that allow you to teach to the tribal peoples of Vietnam. Sappa and anywhere in the mountains particularly near the border with China is where you will find the tribal peoples more easily.

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) reports: “In an attempt to close the socio-economic gaps, Vietnam is experimenting with bilingual education for Khmer, Hmong and Jarai students, most of whom do not speak Vietnamese, the official national language.” 

The Hmong at the Bac Ha Market of Lao Cai just near Sapa in northern Vietnam

Opportunities to teach tribal peoples of Vietnam:

I’m sure there is paid teaching work even to these tribal areas but you’ll just have to ask around. As I said before, Google is like the tip of the iceberg with any ESL searches in Vietnam or otherwise. Word of mouth and networking within your own circles trumps internet searches. 

Other than the tribal peoples, most Vietnamese you will deal with will be the Nguoi Kinh. Nguoi just means people. So “People Kinh”. 

How Do You Get Started Teaching English in Vietnam

With all the young people in Vietnam needing education, especially English, the ESL market is booming right now in Vietnam.

Statistica reports: “The median age in Vietnam was 30.5 years in 2015, meaning that half the population was younger than this at the time, and half older.” That’s a lot young kids and up and coming pupils who need English education. Bangladesh, Vietnam, not many nations on earth with that young of a population…and in Vietnam’s case, a literate population according to “Vietnam’s literacy rate reaches 97.3 percent” posted at DTI News.

If you don’t have a college degree, you might fair better in nearby Cambodia. That being said, I personally know several dozen citizens who don’t have degrees but teach in Vietnam with just a TEFL. These days, you see a wide variety of nationalities represented in the English teaching community in Vietnam. Of course we see the people from the US like me just as Canadians, Brits, South Africans and Kiwis. Vietnam seems rather open as well now to people from other nations like the Philippines and Nigeria. I’ve worked with Hungarians, Russians and Poles too. Some jobs will be stricter than others with regards to the nationalities. Secondly, the visa process will be very different based on your nationality, so be sure to check with a reputable Visa agency or the Vietnamese embassy/consulates in your country. For a guide on requirements for becoming an English teacher worldwide, see here. 

First things first: For those who plan to go to Vietnam first and then job-hunt. 

While it would be more secure to have “A Job” before you land in country, no matter what time of year you arrive in Vietnam, there will be plenty of English jobs waiting for you. The question becomes what kind of job would suit you best at that point. More on that to come. As backwards as this seems, you generally will book your flight to Vietnam before you apply for a visa. If you are nearby in countries such as Cambodia, Laos, China or Thailand, you could come by land if you already had the visa stamped in your passport. It would seem however, that you may not apply for the visa and arrive on land. You need to apply first, then arrive at an international airport in Vietnam to receive the visa stamp in your passport. The laws may vary from country to country so again, check with a reputable Visa agency or the Vietnamese embassy/consulates in your country. Unlike some stricter countries like China or Russia, you won’t need to show your exit dates to apply for a visa. All you will need is the entry information for the visa application. 

Applying for the Visa on Arrival: 

Over 150 Countries are eligible for visas on arrival, but not all nationalities are provided with the same terms. Here is a great short list of visa stays for first arrivals. While some national passports allow for a 15 day tourist visa, this won’t be close to enough for job hunting. Thus you should apply first via a visa agency which will give you an “Invitation letter”. Unlike China with a long and complicated visa application process, Vietnam allows us to apply for our visas online. If you just do a Google search for Vietnam visa online, you’ll find many sites. I personally have been using 

Vietnam Visa On Arrival Key- Tourist visa table

The above service fees are for Tourist visas. If you want to start teaching right away, it makes sense to apply for a “Business visa.” This is the kind I personally will get as I tend to do various kinds of work when in Vietnam and this allows me to do it. Whether you want to teach at schools, tutor or start working at a company, this is the visa for you. If you are selling anything, I would also advise you consider this visa. 

Once you were to get a full time job, often the school/company/agency will take over as your visa sponsor. At that point, follow what they have you do. If you just want to work different part time jobs as many expats in bigger cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Can Tho, or Da Nang tend to do, you likely won’t need to change at all from the business visa. The Business visas are more expensive than the tourist visas, but worth the price for the freedom you get if you ask me. See a more comprehensive list of fees with my personal go-to agency here. Always consult with a visa professional before applying to stay compliant. 

While US citizens aren’t allowed a tourist visa by just showing up to Vietnam like some citizens are, we are allowed to stay for the longest duration on one visa. For all others, you would simply re-apply for your visa about 2 weeks or so before your visa is up. The less time you leave before the visa must be processed, more fees may be incurred. As a general rule, I suggest applying at least 2 weeks prior to your trip to Vietnam to avoid “Urgent service fees” which will vary from agency to agency. 

I’ve been working with these guys at Visa Online Vietnam since 2015. The more I’ve used them, the more lenient with me they’ve been. Plus, I find their buying process very simple. They have a calculator right on the website here. It’s also convenient that they have an office right in District 1 near Bui Vien/Pham Ngu Lao (the Backpacker streets).  I recommend them to all my friends and so far they haven’t let any of us down. I am not affiliated with them nor is the North American TEFL Academy. 

VIET NAM VISA SERVICE Co., LTD

– Add : 56 Nguyen Cu Trinh, Dist 1, HCM.C, VN

– Tel : +84.28.39.202.426 Fax : +84.28.39.202.425

– Hotline: +84 968.18.77.18

www.visaonlinevietnam.com


As for the VIP services, I personally always get them. Let me explain why. Regardless of using VIP service or not, when you arrive at the airport in Vietnam for the first time, you must have a specific amount of cash read in hand to pay the government officers. You cannot pay this by credit card. You have to have your picture glued to your ALREADY PRINTED form (if you forget to print, you might wait an extra hour or two at the airport and get some nasty faces from the visa staff). 

Retirement visa in Vietnam

For those expats who are looking specifically to retire in Vietnam, I know quite a few expats who have made that choice myself. I’ve heard from many that Vietnam offers still the most affordable terms compared to very popular Thailand, Indonesia (mostly because of Bali) and Malaysia. Cambodia and Laos might be cheaper but as my retiree acquaintance, John told me, “John needs a cheap place to live, an international airport and an international hospital close by. Indonesia requires me to pay for a personal maid and have many 0’s in an Indonesian account. Thailand requires many more 0’s. Cambodia is cheap but no good hospitals. So here I am in Vietnam.” 

One other aspect about being in SEA that John liked is that if he ever does get low on cash, he can always teach English as a second language for some extra spending money which will more than cover his living expenses in a city like Saigon. 

Money.com reports: “While Vietnam has long attracted budget backpackers and young techies, the Southeast Asian nation is also gaining ground among retirees. The south has warm, tropical weather year-round, while the north experiences four seasons and even occasional snow. While many foreigners have settled in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in the south and the capital Hanoi, in the north, smaller cities such as Da Nang in the center are also becoming popular. The country is well known for its friendly people, its healthy, inexpensive cuisine and its low cost of living: a couple can live a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle on less than $2,000 anywhere in the country, and even on less than $1,000 in smaller cities.” 

Begpackers in Vietnam: Backpackers that beg locals to pay for their travels or compete with local vendors selling trinkets to fund their travels are everywhere these days.

Retire in Asia reports: “Vietnam currently offers no retirement visa scheme, and retirees living in Vietnam are required to make use of either long-term tourist visas, which are available for a maximum of three months at a time, or five-year long-term visas, which need to be ‘checked up’ and renewed at immigration offices every three months.

While neither of these options are ideal, they are both relatively affordable for those wishing to retire to Vietnam, and the inconvenience of reporting to the Immigration Department of Vietnam is somewhat reduced by the fact that all foreign retirees that live in Vietnam are required to do so.”

Why you should get the VIP service for your Vietnam Visa

My very first arrival in Vietnam did not feel too friendly. I had to wait almost an hour at the airport for my visa to be approved and the visa staff people did not smile once. I also forgot to bring the cash needed in USD. Thankfully, I had a mix of Thai Baht and Japanese Yen that they did accept begrudgingly. Once you get your invitation letter approved and stamp in your passport, you wait in line to be let out. Then you get your baggage and one more security check before you can officially leave the airport to enter Vietnam. If you hadn’t by this time, make sure at the airport to get a SIM card and data in your phone from a vendor inside the airport. If you had to do all that after a 20 some hour flight, how fun would that be?

Vietnamese are generally really friendly despite my first hour of limbo at the airport. These guys saw me eating alone and insisted I join them. Stuff like this happens all the time in Vietnam. This is what keeps me coming back to Saigon.

The next time, I got all the VIP services. It was night and day. This time, a nice smiling man was holding a sign with my name on it when I arrived at the airport. I totally forgot to print my form somehow (which I again, do not recommend doing!) but he was able to go himself into a back room and print me one off immediately. Then he cut all the other foreigners in line and I had my passport with the stamp in it in a third the time it took without the VIP service. Next, we cut in line again and I got out before others. He picked up my bags for me, helped me choose a SIM card and took my luggage right to the company car. He was friendly and it was nice to practice Vietnamese with a local too – the whole agency speaks English though so don’t worry. 

*If you want to save a bit of money, you could just do the VIP service without the car and get your own taxi, but I found this way so much smoother I wouldn’t go back.

Get Around Smart & Avoid Scams

Why you are better off booking your ride in advance or at least using an app like Grab/GoViet/Be

 I got scammed once hardcore at the airport in Hanoi. Being tired after a flight and plus, I hadn’t really slept much at all the night prior. It was my first time a new area (the north and south are..controversial to say as it is, just different) and I was too assuming. Not even minutes out of the airport in Hanoi, I needed a taxi to my hostel in the Old Quarter – the famous backpacker tourist area of the city. Unlike Saigon, the airport is very far from the city center so I already had that working against me. A smiling man asks if I need a taxi. My usual knee jerk reaction would have been ‘No’. I said yes. He told me the price would be 400,000 VND or about 20 USD. In Saigon it would have been under 200k VND or less. I agreed. A van pulls up and he directs me to it. 

The van driver was odd. He refused to respond to me in Vietnamese which always makes long car rides awkward. You try a language, the other dude keeps speaking English. He kept asking if I had enough money. He even asked to see in my wallet and grabbed at it. This by the way is a very common occurrence in Vietnam since many locals assume we don’t understand their currency. Or if you give a Vietnamese a big bill like a 500,000 , they may reach in your wallet to hunt for smaller bills. It’s a thing. Don’t be offended. Just do what I do, I keep my wallet on the far side of my body now and if they ask to look inside, I show them with one arm blocking theirs. #Cultureshock . 

We finally arrive at the Old Quarter. I had a pretty big bag and was hoping he’d help me directly to my hostel. He just stopped and asked for the money first. I gave him a 500,000 (to give the exact 400,000 VND, I could have given him two 200,000’s or 4 100,000’s. I had neither). I told him to keep the change thinking hey, 100k is a nice tip (about 4-5 USD). He told me to give him another 500k. I was confused and thought something was wrong with the bill I used. He wouldn’t give me back the first one. Then he told me that the agreed price of 400k was only for up to the bridge. I needed to pay another 400k for the “After the bridge” price. This is not the first time a scammer tried this on me. He pushed out my bags at that point. I went to get my bags and he drove off. Lesson learned: Prebook your ride when you have lots of luggage. 

Hanoi’s Old Quarter. There is a certain charm to Hanoi. You can’t miss at least one visit to the capital of Vietnam on your trip to the country.
Ha Long Bay is an excellent day trip to make while in Hanoi or anywhere in the north of Vietnam. If you book a boat tour, go with the best you can afford. I’ve heard night and day stories based on the quality of the boat from different travelers. Quality boat+ great captain = Good experience.

The other time I got that scam pitch was with a Xe Om. These are the motorbike guys that you’ll see asking if you want to go somewhere. I love some of those guys and have had a great time riding around the city practicing Vietnamese with many of them. But they just about always haggle and no matter what tip you give them, you either get the puppy dog eyes or the angry smoker face demanding more. These are also the only people I’ve nearly gotten into several physical altercations with over the pay. So again, when you can, use the apps like Grab. There’s no haggling over the price there. 

Where to stay – Real Estate In Vn

If you already got a full time job waiting for you, they may tell you where to stay, but that is much rarer than in the case of China where the school may often pay for you to stay at a dorm room or apartment. In Vietnam, most teachers get their own accommodations. 

Staying in Saigon

As for Saigon, If you are looking for something more full time, you may want to stay somewhere temporarily until you know where you’ll be working. Airbnb is great for a week or two, but it will get quite expensive after a month. Many hostels around the Backpacker streets (Pham Ngu Lao, Bui Vien) area are quite inexpensive for flexible stays. 

The Bitexco Financial Tower is the second tallest building in all of Vietnam. It has a small shopping mall, cafes and a cinema on the first several floors.

If you want to save in the end, you are better off however just staying in a room offered by locals. These can range from 180 USD on the very low end – bedroom, bed, private toilet and wet shower, possibly a tv, wifi, maybe a balcony and window. You can find plenty of these sorts by simply going on foot particularly in District 1. You will see the signs in English. There is a section of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street between Mac Dinh Chi street and Dien Tien Hoang streets where you can find quite a few of these types. The back alleys of Le Thanh Ton street a.k.a. Japan Town. 

Saigon is filled with these sorts of very low priced single rooms and studio apartments. I’ve only ever moved to one unfurnished apartment. Furnished apartments are the norm. If you look on Craigslist or Facebook groups, you will find them as well as plenty of family apartments and houses that offer rooms. There are plenty of share houses often with other foreigners all over the city at very affordable prices.

I’ve stayed at quite a few over the years from District 2 and Binh Thanh District to District 1 itself. I tend to prefer my own studio apartment to room shares now so I can work at peace at home. If that is you too, you’ll find plenty of those sorts but if you want the lower prices for nicer apartments, you’ll be looking at longer lease terms in most cases. 

Many will be drawn to serviced apartments in high rises like Thao Dien Masteri in District 2 or the Landmark Tower highrises in Binh Thanh District. They have pools, gyms and shopping centers. Very convenient but not cheap. On the very

low end, I’ve seen furnished studio apartments in serviced high rises with all the amenities listed above for 650-800 USD per month. A “Serviced Apartment” usually has a service desk, i.e., a concierge, valets and security at a minimum. 

*If you want a maid, just ask your students! A lot of my teacher colleagues would have a mother or grandma of one of their students come clean their apartments, do the laundry and even go shopping for them. You can arrange whatever you want a la cart. One guy I know had the mom of his student cooking him lunch and dinner on his busy days. The mother was out of work so the money he paid her helped their family a lot. 

I wanted a maid once while living in Phu Nhuan at an unserviced apartment. I found out the building had a cleaning lady. My landlord brokered our deal. I paid her 15 USD a month to do my laundry and change my sheets once a week. If you think I didn’t pay her enough, don’t blame me, my landlord set all the prices. I did leave her tips 😉 

 The farther from the center, the lower the rent generally. You can find serviced apartment condos with pools, gyms and cafes now all the way to areas like Tan Binh District and Tan Phu District. I lived a very affordable sky rise in Tan Binh just outside the airport area. I had a gym, pool and 6 restaurants/cafes all within 3 minutes of my elevator. Plus the balcony was nice. For newcomer ESL teachers, it would be difficult on a single income to afford these.

The Sky Center in Tan Binh District
From the Pool at the Sky Center in Tan Binh District near the airport
Cafe at the Sky Center
This was my go-to cafe at the Sky Center. Freshly cooked (no frozen nada) local simple dishes, smoothies and cappuccinos….under 8 dollars

The workaround is finding family apartments in these high rises and sharing with a few other teachers. For around 280 USD to 400 USD Everybody gets their own room, you just share some space. There are even landlords that specialize in that sort of sharehome too.

The term “Private Room” in this Craigslist search helps me find only rooms. The prices all over the place upwards of 2,000 USD unless you tick that box and then the prices come down substantially. 

The Greater Ho Chi Minh City area

Many teachers love it so much in Vietnam, they decide to live here permanently. Some of them even return to Vietnam years after their teaching contracts ended to retire here. 

There is no better compliment to the Vietnamese people than seeing all the war vets that chose to return to Vietnam to live after the war. In my encounters with such vets, some claimed the Vietcong were more hospitable after the war than people back home. That’s hard to imagine when you see the version of the story depicted by the war museum in Saigon. But I don’t doubt it. Despite the word Vietnam being associated with war for some in the west still, the locals prefer to look to now, to their bright future. Years in the country and I only maybe once or twice had a local ask my opinion of the outcome of the war or even bring it up.

I know this is where I have to be – the war is over, and I will die here. “David Edward Clark, Veteran

“During the war, I felt sorry for the people in Vietnam, but I couldn’t trust them. Now I feel affection for them,” https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36363537


You can Own Your Home in Vietnam?

The question is can you as a foreigner buy land in Vietnam? 

The short answer is No. Like most South East Asian countries, you cannot buy land as a foreign individual unless you buy through a third party like a spouse or business. In either case, you as the foreigner cannot be the legal owner. Malaysia and Japan are some of the exceptions in the larger East and South East Asia region that do allow land purchases by foreigners. 

The good news is that you can purchase properties such as apartments and condos in Vietnam…sorta. You can purchase an apartment but not keep it more than a set duration of years – usually 50 years.

“You can enjoy a “land use right” for up to 50 years. This duration can be renewed. Also note that if you’re married to a Vietnamese citizen or a Việt kiều, you will have the same ownership rights as Vietnamese citizens. ” 

According to Asia Property HQ, in 2015 the Vietnamese Law on Residential Housing (LRH) came into effect making it much less difficult for foreigners to buy property. Here are some of the main points to keep in mind if you ever do decide to consider taking advantage of this law in Vietnam:

  • Foreigners can buy properties by simply possessing a tourist visa
  • There’s no cap to the amount of properties you can buy
  • Foreigners are restricted to buying a maximum of 30% of the units in condominiums and cannot own more than 10% of the properties in a landed project
  • Foreigners can now buy houses, but only 250 of the houses in a given ward (division). To read more about the districts and wards in Saigon, I recommend you to check this wiki-page
  • The leasehold period is still 50 years, but can be renewed
  • If you have a Vietnamese spouse, you can get a freehold tenure”

The most popular areas to buy reportedly are in: 

  • Ho Chi Minh City – particularly the central area often referred to as, ‘Saigon’
  • Hanoi – the capital
  • Da Nang- the up and coming beach city blanketed with mountains in the Middle region of Vietnam
  • Hue and Hoi An – Two ancient capitals near to Da Nang
  • Nha Trang – A beach city at the southern end of the A middle region popular with Chinese and Russians
  • Phan Thiet – Better known for the beach and sand dune town, Mui Ne
  • Phu Quoc – The island known for some of Vietnam’s most beautiful waters. This land was recently re-acquired by Vietnam from Cambodia. 

The above was extracted from the AsiaPropertyHQ . You may be thinking, “50 years!?” Why even do that? Well, China has a similar policy as well. These are not capitalist nations so this is what we should expect. 

Short Term Rentals in Vietnam

While you can’t easily buy apartments in Vietnam especially as a new teacher, I see many foreigners subleasing apartments. If you go on Airbnb you will see that many of the hosts in Saigon and other areas aren’t Vietnamese nor are they Viet Kieu. In these cases, the foreigners get leases from a local and then rent out the apartment on sites like Airbnb when they aren’t there. Some even follow something like the David Dang Vu Method (Airbnb Rental Arbitrage) and get a lot of leases so they can sublease for a profit. In some of the more popular high rises the neighbors aren’t too happy to see all the Airbnb short term renters coming in and out. I’d make sure my landlord knew what I was doing before trying this. 

Popular ESL Teacher Expat Destinations

*These are also the most popular places to teach English in Vietnam. The only areas missing are Hai Phong, Hai Duong and Ha Long in the north which are also very hungry for foreign English teachers at the moment. 

Here I am at the famous sand dunes in Mui Ne located in the province of Phan Thiet. It’s only a 3-4 hour bus ride from D1 in HCMC to get to Mui Ne so it’s a very popular destination for foreign and local domestic tourism as well. The best time to go to avoid the crowds is during the business week. Take off a few days and go. If you go on the weekends, expect higher prices and more people. 

Mui Ne is first and foremost a fishing village turned tourist spot. The water has lots of crabs. Great for eating but I personally preferred swimming in the pool and letting the fishermen get the crabs. 

More on HCMC. As you can see, Ho Chi Minh City is YUGE. It stretches from the sea to just outside of Cambodia. When southerners say, ‘Saigon’, as covered in the name controversy section, they are generally only referring to the central part of HCMC. Below would be Saigon as most understand it (Sgn in text slang). 

Following the design of Paris, many districts are named by a number. Some retain Vietnamese local names as you can see. There are a total of 19 central districts and 5 suburban districts in HCMC. See itourvn for a detailed breakdown of each area and tourist attractions in each. 

Landing the Best Teaching Jobs in Sunny Vietnam

Your question might be, where has the best jobs? 

The more prestigious schools are in the CBD (central business districts): D1, D3, Binh Thanh. Another area to find them is where the rich and expats tend to congregate: D7, in particular the Phu My Hung area as well as Thao Dian in District 2. All of the above areas have great schools, private schools, high paying kindergartens and are great places to meet to tutor locals at cafes. 

District 4 would be in that last, but it’s far smaller than this map makes it seem. It’s basically a little island between District 1 and 7 which is packed to the brim with housing and highrise apartments. It’s a fun area too, great to live in if you want to be just outside D1 but be warned, the roads get super clogged by traffic and it floods A LOT. 

Here is me enjoying a 2 hour trip through D4 that otherwise should’ve taken 7, maybe 8 minutes tops. 

Then again, where doesn’t flood in the city? It’s a reality you live with especially during high tides and the rainy season. 

Districts 5, Phu Nhuan, 10, 11, and 6 are as you can see, quite close to the center as well.  Lots more public schools and some private in these areas. They tend to have more affordable housing too and make for great places to go house hunting. 

Much of District 5 and parts of 11 make up Saigon’s China Town due to the large settlement of 华人 ethnic Chinese in the area. 

I have a personal love for Phu Nhuan. Trung Sa and Huang Sa roads follow the Thi Nghe Canal and shoot through this picturesque district which keeps a lot of the older Saigonese architecture. There are lots of older style open air restaurants, cafes and parks dotted along the canal. 

On Truong Sa Street in Phu Nhuan
Sea Food Hotpot on Truong Sa Street in Phu Nhuan

Vietnamese coffee should be regulated by the FDA (#sarcasm). It’s strong and addictive. 

Getting into the outer areas of Saigon, we see Go Vap District, Districts 12, Tan Binh, Binh Tan, and Tan Phu. The lower southern half of District 7 (south of Phu My Hung), Nha Be District (just south of this map for some reason) and District 8 can be coupled together as well here. As young couples look for more affordable housing, these areas become more attractive to them. These areas are growing fast. New schools are popping up everywhere and many of them will pay better than more central schools just to attract foreign teachers. Google may not be as helpful to you here. You’re better off just riding your motorbike around and handing in your resume to up and coming schools. 

It’s all about supply and demand. In these areas, demand for English teachers is high and the supply of competent qualified teachers is low.

East of the Saigon River, Thu Duc, the outer areas of D2 (anything outside of Thao Dien is “Out there”) and D9 are the areas with some of the highest potential growth. The Real estate markets in these areas are booming as the wealthy scoop up land knowing these are logically the next areas to grow. There are many universities in these areas, young families and the High Tech Park is located in D9. These are great areas for teachers to find reliable work. You won’t likely make Cocktail hour in the central areas of the city if you work/live out there, but as stated, these areas are growing and coming into their own. 

 If you keep going outwards of Saigon of these areas we see the manufacturing hubs of the south, Binh Duong Province, Bien Hoa City and Dong Nai Province. In 2025 the new international airport should be built in Dong Nai. It would take the international traffic and the domestic or nearer traffic would be routed to the Tan Son Nhat Airport in Saigon. But don’t hold your breath. 

A lot of jobs advertised as in HCMC are actually in one of these outside provinces. That being said, as a new middle class emerges due to shifting supply chains – the US-China trade war means more US demand for Vietnamese products and Vietnam is loving it – and domestic demand, many families will be moving from these provinces to those outer Saigon Districts mentioned above (Thu Duc, D2, D9) or will stay in these provinces but send their kids to these districts for better schooling. This is all the more reason why you should keep your eye on development east of the Saigon River. To a lesser extend, Long An Province south and west of HCMC, Cu Chi on west of HCMC (technically within but far from center) and Vung Tau areas which area also manufacturing hubs have similar dynamics to the outer provinces.  And remember the supply and demand principle. These outer provinces are great places to find lots of jobs as well. 

Areas other than the Greater Ho Chi Minh City Area

***I won’t even pretend to be nearly as knowledgeable in these areas. I have only been a visitor in other areas. If you are in these areas or have experience in them, please reach out to us and we’d love you to write about them four our audience! 

Likewise, I won’t make much mention of more touristy areas such as Sappa and Ha Long Bay in the north or Phu Quoc in the south as this article is aimed at those who want to find an area to work and live long term in Vietnam…those areas are more for tourism generally speaking. ***

Hanoi & the Mountainous North

Hanoi also has plenty of walkable areas where it’s relatively easy to find housing for low prices with convenient lease periods. Old Town, Tay Ho District and others are quite manageable. You can find accommodations online in English quite easily. Hai Phong, Hai Duong, Hanoi and other northern areas are growing a lot now due to manufacturing and other industries. They have a strong demand now for English, thus I would expect to see these sorts of expat friendly housing to increase in the coming years. 

Da Nang Has It All: Beaches, Mountains, City

Da Nang, Nha Trang, Can Tho and other popular cities will not have any where close to Saigon and Hanoi when it comes to affordable housing with flexible leases and that can provide services in English. It’s not that you can’t find any, you may have to shop around a bit more to find those sorts of places. Whenever in doubt, your visa agency and employer should be able to provide some recommendations at the very least. 

More on this is the cost of living section. 


As for me personally, Da Nang is the other city in Vietnam that has a piece of my heart. I worked there on a real estate project related to the new High Tech Park there. This city has it all. It has beautiful beaches, the international environment like Saigon/Hanoi without the clogging traffic, fresh sea food, lush green mountains and tourist destinations for weekend trips in every direction you could ride. 

Hue, one of the ancient capitals of this beautiful nation is farther than it looks but with the Hue Highway, very doable on the motorbike in a weekend trip. Hoi An, another older capital city is hardly 45 minutes by bike from Da Nang. Bana Hills is outside of the city but not far either. I would live there in a heart beat. 

Honestly, there just aren’t as many jobs compared with the big 2 urban sprawls of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi (but more are coming!) and finding cheap easy places to live in is far more difficult than Saigon/Hanoi. But you can do it. When I discovered Da Nang, I was kicking myself for not living there sooner. City + beaches, mountains + friendly locals. What’s not to love about Da Nang?

What’s a Province?

There are 58 total provinces (tỉnh) of Vietnam. All of them need English teachers. Mostly, here we’ve primarily looked at the larger municipality regions (thành phố trực thuộc trung ương) – Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Can Tho, Da Nang, and Hai Phong. 

There are several distinct advantages to the provinces over the larger urban sprawls aka the municipalities. 

Provincial Life Has Its Charms & Benefits for the Savvy Expat

  1. Provinces afford a much lower cost of living. Not only is food and rent cheaper than the cities, there is literaly less expensive stuff to buy even if you wanted to. Even if your job in the province pays a few dollars an hour less than the bigger cities, after all is said and done, you will still likely be ahead of the average city teacher.  If you want to save a bunch of cash for the future and enjoy a nice quiet life, the provinces are for you. 
  2. Humane traffic or none to speak of. Smog, PM2.5, long lights, and road rage are all out of the picture.. I’ve seen several all out fights between locals on the streets of Saigon. These sorts of issues are much less common in the provinces.
  3. Low Competition. Supply and demand. Less competition, higher demand for teachers. It’s simply harder for schools in provinces to attract teachers. So you have the pick of the lot once you get to an area. As mentioned above, there is a higher volume and frequency of job vacancies in the bigger cities, but not having as many competing foreign teachers makes it a lot easier to get the jobs when they open up in regional areas. 
  4. General appreciation. People will be very happy to see you coming to their areas to teach. The students, the teachers, the parents and regular locals will be shocked and many quite pleased to see you. Don’t blow it. 

There Are No Secrets in Small Towns

There are no secrets in small towns. Your dating life, bar life and anything you do will be public knowledge. So try to be mindful of that as you lead a social life in the provinces of Vietnam. 

Be extra mindful not to say or be heard saying anything negative about Vietnam or the region you are in. Keep your negative thoughts to yourself. Locals won’t know how to handle it. If you have a specific problem, try to get help with it. If something can’t be fixed, either let it go or consider packing your bags. 

I’ve been in the country for 4 some years. Vietnamese are very hospitable and friendly. BUT, the moment you start critiquing the country as a foreigner …no more smiles. This is especially true in the rural areas. I’ve seen it time and time again on social media and from other teachers. The locals want you in Vietnam to teach them English, share about your culture and overall to be a positive influence. They don’t want your politics and reform ideas…you’ve been warned. 

I once wrote about how incredibly hard it is to foster lasting friendships in Tokyo: Why is it so Hard to Meet People in Tokyo? You can do it but it takes real work just to meet busy Tokyoites. They schedule you in but often weeks or a month later. Saigonese on the other hand are better scheduled that day or the next. In fact, if you want to be canceled on a lot in Saigon, ask people to hang out on a specific date in the future. The busier they are, the truer this is. You are better off inviting them that week. I love that and it made getting to know people very easy in Saigon. Put it this way, Saigonese aren’t just friendly, they are accessible. And better yet, this is even accurate the deeper south you go (Can Tho, Ha Tien, Ben Tre…). In the north you will get better traction with introductions. For Saigonese, just smile and be amiable.

Getting around Outside the Big Metro Areas

In the whole Ho Chi Minh City greater area including neighboring provinces and cities such as Binh Duong, Bien Hoa, Dong Nai and Long An, you have a myriad of options to get around. This is where the SIM card becomes useful. Uber was bought out by a competitor, Grab. You should download the app right when you get in Vietnam. GoViet can be also be a good alternative. Just like Uber or Lyft in the US, you can pay via the app and see who you are driving with. Not having to pull out cash especially as you are on the go can help you avoid theft. I once had my phone snatched from my very hand by a slim guy on a motorbike. Gone. Never seen again. Just keep your eyes about you when you whip out your phone or wallet when on the go. Other than Grab, Go Viet and the newcomer, “Be” are great for getting around. 

Taxis are good options too such as Milano Taxi and Vinasun Taxi. They each have their own apps now too. Just make sure that the Vinasun Taxi or Milano Taxi is not a fake. Fake high speed meters and scammers are around. Until you ride around for a few weeks, it’ll be difficult to tell if a meter is too fast – especially as getting used to all the Dong with the many 0’s takes a while. The safest way is to make sure you are in a legitimate Vinasun or Milano Taxi. With Grab or GoViet, always make sure to only ride with designated drives to avoid scams. 

There are also buses which are the cheapest form of transportation. You can book tickets in advance as well to go longer distances. 

Motorbikes

If you haven’t been riding in your home country, I would at least advise you ride as a passenger on lots of Grab Bikes/Go Viets and Xe Oms . I never had ridden a motorbike myself until I came to Vietnam. I learned from just doing as the locals did. 

Xe oms (the X is like an S sound) are basically just guys on motorbikes. I’ve been on too many to count but I don’t advise going with those guys unless you’re a tad more adventurous. Xe is the Sino-Vietnamese word that just means vehicle. Xe hoi, xe buyt, xe lua…all types of vehicles. 

Once you can ride, wow, your life will never be the same in Vietnam. You never have to ask some Grab driver or taxi for permission to go where you want to go anymore. Ultimately, if you go around a lot, driving yourself is the best way to go. 

For 50,000 VND (less than 2 USD) I can fill my tank. That keeps me good for about 4-7 days. I only fill once or twice a week if I drive a lot. 

While driving usually spares you from the gruelling heat of sunny Vietnam, on those really hot days I learned to drink Nuoc Sam – Sugarcane leaf tea – from the locals. It works. If you see it being sold on the streets usually with a big sign “Nuoc Sam”, get it. It’s amazing. You down it and you cool down at least 5 degrees. #BroScience 

Was this meme made about Saigon? Hmm

Be warned however, driving motorbikes is dangerous. Expats die or end up in the hospital due to motorbike accidents every year. If you become a member of some Vietnam expat groups on Facebook, Reddit or anywhere else, you will quickly see stories of expats in the hospital or reported dead. It’s a reality. 

One day sitting next to me at Bia Craft Thao Dien was a handsome older brother I would become well acquainted with. Mark was a university teacher in Vietnam without a degree – only a TEFL. He told great stories and his students loved him.  One day several years after we met, I got this sudden message from a mutual colleague: 

Please keep Mark in mind when you ride on the roads. 

Rules of the Road in Vietnam

Read below for more detailed tips, traffic rules and guidelines to avoid accidents and trouble with the Vietnamese police: 

https://offroadvietnam.com/planning/practical-road-rules

https://www.citypassguide.com/…/traffics-fines-and-penaltie…

https://theculturetrip.com/…/11-vietnam-traffic-laws-you-s…/

According to Hoozing: “🔔𝐎𝐟𝐟𝐢𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐲 𝐚𝐩𝐩𝐥𝐲𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐩𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐬𝐡𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐞𝐢𝐠𝐧 𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐟𝐟𝐢𝐜 𝐯𝐢𝐨𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐬 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐀𝐮𝐠𝐮𝐬𝐭 𝟏𝟔, 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟗🔔

📌 From the beginning of August till 15/8, police just gave warnings to foreign violators and educate traffic laws to expats in Vietnam.

📌In the period from August 16 to October 31, the Ho Chi Minh City Traffic Police Division officially punish foreigners who don’t follow the traffic laws by fines and penalties. Police officers who are good at English will be in charge of inspection and punishments.”

Another tip is to watch the footage cams of crashes that come up on groups like “Vietnam is Awesome” and other expat groups and pages on Facebook. These will serve as a sobering reminder of how to avoid some accidents and also let you see that some accidents are nearly unpreventable. When trucks and busses go wild in lanes they don’t belong in, prayer is the only helmet you got in that situation. 

Drive carefully, look both ways always, don’t take stupid gambles, and don’t push the limit with drugs or alcohol. The police are becoming more sensitive to drinking and driving among expats too. In fact, the police are becoming more sensitive to any expat drivers breaking rules of the road. Just so you know, you’ve been warned. When I want to drink and not worry, I leave my motorbike at my apartment and I book transportation (Grab bikes, taxis..). 

Do you need a license? 

Well, it depends on who you ask it would seem. For years, I would just rent a motorbike and never worried about any license. As long as you had on a helmet and didn’t drive like a complete ape, the worst case is you would pay police a small fine. Once I had to pay a fine as a friend of mine drove my motorbike while she was wearing head phones. It was just 10 USD and she negotiated it down to 5. Now however we are starting to hear more reports that police want to see that foreigners have a valid drivers license in Vietnam. I will still risk it with my international license, but that may not even cut it in the coming years. For a comprehensive list of fines you may pay for riding, see here

So, to be safe, you should get a license in Vietnam eventually. Vietnam is still in the early stages of dealing with the rise in the expat communities across the country. Expect to see more policies that deal with foreigners specifically coming soon. 

Another trend we are seeing is more cars on the roads instead of bicycles, motorbikes, and three-wheelers. The roads are getting more clogged up as the cities like Saigon simply weren’t designed for all the big trucks and cars. With this, there is tension now between car drivers and motorbikes. In one of my adult English classes, my students remarked how they wished the government would make it harder for motorbikes to be on the road as they were “In the way.” That’s funny. I felt cars were clogging up the roads and slowing us down since I drive a motorbike. I wonder if things will change in the future. 

Motorbikes are easy to ride and pretty much, if a person can fit in a space, a motorbike will at least try to. There are no such thing as “Side walks.” There’s the road, then there’s pavement where people walk. Motorbikes will go there too if traffic is stuck. Not sure cops like that so be careful. This is also why when you have your phone, wallet or valuables out, you really must watch your surroundings. I often wait until I am backed against a wall to whip out my valuables just in case a flying motorbike doesn’t come out of nowhere. 

Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi tours. One of the coolest things you can do in VIetnam is drive from one tip to the other. Now there are special tours that help you do that. A lot of foreigners in the past would rent a bike in one city, then drive to another, feel to inconvenienced to drive it back and just sell the bike. That’s obviously not cool. So bike rental shops got stricter banning you from riding outside of the city you rented in. Then many expats started buying cheap bikes and just re-selling later in the destination city. Even if you sold at a loss, it was worth it for a two week adventure.

 Now however bike shops have started working together. You can rent a bike in Saigon, ride it to Hanoi and drop it off at a partner shop. My good friend Patrick, an American with a Vietnamese wife and kids does exactly this. I usually just rent from him for use in Saigon but he’ll help you if you want to get to Hanoi on the bike. 

Email Patrick and his wife, Nga Natalie if you are in Saigon and need a bike to rent: nga.natalie@gmail.com . All the big cities will have similar services. I can only recommend Patrick and Natalie at this time since I also know of too many scammers – a common scam is to claim you damaged the bike when you return it and asking for ridiculous sums of money. Find people that come recommended who won’t do that to you like Patrick/Natalie.. 

*I also suggest you buy your own helmet for 5-12 USD instead of renting one. I usually get two and put one in my bike in case I have a passenger. 

As for me, I always rent my motorbikes because I tend to come and go. Plus, I don’t like having to be responsible for the bike’s upkeep nor do I want to deal with selling it. If my rentals every break down, Patrick always would send someone to fix my bike for me at no charge – unless I busted it of course. If you buy a motorbike, you’ll need to fix it yourself and get it fixed. 

For buying, unless you need a brand new bike – I don’t see why you would – most people still use word of mouth, Facebook expat groups and other social apps to find bikes. You can find a decent bike for under 500 USD. Renting usually comes to about 50 USD. So after a year, it clearly makes sense to buy. That being said, I still find the maintenance to be too much for me, so I prefer to rent . Not all things make sense mathematically but choose what works for you best. 

In the end, motorbikes are very convenient, they are fun but they can also get you killed, maimed, or badly injured. Usually, traffic is too heavy and slow in Saigon for you to get horribly injured. The big crashes that lead to deaths usually are on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh city. You see a lot of those sorts in the Da Nang area as well due to all the rural roads with open spaces connected to the area. Drive if you do at your own risk. It’s all part of life in Vietnam. 

Cost of living in Vietnam

Food & Beverages

One of my favorite things about places like Thailand, China and Vietnam is how easy it is to get delicious food right on the street at really low prices. It’s like every day is a fair or festival. Street vendors are everywhere selling fruits, snacks and very affordable meals for less than a few dollars US or even just one dollar. In the large international cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Hanoi, you can also find just about any type of cuisine you like at restaurants in the city centers. 

Cheap isn’t always unhealthy. In Vietnam, the cheapest meals are sometimes the best.

My whole meal here came to exactly 75,000.00 VND or about $3.29 US

– Papaya: 25,000.00 $1.11 (negotiated down)

– Huge coconut: 15,000.00 $0.67

– Bun Thit nuong (rice noodles with pork, fresh veggies and herbs, nuts and fish sauce): 25,000 $1.11

Earlier for breakfast, I was served pho bo vien (beef ball pho) and jasmine tea for 25,000.00 $1.11

So my total so far is all under $5 and I’m not going hungry

Cheap isn’t always healthy either. See how you feel after eating certain foods and take note. Some are more sensitive to certain foods than others. I thought I was invincible. I ate just about anything people gave me from the tip of Beijing down to shores of Phuket Island in Thailand…until this one meal. It was delicious but it had just way too many clams, snails and sea urchins for my stomach to handle. The alcohol might of helped if we also had rice. If you feel you are about to hit a limit, don’t push it. This locked me in my room for about a day. 

Another convenient aspect of the Grab and Go Viet and Be apps is that you can order food delivery right to your residence. You can do other kinds of shopping too, but you’ll more than likely mostly use these apps for food delivery. If you find the selection limited there, another app I would often use is Vietnammm which also allows you to order on their website: www.vietnammm.com . Think Vietnam + mmm (as in, yum). You can pay over the apps and order directly to wherever you are. Generally, Grab will be a bit on the lower cost side whereas Vietnammm.com tends to have more variety. Also, Grab will tends to come sooner. New food delivery apps such as “Hungry Panda” and “Baemin” are popping up all the time. These apps may not do you much good at all in the countryside, but they are essentials in the cities. 

One aspect Vegan and Vegetarian expats love about Vietnam is the abundance of options for vegan and vegetarian food. Being that Vietnam has a large Buddist and Hindu influence, you can find a lot of “Com Chay”.  

It is pretty common for expats to live entirely off of “Outside food” as the Vietnamese call it: Restaurants, bars, street vendors, delivery apps. I however, do like to cook from time to time. I might order some chicken masala with my Vietnammm app and after I ate all the naan bread, I could keep eating the masala over home cooked rice. 

Eating “Outside food” aka Street food with my former colleague. In the US or most places of the world, seeing graffiti and poorly lit streets makes us feel danger, but in Saigon, it’s cool.

This cart vendor is parked right in front of one of the most expensive high rises in the city: The Manor on Nguyen Huu Canh street. 

Where to get your groceries? 

One of my favorite neighborhoods I have lived in was in Phu Nhuan District near Pham Xich Long street – known for it’s many restaurants and delicious food vendors. Right in the alley on the way next to my apartment building, there was an open air market selling fresh fruits, fish, meats and basics like rice. As for me, I tend to stay away from the meat sitting out in these markets and I will get lots of fruit, veggies and fish from the markets – the fish are still alive so as fresh as it gets. Then, I would go to the nearby Co.Op Mart, a supermarket that sells everything from groceries to clothing where I would buy meats, sauces and other food staples. The Co.Op Marts/Lotte Marts and others I would frequent in district 1 or 7 were always crowded. 

It’s nice to have options. HCMC and Hanoi will have plenty of these sorts of supermarkets plus international boutique markets like Annam Market – very high end but if there’s something western you’re craving, Annam should have it.  

Making new friends and meeting people

Yes, Tinder and other social apps are pretty popular in Vietnam. Craft beer type bars are great for meeting expats and more English friendly Vietnamese. I myself like meeting regular locals at cafes. As I said, some blocks will have 4+ cafes. I’ve met lots of locals just striking up conversations in cafes. If you show up to the same cafes enough, people will eventually reach out to get to know you. Get off your phone and smile, amazing stuff will happen. 

Being Active in Saigon

There are also plenty of activities to do like joining board game meetups, language exchanges, or joining Crossfit gyms (there are super cheap local gyms for less than 25 USD a month too!). If you want beer and activity at the same time, there’s nowhere like Saigon Outcast in Thao Dien with an outdoor rock climbing wall, bar and restaurant. If you want a little less intense of an experience, Malt Saigon has some game tables as do many bars along Bui Vien street with everything from pool to fussball. Language exchanges like Mundo Lingo occur pretty frequently so you can make lasting friendships by attending.  

International churches are great places to become a part of the community. All the big cities in Vietnam have international churches. You can find great ones like the Well International Church in Saigon just by searching on Google. Hanoi and Da Nang are a bit stricter on religious groups but I found churches just with Google there too. If you are affiliated with another group, try Google and see how it goes. If that doesn’t work, use Facebook’s search function. 

Day tours are ran all over the big cities too so that makes it easy to meet people. The best way to avoid scams by the way is to pre-book your tours. No big purchases from total strangers. Scams are ubiquitous. In the backpacker area (Bui Vien/Pham Ngu Lao) and other touristy areas like Ben Thanh Market, you will be approached by locals asking you to join some tour. Most of these folks are well meaning but expect a potential huge price haggle at the end of the trip and in some cases, a haggle over the tip . So a good tour booked ahead of time – with reviews- will save you that. The best place to find events from day tours to bar crawls is Facebook. 

Meetup.com just isn’t nearly as utilized in Vietnam as you may see in other countries. Also, keep in mind that the locals in VIetnam really love to use Zalo. You’ll meet plenty of people there too – just use precaution and meet in public places if you do. 

Tiếng Việt – the sound of the Viet people

The absolute best way to meet Vietnamese bar none is to study Vietnamese. 

Will you suck at first? Maybe. I’ve made too many acquaintances in Vietnam just with my passable Vietnamese not to recommend you try. Even just having my Vietnamese language books out at cafes had strangers warmly approaching me.

You won’t know until you try. But this is a country that will really appreciate you putting in the effort. Plus, this will expand your circle of influence from mostly young smart students to..well everybody in the country. I’ve often made new friends just by sitting down at a cafe and opening up a Vietnamese language book. The locals will often be overwhelmed with curiosity and seeing that you are interested in their culture/language, they will be compelled to strike up a conversation with you. I am not great at Vietnamese at all, but you know what, I don’t care. I don’t speak Vietnamese to be cool, I do it because I really want to communicate with real locals in Vietnam. 

For personal study, I had a lot of success with Jack Cattlet’s Vietnamese for Beginners – with recordings in the southern accent ❤️ ! Another great resource for southern Vietnamese is Vietnamese with Annie. She has days worth of free content on her Youtube channel / website and her school offers both in-school lessons as well as private tutoring at a place of your choice. http://www.ezvietnamese.com/ is also great for scheduling personal tutoring at cafes or your residence.

 I didn’t make huge breakthroughs until I got deeper into reading with books like Assimil Vietnamese and the Vietnamese for Foreigners series by Victoria University (super cheap in Vietnam, just 5-10 USD with CD) which both have recordings too to read along. These two are more based on the northern variety. Once you have solidified your accent through lots of listening – could take a few months or years- then you can study with a different accent and it won’t affect you much especially if you live in Vietnam and get to hear your chosen accent each day. 

If you are a Viet Kieu / #VietQ – Ethnic Vietnamese who’ve grown up abroad – the Victoria University Vietnamese language books have some levels just aimed at you. Vietnamese with Annie and other schools noted up top will have lots of experience with VietQ. 

Frankly, I learned a lot of Vietnamese by texting friends. When in doubt, I would use Google translate. I tested the limits of Google translate. It often left my friends confused but that’s how I knew what didn’t make sense so I didn’t have to say or write it again. One of the cool things about Vietnamese is that you can write it without any of the accent marks and people still understand. This makes it easier to write. 

The standard Vietnamese language is primarily based on the northern variety. That’s the one you hear from government officials, the news and most tv shows. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese diaspora that left Vietnam after the war tend to speak Southern plus, all the south speaks the southern variety. The middle of Vietnam (Da Nang, Hoi An, Hue…) have their own way as well. Pick the one you like. As for me, I stick to the southern. I understand my northern friends and they often tell me speak “Properly” (as in, the northern way) but I can’t tell you how many southerners and Vietnamese abroad I’ve met who are so happy to hear me as a foreigner speaking southern. On the other hand, when I meet northerners in the south and ask them if they are from Hanoi, they usually smirk with pride. 

About the genesis of the writing system used today in Vietnam, in Wikipedia we find this educational summary: 

“A romanization of Vietnamese was codified in the 17th century by the French Jesuit missionary Alexandre de Rhodes (1591–1660), based on works of earlier Portuguese missionaries Gaspar do Amaral and António Barbosa. This Vietnamese alphabet (chữ quốc ngữ or “national script”) was gradually expanded from its initial domain in Christian writing to become more popular among the general public. 

The Romanized script did not come to predominate until the beginning of the 20th century, when education became widespread and a simpler writing system was found more expedient for teaching and communication with the general population. Under French Indochina colonial rule, French superseded Chinese in administration. Vietnamese written with the alphabet became required for all public documents in 1910 by issue of a decree by the French Résident Supérieur of the protectorate of Tonkin. By the middle of the 20th century virtually all writing was done in chữ quốc ngữ, which became the official script on independence.”

Essentially, the only written systems that existed in early times were based on Chinese scripts or Indic scripts in the IndoChina region. Vietnam being more under Chinese influence than Indic used Chinese characters and later adapted their own version of it called, “Chữ Nôm 𡨸喃”.  Some reports claim up to 70% of the Vietnamese dictionary is based on Sino (Chinese) words. If you know Korean, Japanese, or any CHinese language, you’ll want to look up the Chữ Nôm as you learn modern Vietnamese. It helped me tremendously to not only remember new words in Vietnamese but also to see patterns allowing me to guess word meanings I otherwise would have seen as just jibber jabbish. So while the Latin letters we see today are the norm and hardly anybody alive in Vietnam today can read it, I still use https://www.chunom.org/ to look up Chunom words to help me study Vietnamese. 

Hint: To put it bluntly, some foreigners in Vietnam tend to not try at all to learn the language. Or they tried once and gave up. Then they complain about it the whole time they are in country. Stay away from these complainers and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can progress in Vietnamese. They’ll give you a million reasons that the language can’t be learned. Don’t talk with them about it. If someone sucked at basketball would you ask their advice on shooting hoops? It’s not that you have to be great at Vietnamese if you don’t want to, but if you keep trying, after a year or two, you will simply amaze yourself at how far you’ll have progressed. 

Do’s & Don’ts of Vietnam

Wedding in Vietnam
Do go to weddings in Vietnam. These people know how to have fun

If this is your first Asian country to live in, you’ll be in for many years of culture shock and no amount of writing can prepare you for it. It will be exciting, confusing and sometimes downright frustrating at times. If you have lived in China, Thailand or anywhere else in Asia, it won’t be too difficult to transition. As long as you are open to learning, you’ll do fine. The best way to prepare yourself for the culture is to get into the operating system. This is all the more reason to study the language, go to language exchanges, get tutoring/classes and just have fun with it. 

The biggest don’ts are do not cause a person or persons to lose face. This is Asia. It’s a shame based worldview here. Always seek to avoid direct confrontation and making others lose face. If a problem can’t be solved in a roundabout way, you may want to re-evaluate if the problem is worth solving at all. Like it or hate it, letting things go is often the best approach if you want to keep amicable relations in Asia as a whole. 

The absolute no no is critiquing Vietnam. No matter how truthful, be careful. The locals don’t tend to react well. Vietnam isn’t a country that has been hosting foreign visitors on good terms at least for much time until recently. If you as a foreigner come in and start making comments about life there that aren’t too positive, I don’t think you’ll make too many friends. You might even get fired from your job. I’m being as direct as I can to save you from a very unpleasant experience. 

If you can mostly avoid these two don’ts, you’ll have a great time in Vietnam. 

What kind of person will like it here and who won’t

Teaching English in Vietnam: What to Expect

Let’s cut right to brass tax. As fun as it is, you teach English abroad to make a living. The industry is still pretty opaque. Any stats you see online should be taken with a grain of salt.

 I’ll give you ranges based on my experience of teaching and job hunting, dealing with recruiters/agencies/schools and just word of mouth on the ground. 

If we are talking about Saigon:

I am a native American English speaker. I have a university degree and a TEFL. If you don’t have at least a TEFL, good luck – but not impossible. I have experience but in many cases, that won’t always affect the price at some places. 

How much to get paid in Vietnam

Here’s my range in Saigon. I would keep this range in Hanoi/Hai Phong/Hai Duong but it would go lower if in Da Nang/Nha Trang etc. 

  • 17 USD is insulting
  • 18 USD perks my interest if it’s a very convenient gig – like walking distance from my apartment
  • 19 USD is still meh but within range of consideration
  • 20 USD is my satisfied but not happy number
  • 25 USD is where I begin to smirk a bit. At these numbers and beyond, you will need special gigs that are either outliers for some reason or you just negotiate harder. 
  • 25+ ~35 USD  For tutoring, this is a very achievable rate. For a school that takes a cut off, this is close to the peak for most places. If you run your own class, you can get double this an hour or much more. 

For a full time gig, you should not be booked to teach more than 20 hours a week as remember, you need in theory 1 hour of planning per hour of teaching. Who actually does that? Good on them though. ANyway, that’s a general rule. By time you add transportation, set up, lesson planning and all, if you are on schedule for more than 30 hours a week, you will really struggle to stay on top of things. Oh and if you want a life, well, forget it. You now also will have difficulty getting a moon lighting job or tutoring. 

Now, if those hours beyond 20 are overtime, now that’s a whole different discussion. Test yourself. See how you feel after 20 hours a week first and then after you are confident start teaching on the side if you ask me. 

You will see that online it is hard to find hard data about the salary ranges of ESL teachers in Vietnam. ITTT, a TEFL website reports that:

“The average salary for ESL teachers in Vietnam is around $1,000 USD per month for a first time teacher. Those with more experience and qualifications can expect to bring in up to $2,000 USD per month, depending on the employer. Other teachers choose to work on a freelance basis which means they are paid an hourly rate rather than a steady salary. In these positions pay rates range from $15 to $30 USD per hour. The vast majority of available jobs are located in the two big cities of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, although you will find options in other towns and cities throughout the country.”

Go Overseas reports the following: 

  • Private language centers: $1,200-$1,800 per month
  • Public schools: $1,500-$2,100 per month
  • Universities: $900-$2,200 per month
  • Tutoring: $60-$100 per hour
  • Other jobs: $25-$30 per hour

Why guess? See some real job postings on the https://vietnamteachingjobs.com/ website. 

Keep these numbers in mind as we consider the average salary of local Vietnamese. Overall, Vietnam is on an upward trajectory.

The World Bank reports: “Vietnam’s shift from a centrally planned to a market economy has transformed the country from one of the poorest in the world into a lower middle-income country. Vietnam now is one of the most dynamic emerging countries in East Asia region”. 

Vietnam-briefing.com reports: “In 2017, the average monthly wages of the business sector reached VND 8.3 million (US$354), up 10.1 percent compared to 2016. ”

On one hand, making 1,000 USD~2,000 USD/month sounds like peanuts from North American and Western European standards. It wouldn’t get you very far in Japan or South Korea either. Yet, in South East Asia and most of the developing world, it goes a long way. You can see that even at $1,000 a month, you are making over 2.8 times the local average.

At $2,000 a month you bring in over 5.6 times the national average. Let’s do the math. If you make 20 USD/month as your benchmark, you only need 50 hours a month to reach 1,000 USD. That is about 12.5 hours a week of teaching which is part time by any standard. 25 hours of teaching a week and you hit $2,000 a month. You can do that with a full time gig and overtime or adding tutoring or a second job. If you find a higher paying job (which may require those office hours, yay), you should be able to clear 2,000 USD a month without breaking 20 hours of teaching a week. If you are used to a 40 hour or 50 hour work week, this will be like a workation for you.

Vietnamonline.com reports the following as the HIGHEST PAID jobs in the country 

VietnamOnline Highest Paid Jobs

Expect salary numbers to be wildly different based on supply and demand. Big cities tend to pay more – but don’t forget the hidden costs of living in the city vs other areas. 

So for maximum numbers alone plus the higher chance of getting work, HCMC and Hanoi/Hai Phong are the peak areas. Da Nang, Nha Trang, Can Tho and other medium sized cities are getting up there recently, but the average salaries offered will tend to be lower than the bigger cities. THe countryside and small beach towns will generally offer the lowest but the cost of living will be dramatically lower too so it may balance out. 

Another aspect to consider is how easy it would be to add hours moonlighting or tutoring. That is what most teachers eventually will do whether they have one full time contract or not. You’re gonna be at cafes all the time if you live in Vietnam anyway, you may as well have somebody else pick up the tab and earn some extra Dong. 

*Since most Chinese online teaching platforms like Vipkid, Qkids, Magic Ears and Whales English will have night time classes, that matches perfectly with Vietnam. You could teach public schools during the day and pick up night classes at your apartment with these online gigs. One drawback to the online teaching is that unlike most regular gigs in Vietnam, you are not paid in cash. Online schools pay you via PayPal. Uncle Sam will see every cent they transfer for you so be warned if you are an American. Getting paid by Vietnamese jobs in cash – this is just about always the case for part time gigs in Vietnam at least – is a huge plus. Uncle Sam can’t see it all. Take that to mean what you will. 

Consider also the type of institution you will be working with. Is it a public school direct hire, a private school (international kindergartens, international schools fall under the private umbrella) direct hire, direct hire from university, hire via an English teaching school like ELC, ILA, VUS, APAX, English First (EF) or APOLLO where you teach at their private offices or are you hired by one of these agencies but do all your teaching directly at a public/private school…? It’s a no brainer that middle men cut into your salary but these middle men can make your life a heck of a lot easier. They may provide transportation, banking assistance, benefits and do the hard negotiating work which you just can’t do with the schools. 

*I was paid 20 USD after taxes for ELC to teach Hu Tech University students. This was actually pretty low and I should’ve negotiated harder as I found out a colleague of mine with many years less experience got a few more dollars an hour but oh well.

Later, I ended my contract with ELC and Hu Tech reached out to me directly and offered me a very low 15 USD an hour. ELC referred me at no benefit to them but I decided to pass on the low offer. I found later that it is typical for universities in Vietnam to pay very low and sometimes only once a quarter! Ther are some exceptions like RMIT which pays much more I hear. Most universities in fact don’t even pay once a month…to anyone including their own staff. You get paid once a quarter at most universities. That sucks. If you have savings and other jobs though and as long as the uni gig is only a few days a week, then having one big fat check at the end of the quarter will be pretty nice. 

*Reminder. Once you have a business visa, nothing is stopping you from going to any old corporate office and selling them on a private English course. What’s the worst thing an office manager will tell you? To go away? So what. Somebody will say yes and you’d earn 2x, 3x as much as you will with most schools. 

One more consideration is whether or not they will require extra work on top of the teaching hours such as “Office hours” – office hours are a cheap way of forcing teachers to stick around the office to show face. Teachers like these like you like getting your teeth drilled. But there are some good jobs that feature these so you may have to bite the bullet. You should use them for lesson planning but I personally prefer to do that in my own allotted time. You get more efficient at lesson planning over the years anyway. Once you have enough games and activities in your tool belt, you can run on autopilot. 

You can always tell a new teacher as they will spend hours planning lessons. That’s great to do and we’ve all had to do it. But eventually, you won’t need that long. So it does suck having to do “Office hours” when you know you could plan your lessons in a third the time or less. 

Teach English in Vietnam without a Degree

For a comprehensive list on countries that allow you as a foreign expat to teach English without a college or university diploma, see the North American TEFL Academy’s top picks. You will still need a TEFL at a minimum to teach in most of these on the list.

NNES English Teaching Listings in Vietnam

The case with the Native English speakers (NES) without a degree is much akin to that of the case with Non-native English Teachers (NNES) with a degree. Both situations will be much improved with a TEFL at least or TESOL etc. Both camps will need to just email a bit more, apply a bit more and be a bit more aggressive in the job hunting process to land decent paying jobs all over Vietnam…they are out there.

Non native English teaching jobs the north american tefl
English Teaching job for non native english speakers in Vietnam

If you want volunteer teaching, Vietnam does have plenty of opportunities especially for summer camps. Whether for volunteering or paid teaching gigs, you definitely want to go join some expat Facebook groups. See below for examples. New ones pop up daily. First of all, don’t forget to join the North American TEFL’s Facebook group. 

Facebook Groups to Find ESL Jobs in Vietnam

Specifically for volunteering, WWOOFING may be a great avenue for you. 

The best times to be looking for teaching doesn’t exist per say. Private corporate English is going on all year. But, the majority of jobs will be with public schools.

 You want to apply starting several months up to April/March to be ready for the spring session. In Asia, the spring is often when the school year starts. It makes sense that the best pick of the jobs are in the spring. First come first serve as they say. 

The second best time to apply is in the summer for the Fall semester after the summer vacation. I say “Fall” but it’s a figure of speech. The North sorta has an autumn but in the south there is no such thing. Anway, the second term usually starts in late August or early September. 


Most schools prefer you to be in country and near the place of classes several days before the classes begin. Come even earlier if you can so you can get over jet lag and enjoy the country first before you start teaching. 

Thriving in Sunny Vietnam

Surviving, living and thriving are all different. No use going to a new country just to barely make it. We all have different tastes and things we “Need” that we may not. I’ll do my best to reasonable so you aren’t dismayed. Some reports online make it sounds like you could live in Saigon off 200 USD a month or some ridiculously low number. The Vietnamese can do that sure, because they pool their resources together as a family. Unless you plan to move to Vietnam with your whole family and do the same, you’ll definitely need more than that to pay rent, stay feed, get around and oh yea, have something to save at the end of the month. 

Again, finding reliable stats for Vietnam is just plain hard. I do tend to agree often with the reports on Nomad List as the numbers are pooled collectively from many users over time. 

Here’s my go at it but your numbers may be quite different depending on your standard of living and must-have’s. Figures are given in USD.  

 FOE ExpatFull time ESLTeacherBackpackerHippie
Rent& Utilities700350250
Motorbike rent50500
Gas20200
Grab/Taxis502520
Meals: 3/day30 by 30 >90015 by 30>45010 by 30 >300
Drinks: Smoothies, beer, coffee, etc.20 by 30>60010 by 30>3005 by 30>150
Gym 14525Nearby park
Other: Cinema, Massages,tours, clubs, etc.30010050
Total27651320770

*These numbers are only based off of Saigon as per my experience up to summer 2019. Saigon isn’t always more expensive. HCMC has a very sophisticated supply chain. Sometimes food is cheaper in Ho Chi Minh than in Da Nang. Each city will have its own costs but take these measurements as ball park estimates for the whole country. Overall, Hanoi won’t be too far off and the countryside will generally be lower cost though with less services and lower quality of the same goods/services. 

*A big question for you will be how you plan to get around. As above in the motorbike section, I suggest most people wait to get one or start riding at all. Use a mix of Grab (or alternative like Go Viet), taxis, walking and buses to help you get a lay of the land. I would even guess the average expat doesn’t drive at all. Maybe less than a third of us do if that. If you do ride, as we discussed earlier, you can save big over the course of a year by buying a motorbike instead of renting. But that’s a hassle so I kept the stats here for renting. 

*I assumed you won’t cook at all. This is based on the idea of just eating out as a lot of expats do while in Vietnam. You could save even more money by getting a rice cooker and eating in more potentially. I’ve had many expats tell me that it’s cheaper to eat out in Vietnam/Thailand than cook, but these aren’t exactly the type of people that cook anyway. I found that I tend to eat more of the same things and my spending is more predictable when I cook. Do what works for you. 

*Gym: Bigger spenders tend to congregate at gyms like California Fitness which runs you about $145 per month – though cheaper if you buy annually I hear. Crossfit is in the same neighborhood price wise. Or, if you went to one local gym and added a Yoga studio or high intensity sport like MMA, you’d land in the $100~$200 range. 

Otherwise, if you just want weights and machines, you can go shockingly cheap. If you pay 500,000 VND (about 22 US) a month or less, expect no AC, the weights to be all over the floor, no racks and dudes to be smoking in and out the gym..and everybody will be barefoot. I’m not making that up. I love those gyms.

 If you pay upwards of that, usually the gym will be at least air conditioned, it more than likely will have places to rack the weights and it will be pretty decent overall. Double that to about 1 million VND or close to 50 USD and you’re either paying for a brand name, location or more services. I’d say 600,000 VND to 1,300,000 VND is max you should pay for just having a gym. Or there are plenty of parks all around the cities and they cost you 0 Dong. 

*FOE expat: Foreign Owned Enterprise expat. These are the expats that fly in and work for foreign companies that tend to get paid the same salaries as back home while living in Vietnam. So they’re ballin. 

You won’t stay long in Vietnam without running into backpacker types. They may work here and there but mostly by choice prefer to live off of less. For the sake of seeing the numbers, I included them. 

As you can see with the middle numbers for the ESL teachers, as long as you at a minimum make 2,000 USD/month (46,393,600 VND as per Google), you should have at least 600 USD left over. 

The Richest Man in Babylon tells us to save at least 1 coin of gold for every 10 we receive. Following this line of thought, we’d save 10% or $200 (4,639,360 VND as per Google). The same book suggests we set aside a minimum of 20% for debt → $400 (9,278,720 VND as per Google). In theory, you’d possibly still have some left over each month. Overtime or moonlighting with side gigs will add a big boost. 

If the ESL industry in Vietnam were an iceberg, the visual parts would be what you can find on Google. The just below the surface would be what you find on Facebook. The majority of the iceberg would be what you can only find on your motorbike/on foot or by word of mouth. 

To lower the brunt of the costs of moving to Vietnam, a good or less than stellar in hand is what I suggest you aim for. As in, secure a job before you land. In most cases, whatever you get will be just ‘Ok’. You’ll find way better jobs after you get settled in. So don’t fret too much as long as it meets the core points mentioned above:

At least 20 hours a week at 20 USD a month or worst case, $17/mo, no more than 20 hours a week in teaching hours required unless overtime is paid, no extra costs placed on you other than transportation. 

There are exceptions. Look at this job posting on a Facebook TEFL group below. The salary isn’t great but then you see “Free accommodation, transportation,visa”. So, it works out

I’d personally just rather get paid more since I know Vietnam well enough to figure out my housing, transport and visa without my employer’s help. For total newcomers, this sort of job post is a great start! 

Some schools will cover transport but it’s not necessary since transport at least in Saigon/Hanoi is relatively cheap. In fact, I prefer when they don’t so I am free to go wherever I want on my motorbike. If you are sent on far away assignments to sub at schools, at a minimum the company should pay your gas or Grab car fees to get there and back. For example, if you are based in Ho Chi Minh City but are asked to teach several times a week in Bien Hoa, the school/agency you work for better cover that. 

How to be a very unhappy expat teacher in Vietnam

This will be particularly true in the larger metropolitan areas such as the greater Ho Chi Minh City area + Bien Hoa, Dongnai, Binh Duong. The quickest way to hate your life is to overcommit yourself to too many part time teaching gigs that are far from each other. This is so common for teachers to do and they end up burnt out. What is far should be measured here not just by distance in kilometers but also by time spent in traffic from school A to school B. 

My good friend Aaron who wrote the Vietnam Teaching Guide book found himself in that rut. He would have a morning job in one district in Saigon, then a very quick afternoon gig in another district so he couldn’t even take a nap. If you work part time gigs you should figure out how to get in a nap by breaking up your morning and afternoon ships. #Gamechanger . Then Aaron would have to get ready for a two hour gig in the evening. On top of all that he worked for an online English teaching company that kept cutting down his hours – yet giving him just enough hours that he had worry about another job. Aaron was working hard all over the place and not working smart. He shares what he learned and how he got himself out of this situation in detail in the book.

On the other extreme, there are teachers that just seem blessed with a schedule so ideal it looks like they won the lottery. In most cases, they were just choosey with the jobs they selected so it fit the lifestyle they wanted. A little bit of pre-thought out lifestyle design is all you need. Think things out logically. 

Let’s say I live in District 7 and I teach MON-WED-FRI from 8 AM to 12:30 PM in Phu Nhuan District. Right off the bat my morning commute might be killing me – literally. Driving a motorbike is awesome, it’s fun. But stop and go traffic for 30 minutes to an hour is not. There are so many fumes you’d absorb if you did that on a daily basis it would just be not fun. You’d want a shower the moment you arrived at school. A drive like that is unavoidable if you live in the city long enough – eventually you will. No reason though to make your life so tough. I’d be better off staying in D7 since there are so many schools there anyway. Even the bridge over to D4 and then to D1 gets very clogged at times. 

Sometimes it’s not realistic to stay in one district and get all your work/living needs met. D7 and Thao Dien in particular will have more than enough if you look carefully. Discipline yourself to only work at schools that are near your residence or at least, near to the other schools you are teaching at if back to back. 

For example, if I taught MON-WED-FRI from 8 AM to 12:30 PM in Binh Thanh District while living in Thao Dien of D2, that would be pretty manageable. Many expats prefer to live in Thao Dien while working all over the city. It really just depends on your traffic tolerance. Binh Thanh District, D1, certain parts of Thu Duc District and D9 would all be quite manageable from Thao Dien. Thao Dien is in the northern peninsula of D2 so Phu My Hung in D7 (right in the middle of D7) would be far. 

If you do need to go somewhere far or this addition to your schedule is particularly inconvenient, make sure it pays really well. Or, just wait until a better offer arises. If you just take whatever offers come your way as many teachers do, you’ll be burnt out in 2 months or less. The traffic on the way to a job you dislike will break you. Most people may not dislike the job per say, just they dislike the whole situation they’re in and attribute all their pains to the job. The reality might just be that their schedules are horrible. It has happened to many of us. 

I had just finished my contract with another school in the summer. Instead of looking for teaching hours in certain districts near where I was living at the time in Phu Nhuan, I started taking sub jobs in Bien Hoa city and wherever came up. The jobs paid around $22/hour but they it would often take me 1-2 hours just to get to the school. So I was exhausted, dusty and tired. Driving near construction zones on a motorbike gets you pretty dusty. One night it poured raining after I taught for 6 hours in a building made entirely of tin. I sweat the entire 6 hours without any AC and then couldn’t get a Grab bike to give me a ride back to Saigon. I had to sleep in a nearby hotel. The commuting time I lost was like losing 20~22/hour I could’ve gotten teaching somewhere closer by to my home. I lost money at that hotel I didn’t even want to stay in and the commute was horrible. I quit after that as you can imagine. 

It’s amazing how many expats I meet in jobs that just make no sense based on where they live. They’d drive two hours to teach two hours…and then drive two hours back! So instead of teaching 6 hours at 20/hour to earn 120 USD (!), they’d only earn 40 USD. That is a difference of 80 USD. Imagine having two days like that a week. You’d be leaving 640 USD on the table. And for what? 

The second easiest way to hate your new life in Saigon is working with dishonorable people. If you can’t speak honorably about your managers/employers and you constantly find yourself complaining about how unfairly they treat you, why stay? Go. Quit and work for people you can be proud to work for. If you can’t find such people, don’t blame Vietnam or the Vietnamese culture. You may want to look into the mirror. We can all get into negative ruts. See if there is something in particular about your job that is causing you stress. If you and your employer can find a way around that one thing, you might be really happy to work there again. 

It’s never ideal to quit a job before having a second lined up no matter what country you are in. If however, your job becomes unbearable, do it. Just leave. It’s better to have 3 so-so jobs than one you abhor. Usually, at the end of each semester the better jobs for the next one start to open up. 

If expats could just avoid those two things while in Vietnam, they’d have much less stress. Vietnam is a tropical country with a lower cost of living, beautiful nature and fun people. You shouldn’t feel on edge being there. If you do, find whatever it is that is bothering you and see if you can eliminate it. 

Remember, the very highest paying teaching job you’ll ever land will be the job you create. Get to know locals. Eventually you may want to gather a group together for your own classes. You can charge fair prices to the students which are what they’d pay anywhere. But because you cut out the school and agency, you’d take home the lion’s share. Suddenly you could go from making 20 an hour to 100, 200 an hour. Eventually that model will require you to get more teachers to work under you to scale up. That’s how new schools are born. 

NET’s (Native English Teachers) and NNET’s (Non-native English Teachers) all have ample opportunities to teach at all levels in Vietnam. It’ll always be harder for the NNET’s but that’s no different than any other ESL market. NNET’s increase their chances of getting well paying employment in Vietnam doing the same things I’d advise natives to do: Get a TEFL – TESOL’s are great too. Dress well. Be polite. Follow application guidelines. The only difference is volume. NNET’s will on average have to apply to more schools to get offers than NET’s. The larger your personal network, the better your chances though of getting word of mouth jobs. Having a degree sure does help! 

*Don’t believe all the negativity you see on ESL groups on Facebook. You can get the impression non natives never get jobs which is just false. If I had 100 Dong for every non-native speaker I met teaching English in Vietnam…the bigger problem legally will be if you have no degree. It’s a grey area so ask your school or visa agency if issues arise. A TEFL may work in cases where you don’t have a degree. 

VietQ

Vietnam has special visa incentives for the the Viet Kieu / VietQ. And if you need work, many VietQ teach English in Vietnam. Yeah, some schools will try to pay VietQ teachers less even though they may have been born, raised and educated in an English speaking nation such as Australia…and have a degree. Just be tough and cast a wide net to increase your chance of a higher income.

Some are even specifically looking for Viet Kieu / VietQ teachers. 

Vietnam also has a huge demand now for Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Spanish, French and other top European languages such as Russian, and German. If you speak any of these natively, you may be able to earn even more teaching them than English! Or, you might not find job openings but you can tutor these languages. Adults and university students will be your target market in these cases. 

Universities can be good if part time for the reasons covered above – they tend to pay just so so and often pay once a quarter. The exception is working for an agency like ELC or special programs like RMIT has. Usually middlemen make the prices go down, but ELC did a good job of negotiating so teachers get paid well too at Hu Tech university. Similar programs are popping up throughout Vietnam. 

While most teachers actually do their teaching at public schools, generally they are on contract with a larger ESL company like ILA. ILA may have you teach some hours in their office and some at local schools. Otherwise, you may do just one and not the other. This sort of arrangement is the most common form of employment you see. Again, just because a company isn’t on Google’s first few pages doesn’t mean they’re bad employers. 

Shop around for schools/agencies but don’t be too picky. Ready or not, pick one. No matter where you choose to work or with whom, you’ll only know it was the right choice once you’ve been teaching for a few months. By then, if you want to find another place, you can start looking.

RESOURCE Section

Real estate

Studying Vietnamese: 

Vietnamese with Annie. Youtube channel / website  http://www.ezvietnamese.com/

italki.com  : A great place to find a Vietnamese teacher AND get your own students

Getting ESL jobs

http://jobs.angloinfo.com/?siteid=105
Dave’s ESL Lounge job board: http://www.eslcafe.com/joblist/

https://vietnamteachingjobs.com/
http://www.vietnamworks.com/

Honorable mention ESL schools/companies you may wish to apply to:

ELC

 ILA

VUS

 APAX

English First

APOLLO 

RMIT

*All these schools will have Amazing and Horribly terrifying online reviews. Just remember a lot of reviews are written by people who got fired or no longer work at the schools so don’t take them as Gospel truth. 

See the North American TEFL’s top recommended schools here: https://northamericantefl.com/tefl-jobs/

Craigs List Jobs board in HCMC: https://vietnam.craigslist.org/d/jobs/search/jjj?lang=en&cc=us 

Facebook groups 

Food apps

 www.vietnammm.com  

Motorbike: Email Patrick and his wife, Nga Natalie if you are in Saigon and need a bike to rent: nga.natalie@gmail.com

Social Apps:

Zalo: This is the most popular local app in Vietnam. Download it, mingle and find students!

Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, Line, WeChat, Kakaotalk, Tinder… will all be good too. Folks tend to prefer you call them with these apps instead of their phone numbers to save money so pick one or a few and use them to connect with your new Viet friends

If you hate Facebook, too bad. It’s a big deal in Vietnam. Many companies, especially schools just set up a Facebook page and don’t even bother getting a website. You’ll have better chances (as of 2019) on Facebook finding jobs and apartments than on Google!

Get Online ESL jobs: 

Oetjobs  Great site for reviews on online ESL jobs in general

HiOffer – Also another great site for finding online ESL jobs and other ESL jobs

Qkids

 DaDa

 Whales English

 Magic Ears

Palfish – teaching on your iphone/mobile

 VipKid

EF (English First) – Also has online teaching jobs

Meeting People in Saigon:

 board game meetups

Crossfit 

Saigon Outcast 

Malt Saigon 

Mundo Lingo 

 Well International Church 

Books & Blogs

Vietnam Teaching Guide: Escape the Average, Save Money, Enjoy Paradise by Aaron Trevino (Author)

the Saigoneer

Get a TEFL

Need a TEFL? Get our course which is excellent for teaching English in Vietnam, China and hundreds of countries worldwide as well as for teaching online

1 thought on “Vietnam: The #1 Underrated Country to Teach English and Live as an Expat?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *