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Life's a breeze for most expats

Released at: 07:05, 19/05/2018

Life's a breeze for most expats

Photos: Viet Tuan

Most expats have it pretty easy in Vietnam when it comes to earnings and expenses.

by Le Diem

When he came to Vietnam six years ago to experience life in Asia, Shane McGrath’s plan was stay for six months or so. He did actually leave, after two years, to elsewhere in the region to live and work, but he always found himself missing Vietnam. It’s now six years he’s lived here and some of his friends and even cousins have come to join him. They are part of the country’s expat community and very much enjoy their new life in Vietnam.

More doors open

Vietnam was recently named among the Top 10 destinations for expats in the InterNations’ 2018 Expat Insider survey, one of the largest surveys worldwide offering an in-depth analysis of expat life around the globe.

Nearly 13,000 expats from 188 countries and territories took part and more than half in Vietnam said they planned to stay in the country for up to five years, which is well above the global average of 35 per cent.

With its rapid development, international and regional integration, and positive changes in policies to welcome foreign investment in recent years, Vietnam is an appealing working environment amid tough times in a lot of Western countries. Many expats agree they have more job opportunities and can earn more in Vietnam than they would at home. 

After graduating in Psychology in Ireland, Shane found it difficult to find a job in his chosen field and ended up working as a waiter in a bar. One day he saw English teaching jobs in Vietnam on the internet and decided to take the plunge. After interviews, he got a job at an English center before coming to the country. His weekly schedule was soon filled with more lessons after he arrived and looked for more work. “There are a lot of jobs teaching English, as demand is high,” he said

Agreeing, his friend Melanie Craddock from South Africa also easily found work teaching English. She received offers just minutes after posting on social network and forums like Hanoi Massive and The New Hanoian seeking work. Her week was soon full. 

From France, Clement Vrmin doesn’t teach English like the majority of expats but found a good opportunity to open a business. After visiting Vietnam and recognizing that there are not many companies offering tennis lessons and sports equipment, he decided to return and see if he was right. With less competition than back in France, his company had many customers not long after opening. “I’m always busy and business is good,” he said. 

Not only are there more job opportunities but they come with a higher income. At an average of $20-25 an hour for teaching English, an expat usually earns around $1,500-$2,000 for working three to five hours a day. “I easily earn more than at home,” Melanie said. 

Affordable comfort

Higher salaries and cheap living cost makes Vietnam an attractive proposition for foreigners. Expat Insider 2017 voted Vietnam as having the lowest cost of living for expats among 15 other countries, including Thailand and Mexico. 

Depending on the location, rents in major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang run from $200 to $500 for a nice room in a shared house or a one-bedroom apartment. It’s half the price and double the space of the last place Shane lived in in Ireland. 

Getting around is easy enough for those who get a motorbike. Most expats can afford $2,000 or so for a good second-hand or new motorbike that will last several years. The traffic looks crazy, the expats agree, “but as soon as you get out there you learn how to adapt and it’s fine,” Melanie said. 

Vietnamese food, meanwhile, is diverse and cheap. Many expats said they rarely cook in Vietnam even though they often did back home. In France, Clement said, the choice when going out eat was only expensive restaurants and he could afford it only once a week at a maximum. Moreover, he had to plan ahead before venturing out as restaurants and eateries are not found everywhere. In Vietnam, though, food is available on nearly every corner. “It’s also really cheap. For $1 you can fill your stomach with a ‘banh mi’ (Vietnamese sandwich), a bowl of pho, or a noodle soup,” he said. “They’re all yummy, and Western food is also cheaper here than at home.” 

Melanie also fell into Vietnamese food immediately. As one of many foreign vegans she was surprised to find there were so many places she could eat. One of her favorite places is a “com binh dan” (rice eatery) for vegetarians with a range of dishes served like a buffet and costing just $1-2 for a meal.  

Drinks are also bargain basement and add some fun. A glass of “bia hoi” (draft beer) is just 25 cents, a mixed drink $2, and a cocktail $3-$5. “I spend $20-50 on a night out here and do it three or four times a week,” Shane said. “It would be impossible for me to do the same in Ireland. One night out costs at least $150.” 

Though enjoying the cheap drinks, many expats find they start drinking too much and notice its effect on their health. The same with cigarettes, which are a tenth of the price back home. They also find the pollution in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City a little hard to deal with, but that’s really the only thing that would make them hesitate to live here for a long time. 

Warm people 

One of the things that leaves an impression on most expats living in Vietnam is the friendliness and kindness of Vietnamese people. 

They were surprised to get smiles and hear “hello” while walking down the street. “It’s weird when a stranger smiles at you on the street back home,” said Clement. “You would wonder what’s about to happen. Here, it’s normal.” 

Shane will never forget watching Vietnam play Qatar in the U/23 Asian Cup at a bia hoi, when strangers came up to him to toast or jump on the table in celebrating Vietnam’s win. He became friends with some of them and was invited to their house to eat and to go to karaoke. “I really missed Vietnam and the people when I left. So I came back,” he said. 

Melanie is very much impressed by the level of safety in Hanoi. She can go out late and have no problems, which she wouldn’t dare do in South Africa, where she could easily be mugged. She also appreciates the honesty of the people. When she first arrived and was confused with the value of the currency, with all those zeros, she just opened her purse and allowed the vendor to take out the right money. “They always took what was right,” she said, adding that she heard about scams in Vietnam but that seemed limited to tourist places. One time she paid VND500,000 ($22) instead of VND20,000 ($0.8) for a beer in a bar by mistake because their color is similar and she wasn’t yet familiar with the different notes. Two weeks later, she returned to the bar and the bartender remembered her and gave her the change. “I couldn’t believe that - two weeks later and he remembered me, even though that was the first time I went there,” she said. “It would never happen at home. I really fell in love with Vietnamese people.”

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