Over the past decade or two, Ho Chi Minh City, known by locals as Saigon, has become an increasingly popular resting place for those looking to live outside their home countries. The fact that Saigon is becoming a more popular expat living destination is no coincidence, though.
Compiled according to responses from dozens of expats living in the city, here are 10 of the biggest reasons many expats leave their hearts in Saigon.
1. The Booming Business Opportunities
Thanks to the many years of iron-fisted and business-stifling rule that occurred in Vietnam during the last half of the 20th century, some people have an image of Saigon as a city where bread-lines are found on many corners and fledgling business ventures are a virtual impossibility. This perception could not be further from the modern truth. In fact, Saigon is developing into an upscale metropolis at an amazingly fast rate, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a city on Earth where promising start-ups and lucrative investment opportunities are more plentiful. Many new expats and even some tourists who had never planned on moving to Ho Chi Minh City on a permanent basis stumble across business opportunities they cannot resist, and that makes them want to stay.
2. The Easy Visa Procedure
Lots of expats in Vietnam may complain about the visa renewal or extension procedures because, let’s face it, visas are a pain in any country. Those who have lived in many different nations in the past, though, will tell you that maintaining a valid visa is much easier in Vietnam than in most places.
First of all, obtaining a work visa or residence visa, which are good for years without even having to renew them, is easy for most expats. English-teaching (ESL) jobs are extremely easy for native speakers to find and obtain, and almost all ESL employers will work out a visa for members of their faculty.
There are many different jobs available here for expats who are skilled and experienced, often these jobs are advertised overseas and expats employed before they arrive will find their employers take care of this side of things.
Even if you don’t qualify for one of the years-long visa types or Temporary Residents Card (TRC), it’s very easy compared to most countries to manage your own visa. The government regulations on the process are a bit more relaxed than in most places, so you don’t need to spend hours in the immigration office every two months or travel to the Laotian border before paying $120 to renew like you would as an expat in, say, Thailand. Instead, just find a trusted visa renewal agent in the city and throw a few bucks their way.
3. The Accessibility of Modern Living
As mentioned, Saigon is quickly developing a large upper-middle class and a corresponding selection of living options. By Vietnamese standards, those options would be considered upscale, but they may seem necessary to expats from first-world countries who are used to “Western-style” amenities. In short, it is incredibly easy for all expats to find a living space consistent with what they would hope to find in their home city. The same goes for restaurants, clothing outlets, supermarkets, furniture stores, and basically any other kind of shop you can think of. More traditional shopping or living options may be the cheapest way to go, but Saigon offers the full spectrum of luxury in all areas.
4. The Food
Vietnamese food is known around the world for boasting just the right mix of exoticism and heartiness, and expats or tourists who visit Saigon and sample some of its local eats discover that not even the tasty delicacies at their home town’s Vietnamese restaurant hold a candle to the real thing. Those who visit Saigon and leave end up missing it, and those who stay never stop enjoying it.
As good as the food is, it starts to look even better when expats or tourists get a look at the prices. Even considering Saigon’s incredibly low cost of living in comparison to most other developed or developing nations, the cost of eating out (or buying prepared food to eat at home) is surprisingly low. We’re talking $1.50 for a fully stacked meal: rice noodles with vegetables and BBQ pork plus a drink on the side. Alternatively, grab a bowl of chicken phở for the same price or a bánh mì with fresh veggies, crunchy pickles, grilled meat, zesty spices, and chili sauce for 50 cents.
Many expats get bored of Vietnamese food and there are many international restuarants and cafe’s available here to satisfy your cravings. Kebabs, Burgers, Fish and Chips, American BBQ, French Cuisine can all be found here at reasonable prices and high quality.
5. The Café Culture
When people want to spend time together in most Western cultures, they will ask the other person if they want to grab lunch or dinner. In Ho Chi Minh City, people will instead ask their friends if they want to go out for coffee. The reason for this is that Saigon’s café culture is amazing. The city’s cafes are so numerous and diverse that there is one to fit any aesthetic taste, and, perhaps even more importantly, the quality of the drinks is off the charts. Vietnamese slow-drip coffee is known around the world for having a rich, complex, delightfully strong flavor, and the ice blended lattes, chilled chocolate mint drinks, and fresh fruit blends that will cool you down during hot days are usually just as delicious. And, like the food, the beverages are inexpensive. A plain coffee or a smoothie might run you $1 at a sit-down café and a more complex drink may cost $1.50.
It is extremely common to hear rants about the incredible food in Saigon, so much so that the phenomenal beverages and unique café culture are often left out of the conversation. Expats living in Saigon know and love the café culture just as much as the locals do, though.
6. It’s Vibrant and Alive
While many developing nations attempt to gradually loosen restrictions on business as a way of stimulating the economy, Saigon chose to go the “anything goes” route. Some people say it makes walking down a busy street in the city too chaotic, but others love it because it makes every stroll down the block into an adventure. Roadside stands selling everything from souvenirs to shoes to cooking supplies line the avenues. The delicious food and drink vendors mentioned earlier put down plastic tables and chairs on the sidewalks for groups to come and spend time together until all hours of the night. The easy accessibility of so many inexpensive goodies and the heavy inundation of exciting sights, sounds, and smells often makes the city feel almost like a carnival midway after the sun goes down.
7. Low Cost of Living
Part of why many expats gravitate towards Saigon is because of how inexpensive it is to live well. A modern one-bedroom apartment will start at around $350/month if new and fully-furnished, you can budget $500-$800/month for food if you are planning to eat like you would back home, and If you’re prone to a few beers in the evening then you can buy a bottle in local places for around 50 cents or around $2 in a nice bar.
For under $2,000/month, you’re living the good life. However, if you have a family consider that education, insurance and larger apartments or villas will increase your budget considerably.
8. Safe, Family-Friendly Environment
More and more expats with children are choosing to stay in Saigon because of its family-friendly environment. Any city will have rough elements if you look hard enough, but you would definitely need to look a lot harder in Saigon than in most towns of over 10,000,000 people. The vast majority of locals you meet are exceedingly polite and friendly, especially towards children. It is much safer than almost any big city in the “first world.” And the Vietnamese culture does not have the glamorization of red light districts, drugs, and alcohol that much of the West does. In fact, those sorts of things are generally frowned upon by all levels of society.
9. Expat-Friendly Locals and Infrastructure
Unlike in many huge cities around the world, where local pedestrians often treat expats as lesser for being from another country and not speaking the native tongue, almost all Saigonese people are happy to accommodate expats. Whether that means bearing with you as you pantomime a complex question or paying for your drinks at a bar just because you are a guest in their country who acted friendly towards them, it is very uncommon to feel that a local does not want a foreigner hanging around. Part of the reason for this is probably because English Language skills are in high demand in Saigon and most people want to take any opportunity they can to practice, but part of it is just that the local residents are genuinely kind people.
The infrastructure is also friendly towards expats, especially English speakers. Things like interacting with the local police or the teller at a bank are usually simple to navigate without knowing a word of Vietnamese, which makes living here a lot easier.
10. A Good Hub For Travel
Saigon has a lot to offer, but some of the other places in Asia do too. If an expat is planning to travel around the area, Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport is the perfect hub by which to do it. A wide variety of amazing destinations are very close; China borders Vietnam on the north, Bangkok is a 1h40-minute flight, Polynesia and Australia are not far off Vietnam’s coastline, and even India is less than 1,500 miles away.
Of course, not everyone will love Saigon. The controlled chaos of the city is not everyone’s cup of trà đá and others find the pollution hard to manage. For those that find comfort in the bright pulse of the city, though, Ho Chi Minh City is a unique living opportunity.