Tips for Expat When Living in Ho Chi Minh City

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Culture Shock 

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One expat described his experiences with culture shock in HCMC, “at first, you love the differences. You love that people notice you and pay extra attention. Then, after a couple months, you get tired of people staring and just want to blend in. There are no guns here and people really nice and friendly. So, unless you do something really stupid or disrespectful, you will make it home any time of day. That was the irritated stage. I have always rejected the anti-feminist, male-superiority of Asian culture; it annoys me that females are treated as second class citizens and not allowed to do many things that males can. I have accepted some things, but doubt I will ever accept that having a son is better than a daughter.”

Learning Vietnamese
“Vietnamese is incredibly difficult to learn. We have learned a few phrases, but if you pronounce even slightly incorrectly, the locals will have no idea what you are talking about. We feel it’s not worth the effort to continue learning,” confessed one expat in HCMC. Another expressed similar difficulty learning Vietnamese, “I have tried and tried to learn Vietnamese. But they have 6 tones and I can’t hear the different tones let alone replicate them. I know quite a few nouns and not much else but I get around nicely thanks.”

“I practice Vietnamese every day, but it’s a very difficult language. Since it’s tonal, it’s tough to get a hang of speaking, Much easier to read and write, though depending on where the accent mark is, what looks like the same word can be 10 different things. Saigonese are very friendly and like it when you try to speak their language. For foreigners, the northern dialect is easier because they pronounce everything including the last letter of each word while in the south they tend to drop the final letter (like French).

Can Foreigners Own Property in HCMC?
According to the Vietnamese Embassy to the United States, “Private ownership of land is not permitted in Vietnam and the people hold all ownership rights with the State as the administrator. However, the laws of Vietnam allow ownership of a right to use land.” Apparently, the laws that make it difficult or impossible for foreigners to purchase land use rights are changing. Nguyen Pham Muoi wrote an article in October 2013 for The Wall Street Journal entitled, Q&A: Why Vietnam Is Preparing to Open Its Property Sector. It discusses how the laws are changing and what that means for expats interested in purchasing property for sales in HCMC.

Schools in HCMC
A parent with a child at Saigon South International School in Ho Chi Minh City said, “The facilities are the best in HCMC. The fields are large and the elementary playground is amazing. There is a swimming pool, 3 libraries, fitness room, two gyms (one is double gym) and three well-maintained buildings. My kids can participate in sports, MUN, GIN and other clubs after school. Check out the school. It is definitely worth a visit. Phu My Hung is a great part of town where my family feels very safe and my older children can ride their bikes to school.”

The British International School in Ho Chi Minh City, “the facilities at BIS are really impressive. I have children in both Primary and Secondary and they enjoy the facilities there – large indoor swimming pools, good size sports halls and outside play areas, with mini pools/sand pits/climbing frames in the Primary campuses. There is a full sized soccer pitch at the An Phu campuses that is really well maintained. The Secondary has great facilities with a theatre, drama studio, music rooms, ICT suites and art & design rooms. There are lots of extra-curricular activities and parents can sign up their children on-line which is useful.” See building near International Schools in HCMC.

Obtaining a Labor Permit in Vietnam
“Foreigners working on a permanent basis for a Vietnamese business, organization or individual or for a business with foreign investment in Vietnam are obliged to fulfill all the conditions and must have a Labor Permit,” explained a law firm in Vietnam. Applicants must provide a number of items such as a criminal check record from their last place of residence, a medical certificate, five color photos with a bare head (no hat) and a few other items.

HCMC is Changing Rapidly
“I love this place. The people are just wonderful, the food is amazing, everything is super cheap, there is a dynamism about the place and it is great to be a part of a city that is growing rapidly,” said one expat in Ho Chi Minh city.

An American, who did three US Air Force tours in Vietnam and married a Vietnamese woman, recently returned to Vietnam. He said, “I had not been back to Vietnam since the war. I left after the treaty was signed. I was shocked that things in the city had changed so much. When I left, the tallest building was one of the downtown hotels (about 10 stories) and when I returned, there were buildings reaching to the sky all over the city. Huge changes in the structural landscape, modern buildings everywhere. I could not recognize anything. It was like a new world opening up. One that I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. Enough to say, if you have not been to Ho Chi Minh City in 40 years like me, be prepared for a wonderful experience. And if you are going back into the jungle like we did, be prepared for change. The village I stayed in had one other house built of brick when we had one built for my wife’s father 15 years ago. When we went back in February (my first time there) every family was housed in their own brick house, no more thatch roof homes (although some are still standing in a few areas) and most have electricity, T.V. and other appliances

Medical Care in Vietnam
“International health clinics in Ho Chi Minh City can provide adequate medical care for emergencies and minor illnesses or injuries although chronic care or serious surgeries may require medical evacuation to Bangkok or Singapore. Some of these facilities may have ambulances with specialized staff and equipment, such as the FV hospital. International clinics and hospitals may have direct billing agreements with foreign insurance companies although expatriates are advised to contact their insurance provider before traveling to Vietnam to ensure they will be covered. Expatriates are advised to bring their own prescription medications as they may not be available in Ho Chi Minh City. These medications should be carried in one’s hand-luggage whenever possible and be accompanied with a copy of one’s prescription,” explained one expat in HCMC.(According to Betsy Burlingame, expatexchange.com)
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