Information on Vietnam’s Cost of Living, Infrastructure, Climate, Residency, Health Care and Real Estate
Vietnam is arguably the cheapest place on earth to live well. This is a land of beautiful, world-class beaches, cool mountain retreats, and cities seething with vitality. Many Westerners head to Vietnam and love it. Others complain about the hustle, the noise, and the lack of Western influence, particularly in the northern part of the country (Hanoi).
Vietnam is an emerging market that has only recently moved beyond the dark transition following the war. The population is youthful, and an energy permeates everything. The Vietnam that existed in the 1960s and early 1970s exists only in memories. The country has moved on toward a much brighter future. According to the Global Peace Index, Vietnam is the 45th most peaceful country in the world (as a point of reference, the United States ranks in the 101st position). According to HSBC Holdings, Vietnam is among the most optimistic countries in the world in terms of business expectations. Today, the atmosphere in the country is energetic and optimistic and the infrastructure is developing rapidly.
Vietnam is an extremely foreigner-friendly country. The government sincerely wants Vietnam to attract more tourists, and it has taken measures to see that foreigners who come here want to return again and again. The country is emerging from the grips of war and economic depression and is eager to join the global community.
Residing in a communist state has its challenges, but modern Vietnam is more capitalist in practice. After spending about one minute in Hanoi, anybody can see that this city is first and foremost the epitome of capitalism on steroids. The majority of Vietnamese are self-employed entrepreneurs. They usually own and operate hotels and restaurants, sell vegetables and fish at the markets, fix motorbikes and appliances, promote their tour companies, shine shoes, and create a never-ending assortment of soups and noodles and rice dishes to sell in their tiny shops or at their pop-up sidewalk restaurants.
Cost Of Living In Vietnam
Live and Invest Overseas offers monthly cost of living budgets (for a couple) for our favorite destinations in Vietnam:
Infrastructure In Vietnam
Due to years of civil war Vietnam’s infrastructure is weak, but the country is making conscious efforts to modernize. Most of the national infrastructure is a remnant of infrastructure laid during the French colonial rule.
Communications infrastructure is poor, but improving. There are now two national telecommunication satellites in orbit and submarine cable systems have been laid. Cell use is on the rise and fixed lines are on the decline.
Vietnam’s railway system was inherited from the French colonial period. The system suffered greatly during the wars and was subsequently repaired, but is still generally outdated and in poor condition. In 2009 Japan agreed to lend technology and training so Vietnam could build a high-speed railway. This system is expected to be laid from 2015 to 2020.
Likewise, the road system is in poor condition throughout most of the country. While most roads are paved, the majority need renovation. Some notable improvements have been made, though, including to Highway No. 1 between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, a highway from Hanoi to the international airport, and a couple other highways leading from Hanoi to other nearby cities. These roads are being continually improved and are in considerably better condition than other roadways in the country.
The majority of long-distance inter-country transportation for the public is currently provided by private bus companies. While car ownership is on the rise, locals with private transport more commonly use scooters, bikes, or motorcycles than cars. Traffic and congestion is a growing problem in the country as more people purchase cars, especially in cities and suburbs. Governments will have to work hard to cope with the growing demand. There is a serious problem with traffic safety in Vietnam, too, with over 30 people killed in car accidents per day.
A coastal country with extensive river systems, the maritime infrastructure is well-developed. The navigable waterways of the interior of the country carry ferries, barges, and water taxis.
Vietnam has 21 airports and 3 major international airports. Two additional international airports are currently under construction and are scheduled to open by 2020.
Vietnam is working hard to improve itself and is being recognized for it. In 2008 PricewaterhouseCoopers claimed that by 2025 Vietnam could be the world’s fastest growing emerging-market economy. In 2012 HSBC forecast Vietnam’s GDP to exceed those of Norway, Singapore, and Portugal by 2050.
Climate In Vietnam
Vietnam has a tropical climate which is dominated by the monsoon season.
The temperature in Vietnam typically ranges between 70°F and 95°F throughout the year. Average annual humidity is around 85%. Vietnam receives the majority of its precipitation during monsoon season, but the rest of the year also receives regular rainfall. The average annual rainfall is about 40 inches.
Vietnam has three distinct regional weather patterns. The far north of Vietnam is mountainous and its high altitudes can sometimes experience snow and freezing temperatures. In Northern Vietnam, winter (November to April) is cool and dry and summer (May to October) is hot, humid, and rainy (July to September has the highest rainfall).
Central Vietnam is hot and dry in the summer (January to August) and cool and rainy in winter, with monsoon-level rains in October and November.
Southern Vietnam has constant warm temperatures. Here the seasons are simple: rainy (May to November) and dry (November to May).
As in any country, weather depends on your region, but generally Vietnam enjoys a warm, sunny climate with some temperature fluctuation from region to region.
Vietnamese Rainy Season (monsoon season): May to October
Vietnamese Dry Season: November to April
Residency In Vietnam
U.S. citizens must obtain a tourist visa to enter Vietnam. The visitor’s passport must have at least six months validity past date of arrival. Visas can be obtained in person or by mail from Vietnamese Embassies in the United States up to six months prior to travel. Visas are usually valid for only one entry, but multiple-entry visas can be requested. Without these documents, you will be immediately deported. Vietnam takes immigration very seriously and use of fraudulent documents could result in criminal prosecution and imprisonment.
It is possible to live in Vietnam as a retiree, but Vietnam does not offer an official retirement visa. However, it is legal for a foreigner to remain in Vietnam indefinitely with a tourist visa. It’s simply a matter of extending your visa through either a travel agent or directly through the immigration department, and extensions are easily granted.
Eventually, you will have to leave the country, but you can return as soon as the next day. Perhaps you’ll be able to stay 18 months before having to make a border run… perhaps longer. This is not illegal; it’s a realistic option for the retiree who would like to stay in this country indefinitely.
Residency in Vietnam can lead to naturalization in this country, but there are several requirements, including renunciation of prior citizenship, adequate knowledge of the Vietnamese language, and five years of residency.
Health Care In Vietnam
Medical care is practiced almost entirely in public, government-run hospitals. As a foreigner, there are two choices: You can pay a steep price to go to one of the few private, English- or French-speaking hospitals, or, if you have a Vietnamese interpreter, you can go with them to a government hospital and receive ridiculously inexpensive tests and treatments.
The French Hospitals, located in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, provide a full range of services at very reasonable rates. Many foreigners living in Vietnam say that the care that they have received at these facilities has been excellent. Any medical condition can be treated at the French Hospitals, including trauma. There are also SOS clinics in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, which specialize in providing high-quality (but expensive) care to foreigners. For complex illnesses or surgeries, however, most foreigners chose to be treated in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, or in their home countries, where international-standard medical care is routine.
The doctors in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are skilled regardless of the hospital you attend, and the government hospitals have modern equipment and competent technicians. Whether you’re Vietnamese or a foreigner, medical care in government hospitals is inexpensive but not free. An X-ray costs about US$1.50, an ultrasound is less than US$5, and a consultation with a physician costs about US$4. The staff are all government employees—even the physicians earn meager government wages. The care at the public hospitals in Hanoi has improved to the point where most illnesses and injuries can be treated in the city.
Prescriptions are rarely required for medication. However, many medications available in North America have not yet made it to this corner of the world. If you require regular medication, be sure that you have both the generic and chemical name for it. The local pharmacy may either carry that exact medication or may be able to find a suitable substitute. Otherwise, you may wish to consider ordering your usual medication online and having it shipped to Vietnam.
When buying medications in Vietnam, always check the package for signs of tampering, be sure that the lot numbers match and the medication has not passed its expiration date. Counterfeit medications do exist in Vietnam, although this does not seem to be a widespread problem outside of major cities, for example it’s not a problem in Nha Trang, one of our favorite destinations in Vietnam. In general, medications here cost a fraction of what they cost in the West, and chances are good that they will be authentic. When in doubt about authenticity, though, get your medications at the hospital or at one of the larger pharmacies.
Real Estate In Vietnam
Foreigners cannot own land in Vietnam, period, and they can own construction only according to strict and broad restrictions.
Foreign residents can purchase and own residential property as a place to live, but they cannot own the land on which the property sits. Foreigners can sell, donate, inherit, or give away their residential property but cannot sub-let it. If a foreigner leaves the country without terminating his certificate of ownership, it expires after 90 days, and the state takes control of the residence.
Foreigners can apply for land leases from the State. Currently, a 50-year lease is being marketed. This program allows foreigners rights to an apartment for 50 years with a right to renew. Should foreign property ownership become legal before the lease ends, the title would be transferred to the lessee. Under this land lease, the lessee has rights similar to ownership, including the ability to sub-let the apartment.
Vietnamese property is priced in gold. Go here to convert one tael (1.25 ounces) of gold into a currency price. The buyer must be aware of the conversion rates between gold, dong, and dollar, at all times. Registering property takes about 70 days and is cheaper than in other countries in the region.
While foreigners cannot own land, they can purchase property through a joint venture company with a Vietnamese partner, through a foreign-owned company, or through a Build, Operate, and Transfer (BOT) company.
The minister of construction in Vietnam confirmed in late 2014 that Vietnam will make amendments to loosen foreign land ownership restrictions.