Saigon for expats - living guide in Ho Chi Minh City

Sipping Saigon coffee in the morning

Sipping Saigon coffee in the morning

This huge and bustling city exerts a certain magic that works on a fair number of foreigners who visit and end up living here. It’s not the weather, which is frequently muggy and humid; it’s not the environment, since the air is thick with vehicle exhaust; and it’s not the chance to make a financial killing, unless you’re extremely smart (businesses in general require Vietnamese ownership).

Yet there are plenty of other appealing aspects to this city, such as the incredible diversity of architectural and cultural influences, a superb choice of restaurants and bars to dine and drink in, and perhaps the clincher – a warm and friendly people.

Work for expats in Saigon

As with most big Asian cities, the greatest number of opportunities for work are in teaching English, either at a private institution or a government-run school or college. The demand for native English speakers is steadily growing as the Vietnamese entrepreneurs of tomorrow realise that a mastery of English is essential to success in international business.

Teaching can be a very rewarding job, but it is also very demanding and not wonderfully paid. It also requires a certain person to handle all that preparation, marking and responsibility for running a class.

Several foreigners who marry Vietnamese girlfriends set themselves up as manager of a guesthouse, restaurant or bar, with the property in their wife’s name. This can be great if you have the knack, but all too many end up drinking away the profits or failing to offer anything better than the competition, which is fierce. Other possibilities are working in import-export or as a tour operator for an international firm.

If you are seriously thinking of relocating to Saigon, it may help to explore websites and publications connected with your profession to try and establish contacts before you go. Once you are there, if you’re very lucky you may spot an opportunity in the classified ads in the daily Saigon Times, though the most effective approach seems to be to start networking with people already living there. For a few of their favourite hang-outs, see below.

Living in Saigon as an expat

It goes without saying that to make it as an expat in Saigon, you need to be unfazed by the traffic noise, pollution, and relentless pace of city life. One attraction to help you ignore these factors is that the city is cheap compared with American and European cities, so it should be possible to rent a decent-sized apartment.

However, downtown rents have been rocketing in recent years, and many expats now prefer to live in Phu My Hung, aka South Saigon, where the trim lawns, malls and skyscrapers could be anywhere in the world, but at least the air is a bit cleaner. The area also has international schools, tennis courts and swimming pools, but because it is so new, it has not acquired any real character as yet.

Wherever they live, most expats work in District 1, and plenty of them hang on in the town centre to eat and drink after work. There are several hang-outs that are popular among expats, including Underground on Dong Khoi, Refinery off Hai Ba Trung, and Le Pub and Allez Boo in the De Tham district.

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