I’m Kat, originally from the US (Athens in Georgia to be specific). Welcome to my Vietnam expat guide where I tell you all about life in Southeast Asia!
I’ve lived abroad for nearly eight years now. I was lucky enough to travel within the US and a few times internationally when I was young. However, I really caught the travel bug on my first solo trip to Guatemala.
I was only 18 and the trip wasn’t even my idea. My parents suggested I take a semester off before starting university and head to Guatemala to learn some Spanish. I actually tried to get off the plane as we were taking off!
Little did any of us suspect that this trip would turn into an obsession with living outside my comfort zone and exploring new places. I returned home a few months later to go to university but a month after graduation I was back on a plane: this time to South America and the amazing Ecuador.
Moving to Vietnam as an Expat
Most of my moves are pretty spontaneous. I’m a notoriously bad planner. I do enough to build excitement and get an idea of what I need – especially with visas – and then leave the rest up to figuring out once I arrive.
Moving to Vietnam as an expat was no different. Except this time I visited Vietnam first as a backpacker before deciding on a full-on move. I was wrapping up a year in Korea and my husband (a Colombian who I met in Panama) and I were talking about our next country to move to.
We both wanted to explore Asia but didn’t have any firsthand experience to base a decision on. My best friend spent a few months backpacking Vietnam years before and always talked about how much she loved it.
That was really all it took for me to say: “Let’s try out Vietnam”. We decided to spend a few months there and in Thailand – hopping around to a few cities or places we might like to live before choosing one. Months later we ended up right back where we began in Ho Chi Minh City.
Expat Life in Vietnam for Two Years
Vietnam has been an incredible place to call home. Between Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, we’ve been in Vietnam for over two years now. Honestly, the time has flown by. My husband has been working remotely for the past six years now but I’ve bounced around in a lot of different industries.
When we first moved abroad to Ho Chi Minh City, I got hired as an English teacher at a private preschool in the heart of the city. I loved it but due to an ankle injury, I had to quit to get surgery and properly heal.
That unfortunate incident led me to something amazing though. During that time, I started my own website – Find A Way Abroad – to help women move abroad. Since then, we’ve both been working remotely full-time.
Back when we lived in Ho Chi Minh City, our free time was full of wandering down alleyways, enjoying the insane coffee culture and hanging out with friends in a wide variety of bars. So long as you enjoy eating and drinking, you’ll never run out of new places to try in Ho Chi Minh.
Now in Da Nang, we live just a few minutes walk from the beach. We spend more free time there and we’ve also adopted a stray dog who has quickly stolen our hearts and a lot of our free time! For the most part, Da Nang is a much more laidback city with outdoor adventures closer by.
Although, there’s still an endless number of cafes and restaurants to try.
Exploring the Beauty of Vietnam
Although we have lived here for a few years, there’s still so much of the country we have left to see. Before COVID, my husband’s tourist visa would need to be renewed every three months. That meant we would take international trips to surrounding Asian countries quite often.
Now, with COVID and the borders closed, we’ve taken that time to explore more places in Vietnam but we still have a long bucket list of places to get through. There are so many wonderful places in Vietnam to see but I feel extremely lucky to live amongst such beauty in Da Nang.
Although, I do head off to Hoi An (45 minutes away) every few weeks to see the charming yellow streets decorated with colorful lanterns. The natural beauty in Vietnam is so diverse, it never ceases to amaze me.
From Ha Giang and Ha Long Bay in the north, through the islands dotting the coasts and the jungle and caves inland, all the way down to the Mekong in the south – there’s so much to love about this unique country.
Amazing Cities of Vietnam
We’ve had a lot of great vacations throughout the country and have so many more lined up for the next few months. But one of the best experiences I think everyone should have is to really get to know a city.
It’s up to the traveler if they prefer Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or Da Nang but what they need to do is the same. Take some time to get comfortable with the traffic and rent or buy a motorbike. Ideally, something light that you can control easily. From there just set off without a map or any plans.
The cities all have main roads but the action happens down the winding alleys. Be adventurous with your taste buds and sit down to some street food (my personal favorite is a bowl of mi quang) and afterwards fuel up with a coffee (there’s a lot to choose from but I recommend ca phe dua).
There’s so much to find in what looks like a dead-end street and even old apartment buildings have been converted into restaurants, bars and cafes – so don’t forget to look up too! Exploring the labyrinths of the cities is where I’ve really fallen in love with Vietnam.
Rich Culture of Vietnam
In my experience, the people of Vietnam have been nothing but welcoming. They’re patient and understanding with the language barrier. Actually, a lot more people here speak English than I thought.
Do your best to learn basic Vietnamese but be warned, Vietnamese is one of the most difficult languages in the world. Although the people are kind, it’s definitely a unique culture, different from what Westerners are used to.
It’s easy to have surface-level interactions with people since they are so kind but it can be hard to break past that into real friendships unless you have a better understanding of the language and put yourself out there.
My biggest tip to anyone planning to move to Vietnam is to be open and patient as you begin to integrate. And go ahead and get comfortable with the idea of eating noodles for breakfast. It’s part of expat life in Vietnam!
Incredible Food Scene of Vietnam
The food scene of Vietnam is amazing. It’s different to any other cuisine I’m used to and I absolutely love it. It’s cheap, flavorful and fresh. The best dishes are usually street food or in super vintage-looking restaurants.
As I mentioned earlier, my favorite dish is mi quang. It’s a noodle soup that is commonly found in central Vietnam (Da Nang, Hoi An, etc.). A few other favorites are: banh mi op la, banh xeo, bun cha, bun thit nuong, any type of spring roll and pretty much anything that includes lemongrass with tofu.
Whew, that got me hungry! Although the food is great, you can’t overlook the coffee culture. There’s a wide variety of coffee drinks mixed with unusual choices like egg, coconut, condensed milk, orange juice and salt but if you’re a coffee lover like I am you need to try them all!
Challenges for Expats in Vietnam
One of the most challenging aspects of being an expat in Vietnam is definitely the language. Typically, I like picking up at least “enough” of the local language to have a basic conversation but wow, Vietnamese is tough.
It’s a tonal language with six different tones which means every word could essentially have six different meanings based on the tones. Before moving here, I knew I was tone-deaf and couldn’t sing to save my life but living here has solidified that. I’ve done my best to overcome it by still trying.
I know I say things that don’t make sense but thanks to context people usually understand what I mean or at the very least, laugh and appreciate my effort. Sometimes living abroad you’ll feel like a fool but to really make it work you have to be ok with that and continue to put yourself out there.
Learning to laugh at yourself is a great tip for being an expat in Vietnam.
Tips for Expat Life in Vietnam
As of now, the borders to Vietnam are still closed due to COVID. They closed them in March and haven’t announced a date to reopen them. That’s something to look out for before setting a date and planning to move here.
Once they are open though, I’d keep an eye on the visa situation. If you’re coming to work locally – so long as you have the requirements to get a visa (this varies by industry) – only take a job that will sponsor you a year visa.
In the past, many remote workers have come to live and work here on tourist visas. This year, the tourist visa situation has constantly changed. They’ve changed how many months you can get a visa for and the cost of it. It’s important you know that when deciding if it’s right for you.
If you’re good to go though, come to Vietnam open minded and ready to embrace the Vietnamese way of life. There’s a long list of beautiful places to visit and whichever city you choose to live in will have plenty to explore.
Don’t get too comfortable in the expat bubble in Vietnam but be ready to wander aimlessly! This country and region of the world is just wonderful.