Life in Vietnam: What can Americans look for?

Mai Phuong

September 25, 2020


Life in Vietnam: What can Americans look for?

Mai Phuong

September 25, 2020

Tell people that you are moving to Vietnam and you will get varying responses. Some will be wildly confused trying to figure out what evil has caused you to run all the way there; others will commend you for your adventure-some spirit and ask to tag along on your next service trip. Most of the time, rarely do you find an American soul who proclaim to know with certainty the place called Vietnam besides “pho” or the occasional Vietnamese food found in Chinatown. Vietnam today is a rapidly growing economy, an attractive place for FDI in Asia, and a tourist hotspot. Whether you have an eye on the place as your next destination or are currently in Vietnam, this article will provide a big picture of what life in Vietnam has to offer.

Life quality in Vietnam

  1. Lifestyle

If you are used to clocking in long hours every day, holidays few and far between, living the life on the job, moving to Vietnam might prove a bit of a shock to your system. Vietnamese life is laid-back, not because Vietnamese people do not work hard – in fact, an average employee in Vietnam works 8 hours per day -, but because they value the time devoted to social life and relationships.

Talking about social life, I mean the time spent completely detached from the work life, chatting away the day over a cup of coffee in a cafe or bistro. Yes, coffee is the way of life over there. Forget about the big American Starbucks. Behold, you are to enter the kingdom of artisan coffee with its dizzying array of specialties, from roasted coffee to condensed milk coffee, egg coffee, and yogurt coffee.

Both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are known for their street food culture. You can grab a meal from a food truck (or rather, food-carts/bikes/motorbikes here in Vietnam) or a street food stall for as cheap as $3.79. Of course, if you have grown up among the big-consumer culture, portions in Vietnam are pretty small. But the small portion and reasonable price allow for eclectic choices and great affordability. And the food scene of Vietnam is extremely vibrant and diverse – no less than any Chinatowns in the state – and city life is bustled with activities day and night.

Bistros/Cafes are popular among office workers and students who look for the casual dining’s standard of quickness and courtesy. Since social life and community are of high value in Vietnam, drive-through McDonald’s or Burger King are a crime. Instead, these small restaurants serve moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting with alcohol, prices around $4-5 per meal. Fining dining or formal dining restaurants are also popular and offer an upscale setting and service while featuring unique menu options. And of course – no need for TIP in this country. 

2. Sports and Leisure

A wide range of sports and recreational activities are available to locals and expatriates in Vietnam. If you are used to the massive NFL, baseball, and basketball, you might find Vietnamese sports well, a little less than sports. Popular sports include soccer, badminton, volleyball, and martial arts. Playgrounds and recreational grounds are plentiful in major cities.

You will also find gyms and sports centers in most neighborhoods that cater for a range of indoor activities and classes such as cardio, weightlifting, yoga, rumba, and squash. A typical fitness club subscription in Hanoi/HCMC costs around $21.74 monthly. If you are an outdoor person, tennis, volleyball, and badminton are country-wide favorites. Vietnamese people also specialize in martial arts: you can join any classes for as low as $5 per session. 

3. Utilities

The average cost of basic utilities (electricity, heating, cooling, water, garbage) for a typical household of 4 people in Hanoi and HCMC is $70 monthly. This is significantly lower compared to the US, where the the average cost of basic utilities is 160.3$ per month. Likewise, monthly internet subscription for unlimited data is $9.74 in Hanoi and $12 in HCMC, the equivalent of which in the US costs 65.2$ per month.

Tourist destinations

Vietnam is an attractive tourist destination with over 18 UNESCO recognized World Heritage sites, including 2 natural heritages (Ha Long Bay, Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park), 5 cultural heritages (Thang Long Imperial Citadel, Hanoi Citadel, Hue Imperial Citadel, Hoi An Ancient Town, My Son Temple), a mixed heritage (Trang An Complex), and other intangible cultural heritage.

If you love the sunshine of Cali and the natural vistas of the Bay area, Vietnam is THE place to be, boasting some 2,000 miles of sun-filled coastline plus renowned island destinations. Vietnam has no shortage of stunning beaches, from the shores of the UNESCO-designated Ha Long Bay to the rolling dunes of Mui Ne and the island getaways of Con Dao and Phu Quoc. Da Nang coastal city is popular among expatriates for its high quality of life and refreshing atmosphere. Besides its sunlit coast, 40% of Vietnam is forested and home to some 1534 known species according to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, at least 10500 species of vascular plants, of which 3.4% is protected under IUCN categories I-V.

Some tourist hotspots in Vietnam

Tourist hotspots in Vietnam

Ha Long Bay: The seascape of Ha Long Bay is one of the world’s most spellbinding sea views and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thousands of limestone islands sit within this bay in the Gulf of Tonkin, eroded into jagged pinnacles by wind and water action over millennia.

Ho Chi Minh City: For big city fans, no visit to Vietnam is complete without a visit to Ho Chi Minh City, the  commercial hub of the country. The streets at night are buzzed with activities; the dining scene is incredibly cosmopolitan, and the shopping is the best in the country.

Vietnam tourist hotspot

Ha Giang: Ha Giang is a rugged, remote, and spectacular rural area. This area features some of the best views in the country, overlooking terraced rice paddies and deep valleys that have been carved into the limestone mountains over thousands of years.

Ninh Binh: This is one of the most popular options for a day trip in Vietnam. The limestone karsts, serpentine rivers, and lush scenery make for perfect holiday photos. Most trips to this area are combined with a visit to the Trang An caves and grottoes.

Vietnam tourist hotspot

Hue: This historical city has witnessed the ebbs and flows of Vietnam imperial kingdom. The centerpiece is the Citadel and the enclosed Imperial City overlooking the serene Huong river.

Hoi An: This Southeast Asian trading port that fuses indigenous and foreign cultures gets even more magical at night being lit up by lanterns. This town is also home to hundreds of professional tailors who specialize in Vietnamese traditional craft. 

Phu Quoc:  This island off the coast near the border with Cambodia has some of the most pristine beaches in the country. Parts of the island have big resorts, but others are secluded, with nothing but palm trees and the waves.

Nha Trang: Set against a stunning backdrop of white sandy beaches and verdant mountains, this coastal city is home to the Champa Kingdom and Buddhist temples. The nightlife is a lot of fun, and there are so many extreme activities for the adrenaline junkies among you such as jet skiing, surfing or even a fly board.


Accommodation in Vietnam versus US
  1. Hanoi

With its expanding campuses, extensive partnerships with overseas institutions, and vibrant intellectual community, Hanoi has emerged in recent years as an ideal destination for international students looking to study in Vietnam. Overseas students enjoy a wide range of accommodation options both inside and outside the city’s central districts, with the most popular ones including homestay, studio apartment, rental houses, and shared apartment.

Student accommodation in Hanoi is estimated 80% lower than in the US. The average accommodation cost in the central districts of Hai Ba Trung, Hoan Kiem, Dong Da, Tay Ho, and Long Bien ranges from $357.76 for a 1-bedroom to $751.46 for a 3-bedroom apartment, while in major cities of the States, average rent for an apartment ranges from $1370 to $2203.

For professional workers and entrepreneurs looking for long-term stay in Hanoi, the accommodation outlook in the city appears prospective. Decentralization trend and increased housing developments in the western suburbs may lead to softer rents in the city. According to the 2020 market brief of Savills – an independent real estate consulting firm -, future supply of housing in Hanoi is expected to push westward into districts such as Cau Giay, Nam Tu Liem, Bac Tu Liem, Thanh Xuan, and Ha Dong. The research also projects that by the end of 2021, 20 projects will enter Hanoi, 39% of which are in the Western suburb, with some notable projects being Vincom Mega Mall Smart City, Vincom Mega Mall Ocean Park, and Hinode City.

On average, the price for purchase of an apartment in Hanoi is $1460/m2, significantly lower than that in the States which approximates $311,254/m2. While the virus outbreak tempered both supply and demand of houses in the US, its impact carries heavier weight to the former than the latter, as sellers are pulling away from the market much faster than the buyers. Therefore, the existing rate of home sales has plunged by nearly 18% in April to a 10-year-low.

For investors and company-owners looking to establish locations in Vietnam, the average office rent is $20/m2 per month. Reported trend reveals decreasing rent and increasing occupancy, with grade A offices having the strongest occupancy growth following several successful projects launched in 2019. On the other hand, the average monthly costs of class A office occupancy in the US is $39/m2, while that of CBD markets are $50.95. Co-working spaces are also a popular alternative in Vietnam, with prices ranging from $64.72 to $172.58 for a fixed desk per month.

Serviced apartments in Hanoi are a potential field with a significant increase in vacancy in recent years. Several locations to keep in mind for business travelers or temporary workers are Thanh Xuan, Cau Giay, Nam Tu Liem, Bac Tu Liem, and Hoang Mai Districts (peripheral areas surrounding central districts). The average rent is $26/m2 per month or approximately $2600 for a three-bedroom apartment. Meanwhile, the monthly rate for a serviced apartment in cities in the US range from $3200 to $3800.Ho Chi Minh City

2. Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)

As Ho Chi Minh City gains a reputation as an emerging hub for engineering and telecommunications, more and more students are drawn to the place as a destination for their studying. One of the perks of choosing HCMC as your college destination is its incredible affordability. Average rent is $393 for a 1-bedroom apartment outside the city center or up to $780 per month for a three-bedroom.

Apartments inside the city are on average $548 per month for a one-bedroom and $1,194 for a three-bedroom. Again, this is incredibly cost-saving compared to an apartment in most US states, which is approximately around $1100 to $1,734 and can be as high as $2,203 for a three-bedroom apartment in the city center.

Workers and entrepreneurs looking for long-term stay in Vietnam might consider purchasing an apartment, either to live or to invest. The average price for an apartment in HCMC is $1,460/m2. While the prospects for apartments in HCMC are dimmed by the pandemic, which severely decreased supply of buildings 52% to a five-year low, it still stands as an attractive destination.

Office rent in HCMC is slightly higher than that in Hanoi, approximating $32/m2 per month. However, it is projected that by the end of 2022, over 376,00m2 from 24 projects is scheduled for entry. Increasing vacancies will leverage negotiations for tenants. Co-working space is always a back-up alternative with prices ranging from $64.72 to $172.58 for a fixed desk per month.

Being a high-on-the-list destination for FDI, demand for HCMC’s serviced apartments is in the high. However, with the current situation of the pandemic, vacant units of serviced apartment have increased from 1900 in 2019 to 2400 in the first half of 2020. The average rent is $23/m2 per month, significantly lower than that in the US where high occupancy rates result in higher room rates.


Just as private automobiles and Fordism shape the American way of life, motorbikes characterize the Vietnamese metropolitan culture. Private motorbike is the most popular mode of transportation in Hanoi, as over 58.5% of the city’s population opts for private motorbike. Public transportation includes regular buses and BRT, a monthly pass for which is approximately $20.

Also, you can always opt for a taxi or Grabcar – the equivalent of an Uber in the US – with an average price per tariff of $0.52. Private cars are the second most popular mode of transportation in Vietnam given its rapidly developing network of highways. However, for short-distance commuting, motorbikes prove much more convenient. 


Even though Vietnam lacks a nation-wide healthcare plan that covers all residents with basic medical care, its current health insurance system is extensive, and the medical cost is only a fraction of that in the US. Health insurance is deducted from monthly salary, and private insurance companies can provide premium plans from $250 to $1000 for an adult above 30 years of age.

The use of private hospitals is a popular choice among expatriates; these provide excellent standard of service and are staffed by doctors from the USA, Korea, Japan, and France, as well as Vietnamese doctors who have trained overseas. They generally accept international health insurance. Private health insurance companies in Vietnam also offer premium plans varying from $250 to $100, only 25% of the cost individuals would pay in the US. 

There, the annual premium for health insurance varies from $3,600 (Arkansas) to $7,900 (New York). In fact, premiums have increased in the last two decades, leading to deep frustration with US health care. Fewer Americans under 65 had employer coverage (health insurance) in 2017 than in 1999, despite the fact that the US economy employed 17 million people more in 2017 than in 1999.

Foreigners who work in Vietnam under an indefinite or definite term of a labor contract are qualified for compulsory social insurance in Vietnam, which covers maternity, illness, retirement, labor accidents, occupational diseases, and survivorship. The rates of contribution to social insurance are the same for both foreigners and those Vietnamese: 8% for employees and 17.5% for employers.

Meanwhile in the US, due to several factors such as the decreasing number of workers per retiree, the Social Security Trust Fund is project to be depleted by 2034 without meaningful entitlement reform; hence, many American workers and young retirees are concerned about the future prospect of Social Security and the potential impacts to their retirement plan.

Premium life insurance in Viet Nam averages $30, much lower than the global average of $595 and Southeast Asia’s average of $74. The average annual premium insurance in the US is $538.

Of course, a few bullet points can hardly do justice to a country, but it is hoped that after reading this article you feel more confident knowing the place, which might later inform your future directions and goals. And should further insight and advice be needed, your Viettonkin experts are always ready to help.

READ FURTHER: Why should British residents move to Vietnam?

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