Is Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam a good place to live for foreigners and expats? We say yes!
Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon and HCMC) is a popular place due to its affordable cost of living, easy access to delicious food, tons of things to do, and the overall culture and vibe.
As the largest city in Vietnam, this city is busy and crowded at all hours of the day. Depending on your comfort zone, the frenetic environment may not be for you.
In this post, we’ll share 31 pros and cons of living in Ho Chi Minh City and what to expect when living here.
As Americans living in living in Saigon since December 2017, moving here was one of the best decisions that we made. We already loved traveling to Asia and found the right opportunity for our big move, so it was a no-brainer to take advantage of living internationally for the first time.
One thing to note is that this blog post is specifically for Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, so it doesn’t represent living in Vietnam in general. For example, living in Hanoi (Vietnam’s capital) is very different than living in Dalat, a small city in the Central Highlands.
Without further ado, continue reading about the advantages and disadvantages of living in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon.
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Advantages of Living in Ho Chi Minh City
1. Ho Chi Minh City has many districts to choose from for accommodations.
Ho Chi Minh City has a total of 22 districts with 17 main districts and 5 districts in the countryside. The main districts are 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, Go Vap, Tan Binh, Tan Phu, Binh Thanh, Phu Nhuan, Binh Tan, and Thu Duc City (a sub-city of Ho Chi Minh City), The ones in the countryside are Cu Chi, Hoc Mon, Binh Chanh, Nha Be, and Can Gio.
Below are highlights of some of the areas that are suitable for expats:
District 1 is considered the city center and where many of the high-end restaurants and bars are located. Most travelers stay in District 1 since it’s close to the local attractions and museums, such as Saigon Skydeck, Cafe Apartments, Independence Palace, and War Remnants Museum.
If you want to live in District 1, many stay in the Dakao ward which is quieter.
Thao Dien, Thu Duc City (Formerly District 2) – This is a hot spot for expats and families. The neighborhood has tons of Western restaurants, bars, and international schools. It’s a convenient area to walk around and stay in.
As a heads up, this area floods during the rainy season due to poor drainage. In addition, there tends to be more targeted bag snatching in this area.
District 7 – Expats enjoy living in District 7 as it’s quieter and has more open roads and greenery.
It’s recommended to live on the Phu My Hung side. The apartments are newer and there are more restaurants and outdoor spaces. You’ll see tons of Korean restaurants as there is a high Korean population. Places in District 7 are more spread out here so you’ll need to have transportation to travel.
Binh Thanh District – Located between District 1 and Thu Duc City, and bordering Phu Nhuan District, Binh Thanh is a large district with plenty of charm.
There are tons of cafes and restaurants to try in this area. We suggest that you try the delicious foods on Pham Viet Chanh such as Kiyota Sushi, Bento Bistro, and FiftySix.
You can also visit Vinhomes Central Park to explore the park and see Landmark 81, the tallest building in Ho Chi Minh City at 81 floors. We’ve been living in Vinhomes Central Park for years and enjoy the amenities and environment here.
Important Tips About Finding Your Perfect Location
When you first move to Ho Chi Minh City, consider staying at Airbnbs or short-term rentals so you can try various neighborhoods and stay at each spot for a few days.
You should live somewhere close to the job, within a 10-minute drive or in the same district. While 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) may not seem far, it can take an hour to travel somewhere. Ho Chi Minh City’s traffic is frenetic and crowded so you don’t want to get stuck in traffic with poor drivers and increase your stress levels.
2. HCMC housing cost is affordable, depending on your needs.
Depending on your budget and comfortability, the housing cost will vary per person.
Here are some things to consider:
- Which district do you want to live in?
- Will you stay in a high-rise apartment building or service building?
- Are you living in a house?
- How many rooms and bathrooms are needed?
The average cost of a furnished 2-bedroom/2-bathroom place is between $500-$1200+ per month.
For us, we’re staying in a 2-bedroom/2-bathroom apartment in Vinhomes Central Park, Binh Thanh District. The cost is on the higher end at $900 per month. Our apartment has a washing machine, air-conditioning unit, and access to the local park and the building’s fitness center and pool. Our landlord pays for the Internet and monthly HOA fee.
Note: Once you find a long-term rental, don’t forget to have your landlord register you at the local ward’s police station. This is especially needed if you’re applying for a Temporary Resident’s Card.
3. Ho Chi Minh City is a safe city.
Whether you’re staying in Saigon by yourself or with a family, you don’t need to worry about crime.
The biggest concern is petty theft. Purses, smartphones, and jewelry are all fair game with quick snatches.
The theft can happen at any time, so it’s best to be cognizant of your surroundings. There tend to be more robberies in the expat areas (ie: Thao Dien, Thu Duc City).
Here are some tips:
- If you are lost and need to check your phone, do not scroll or look for something on a corner of a street. It’ll get taken immediately! Instead, go further into the sidewalk, turn your back to the street, and use your phone.
- Avoid using a handbag. Instead, use a backpack or a crossover purse.
- If you ride a motorbike, use the seat trunk to store your purse and valuables.
- When eating at a sidewalk vendor, do not leave your phone on the table. It can easily be swiped by people who sell things.
Unfortunately, the chance of getting your phone back is zero. Even if you ask the police, they most likely won’t attempt to get it for you.
For women, there are issues of harassment, molestation, and catcalling. These have been mentioned many times in the Fexpat – Female Expat Facebook group. One of the members in the group wrote this article about women safety in Vietnam.
When a serious situation like this happens, you must report it to the police so they can take these issues more seriously. Even if there aren’t any repercussions for the abusers, at least you weren’t silent.
4. You’ll have access to fresh produce and groceries are available at the local markets and supermarkets.
We love taking a stroll down our local market to find the seasonal tropical fruits, vegetables, and fresh soymilk. It’s the closest thing to a “farmer’s market” back in the U.S. Many of the produce comes from the neighboring provinces or Dalat, so you’re guaranteed freshness.
Visiting the local market is often cheaper than going to the supermarket. Haggling may be involved to get a discount, but most of the time, the prices are very reasonable.
Along the way, we love just seeing how life is like relaxing to walk down an alleyway or a side street to see how people manage a living – selling produce, running a coffee shop, restaurant, scooter repair business, and more.
Produce delivery to your accommodation is also available if you don’t want to go to the markets.
5. You can buy mostly everything here.
There are plenty of shopping malls and grocery stores that sell clothing, appliances, and anything you need.
Or, if you need some specialty items, you can ask around to see if there is a specific street that sells what you need. For example, there is a street that sells all toilet and bathroom stuff, another street that sells bedding, etc.
Ordering online (ie: Shopee or Lazada, similar to Amazon) or directly from a vendor is also possible.
We made the mistake of bringing too much stuff with us to Vietnam. We had a shipping palate of kitchenware and clothing that came from the U.S.
Most of the stuff that we brought ended up getting returned home as our apartment was already furnished with beds, bedding, cookware, and dishes.
Don’t overpack and bring only necessities!
According to expats, here are some things to bring that are hard to find at the stores or are ridiculously expensive:
- Any imported foods – spices, snacks
- Personal medication
- Clothing – underwears, bras
- Shoes for larger feet
- Skincare, lotions, and sunscreens (You’ll notice that Vietnamese lotions have tons of whitening agents. The sunscreens are SPF 50+.)
- Make-up such as non-waterproof mascara
Related: What to Pack for a Vietnam Vacation
6. There are tons of coffee shops.
How many cups of coffee do you need per day? Ho Chi Minh City will satisfy your caffeine needs.
All you need to do is go down a block and see one, two, or even more coffee shops. If you’re in a hurry, there are many sellers on the side of the road that does takeaway.
You can get coffee at any time of the day, including at 3am! Many coffee shops are open for 24 hours. Or, you can go to a vendor on the side of the road and enjoy coffee or other drinks on the short plastic chairs.
Don’t like to drink coffee? Check out our posts on other Vietnamese drinks to try.
7. Local Vietnamese street food is cheap and affordable.
Eating street food is one of the best experiences in Vietnam, especially if you get the chance to eat a meal on the low squatty plastic chairs and tables.
You can get all Vietnamese food in HCMC such as hot noodle soup (phở, hủ tiếu, bún bò Huế) sandwiches (bánh mì), BBQ, rice plates (cơm), sweet desserts (ché), regional cuisines such as Northern and Central Vietnamese food, and much more.
Portions are smaller than in the U.S, so you can order more to get fuller. Meals start at $1.50 and up.
8. There is a diversity of food options to satisfy all palates.
For those with a sweet tooth, check out places to eat yummy desserts in HCMC here.
The food cost for these cuisines will be higher than eating Vietnamese food. Yet, the food is delicious and tastes similar and sometimes even better than what we would get back in the U.S.
New restaurants appear every month so foodies will love trying out the new places.
9. It’s easy to order food delivery.
To tell you the truth, we don’t cook much. The extent of our cooking is stir-fry vegetables and a fried egg.
We order food and drinks daily since it’s more convenient and affordable. We have Thai food on one day and then burgers on another day.
Use apps such as Grab, Now, or Capichi (for Japanese food) to place your order. You’ll pay a delivery price, depending on the distance and whether there is a surge price for high peak times or rain.
Once you get a driver, they’ll head to the restaurant to place your order and then you’ll wait 30-45 minutes for your food.
If you use Grab, you can track your driver’s location. Grab also offers promotions and discounts on food orders.
Ordering directly from the restaurants is also another option. This is the preferred method so restaurants don’t need to pay a commission to the online app. You can contact the restaurants through their website, Facebook page, or call directly.
The restaurants will either have their own drivers or will hire a third-party (ie: Grab or Lalamove) to do the delivery.
10. Ho Chi Minh City has activities every day!
You won’t get bored living in Ho Chi Minh City as daily activities and events occur.
Find the next arts and crafts, open mic session, or weekend market. Many of these events are advertised on Facebook groups or Facebook Events pages.
Check out these Facebook groups for more information:
- Saigon Hikers (Hiking – Trekking – Cycling – Camping – Adventure)
- Events in English – Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City – HCMC
- Expats in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam
- Fexpat – Female Expats and Locals in Ho Chi Minh
- Ladies Get Social
- Saigon Hangouts
- Ho Chi Minh City | Girls Gone International
11. Enjoy the nightlife.
As mentioned earlier, Ho Chi Minh City is a bustling city. Once the sun sets, you’ll see many locals and foreigners out and about enjoying Ho Chi Minh’s nightlife.
From the restaurants, roof bars, sunset cruises, and evening shows, you’re bound to find something suitable for you. People watching along Nguyen Hue Walking Street is also fun to see at night.
12. Beer is cheap.
The beer culture is strong in Vietnam. You’ll hear the phrase, “Một, Hai, Ba, Vô” (pronounced “moht high baa yo”) which means “1, 2, 3, drink!”
It’s also affordable where you can get beer for $.50-$1.00 each.
As a heads up, canned beer is not refrigerated. At restaurants, you’ll get a mug with a block of ice and then beer is poured into the mug.
13. Relax and take a break.
One thing that we notice about Ho Chi Minh City is that break times are necessary throughout the day. Since it’s hot throughout the day, the heat can wear you down.
Breaktime can look like anything – sleeping on the ground, hanging out on the sidewalk drinking coffee or tea, or resting on a hammock.
In addition, many people leave the office to take a lunch break for 1-2 hours (11:30am to 1:30pm). If you plan to visit a museum or do any appointments, you may be out of luck with the closure.
14. Easy access to travel internationally and domestically.
The Tan Son Nhat Airport is convenient for international (especially in Southeast Asia) and domestic travel.
You can easily do a quick weekend trip out of the country or whenever Vietnam has a long holiday. For example, Bangkok, Thailand is 1.5 hours away and Singapore is 2 hours by flight.
The cost of the flights is reasonable (around $100-$200) as the distances between the SEA destinations aren’t too far. Just be careful with extra fees for luggage on the budget airlines.
Domestic flights are also available. From Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, it’s a 2-hour flight.
Or, you can take a motorbike, overnight bus, or train to various destinations in Vietnam. We took an overnight train from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang on one of our trips.
15. Healthcare is affordable.
If you’re staying in Ho Chi Minh City long-term, you will need to see the doctors, dentists, chiropractors, and other medical professionals.
Compared to the Western countries and the U.S, the cost of seeing the medical professionals and getting procedures done is more affordable. Therefore, if you don’t have health insurance, it won’t cost an arm and a leg to get things done here.
There are plenty of international hospitals in HCMC, but you’ll need to do your own research on the doctors and other people’s experiences.
We see the dentist every 6 months at Westcoast Dental in District 1. Dental cleaning, x-rays, and check-up are $80 per person. A cavity filling is $55.
16. Monthly data plans/SIM cards are cheap.
When you first move to Saigon, pick up a SIM card either at the airport or a phone shop. There are two companies to choose from – Mobifone or Viettel.
After the month is up, you can top up your phone by purchasing credits at a convenience store or topping up through the app.
For us, our monthly Mobifone plan is $5 per month per person and has 2 GB of data per day. It’s so cheap!!
In the U.S. we paid around $30/month ($15 for a flexible plan and $10/GB of data used) per person and that is on the cheap end with using Google Project Fi. (By the way, we still use Google Project Fi for travels. See below) It can easily be $100 per month per person depending on the cell phone service.
Side note: We love using Google Project Fi as there is unlimited data and text to over 200 international countries. It’s the perfect international phone plan for us as we do not need to buy separate SIM cards. Learn more about Google Project Fi and get a $20 credit.
17. Vietnamese people show their national pride with soccer games.
Whenever the Vietnamese teams are in the semi-finals and final rounds of games such as U23 or SEA Games, everyone has their eyes glued to the game.
You’ll see everyone wear red t-shirts with the yellow star in the middle (it’s of the Vietnam national flag), headbands, and bring out their vuvuzelas.
In Ho Chi Minh City, there are large projector screens set up on Nguyen Hue Walking Street to watch the games.
Once the Vietnamese team wins, the crowds go crazy!! The streets are filled with motorbikes and cars with people waving the Vietnam flags. Plus, people blow the vuvuzelas and blow into them all night long.
It’s a cool experience to see the national pride of a sports team!
18. Overall, the monthly cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City is affordable.
How much do we spend each month living in Saigon? Each month varies, but here is our general breakdown for 2 people living in a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment in Binh Thanh District.
|Monthly Expenses||Cost in USD||Comments|
|Rent (with Internet included)||$900|
|Electricity||$40||We do not use AC all day long so our electricity bill is lower than others.|
|Food & Groceries||$600||We tend to eat out or order delivery for lunch and/or dinner.|
|Miscellaneous||$50||Such as hiking excursions, day tours, etc.|
Other things to consider, but we don’t have these expenses:
- Cable TV
- Online streaming services (Disney+, Netflix)
- VPN services
- Motorbike or bicycle parking at apartment
- Monthly management fee
- Home cleaning services
Disadvantages of Living in Ho Chi Minh City
1. It’s a very busy and crowded city.
Over 9 million people live here so there is no such thing as personal space.
For example, you’ll have people get very close to you while waiting in line at the supermarkets. Motorbikes are close to each other while waiting at a street light. Even when dining, the tables are close so you can hear your neighbors’ conversation.
2. Traffic is BAD with thousands of motorbikes and vehicles on the road, especially during the commute hours.
Therefore, you’ll hear tons of honking on the road (more of a heads up than aggression) from motorbikes and cars. It gets annoying when the honking occurs every few seconds. It’s like an automatic response to constantly honk.
3. Air quality is a hit or miss.
Some days the air is clear and blue, and other days, it’s a grey mess and polluted. Check out the current air quality conditions here.
During Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), the skies are clear and you can see for miles as factories are shut down for the week.
4. HCMC has hot and humid weather.
HCMC’s weather is a hit or miss for people. This city (and all of South Vietnam) has two seasons – hot and humid or hot and rain.
If you like hot and humid weather (in the 30-32℃/86-90℉) all year round, then Ho Chi Minh City is perfect for you. The weather is consistent so you don’t need heavy jackets or pants here. Most people stay indoors for the day and then go outside at nighttime.
At first, we didn’t like the humidity, but our bodies adjusted and we can’t live without it! The humidity makes your skin nice and smooth. We dislike any places with dry weather now, such as our hometown area of Bay Area, California.
The rainy season from April to October isn’t too bad. It’s not a torrential rainstorm happening every day. Rain occurs for 30 minutes and then stops for the rest of the day.
To relieve yourself from the heat, there is air conditioning in plenty of places in HCMC. We like to head to a shopping mall and walk around.
5. Due to Ho Chi Minh City’s urbanization, it’s very noisy.
There is building construction going on all the time and sometimes in the middle of the night.
Tip: When looking for your future housing, you want to check out what is currently getting built around the area so you can be aware of potential noise problems. You need to have your beauty sleep!
6. New construction is not built with high quality.
As we mentioned above, apartment and commercial buildings get completed very quickly. However, the building quality is not great with using cheaper materials or cutting corners with general quality.
When we moved into our apartment at Vinhomes Central Park, the apartment was only one year old. The previous tenant did a great job keeping this place clean. Yet, we saw the construction quality with cracks on the wall, baseboards not attached to the wall, and some of the floorboards lifting. These weren’t a deal-breaker for us as we are currently in the same apartment.
7. Public transportation is not great.
If you’re used to taking public transportation to get around a city, you may be out of luck in Ho Chi Minh City. There are local buses and a future metro system (in construction), but most people ride their motorbikes to travel around.
The metro system will start from Ben Thanh Market in the heart of District 1 city center and will end in Suoi Tien Amusement Park in Thu Duc City (formerly District 9).
Riding a motorbike is often faster since it can zip past larger vehicles. It’s also cheaper to purchase either new or used than to buy a car (which has a 200% tax if new). Monthly rentals are also available.
On the HCMC Expat Facebook groups, there are many people selling their motorbikes weekly, so you can get a good deal.
We used to have a motorbike but sold it since we didn’t drive it much. Justin also got hassled a lot by the police and didn’t want to pay “coffee money” every week.
If you cannot ride a motorbike (like me), then you can take a metered taxi (Mai Linh or Vinasun) or use ride-hailing apps such as Grab or GoJek for cars or motorbike rides. We use Grab a lot to visit Downtown (District 1). It’s about $2-$3 one-way by Grab car.
Related: Important Vietnam Travel Apps to Use
Walking is another option but most people don’t walk due to the heat. Even walking 1 kilometer (.60 miles) is considered too far for Vietnamese locals so they’ll take a motorbike.
In addition, crossing the street isn’t the easiest with the vehicles not stopping. Check out tips on how to cross Vietnam’s streets safely.
Riding a bicycle is not so common as a mode of transportation. While we’ve seen bicycles on the road, it’s seen as a recreational activity.
There is also a new bicycle-sharing program around Downtown area of District 1 so people can rent a bicycle for a certain time frame. Tourists may have issues with renting one since you need a MoMo account and app for payments.
8. Ho Chi Minh City is a concrete jungle, so you’ll need to find greenery.
It gets tiring looking at the tall grey buildings in Saigon. To find greenery and experience nature spots in Ho Chi Minh City, head to local parks in your district. It’s better than nothing!
In Binh Thanh District, we recommend visiting Vinhomes Central Park, Van Thanh Park (a pool is also here), or Binh Quoi Tourist Village. There are several walking paths to explore at these spots.
9. Trash and dog crap are on the sidewalks and the roads.
You’ll see trash everywhere – on the sidewalks, next to a tree trunk, any open space.
While the city has clean-up crews that sweep and pick up trash every evening, there isn’t enough education and awareness campaign about recycling and throwing things away properly. Recycling doesn’t really exist in Vietnam. Most people tend to toss things such as plastic bottles on the side of the road when they’re done.
You’ll still see people burning plastic bags and garbage on the side of the road even though there is a clean-up crew.
Watch out for dog poop on the ground. It’s around everywhere as many people don’t clean up after their pets.
10. Making friends is challenging.
As we get older, it seems harder and harder to meet people. Luckily, the opportunity arises when attending new workshops, classes, hiking, networking events, language exchange, and more.
Younger people tend to be more open and talkative with foreigners as they’re more open to speaking English.
11. Learning the Vietnamese language is challenging.
It is possible to live in Ho Chi Minh City without knowing any Vietnamese, especially when staying in the expat areas such as Thao Dien, Thu Duc City.
Since we wanted to learn the language, we registered with Vietnamese Language Studies for 80 hours of learning. After our first week of study, it was helpful to know our numbers and how to greet people. We used our new knowledge to buy produce at a local market.
It took some time to complete our 80 hours of lessons but we finished!
Afterward, we decided to not continue. While we enjoyed the teachers at VLS and the courses, the language was too hard for us to grasp.
Vietnamese is based on tones and there are 6 tones to know and 11 vowels (with various tones). It’s difficult to know which tones to use. Once you say a tone wrong, then people don’t understand or won’t want to understand. (To us, learning Chinese is a lot easier with only 4 tones).
In the end, it was better for us to just speak English and use very basic Vietnamese when needed, such as ordering at a local Vietnamese shop or asking for a check.
12. Sidewalks are used for motorbike parking.
As mentioned earlier, Ho Chi Minh City isn’t pedestrian-friendly. The sidewalks are often broken and dilapidated as people drive their motorbikes on them. Since there isn’t enough parking space, the front area of the store or restaurant is used for motorbike parking.
If you walk on the sidewalks, you’ll need to walk on the streets for a little bit.
13. Ho Chi Minh City is not accessible-friendly.
If you’re in a wheelchair or have movement issues, Ho Chi Minh City may not be the best place for you.
As mentioned earlier, the sidewalks are usually blocked by motorbikes or are uneven and hazardous to walk on.
The buses are usually older and don’t have a ramp for wheelchair access.
Many of the older buildings do not have elevators or escalators, so stairs are the only way up and down.
We love living in Ho Chi Minh City after all these years. While there are some things that are not ideal and don’t agree with, we adjust and make do.
If you plan to move to Ho Chi Minh City and need further advice, please don’t hesitate to reach out or ask in the comments below.
Do you live in Ho Chi Minh City as an expat? What are your thoughts regarding living here?
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Pin #2 Photo credit: Matthew Kyle Hubo via Scopio Photos