I recently decided to move to Saigon for at least six months. We moved here two weeks ago and thought it would be interesting to share my experience as a fresh expat. Here is some advice that can be useful if you plan to settle in Saigon or if you want to travel around for a few weeks.
First Steps Out Of The Plane
First thing you do when you land is find a car to go to the city center. Uber and Grab are popular in Ho Chi Minh so if you have one of the two applications are installed, use it. It will be way cheaper than a taxi. To do so, you’ll need some Wi-Fi. You can use the free Wi-Fi provided by the airport. If you can’t connect to it, try using the one at the Burger King or another restaurant outside the terminal. You can also get a sim card directly at the airport to get data. The kiosks right outside customs can set you up with a sim card.
Another thing you need is a place to stay. In our case, we just booked 5 nights in an Airbnb. If you stay less than a month, you need to be in District 1. But if you want to stay a couple of months or more, District 3, 4 and maybe 2 are better locations to be. If it’s your first time using Airbnb, they provide first-time user discount codes. You can find an Airbnb listing for less than $30 for a fully equipped apartment.
Finding Housing In Saigon
Since we’re staying in Saigon for at least six months, we needed to find a longer term solution for housing. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, it took us three days.
About the apartment:
- District 1 (next to the zoo)
- Around 25m2, small but we don’t need more.
- Kitchen, fully equipped
- Cleaning twice a week
All you need to move in is your passport with a valid visa (working or tourist, both are ok) and pay one or two months’ deposit (one for us). You’ll most likely pay your rent in cash.
To know: most of apartment are serviced and furnished. Service includes cleaning and laundry 2-3 times a week. It varies. For our more affordable price, we got cleaning 2 times a week and no laundry service (but we got access to a washing machine for free).
Most of the time electricity is not included in the price. Price is between 3,500 and 7,000VND per kWh. Basically, it will cost you around 500,000 to 800,000VND per month. Of course, it will depend on your use of the air conditioning.
The best locations to have an apartment are District 1, 3, 4 and Binh Thanh and District 2 if you are looking for something either cheaper or bigger. There are many ways to find an apartment there. We’ve been through Facebook (Living in HCMC; Expats HCMC) most of time but there are some websites you definitely need to go:
When you are in contact with an agent, you’ll see that they are very dedicated to your cause. Even if they might take some time to understand what you are exactly looking for, they will keep sending you offer every day. (or every few hours for some!)
Get a sim card:
We asked around and some told us to go to Viettel and other to go to Vinaphone or Mobifone. We chose Viettel. Here is what we got:
- Sim card: 50,000VND
- Some phone credit: 50,000VND
- 10GB data free for 7 days
After those 7 days, you need to charge every month: 120,000VND for 1,5GB of high speed network. There are different offers but this one seems good as everywhere you go in HCMC there is Wi-Fi. If you want more details about how to get a sim card, read our article.
Be aware that sometimes you need to go into the settings for your smartphone to change the phone career to get data access.
Rent a bike or just use Grab and Uber
Rent a motorbike or using Grab/Uber very depends on how much do you need to move every day. For the moment, I only use Uber (bike). It is very cheap though. But as I must use it at least 4 times a day (go to work, sport, see friends, etc.) it seems to be still kind of expensive: more than $70 per month.
For most cases, it’s more economical to rent a motorbike. The price will be between $40-50 and I’ll just need to add something like $10 for gasoline. Plus, with a motorbike it would be way easier to travel around for the weekend. But the drawback is that it’s a bit less convenient. You need to park it inside your house at night but also wherever you go (however, in HCMC there are people standing outside shops to park your motorbike so it’s kind of ok).
Credit: Pierre F.
If you plan to live in District 1 then it will be easy to find a sport club whatever it is: tennis, football, gym. But as I want to start a new lifestyle in Saigon, I had to choose a new sport: climbing. It might be the sporting activity which is the farthest you can find from D1. So, I have to deal with the climbing place that I like the most but also try to deal with distance: the closer the better.
I chose to go for Vertical Academy. I found the place very professional and friendly. You can feel a good atmosphere and it’s a nice place for beginner as well. You can also check our article about the best places to climb in Ho Chi Minh City.
The most useful website and most used here in Vietnam is vietnammm. This website lists many restaurants. Another one that I tried was MarketOi. It delivers food only for dinner time. But the best thing about it is that you can not only buy a meal but also shop through the website. You can buy different stuff from convenience stores or supermarkets.
If you want to order through those sites, you’ll need a phone number. Most of them call you to be sure you want what you ordered or when they have arrived in front of your building. You can pay by credit card through some restaurants listed on vietnammm but I didn’t try it yet. To me it’s better to pay by cash because you are sure to have the food once you paid.
Vietnamese Credit Card
With a working visa, it’s much easier to open a Vietnamese bank account. But with a tourist visa it seems to be very difficult. I would advise contacting your home bank before leaving and activate an option for international payment. In my case I pay less than $3 to have no fees, either through direct payment or withdrawal. Opening a Vietnamese bank account is recommended if you’ll be earning Vietnamese dong.
As soon as you land, you’ll want to meet others. The expat community in Saigon is a small sphere where you’ll be able to find people you can relate with. As I’m French with an interest in entrepreneurship, I managed to find an event gathering French entrepreneurs which took place a week after I arrived. Otherwise just go to a nice coffee and start talking.
Where to shop
As a Frenchman, I love to cook. I know that eating outside is so cost-competitive that I won’t be cooking much. But still for the morning and time to time, I like to cook by myself. The best places to shop Western products for fair prices is Mega Market (there are 2 stores in Saigon). You can even be delivered if you purchase more than 500,000VND of product.