This is an updated version of an original article written in 2017.
Adapting to life in a foreign country such as Vietnam, with its distinct customs and ways of life, presents a complex and challenging experience. Acknowledging this, our efforts have been directed towards creating a comprehensive guide specifically tailored to Vietnam.
While our guide reflects extensive knowledge and research, it may not encompass every facet of life in this vibrant country. Therefore, we warmly encourage the sharing of insights and suggestions based on personal experiences.
For now, please explore our carefully curated list of essential tips designed to facilitate a smoother transition and enhance your stay in the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City.
On The Street
- Don’t be afraid to cross the road. Use slow, consistent steps when crossing busy streets. To make yourself more visible to motorists, raise your hand high or out while walking.
- If you do not like sitting in heavy traffic, peak times of rush hour are from 7 am till 10 am and from 5 pm till 8 pm.
- Phone theft is common in Vietnam, so use a keyring and be cautious when using your phone, especially during the high-crime season just before Tet (Lunar New Year).
- When parking your bike, do not lose your parking ticket. You will not get your bike back without it. Do not keep valuables inside your motorbike; lock, not hang your helmet. Park directly in front of the business property.
- Rainy season footwear: If you are in Vietnam in the rainy season, consider wearing open sandals or flip-flops to let the water drain out if you’re caught in a downpour.
Tips For Getting Around Ho Chi Minh City
- You have plenty of options for getting around town. Vinasun and Mai Linh are safe options for hailing cabs. The best options by far are Grab, Gojek, and Be. If you’re looking for a more sustainable option, there’s Xanh SM Taxi, Vietnam’s first-ever pure electric taxi company. Normally, the drivers will call to confirm your whereabouts. The cheapest option would be the public bus which runs about VND6,000.
- The most accessible form of transportation to the beach, such as Vung Tau, is by minibus. It should cost around VND90,000. You could ride their limousine fleet for a couple more bucks, which is much more comfortable (9 seats instead of 16 seats).
- It is only a 6-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City.
- Airfare can be cheap. During the Tet holiday, the rates are higher. Be sure to triple-check your baggage weight.
Food & Beverage Tips
- A good cup of coffee costs at least VND20,000.
- Both Baemin and Grab Food are excellent options for convenient food delivery, each offering a wide range of food choices to satisfy your cravings.
- Not all restaurants offer free refills. If you need something, raise your hand or shout “em ơi,” and you’ll get someone’s attention.
- (Khau trang) Face masks cost around VND25.000-40.000.
- Join the “Expats in Ho Chi Minh City” Facebook group. You might find the answers you are looking for. Fexpats Group is a good place for female expats to meet like-minded people.
- Bookstores: Fahasa, Nguyen Thi Binh Book Street, near Notre Dame Church and Post office.
Other Tips About Living in Ho Chi Minh City
- Make sure your phone is unlocked before packing. You can easily buy street SIMs for a cheaper package. When buying a SIM for your cellphone, do not forget also to add a mobile plan or risk depleting your credit rapidly.
- Monsoon season starts from October to early December, while the dry season is from January to September.
- Read all the labels before plugging in your electronic devices. Vietnam uses 220v.
- Vietnamese lessons on YouTube.
- Copy your passport: In Vietnam, it’s handy to have a photocopy of your passport upon check-in at hotels if you want to keep your original copy on your person.
- Order tickets online or through the app in advance for good seats in the movie theater.
Here are some helpful basic phrases:
Hello – xin chào
Goodbye – tạm biệt
Please – làm ơn
Thank you – cảm ơn
You’re welcome – không có chi
Sorry/ excuse me – xin lỗi
How much (does that cost)? Bao nhiêu tiền or simply bao nhiêu
Too expensive – mắc quá
Where – ở đâu
Where is the toilet? Toilet ở đâu?
Where is the hospital? – Bệnh viện ở đâu?
Where is a doctor? – Bác sĩ ở đâu?
Where is a pharmacy? – Nhà thuốc ở đâu?
Where is a hotel? – Khách sạn ở đâu?
Where is a wet market? – Chợ ở đâu?
Where is a supermarket? – Siêu thị ở đâu?
Where is the police station? – Công An phư ờng ở đâu?
Where is the post office? – Bưu Điện ở đâu?
I am sick – Tôi bị bệnh
I am lost – Tôi bị lạc Đường
Help me – giúp tôi
No – không
Yes – dạ (sounds a lot like the German ja)
Health and Safety
- If possible, carry tissues or moist towelettes.
- When getting medicine from pharmacies, usually, they will also give you antibiotics.
- Tiger balm can remedy mosquito bites.
- Motorbike safety: Buy proper equipment and high quality helmet Stay away from cheap helmets; it’s your head you’re protecting. Buy insurance for a couple hundred dollars, you could avoid a mountain of hospital bills. Get a License. Without one, your insurance is NOT valid, and they will refuse to pay out for anything. Make sure there is a contact number of someone from your work or close friend in your wallet. This way, they can contact your family immediately. Often they won’t begin treatment without either an insurance card or a Visa card.
- Do not drink tap water, and choose only good mineral water kept away from the sun.
- Diarrhea pills are cheap and readily available in Vietnamese cities. You WILL need them.
- Haggling can be fun. Try your bargaining skills to save 50-66% off. (Hack: If you’re timid about bargaining, try the walk-away technique, where you hesitate at their offer and shyly walk away only to have them droyour priceou.)
- If you wish not to shop from street vendors, try not to make eye contact. Refuse at least twice when they approach you.
- It is fine to shop online for long-term accommodation but never pay a deposit and the first month’s rent over the Internet. Don’t believe everything you see in the pictures. Always personally inspect the property before signing a lease. Look for nearby construction for noise pollution and local conveniences that suit your needs within the neighborhood.
- Be careful when ordering items from US-based online stores (Amazon, BestBuy, etc.) as they will often get stuck at customs, and you might end up paying half of your item value in customs taxes.
- Don’t Over-Argue Prices.
- Bring your fashion catalog and make your clothes tailored here.
Banking, Cash, and Payment
- Be careful of money scams. A VND100,000 note can be mistaken for a VND10,000 note. VND20.000 note can also be mistaken for the VND500.000 note.
- Money exchanges are usually done in Gold shops.
- Don’t expect everyone to have change for a VND500.000 bill. You can find smaller notes at parking garages by asking the parking attendants or getting a change from gas stations when getting fuel.