I’ve had a love affair with Vietnam since April 2016. And I think the feelings are mutual because she’s been faithful and loving in return. So what’s so special about this country? Well keep reading and I’ll explain.
In April 2016 I had to leave Thailand to renew my visa, and decided to go to Saigon. Why? Well I visited Saigon back in 2009 but left with mixed feelings. I only visited for one week and mostly mingled with backpackers on Bui Vien street. I felt it was time to give the country one more chance! It proved to be the right decision.
When I arrived in Saigon, she felt like a breeze of fresh air. It felt like I traveled back to ancient Asia, while at the same time being able to enjoy most amenities you’ll find back in the west. Perfect mix of old and new. Awesome.
And as it happened, I was a bit tired of Thailand. Bangkok in particular had become too developed and boring for my taste. So after spending one great month in Saigon, I decided to move my base here.
When people ask why I love Vietnam, I answer that she checks all of my criteria boxes for a livable location. Of course she’s not world class across the board, but above average in all the categories which I’m looking for in a country. Examples of categories where she ranks high in are beaches, weather, food and the expat community.
Another important criterion for me is cost of living and here Vietnam ranks very high. And since I accumulated a bit of knowledge about the cost of living in Vietnam, I decided to put together a blog post to help my fellow man.
Let’s start with the biggest expense which is usually accommodation. First, rental prices are lower than you’ll find in the west, but not great compared to other countries in the region. So if you’re used to the prices in neighboring Thailand or Cambodia, rental prices in Vietnam may surprise you. Next, finding good landlords is a bit of a hassle. Some bad landlords may even keep your deposit when you move out. This is not common but it’s happened to few of my friends.
The options on AirBnb are few and expensive. Your best option may be to find a place on Airbnb for a few days and go apartment hunting with an agent. Some of my friends also had luck with finding apartments on Facebook groups such as this one.
I used an agent for my apartment. The size is OK for one person (35 sqm). In addition it’s relatively modern and centrally located in District 1. The rent is $550 per month and includes everything such as water, electricity and even maid service with laundry. Also I don’t pay any deposit. However I’m likely overpaying and a fair rent would be $400 to $450. But no deposit gives me ease of mind.
When it comes to buying real estate, it’s gotten easier in recent years. The government recently changed the law and foreigners can now buy real estate on tourist visas. However, it’s technically not a purchase since you only lease the land for 50 years. But there seems to be a way to extend the lease after it expires. I’m not an expert on Vietnam real estate, but I did look at some condos in 2016. The best deal I found was a new three bedroom unit with large windows overlooking District 1. It was located in District 2 and selling for $70k.
You can eat very cheap in Vietnam. Or very expensive. In my case, the lunches are very affordable and I usually eat at a restaurant called Pho24. They have excellent pho bo tai, which is Vietnamese noodle soup with rare beef. The price for my lunch is $2 but sometimes I add an extra egg for an additional $1.
In addition to the cheaper options, there are a lot of fine dining here. For dinner I prefer to eat at nicer restaurants and the prices usually ranging from $7 to $20 per person. Including drinks. You’ll find cuisines from all over the world in Saigon. Steak places, Thai, European (a lot of French) and Sushi. Sadly, I still haven’t found a good Mexican Burrito place. I’m still looking though!
In addition you’ll find the usual chain restaurants and cafes such as McDonalds, Burger King and Starbucks. The price for one Big Mac meal is $4 and one Starbucks latte is $3.5.
I’m not really a nightlife guy. However Saigon has many great bars where I like to hang out and relax after work. The standard price for one beer is $1 at these places. Sometimes I’m visiting more upscale places such as the many rooftop bars in the city, and then it’s slightly more expensive. Roughly $3 to $5.
Saigon has excellent craft beer and my favorite brewery is Biacraft. Me and my friends go there a couple of times every month to banter about business and travel. They have a large selection of beer with prices ranging from $1 to $6 depending on the size and type of beer.
The nightlife is OK but nowhere near what you’ll find in Bangkok. But there’s plenty of clubs to keep the average party goer entertained. Most places don’t charge a cover fee and the prices are reasonable. You won’t break the bank when partying here. On a typical night out at Lush (one of the more popular places here) I generally don’t spend more than $30 to $40.
After so many bad experiences with taxi drivers, I exclusively use Uber to get around Saigon. Getting from the airport to district 1 cost about $4 and a 2 km ride within District 1 is about $1.
That being said, there are of course honest taxi drivers and sometimes when I’m in a hurry I grab a Vinasun or Mai Linh on the street. The prices are slightly more but its still acceptable.
If you’re the adventurous type you can rent a motorbike. But keep in mind that the traffic can be crazy in the big cities, and you should get a local driving license. The typical price for a motorbike rental is about $50 per month.
There’s not many other ways to get around Saigon. There are buses but I never tried them. In addition the city is building a subway that should be ready by 2020. Hopefully that will help ease the traffic in and around District 1.
The gym culture is not widespread in Vietnam, and in Saigon it’s hard to find a good mid range gym. I define mid range as somewhere between the rusty garage gym and the luxury elite gyms. My current gym is a step above garage gym but not really the kind of standard I prefer. I pay $22 per month which is reasonable.
In addition I’ve tried more luxury establishments such as California Fitness and Elite Fitness with prices ranging from $100 and $200. There’s also a gym in District 7 called Saigon Sports Center which I’m curious to try since they have boxing equipment. I’ve heard that they charge $96 per month.
If they opened a clean gym with squat racks, deadlift area and plenty of bench presses for $50 in District 1, I would sign up in a heart beat.
The final chapter of cost of living in Vietnam is healthcare. Luckily, so far I had not needed medical care for myself (knock on woods). But I had to help a friend that got sick in Saigon. Let me say the quality of hospitals here vary. A lot. If you get sick, you want to be taken to a private clinic. Don’t end up at a public one! The public ones are very cheap, like $100 to $200 in patient fees per day. But you don’t want to be admitted to one of those. You should anyway have medical insurance that covers all the expenses. And keep in mind that many clinics wants to get paid before they start any treatment.
But I’m going to a dentist here in Saigon. I recently had a teeth cleaning done for about $5 and the quality was similar to what I had in the US and the west. Furthermore, one friend is putting in braces at the same dental clinic. Braces is a lengthy process which takes about 2 years and the total price for that procedure will be $1,400. I’m not an expert on braces but I think that’s less expensive than in the west.
Finally I have some information that may be of interest to pet owners. One day my friend’s two puppies got sick and I took them to Saigon Pet Clinic. It turned out the puppies had canine parvovirus which is a serious disease. They would die if left untreated. The poor puppies were put on antibiotics and received food through Intravenous therapy (IV) for one week. The final bill ended up to be $450. That may seem pricey but keep in mind this is the best clinic in Saigon, so it’s definitely possible to find less expensive options. But I don’t like being cheap when it comes to these things.
I hope you enjoyed my article about cost of living in Vietnam. Few places on earth provides such value to travelers as Vietnam, ranging from food, stunning beaches to adventures. And you can do it all on a reasonable budget! If you have further questions about cost of living in Vietnam please send me a message or write a comment below.
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