All you need to know before moving to Vietnam



Spending a few days, a week, or even a month in Vietnam can make an impression that lasts a lifetime.

The barrage of noise coming from motorcycle and scooters in the street is an endless cacophony of the sound in Vietnam. Its capital, Ho Chi Minh City, has been dubbed as Asia's newest tiger economy. On a quick glance, newly minted skyscrapers have started to sprout in the inner city, but when you look below, into streets, war relics are still scattered around the city.

The ravages of war painted a dark history on the Vietnamese people, but these are an extraordinary group of people with amazing resilience. The stigma of war is the last thing on their mind, as they march forward to rebuild and to aspire for a much brighter future.

The country is a long strip of mountainous land on the tip of Indochina facing the China Sea with a total surface of 331,114 square kilometers and a population that comprises 85% Vietnamese followed by Chinese at 3% and the remaining being minorities such as Muongs, Tais, Meos, Khmers, Mans, Chams, among others who dwell in the mountains and high plateaus. Vietnam's amazing ethnical diversity reflects the vast variety of religions: ancestral cults, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, which is largely dominant. 

Furthermore, the ancestral miscellany gave birth to a rich mix of flavours in Vietnam. Although it's very close to Chinese cuisines, distinct Vietnamese flavour comes from its ample use of fresh herbs and soup-based dishes.

The Vietnamese language (kinh) is also a blend of Khmer, Thai, and Chinese languages. Other widely spoken languages include Chinese, English, Russian and French. Don't be surprised that as one can encounter an elderly who can speak French fluently. But in the corporate world and business transaction, English is the preferred language. 

The national currency, the dong, is not convertible, but the US Dollar is commonly used, it's even considered as the third currency in the country. Credit cards and travellers' cheques have slowly started to be accepted in local stores. Banks are open from Monday to Saturday, from 8am to 11am and from 1:30pm to 3:30pm. The climate varies from the sub-tropics in the North to the tropics in the South. In the city, humidity is high, with average ranging around 84% a year. Get ready for torrential rain during Monsoon Season from June to September.

Visa Requirements

One needs to apply for a Vietnamese visa in advance in order to gain entry. Take into account that the country is plagued with bureaucratic red tape, Vietnam's visa regulations undergo changes often. Thus, travelers are obliged to check the visa requirements before the trip and not rely on outdated information. A visa is required for all foreign nationals except citizens of Bulgaria, Cuba, Korea (Dem Rep) and Romania; nationals of Malaysia and Thailand can stay for 30 days and nationals of the Philippines for 21 days; and transit passengers continuing their journey within 72 hours, provided that a return ticket. Although a visa on arrival process has been introduced, it still requires a pre-arranged application to Hanoi Immigration Department; this mainly benefits nationals of countries without Vietnamese embassies. Vietnam's image has certainly changed from a country torn by war to a charming, quaint old city where one can just throw all worries into oblivion. What's more, there's always a hot steaming bowl of Pho, freshly baked bread and excellent Vietnamese coffee waiting for you. 

Essential relocation information



All visitors arriving in Vietnam should fill out the Declarations Form and submit their luggage for inspection. There are no limits as to the amount of foreign currency one can bring in, but it should be declared.

Meat and fish products, weapons, firearms, radioactive elements, pornographic materials and even cultural belongings unsuitable to the Vietnamese society are all prohibited from entering Vietnam, except in cases where permits have previously been obtained.

Foreigners can bring in the following, duty-free: 400 pieces of cigarettes; liquor of 1.5 litres and below; personal effects of reasonable quantity; and small gift items valued at not more than US$500.

Electric equipment that is not for personal use, such as camcorders, should be declared to the customs authority.

Those who will be residing and working in the country for some time should submit a customs declaration, a working visit certification and a copy of the bill of lading. These will be exempt from tax upon the submission of the mentioned requirements.

Shipping of automobiles, motorbikes, televisions, refrigerators, air-conditioning units and others under the same category are exempt from import tax for each piece/ type for each household/ individual. Any excess item shall be imposed on tax for import goods.

There are several shipping companies that you can use to take care of your relocation needs.

TransGlobal Shipping and Storage is one of the best-known companies that can take care of all the insurance and customs requirements as well organize storage for your shipment. Most of these shipping companies offer services from packing to unpacking of your belongings and goods.

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How to live like a local



The end of the war in 1975 signalled Vietnam's journey towards global participation. Choosing to live in this Southeast Asian country is a big step, especially for Westerners, who want a more laid back place compared to the busier destinations in the West.

To start with, Vietnam has friendly international policies. Aside from being a member of the United Nations, it also established diplomatic relations with 172 countries including the United States in 2007. Most expats in this country live in Ho Chi Minh, the main economic centre of Vietnam while others prefer the northern city of Hanoi which boasts new infrastructures and beautiful lakes. Aside from its rapidly growing economy, Vietnam is also an ideal destination for nature lovers since this country has kilometres of stunning beaches along the eastern side and majestic mountain ranges on the borderline of Cambodia and Laos.

Exciting Leisure Activities

Vietnam can be an ultimate destination for children as there is a wide range of activities that are available for them. There are zoos, beaches and cultural attractions that will make any kid's life in this country exciting and fun. The Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens is a top destination for wildlife lovers. It is the largest zoo in the country and the eighth oldest animal sanctuary in the world. Boat trips are a must, especially for those residing in the southern part of Vietnam. A cruise on the Saigon River or in the Mekong Delta is an absolute hit among children. The best place to do this is Da Lat at Tuyen Lake whereas attractions are offered at very reasonable prices.

There are also plenty of museums in Vietnam that houses the country's religious artefacts, historical relics and more importantly, the remnants of war that have befallen the country. The two most popular venues for educational trips are Museum of Vietnamese History which was built in 1926 by Auguste Delaval and the National Museum of Vietnamese History that displays this country’s 300,000-400,000 years of heritage. Vietnam also has numerous beaches offering all kinds of water thrills for kids. Tours and water sports lessons are readily available. Vung Tau and the Nha trang are a few more must-see places.

Expat Banking in Vietnam

Most employers already have arrangements with local banks for the salary of their employees but some foreign nationals still find it convenient to have a personal bank account. Generally speaking, expats who don’t have residence permit or classified as non-residents are not allowed to open a bank account in Vietnam. Those who qualify to open a bank account will be relieved to know that the process is quite straightforward. Interested applicants only need to go to the bank of their choice and provide the documents listed below:

  • Passport
  • Valid Visa
  • Resident Card
  • Proof of Address (lease agreement or utility bill)
  • Work Permit
  • Employment Contract (upon request)

A bank account application can be approved within the day but it usually takes about three to five days for expats to receive their bank cards. The local banking infrastructure in Vietnam is also modern and internet/online banking is a standard feature. Automated Telling Machines are scattered across the country but expats must take note that cash is still the normal mode of payment in this country. Credit cards are only accepted in large hotels and major retail outlets. Three of the largest banks in Vietnam are Vietin Bank, HSBC and ANZ.

Overcoming Culture Shock

One important reminder to travellers moving to Vietnam is that the Vietnamese people are patriotic and sensitive on certain topics, especially about the war. They are also warm, friendly and very welcoming. As with other tourist destinations, foreigners and expatriates are often seen as a source of income by some locals. Hence, be aware that overcharging has long been an issue in Vietnam Tourism. In some restaurants, there are cases where staff presents foreigners with an English menu where prices are far higher from the original menu in Vietnamese. Learning basic Vietnamese words and numbers will be very helpful as you find your way in the jam-packed streets of Vietnam.

It is a general observation that the Vietnamese people follow the Confucian outlook in life as a result of the major influence that the ancient Chinese system has over the country. Moral righteousness and welfare of the people are considered important. This may manifest through their loyalty to their people and may seem offending to foreigners sometimes, but remember that this is part of their culture and upbringing.

Buddhism is widely practised in Vietnam. The principles of Confucianism dictate the everyday life of most locals. Interactions with the people of Vietnam should be made with a calm aura. This is one way to show respect to their beliefs and way of life. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution of Vietnam whereas expatriates are free to practice their religion.


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