Guide to living in Vietnam (visas, coworking, accommodation) with our cost of living in Nha Trang (from $12 USD per day).
My first thought after moving to Vietnam was “Why don’t more people do this?”.
Whether you want to retire in Vietnam or just make it your new short-term home base, you can enjoy life here on very little money. My boyfriend, Max, and I spent a month based in Nha Trang and then traveling for another 10 days, spending an average of $12 USD per day.
Vietnam quickly became our favorite country in South East Asia thanks to the hospitality of locals, incredible landscapes. delicious cuisine, and coffee culture.
This ex-pat and digital nomad guide to living in Vietnam include:
- Why you should move to Vietnam
- Cost of living in Vietnam (as an ex-pat)
- Visa application process
- Choosing where to live
- Renting an apartment
- Getting a SIM card
- Renting a scooter
- Finding coworking spaces
- Making new friends
- Accessing cash
- The downsides of living in Vietnam
Why move to Vietnam
The main reasons that people usually move to Vietnam are:
- To retire and enjoy a richer life on less money
- To use it as a base while working online
- To find work as an English Teacher
- For a job offer.
These are all good reasons to move to Vietnam but I also think it can be a great option for anyone is has a project, like a thesis or a book to write, and needs time to do it. Here you can take all the time you need to work on your project and not worry about spending too much money.
I work online but am also studying my MBA, so I am not making a full salary. In my home country of Australia, I would struggle to afford to even live on my current income but in Vietnam, Max and I could afford to rent a modern apartment near the beach.
If you are backpacking South East Asia and want to take it slow, then renting an apartment in Vietnam for a month could be a great way to avoid getting travel burnout.
Cost of living in Vietnam (as an ex-pat)
To live as an ex-pat in Nha Trang, Vietnam it cost me an average of 273,000 Dong ($12 USD / $16 AUD) per day.
My cost of living in Vietnam includes:
- Accommodation: 1-month in a furnished studio apartment in the center of Nha Trang (6,825,000 Dong), water and electricity (800,000 Dong) for two people
- Mobile data and calls: Viettel SIM card with 10GB of data but no calls (120,000 Dong), Viettel SIM card with calls but no data (100,000 Dong), 7GB data recharge (70,000 Dong).
- Food: A bowl of Pho (40,000 Dong), Banh Mi (17,000 Dong), Vietnamese Iced Coffee with milk (12,000 Dong), fresh baguette (10,000), large Saigon beer (10,000).
We lived in a studio apartment, close to the beach so we only rented a scooter twice during the month. One of the days we had the scooter, we used it to go to the large Big C supermarket to stock up on groceries. Other times, Max, would either go on foot or take a Grab bike to come back.
As we had a kitchen and Max is an amazing chef, we barely ever ate out but if we did it was usually Pho at local restaurants. We did indulge in fresh baguettes almost daily from the local bakery but you could probably find these for even cheaper if you live in an area with fewer tourists.
Vietnam visa application
Even if you are arriving in Vietnam as a tourist, you may need to apply for a visa before you arrive. Check your nationality 0n the Vietnam Visa Government website to see which visa you are eligible for and the associated fees.
Keep in mind that the government website directs you to either apply for tourist visas at your nearest Vietnamese embassy or consulate or through a Vietnamese travel agent. We chose to use a visa service agent recommended by a friend.
Max and I have Italian and Australian passports and went through the following process:
- I emailed Nam from Chapi Tours to ask for 2x 3-month tourist visas with a single entry for pick up in Nha Trang
- Nam advised us of the $28 USD fee for the visa letter (including his $3 service fee) and asked for copies of our passports
- Three days later, I received the visa letter via email and made payment electronically
- Nam told us to print and complete the forms, have two passport photos and USD $25 each for when we arrived in Vietnam
- At the Nha Trang airport, before immigration, there is a “Visa on Arrival” desk where we presented the forms and passport photos. After five minutes, our visas had been added to our passports. We paid the final USD $25 fee then proceeded through immigration.
The visa can seem a bit steep if you are traveling on a budget, which is why we opted for the single entry visa (the multiple entry visas for 3 months are USD $40 more!). But I do recommend a minimum of three months, as one month in Vietnam is not enough.
Choosing where to live in Vietnam
Vietnam is a long and narrow country with a diverse climate. The hot season is generally from May to October, with the cooler months in November to April although you will notice a greater difference in temperature the further north you go. The major city of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in the south is much warmer than the capital of Hanoi in the north, where the winter temperature is 17.2 Celsius (63F) on average. Vietnam weather is also affected by monsoons and can receive between 1500-2500mm (60-98 inches) rainfall per year depending on the area.
One of the main reasons we chose to stay in Nha Trang, in the Khanh Hoa province, was the mild temperature and yearly average of 26.5C (80F). We were there for the month of February, which is considered the cold season but enjoyed days on the beach. A woman we met in Singapore, told us she was living in Da Nang (533km north) and needed to wear a jacket at night.
If you are looking for work, then big cities might be a better option like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, or Da Nang. Hoi An is also becoming a very popular destination for digital nomads, although we found the town to generally more expensive than Nha Trang.
Renting an apartment in Vietnam
I found the process of renting an apartment as an ex-pat in Vietnam to be straightforward. We were looking for a furnished one-bedroom or studio apartment to rent in Nha Trang for $300 USD (6,825,000 Dong) or less for one month. To search, we joined Facebook groups for Nha Trang Ex-pats and found many real estate advertising available properties on there. We then contacted them to arrange viewings.
The only major challenge was that we arrived the month before Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. Tet is usually in February and celebrations can last as long as three weeks. This meant apartments were in high demand and owners wanted to charge a higher rate, especially as we only wanted to rent for one month.
When planning your arrival, I would recommend renting a hotel room or Airbnb to give yourself time to search. It took us a couple of days to look at different properties to find our apartment. It was a furnished studio in a serviced apartment building called, Bean House. At $300 USD per month, it was in our budget and included a weekly cleaner and WiFi. The location was amazing, walking distance to restaurants, shops, and just one block from the beach. (Update as at 17 April 2019: Bean House is now $350 per month and there is some serious construction happening next door that will last for at least two more months).
The only downside was that water and electricity were extra. I think if we were there a different month or planning to stay longer, we could have negotiated a better deal. There was no official contract, just a receipt with our one month deposit written on it. The property manager, Ms. Kathy, needed to take our passports to the local police station to register us as living there but that was all that was required. She was also let us make payment to her bank account a few days after we moved in, which I did through Transferwise and saved a lot of money in bank fees.
Getting a SIM card in Vietnam
One of the great things about Vietnam is that WiFi is everywhere and generally very fast. Between my apartment, coffee shops, and coworking space, I rarely ever needed to use data on my phone but still it was helpful to have. A Viettel SIM card with 10GB of data but no calls cost us 120,000 Dong. If you just want calls but no internet, it is around 100,000 Dong. A SIM card with both data and calls will cost a bit extra.
To recharge, I paid only 70,000 Dong for 7GB of data.
Renting a scooter in Vietnam
Riding a scooter or motorbike in Vietnam is not for beginners. If you have any doubt at all, don’t even consider doing it. The only rule of the road in Vietnam seems to be to “wear a helmet”. After that, all bets are off and any kind of road rules that exist in your own country probably aren’t enforced here.
Also, technically you should have a Vietnamese Drivers’ Licence but reports will vary depending on your source of information. We met many people who rode motorbikes through Vietnam without having the Vietnamese Drivers’ Licence and didn’t have any issues. In the end, it’s a risk. If you are pulled over by police or are in an accident, you might be subject to fines. For ex-pats staying for a long period in Vietnam, it might be worth converting your license to a Vietnamese one.
As we were living in the center of Nha Trang, we didn’t need a scooter for daily life but rented one twice to visit nearby beaches of Doc Let and Bai Dai. There was a man living next to our apartment building who rented automatic scooters for 100,000 Dong and manual for 80,000 per day. Unfortunately the second time we got a flat tire on the wheel of our scooter and had to pay a van to take us and the bike back. Not a very fun experience and a bit of bad luck but usually if you had a problem like this, there would be plenty of people around to help you fix your motorbike.
We also rented a scooter in Da Nang to travel to Hoi An but found it a little more expensive at 150,000 Dong.
Coworking spaces in Vietnam
Many digital nomads are choosing Vietnam as a base due to its low cost of living. For those who work online, the opportunity to get out of the house and have a change of scenery has created a demand for coworking spaces. Cafes can provide a nice atmosphere to work from but often there is the pressure to buy something or not stay too long. This is the reason why official Coworking spaces have become so popular. As we were staying in a studio apartment in Nha Trang, it was not always an ideal for me to work if Max was cooking or wanting to watch something.
I searched for coworking and found LIVINcollective, which is a restaurant, concept store, and coworking space all in one building. The owners, Kane and Marian, made me feel welcomed and provided so much local information that really helped me settle into Nha Trang. Their coworking operated on an honesty system, which meant there was no charge to use the space but they appreciated if you purchased something from the restaurant while you were there.
Making new friends
One aspect of moving to Vietnam that you might not think of is meeting new people and making friends. When traveling, friendships can develop fast and stay strong. However, moving to a new city it isn’t always so easy and may take a bit longer to connect with like-minded people.
Even if you don’t work online, coworking spaces can be a great way to make friends. I would also recommend joining Facebook groups for ex-pats and locals in your new city, these will often advertise events you can go to. In addition to Meetup.com, I also like to use Couchsurfing to meet new people.
While staying in Nha Trang, I didn’t have a lot of free time but was still able to meet up with two ladies. One was a local Vietnamese and the other was Russian, who had been living in Vietnam for a few years. Max used the Couchsurfing app, Hangouts, to meet up with travelers for a beer or coffee.
Accessing cash in Vietnam
Getting cash in Vietnam can be a bit of a pain and most businesses don’t accept cards. Apparently, it is rather easy to open a bank account in Vietnam but as we were staying for only one month we decided against it. If you are staying longer, consider opening an account and transferring funds to it from your own home bank. Transferwise provides a great alternative to transfer funds at a lower cost.
Another option is that if you are a Citibank or HSBC cardholder, there are branches in the major cities where you should be able to withdraw without occurring additional fees. I have a Citibank Visa Debit card but unfortunately, the only ATMs are in Ho Chi Min and Hanoi. They also don’t have any partner banks in Vietnam, despite what their website says.
ATMs in Vietnam can have high withdrawal fees and limits on how much you can take out. In the end, the best option I found was VPBank which had the lowest fees and highest withdrawal limit (around 8,000,000 Dong). I would go there and take out the maximum amount to avoid paying a lot of ATM fees.
The downsides of living in Vietnam
With any destination that you choose to live in, there are always going to be downsides. In my opinion, the biggest negatives about living in Vietnam are pollution and trash. Like most developing countries, Vietnam has some issues with people not disposing of their waste properly. This is not just with locals, as I saw tourists leaving their trash on the beach too. In 2015, it was named along with China, Indonesia, Thailand, and The Philippines as being five countries that are responsible for 60% of the plastic trash that ends up in the ocean.
Trash that is dumped into the ocean washes up onto the beach each day, which I saw in Nha Trang. Even though there were government workers cleaning up the beach at night, it doesn’t stop the source or the tourists who leave their trash on the beach. With more and more pressure from environmental groups and tourists, hopefully, it will put force the government to make it a priority.
The only other thing that I would mention if you are planning to move to Vietnam, is that it can be difficult to receive mail. I had two packages sent to me from the US, one was stopped by customs and the second never arrived without any notice. Many items that are shipped to Vietnam will be subject to customs tax and may even be prohibited by import laws.
Do your best research but know that it will be at the mercy of the customs person on the day. I would recommend avoiding having packages sent to you to save time and hassle.
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