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A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Vietnam

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Life in Vietnam

  • Expat neighborhoods are the best option if you bring your family with you.
  • Healthcare is undergoing reforms, but the best option is to be treated in major cities.
  • Education is very important in Vietnamese culture, and expats can find good education options.

Life in Vietnam is rife with elements of different cultures. Especially in Hanoi, traces of French architecture are still prevalent over half a century after the country won its independence from the colonial empire. Chinese influence on civilization, government, and other aspects of life in Vietnam can also be seen.

Expats living in Vietnam can experience an ancient culture, which is considered to be the oldest in East Asia. Centuries after the first Chinese invasion, you can still find the remains of the historic achievements of Vietnam’s golden era, in both the scenic, rural countryside and the big cities like Ho Chi Minh; or rather Saigon as it was known in the past and still is today by a large portion of the Vietnamese.

Vietnam’s Population: Homogeneous and Not Religious

Vietnam has a population of about 94,349,000 people, 33.6% of them are living in Vietnam’s urban spaces. Vietnam’s biggest cities are Ho Chi Minh City (7.298 million) and Hanoi (3.629 million). However, Haiphong and Da Nang are also attractive locations, with urban populations of 1.075 million and 952,000 respectively.

The biggest ethnic group in Vietnam is the Kinh, making up a large majority of the population. In terms of religious affiliation, most people living in Vietnam claim none, although a mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism remains important. Of those who do claim religious orthodoxy, 9.3% are observing Buddhists, while an even smaller part is Catholic. The latter is a remnant of the French occupation, which brought Catholicism to those living in Vietnam.

Housing in Vietnam: Overcrowded Cities Means Expensive Rent, or a Long Commute

Housing can be a tricky topic if you plan to move to a city. Urban spaces like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are often overcrowded, and the cost of rent can be rather high. The first step is to decide on the neighborhood you prefer.

Many expats work in industrial or business districts. These, however, often lack decent residential areas or are too crowded for expats living in Vietnam. For this reason, many expatriates choose to settle in the suburbs or residential districts, facing long commutes to work.

Here you can find a short list of websites that could help you find your accommodation:

Until 2015, foreigners did not have the right to buy a property in Vietnam. From now on, foreigners can buy a property if they fulfill one simple requirement: they must enter Vietnam legally, with a valid three-month visa.

Expat Neighborhoods: Perfect for Your Family

Expats on the real estate hunt also have to make another choice: some prefer the high living standard typical in expat neighborhoods, while others would rather fully immerse themselves in Vietnamese culture.

For example, district 2 and district 7 in Ho Chi Minh City are full of expats working and living in Vietnam. Both offer peaceful developments with large houses and access to green spaces, the latter of which is rare in urban centers. Although these districts will not give you the typical Vietnamese living experience, international schools and nurseries are right around the corner. Thus, if you are planning on living in Vietnam with your family, these areas, far from the chaos of the city center, may be the right choice. But be aware that the prices have recently been soaring. A flat in these districts can be rented for as much as 2500 USD a month.

Types of Accommodation

As an expatriate living in Vietnam, you can choose between multiple different types of accommodation:

  • Serviced apartments are a good choice if you are planning to stay for only a couple of months. They are usually located in high-rise buildings or hotels and come fully equipped with furniture, a reception, a gym, and restaurants. Services like housekeeping are also included in the rent.
  • Regular apartments give you more independence and flexibility aside from leaving more money in your wallet. Renting an average apartment, of course, also means that you will have to organize many details yourself, such as having utilities connected and dealing with your landlord.
  • Houses can be rented as well, with and without furniture. This is probably the best option for you, if you will be living in Vietnam with your family and need space. Unfortunately, finding a house to rent may be difficult in some densely populated areas.
  • Renting a room is, naturally, the easiest and cheapest option. This makes sense if your income is relatively small but you don’t want to move too far out of town. Rooms often come with a bathroom and shared kitchen. They can be rented furnished or unfurnished.

Healthcare in Vietnam

Vietnam is currently working to develop a universal healthcare system, which will cover all residents and provide them with basic healthcare. For that purpose, Vietnam works closely with Thailand’s government to model its universal healthcare after their example.  There were several reforms implemented during the spring of 2014.

Firstly, there was a reform to increase the physicians’ pay. There was also a reform to strengthen the domestic generic drug sector, and finally a 5-year transition plan for hospitals, expected to end in 2016.In May 2014 the World Bank approved a 106 million USD credit to help improve the quality of the healthcare system in Vietnam.  However, the Vietnamese government still only invests a small percentage of its GDP in healthcare It is, however, worth noting that between 2014 and 2015, 2.7 million people acquired health insurance coverage, thanks to efforts from the government. As of July 2015, 71.4% of the population was covered, and the goal is to achieve 80% coverage by 2020. Even though the situation is getting better, as an expatriate, your best bet is probably to take out private health insurance to cover your healthcare costs throughout your stay.

Quality of Medical Care: Good in Cities, Improving in Rural Areas

Vietnam has made excellent progress since the 1990s and is today generally providing good quality healthcare. The average life expectancy in Vietnam is 73 and the child mortality rate has decreased significantly. Still, the improvement of the current healthcare service is an important part of the reforms previously mentioned.

Reforms are especially necessary in rural areas of Vietnam. Expats moving to areas removed from an urban center will soon notice that sufficient medical care is often not readily available in smaller towns and villages. Local hospitals and doctor’s practices are often not up to modern standards.

Doctors and Hospitals for the International Community

You will not have too much of a hard time finding a doctor or a hospital if you live in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or any other big city in Vietnam. Doctors usually work in hospitals or joint practices. For instance, the Family Medical Practice in Hanoi has several doctors who are used to dealing with the needs of Vietnam’s international community.

In Hanoi alone, there are several large hospitals that are very well equipped to deal with expatriates and their needs. Among them are two dental clinics and a branch of the International SOS Clinic. The latter employs both Vietnamese and expatriate staff. The languages spoken include Chinese, Russian, English, French, Korean, and Spanish, among others.

Common Diseases and Health Threats: Beware of Infectious Diseases

While life in Vietnam is generally safe, there are various widespread infectious diseases and health threats. Hepatitis A and B are a big problem, especially in the countryside, where hygiene standards may not always be on par with those in the cities. Typhoid fever, dengue fever, and malaria are also still extremely common. You should also be aware of the Zika virus, chickenpox outbreaks, and even rabies in rural areas. There are also cases of acute watery diarrhea and cholera. Make sure to talk to your doctor and get the necessary vaccinations, so you can enjoy your new life in Vietnam with few worries.

Many Vietnamese people also have to deal with the effects of the biological warfare waged during the Vietnam War. The biological weapon Agent Orange was widely used and did not only ravage much of the country’s agriculture, but it also corrupted the landscape, thus impacting the food chain and ultimately the human body. Today, it still leads to miscarriages and to children being born with physical disabilities.

Education in Vietnam

Education: Of Great Importance for Vietnamese Families

There are five stages in Vietnam’s education system:

  • pre-primary
  • primary
  • intermediate
  • secondary
  • higher education

In Vietnam, children enjoy twelve years of basic education on a half-day basis before they move on to college, university, or begin work.

Education plays a major role in Vietnamese life. Not only is the devotion to study one of society’s core values, but education is also recognized as a chance of advancement. There is a huge demand for education in Vietnam, and the public school system cannot always satisfy this demand. In general, families invest a lot of time and money to send their children to a good school to try and ensure they will have a bright future. Recently, the wealthier families of Vietnam have been sending their children overseas because they were disappointed by the standards of public universities in the country.

Quality of Education: Varied, but Reforms Are Improving It

Just like the healthcare sector, the education sector is benefitting from deep reforms initiated by the government. This is specifically the case for universities, which do not always meet international standards and are thus often incapable of offering a well-rounded education.

Outdated teaching methods are one of the main issues plaguing the Vietnamese education system. Teachers often focus more on discipline in the classroom than on lively discussions and interaction. Censorship and interference from the government are prevalent and can create a stifling teaching environment. Many Vietnamese children eventually graduate successfully. However, graduates who begin to work for international companies may need to be retrained.

The necessity for reform is recognized by government officials and in late 2013 the country’s leadership passed a resolution to overhaul the sector. The ambitious approach the government takes to education has so far been successful when it comes to school standards. In fact, Vietnam’s performance during the 2015 international Pisa tests was an impressive achievement; they achieved better scores than most other OECD countries, including Western countries.

However, it is important to note that the Vietnamese education system is finding international investment, and local investment too since more than 21% of government spending goes to education. Alongside their investment in healthcare, the World Bank also issued 150 million USD in two credits to improve the higher education system and to raise school readiness for five year olds.

Quality of Teaching: Underfunding Can Affect It

As mentioned above, the teaching quality in the classroom depends largely on the individual teacher. If you send your children to a Vietnamese school, they will be expected to remain passively attentive and studious. For children who are used to the teaching methods that are common in Western countries, this may come as a bit of a shock. After all, they may have become accustomed to lively interaction in the classroom.

Public schools are often underfunded and thus cannot offer all the subjects they should or would want to teach. For this reason, private language centers are in high demand. They offer English as a second language to students of all ages who would like to improve their professional opportunities. Expats are often hired to teach these classes. Unfortunately, not every expat is qualified to teach and more often than not, these language courses severely lack in quality.

Common Sense Is Enough to Stay Safe

In general, Vietnam is a safe country. Violent crimes and terrorist threats are rather rare. However, foreigners are often the victim of pick pocketing and other petty crimes. In bigger cities where tourists like to gather, thieves on motorcycles snatch purses, bags, and cameras from pedestrians and cyclo (pedicab) passengers.

When using public transportation, it is important that you only use cyclos that are associated with hotels or restaurants. That way, you will decrease the chances of falling victim to robbery or kidnapping. Airport taxis (noi bai taxi) or official vehicles provided by your hotel are generally safe. In Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, the international rule of staying in any foreign city applies: be cautious and use your common sense.

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