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A Comprehensive Guide on Moving to Vietnam

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Relocating to Vietnam

  • Researching the climate is important before moving in.
  • Visa regulations are strict and change regularly.
  • Transportation is varied and inexpensive.

Your move to Vietnam will take you to an elongated country in Southeast Asia, sharing borders with Laos, China, and Cambodia. Vietnam not only attracts visitors, tourists, and travelers. It has also become an attractive destination for expats.

The Vietnamese are usually very welcoming to foreigners and expats. However, although its people are hospitable, Vietnam was a country long occupied by foreign powers and the resulting warfare devastated it. The impact and influence of both can be seen across the country, from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, or Saigon as it was once known. After living through such a brutal and bitter history, the Vietnamese are very protective of their independence and national sovereignty.

Strong Variations in Climate Are Common

Vietnam is located between the Gulf of Thailand and the Gulf of Tonkin, in Southeast Asia. It stretches from China in the North to Cambodia in the South. Due to the country’s lengthy topography, you will, upon moving to Vietnam, soon find that the weather differs strongly depending on where you live.

In Vietnam’s North, you will be exposed to a monsoonal climate, with alternating dry and monsoon seasons. The South is tropical and hot all year round. The meteorological divide is the Pass of the Cloud, north of Da Nang.

If you are moving to Vietnam and the Mekong Delta, you will also experience quite a few typhoons in this area during the rainy season. These typhoons often cause flooding and severe damage.

A Politically Stable Country, Despite Its Troubled Past

After moving to Vietnam, expats will recognize that it is a densely populated country which still faces various economic challenges. Vietnam is a Socialist Republic that gained its independence from France in 1945. However, France occupied the country until its defeat against communist forces in 1954. Under the Geneva Accord of 1954, the country had to be divided between the communist North under Ho Chi Minh, and the anti-communist South under Ngo Dinh Diem. Then, between 1955 and the fall of Saigon in 1975, there was a war between the South (supported by US forces), and the North (supported by China and the USSR). The outcome was a victory for the North Vietnamese, and a reunification of the country under communist rule.

After the reunification, there was a decade of economic and political isolation, which brought hardship and extreme poverty to the Vietnamese. However, the Vietnamese government enacted the “doi moi” (renovation) of the country in 1986. They engaged in reforms to liberalize the economy, and to open the country to the world. Nowadays, Vietnam has been lifted out of a poor country status, and has signed agreements with a lot of countries, including the US. The communist leaders, however, maintain tight control over the politics of the country, even though it is possible to see a few small-scale demonstrations happening.

Although the economy is still dominated by state-owned businesses, the government has made several attempts to further economic liberalization and international integration. Moreover, there has been a new and significant move toward privatization. Beginning in early 2014, the government has been making plans to privatize more than 432 state-owned enterprises. Thus, expats are welcome if they bring a willingness to invest or sufficient professional qualifications to the table.

Visas and Work Permits for Vietnam

Visa Categories

Before you move to your new temporary home, you need to obtain a visa that allows you to stay in Vietnam for the required amount of time. Depending on the purpose and the duration of your stay, there are different types of visas available:

  • A tourist visa is available for one month as a single-entry or multiple-entry permit. The maximum duration of this visa is 30 days.
  • Business visas are a little trickier. Applicants need to get an official entry clearance from their sponsor, usually their employer. This visa allows for multiple entries and lasts for up to one year. If you plan to apply for a business visa, you have to obtain approval from the Vietnamese Immigration Department through your sponsor. If you do not have a business partner, employer, or other sponsor who can provide you with an entry clearance, you can also apply for a business visa for a stay of up to 90 days.
  • Diplomatic and official visas can be applied for without having to pay any visa fees. Applicants are, however, required to submit an official letter by their government office or foreign mission.

Applying for a Vietnamese Visa: A Strict System

Many expatriates travel to their host country before the beginning of their assignment for a fact-finding trip, to find a place to live or to visit potential schools for their children.Some countries have bilateral agreements with Vietnam allowing their citizens to enter Vietnam freely for short-term (15 days for most of them) visits.If that is the case, you do not have to obtain a tourist visa.

Longer stays and business visits, however, always require a visa. Make sure to submit your application well in advance of your departure. Documents you have to submit (unless stated otherwise) are:

  • valid passport
  • completed application form; it can be found online
  • passport-sized photograph
  • application fee
  • criminal record
  • authorization document issued by the Immigration Department

The exact paperwork you need to submit as well as the application fees, of course, depend on the type of visa you apply for, the duration of your stay, the number of intended entries and the purpose of your trip. You can pay your visa fees via postal order or check. Make sure to contact the nearest Vietnamese embassy or consulate for details. In fact, the regulations tend to change at a fast pace in Vietnam, and as a result governmental information can be conflicting or outdated.

Visa on Arrival: Beware of Scams!

Certain websites offer online visas in exchange for a fee. Vietnamese embassies have issued a message to warn travelers that those websites are not official, and that they often fail to issue visas. Also, certain travelers thought they were covered by these websites, but once at the airport in Vietnam, the authorities refused them the entry, and they had to go back to their country of origin.

Only the following applicants are eligible for a visa on arrival:

  • those departing from a country where there is no competent Vietnamese visa-granting agency
  • those traveling through many countries before entering Vietnam
  • those visiting Vietnam on tours organized by an international travel agency operated in Vietnam
  • foreign crewmembers on board vessels anchored in Vietnam’s seaport wishing to exit through another border gate
  • those visiting Vietnam to attend a relative’s funeral or visit a seriously ill family member
  • those entering Vietnam to engage in emergency response, search/rescue activities, disaster or epidemic control or for other special purposes at the request of a competent authority in Vietnam.

Before entering Vietnam, applicants for a visa on arrival must apply for a letter issued by the Immigration Department (Ministry of Public Security), Consular Department or Ho Chi Minh City Department of Foreign Affairs (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Work Permits and Residential Cards: Legislation Changes Happen Regularly

Unfortunately, a business visa is not sufficient if you plan to live and work in Vietnam on a long-term basis, and you will need a work permit if you are going to stay longer than three months. Legislation in Vietnam changes very often, and this has also been the case for work permits. In fact, the government issued a decree in February 2016 which aims to simplify the work permit process, even though the decree it replaced had just been implemented in 2013. Furthermore, this decree extends the categories of people exempted from work permits. Please refer to our article on working in Vietnam for more information.

Vietnam: Destinations and Transport

Vietnam has a lot to offer to its visitors: urban centers and beautiful landscapes, large mountain ranges and long stretches of coastline. The majority of expatriates, however, are drawn towards the cities, where foreign companies open their branch offices and where jobs are easier to find.

Ho Chi Minh City: The Largest and Busiest City

Once known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is the country’s largest city, providing a home for over 7.3 million inhabitants. Ho Chi Minh City is located in the country’s south and is the focal point of Vietnam’s unfolding vibrant urban life. It is a cultural and commercial center full of energy.

The city’s rich past is reflected in its architecture. Old pagodas and traditional markets define Ho Chi Minh City’s historic character while skyscrapers and malls show the developments the city has undergone in recent years. Two worlds, the old and the new, meet and blend effortlessly in this Vietnamese metropolis.

Hanoi: The Elegant Capital

Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is located in the North of the country. While Ho Chi Minh City is the beating heart of Vietnam’s urban life, Hanoi provides a complimentary calm. Here, elegance and exotic chic are prevalent. Surviving the war, Hanoi was spared from American bombs and the influence of Russian planners. Thus, it maintains some markers of its colonial past, and a quaint French charm permeates the city.

The city used to be the center of commerce for thousands of years, a fact which is still obvious in some corners of Vietnam’s capital. Today, it still combines ancient and colonial history with a modern new appearance. When you walk through the old quarter of Hanoi, make sure not to be run over by one of the many motorcycles roaming the streets, though!

Transportation: More Varied Than Anywhere Else

Vietnam has unique variety of transportation options, and most of them give a lot of value for the money. Whether you are a risk taker or a more prudent person, young or more seasoned, there will always be an option available.

Air Travel: Low-Cost Companies Are Emerging

There are seven Vietnamese airlines operating domestic flights. The most popular is Vietnam Airline, the state-owned airline. There also are low-cost companies like Air Mekong and Jet Star Pacific, which connect the main cities together. The most popular flight route is Ho Chi Minh City-Hanoi, and the price of a ticket is around 100 USD. If you need to make a reservation, there are a few recommended websites like Vietnam Airfare, or Vietnam Airlines.

Train Travel: Perfect Option to Enjoy the Countryside

Taking the train in Vietnam is a good option if you want to save money, and enjoy the beautiful scenery the country has to offer. The interiors of the trains are quite rustic, since the network is a century old and the train cars have only been renovated sporadically. Unless you want to experience it as a local, it may be better for you to book a soft berth ticket, which means you will have your own bed, in an air-conditioned room shared with three other people. A trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh costs around 80 USD in a soft berth cabin, and takes around 30 to 35 hours.

Bus Travel: Cheap and Efficient

In Vietnam, the bus infrastructure is well developed, and each province has its own terminal, which makes it easy to travel anywhere in the country. So far, it is still difficult to book a trip using the internet, and only the most important (and thus expensive) companies use this system. If you do not want to use the internet, you just have to buy tickets from registered booths inside the terminal, and show it to the driver. Hoang Long is one of the few companies that let you book a trip by internet. For a 37-hour trip between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, you will pay around 35 USD.

Taxi Travel: Learn to Tell the Difference!

When it comes to taxis, it is really important that you can differentiate between “official” and “unofficial” taxis. Official taxis are owned by a company; they all have a meter, and generally drive safely. Unofficial taxis belong to individual drivers; they generally do not have a meter, and will try to make you pay a lot more than a local person.

Taxi Hanoi, Vinasun Taxi, and Mai Linh Taxi are three reliable companies that work in big cities. Finally, you should remember that there are a lot of traffic jams, so could stay stuck in a taxi for as much as two hours.

Xe Om: If You Feel Adventurous!

Xe Om is a local transportation service using motorcycles. They are a very interesting way to experience the country, are very cheap, and do not get stuck in traffic. It is, since 2007, compulsory for them to give you a helmet for the duration of the ride. If you feel brave enough to use their services, do not forget to agree on the price before jumping on the motorcycle!

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  • Alain Nguyen

    The business contacts I made through InterNations, especially with other expats in Vietnam, proved to be invaluable.

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