We are starting a new section on the blog – a Living Abroad Series. To kick things off, we interviewed ourselves (a little bit strange, yes) about living in Saigon.
If you have ever lived abroad and you’d like to be interviewed, please see the instructions at the bottom of this post.
Where did you live?
Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon, Vietnam
Where are you originally from and what did you do before?
We are originally from Gold Coast, Australia and have been living abroad/travelling for the last 2 and half years. Before we left Australia we were both working for a company doing online marketing.
What is living in Saigon like, for an expat/ foreigner?
Saigon is a massive city with over 8 million people. So it’s very crowded, noisy and polluted. The traffic is insane and is a never ending sea of motorbikes. Combine this with hot humid, weather and Saigon can be a little overwhelming at first. However, once you can get used it, Saigon is a very cool and interesting city to live in.
For us Saigon was all about jumping on our scooter and exploring the city. Cafes, restaurants, bars, shops, markets, museums, there’s so much to see and do. Even just chilling out at one of the many makeshift bars on the sidewalk, watching people go by, was entertainment in itself.
Saigon is always buzzing. Any night of the week you can go out and find something interesting to see. Its also great mix of modern and traditional. One minute you’re riding your bike through tiny alleyways where people are washing their clothes in the street and then the next you’re passing by giant state-of-the-art skyscrapers.
If you’re looking for nature, space, lots of things to do outdoors then Saigon is not the place. But if you like food, cafe culture, history, and a fast-paced city, then Saigon is great.
What did a typical day look like for you?
- Work at home in the morning. The internet speed in our apartment and Vietnam was very good.
- Before lunch we would go to the gym for weights, cardio or yoga. The gyms in Vietnam are very modern and have a good range of equipment.
- After the gym we would buy a fresh fruit juice from a juice stand in front of our apartment and then have lunch.
- After lunch we would usually go work at a cafe for the afternoon. The coffee in Vietnam is amazing and the cafes are huge, comfortable and have big desks ideal for working.
- After work we would either come home and cook, eat out, or order food. Vietnam has a very handy app where you can have food home delivered from hundreds of different restaurants.
- After dinner, we would sometimes go out to a bar, cafe, or just go out on the bike and explore different parts of the city.
What did you love about living in Saigon?
Without a doubt the best thing about living in Saigon was the food. Vietnamese food is amazing and there are 1000s of restaurants and street food stalls to try. Outside work most of our time was spent exploring the city to find new restaurants and taste new food. One of favourites was the Banh Mi 37 stand . It was basically a small cart located in an alley serving up delicious Vietnamese pork rolls for under $1 USD.
Anthony Bourdain also did an episode of his TV show No Reservations here in Saigon. So we also found some good recommendations based off that.
Why did you chose to live in Saigon?
We had heard from other digital nomads that Saigon was a great place to live for a few months. So we did a bit a research and thought, why not give it a shot.
What are the local people like?
We found the Vietnamese to be super friendly. Especially with the younger generation, who will always try to strike up a conversion to practice their English. We heard lot of stories from travelers saying that Vietnamese people can be rude and abrupt. We admit that in the main tourist area, we also experienced this on occasions. However, when we were outside the tourist areas and interacting with locals, it was nothing but positive.
Anything unique about the local culture?
They love to eat and drink in the street. You will find bars and food stands setup on the sidewalk everywhere. They take their coffee very seriously – you should see the size of the menus in the cafes! Karaoke bars are huge. And driving rules pretty much don’t exist.
Were there any challenges that you faced?
The challenge for us was getting used to the heat, pollution, traffic and just craziness of the city. We were doing lots of meditation and yoga at the time so that probably helped to keep us calm. 😉
What work do/did you do there?
We have our own online marketing agency. We have a number clients, located mainly in Australia and the US, who we consult for.
What is the cost of living per month in Saigon?
For us the cost of living per month was $950 USD a month per person.
What’s the availability of short term accommodation? Describe your accommodation.
There’s a lot of short term accommodation available in Ho Chi Minh City. Mainly apartments and studios. When we arrived we just searched online and made contact with a few agents. They took us around to all the available apartments at the time. We ended up renting a small apartment in District 1.
How much did you pay for accommodation in Saigon?
We paid $450 USD a month for a fully furnished one bedroom apartment. This included cleaning, internet and access to laundry but didn’t include electricity, which was about $50 a month extra.
What is the food like in Saigon? (Eating out & the quality of supermarkets)
Like we have already mentioned the food in Vietnam is amazing. Probably the best we have eaten. Vietnamese cuisine is very fresh. They use lots of herbs and every dish has so much flavour.
However, the quality of the supermarkets are not that great. They don’t have the biggest selection of items but enough that we could get most things that we wanted. We would mostly shop at the local market to buy fruit, vegetables, and meat. We would then use the supermarket to buy our basics like milk and cereal.
Are there good places like cafes/coworking spaces to work from?
Normally we work from a coworking space, and there are a few in Saigon. We tried two different spaces but didn’t like either option. In the end we decided to work from home and out of cafes. The cafes here are amazing to work from and the internet in Vietnam, even at home, is super quick, so it made more sense for us to do this.
Do you need a visa for Vietnam? If so how long can you stay in the country for?
A pre-arranged tourist visa is required for you to stay for 3 months. Some countries don’t require a visa, however these are usually only for shorter periods like 15 or 30 days.
How safe is Saigon?
From our experience we found the the city to be safe. Although, nothing bad ever happened to us, there are lots of reports from people getting their bags snatched by thieves. This appears to be a problem in Saigon, so you do have to be on your wits when out in the streets.
Also police corruption is an issue in Saigon and Vietnam in general. We heard a number of instances where people have been extorted by police, especially when riding scooters.
Is there a big expat community in Saigon?
There are lots of expats in Saigon. There are big communities in districts 2 & 7 which are located outside the city centre. You will also find lots of online entrepreneurs living in Saigon. Generally the entrepreneurs live in District 1 where there is a good concentration of nightlife, cafes and restaurants.
There are several online forums and Facebook groups where you can connect with other expats.
Are there any other good places to travel to close by?
Saigon is close to the coastline so you have lots of beaches to explore. It’s very easy to travel around Vietnam as there are lots of companies serving tourists and plenty of cheap buses to take you places. Also flights within Vietnam are reasonable. We took a flight and did a 5 day trip to Hanoi and Sapa, which was incredible.
Any other advice/tips for someone who might want to live in Saigon?
We would say when you arrive, book some cheap accommodation for a few days then go hunt for an apartment. You want to make sure you see the place first before committing especially in a place like Saigon (images and descriptions online can be deceiving).
If you have the experience riding one, we would recommend getting a scooter. Note that, riding a scooter in Saigon is a very different (and slightly more dangerous) experience to riding one in a small Thai beach town. We weren’t keen on the public transport in Saigon, and you definitely don’t want to be walking everywhere in the heat.
Plus, the city is huge and you really should explore as much of it as you can. You can hire a scooter for around $60 USD a month. You don’t need a licence, but be warned if you get pulled over by police you will most likely have to pay a bribe. Thankfully this never happened to us.
Also make the effort to research all the great restaurants and street food in Saigon. There is so much of it.
And lastly never carry too much money and always have your valuables secured.
And finally, any advice or encouragement for someone wanting to take the leap and live overseas?
We can’t encourage this enough. For us it has been the best decision. The experiences that we have had living overseas, experiencing new cultures and meeting interesting people cannot be matched. If you think later down the track you will regret not doing it, then we would say take the leap and do it.
You can always come back to what you were doing at home. But once you get a taste of living abroad you might not want to. 😉
As the co-founder of Fulltime Nomad, Johnny really believes the world is too big to stay in once place. In 2013 he broke away from his non-location independent job to chase his passion of travel and living abroad. Now help helps others do the same.