Mingle and get work
If hijinks and busy streets appeal, it might be a good time to explore ways to call Vietnam home. Affordability is the country’s biggest draw, so if you don’t have a company willing to send you for work, it’s possible to live decently while teaching English, which is probably the easiest method of employment.
For something better paid, turn up on a three-month holiday visa and get networking.
That’s how Kathy Peters, 29, a Kiwi expat of two-and-a-half years who works in Ho Chi Min City (formerly known as Saigon), landed her job as an event co-ordinator for the British Business Group Vietnam.
“There are a lot of jobs that are just not advertised, so it’s really important to meet people,” she says. “Luckily, there is a really social element to being an expat here. There are balls, networking events, food and wine festivals and cultural celebrations.”
The continuous growth of the tourism, construction and IT industries have provided foreigners plenty of career opportunities, especially in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. But the growth is not limited to larger markets. For example, there is also demand for foreign managers and workers in the leather, shoe and printing industries, plus the rag trade. And Vietnam’s push to develop its natural resources means there are also jobs in mining, manufacturing and water generation.
Get paid, live cheap
Rates of pay are not comparable to what you might be used to, but the cost of living is low. You can earn a salary of anything from £8000 to £23,000, depending on your education and position level.
Bear in mind, sharing a home with one other person can cost as little as £330 month (expats in Ho Chi Min gravitate to District 2, 3 or 7). Eat locally and food is dirt-cheap: a steaming bowl of pho (noodle soup; the local breakfast) can be found for 50p.
Assault on the senses
Vietnam’s bigger cities – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh – have the modern amenities you need to set up a life there. But according to Scottish expat, Duncan Forgan, 33, who now lives in Ho Chi Minh, a dizzying city of commerce and culture will always throw up a few surprises.
It’s the “complete randomness of things” that keeps the freelance writer’s interests keen.
“It’s getting invited to join drinking games with Vietnamese; not having a clue what you are ordering in a restaurant and ending up with snake; or going out for one drink and ending up on a street bar until 6am,” he says.
Then once you’ve come to expect the unexpected, you’ve got the seemingly lawless streets thronging with motorbikes to contend with.
“It’s certainly chaotic, but you realise there’s a certain flow,” says Fiona Nichols, an Irish expat of 15 years.
After absorbing all that, get your head around the fact the Indo-Chinese country trades in three separate currencies: gold is used to purchase land and housing; US dollars are used for luxury items; and Vietnam Dong
is used to buy day-to-day items.
A vibrant collage
Vietnam might not be big, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in enthusiasm. Beyond its sleek skyscrapers and malls is a country that has everything from alluring alleys to ancient pagodas and teeming markets.
Plus, as Forgan says: “Where else will you get called handsome on an almost daily basis, or ride a motorbike into your front room?”
There are now flights direct from the UK with Vietnam Airlines. See vietnamairlines.com. For jobs see vietnamworks.com and vn.jobstreet.com for jobs.
Tips from the expats
Kathy Peters: “Visit the Mekong Merchant, the Deck, or the Boathouse in District 2 for a good night out. Also, hire a motorbike and travel along the Mekong river. Be sure to visit the floating markets.”
Duncan Forgan: “The challenges are being away from loved ones and friends, the crap music, and living in a country with a fairly narrow view of the outside world.”
Fiona Nichols: “Make an effort to learn the language. You don’t have to be fluent, but the locals find it very amusing if you’re trying.”