With one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, Vietnam is seeing a rise in expats who are choosing the country as their first choice for living and working. In 2017 Abigail Burrow found herself making the same decision and moved to Hanoi, the country’s capital.
The decision to move was quite an easy one to make. Aside from leaving close friends and family behind in the UK, I felt quietly confident that I would gain more opportunities to travel, receive higher financial returns and benefit from fewer working hours if I moved to Vietnam.
These have all become a reality since I moved, but there are also a number of less positive aspects (addressed later) which I did not necessarily anticipate.
Pro: Very Low Cost of Living
Vietnam is one of few countries where it is still possible to maintain a reasonably comfortable lifestyle on a shoestring budget.
Generally, wages for expats are high in comparison with essentials such as groceries, street food and petrol. Not only are daily living costs low, but you can also explore new destinations regularly as domestic flights remain cheap. You could visit the beautiful old town of Hoi An and beachside Danang for around $100 all included. Night buses and sleeper trains are also relatively inexpensive and give you access to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.
Pro: Ample Expat Community
Moving anywhere new can leave you feeling a little lonely, however, Hanoi has a well established and dynamic expat community.
There are regular expat meet-ups, food festivals and plenty of Western-style bars and restaurants to meet new people. A lot of meet-ups are organised on Facebook and there are several different groups to join which will keep you in the loop. Admittedly, it seems a little easier for females to access this kind of events, but there are opportunities for the fellas too.
Pro: Relatively Small, Accessible City
Once you’ve got your head around the traffic, Hanoi isn’t too difficult to navigate. Despite being the capital city, it isn’t sprawling.
All of the important things (food, shopping, cinemas, bars…) are in a 30-minute radius of each other and it is only if you find work outside if the city centre that you would need to travel further. There are small convenience stores in every neighbourhood and you’re never too far from a local Vietnamese bar (Bia Hoi). How you choose to travel to these places is another topic entirely, which leads on to the less positive aspects below.
Con: Modes of Transport
If the thought of riding a motorbike makes your knees tremble, you may (like me) find your first few weeks in Hanoi a little daunting.
Having said that, a motorbike is by far the easiest mode of transport for getting around the city. On the downside, they can be dangerous and insurance policies often don’t cover motorbike accidents, which makes it a risk every day.
‘I’ll just walk!’ you may think, but this isn’t always easy either. The pathways are often stacked with parked motorbikes and you’ll find yourself walking along the edge of the road with cars honking and bikes swerving around you.
Con: Fewer International Flights (Than Other Asian Countries)
We’ve discussed the positive aspect of cheap domestic flights as a chance to travel, but taking international flights isn’t always as easy.
Vietnam is still building its tourism industry and does not yet have the same infrastructure as, for example, its neighbour Thailand. The airport is Hanoi is still quite small and although it offers a good range of flights, sometimes they cannot offer them directly which can make it less convenient and more expensive to travel.
Con: Air Pollution
Often falling into the ‘unhealthy’ zone on the AQI (Air Quality Index), Hanoi has a very real pollution problem.
The impact this has on health varies from person to person. It can be uncomfortable to sit in heavy traffic on a motorbike as you breathe in the fumes around you and you may notice small changes in yourself such as your skin feel unhealthier, or an existing condition becoming exacerbated due to the low air quality.
My Personal Experience
For me, living with the negative aspects is worth it because of the positives I gain on a regular basis.
These go beyond the practicalities mentioned earlier, Hanoi is also home to the friendliest, kindest and most genuine people I have ever met who help me with everything from finding a parking space to getting the correct visa.
I am happy to call it my home from home.
Thank you so much Abigail for sharing your experience with all of us!