The complete guide to moving to Vietnam

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Commonly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant city based in the southern parts of Vietnam. The tropical climate combined with the mixture of shopping opportunities available at both markets and malls, make it an easy choice for expats when it comes to choosing a home away from home.

But even with the fast-paced lifestyle offering plenty to do, relocating from Australia to Ho Chi Minh City (commonly known as Saigon) can be a huge change. Not just because of the differences in climate and cuisine but because there is an abundance of cultural differences too. From religion to transport, this country has the ability to open your eyes to a whole new world - so where do you start when relocating to this energetic city?

Setting up home

Most known for the part it played in the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh City is a city that’s easily distinguishable from the rest, thanks to the French colonial design which is spread across the city. From the 19th-century central post office to the Notre-Dame Cathedral, landmarks are dotted around the city made almost entirely of materials imported from France. But the city isn’t just easy to look at. Ho Chi Minh City is rich in history, culture and opportunities - especially when it comes to the housing market.

From apartments to houseshares, Ho Chi Minh City has an abundance of accommodation options available, and its proximity to Vung Tau Beach resort means that it’s perfect for satisfying city lovers as well as those who aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to nature just yet.

To rent or buy

If you’re not familiar with Ho Chi Minh City we recommend booking accommodation for a few weeks to give yourself time to adjust to the timezone and familiarise yourself with your surroundings. This will give you an idea of how close local amenities are, what the local transport is like and whether you like the neighbourhood’s vibe. It’s important to take time to get to know the areas so that you can find the neighbourhood that’s right for you. Plus it gives you time to scope out local accommodation options so that you can see in person whether there is any ongoing or upcoming construction work in the area.

The neighbourhoods in Ho Chi Minh City are separated into districts and can be categorised in the following way:

Upmarket: District One

Thanks to the modern shopping malls, famous markets and lively nightlife, District One is considered to be the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. Although the area has certainly felt the effects of globalisation, it’s managed to maintain its Vietnamese character and so this is the area where most expats start off living.

Trendy: District 3

District 3 is considered by many as the perfect place to live. With both serviced and non-serviced apartments, houses and plenty of recreational activities, District 3 offers the perfect location for those who want to be close to the action, but still get a quiet nights sleep!

Family Friendly: District 2

Its proximity to the city centre makes District 2 a popular choice for families. It’s close enough to the centre to be convenient, yet far enough away that you’re able to escape the endless activity that District 1 is known for. In addition to this the area has great international schools, together with high-quality residential apartments, houses and villas – some even have swimming pools, all at reasonable prices!

Up and Coming: Binh Thanh

Affordable housing and a convenient location nestled between District 1 and District 2 makes Binh Thanh a popular choice for those looking to relocate. Over the past few years its become a lucrative spot for property developers, meaning that there’s always a steady stream of construction in the area – but if you can cope with the noise from construction it provides great accommodation opportunities.

Tip: If looking at renting an apartment ensure that you ask the landlord (or the agency acting on the landlord’s behalf) specific questions, such as:

  • What’s included in the rental cost?
  • Is there a maid service included? If so how regular is her work?
  • Do you have access to laundry facilities?
  • What’s the neighbourhood like?
  • How far away is the supermarket?
  • What’s the return process for a security deposit?


The cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City is relatively low – especially when it comes to rental costs and utilities. Some landlords tend to include utilities in with your rental agreement however, this is not standard practice.

If your landlord doesn’t include utilities in your agreement, you can expect to pay around 1,234,290 VND ($73 AUD) per month for heating, electricity and gas for 2 people in a flat—but this number will vary per person based on their usage.

Internet costs for around 8 Mbps are circa the 200,000 VND ($12 AUD) mark and rental costs will vary per district, but in more expensive areas expect to pay around 23,226,700 VND ($1,370 AUD) per month, and in areas further out of the city you can expect to pay around 14,358,600 VND ($850 AUD) or lower.

When it comes to food shopping, ingredient costs vary based on availability and season but expect to pay a premium for imported items. It’s often much cheaper to eat out than it is to cook a meal at home - plus the food is delicious and eating out is a great way to meet people whilst avoiding the washing up!

Getting around

Ho Chi Minh City is one of the fastest growing cities, and as a result traffic can be a little… chaotic, shall we say. Navigating the city can be overwhelming for the inexperienced, but by utilising the network of buses, taxis and motorcycle taxis – you’ll be where you need to be in no time!


Taxis are one of the easiest transport methods to find as they’re based outside every renowned landmark, hotel or restaurant. The fee will either be based on a set price, or a meter reading but typically, it works out at around 6,000 VND per kilometre.

Motorcycle Taxis (Xe Om)

Not for the faint-hearted, Xe Om will have you bobbing, nipping and weaving through the city’s traffic by an experienced rider. Prices depend on two things: your destination, and your haggling skills. It’s important to note that most Xe Om riders cannot converse in English, so take clear directions or a translation of the place you’d like to go.


There are around 100 bus routes, which connect Ho Chi Minh City, with places beyond, and it’s a great transport method to utilise if you’re on a tight budget, with ticket prices starting at 300 VND.


Whilst this was once a popular transport method, the number of Cyclos is now diminishing. A popular choice when sightseeing, these three-wheelers will cost around 20,000 VND to rent per hour, but can make for a truly memorable experience.

School Options

With the growing number of expats living and working in Ho Chi Minh City, it’s no wonder that the number of schools is rising along with it. With options for both private, and international schools there are plenty of options for parents to choose from – with each hosting quality standards of education, state of the art facilities and, depending upon where you’re situated, convenient locations.

Whilst public schools in Ho Chi Minh City typically adhere to high standards, due to a difference in culture, expat children may find it harder to adjust to a Vietnamese classroom. This is because Western classrooms tend to be quite active and engaged, whereas Vietnamese students tend to study quietly and passively,

There are an abundance of international schools available in Ho Chi Minh City, most of which employ English speaking teachers or those whom have undergone specific training with the school itself. The criteria for attending varies depending on each school, with the majority asking for an interview or entrance exams to test the child’s ability in certain subjects. Applications are accepted all year round due to the understanding that relocation dates can often be last minute!


Whether you’re moving or visiting, when going to Vietnam from Australia - you’ll need to obtain a visa from the Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate. The type of visa you’ll need will depend upon how long you’re in the country.

For example; if you’re moving to Vietnam for a month or so to scope out the area, you can enter the country on a tourist visa. However, if you’re looking to stay and work in Vietnam for an extended period of time, then you’ll need to obtain a multiple entry visa which lasts longer than three months, together with a work permit.

If you’re transferring to Ho Chi Minh City with a company that you’re already employed under, then most of the documentation should be taken care of for you. However, if you’re doing the process yourself and wondering what you’ll need to be eligible for a work permit, the answer is that you will need to:

  • Be a minimum of 18 years old.
  • Have a good enough standard of health to satisfy the job requirements.
  • Have both knowledge, and technical skills and be an expert, executive director or a manager.
  • Not have a criminal record or be tied to any ongoing prosecutions.

It’s important to note that in certain situations work permits aren’t needed. A full list of job roles with permit exemptions can be found here. In addition to this, once you have held a work permit for longer than a year and you will be able to apply for a temporary residency card.

Everyday Life

When you relocate to Ho Chi Minh City you’ll find that your first few months of free time will be spent exploring the local tourist attractions. Whether it’s walking through the Cu Chi Tunnels or wandering around Bến Thành Market you’ll have plenty of things to keep you occupied - but once you’ve exhausted all of Lonely Planet’s suggestions, that’s when the real fun begins. Because lurking just beneath the surface of this varied city, is an abundance of places, just waiting to be discovered.

One of the best ways to get to know a new city is by setting your taste buds the challenge of getting to know a new cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine is filled with flavoursome dishes using fresh ingredients and no matter what your dietary requirements are, you’ll find something to suit your palette. If you’re not sure where to begin then a food tour is a great way to get to grips with your new city. Companies such as Vietnam Vespas and Back Of The Bike tours enable you to hop on the back of a scooter and be taken on an exhilarating ride around the city with a local tour guide.

But it's not just about mealtimes! Once you've finished feasting there are a variety of ways for you to walk it off. Whether that's with a casual stroll around local markets or Saigon's Botanical Gardens, or something a little more hands-on like paintballing, craft classes or rock climbing.


Ho Chi Minh City is incredibly popular with digital nomads, entrepreneurs and startup founders so be prepared to always see people with phones clutched to their hands! The majority of nomads tend to work online as writers, web developers or graphic designers. But if you’re not self-employed and are looking for a more traditional employment role, there are a few options available.

The most common employment opportunities for expats in Ho Chi Minh City is to find work teaching English. This can either be in a traditional teaching role at a school, or in a corporate environment where you can either tutor employees or act as a liaison to help with documentation, meetings and differences in culture.

In order to become an English teacher, you’ll need to:

  • Be a native speaker.
  • Have a University degree.
  • Obtain a teaching certificate such as a TEFL, TESOL or CELTA.

If teaching English isn’t your thing then your best bet is to relocate to Ho Chi Minh City with a transfer within an existing company—as high-level jobs are rarely advertised in Ho Chi Minh City.

This is because a business must demonstrate a need for a foreign employee before hiring one. In order to do this, a business must publically announce the recruitment for the position 30 days prior to recruiting a foreign employee. This is a process that businesses must do as it enables Vietnamese job seekers to discover the role, and this process cannot be faked as it is a requirement that the advertisement paperwork must be submitted when applying for a work permit for the hired foreign employee.