Moving to a new country is a major lifestyle change, and picking the right place to make “home” is crucial to ensuring you have the experience you daydream about. No two cities offer the same vibe and with Vietnam being such a long, thin country the difference between living in the North VS the South of Vietnam can be drastic!
The Pros and Cons of Living in Ho Chi Minh City
I have lived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for over a year and a half now, and its safe to say that I think I made the right selection when picking where to move to Vietnam. I have fallen head over heels for my adopted home! I have since travelled to the other options I had considered before moving and I am satisfied that HCMC is where I was meant to be. But not everyone suits this vibrant city. There are elements that might suit your personality, but overwhelm others. So this little listicle is me trying to be impartial about my adopted hometown, and shed light on what I think are the pros and cons of living in Ho Chi Minh City.
The PROS of living in Ho Chi Minh City
- Big expat scene. As the largest city in Vietnam, there is a dynamic expat scene which means there are lots of opportunities to build a social life in Ho Chi Minh City.
- The people in southern Vietnam are kind. As an expat living in Vietnam you will come into contact with a lot of different locals. I’ve found (and been told by people who have lived in both) that the Vietnamese of the south are much kinder and more open than in the North. This maybe has roots in the political history of the country, but whatever the reason, living among locals who are kind to foreigners will really help to make your experience of living in Vietnam enjoyable.
- Abundance of job opportunities. With Ho Chi Minh City being the largest city in Vietnam (and one of the fastest growing in Asia) the teaching English market is constantly expanding. Living in Vietnam is not something that most people plan on doing for a long period of time which means that there is a high turn over of jobs. The perk of this is that there are always jobs being advertised so you won’t have to stress too much about finding one.
Related Post: How to Find a Teaching English Job in Vietnam
- Large variety of accommodation to suit every budget. Ho Chi Minh City is a huge city. One of the pros that comes along with this is that there is a massive selection of accommodation to pick from. Different districts have different types of accommodation to offer, but you’ll be guaranteed to something to fit your budget – no matter how extravagant or budget-friendly you want your new home to be.
- Ho Chi Minh City is well developed. Between the French colonial buildings and the modern skyscrapers, its easy to adapt to any culture-shock in Ho Chi Minh City.
- The city is home to a major airport. Being close to Vietnams biggest airport makes travelling easy and often very affordable within Vietnam and Asia. This is one of the biggest advantages to living in Ho Chi Minh City in my opinion!
- Amazing but cheap food. Food in the south of Vietnam is so varied, fresh and cheap! Food markets are abundant in Ho Chi Minh City, as is street food. No matter what city you live in, you’ll find that you can eat out every night very cheaply. The luxury of living in Ho Chi Minh City is that you can also find a whole range of cuisines to eat cheaply. From Italian to Mexican to Japanese, Ho Chi Minh City has it all on offer!
- Many home comforts can be found with ease. From favourite cosmetics to foods, you can find almost all western comforts in Ho Chi Minh City. There is sometimes a price tag attached, but living on an English teacher wage makes it possible to afford and enjoy all western comforts.
- You don’t need to speak Vietnamese to be able to live in Ho Chi Minh City. The city has a relatively young population and many people speak conversational/basic English. Knowing a small selection of phrases is enough to be able to live without problems. But, Vietnamese is a complex, tonal language and very challenging to pick up.
- Year round warmth. Ho Chi Minh City experiences two seasons: wet and dry. Both seasons remain warm though, meaning it stays shorts-weather throughout the year! This is different to the North of Vietnam (Hanoi) where they experience 4 marked seasons with accompanying changes in temperature. Some people might not enjoy living in a hot, humid climate but I love having the same wardrobe year-round!
The CONS of living in Ho Chi Minh City
- Traffic is busy and the volume of motorbikes can be overwhelming. The busy energy of city living is one of the main cons of living in Ho Chi Minh City for most expats. Coming from the west it can be very overwhelming to see the number of bikes on the road. It is a scary prospect crossing the street during rush hour and taking on the road on your own can seem terrifying. You can quickly pick up the rules of the road and once you do, you will start to feel much more comfortable on the road. My biggest piece of advice is not to rush the process. You’ll know if you are ready to start driving yourself.
Related Post: Learning to Ride a Motorbike in Vietnam
- Pollution is not great. Living in any Vietnamese city is going to come with air pollution, due to the high density of people and motorbikes. Ho Chi Minh City has cleaner air than Hanoi but there are some days where you can feel it. To avoid inhaling polluted air many people wear pollution masks. I use and recommend the AQ Blue masks which can be ordered in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
- The city floods during monsoon season. Being situated along the Mekong river means that areas of Ho Chi Minh City regularly flood during monsoon season. The flooding damage isn’t major and its the same streets that get it every year so the locals are somewhat prepared for it to flood. When streets flood it makes it challenging and dangerous to travel around on motorbikes (the main form of transport).
- Not as many day trip opportunities from Ho Chi Minh City as from Hanoi. The South of Vietnam doesn’t have the same dramatic scenery as the North of Vietnam and so there aren’t as many interesting day trips to take from Ho Chi Minh City.
- Easy to fall into an expat bubble. If you are planning to move to Ho Chi Minh City then you are most like looking at living in D1, 2, 3 or 7. These are where most expats live due to the easy access to the city centre and nice accommodation options (think high rises with rooftop pools/gyms). As a result businesses in these areas cater heavily to English speaking expats – you’ll find lots of import shops, coffee shops that transport you to Europe, pub quizzes and restaurants selling every cuisine under the sun. This appeals to some expats and doesn’t to others. That’s fine, not everyone wants the same experience living abroad. But I do think it’s important not to get sucked into the bubble completely and to experience more of what makes living in Vietnam so special – local friends, Vietnamese food and bustling streets. The same occurs in Hanoi, but I feel like the situation of D2 and D7 being slightly out of Ho Chi Minh City centre makes it easy to fall into that expat bubble.
- Few escapes into nature within the city. You won’t find an abundance of parks that make you feel at peace from the city. There are numerous parks in the city, but they can feel busy or have skyscrapers and traffic surrounding them. The best one I’ve found is at the Vinhomes Central Park complex near D2. In Hanoi you have the calm of the lakes in the city centre which you can walk around.
- Wifi can be temperamental. Vietnam is one of the best connected countries as far as internet and Wifi. Every cafe and restaurant offers free wifi. Despite this my internet at home seems to be so temperamental (though I rarely have issues when working from cafes). There are rumours that there are issues with the underwater cables that supply Vietnam but who knows how true these rumours are!
While picking a city to move to is an important decision, don’t forget that you can (and should) change base if you arrive and things don’t suit you well!