Nick and I have had “Live Abroad as an Expat” on our bucket list for several years now. We’ve dreamed about being immersed in another culture – learning the language, eating the food, and making local friends. We originally thought we’d move to Bangkok but after our trip to Vietnam in 2018, we quickly changed our minds.
During this trip, we fell in love with the quaint neighborhoods of Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon). The winding alleyways take you past Vietnamese families with their doors wide open and welcoming. We found the cuisine to be spectacular and endless. And we found the locals to be warm, friendly, and always happy to meet new foreigners
Even after visiting many of Vietnam’s most popular destinations, Saigon was our favorite. And so we settled here in September of 2019. We signed a lease on an apartment and even gave birth to a healthy baby boy in Saigon.
As much as we love living in Vietnam, at times it’s been a struggle to figure out the ins and outs of being an ex-pat in Saigon. We thought it would be helpful to pass along everything we’ve learned over the last 9 months living in Saigon. We hope this helps you to settle into your own ex-pat life in Vietnam!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
An Expats Guide to Living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Neighborhoods in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is divided into 24 districts. It’s a massive metropolis that encompasses almost 800 square miles and has a population of over 10 million! Luckily, most of the city’s main attractions and best neighborhoods are concentrated in a handful of centrally located districts:
The District 1 (D1) is the downtown area – it’s where many of Ho Chi Minh City’s major tourist attractions are located, including Ben Thanh Market, the Reunification Palace, Historic Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Bitexco Financial Tower. District 1 is home to most foreign consulates and corporate headquarters for foreign companies. If you plan on working in finance, real estate, or for a foreign business, there is a high likelihood that your office will be in this district.
If you’re just visiting, this is also where you’ll find Saigon’s best hotels. There are also loads of amazing restaurants, lively bars, and great shops. Plus, D1 has several malls with popular Western shops like H&M, Zara, and Pull & Bear (but you can also expect Western prices).
Da Kao is a hip neighborhood in District 1 with popular eating and dining establishments. Te Te Taphouse and The Vintage Emporium are a few that keep us coming back to Da Kao. If you choose to live in Da Kao, you’ll be right near the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden so you’ll have access to green space for walking or just enjoying the outdoors.
District 2 (specifically the Thao Dien neighborhood) is where most ex-pats living in Saigon tend to end up, especially families. Thao Dien has some great international schools. It also has a ton of restaurants, cute cafes, boutique shops, bars, and nightclubs. There are also lots of high-rise apartment buildings. You can rent an expensive spot complete with a gym and rooftop pool. For us, D2 feels a bit insulated from the rest of Ho Chi Minh City due to the high volume of foreigners living there.
District 3 (D3) is northwest of District 1 and is another popular place to live in Ho Chi Minh due to its proximity to Downtown. One of the things that made us fall in love with Saigon and ultimately decide to move here was one of the cute little areas in D3. It encompasses the alleyway leading to Acoustic Bar and the surrounding neighborhood. Here you’ll find fun bars and restaurants filled with young, hip Vietnamese locals!
District 4 (D4) is the area where we chose to live in Vietnam. In the past, it was one of the poorest areas of Ho Chi Minh City. It was run by a crime boss – Nam Cam, the “Godfather of Saigon”. The neighborhood was full of brothels and people gambled illegally behind closed doors. If you parked your motorbike wrong in D4 you could get yourself stabbed. But thankfully he was arrested so the area is now an up-and-coming place for ex-pats, tourists, and locals alike.
There are several large apartment buildings in District 4 where you can get a long-term, furnished rental, or just an Airbnb. The buildings are the Saigon Royal, the Tresor, the Icon, the Millenium, and Rivergate Residences. All of these are newer buildings with a gym and a pool. And since D4 is just across the canal from District 1, it’s easy to walk Downtown to eat or to shop. We love that the area isn’t overrun by ex-pats or drug lords.
District 7 (D7) is another popular area for ex-pats to live. The area around Crescent Park seems to be far less chaotic than the rest of Vietnam. Motorbikes aren’t as prevalent and actually stop pedestrians from crossing the street. And ex-pats love the access to green space as well as the conveniently located Crescent Mall and French Vietnamese hospital.
District 10 (D10) is popular with some foreigners, especially those that teach English. It also offers many of the same amenities as District 3 but with much cheaper rent. Plus, it’s very local so you’ll immerse yourself in the Vietnamese way of life.
Binh Thanh is an area not included in the 24 districts. It sits right in between District 1 and District 2 so you’ll have easy access to both. Binh Thanh is home to Landmark 81 (the tallest building in Southeast Asia). There are lots of apartment buildings clustered nearby. We have friends that live in City Garden. It is a lovely building with lots of green space, a beautiful pool, and cute shops and cafes in the common areas.
The other districts aren’t nearly as popular for ex-pats to live in Vietnam. And they certainly aren’t popular places to stay if you’re just visiting.
Vietnam Visas for Expats
Vietnam has a variety of visa options for foreigners but every visitor must apply in advance – even the visa-on-arrival requires a pre-approval letter from a Vietnamese travel agency.
Most tourists on vacation opt for the single entry 30-day e-visa but there are also options for longer-term multiple-entry tourist visas.
Americans even have the option of a one-year, multiple-entry visa which is what we chose. Unfortunately, each entry stamp is only good for 90 days so we still have to leave Vietnam every 3 months to get stamped out and stamped back in.
Luckily several tourist agencies can assist in obtaining your initial visa, as well as extending the visa or making border runs. We outlined the process for obtaining your initial tourist visa in our article on Vietnam travel tips. And for visa renewal assistance, we recommend Jane Snvi or Viet Dream Travel.
Most ex-pats living in Vietnam get a work permit through their employer. That’s the easiest way to have a hassle-free stay in Vietnam because you don’t have to worry about exiting the country every few months.
There’s also an under-the-table way to get a work permit where a company “sponsors” you but you don’t actually work there. It will cost you anywhere from $300 – $1,000 USD depending on what service you utilize. It’s unlikely that this method is totally legal but it appears to work for people who take that route.
Cost of Living in Ho Chi Minh
The cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City can vary wildly depending on your budget and preference. You can find simple apartments as inexpensive as $300 USD per month, or you can live in the lap of luxury for $1,000. If you’re looking for a nice apartment with some amenities, you’ll probably want to set a budget of $600 – 800 USD per month for rent.
We chose to live in a furnished apartment on the 32nd floor of a new-ish building that has a gym and a pool. Our monthly rent is $900 USD and we are responsible for paying for water (which is usually only $5-7/month) and electricity (which is quite expensive – usually $80-160/month).
The cost of food varies widely in Ho Chi Minh City as well. You can find Vietnamese classics like banh mi or a bowl of pho for $1-2 USD. Or you can go to fancy Western-style brunch spots and spend $10 on an eggs benedict. We generally try to do both – we eat at local Vietnamese restaurants often (although many don’t have air conditioning which can make eating a hot bowl of soup unpleasant) and splurge on fancier restaurants every now and again.
Transportation costs in Ho Chi Minh City are also quite low. Grab is like the Uber of SE Asia but at a fraction of the price. If you opt for a Grab Bike (where you ride on the back of a motorbike, with a helmet of course) you’re unlikely to spend more than a dollar or two to get anywhere in the city. But unfortunately, public transportation in HCMC is not widely available currently.
How to Find an Apartment in Ho Chi Minh
Finding an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City is actually much easier than you might imagine. There are quite a few Facebook groups dedicated to finding apartments and real estate in Saigon. All you need to do is post in each of these groups stating your desired living space (for example “2-bedroom furnished apartment with pool and gym in District 2“) and your monthly budget. You’ll almost certainly be bombarded by rental agents offering to show you dozens of apartments.
The rental agents will typically send you photos of each apartment with a few details regarding the building amenities and associated costs. Just choose the apartment listings you are interested in and set up a time to see them in person. Most of the rental agents speak English so they can answer any questions you may have along the way.
And you don’t have to stick to just one rental agent – you can meet with as many as you’d like. Once you choose an apartment, they will help you negotiate the rental terms with the apartment owner and draw up the contract.
Monthly rent is often negotiable in Vietnam so be sure to ask for a discount before agreeing to a price. And you’ll likely be expected to pay the first and last month’s rent plus a deposit.
Of course, the rental agency receives a commission from the landlord for helping them rent the property, but it’s nice to have a 3rd party drawing up the contract. We have heard horror stories of shady business dealings with landlords in Vietnam. As such, we liked having a real estate agent to act as a buffer.
If you prefer you can reach out to our rental agent directly – Andee Nguyen – or post on one of the Facebook groups listed below:
- Housing/Apartments for Rent in Saigon
- Apartment for Rent in Ho Chi Minh City
- Apartment for Rent Saigon
- Real Estate Forum for Expats
NOTE: Landlords in Vietnam are required to register any new tenants with the local police. They’ll need to take your passport to the police station and pay a small fee. You may need proof of this registration in the future so make sure that it gets done correctly!
Furnishing Your Apartment
When we first moved to Ho Chi Minh City, we had a hell of a time figuring out where to buy odds and ends for our apartment. We wanted to invest in some quality towels and linens to make our stay more comfortable, as well as some kitchen accouterments like a toaster, plates, and a cutting board. Unfortunately, Amazon does not deliver to Vietnam and Ikea is not here (yet).
We checked the various Facebook groups for recommendations and were sent to JYSK for home goods, Minh Ha Bedding for linens, Linh’s Furniture for decor, and MM Mega Market for everything else. Other than Mega Market, all of those options are outrageously expensive, even by US standards. So unless you’re planning on investing in items that you’ll keep for a long time, they simply aren’t great options.
We ended up buying our towels at Minigood, our comforter and cover at MM Mega Market, our dishes at VinMart and Ben Thanh Market, our baby stuff at Shop Em Be, and everything else on Lazada.
Lazada: Shopping online in Vietnam
Lazada is Vietnam’s frustrating and bizarre online shopping platform. The shipping dates are poorly estimated and the photos are often not at all accurate.
Because Lazada does not provide a specific delivery time and date, you’ll just get a call out of the blue from the delivery driver asking you to come downstairs and pick up your package. If you’re not at home and you don’t have a front desk willing to accept your packages, you’re just out of luck. Sometimes they will agree to re-deliver the next day, other times they just cancel the order and send the item back.
The good thing is that Lazada allows you to pay for your items “cash on arrival” so if you’re not available to pick up your package and it just gets canceled there is no cost to you!
How to Find a Job in Ho Chi Minh
Many ex-pats that move to Ho Chi Minh City end up teaching English. So many people that we’ve met have either moved here specifically to teach English in Vietnam or have simply ended up teaching English after not having any luck with finding other job opportunities. You’ll have more luck getting a job teaching English in HCMC if you have completed your TEFL certification.
Other ex-pats have had success in opening restaurants or coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City. We rarely encounter foreigners working as servers at restaurants or as sales associates at stores. My assumption is that because the average wages are quite low in Vietnam (100,000 VND/hour or approximately $4 USD), it just doesn’t pay well enough to justify living here. English teaching jobs pay substantially better which makes them much more attractive.
Foreigners are often in demand for modeling jobs in HCMC so if you don’t mind relying on infrequent gigs, check out the Saigon Casting Foreigner Facebook group page for opportunities. And Jobs in Saigon for Foreigners is another Facebook group that could help with your search.
Other resources for finding a job in Ho Chi Minh City include:
Internet and Cell Service
Cell service and data plans are incredibly accessible and affordable in Vietnam. All you need is an unlocked cell phone. You can easily buy a SIM card at the airport when you arrive, or at several establishments around HCMC. Then you load a monthly plan on your phone for 300,000 VND (~$13 USD) for 2GB of high-speed data per day for 30 days.
There are 3 major mobile carriers in Vietnam – Viettel, Vinaphone, and MobiFone. We recommend Viettel because they have the best coverage. For more info, we wrote a detailed post about Vietnamese SIM cards!
How to Open a Bank Account in Vietnam
We’re more comfortable continuing our banking in the US. The only problem is that ATMs in HCMC rarely dispense more than 2,000,000 VND at a time, which is just about $80 USD. So paying our $900 rent each month takes lots of ATM transactions (thankfully we have the Charles Schwab debit card that refunds all of our international and domestic ATM fees).
If you do choose to open up a bank account in Saigon, we’ve heard that Timo is the best choice for foreigners. The documentation to open a Timo account is as follows: a valid passport and one of the following valid documents issued for at least 12 months: a Vietnam visa or temporary resident card or permanent resident card.
Safety in HCMC
Overall Ho Chi Minh City is an incredibly safe city and we’ve never felt remotely unsafe during our time here. The only crime that we ever hear about is petty theft through purses and cell phones getting swiped by motorbike drivers.
We’d advise against having your phone out while riding on the back of a motorbike, no matter how tempting it is to take a video. Wear a crossbody bag and keep it in front of you. Also, leave large amounts of cash and your passport at home. Late at night, you’re better off catching a Grab home rather than walking, just in case.
Vietnamese Laws to be Aware of
The Vietnamese law that will likely affect ex-pats the most is the compulsory helmet law. All drivers and passengers over the age of 6 must wear a helmet on a motorbike. Why kids are exempt from the law is beyond us.
Theoretically, foreigners are also required to have a Vietnamese driver’s license or an international driver’s permit. Although, if your country is not a signatory to the 1968 convention on road traffic, your permit will not apply (for example, the USA, UK, and Canada are all countries whose international driver permits are not accepted in Vietnam).
A few other laws that might apply to you as an ex-pat include:
- Foreigners are required to register with the local police once they move into a residence in Vietnam. Generally, your landlord or real estate agent will do this on your behalf.
- It is illegal for foreigners to work on a tourist visa and must obtain a work permit. This is usually handled by the company that hires you.
- Gambling is illegal unless it takes place in a government-licensed casino
- Possession of pornography is illegal
- Possession of drugs is illegal and comes with a hefty sentence
Online Resources for Expats
We have found Facebook groups to be an absolute lifesaver in Ho Chi Minh City! They can provide a wealth of information regarding where to buy specific items or what new restaurants to try. They can help you find friends, find a job, or help you to furnish a new apartment.
Here are a few of the groups that we’ve found helpful during our time at HCMC:
- Fexpats – specifically for female ex-pats
- Foodies in Saigon – endless food recommendations (both Vietnamese and international cuisine)
- Vegetarians and Vegans in Saigon – pretty self-explanatory
- Vietnam Creative Circle – for creatives living in Vietnam
- Empty Your Closet HCMC – for buying and selling clothing and accessories
- HCMC Buy Sell Swap – for buying and selling any and all preloved items
- Buy and Sell Cheap Things in Saigon – for buying and selling secondhand goods
- Expats in HCMC – this is for anything and everything under the sun (and tends to attract some negative Nellies)
- Saigon International Families – for parenting discussions and to buy and sell kid stuff
- Saigon Casting Foreigner – for ex-pat modeling and acting gigs
- Vietnam Legal Group – for any questions related to Vietnam law
Health Services in HCMC
Hospitals and Medical Clinics
Vietnam has excellent hospitals, dentists, medical clinics, and plastic surgeons. You’ll find that the services offered are on par with those you can get in the US or Europe. However, the price is significantly lower, even without insurance.
As I mentioned earlier, we actually had a baby in Saigon. We went to FV Hospital (French Vietnamese Hospital) for all of our prenatal appointments and the delivery of our baby boy. He was 4 weeks early and delivered via c-section so he spent a few days in the NICU and we spent a total of 5 days in the hospital. The total cost for his birth was about $3,300 even without us having health insurance. We felt very well taken care of and were quite pleased with the care we received.
If you choose to live in District 2, you’ll probably want to choose Hanh Phuc as your hospital of choice as they have a conveniently located medical center. American International Hospital (AIH) is another popular choice for ex-pats. We’ve chosen to see Dr. Orly at Raffles Medical Clinic for our baby’s pediatric care as we’ve found her to be an excellent communicator who takes her time to answer any and all of our questions.
A Note on Insurance
Since giving birth to Humphrey, we decided to be responsible parents and now carry travel medical insurance through SafetyWing.
It was perfect for us because, unlike many other travel insurance options, you can sign up for SafetyWing even if you have already started your trip. You also don’t have to pre-determine an end date for your time abroad – you just pay the premium every month while you’re on the road and your travel medical insurance policy extends for another 30 days.
An additional reason we chose SafetyWing is that coverage is included for one child under 10 years old for each adult on the policy. So we get insurance for Humphrey at no additional cost!
SafetyWing provides coverage in 180 countries around the world including Vietnam. It definitely gives us more peace of mind while living in Saigon with little baby Humphrey!
There are dentists of varying price points all over Ho Chi Minh City but the one that we trust above the rest is Westcoast International Dental Clinic. It’s incredibly clean and the dentists are friendly and knowledgable. Most everyone on staff speaks English which is a huge plus in terms of understanding your care (assuming you aren’t yet fluent in Vietnamese). Plus, they have multiple convenient locations in District 1 and District 2.
If you have sensitive skin as I do, you’ll want to be careful when using the laundry services in Ho Chi Minh City. Most laundry ladies in the city wash clothes with OMO soap which is inexpensive but not the best for sensitive skin. After breaking out in a horrible rash, I had to go on the hunt for a dermatologist.
Grace Skincare Clinic is popular for ex-pats who are experiencing unexplained rashes, or those who are just looking to rejuvenate their skin. There are a variety of packages to help you feel and look your best and the clinic is conveniently located near Bui Vien Street in District 1.
If you’re looking for cosmetic procedures like botox or tattoo removal, Sian Skincare Laser Clinic is a great choice. You’ll pay a bit more here, but it will still be less than what you’d pay in the US and you can trust them with your skin.
Beauty Services in Ho Chi Minh City
Finding a hair salon that specialized in blonde highlights was a priority for me when I moved to Ho Chi Minh City. And I found two that I have trusted with my finicky hair and they have done a great job – Concept Coiffure and Ace London Hair.
Concept Coiffure in District 2 is a salon that caters almost exclusively to foreigners. In fact, I’ve only ever seen ex-pats getting their hair done here. The prices here are much higher than you’d expect for Vietnam, but still slightly lower than you’d pay for the same service in the US. I especially love that they utilize multiple stylists for coloring and blow-drying, and the luxuriously long hair wash with a head massage.
Ace London Hair in District 1 has been my most recent go-to as it is closer to my apartment and also slightly cheaper than Concept Coiffure (depending n the stylist that you choose). Their service is reasonably priced, efficient, and professional. Even if you choose one of the less-expensive stylists, you can trust that you’ll leave feeling beautiful!
The price that you’ll pay to get your nails done in Ho Chi Minh City can also vary wildly. But after trying several places with questionable hygiene practices, and getting our cuticles sliced to the point of bleeding, we’ve found our favorite spot. The Nail Garden has a cute interior with comfy chairs and super friendly nail technicians. The prices are a bit on the higher side but it’s worth it for the quality of their products and care. Plus, the price includes the tip!
The cost of a massage in Ho Chi Minh City is higher than those in Thailand, but still significantly lower than you’ll pay in the states. And as with the other services listed here, you can find incredibly cheap massages or you can pay significantly more by going to a fancy spa.
If you’re looking for a cheap, no-frills massage where they’ll really dig into your back (and butt), then check out Quynh Nhu 137. You can get a massage in a large room around others (we had a funny experience next to a loud snorer once) or pay a bit more for a private room. Keep in mind that you should tip 50-100% of the price of your massage here because the employees make very little.
For more of a high-end experience, check out Moc Huong Spa. They have multiple locations around Ho Chi Minh City although the one in District 2 is the fanciest. When I was pregnant I scheduled weekly 90-minute pregnancy massages and it was absolute heaven! I tipped my masseuse 120k VND (~$5 USD) every time.
Now that I have a baby at home, I absolutely love Yok Home Massage! It’s super easy to book an appointment through their Facebook page and they’ll come to your house or apartment and massage you right on your bed. They bring relaxing music and oil, you just need to supply two towels. The prices are really inexpensive so I always tip well. Be sure to request Lieu!
And finally, if you want to enjoy a relaxing foot massage, check out Saigon Heritage Spa. They have skilled massage therapists and calming space. It includes a tip in the price of your massage (of course you can always give more if you wish).
Eyebrow and Lash Maintenance
One service that is most certainly worth getting in Vietnam is eyebrow microblading as it is significantly cheaper here than in the US. Michelle Truong is well known among the Fexpat women for providing a professional service in the comfort of her home. Her Facebook page is covered in recommendations and before and after photos of her happy clients.
NP Brows and Lashes also come highly recommended for microblading, permanent makeup, and eyelash extensions.
Where to Purchase Beauty Supplies
The two beauty supply stores that I’ve frequented during my time living in Ho Chi Minh City are Guardian and Watson’s. They are both chains and have multiple locations all over the city. Here you’ll find brands that you love like Olay, Revlon, Palmers, Cetaphil, and Vaseline. Prices are relatively comparable to what you’d find in the US except for certain higher-end brands like Eucerine which are quite a bit more expensive here.
Both Guardian and Watson’s have imported products and Vietnamese-brand products. And they stock all kinds of products ranging from skin and hair care, dental care, vitamins, make-up, and more. Don’t be surprised that the sales attendants like to follow you around the store – they don’t think you’re shoplifting, this is a common occurrence in Vietnam.
Learning to Speak Vietnamese
While there are literally thousands of ex-pats living in Ho Chi Minh City who can’t speak a lick of Vietnamese, it will certainly enrich your experience if you at least try. Granted you definitely don’t need to know the language, most people working in the establishments that you’ll be frequenting have a solid grasp of the English language.
But we found that it was really nice to be able to attempt to communicate with the locals. And everyone got a good laugh out of hearing us try. It’s an extremely difficult language to master as there are 6 different tones that can give the same word 6 different meanings. For instance, “va” can mean “and”, “patch”, or “rushed”. And “ga” can mean “chicken”, “jaw”, or “the guy” depending on what tone you use.
We took twice-weekly Vietnamese lessons from Kim Kim which we found to be extremely helpful in perfecting our pronunciation. She is very patient and takes her time to make sure that you are speaking clearly and correctly. She gives group lessons at a coffee shop in District 2 and we found it helpful to have other people in our class.
If you’d rather watch YouTube videos on your own time and then be able to practice casually with others, there are often language exchange meet-ups around HCMC. This allows Vietnamese people to practice their English with you, and you to practice your Vietnamese with them. These Facebook groups can help you to find events near you:
- Language and Culture Exchange – HCMC
- Swaps Language Exchange Ho Chi Minh
- Exchange Languages in Ho Chi Minh City
Tipping for Services
Tipping in Vietnam is one question that I’ve never gotten sufficiently answered during my time living in Ho Chi Minh City. It appears that most locals do not tip at restaurants or bars but tip quite generously for massages. And some restaurants that cater to foreigners will add an automatic gratuity to your bill but it’s much lower than what most Americans are used to tipping.
Here are the general tipping guidelines that I follow in HCMC:
- No tip or just small change at the local Vietnamese restaurants
- 10% tip at Western-style restaurants that cater to ex-pats and tourists (unless a “service charge” has already been added to the bill)
- 100,000 – 150,000 VND (~$4 – $6 USD) tip for a cut and color at the hair salons that I mentioned above
- 100,000 – 120,000 VND (~$4 – $5 USD) for a 60-90 minute massage (even if a small tip is included in the price, I tip more on top)
- 10 – 20% for nail technicians unless the tip is included in the price
Where Expats Love to Eat and Drink in HCMC
Best Coffee Shops
Since we work from home and often get sick and tired of working from home, we’ve explored many of the coffee shops around town. We wrote an entire blog post about our favorite coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City as well as listed a few of the best options here:
- The Workshop – for fancy pour-over coffee and quality beans
- Okkio Caffe – a hip little coffee shop just beside Binh Thanh market
- Cong Ca Phe – for a huge cup of coconut coffee
- The Loft Cafe – for daily coffee + dessert specials
- Hidden Elephant Books and Coffee – for some peace and quiet to work or read
- Padma de Fleur – for a beautiful setting full of fresh flowers
- Goc Ha Noi – the cutest little cafe with the best egg coffee in Saigon
Best Brunch Spots
Brunch was one of the things that we missed the most about living outside of the United States. It took us a few months to learn that Saigon actually has an amazing brunch scene! We made it our mission to find the best brunch spots in Ho Chi Minh City so we could indulge our tastebuds every weekend!
You’ll definitely want to check out:
- Godmother Bake and Brunch – for the cutest Instagramable ambiance
- Cafe Marcel – for the best Croque Monsieur in town
- The Vintage Emporium – for unique latte concoctions
- L’Usine – for free-flow bubbles on the weekends
Best Restaurants for Dinner
- Bep Me In – for delicious and reasonably priced Vietnamese classics
- The Wagon Wheel – for amazing southern comfort food
- Baozi – for the best chicken ramen in HCMC
- House of Chay Vegetarian (delivery only) – for decadent non-cheesy mac n cheese
- La Fiesta – for bubbling hot chili and tasty fish tacos
- Gringo Tacos – for warm, cheesy wet burritos
- Pizza 4P’s – for the best pizza in all of Vietnam
- Secret Garden – for a lovely ambiance and upscale Vietnamese cuisine
- Thai Street – for amazing khao soi gai and great lunch specials (Thao Dien, District 2)
Best Spot for a Cocktail at Sunset
- Vo Roof Garden – for a low-key drinking and dining experience
- The Deck Saigon – for upscale food and views of the river (Thao Dien, District 2)
- Saigon Social Club – for a swanky night out on the town
- Pasteur Street Brewing Co. – Our favorite place for craft beer in Saigon
Another treat from home that I initially missed terribly when we first moved to Ho Chi Minh City was baked goods! I would dream about bagels smothered in cream cheese and warm banana bread slathered with butter. But turns out that Saigon has a bustling baked goods scene as well!
- Greta’s Cakes – for banana bread, apple crumble muffins, and salted caramel shortbread – yum!
- Harvest Baking – for cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting
- Saigon Bagel – for delicious bagels in a variety of flavors
- Au Parc – for buttery, flaky croissants
- Maison Marou – for drinking chocolate, chocolate bars, and the best brownie you’ve ever eaten
- Rawberry – for vegan, gluten-free decadent treats
- Villa Royale Downtown Antiques and Tea Room – for tea time and yummy cakes
- Teaspoon Coffee and Tea Room – for the cutest tea sets and a delicious dessert case
Food Delivery Services
Food delivery is incredibly cheap in Ho Chi Minh City. You can get a delivery of a delicious meal in 30-45 minutes for under a dollar.
Several food delivery services operate in Saigon but the two that we found to be the most punctual and reliable are Grab Food and Vietnammm. Grab actually allows you to track your delivery driver’s progress, whereas Vietnammm just gives you a time estimate. Both apps are easy and free to use!
Where to Shop in Vietnam
There are plenty of huge malls in Vietnam where you can find your favorite brands like H&M, Zara, Pull & Bear, MAC, Nike, Adidas, and more. But we’ve found that the prices at these stores are higher than they are in the US! My favorite MAC cosmetics cost about 1/3 more than what I’d pay back home (which is why I make an order with anyone coming for a visit).
You’ll have better luck shopping for factory overruns or Vietnamese brands if you want to find good deals. Virion is absolutely my favorite shop in Ho Chi Minh City because they have actual brands like Forever 21 and Mango at just a fraction of the price. Plus, you can shop on their Facebook page and have the clothes delivered to your door!
Ombre is similar to Virion but the store is an absolute mess. Which is pretty fun if you have time to dig around for hidden treasures. And if you’re looking for an affordable Vietnamese clothing brand, Libé Workshop is the best I’ve found to date.
For custom-made bras, I absolutely love Nhái và Bông Lingerie! You can order directly through their Facebook page after browsing various design and fabric options. Just provide your cup size and rib cage measurement and they’ll have your bra made in about a week. They’ll even deliver it to your apartment so you can try it on and then do any alterations – free of charge!
Check out my complete, detailed post about the best places to shop in Ho Chi Minh City and what to buy!
Making Friends with Other Ex-pats
There are countless opportunities to make friends with both locals and ex-pats while living in Ho Chi Minh City. Many of the Facebook groups mentioned above have meetups, especially the Fexpats group which is only for females. Women can also join the Ladies Get Social group or Network Girls HCMC and participate in the regular get-togethers.
The Hive and L’Usine often have events like “Paint and Sip” parties or you can peruse the goods at the regular flea market at Saigon Outcast. You can meet people through your Vietnamese lessons, help Saigon’s homeless population, play pick-up soccer, join a photo walk, or just chat someone up in one of the coffee shops listed above. So many people here are in the same boat and looking to connect with other ex-pats in the city.
Other Miscellaneous Services
Below is a list of a few resources that didn’t fit into the categories above but that we’ve found useful during our time living in Ho Chi Minh City.
- MyStorage – if you need to store any belongings in Ho Chi Minh City
- US Mart – for inexpensive bottles of imported wine
- Annam Gourmet – for luxury gourmet imported grocery items
- Phuong Ha – for imported groceries at reasonable prices
We hope you have an amazing time living in Vietnam!
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9 thoughts on “Living in Vietnam: An Expat Guide to Ho Chi Minh City”
Wow, Valerie, this is an amazing guide! I’m so glad I found this on the internet. I totally agree with you about Marou brownies, I tell all my friends about it as well. I would agree with you on all of these recs. Please write more!
Thank you, this has been very helpful. my husband got a job offer to go there so i was searching but after this information i olny have one question, TAXES. thank you.
Try VP Bank. It easilly allows 7-8M withdrawals
Hope it helps
Thanks for this terrific article; such great information and suggestions.
Thank you, this is very helpful!
This is amazing. Thank you so much!
Binh Thanh is certainly a district.
Outstanding Article! I’m a “newbie” from Ventura, California USA, however I’m lucky to have met a wonderful Vietnamese women in Di An, and she and I are getting married soon! She’s already brought me Danang, Hue, Ho An, Dalat, Na Trang and throughout Saigon, so I’m blessed to have her while I get more comfortable in this beautiful country! Again, this is a very informative article and I will check out your recommendations!
This is amazing. Thank you so much!