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Understanding the cost of living

Vietnam is a lower-middle income country.

As such, the cost of living is generally lower than in the West. Major cities have a higher cost of living than rural areas.

General cost of living

Hanoi, the thriving capital, has a low overall cost of living compared to major Western cities, although of course much depends on your lifestyle choices. Hanoi is on average about 53% cheaper than living in London, but has a similar cost of living to Manila. It is also over 62% cheaper than its near neighbour Singapore and has about the same overall cost of living as Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Manila, Philippines.

If you choose to live outside Hanoi, the cost of living can differ slightly. Ho Chi Minh City, for instance, is slightly more expensive, while Da Nang in the central region is cheaper and Nha Trang, some way south, is cheaper still.

Eating out

Eating out in Hanoi is cheap, with a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant costing around $20. In general, alcohol is not expensive in Vietnam but wine is imported, so if you enjoy wine, take advantage of duty free when you arrive as it can be a little costlier. A mid-range bottle of wine will set you back less than $10. Be careful when drinking alcohol in Vietnam as there have been deaths from adulterated alcohol (see Health Risks  in Vietnam section).

The cost of getting around

Public transport is cheap (and crowded) with journeys costing only about $0.31 and monthly passes around $9. Taxis are also inexpensive but the traffic in Hanoi is so bad that journeys generally take a long time. Walking is an attractive alternative to being stuck in a jam, except in the rainy season and of course, there is need to be aware of the traffic.

Buying goods

Western clothing, cosmetics, and toiletries may be available in the trendier shopping areas of Hanoi and unlike some countries away from the West, you are unlikely to pay premium prices. Bear in mind that certain staples from home may not be readily available even in large department stores but there are thriving expat communities and you would do well to find out more about where they get their supplies from.

Books and magazines in English are available for higher than normal prices, but there is less choice. If you like physical books, bring a selection when you come.  Otherwise load up your Kindle and update your online subscriptions before you leave, especially as broadband speeds are likely to be slower than in the UK or US. If you have children, bring lots of books for them.

Taking care of your family

For parents, securing an international standard education for your children is likely to be your most expensive outlay after housing. Ho Chi Minh City is renowned for having a fine selection of international schools. These are based on the annual fee for a Grade 4 child and on top of these costs, there may be charges for registration, tests, transport, and deposits.

Private health care is expensive but it is likely to be the only suitable option for expatriates, as noted in the Health Insurance section. Private health care facilities are more likely to have staff that speak English and accept insurance coverage rather than asking for up-front cash payments. The cost of suitable health insurance is, of course, less expensive than paying for medical evacuation out of pocket.

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Additional Sources:

Prices correct June 2018.

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