A long-favored destination among backpackers and adventure tourists, Vietnam offers staggeringly beautiful landscapes, a colorful local culture and an extremely low cost of living. Retirees considering moving overseas to Vietnam need to be adventuresome and comfortable with dramatic culture shock. If you are open to exotic new experiences, Vietnam could be your chance to enjoy a rich, vibrant retirement on a tiny budget.
The Low Cost of Living in Vietnam
Vietnam is one of the most affordable places in the world to live well. A couple can live here comfortably on a budget of $1,000 per month or less. Health care, in particular, is a fraction of the cost of comparable care in the United States.
Moving to Vietnam
Vietnam doesn’t make things straightforward when it comes to visas and residency. Even to visit as a tourist, you’ll need to fill out an application for a visa before arriving in the country.
You can apply for a one- or three-month tourist visa and extend this up to two times before you have to leave the country to renew it. You could also apply for a business or investor visa, which could allow you to remain in the country full time indefinitely.
The Language Barrier
Vietnamese is an extremely difficult language to learn. It has 11 vowels, as opposed to English’s five, and subtle differences in pronunciation result in drastically different meanings.
English is most commonly spoken in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but even in these cities it’s mostly the younger generation and those working in the tourism industry with English-language skills. Outside major cities you’ll meet very few English speakers. As a result, the language difference can be the greatest challenge of living in Vietnam as an expat retiree.
Restrictions on Foreign Property Ownership in Vietnam
The government owns all land in Vietnam, and foreigners are restricted from owning land. The best you can do is to lease land from the government for a maximum of 50 years. Foreigners can purchase property in certain condo developments in bigger cities.
Most expats and retirees prefer to bypass the complications of property ownership completely and rent. Depending where in the country you choose to base yourself, you can rent for as little as $350 per month.
Affordable Health Care in Vietnam
Vietnam has both public and private health care systems. Most expats and retirees opt to use the private facilities, where the quality of care is high and the staff includes internationally trained doctors.
The most prestigious hospital group in Vietnam is Hoan My Medical Corporation, with hospitals and clinics across the country. City International Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City is the biggest international hospital, where a quarter of the patients are foreigners and most of the medical staff speaks English.
Prices for health care in Vietnam are among the most affordable in the world. For example, at City International Hospital you’ll pay $17 for a basic consultation, $4 for a blood test and less than $10 for an X-ray. Costs can be so low that it can make sense to pay for care out of pocket. However, private hospitals generally cater to expats with international health insurance.
Vietnam’s World-Renowned Cuisine
Vietnamese food is among the healthiest, most delicious and most affordable cuisines in the world. Dishes are made from simple, inexpensive ingredients, but they’re masterfully prepared, using methods passed down for generations.
Eating is a bargain indulgence, with meals costing less than $3. Bia hoi, the fresh homebrewed beer from Hanoi, is famously the cheapest in the world at about 25 cents a pint.
Vietnam is among the world’s largest producers of coffee. Traditional cups are served strong and sweet, with espresso-like shots poured over thick layers of sweetened condensed milk. Vietnam also has a wine culture, which is a legacy of its French colonial past.
[Read: How to Retire in Thailand.]
Living in Vietnam
Vietnam is a big country with more than 2,000 miles of coastline. Its landscape is surprisingly diverse and astoundingly beautiful. The best way to take it all in and get some perspective on all the country has to offer can be to hop on a train and travel Vietnam to see its beaches, bays, hill towns and terraced slopes. The central highlands are the country’s garden bed, where the cool climate and abundance of fresh water mean everything grows in abundance. This is also a great place to play golf, with several top-rated courses in the area.
Vietnam may be known for its beaches, but it also has internationally competitive cities. The country’s French legacy is perhaps most evident in Hanoi, the bustling capital, with its sprawling parks, lakes and tree-lined boulevards. To the south is Ho Chi Minh City, an equally bustling environment, but with a different energy. While Hanoi could be described as sophisticated, Ho Chi Minh is hotter, grittier, more crowded and more modern, with American-style malls and a party nightlife culture.
Reasons Not to Retire in Vietnam
Retirement in Vietnam is not the right choice for everyone. The average income in Vietnam is about $150 per month. As a result, foreigners seem rich to the Vietnamese, which can make it difficult to form equitable friendships with locals.
Vietnam is geographically far from North America, so while the cost of living in this country is low, remember to include the expense of international flights to and from home in your budget. Vietnam wouldn’t be a good choice if you want to be able to visit your grandchildren often.
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