Vietnam scores well on essential factors that digital nomads consider before hopping to a new destination. These are security, cost of living, accommodation, internet speed, and transportation.
Since Vietnam streamlined laws that govern tourism, its popularity has been growing, with an increasing number of travelers choosing to jet in for tourism, adventure, and digital nomadism.
Let’s now dig in to lay bare everything there is to know about Vietnam as an upcoming digital nomad destination.
During recent years, tourism has become one of Vietnam’s main economic drivers, with the activities of 2019 alone contributing over 9% to the country’s GDP. But this was before the Covid19 pandemic, which resulted in closures and restrictions that caused a sharp decline in visitor arrivals.
In March 2022, the government removed most travel restrictions that had been put in place, hoping to rekindle the tourism sector. It also relaxed requirements on Visa applications and added new products to the visa regime, particularly the digital nomad visa.
As of January 2022, passport holders from several Asian and African countries are exempt from the Vietnam visa protocol.
The process of applying for a Visa
There are several ways to apply for a Vietnam visa. First, you may fill out forms and submit them at a Vietnam consulate or Embassy. Secondly, you may fill out application forms on an e-visa portal and submit them digitally. The latter only applies to applicants whose countries are eligible for the option. Alternatively, at the e-visa portal, you can apply for a Vietnamese Visa on Arrival.
To get a Visa on Arrival, you must go through four simple steps.
- Fill out a form online
- Confirm and pay ($17)
- Receive and print the letter of approval
- You will get a visa stamp at any of the three accredited airports (Hanoi, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City)
Requirements to qualify for Visa
For a successful application, you need to have the following;
- A valid passport, at least six months to expiry
- Size 4 cm x 6 cm passport (white background)
- The passport photo image must be centered and looking forward with a balanced facial expression. If you have a wig or religious headgear, you must have it on at all stages of the examination.
- Visa application form
- Proof of fee payment
- Any additional documents the Embassy or consulate may ask for. This may be a letter of invitation, certificate of good conduct, or any such document depending on the nature of your visit.
The cost of applying for a visa
To get a Vietnam Visa, you would have to pay two types of fees, i.e., the approval letter fee, which is paid online, and the stamping fee, which is paid in cash at the Vietnam airports.
The approval letter will cost $17 or more depending on the type of Visa and whether it is multiple or single entries. Upon arrival, the visa stamp will cost you $25 for a single entry and $50 for multiple entries. The stamping fee is only accepted in cash, i.e., USD or Vietnam Dong.
Difficulty in Visa application
The Vietnam visa acquisition should be seamless once you’ve filled out the forms correctly. The average standard processing time is about two working days. However, an urgent application can take one working day, and a Super urgent one just four working hours. If you must take an interview to get your Visa, the process may take longer in the unlikely event that you fail.
Cities and towns popular with digital nomads
Vietnam is an excellent destination for digital nomads because, besides being pocket-friendly, there is so much you can do regardless of where you choose to vacation. You may go for the fast-paced city life in places like Hanoi or Chi Minh or choose the laid-back beach life in larger cities like Nha Trang and Da Nang. Smaller places like Mui Ne and Phu Quoc Island also present many resources and opportunities anticipated by digital nomads.
The 1012-year capital city of Vietnam is famous for its centuries-old architectural designs and vibrant culture, complete with Southeast Asian, French, and Chinese influences. Following its rich history and systematic evolution, the city offers a lot in favor of digital nomadism. The name Hanoi means “city of lakes or city inside rivers .”The fact is, the city is sandwiched between the Red and Nhue Rivers.
Cost of living and Cost of living arbitrage
According to Numbeo.com, a digital nomad living in London at a monthly cost of £5200 would only need £1,918 to maintain the same standard in Hanoi. This means Hanoi is 36.8% cheaper than London city. Similarly, a digital nomad spending A$ 7,200.00 in Canberra would only need A$ 3,381.58 to keep the same lifestyle in Hanoi. Therefore, Hanoi is 47% cheaper than Canberra, Australia.
Like other major cities, Hanoi offers various accommodation options, including co-living spaces, apartments, Airbnb, and hotels. One would expect hotels to be the most expensive among these options, but surprisingly, decent Hanoi hotels operate at very moderate rates.
For example, a digital nomad-friendly hotel room may go for just $25 per night, with Airbnb hustings costing as low as $21. If you stay longer, decent rental apartments for roughly $500 per month would be ideal.
The most convenient option for many digital nomads is a co-living space. These are typically custom-designed boarding houses to cater to digital nomads’ needs. Besides shelter and meals, they enable networking and interaction between digital nomads. Some facilities provide you with everything you need to deliver for your clients.
Some popular co-living spaces to consider in Hanoi include. The Hideout, Toong,and Moonwalk, The Memory.
Essential utilities in an 85m2 apartment, i.e., electricity, garbage, and water, will amount to approximately USD 74.89.
A kg of apples cost $5.69 in New York City, while it sells at $2.66 in Hanoi. That is a 46.7 % cost difference. A kg of tomatoes in New York City costs $6.22 and just $1.21 in Hanoi.
According to speedtest.net, Hanoi currently runs on mobile download speeds of about 30 Mbps and Upload speeds of about 15. The city’s fixed broadband speeds are about 80 Mbps. These speeds are impressive and are close to the global average speeds.
Best coworking spaces
Some popular coworking spaces in Hanoi are:
- Toong Trang Thi – Hot Desk goes for $83.73/month
- Espace Coworking – Dedicated Desk Space $119/month
- Spaces – Dedicated Desk $336/month
Digital nomad communities
Two websites referring to data from the country’s ministry of labor place the number of expatriates living in Vietnam at over 83000 and 93000, respectively. While accessing this data from government sources is challenging, the increasing number of co-living and coworking spaces in Hanoi suggests a growing number of ex-pats and digital nomad communities in the city.
Local nomad job opportunity
Details on the upcoming digital nomad visa are scant; therefore, it is unclear whether it allows digital nomads to accept jobs from local businesses. Meanwhile, digital nomads staying on alternative visas would require a work permit to take up local jobs.
Popular recreational activities and fun spots
What can’t you find in a city that has been around for over 1000 years? Indeed, there is a lot you can do while in Hanoi, beginning with exploring the city to marvel at its distinctive architecture, five lakes, and two rivers. A boat tour of any of these water bodies would be a refreshing idea.
At night, you may pop into any popular nightclub. This includes The Toilet Club, where DJs will entertain you with the latest tunes as you wine, dine and dance through the night.
For an adventure enthusiast, a two-and-a-half-hour trip to the famous Ha Long Bay would be fun. The bay was in 2011 recognized as one of the world’s natural wonders and included among UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Assisted by a guide, you will see the towering limestone cliffs, navigate through grottos and explore caves adorned by magical stalactites. You can also tour a local fish farm and do so much more.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s largest city. Also called Saigon, the over 300-year-old metropolis is the country’s business and financial hub. The city features several museums that showcase the country’s wartime history and French colonial architecture. Today, it is a favorite tourist destination, with many visiting the Chinese pagodas, ornate temples, sleek skyscrapers, and its incredible culture, among others.
Cost of living
Data at Numbeo.com shows that consumer prices in Hanoi are 6.98 % cheaper than in Ho Chi Minh City (rent excluded). However, if you include rent, Ho Chi Minh City is 14.44% higher than Hanoi. Groceries in Ho Chi Minh are 8.82% higher than in Hanoi. For example, a head of Lettuce retails at $0.98 in Ho Chi Minh and $0.82 in Hanoi.
Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport serves the city. Ho Chi Minh is endowed with an extensive bus network, and although bus transport is cheaper, most ex-pats would instead use taxis or motorbikes due to security, among other concerns. Currently, there is no railway line around the city, but the construction of a rapid transit network is underway. It is expected to be operational by 2024.
Public transport cost
Public bus transport around the city costs roughly USD 0.33 to USD 0.66, depending on the distance traveled.
Private transport cost
For convenient rides around the city, you may use the Grab, Gojek Vietnam, or Be hailing apps. Scooters, regular taxis, and motorbikes are excellent options too. Renting a scooter would cost you about $6 per day.
Like in most cities, you can stay in an apartment, Airbnb, hotel room, or a digital nomad co-living space. Data at Nomadlist.com shows that the average cost of a hotel room is $457 a month. However, you will spend approximately $1100 a month on Airbnb hosting. Co-living spaces will cost you any amount between $5 -$50.
Ho Chi Minh City currently runs on download speeds of about 37 Mbps and uploads of about 18 Mbps. Accordingly, the city’s fixed download and upload speeds are about 85 Mbps.
Best coworking spaces
Digital nomads can choose from a long list of coworking spaces in Ho Chi Minh. The popular facilities on the list include; Circo Hoang Dieu, Dreamplex Nguyen Trung Ngan, the innohouse – coworking space
Data at Nomadlist.com shows that a hot desk at a coworking facility would cost you $157 per month.
The crypto community
The latest Geography of Cryptocurrency document by analytics firm Chainalysis reports that Vietnam is the global leader in grassroots cryptocurrency adoption. The report says Vietnam exhibits tremendously high purchasing power and population-based adoption across P2P, DeFi, and centralized cryptocurrency tools. The country topped the list for two consecutive years (2021 & 2022).
An article by Statista published on the world economic forum website shows that about 99 Million Vietnamese, or 21% of the population, owned cryptocurrencies, with play-to-earn gaming and remittances being the main drivers.
The rapid adoption is spurred mainly by the country’s large unbanked population. Statista places Vietnam second among the ten world’s most unbanked nations, stating that roughly 69% of the population lacks access to regular banking services. A similar report by the World Bank reveals that slightly over 61% of the citizens live in the countryside, where accessing modern banking services is challenging.
Vietnam has no crypto holding, trading, or spending regulation, making it among the most liberal jurisdictions to foster services around Bitcoin. Nonetheless, using Bitcoin or other types of cryptocurrencies as payment is unlawful.
Given the goodwill for the blockchain enterprise from authorities, Vietnam experiences a growing number of startup entities. The most notable crypto startups in the country include;
- Twendee Software – A software development firm
- SOTATEK JSC – A blockchain development firm issuing blockchain-based solutions, including crypto wallets, NFT marketplaces, crypto exchanges, gaming, and more.
- Hekate – Does research for the development of artificial intelligence. Delivers solutions around machine learning, vision, language, and big data analytics.
Blockchain coworking spaces
Though Vietnam’s fintech industry is relatively nascent, it has registered meaningful growth over the past several years. By mid-2019, the country had approximately 154 fintech companies with roughly 1.1 billion US dollars in investment capital. All these are thanks to the several hubs dedicated to blockchain education, innovation, and talent development.
Nomad Expat Community
There has been a steady rise in the number of digital nomad arrivals in the city since 2014, with the year 2020 reporting about 3400 remote workers in a particular month. Such figures point to the increasing popularity of the digital nomad trend and the potential such growth has for interaction and networking within the digital community.
Local nomad job opportunity
Until details of the upcoming digital nomad visa are disclosed, remote workers can only take local jobs under a work permit. However, digital nomads hiring each other is common.
Popular recreational activities and fun spots
Ho Chi Minh City presents numerous fun spots for thrilling outdoor engagements. A stay in this city would not be complete without a visit to the phenomenal Cai Be floating market in Cái Bè District. Besides enjoying a calming boat ride, the guided tour will allow you to shop for snacks, souvenirs, fresh flowers, and sample delicacies from floating boat stalls. You may also;
- Take a full-day tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels & Mekong Delta.
- Go on a street food tour by car or motorbike
- Tour around the city on a US Army Jeep
- Engage in activities such as Kayaking, biking, and boat trips while on a Mekong delta tour.
Security and safety concerns
Vietnam cities are generally safe, but it would be naïve to visit without taking precautions. The fact is, all countries have their fair share of troublemakers, and Vietnam is no exception. An article on a UK government website indicates that British nationals have suffered attacks in Vietnam.
Some women have also reported indecent assault and harassment in the form of groping and inappropriate touching in crowded places or while walking alone.
Compared to some countries, Vietnam places a high burden of proof on the complainant to demonstrate that the sexual act was not consensual. It even gets more complicated if the victim had taken alcohol or if they were known to the attacker.
You should also anticipate muggings and pickpocketing, even though the prevalence in Vietnam is on a medium scale. In isolated incidents, tourists have been injured due to brawls arising from disputed hotel or taxi bills.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Keep an eye on your belongings at all times, and before going out of the hotel, leave your treasured items in a security deposit box.
- Do not use public transport at night. You should also keep off from areas filled with bars and nightclubs to avoid crossing paths with intoxicated fellows.
- Avoid poorly lit areas at night.
- Do not surrender your passport to any third party, such as a landlord, as a guarantee. They might falsify claims with a motive to extort you.
- Familiarize yourself with the emergency numbers, i.e., 112, 113, 114, 115
Cultural and social norms
It is impossible to memorize an exhaustive list of a society’s values. However, once you have a general grasp of a society’s core values, you can avoid doing things that negate those values.
Like her Southeast Asian neighbors, Thailand and Indonesia, the Vietnamese uphold humility, modesty, and restraint. That means traits like boasting and showing off one’s advantages in life are looked down upon.
This society reserves a lot of respect for the elderly. You are expected to honor and give way to senior members of the community. For example, you are expected to allow an older person to take the first bite at a shared dinner table.
Here are some tips that may help to keep your social conduct in tandem with the local values
- You should always dress decently to avoid being a distraction, especially at holy sites.
- No matter how much you appreciate your spouse, avoid engaging in much display of affection in public.
- Do not wear a hat when visiting a holy site. Similarly, you must raise or remove your cap, especially when greeting an older person.
- To the Vietnamese, the head is the most sacred part of the body. Therefore, never touch someone else’s head.
- The feet are regarded as the least sacred part of the body. For this reason, never point the sole of your feet toward someone. Worse, pointing the sole of your feet towards a Buddha’s statue is disrespectful and borders on abomination.
- Only serve food portions that you can finish eating. It is wrong to discard food remains.
- Do not enter a house in shoes. A pile of shoes or the lack thereof at the entrance should inform whether a household subscribes to this norm.
Political and economic stability
After almost 50 years since the end of the war in Vietnam, the Southeast Asian nation is fast emerging as a political and economic force within the Indo-Pacific region and a significant US partner. The 20-year conflict is to blame for Vietnam’s poverty and isolation. Still, somehow, it has managed to rise from the rubble to be a middle–income country, nurturing a youthful population with glittering prospects.
A world bank economic report for Vietnam released in August 2022 indicated that the country’s economic recovery had improved beginning in January due to a resilient manufacturing and robust services sector. The finance body predicted Vietnam’s GDP to surge from about 2.6% in 2021 to 7.5% in 2022. The report further projected the country’s 2022 inflation to average 3.8%.
Vietnam is a socialist republic governed under a single-party system. Typically, most socialist republics do not tolerate dissent, and Vietnam has lived up to that ideology.
A Human Rights Watch report sampling 2021 events in Vietnam says those criticizing the government are subjected to police harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, restricted movement, detention, and incarceration after unfair trials.
Nonetheless, such grim facts have done little to affect the country’s tourism sector drivers. Therefore, a digital nomad desiring to vacation in Vietnam can proceed as long as they abide by the nation’s rules and regulations.
Language and language barriers
About 90% of Vietnam’s population is ethnically Vietnamese, which is why Vietnamese is the official language. However, English is fast taking position as the second most spoken language in the country. French, Khmer, Chinese, and other ethnic languages are also spoken.
Vietnam’s English proficiency index is low. In a recent survey, it scored 66 out of 112 with an EF EPI index of 486. It ranks in position 12 out of 24 in Asia.
According to the BMJ journal, Vietnam’s general life expectancy in 2017 was 70 years for men and 79.2 years for women. These figures indicate a 5-year increase in men and 6.5 years increase in women between 1990 -2017. The journal report attributes the observed increase in life expectancy to the country’s successful efforts in fighting infectious diseases.
Common infectious diseases
The most common health issues are caused by Malaria, Dengue fever, excessive smoking, Tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS, and pandemics, i.e., Covid19. Several people are victims of a post-war condition known as Agent Orange.
How to protect yourself from common diseases
One general rule to body wellness is engaging in physical exercise and eating healthy. You may jog or join a gym within your hotel, apartment, or co-living facility. For diseases like Malaria, it is crucial to carry a secure, well-treated net which is particularly useful during outdoor events like camping.
Clinics vs. Hospitals
Data at statista.com shows that Vietnam had 306 private hospitals in 2021, with the research revealing that private hospitals had increased steadily during the observed period. Overall the country has over 1200 clinics and hospitals. Statista further shows that the doctor-patient ratio was 11 doctors per 10000 inhabitants in 2021.
Some top-tier hospitals that may be of interest to financially stable nomads and ex-pats include the;
- Franco-Vietnamese Hospital (FV Hospital) (Ho Chi Minh City)
- Hoan My Da Nang Hospital (Da Nang City)
- Hanoi French Hospital (Hanoi city)
In 1992, Vietnam established social health insurance, the primary source of public financing for the country’s healthcare program. The government taps into tax revenues to subsidize healthcare for vulnerable groups such as seniors above 80, children under 8, ethnic minorities, and anyone living below the poverty line.
The national health insurance program covers approximately 87% of the population. The World Health Organization says fewer people pay cash for health services today, although the number is still high.
Organizations such as Cigna, Integra Global, Allianz, and others cover ex-pats and digital nomads.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that before traveling to Vietnam, you need to take the following vaccines;
- Flu (influenza
- Chickenpox (Varicella)
- Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR)
Other mandatory vaccines include Hepatitis A&B, Japanese Encephalitis, Malaria, Measles, Typhoid, and Rabies.
Vietnam’s electricity current ranges between 220-380 volts at 50-60 Hz. If you are from Europe (except the UK), you may carry your plugs along since they are compatible. Nonetheless, you are better off checking the voltage compatibility to remain safe.
Type G British plugs with three rectangular pins can apply in some places in Vietnam. It is rare so that you may require an adapter. Research your country’s compatibility with the Vietnamese electric and electronic regime.
Telephone and internet plans
Vietnam’s leading mobile phone operators are Viettel, Vietnamobile, Mobifone, and VNPT (Vinaphone).
How to register for a Sim card
You can acquire a sim card at a vendor’s kiosk at the airport. Before purchasing a specific mobile operator’s sim card, read the relevant manual to understand the plans and other helpful information.
Mobile phone plans and cost
On average, internet data can go for as low as $0.01, with outgoing calls costing roughly $0.55 per minute.
Payment services and infrastructure
A survey done by JP Morgan in 2019, analyzing trends in Vietnam up to 2021, revealed cards as the most popular payment method in Vietnam. Through the period under survey, cards facilitated 34% of transactions, with the surveyor predicting a compound annual growth rate of 15% by 2021.
In March 2021, the government deployed a mobile money service pilot program targeting underprivileged citizens who live in remote areas. By August of the same year, slightly over 1.1 million mobile users had embraced the payment method. This milestone was impressive but insignificant, given that the country had over 123 million subscriptions.
However, given the success registered by mobile money services in Ghana and Kenya, there is a high likelihood the program in Vietnam will do well. Meanwhile, fiat cash and cards like MasterCard, Google Pay, Visa, and the MoMo digital wallet remain the most popular payment options.
Currencies and exchange rates
The Vietnamese dong was introduced in 1978 and remained the country’s official legal tender. As of mid-October 2022, one VD is equivalent to 0.000041 United States Dollars.
Climate and seasons
The country’s southern region’s climate is divided into wet and dry seasons. The dry season is from November till early May, with February to May being rather hot and humid. The wet season commences from May to November, with June to August receiving the highest rainfall. The rainfall is usually heavy but lasts shortly. The temperatures in this region average 25-35 degrees Celsius all year round.
The Southern region comprises Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Tram & Long Hai, Phu Quoc & Con Dao, The Mekong Delta, Phan Thiet & Mui Ne, and Ho Tram & Long Hai.
The entire Northern region covering Hanoi has distinct summer and winter seasons. Winter is typically cool but dry, lasting from November to April. Temperatures during these months average 17-22 degrees centigrade, with January-March being the coldest month.
Summer runs from May to October amid hot and humid temperatures, and this is when the region receives the highest rainfall. Specifically, July to September are the wettest months.
The Northern region covers Hanoi, Cuc Phuong Halong Bay, Ninh Binh, and Mai Chau.
Pho is the country’s national dish, and one version of the delicacy comprises beef brisket broth, noodles, herbs, and Chili. Due to its popularity, you will likely find it sold in every nook and cranny.
Given the immediate water bodies (ocean lakes and rivers), you should also expect a host of sea creatures, including fish, lobster, crabs, and mollusks, to form part of the country’s diet.
Of course, rice is the country’s staple food, appearing in some form in every meal. The traditional Vietnamese diet emphasizes rice, fish, vegetables, and fruits.
Ever read or heard stories of people eating dog meat in Vietnam? Well, dog meat consumption is real in this society, although it remains a highly controversial subject. Those who relish the meat believe it warms the body and increases male sexual desire. However, animal rights activists oppose it citing cruel and stressful handling of the canines before they are butchered. The government has also spoken against it, saying it poses image and public health concerns.
Tax requirements on digital nomads
Nonresidents are only taxed 20% for an income with sources in Vietnam. That means that any amount earned abroad is not taxable. You are declared a tax resident after staying in the country for 183 consecutive days within a year. Under that status, you are taxed up to 35% of your income regardless of its local or foreign origins.
- Petty crime involving bag slashing and pickpocketing is rampant in major cities. Motorcycle thieves grab and snatch handbags, always resulting in injuries.
- Violent crimes, including sexual harassment and rape in major cities
- Vietnam experiences severe weather and natural disasters, i.e., floods, landslides, typhoons, and flash floods
- Protests occur once in a while. Such large groups are likely to turn violent
These concerns notwithstanding, the country is a beautiful place for vacation and remote working travels.
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