New to Vietnam? Or wondering if you’re paying “foreigner prices” even though you’ve been here a while? We clear all that up for you, to help you build a budget for the year 2020.
The cost of living in Vietnam is one of the lowest in the world. That’s why the country is a major destination for people looking for a change. People have even started to promote retiring in Vietnam!
However, it’s clear that the cost of living for locals, foreigners and tourists isn’t exactly the same.
If you’re thinking of moving to Vietnam, or are already here and wondering why you spend so much more than your Vietnamese friends, this is for you.
Salaries and tax
When it comes to the cost of living in Vietnam, salary is pretty important. Taking into account average salaries, expats have a much higher wage at $6,500 USD per month.
The average minimum wage for locals is increasing. But at only $180 USD per month, it’s still a lot lower than average wages for foreigners.
It’s also worth pointing out that tax rates for residents and expats, or indeed Vietnamese people who work overseas, may differ. To be classified as a resident, you have to be able to prove that you have been in Vietnam for more than 183 days of the year. You also need to prove that you have a permanent residential place.
The above can be a bit of a pain because to prove this you have to photocopy every page of your passport! However, it’s important because if you aren’t a resident, then you pay a 20% tax on everything you earn in Vietnam. For residents, there’s a sliding scale of progressive rates.
One of the biggest expenditures in living costs is accommodation. However, you will be amazed by how much cheaper it is to rent in Vietnam than in a western country like England.
My first 3-room apartment (including a bath!) in Vietnam was the same price as a tiny room in a shared house with a black mold problem back home.
But accommodation is also the biggest difference between locals and foreigners.
Firstly, most younger Vietnamese people live at home with their parents until they get married. Hence, no money at all spent on accommodation.
Secondly, it’s simply cheaper as a Vietnamese person to rent a house. Although this might seem like discrimination, there are clear financial reasons for it.
If landlords want to be able to rent to foreigners, they have to jump through quite a few hoops. As you might expect, these extra hoops entail extra costs. So it’s the market that dictates that it’s more expensive for foreigners to rent.
One of the cheapest aspects of living in Vietnam is food. When a bowl of pho only costs around a dollar, and tasty street food is ubiquitous, it’s hard to say no. This is somewhere that Vietnamese people and foreigners don’t differ too much on the face of it.
It’s very common for most Vietnamese people to have breakfast, lunch or both out of the house. Dinner, on the other hand, is a bit different.
Eating at home is a tradition and an important part of Vietnamese family home life. It’s more likely for foreigners living here to spend a little more because it’s more likely that we also have dinner out.
Then, Western restaurants cost a lot more than anything that’s aimed at the Vietnamese public.
Meals in Western-aimed areas often cost the same for one person as would feed a Vietnamese family for a week. So there’s a big spending gap when it comes to eating out.
On top of which it’s also a lot cheaper to buy produce from the local market. So even if you’re cooking at home, it’s likely that you might still pay more to do so than Vietnamese people.
And of course, if you end up wanting to buy products you miss from home, you’re going to be paying even more.
Go to the bia hoi and you’ll end up paying less than $10 USD to keep 5 people refreshed. Go for cocktails and that same amount won’t even cover your first drink!
Drinking is something that takes a big chunk out of your wallet, wherever you’re from. But it’s all about how you decide to spend it.
Most Western bars are just too expensive for locals. Given how popular beer, rather than spirits, is in Vietnam, this is one area where it’s cheaper to be Vietnamese. The bia hoi is still the main choice for most people from Vietnam.
However, with more of the Vietnam youth of today following Western trends, this is changing.
Another big expense for foreigners in Vietnam has got to be transport. Whether you’re renting or buying a bike, you’ll likely spend more on your bike simply because it’s not very good.
Vietnamese people have their fair share of terrible bikes. But nowhere near as bad as that Honda Win you thought was a bargain for 100 dollars. On top of this, the garage is a big place where you are likely to get ripped off without sufficient language skills.
When it comes to alternative forms of transport, it’s also fairly rare to see foreigners riding the bus. Although Grab is the great leveler given how cheap it is, foreigners use it a little more on a regular basis.
Educational costs vary widely in Vietnam. That’s not just between foreigners and locals but between the haves and have-nots, regardless of nationality.
Public schools for children are significantly cheaper than their international alternatives. It’s also worth noting that Vietnamese parents spend a fair whack of their salary on extra classes for their children: on everything from English to chess tuition.
Foreigners are more likely to opt for international schools. So this will add a great deal to their general cost of living.
Budgeting is difficult given just how subjective the amount of money you spend can be. As such, I’ll look at daily spend to narrow it down a little.
If you’re traveling, for a fairly standard experience, a daily budget of around $50 USD is reasonable. That includes around $10 USD for accommodation, $10 USD more for food (at local, street food spots), $10 USD for any transportation costs, with $20 USD left to spare for visiting attractions or enjoying the nightlife.
My daily transport costs run me around $0.20 USD per day for 10km of driving. When I was renting, I normally spent around $300 USD a month, which comes to a daily rate of $10 USD. Cooking at home costs me around $1.50 USD per meal. So I spend around $12 USD a day for my basic living costs.
The cost of living in Vietnam is low, even by global standards. If you are so inclined, it’s very possible to live on an absolute shoestring of a budget.
Generally speaking, foreigners spend more than locals on a broad range of things, from accommodation to education. That’s not to say that there aren’t locals that spend similar amounts.
When it comes to exact budgets, it’s really up to you and your individual tastes. But regardless of how much you spend, it goes without saying that living in Vietnam is very affordable.