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Moving to Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, previously known as Saigon, is Vietnam's largest city and an important regional seaport. With its tropical climate, a cosmopolitan population and a mixture of shopping malls and markets, it's an easy home away from home for many expats.

The city offers a fast-paced lifestyle within a metropolis steeped in history. The contrast is perhaps most evident in the juxtaposition of French-colonial architecture with high-rise buildings and skyscrapers, as well as in the traditional markets right across the road from busy shopping centres selling the latest in designer goods.

While Ho Chi Minh City is the financial capital of Vietnam, the cost of living in this city is not exorbitant. Local goods are cheap and, while imported Western goods are more expensive, they are readily available. Accommodation is varied and expats are sure to find something to suit their needs and their budget. Finding property within the city is also easy with new developments being built continuously, and the process of renting property is straightforward.

Transportation in Vietnam is a big topic, and simply crossing the street is a skill that expats moving to Vietnam need to learn swiftly. There are buses and bus routes around the city but they are not fully accessible to Westerners unless one makes the effort to learn a little Vietnamese. Taxis can be cheap provided expats use a reputable company. There are also many motorbike taxi drivers ready to speedily transport brave commuters around the city.

Shopping-wise, the choice is extensive and varied from luxury shopping malls to small superettes and markets. This goes for restaurants too, whether choosing to sample some of the famous Saigon pho from a street corner or eat at a cordon bleu restaurant. With so much choice in terms of wining, dining, shopping and even accommodation, Ho Chi Minh City is an attractive option for many expats.

Expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City with kids can rest assured that their children’s schooling won’t be limited here. Thanks to the city’s large expat population, it plays host to a number of excellent international schools specialising in a variety of foreign curricula, including American, British, French and German. It is, however, important to note that spaces at popular schools are limited and therefore expats are encouraged to begin the application process as early as possible.

Despite having a fair amount of noise and air pollution, Ho Chi Minh City offers expats living in the city a life full of charm, pleasant surprises and friendly locals. It is a business hub in its own right; complete with a stock exchange, high-rise buildings and some 300,000 businesses. Ho Chi Minh City is vital to the economy of Vietnam and accounts for over 20 percent of the country’s GDP. It is a meeting point between East and West, and an exciting and beautiful city to explore and get to know.

Pros and cons of moving to Ho Chi Minh City

Expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City will find themselves in a vibrant, engaging culture. The city has many benefits, but it also has drawbacks and expats should prepare themselves realistically to make the most of their time in Vietnam.


Living in Ho Chi Minh City 

+ PRO: Good expat community

There is a strong expat community in Ho Chi Minh City and the social life is varied and engaging, which means there is something for everyone from families to singles.

+ PRO: Welcoming attitude of the Vietnamese people

Vietnamese people are very friendly and welcoming of foreigners. Expats will find locals to be accommodating and genuinely interested in helping them – something that may seem unusual to many expats.

- CON: Overcharging foreigners

Despite the friendliness of Vietnamese people, some expats still face unfairly increased prices. Expats should be firm when bartering and learn a few Vietnamese words to negotiate a fair deal. 


The lifestyle in Ho Chi Minh City

+ PRO: Sights and activities offered throughout the city 

Expats looking to spend their days outdoors will be spoilt for choice. There are many recreational and water parks around the city, which are not just for the kids. The city is also home to numerous historical and cultural sites for expats to explore. The vibrant local art scene is a representation of the upscale and cosmopolitan lifestyle spread throughout Ho Chi Minh city.

- CON: Pollution

With some 5 million residents, Ho Chi Minh city does suffer from a significant amount of noise and air pollution. Expats will see some Vietnamese people wearing face masks to prevent irritation from pollen and pollution.

+ PRO: Easy access to the beach

This is especially important as a respite from the hot summer days, making it the perfect getaway to enjoy the weekend and escape city life.

+ PRO: Incredible food

From dingy authentic Vietnamese haunts to five-star restaurants, there are numerous international and local cuisine options to satisfy all tastes.

+ PRO: Abundance of shopping outlets 

Shopping is a favourite past time for many Ho Chi Minh City residents and expats will have plenty of options available. The shops range from small markets to impressive department stores.

- CON: Petty crime

Vietnam is a safe country, but like every city, Ho Chi Minh does have its petty crime. Expats should be watchful of their belongings and aware of those around them.

+ PRO: Cheap and easy travel to neighbouring cities

Places like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are popular, with regular flights going to and from Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. Tan Son Nhat is Vietnam's largest international airport, located in Ho Chi Minh City. 


Amenities in Ho Chi Minh City

+ PRO: Top international schools

Expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City with children will have access to a host of excellent international schools. 

+ PRO: Excellent banks 

Banking is accessible and convenient for expats. With top banks like HSBC and ANZ available, expats should have no problems with banking. 

- CON: Public transport is lacking

Ho Chi Minh City's public transport system is relatively underdeveloped, which can be frustrating for expats. Currently, there is no metro system in place, but construction is in progress for this.


Language in Ho Chi Minh City

+ PRO: The language is relatively easy to learn

The Western alphabet script is used for the Vietnamese language, which makes it more accessible for foreigners in comparison to other Asian countries. 

- CON: There is a language barrier

Despite Vietnam being one of the few Asian countries that use a Roman-based alphabet, there is still a language barrier. Expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City should keep in mind that English is not commonly used.


Censorship in Ho Chi Minh City

- CON: Government censorship

There is occasional government banning or censorship of websites. Internet access to certain sites is sometimes regulated, especially if they are religious or politically sensitive. 

Working in Ho Chi Minh City

Responsible for up to a quarter of Vietnam's GDP, Ho Chi Minh City is alive with opportunity for both expat and domestic job seekers. It is a fast-growing city with an equally fast-growing job market, particularly for those seeking employment in the IT, building, engineering and construction fields. There are also a fair amount of NGO and teaching jobs available in the city.


Job market in Ho Chi Minh City

While many expats are transferred to Ho Chi Minh City to take up a particular position, those who arrive in the city wishing to look for a job shouldn’t find this to be too difficult. Ho Chi Minh City’s labour market is steadily expanding.

However, as the Vietnamese government has focused on ensuring that Vietnamese have priority over jobs, employment conditions for foreign workers have become increasingly strict. For instance, foreign companies operating in Vietnam are expected to ensure that no more than three percent of their staff are expats, and multinationals are entitled to a maximum of 50 foreign employees. The Vietnamese authorities have taken such measures to encourage companies to train their local employees to replace foreigners in the future.

Large and small companies in Ho Chi Minh City require their expat employees to have at least some knowledge of both English and French. The biggest hurdle when conducting business in Ho Chi Minh City is wading through government regulations and requirements. As Vietnam is a socialist republic it is important to ensure that all records, contracts and agreements are in line with government stipulations.


Finding a job in Ho Chi Minh City

Expats looking for employment in Ho Chi Minh City can begin by trawling the internet and the classified sections in local newspapers. Recruitment agencies can also offer some assistance in helping foreigners with specialist skills find employment within their particular field of work. Furthermore, foreign chambers of commerce in Vietnam can also be a great source of information when it comes to finding connections and employment opportunities in the city.


Work culture in Ho Chi Minh City

The Vietnamese have a healthy work ethic; they work incredibly hard but also know that working in subtropical conditions is tiring. Communal lunches are an important part of the working day, as is getting to know colleagues over an after-work drink.

It is essential that expats have a business or work visa before starting work in Vietnam and that employers have registered their expat employees as taxpayers. Expats are advised to ensure that their payslip clearly shows that tax is deducted from their monthly salary.

Cost of Living in Ho Chi Minh City

The cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City is relatively cheap when compared to many countries in the West. Expats from North America or Western Europe, in particular, can afford to maintain their standard of living from home here, if not increase some luxuries.

Many expats dine out often as it isn't expensive. In fact, some would say it's cheaper to eat out than cook at home in Ho Chi Minh City. 

The cost of accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City is a fraction of what it is in the United States or Europe.

The more expensive goods tend to be those that are imported. The more expensive prices tend to be found in the nice bars, restaurants and shops in the city centre or District 1. To save money, try to buy local produce from street vendors. This tends to be fresher than what is available at supermarkets and is a great way to support the local economy.


Cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City chart

Note that prices may vary depending on location and service provider and the table below is based on average prices for February 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

VND 20,000,000 - 30,000,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

VND 12,000,000 - 16,000,000

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

VND 9,000,000 - 13,000,000

One-bedroom apartment outside city centre

VND 6,000,000 - 8,000,000

Groceries

Milk (1 litre)

VND 32,000

Dozen eggs

VND 32,000

Loaf of white bread

VND 18,000

Pack of chicken breasts (1kg)

VND 64,000

Pack of cigarettes 

VND 25,000

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

VND 95,000

Cappuccino

VND 45,000

Local beer

VND 20,000

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

VND 450,000

Utilities 

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile) 

VND 2,000

Internet (uncapped – average per month) 

VND 270,000

Electricity (average per month for standard household)

VND 1,000,000

Transport and driving

City-centre bus fare

VND 6,000

Taxi (rate per km)

VND 14,000

Petrol (per litre) 

VND 20,000

Accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City

Finding accommodation is a priority for expats moving to Vietnam. There are a variety of options in Ho Chi Minh City, from short-term backpacker accommodation to luxury apartment complexes.

Some expats are lucky enough to have their employer source accommodation for them before they arrive in Ho Chi Minh City. However, most expats are left to find their own way around the city’s property market.

While expats can make contact with estate agents and peruse property listings from their home country, it is not advisable to commit to a rental contract in HCMC before seeing the property in person. For this reason many expats choose to stay at a guesthouse for a few weeks while they look for a suitable home.


Types of property in Ho Chi Minh City

Expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City will find a variety of accommodation options in this rapidly growing metropolis. From beautiful French colonial multi-storeyed houses along narrow alleyways to the modern condominiums and apartment complexes that are becoming more widely available as the city expands, there are many places for expats to choose from.

The quaint colonial houses which are a prominent feature in Ho Chi Minh City are often found just off the main streets. Many of these properties are only accessible by foot, bicycle or motorbike, and not by car. The bottom floor is usually used as a storage space for motorbikes and bicycles, the next floor up will usually consist of a kitchen and dining room, and the upper level will be where the bedrooms are located. Most houses in Ho Chi Minh City will have a small deck on the roof.

Apartment complexes and condominiums are becoming more and more common in the city. These complexes are modern and in line with what expats would expect in most Western countries. They often include facilities such as gyms, swimming pools and a laundry area. Many of these complexes also have security guards who are on duty 24 hours a day.  

Many of the younger expats who come to Ho Chi Minh City to volunteer or teach English opt to stay at backpacker hostels that offer them monthly accommodation rates and are located closer to the city centre.


Finding accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City

Finding accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City is relatively painless and generally doesn't require too much admin work. While there are several ways to find suitable properties, using a real estate agent is by far the quickest. Several rental agencies operating in the city focus solely on the expat market, but for those who wish to go it alone, there are a number of helpful websites with property listings.

The major advantage of using a real estate agent is that they have access to a larger pool of properties and are able to show expats a number of homes that meet their requirements and budget. Furthermore, as most property owners in Ho Chi Minh City do not speak English, a real estate agent plays a crucial role in negotiating the lease with a landlord on behalf of the tenant.


Renting property in Ho Chi Minh City

Most leases in Vietnam are for a set period and expats are required to pay a deposit equal to one or two months’ rent. Rental properties in Ho Chi Minh City usually include a fridge and stove, but it's possible to negotiate with the landlord or real estate agent for a fully furnished property. 

Government regulations and language barriers can present some difficulties when trying to agree on the terms of a lease, so it's wise to get the help of one’s employer, a Vietnamese-speaking colleague or friend, or to use one of the many rental agencies aimed at expatriates.

Much like Hanoi, certain areas and suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City are preferred by the city's expat population. Some of the most popular are District 7 (the New Economic Zone) and Phu My Hung, while Districts 1 and 2 are closer to the famous Pham Ngu Lao backpacker and tourist centre.

Areas and suburbs in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam's largest and most populated city. The city is divided into 24 districts: 19 inner districts and five suburban districts. Each of these offers a distinctively unique experience and, when deciding where to live in Ho Chi Minh City, it is important to consider each district's characteristics.

The heart of the city is located within Districts 1 and 3. These are ideal for travellers or short-term expats as they are close to the action and activity. For expats who plan on living in Ho Chi Minh City for longer, Districts 2 and 7 may be better options.

Make sure to take commute times into consideration as traffic in and out of the city centre can become very congested during rush hour.


Young and trendy areas of Ho Chi Minh City

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A large number of the expats living in Ho Chi Minh City are young single professionals or couples who have moved to experience living abroad and are using Vietnam as a base from which to explore Asia. For this demographic, there are a number of popular areas close to the city centre and its activities.

District 1

Considered to be the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, District 1 is the centre for all financial, commercial and administrative activity. Although it is still Vietnamese in character, this district has felt the effects of globalisation and development most heavily. Restaurants and shops offering cuisines and goods from around the world are found alongside expensive, upscale hotels.

For those with an eye for shopping, District 1 has an ever-expanding commercial scene with high-end stores lining Dong Khoi Street and Nguyen Hue. It's also home to most of the city's museums, tourist attractions and historical sites, including Ben Thanh Market and The Reunification Palace (Independence Palace).

District 1 offers some of the highest living standards in the city with a range of serviced apartment buildings. Rent here is much more expensive than in other districts. On the other hand, District 1 also caters to budget travellers in the backpackers' area of Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. Cheap hostel or guesthouse accommodations can be found in this area, along with the potential to rent houses tucked away down alleys.

As District 1 is the city centre, it is one of the busiest districts and is where most of the action happens. Traffic within the district itself is not terrible, but the traffic entering and leaving District 1 can be heavy, especially during rush hour.

District 3

District 3 is considered by many to be the ideal place to live in Ho Chi Minh City. 

The area's close proximity to the sights and activity of District 1 allows for expats to stay close to the action but also provides an escape for more peaceful, quieter sleep. Many young expats opting to stay close to the bars, restaurants and shops of District 1 choose to live in this area as it still offers a range of recreational activities and parks. 

District 3 offers apartments, houses tucked down alleys and old French colonial villas. Prices vary depending on the type of accommodation but expect them to be cheaper than District 1.

As with many other districts, motorbikes and taxis are the best forms of transportation. Be aware, though, that the small streets of this district make it prone to traffic congestion.

Binh Thanh

Binh Thanh's cheap housing makes it very popular among young English teachers. Sandwiched between District 1 and District 2, it has become an increasingly lucrative spot for property developers. High-rise, high-quality, serviced apartment buildings such as The Manor and Saigon Pearl can be found in Binh Thanh.

This area has seen a steady stream of road construction over recent years and is an entry hub for many trucks, so it can be noisy at times.


Family-friendly areas in Ho Chi Minh City

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For expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City with children, the main priority will be finding a home close to the city’s many international schools. For families, it is usually best to move further away from the hustle and bustle of the central business district and to more residential areas where properties are larger and there are more parks and open spaces.

District 2

District 2 is home to many long-term expats who want living standards close to that of their home countries. While this district is close to the city centre, it's still far enough away to be secluded from District 1's endless activity.

District 2 (specifically Thao Dien Ward and An Phu Ward) is an alluring family-friendly area for Western expats and wealthy Vietnamese as it provides a high standard of living. These two wards offer less chaotic streets, numerous international schools, and Westernised housing options.

Some of the many international schools in the area include The American School of Vietnam, Australian International School Saigon, British International School Ho Chi Minh City, and European International School Ho Chi Minh City.

Thao Dien and An Phu both have high-quality residential apartments, large houses and villas – some with pools and in walled compounds – at reasonable prices. Numerous restaurants, retail shops, grocery stores and commercial offices can be found lining the streets here.

District 7

Similar to District 2, many expats living in Ho Chi Minh City choose to make District 7 their home. The district is filled with wide, tree-lined streets surrounded by high-quality apartment buildings and villas for long-term residents. There is little development outside of housing accommodation, so it is a perfect spot to enjoy personal space as well as extensive greenery.

Phu My Hung is the most popular area of District 7, catering to expats with international schools, swimming pools, Western grocery stores and an increasing number of restaurants and shops. Schools in this area include Saigon South International School, Canadian International School, and Korean International School HCMC.

Do not expect much in terms of nightlife activities or street life. The attraction of District 7 is its peaceful, quiet atmosphere. Designed with a wealthy, high-income population in mind, houses here are more expensive than other areas of the city.

District 7 is quite remote from the city centre, with commute times at around 40 minutes and less convenient public transportation options. While it is nowhere close to a true Vietnamese experience, District 7 offers a peaceful lifestyle for families away from the noise and chaos of the city.

Healthcare in Ho Chi Minh City

With its subtropical climate, expats travelling to Vietnam need to be extra vigilant on health issues.

Ho Chi Minh City has a range of hospitals and the standards of healthcare in private hospitals are generally on par with those in Western countries. However, with cheap and relatively short flights to Bangkok and Singapore readily available, many expats prefer hospitals in these destinations for more serious medical concerns.

Larger hospitals will have English-speaking staff and many have foreign doctors from countries such as France, Japan, South Korea and the USA.


Hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City

Below are some of the most prominent national hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City:

City International Hospital

www.cih.com.vn
3 Street 17A, Binh Tri Dong B Ward, Binh Tan District

Franco Vietnam Hospital

www.fvhospital.com
6 Nguyen Luang Bang St, District 7

Franco Vietnam Saigon Clinic

www.fvhospital.com/saigon-clinic
Third Floor, Bitexco Financial Tower, 2 Hai Trieu Street, District 1

Victoria International Healthcare

www.victoriavn.com
79 Dien Bien Phu, Da Kao, District 1

Education and Schools in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is home to most of the expats living in Vietnam and, as a result of the city’s ever-increasing expat population, has seen a growth in the number of private and international schools. These prestigious schools offer an excellent quality of education and state-of-the-art facilities and are popular with expats as well as wealthy Vietnamese locals.

Vietnam has a good standard of education with a literacy rate of over 90 percent. Academic achievement is something that is highly valued and promoted in Vietnamese society.

While international schools remain the most popular option for expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City with children, there are some who choose to enrol their child at a good public school in Vietnam to save on the extremely high cost of international school fees.


Public schools in Ho Chi Minh City

While the standard of education at public schools in Ho Chi Minh City is generally quite good, expat students may find the teaching methods employed in the Vietnamese public system difficult to adjust to.

Students at public schools in Vietnam are expected to study quietly and passively, which contradicts the more innovative learning methods and active class discussions encouraged in Western culture. Vietnamese students are often put under enormous pressure to perform well academically, by both their families and teachers. Most children have extra private tuition after school.

There are, however, a growing number of schools in Ho Chi Minh City that are making a break from traditional Vietnamese methods and offering American-style learning. These more modern public schools tend to have extremely long waiting lists.


International schools in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City offers expats a wide variety of international schooling options. The top international schools tend to employ native English speakers or those who have trained in the country that the particular school is affiliated with.

The major advantage of opting to send an expat student to an international school is that it allows them to make the transition to life in Vietnam with greater ease. International schools allow foreign students to continue studying the same curriculum they are used to back in their home country. Furthermore, expat children are given the opportunity to interact with other children who are facing similar challenges of adjusting to life in a new country.

Most international schools in Ho Chi Minh City accept applications throughout the year to accommodate the unpredictable nature of expat placements. However, parents should bear in mind that places at the most popular schools fill up fast, so it is best to begin the application process as soon as possible.

The application criteria for international schools vary quite dramatically and depend on each school itself. Some have entrance exams that test a child’s English and Mathematics ability, while others require students to attend an interview before a formal offer is made. Some schools require parents to pay a non-refundable application fee.

Generally, international school fees in Ho Chi Minh City are high and increase along with the age of the student. Additional fees are charged for students that board at the school. Expat parents should also budget for the additional costs of school uniforms, excursions and stationery.

International Schools in Ho Chi Minh City

With a thriving and continuously growing expat population, there are plenty of options when it comes to choosing an international school in Ho Chi Minh City. Whether expat parents prefer the American, British or International Baccalaureate curriculum, they're sure to find an excellent international school to fit their needs.

International schools are a practical way to smooth a child's transition into life in Ho Chi Minh City. Continuing with a familiar curriculum in a child's home language provides a sense of stability. It's also a great way to meet other expat children and families who understand the unique challenges that come with being globally mobile.

Many of Ho Chi Minh City's international schools are prestigious, offering top-notch education in modern, purpose-built facilities, led by highly competent teachers and principals. Admissions are generally accepted year-round but are dependent on whether there's space available, so it's well worth it to apply early to secure a spot.

Below is a list of recommended international schools in Ho Chi Minh City.


International schools in Ho Chi Minh City

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The American School of Vietnam

The American School of Vietnam (TAS) provides a world-class American-based curriculum. The school promotes high standards of academic excellence by enhancing student learning for leadership in a global world. Over 25 nationalities are represented in the school's faculty and student body. 

A wide range of extra-curricular activities is available, allowing students to make use of the excellent facilities at TAS. There are dedicated rooms for art, music, drama, dance and IT, as well as sporting facilities such as a soccer field, basketball courts and a swimming pool. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 1.5 to 18

Australian International School Saigon

With over 1,150 students from 40 countries, Australian International School Saigon (AIS) is a truly international community. The school offers a high-quality, fully accredited international education across all year levels. There are three AIS campuses in Ho Chi Minh City, all in District 2. 

AIS prides itself on facilitating the growth of students as global citizens and there are frequent excursions, camps and sporting competitions both regionally and internationally. In addition to the school's high-quality curriculum, AIS offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities to encourage well-rounded development in students. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and Cambridge International Primary, Lower Secondary and IGCSE
Ages: 1.5 to 18

British International School Ho Chi Minh City

Selective, independent and co-educational, the British International School Ho Chi Minh City (BIS HCMC) is a day school that provides a diverse international education measured by British standards. The student body is made up of more than 2,300 pupils of over 50 different nationalities. 

As the largest international school in Vietnam, BIS HCMC holds a prestigious position. With three sprawling campuses in District 2, facilities are ample and of high quality. There are plenty of opportunities for a range of activities such as community service, co-curricular activities and global excursions. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

European International School Ho Chi Minh City

The European International School (EIS) Ho Chi Minh City focuses on academic excellence, multiculturalism and treating each child as an individual. The school follows the International Baccalaureate Programme and welcomes families of all languages and nationalities. More than 45 different countries are represented in the student body.

A low student-to-teacher ratio allows each child to receive personal attention and guidance. The school aims to provide a safe learning environment where children feel free to be themselves. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC)

ISHCMC has more than 1,300 students aged 2 to 18 years and a diverse student body of over 50 nationalities. Students are taught in modern learning environments by trained IB educators specialising in enquiry-led teaching. The school is part of the Cognita education group, along with International School Saigon Pearl and ISHCMC American Academy. 

The school's philosophy is centred around providing a nurturing environment where students are encouraged to ask questions and engage with what they are being taught. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2 to 18

International School Saigon Pearl

International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP) is a purpose-built elementary school affiliated with ISHCMC American Academy. The ISSP campus has integrated technology elements such as iPads, interactive whiteboards and ICT labs. The school is conveniently located a short distance from the city centre, between Districts 2 and 3.

ISSP includes a well-resourced library and media centre, specialist rooms for art, music and dance, age-appropriate play areas, a gym and a swimming pool. Options for after-school activities are diverse, ranging from taekwondo to ballet to cooking and more. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 1.5 to 11

ISHCMC American Academy

A purpose-built school with excellent facilities set in a five-storey building, ISHCMC American Academy is a middle and high school associated with the International School Saigon Pearl.

Their rigorous American curriculum includes Advanced Placement (AP) options and is designed to inspire students to become successful lifelong learners and responsible global citizens. Upon graduation, students are awarded an American High School Diploma which opens up the possibility of attending university in the USA. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 11 to 18

Saigon South International School

A top-tier multicultural American school with excellent facilities, Saigon South International School has a strong academic programme, and past graduates have entered competitive universities worldwide. Students can study towards the American High School Diploma (including Advanced Placement subjects) or the International Baccalaureate Diploma. 

The school's six-hectare campus consists of three buildings with spacious classrooms as well as dedicated rooms for art, music, dance, aquatics and ICT. There is a shared cafeteria and auditorium, while elementary, middle and high school students each have their own library and break-time area. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18

Saigon Star International School

Saigon Star International School (SSIS) is a pre-primary, primary and middle school in District 2 following a British and international curriculum. SSIS holds the distinction of being the first school in Vietnam authorised to offer the International Primary Curriculum.

Small class sizes ensure that each student receives personalised attention. Students are encouraged to learn at their own pace and according to their own strengths, talents and abilities. All teachers are native English speakers and university graduates with recognised teaching degrees. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, International Early Years Curriculum, International Primary Curriculum and International Middle Years Curriculum
Ages: 2 to 14

Saint Ange French International School

Saint Ange School is a private international school offering the French curriculum. The school's curriculum is in strict compliance with the requirements of the Ministry of French Education, making it easy for children to transfer to any French school, whether in France or another location. Classes are kept to a maximum of 15, ensuring that each child is given individualised attention.

Technology is integrated into learning, and students will get to enjoy exciting activities such as 3D printing, robots, radio-controlled cars and more. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French
Ages: 2 to 11

Lifestyle in Ho Chi Minh City

Expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City will soon find that the city is packed with entertainment options and caters for all tastes and budgets from couture clothing and flashy malls to quaint arts and local handicrafts, or theatre groups and pub quizzes.


Shopping in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City has a number of shopping districts and is a fun place to shop, especially for bargain hunters.

District 1 and the markets are the best places for those wanting variety and bargaining power. Anh Dong Market and Ben Thanh Market are great places to hone bargaining prowess. Each has an assortment of products ranging from kitchen spices to silk scarves and beyond. It is always best to browse a bit before buying as vendors will mark up their prices for Western customers.

Large department stores can also be found in District 1. These house all sorts of things, such as the latest CDs and DVDs, perfumes, colognes and more.

Diamond Plaza is a popular shopping choice for designer wear, leather goods and interior decor materials. As far as clothing is concerned, most expats prefer to make use of one of the numerous, incredibly skilled and cheap tailors around town. However, traditionally the best tailors are found in Hoi An in central Vietnam.


Nightlife and entertainment in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is packed full of clubs and bars which range from small, dark pubs to very upmarket music lounges. Expats will find that most of the nightlife in Ho Chi Minh City centres on District 1.

Party-goers will soon become aware that imported drinks sold in more exclusive bars tend to significantly more expensive than local beverages. The dress code at bars and nightclubs in Ho Chi Minh City is generally pretty relaxed with no restrictions on jeans or sneakers.

Sadly, expats looking for around-the-clock entertainment in Ho Chi Minh City will be disappointed as most venues close soon after midnight.

For those who enjoy cultural activities, Ho Chi Minh City is steeped in history. It is home to a number of fascinating museums which document various elements of the country’s history and diverse culture. Expats with children should be sure to catch a traditional Vietnamese water puppet show, which is great fun for the whole family.


Eating out in Ho Chi Minh City

Expats in Ho Chi Minh City tend to head to Pham Ngu Lao Street for nightclubs, restaurants and bars. Ly Tu Trong Street in District 1 is another popular late-night spot. The city has a wide range of restaurants catering to all palates, and expats may find that Vietnamese street food is often just as good as the food found in the more expensive restaurants.

For authentic street food, it's best to hit the markets and ask Vietnamese friends what their favourites are as word-of-mouth always wins. Some dishes to try include pho bo (beef noodle soup), Saigon nem (fresh spring rolls) and bun cha (barbecued pork with noodle soup). Saigon is a port city and the seafood dishes, particularly seafood spring rolls, are mouth-wateringly delicious.

Last but not least, Vietnamese coffee is potent and tasty. Coffee shops abound and it is easy to see where the Vietnamese get their zing from. The best way to have coffee, according to the locals, is served with condensed milk over ice. There are coffee shops or kiosks on just about every street corner and the coffee served is cheap and strong. 

Weekend Breaks in Ho Chi Minh City

While the city offers its residents a range of activities, a weekend escape may be necessary from time to time to regain a sense of calmness and clarity, away from the stresses of city living. 

There are several destinations close to Ho Chi Minh City that provide an easy three-day weekend trip such as the towns of the Mekong Delta or pristine beaches of Phu Quoc. For those with more time on their hands, Vietnam’s central and northern areas boast popular travel spots.


Mui Ne

Mui Ne is a coastal beach town in southeastern Vietnam just over 125 miles (200 km) from Ho Chi Minh City.

With a driving distance of about five hours, Mui Ne is famous for its wind and kite surfing, and is a practical weekend getaway for those craving the ocean and some outdoor activity.

Popular with Russian tourists and Ho Chi Minh City dwellers, Mui Ne experiences its high season from December to May, offering budget accommodation as well as high-end resorts.

Aside from the fine beaches, Mui Ne is equally as popular for its sand dunes located about six miles (10 km) from the main resort strip.

Many expats travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne by bus. Tickets can be bought at any of the travel agencies in the Pham Ngu Lao area of Ho Chi Minh City. Buses from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne, typically leave in the mornings or evenings. Private taxis or vans can also be hired for the trip, and while this will cost much more, it will take less time.


Mekong Delta Villages

The Mekong Delta stretches throughout southern Vietnam and includes several travel destinations offering an experience that is a world away from city life. Can Tho, My Tho, Vinh Long, and Ben Tre are some of the villages in the Delta region that attract both tourists travelling through Vietnam as well as city residents.

The Mekong Delta is a biological treasure cove as well as an agricultural gold mine. It is famous for its maze of rivers and canals with floating markets and villages along with its warm and friendly people.

Life here revolves around the river and therefore activity for travellers is centred around these floating markets. Make sure to sign up for an early morning market tour to explore these river towns.

The Mekong Delta Villages offer both hostel and mid-range accommodations, along with homestays that provide a more local, Vietnamese experience.

Travel to these Delta villages can be done through open bus tours but it is heavily recommended to travel to the Delta on your own if possible. Tour operators offer full-day trips along with two to three night stays. Buses leave from Ho Chi Minh City and travel to the appropriate village. 

Many travellers, however, prefer the do-it-yourself style and hop on a motorbike for a road trip. Travel times range from two to four hours depending on the town of choice.


Phu Quoc Island

For those searching for a beach getaway but don’t have the time to fly to Thailand, look no further than Phu Quoc, a tropical island off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand.

This island offers some of the most beautiful beach scenery in Vietnam as well as some of the best seafood. Scuba diving, snorkelling, exploring the island on a motorbike, or simply relaxing and enjoying the views are the top activities on Phu Quoc.

Somewhat new on the grid for travellers, Phu Quoc embodies Thailand’s beaches, pre-development. While it is still quite an undeveloped island, this is guaranteed to change in the coming years due to extensive development plans, including a new international airport, a casino, highway constructions, and the rebuilding of the island’s city centre.

November to March is the best time to visit the island to avoid monsoon season and high humidity. Phu Quoc can be easily accessed by plane from Ho Chi Minh City’s airport. It takes under an hour to fly there and several airlines such as VietJetAir and Vietnam Airlines offer multiple daily flights.


Da Lat

Da Lat is located about 300 kilometres northeast of Ho Chi Minh City in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam. It is a popular spot for the Vietnamese and has increasingly become popular among travellers making the north to south trek.

Situated away from the coast surrounded by mountains and hills, Da Lat provides an easy escape from the heat and humidity of the city with fresh air and cool temperatures.

Da Lat is a mix between the French Alps and Vietnam, it continues to display the French/European style set previously by the colonialists, and provides a view into the past of the French legacy.

Da Lat caters to those seeking an active weekend trip as opposed to lounging on a beach. Some of the best hiking, mountain biking, and canyon exploring in Vietnam can be found in this area, as well as world-class golfing.

The best way to travel to Da Lat from the city is by bus, with numerous departure times throughout the day up until midnight. The trip takes about seven hours.

See and Do in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is a loud, exciting and vibrant destination which may be a little overwhelming to a Western expat. From the city’s delicious street food, its bustling bars and energetic open-air night markets, to its more peaceful pagodas, temples, churches and parks, Ho Chi Minh City has something to suit any mood.

Expats will have plenty to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City. To make the most of their time here, expats should make an effort to visit local bars and clubs, move away from the traditional tourist spots and not miss an opportunity to try local delicacies and street food.   

For those who are interested in the fascinating history and culture of Vietnam, there is no shortage of places to visit in Ho Chi Minh City. From peaceful temples and churches to museums providing insights into the horrific war crimes committed during the Vietnam War, there are many opportunities to learn about this beautiful country.


Popular attractions in Ho Chi Minh City

Reunification Palace (Independence Palace)

This Ho Chi Minh City landmark is a symbol of the South Vietnamese government, which thousands of Vietnamese and Americans died trying to save in 1975. Learn about the country’s tumultuous past and the Vietnam War by walking through the halls of this building.

War Remnants Museum

This museum showcases artefacts that act as a stark reminder of the cruelty that took place during the Vietnam War. While the museum provides a somewhat biased account of the war, expats interested in military history can spend hours looking at the fascinating displays.

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica

This cathedral serves as a reminder of Ho Chi Minh City’s French colonial past. The beautiful basilica dates back to 1887 and is located in the heart of the city. A visit to the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica provides a peaceful break from the hectic pace of life in Ho Chi Minh City.

Xa Loi Pagoda

The Xa Loi Pagoda, or Temple of the Buddha’s Relic, is the largest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City and can be found in District 3. Those interested in gaining insight into Vietnam’s Buddhist culture will find a visit to this beautiful temple worthwhile.

Cao Dai Temple

Visit this tranquil temple to learn about one of Vietnam’s modern religions, Caodaism, which combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Christianity. Visitors have the opportunity to watch the brightly dressed Cao Dai worshippers carry out their daily worship rituals.

Bitexco Financial Tower Skydeck

A trip to this observation deck is a must for all expats living in Ho Chi Minh City. The Bitexco Financial Tower is an iconic structure that stands tall in the middle of the city centre and offers visitors the best view over the bustling city. 

Cong Vien Van Hoa Park

This park provides a tranquil escape from Ho Chi Minh City’s hustle and bustle. Despite being located right in the heart of the city, the authorities have created a peaceful environment by making this a bicycle-free zone. Those who arrive early enough in the morning will have the opportunity to see the park full of tai chi practitioners. It also has a small sculpture garden which may be of interest to art lovers.

Saigon Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Expats who visit the gardens expecting to see a huge range of animals will be in for a disappointment, as the zoo is really in need of a facelift. However, it is still a great place to enjoy a stroll through a leafy park, see some beautiful plants, and simply escape the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

Van Thanh Park

Van Thanh Park is one of the most tranquil spots in Ho Chi Minh City. It is located on the banks of the Thi Nghe River and is a great place to relax. Try visiting in the morning before the tour groups begin to arrive.

Dai The Gioi Water Park

A visit to the Dai The Gioi Water Park is a great option for expats living in Ho Chi Minh City with children. It is also an ideal spot for anyone wanting to cool off after a day in the city’s heat. There are a number of fun slides and pools to keep the children entertained. 

What's On in Ho Chi Minh City

Expats should make an effort to witness local festivals as these offer an interesting insight into various aspects of Vietnamese culture and are a great opportunity to rub shoulders with the local population. 

Below are some of the main festivals and annual events in Ho Chi Minh City.

Tet Festival (January/February)

The Tet Festival, or the Lunar New Year, is the most celebrated event in Vietnam. It falls between 19 January and 20 February each year and lasts a whole week. A series of events are held to grandly celebrate the occasion, including massive fireworks displays and street processions. The local Vietnamese people make a huge effort to dress in their finest clothing and visit family and friends at this time of year.

Ba Thien Hau Pagoda Festival (February)

This event is a classic Chinese celebration that honours Lady Thien Hau. It is held at the Ba Thien Hau Pagoda where monks carry out ritual burnings and make offerings while being watched over by massive crowds.

Saigon Cyclo Challenge (March)

Each year a three-wheel cyclo race is held through Ho Chi Minh City. The proceeds from the event benefit a variety of local children’s charities.

Liberation Day (April)

On 30 April each year events are held to honour the end of the Vietnam War and the Fall of Saigon in 1975, which ultimately led to the reunification of the country. These are two public holidays where most Vietnamese get involved in local festival activities.

Buddha’s Birthday Festival (May)

The festival held to mark the birthday of Buddha falls on the 15th day of the fourth lunar month. In Ho Chi Minh City, major celebrations are held at the Nghia An Hoi Quan Pagoda. This Buddhist temple is beautifully decorated with colourful lanterns. Buddhist monks can be seen leading processions along the streets and praying throughout the city.

Ho Chi Minh’s Birthday (May)

Each year on 19 May events are held in Ho Chi Minh City to celebrate the birthday of Vietnam’s former president, who was a key figure in helping gain freedom for the people of Vietnam. He is a national hero and is still highly honoured by the Vietnamese, especially in the city that was named after him.

Tet Nguyen Tieu (September)

Each September the skies above Ho Chi Minh City are filled with colour and light as the residents release lanterns. There are also a number of street processions that are held to mark the occasion.

Vietnam Film Festival (December)

Every year in December, Ho Chi Minh City hosts the country’s largest film festival over a period of five days. Local and international films are showcased at cinemas across the city.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ho Chi Minh City

Expats are sure to have all sorts of questions about their future home, from weather and schooling to transport and safety. Here are a few answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Ho Chi Minh City.

What are pollution levels like in Ho Chi Minh City?

While there is a fair amount of pollution in the city, particularly air pollution from the millions of motorbikes on the city streets, it is not unbearable. On first arrival, many expats will notice the levels of air pollution as well as other issues of general cleanliness. For many locals, the most popular form of garbage disposal is burning it on the street at night.

However, the climate of the city seems to have an in-built cleaning mechanism during the wet season. Daily evening thunderstorms and rain showers tend to clear the air magnificently well.

Are there a lot of expat families in the city?

Vietnam has a very family-centered culture and this seems to be reflected in the number of expat families living in the country. There are a host of quality international schools to choose from and a significant number of extra-mural activities that cater for the whole family.

How accessible are the beaches and weekend getaway options?

With Phu Quoc Island and Nha Trang beach cheap flights away it’s easy to get out of the city for a weekend. Ho Chi Minh City is also a major regional hub which means that flying to Thailand or Singapore for a few days is equally cheap. Other weekend getaways include Da Nang, Hanoi, and the famous Mekong Delta.

What is the easiest form of transport for expats?

Most expats choose to use motorbikes or motorbike taxis to get around Ho Chi Minh City. There are also a number of trustworthy taxi companies, such as Mai Linh, that operate throughout the city. Some expats hire a car and driver, leaving the stress of negotiating the city streets to the more experienced.

Getting Around in Ho Chi Minh City

Getting around Ho Chi Minh City, at first glance, may appear to be a daunting task. With some 3 million motorbikes for its 6.6 million residents, simply crossing the street presents itself as a great challenge.

Expats living in Ho Chi Minh City usually take some time to get acquainted with the chaotic traffic conditions that the city is famous for.


Public transport in Ho Chi Minh City

The public transport system in Ho Chi Minh City centres on the city's extensive bus network. 

While buses are cheap, most expats and the locals who can afford to, prefer using motorbike taxis or private taxis. These provide the most efficient way to travel around in Ho Chi Minh City.

Construction of a metro system is currently underway, which will make getting around even easier. 

Buses  

Ho Chi Minh City has a comprehensive network of bus routes. The bright green public buses are a cheap, safe and comfortable mode of transport.

Ben Thanh Bus Station, which lies directly across from Ben Thanh Market in District 1, acts as a transport hub for the city's buses. From here buses serve the majority of suburbs in Ho Chi Minh City as well as some of the outlying areas.

Expats should get a map of the bus system which can ease the trouble or confusion of finding the right route. Expats may find that locating the correct line or station may be a challenge, especially if unable to speak Vietnamese.

Trains 

Though construction has begun, there is no intra-city rail network that serves Ho Chi Minh City.

The city’s main train station, Ga Sai Gon, is located in District 10 and is a short taxi ride away from the city centre. It is the transit hub to other destinations in Vietnam.

Trains are an ideal, inexpensive way for travellers to get around the country with connections to Da Nang, Hueé, Nha Trang, and Hanoi.


Taxis in Ho Chi Minh City

Taxis are a comfortable and affordable way to travel around Ho Chi Minh City. There is an ample supply of taxis driving throughout the streets so finding one is not difficult.

The challenge will be avoiding dishonest drivers, disreputable taxi companies and potential scams. Expats should ensure that taxi drivers are using a meter and that it is switched on at the start of a journey.

Expect very slow speeds during morning and evening rush hour. For groups travelling together, a taxi is the best way to go. For solo travellers, it will be cheaper and faster to find a motorbike taxi.

Most taxi drivers in Ho Chi Minh City speak very little English. To avoid confusion with the mispronunciation of street names it is best to have the address written down for the driver.


Motorbike taxis in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorbike taxis are by far the best and most efficient way to get around in Ho Chi Minh City. They can easily be found anywhere in the city, with drivers lining the pavement waiting for customers.

Expats should make sure they set a price before starting a journey. This is imperative and will save one from being overcharged at the end of the journey. 

It is also advisable that newcomers to Ho Chi Minh City have the address of their destination written down as this saves time. Don’t be afraid to get to know a driver if they seem competent and friendly. It is not uncommon for expats living in Vietnam to receive a driver’s number and call them later to arrange another ride.

Expats should always ensure they wear a helmet when using motorbike taxis in Ho Chi Minh City as the authorities do enforce hefty fines if this rule is broken.  


Cyclos in Ho Chi Minh City

Cyclos are great for people who have the time for a leisurely journey. With the passenger seated in front and the cyclo driver behind, this is a unique way to see the city and is best left for occasions where there is time for slow-paced exploration.

Similar to motorbike taxi rides, make sure to set a price before the ride and don't be afraid to bargain.

Expats using a cyclo to get around Ho Chi Minh City should take extra precautions to watch over their valuables. A cyclo ride is almost synonymous with tourism and passengers are at increased risk of being a victim of theft.


Driving in Ho Chi Minh City

As a visitor, it is impossible to rent and drive a car in Ho Chi Minh City without a Vietnamese driving licence.

Private car rentals with a driver are, however, available for trips outside of the city or day trips around the city. Many taxi companies will offer this option.

Another reason to avoid driving in Ho Chi Minh City is because of the lack of parking. Most of the parking facilities in the city are devoted to motorbikes rather than cars.


Motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City

Many people who settle in Ho Chi Minh City find themselves renting or buying their own motorbike to get around. It is far more straightforward for a foreigner to hire a motorbike than a car, where expats are forced to go through a bureaucratic process in order to obtain a Vietnamese driving licence.

For expats staying in Vietnam for an extended period of time or a traveller seeking an adrenaline rush, there is an endless number of places that rent motorbikes. However, it is worth taking the time to search around and find a reputable company that offers a standard monthly rental rate.

Riding a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City is best left to those who feel experienced and comfortable enough to conquer the city’s unique traffic patterns.

Traffic rules in Ho Chi Minh City are not as strictly enforced as elsewhere in the world and a right turn can happen anywhere regardless of red lights. One-way streets are not always one way and pavements are sometimes used as an extension of the road or as a shortcut to bypass traffic jams.

Expats should be aware that local motorbike drivers and passengers in Vietnam often shake their arms and hand at waist-height to let others know they will be switching lanes or turning.

Parking run by the city authorities in Ho Chi Minh City caters for motorbikes rather than cars. Many places will have attendants that keep watch over vehicles parked there. 


Cycling in Ho Chi Minh City

Expats moving to Ho Chi Minh City will soon see that locals love using their bicycles to get around. However, new arrivals are likely to find that cycling in Ho Chi Minh City is difficult in terms of keeping up with the fast-moving traffic.

Those who do decide to cycle in the city should be sure to leave the left lane for cars, buses and taxis and instead find comfort by staying in the right-hand lanes. A horn will also help make one's presence known to other road users.