Country Facts – Vietnam
This information is provided to offer guidance to those seeking to live and work overseas. For more information we recommend that you speak with your national government Foreign Office (or equivalent).
An expatriate’s guide to living and working in Vietnam
The eastern-most country on the Indochina Peninsula, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam shares borders with China, Laos and Cambodia and has a sweeping coastline along the South China Sea.
Vietnam is known for its gorgeous beaches – particularly Halong Bay – and lush tropical forests as well as expansive farmland, stunning river basins and vibrant cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang.
Whether you’re travelling to Vietnam for a visit, or are considering a longer-term stay in the country to study, work or live, it’s always a good idea to learn all you can about the region before you pack your bags – that way, you know what to expect when you arrive.
Local laws and customs
A visa is required for all visitors to Vietnam. While those travelling to the country as tourists can arrange for a visa after arriving in the country, it’s always best to get this taken care of before you arrive – and if you’re planning to stay for a longer period, having your paperwork in order before you board a plane is a must. Remaining in the country longer than authorised, or without permission is a serious matter that could result in detainment and fines.
Penalties for drugs offenses are extremely severe in Vietnam, with punishment for even small quantities of illegal substances often being the death sentence.
When checking into a hotel, you will be required to show your passport and your host will register your arrival with the local police. Once this task is taken care of, your passport should be immediately returned to you – never give your passport as a deposit for a room or any other purpose.
While people living in Vietnam tend to have an overall good quality of health, healthcare can be difficult to come by, particularly in rural areas. Government subsidies only cover around 20 per cent of the expenses – this means that the majority of healthcare costs must be paid by individuals.
The Vietnamese government has been working to improve the healthcare system since the 1990s, and great progress has been made. A universal healthcare system, modelled after the one that’s currently in place in Thailand, is being developed and is expected to be in place in 2014. As an expatriate living in Vietnam, opting for international medical insurance is the best way to ensure you’ll be able to get the care you need when you need it.
Schooling for kids
There are five levels of education in Vietnam. These are preschool, primary school, secondary school, high school and higher education. A child’s formal education generally lasts for twelve years, beginning with primary school at the age of six and finishing with three years of high school. For most students in basic education, classes are held on a half-day basis.
State-run schools are the most common type of institution and in big cities these may include kindergarten, as well as the compulsory levels. In addition, there are numerous private schools, as well as semi-public and people-founded establishments – all are monitored by the government.
The role of the family is extremely important in Vietnamese culture, as is the significance of hierarchy – everyone has a distinct place and it is important to recognise this fact, whether it’s in the home or workplace.
If you’re invited into a Vietnamese home, be sure to bring a gift such as fruits, sweets or flowers – but be sure to avoid anything black, as well as yellow flowers and chrysanthemums, as these are all considered to be back luck.
When sitting down to eat, the oldest person should be the first to sit and your utensils will most likely be a pair of chopsticks and a flat spoon. Meals are typically served family style, and when passing dishes be sure to use both hands.
Vietnamese is by far the most commonly spoken language in the country. The language has many similarities with Chinese – they share much of the same vocabulary and until the 13th century, written Vietnamese used Chinese characters. A number other languages are also spoken throughout the country – these include Tay, Cham, Murong and Khmer.
Since Vietnam was for many years a French colony, much of the population also speaks French, particularly people belonging to older generations. Meanwhile, due to the country’s ties with the Soviet bloc during the mid-20th century, Russian, German, Czech and Polish are also commonly spoken.
In addition, English is becoming increasingly popular as a second language due mainly to business ties with western countries. In fact, learning English is often required in school and it is regularly used in higher education.
Of course, if you’re planning on travelling to Vietnam please ensure you have adequate expat travel insurance.