Business - June 8, 2018 | 10:05 pm PT

Vietnam a dream destination for expats

Getting a job is easy, cost of living is low, and quality of life is high.

Many expats find teaching English in Vietnam a comfortable job with comfortable income. Photo courtesy of Cleverlearn

It sounded too good to be true, but Samantha Beukes decided to check the place out.

Friends had been raving on Facebook about living the good life in Vietnam.

It was true.

When she first came to Vietnam from South Africa, Beukes spent a month traveling around the most famous destinations in the country.

And then, almost effortlessly, the 25-year-old found a job that she was very happy with. Opportunities to work in Vietnam, she realized, were more easily available here than in her own country.

The abundance of job opportunities in several fields that Vietnam needs to tap international expertise in has been attracting many expats from all over the world. Between 2004 and 2015, the number of foreigners working in the country surged by more than six times, according to the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs.

Vietnam has been named among the top 10 destinations for expats in the world in the 2018 Expat Insider survey of InterNations, a global expat network with 3.1 million members.

An overwhelming majority - 81 percent - of surveyed expats described the Vietnamese people as welcoming, and 73 percent said it was easy to settle down in the country.

Official data shows that there are now 83,500 expats working in the country, a number that has been increasing steadily since Vietnam launched its Doi Moi or renovation policy in 1986, firmly putting behind the long years of war and its aftermath.

While many expats come here because finding jobs is very difficult for them back home, many are also drawn by the vibrant life they can enjoy even as they earn and save.

High demand

Vietnam’s rapid growth after years of relative isolation has also led to high demand for expertise in various areas, and this is most visible in the need for English teachers from kindergarten to university level.

“Expats are just a quick Facebook search away from finding many high paid jobs, including teaching,” Samantha said. Currently, Samantha teaches at an international school, and four out of five foreigners she knows in the country are doing the same job.

While English teaching jobs are most sought after by expats without much experience or advanced education, Vietnam also offers jobs aplenty in other sectors.

Manufacturing, banking and retails are sectors that have a high demand for expats in the country, according to Ngo Thi Ngoc Lan, regional director of Navigos Search, which provides executive search services in Vietnam.

As there is lack of qualified candidates in some specific areas, expats are always welcomed in Vietnam. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

In a survey by Navigos Group in 2017, 50 percent of business respondents in the retail sector said they had a policy to recruit foreigners. Among them, 56 percent of employers preferred candidates from Southeast Asia, and 22 percent from Europe, the survey found.

Apart from the availability of jobs, high pay is another factor that lures many foreigners to the country. Expats in Vietnam made around $88,000 a year on average in 2017, according to the Expat Explorer survey done by London-based lender HSBC. Some 72 percent of expat respondents said they were able to save more money in Vietnam compared to other countries.

“An expat is paid 30 to 50 percent more than a Vietnamese national,” Lan from Navigos told VnExpress International. In the areas of education and manufacturing, an expat can be paid two or three times higher than a Vietnamese employee to match the wages they would receive in their home country, she said.

For high-ranking positions, businesses need to provide their expat workers with other perks like tuition fees for their children, rent, private driver and airfare travel for the whole family, Lan said.

Comfortable lifestyle

Given the low cost of living in Vietnam, the salary expats receive allow them to have a very comfortable life in the country.

Having worked in Vietnam for over two years, Frenchman Benjamin Durand is very satisfied with the $2,500 paycheck he gets each month as a software engineer in Hanoi.

This salary, which is roughly what an average Vietnamese makes a year, allows him to spend generously. In the weekends, Durand often goes climbing in the mountains around Hanoi or dancing in pubs where many foreigners gather to have fun. “Living in Vietnam is a great experience,” he said.

A majority of expats enjoy traveling around the most famous detinations in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Luke Chatelain

‘Live like a king’

As of June 2018, the cost of living in two biggest cities in Vietnam are among the cheapest in the world, according to Numbeo, a collaborative online database which enables users to submit and compare living costs between cities.

Hanoi ranks 7th and Ho Chi Minh City 9th in the index, with lower costs of living than Philippines’ Manila, Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur and Thailand’s Bangkok.

Megan, an English tutor in Hanoi who asked that her last name is not used, spends only half what she used to in the United States. Furthermore, she is able to save much more in Vietnam than in South Korea, where she lived for a year before coming to Hanoi.

“You can really live like a king or queen in Vietnam if you want to,” she said.

In areas of expertise where expats are in high demand, local businesses compete to give them attractive benefits that most locals don’t get. Apollo English, one of the most popular English teaching brands in Vietnam with 30 facilities in the country, provides incentives like airfare to the country, free accommodation for the first week and assistance in getting visas and work permits.

Cleverlearn, another English teaching center, offers its foreign teachers salaries of up to $2,000 a month. The center also promises to provide assistance to expat teachers in finding housing and other needs when they first come to Vietnam.

Visible privilege

While many businesses hire foreigners to meet actual demand for human resource, there are those which employ them for the mere purpose of marketing, taking advantage of Vietnamese people’s preference for all things foreign.

Advertisement agencies often employ expats to promote a product as they believe the appearance of a foreigner, especially a Western one, will attract more customers.

Advertisements featuring expat models are popular in Vietnam where many believe foreigners are more wealthy and professional. Photo by VnExpress/Dat Nguyen

This preference might not be well placed, sociologists say. “Many Vietnamese think that foreigners are wealthy and skilled in their profession, but that’s not always true,” said Dr Trinh Hoa Binh, deputy secretary of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences.

The phenomenon reflects a lack of confidence of Vietnamese people in their own distinct culture, Binh told VnExpress International. He added that when Vietnamese people are more educated, they will start to see the true value of foreign labor in the country.

But for now, such perceptions don’t bother expats happily enjoying their lives and privilege in Vietnam.

Samantha, the English teacher from South Africa, says Vietnam will continue to be her second home in the foreseeable future as she has a very satisfying income in a culture where people are friendly and work opportunities are abundant.

“I know of people back in my country who want to come over for work too", Samantha said. 

Dat Nguyen