Overseas Vietnamese return home for retirement

By Phan Duong   June 20, 2023 | 03:35 pm PT
As soon as Bao Hoa retired from his Los Angeles city government job in southern California, he decided to go back to his roots and live in Vietnam.

"For me, my childhood memories in Vietnam are the most peaceful and beautiful. At this age, when I want to enjoy life and relax, there is no more suitable place than home," Hoa said of his decision to return to Vietnam in 2012, after more than 40 years of living in the U.S.

Hoa graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, majoring in mechanical engineering. Before retiring, he worked as a project manager at the Los Angeles Department of Electricity and Water. At the age of 55, after 30 years of work and qualifying for retirement, he decided to start a new chapter in his life.

In 2012, Hoa brought his wife and youngest daughter back to Da Nang, while his two older daughters, who were married, remained in the U.S.

In Da Nang, Hoa and his overseas Vietnamese friends invested in building high-end apartments along the coast of the Son Tra Peninsula.

"I live in an apartment that faces the city because I like the vibrance of the day and night here," Hoa said.

Every morning, Hoa, 66, runs along the coast and swims in the sea of Da Nang.

"The sea here is so clean and running barefoot on the sand is one of the most enjoyable experiences since I came back home," he said.

Ông Bảo Hòa (áo số 60), 70 tuổi, đang có lịch tập cố định mỗi tuần cùng các runner trẻ hơn để tham dự Cuộc thi marathon quốc tế Đà Nẵng, sẽ diễn ra tháng 8 tới. Ảnh: Nhân vật cung cấp

Bao Hoa (number 60) at the finish line of the 2016 Da Nang International Marathon. Photo courtesy of Bao Hoa

For Dam The Quyen, 53, the happiest day of his life was the day he was officially granted Vietnamese citizenship after 45 years as a Canadian citizen.

"From now on, there will be no barriers for me on my journey back to my roots," Quyen said.

"Origin" is a word that Quyen once denied. His mother is from the urban district of Soc Son in Hanoi, and his father is Chinese. Canada took his family in as refugees in 1978 when he was eight years old. Growing up in the city of Guelph, Ontario, Quyen's childhood was filled with days of poverty, discrimination and racism.

"Back then, I didn't want to learn Vietnamese, didn't want to eat Vietnamese food, didn't want to have anything to do with Vietnam," he said.

Quyen graduated with a degree in Tourism and Hotel Management from the University of Guelph and stayed there to work as an event organizer. The salary and benefits were good, he said, but the job was stressful, so he decided to quit in 2018.

Single and free from financial pressure, an opportunity brought Quyen to Vietnam as a volunteer for the World University Service of Canada (WUSC). His job was helping Canadian citizens when they come to Vietnam, and teaching tourism, restaurant and hotel trades at a number of vocational schools, colleges and universities across the country.

The life of this Vietnamese-Canadian changed from there. The longer he stayed in Vietnam, the more he learned to speak his mother tongue, the more he learned about Vietnamese culture and the more he learned to eat and enjoy Vietnamese food.

"From the first moment, I was addicted to Vietnam. I want to travel a lot and meet a lot of people to fill the empty space inside," Quyen said.

Anh Thế Quyền, 53 tuổi,

Dam The Quyen at a coffee shop in Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi in June 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

According to Peter Hong, standing vice president of the Overseas Vietnamese Entrepreneurs Association, there are about 5.5 million overseas Vietnamese and more than one million people with at least one Vietnamese parent or grandparent.

Of these, more than 20% are of retirement age and most of them want to return to Vietnam to live, invest and stay close to their roots in the last years of their lives. A study by researchers in Australia revealed that 170,000 of the 350,000 overseas Vietnamese in Australia want to spend their retirement in Vietnam.

A survey by the HCMC Real Estate Club (HREC) showed that the majority of overseas Vietnam returning home want to live in HCMC and other developing or new residential areas.

"There are currently about three million overseas Vietnamese who want to own real estate when they come back to live in Vietnam," said Nguyen Quoc Bao, chairman of HREC.

Bao listed three top reasons why they choose to retire in Vietnam. The first is the thought of returning to their roots, speaking their mother tongue, eating local food and living in a community of people with the same culture. For many overseas Vietnamese, a difficult life abroad and being subject to racial discrimination further compels them to return home.

Secondly, Vietnam is increasingly developing in terms of infrastructure, utilities and quality of life -- but the cost of living here is still much cheaper than living in foreign countries.

Last but not least, after a whole life of working abroad with little interaction, fun and entertainment, Vietnam is considered an easy place to take it easy and enjoy life, as it is comfortable and there are many places to relax and have fun.

Big plans

Hoa said he had spent 10 years preparing a plan for retirement Vietnam. He studied how much it would cost for him to live, he researched the best places to live, and he learned how he would be able to receive his retirement payments from the U.S. while living abroad. He bought extra insurance in case of emergency.

The most difficult thing for him is not finances but family. He was alone when he came to the U.S., now his family has 12 people including his wife, children, grandchildren and in-laws.

"It’s very difficult to move an old tree from its location," Hoa said. Fortunately, nowadays communication is very easy through social networks and visiting each other is also more convenient.

Returning home after 40 years abroad, Hoa and his wife had no problem adapting to the life here. His wife likes to go to the market every day to buy fresh vegetables and seafood – "they are very cheap," she said.

Hoa also has a lot of work to do.

He was one of the first people to help popularize running in Da Nang. He participates in activities aiming to protect the marine environment and local wildlife and is the vice president of the city's overseas Vietnamese association. He also established a famous American-style coffee brand in Da Nang

Hao was especially impressed with modern Vietnam during a gallstone surgery in 2014. He was in severe pain and had to go to the emergency room. Entering the hospital, he realized that the equipment there was much more modern than in the U.S., the rooms were clean and the service was excellent.

He was surprised to learn that his doctor had performed gallstone surgery on 2,000 patients. The operation was successful and he stayed in the hospital for another 14 days before going home. He only had to pay $7,500 for his hospital bill.

"I got the best health care here. The best thing is that my insurance company paid a much smaller fee than in the U.S.," Hoa said.

Three years earlier, his wife had an appendectomy and spent three days in a U.S. hospital, which cost the insurance company nearly $100,000.

Quyen also likes the convenient and comfortable life in Vietnam. When he was still living in Canada, every visit to the dentist, or simply a haircut took him a whole week waiting for an appointment. His mother had to wait for a long time just for appointments with a family doctor.

The cost to hire a caregiver was also expensive. When Quyen returned to Vietnam, he rented an apartment with a view of West Lake in Hanoi, and his total living cost per month was only about $1,500.

Hoa and Quyen are both very hopeful that Vietnam will soon implement changes to make it easier for overseas Vietnamese to return home. In addition to a less strict visa policy, they want their assets in Vietnam to be under their names, not a company or acquaintances since the risk of losing it all one day is relevant.

"I want to own houses and vehicles under my name, not someone else’s," Hoa said.

Peter Hong said overseas Vietnamese who want to return home are mostly intellectuals and businessmen that have enough money to buy houses, land and other real estate.

An amendment to the Land Law is necessary to boost development by helping Vietnamese people from abroad work here, and at the same time to attract remittances, according to Hong.

One day in early June, Quyen visited a university in Hanoi wanting to learn more about Vietnamese tourism, and at the same time find an opportunity to share his knowledge. In late 2022, he also welcomed his 93-year-old mother from Canada to live the last days of her life in her homeland.

"In Canada, I'm like an outsider. Going back to Vietnam, even though I’m an overseas Vietnamese, I feel comfortable," he said.

As for Hoa, he has accomplished a lot in 11 years of retirement in Vietnam. However, with decades of experience in energy and power project management, plus a master's degree in International Business Administration, he still has not found an opportunity to share his knowledge after many years of accumulating experience in the U.S.

"Teaching and passing on knowledge here is my biggest goal in the coming years," he said.

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