Vietnam ideal for foreigners' retirement

By Xanh Le   June 11, 2023 | 03:00 pm PT
Rob Joseph decided he’d retire to Vietnam the moment local passers-by helped him out of a sticky situation he’d gotten into with a taxi driver here years ago.

Joseph, an Australian in his 70s, said that when he questioned the calculations of his taxi’s dubious meter, the driver got angry and locked the doors, preventing the traveler from exiting the vehicle. The driver then started shouting to people in the street, calling his passenger a liar.

"He [the taxi driver] thought people would help him. But they gathered to help me, which surprised me," Joseph said.

"And that is the moment when I decided to relocate to Vietnam after retiring."

Beside the friendliness and enthusiasm of people, Joseph also named the low cost of living in Vietnam as one of his reasons for retiring to Vietnam.

"I spend VND3 million (around $128) a month on food in Vietnam," he said.

"But I had to spend five times that amount, or even ten times if I ate out every day, back when I was in Australia."

He said he was particularly impressed with how much cheaper the cost of fresh food in Vietnam was, especially vegetables and fruits, compared to his home country.

According to a survey conducted of American expatriates by International Living magazine, Vietnam is among the 10 most ideal countries for people of retirement age.

Foreign retirees are increasingly seeking to retire in Vietnam. Photo illustration by Pexels

Foreigners are increasingly seeking to retire in Vietnam. Photo illustration by Pexels

American magazine Travel+Leisure has also listed Vietnam among the eight cheapest countries to retire worldwide, citing costs of living, rents, and high-quality healthcare services that were all "affordable."

Ander Krystad, 67, from Norway, is another retiree who has chosen to live in Vietnam. He says Vietnam’s low cost of living, tropical climate, and beautiful scenery have contributed to improving his physical and mental health after retirement.

"You know, it is very cold in Norway, sometimes it even snows in June," says Krystad.

"I prefer tropical climate, and Vietnam is a country that has a lot of beautiful scenery."

Throughout his childhood and early adulthood, Krystad became familiar with the pictures and stories of the war in Vietnam on the news. But when he first came to the country, he realized that Vietnam is totally different from what he expected after watching the media.

"After three or four years, I totally fell in love with Vietnam," he said.

"I wanted to stay here, not only to make money, but also after that."

So, after officially retiring in 2018, Krystad and his wife built a house in Hue to enjoy their retirement. They have not been back to Norway since then.

Krystad also feels inspired by Vietnamese people’s praiseworthy optimism and collective culture. He thinks of the Vietnamese as a hard-working people whose sense of humor reminds him of Norwegian humor.

Krystad even published a book about his experiences retiring in Hue. After the book was published, people from all over the world sent him questions.

"The number of people interested in retiring in Vietnam, who have sent me their questions, has been rising day by day," he says.

"Some of my friends from my life back home have also asked me about how they could retire in Vietnam, to which I had to tell them that unfortunately there have not been many policies supporting this from authorities yet."

Relocating after retirement is a popular trend worldwide, especially for those who lived in expensive cities like Joseph and Krystad.

But there are currently a few options for foreigners who want to retire in Vietnam to choose from.

First, those who have a spouse of Vietnamese nationality are eligible to apply for a visa exemption for five years.

Second, foreigners could apply for an investor visa. In order to be qualified for this, they will have to establish a Vietnam-based company. Their visa will then be granted a length of stay in accordance with the amount of money they invested in that company in Vietnam. This type of visa is valid for up to five years.

Third, those who do not have enough resources to apply for an investor visa can apply for a business visa to enter Vietnam. This type of visa is valid for up to three months unless the visa holders have a work permit, which will enable them to apply for a temporary residence permit in Vietnam.

Last, those who are not classified in these groups can apply for a tourist visa, which is valid for one month. They can renew their visa by traveling out of the country and then re-entering.

Joseph is employing this measure. As an APEC card holder who can stay in Vietnam for up to six months, every six months, he has to cross a border and then re-enter.

Because of that, he and other foreigners interested in retiring in Vietnam are waiting for favorable policies in Vietnam to support foreign retirees.

"I think the tourism industry will benefit from that," says Joseph.

"Those who come to Vietnam to retire will spend money on accommodation, eating at restaurants, groceries, transport, and traveling. I think Vietnam should be more open if it wants to attract money from abroad."

Joseph says based on his experience, Thailand is a good example of employing such policies.

"They are promoting themselves as a country for foreign retirees."

"Many of my acquaintances have chosen to retire in Thailand just because there has not been such a visa type in Vietnam yet."

Other countries in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore, have all issued retirement visas for foreigners, aiming to make themselves the "second home country" for foreign retirees.

Steven Wolstenholme, President & CEO of Hoiana Resort & Golf, a five-star resort in Hoi An, Vietnam, said this would be a promising idea for Vietnam, too.

He said that foreign retirees will bring nothing but good to Vietnam, as they do not come to the country to find a job, and thus, will not compete with local laborers.

"Though I do miss my family in Norway, I still choose to stay in Vietnam," said Kyrstad. "I have five friends who said they would also choose to retire in Vietnam if the country issued a retirement visa."

He sighed. "So I hope the Vietnamese government does more to encourage foreigners to retire here."

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