By Samuel Roberts - Former Ho Chi Minh City Expat
Retiring in Ho Chi Minh City means living in the biggest city in Vietnam. It's a sprawling metropolis with a population of 13 million and 7 million registered motorcycles - this is one of the most energetic places in the world. The city is known for its incredible cuisine, extreme traffic, sheer density and vast array of markets.
Ho Chi Minh City is overwhelming at times but it does have a classic Asian charm that makes it an exciting, but very different place to live compared to the Western hemisphere. This article will give you an insight into life as a retiree in the biggest city in Vietnam.
Pros of Retiring in Ho Chi Minh City
1. Low Cost of Living
Vietnam uses the Vietnamese Dong, which is an exchange rate of 1 USD = 23,165.00 VND. It's considered a weaker currency on the international stage and this makes life in Ho Chi Minh City very affordable.
Everything from rent to food is considerably lower than in the west. It's entirely possible to live off street food and only spend $5 per day...yet eat some of the most incredible food of your life.
You can also find apartments for very cheap. It's possible to get a 30th floor, three-bedroom fully furnished apartment with glorious views of the city skyline for around $1000 per month. The low cost of living is a massive pro to living in Ho Chi Minh City.
2. Fantastic Cuisine
Vietnamese food has become more and more reputable around the world in recent years. It can be a delicious cuisine and it's incredibly cheap to eat. Famous dishes include pho, a classic Vietnamese style noodle soup that can be found from street vendors for little over $1 a bowl.
Bánh mì is a delicious sandwich that is found on every street corner. It can be purchased for $1.50 in the city and could be the tastiest sandwich you've ever had. The Vietnamese cuisine is vast, affordable and healthy...a wonderful bonus of living in Ho Chi Minh City.
If you've ever dreamed of retiring somewhere where you could afford to never cook again...this is the place for you!
3. Relaxed Pace of Life
Although the city is hugely energetic due to the excessive number of cars and bikes, the locals tend to live life in a relaxed manner. The Vietnamese are very much a community and family-oriented culture, and low stress is a vital part of their culture.
Living in Ho Chi Minh City means a slower pace of life than living in a western city, and this will appeal to many retired people.
4. Great Location
Ho Chi Minh City is in the south of Vietnam so accessing the rest of Asia is cheap and easy. It's possible to get around Southeast Asia with low-cost airlines such as Air Asia for no more than $100. Many great places are within hours of reach from Ho Chi Minh City, such as Bali, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
It's effortless to get out of Ho Chi Minh City and fly to another city for a weekend break, or head to some exotic tropical island somewhere in the Philippines or Indonesia.
The excellent location means that doing business in neighboring countries is easy due to the reliable airlines, cheap airfares and good connectivity between the countries.
Cons of Retiring in Ho Chi Minh City
The traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is pretty wild, which might be an understatement. Most of the locals ride motorcycles, and it's common to see motorcycles driving less than a meter apart. There is beauty in how the locals can navigate the roads with the sheer volume of traffic.
However, noise pollution is very high.
If you're in the city, then you will not escape the constant sound of millions of motorcycles riding around the city. It's rather arduous at times, and some people will hate this and want to get out ASAP.
Locals will ride their motorcycles on the sidewalks when the roads are busy. This is normal in the local culture, but it can be dangerous no matter how good Vietnamese drivers are.
Also, this is something that you can't really understand via reading and researching. If you're thinking of retiring in Ho Chi Minh City, you should visit first. Make sure this is something you're willing to put up with.
Although Ho Chi Minh City is a developing city, the local infrastructure hasn't quite developed yet. Public transport is exceptionally cheap, but it's inefficient and underdeveloped in comparison to neighboring Southeast Asian cities like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.
The best way to get around the city is via bike taxi, which is easy to use via the Grab or Go Viet app.
Alternatively, it's even cheaper to buy a motorbike. However, be aware, the roads in HCMC use completely different driving rules and standards. It may be daunting to drive on these roads at first, and many expats will avoid this and opt for the safer route of taxis.
Pollution is a massive issue in the city, and the insane number of motorcycles is a prime cause. Most of the locals will wear masks to avoid breathing in the air.
It's entirely possible to wake up to a city shrouded by smog. If you visit one of the observation decks during this time, you will see just how much smog is in Ho Chi Minh City. If you have any breathing issues like asthma and you need clean, fresh air, then this city might not be ideal for you.
Ho Chi Minh City is this city's 6th official name. Saigon was #4.
The Local Vietnamese Economy
Vietnam has seen significant economic reforms over the last 40 years, and the country is developing at a fast speed. Ho Chi Minh City is the financial hub of Vietnam, despite it not being the capital of the nation. A considerable chunk of Vietnam's growing services and goods industry is in Ho Chi Minh City. And most of the country's foreign investment lands here too.
According to PWC, Vietnam is one of the worlds fastest-growing economies. The GDP as of 2020 is around $340 billion, still considerably behind the US, Europe and other Asian countries such as Japan or South Korea but growing fast.
Despite this, poverty is still everywhere. The living standards of the country are rising fast, yet signs of poverty are still very prevalent. Ho Chi Minh City is a rapidly developing city with a promising future. Still, there is an incredibly long way to go before it catches up with neighboring cities like Tokyo, Seoul or Hong Kong.
How Safe is Ho Chi Minh City?
The city ranks generally low in terms of crime rates. People feel safe the vast majority of the time. Mobile phone theft is prevalent in the city. Be careful if you have your phone out while walking on the roads because motorcyclists are known to snatch mobile phones out of people's hands while driving.
Pickpocketing is not uncommon either, especially in crowded areas, of which there are many. Generally, the biggest issue you're going to face is petty theft and maybe the odd scam here and there. Overall, the city is safe if you use common sense and take standard precautions.
What is the Weather Like in Ho Chi Minh City?
A generally hot tropical climate, the weather in Ho Chi Minh City is dependent on what time of the year that you are in the city. There are rainy seasons and hot seasons. The rainy season is between May to September. It's normal to see 200-300 mm (8-12 inches) of rainfall during this period and typhoons are not uncommon during this time either.
December to March has relatively low rain and the highest temperatures. Regardless of time of year, it is always hot and steamy with average highs of 86-95°F (30-35 °C).
What Languages are Spoken? Can You Get by with English?
The local language is Vietnamese and some locals can speak English, but many locals speak limited English. Although there is a language barrier in Ho Chi Minh City, it's unlikely to be too much of an issue. Generally speaking, you can get by speaking English.
A lot of this will depend on what you plan on doing while in the city. If you're starting a business and need to communicate with many locals, the language barrier might provide a stumbling block with specific demographics. Vietnamese youth speak more English and the development of the English language is a critical focus for the country.
Ho Chi Minh City is a cash-based culture. Make sure to have cash with you when in the city as very few places accept credit cards.
What is the Local Vietnamese Culture Like?
The Vietnamese culture is very much eastern collectivist. The Vietnamese are a very traditional culture and love their traditions. The cultural difference is quite fascinating to an outsider that has grown up in the west.
It's essential to understand the 'saving face' culture in Vietnam. It's prevalent and always there. It's something that must be known about if you live in the city. If you're working or owning a business in Ho Chi Minh City, then you will be exposed to saving face culture daily.
It's wise to be non-confrontational at all times if possible as the locals take confrontation as losing face. Generally, the locals are very friendly to outsiders; many will even try to practice English with you.
What Activities Do Locals Enjoy?
Although nightlife isn't for everyone, the locals love to go out and have fun. There are many popular nightclubs and bars in and around Bui Vien, which is the most lively district for bars and street food in the city.
The locals love to go shopping and will frequent the markets throughout the city, such as Ben Tanh and An Dong. You can buy some excellent quality clothing with super low prices at these markets.
Soccer is an incredibly popular sport in Vietnam and the locals love to play the sport. You will find lots of locals playing soccer and watching matches on TV. Soccer is an integral part of Vietnamese culture.
Dining out is a massive part of local culture as well. Many locals will eat out on a nightly basis and many restaurants will have tables and chairs on the sidewalks where you can grab something to eat and sit among the locals.
Getting a Long-Term Visa for Retiring in Vietnam
Vietnam currently doesn't have a retirement visa. US citizens can obtain a long-term visa good for up to a year. But...there's a catch. Even with the year-long visa, you can't stay in the country for more than 3 months at a time.
So...how are so many Americans retiring there? Many of them do visa runs. These are pre-planned quarterly trips outside of the country. Even a few hours can qualify. After a year goes by just renew, rinse and repeat.
Visa rules vary by country so you'll need to do specific research on visas for the particular country where you have citizenship.
Cost of Living Chart for Ho Chi Minh City
Cost of Living Rank
431st out of 587
1 Bdr Apartment in City
$570 per month
1 Bdr Apartment Outside City
$405 per month
Meal for Two, Mid-Range
In summary, Ho Chi Minh City is a classic big city in Asia. It has its pitfalls such as terrible traffic, awful pollution, limited infrastructure and overwhelming noise. Still, it's incredibly cheap, developing fast, excellent food and acceptable living standards if you can afford them. Vietnamese culture is different from the western world, and although, we share the same love for soccer, food and socializing. There are significant cultural differences that will shock, and maybe frustrate you if you're not used to the developing world.
Ho Chi Minh City is an up and coming city that will develop fast in the 21st century. There are many benefits to living here.
Quick Facts Chart About Retiring in Ho Chi Minh City
Hot and humid year-round with more overcast skies during the wet season. Average temps are from 71°F and 94°F
Flight time to U.S.
23 hours by plane to New York; 16 hours to Los Angeles
Vietnamese Dong - credit cards not widely accepted
No - Visa rules vary by country.
Available but not the best. Bike taxis are plentiful.