Ho Chi Minh City (also known by its former name, "Saigon") is an incredibly affordable city to live in, but it may cost more than you expect. You have to consider that it is a booming metropolis with fast internet, all the modern conveniences you could desire, and a thriving expat scene. So in comparison to similar cities like Singapore or Bangkok, it's actually quite cheap!
- <skip to budget details>. Monthly budget per person of less than $1500
- The Low cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City doesn't mean low quality of life
- HCMC is the largest city in Vietnam with all the modern conveniences
- Affordable luxuries and indulgent splurges are a fraction of the cost
My husband and I left the US in 2016 to travel the world and write a bit about our experiences. We knew we wanted to settle down and have kids, so we wanted to tick a few remaining items off our bucket list. One of those was to live in another country.
We originally planned to move to Bangkok, Thailand, but from the minute we stepped foot in Ho Chi Minh City (sometimes abbreviated HCMC), we knew we wanted to live here. We loved the friendly locals, the delicious street food, and how the city felt so alive. Just trying to cross the street through the sea of motorbikes was unlike anything we'd ever experienced before. And after doing a bit of research on the healthcare system in Vietnam (yes, we had our baby here), we were sold.
Usually, when we tell people that we pay $1,000 USD per month in rent, a look of shock and horror crosses their faces. Then we explain, "yeah, but it's in a new building, on the 43rd floor, it's furnished, it has three bedrooms, and we have a gym and a pool". But I definitely agree; when we initially moved to Saigon in September of 2019, I assumed we'd be paying a third of that.
Before our big move, we spent some time living in Honolulu, Hawaii (crazy expensive), and Portland, Oregon (moderately expensive). In comparison, we're paying less in rent than we have in years. Plus, there are countless other perks to living in Vietnam. For instance, our housekeeper only charges us 100k VND (~$4 USD) per hour and adamantly refuses to take any more.
Read on to learn more about the cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City, our monthly budget, and the pros and cons of moving here.
Money in Vietnam is called Dong. The exchange rate at the time of this article, it's about 23,000 Vietnamese Dong (VND) to $1 USD. When we say 100,000 VND, that's only about $4 USD. For reference, 1 Euro (EUR) = ~27,000 VND
Expats Living in Ho Chi Minh City
As the 2nd largest producer, coffee has become a part of Vietnamese culture. Cong is a popular cafe found in almost any district in HCMC
Where do expats live in Ho Chi Minh City?
Ho Chi Minh City is on pretty much every traveler's Vietnam itinerary. But while most tourists spend all of their time in District 1 (Downtown), most expats live in the "Thao Dien" neighborhood of District 2. Here you'll find trendy cafes, cute boutiques, gourmet restaurants, and specialty grocery stores.
Can foreigners work in Vietnam?
While many expats work as pilots, English language teachers, or they've started their own business; there are just as many who have followed their partner's job here and don't work. It's not easy to find a company that will hire a foreigner, sponsor your work visa, and pays you a wage that you'd expect based on your previous salary.
Expat Life In Ho Chi Minh City
If you're lucky enough to live in Ho Chi Minh City as an unemployed expat, you can indulge yourself in shopping and spa sessions all day, every day! Spend the morning practicing yoga or working out in one of the many gyms in Thao Dien. Then treat yourself to a 90-minute massage at one of the best spas in town - it'll only cost you 500,000 VND. Then a long, leisurely breakfast at Vintage Emporium, where you'll find Western favorites like avocado toast and eggs benedict.
If you want to experience "real" life in Vietnam, take a Grab bike (it's like Uber except you ride on the back of a motorbike, and most rides cost no more than $1) to District 5 (Chinatown) to check out the vibrant markets.
And when you get home, your house will be sparkling clean as your housekeeper was busy while you were out (as previously mentioned, 100,000 VND/hour is the going rate). You can order dinner in, or there are plenty of options for dining out in the city. There's no cuisine type that you can't find in Saigon.
Common Expat Cultural Mistakes: You probably know about taking off your shoes in a house, but do you know the custom with hats?
To help first-time expats avoid embarrassment or, worse, potentially insulting your host country, I have compiled a List of Cultural Etiquette and Customs for expats moving to Vietnam
What Is The Cost Of Living In Ho Chi Minh City?
|Total Monthly Expense||$2,967|
|COST PER MONTH|
|Rent- Furnished 3-bedroom/2-bath apartment with pool and gym||1000|
|Housekeeping Services 3-hours 2 times per week||104|
|Water/Sewer/Management/Electricity/High Speed Internet||153|
|Cell Phone- 60 GB Internet Per Month||12|
|Total Housing Expense||1269|
|Home Cooked Meals||-|
|Local Street Food||-|
|Casual Cafe 7 times per Week||660|
|Mid-Priced Restaurant 7 times per Week||607|
|Total Food Expense||1266|
|1st run movie once per Month||9|
|Budget Night Out-Karaoke and 3 Beers twice per Month||16|
|Yoga Classes 5 times per Month||53|
|Big Box Gym (Weights and Group Classes)||24|
|Grab Bike 12 times per Week||52|
|Uber/Taxi 2 times per Week||19|
|Total Transportation Expense||71|
|Travel Health Insurance||100|
|Health Care Expense||100|
|90 minute massage 2 times per month||61|
|Personal Care Items- Shampoo, Soaps, Etc.||40|
|Household Items- Laundry Soap, Tools, Dishes, Etc.||40|
|Full Service Laundry 2 Loads Per Month||20|
|Total Personal Care and Misc Expense||161|
|Exchange Rate to $1 USD to VND (Vietnamese Dong)||23010|
EDITOR'S NOTE : Val and Nick share their monthly budget as a couple, plus a small baby. Most cost of living breakdowns on Nomadic FIRE are calculated for a single person. When comparing this cost of living guide to others on Nomadic FIRE, keep in mind their monthly budget is for two people.
When we initially moved to Ho Chi Minh City in 2019, we were pregnant but still childfree. We loved eating potentially questionable street food while sitting on tiny red plastic stools and marveling at the hectic pace of life in Vietnam. It was pretty standard for us to pay 50,000 VND (~$2 USD) for a giant bowl of pho and 20,000 VND (less than $1 USD) for an iced coffee.
There are so many amazing places to visit in Vietnam, and when we first arrived, we loved jet-setting around the country. Vietnam has several budget airlines, and you can get pretty much anywhere for $50 USD. If we "splurge" on a resort, we'll pay $150-200/night, but that would be staying in our private villa and include daily spa treatments. You can also find charming bungalows in Northern Vietnam for as little as $25/night (with breakfast included).
Since the beginning of the year, we've had a few changes to our lifestyle: a new baby and COVID. Luckily Vietnam has gone a fantastic job controlling the virus, but it has put a damper on our travel plans. And the new baby put a damper on our cheap street food dining options.
How do costs in HCMC compare to the United States?
Here are the average prices for a couple plus a child in a US city (Portland) compared to HCMC.
The Top 4 essential costs in the US are housing, food, transportation, and healthcare. These 4 expenses make up 68% of the average costs in a major city.
Cost for two people and one child
Total Average Per Month
Save 30% on Major Monthly Expenses
Even living lavishly with a maid, frequent meals out, and regular massages, the low cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City allows expats to save nearly $14,000 per year compared to life in a medium-cost city in the US.
HOW DOES THE COST OF LIVING IN HCMC VIETNAM COMPARE TO OTHER CITIES?
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What Kind of Lifestyle Can I Afford On $3000 Per Month?
Personal services are very affordable. Massages, tailored clothing, childcare, and maid service are a fraction of the cost.
EDITOR'S NOTE : Let's add some context to the $3000 budget. On a per person basis, that is $1500 per month.
The average income for a middle-class professional (accountant, developer, etc.) in Vietnam is only $450 per month. A monthly budget of $1500 per person, 3X what a local professional makes, would be considered a luxury.
How Much Is Rent In Ho Chi Minh City?
As previously mentioned, we live in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom furnished apartment on the 43rd floor of a new-ish building in Binh Thanh. We pay $1,000 USD a month for rent, plus we are responsible for paying utilities: water (usually $8/month), electricity (usually $80/month), management fee ($60/month), and internet ($5/month). Total monthly costs in utilities are roughly $153 USD.
Our apartment is fully furnished, and our building includes a gym and a pool. The real selling point for us is that we are right near a big mall (crucial for air-conditioned walks with a baby) and the nicest park in all of Saigon, "Central Park."
Our apartment is in Binh Thanh, a fantastic location that we'd highly recommend to anyone looking to move to Ho Chi Minh City. There are some great looking apartment buildings here, but the surrounding area is still relatively local. Plus, it's close to both District 1 (downtown) and Thao Dien (the expat area). There are also numerous funky, up-and-coming bars and restaurants popping up all over Binh Thanh.
Thao Dien is the most popular expat area in the city. Depending on your budget, you can find one-bedroom apartments anywhere from $200 USD/month on up. You'll get barebones accommodation with a rock hard mattress and possibly a bug infestation for $200, but there are plenty of people who are happy with that. If you're willing to pay $500-600 USD, you can find lots of apartments in safe buildings, and often a cleaning service is included.
INSIDER TIP : Apartment Hunting Tips For Expats: It's effortless to find apartment rentals in Ho Chi Minh City, regardless of your budget. There are countless Facebook groups where you can write a simple post about what you're looking for, and real estate agents will inundate you with listings.
Here are a few to check out when you are apartment hunting:
How Much Is Your Monthly Food Budget?
Digging into a bowl of Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup) for breakfast is common practice in Vietnam.
I'm almost embarrassed to tell you about our "food lifestyle" in Ho Chi Minh City. No self-respecting Vietnamese person would ever dream of spending what we do in a day on food. But here goes.
We generally start the day with either a breakfast bagel from Bagel Brothers (2 bagel sandwiches cost about 250,000 VND) or a breakfast burrito from Shelley's (2 vegetarian burritos cost about 300,000). Yes, we eat bagel sandwiches in Vietnam. I told you this was embarrassing. And I get a large cold brew coffee from my favorite local coffee shop for 50,000 VND (~$2 USD).
We have several cuisine options for dinner, though we normally opt for Thai food, Mexican cuisine, Indian, or something from our favorite vegetarian restaurant. Don't get me wrong, we LOVE Vietnamese food, but it doesn't package or travel well. So when we get food delivered, it's almost always something from a Western-style restaurant.
If you want to have a "real" Vietnamese dining experience, you can expect to pay no more than 100,000 VND (~$4 USD) on your entire meal (per person). And usually, you'll pay closer to 50,000 VND for some incredible food. But that usually involves sitting on a tiny plastic stool on a street corner. And you'll probably have no idea what you're getting because no one speaks English, and there's no menu.
We fall in the mid-budget range in terms of dining. We usually pay 250,000 - 500,000 VND ($10 - 20 USD) for our entire meal (that feeds two people and sometimes our small baby). Rarely would we ever spend more than $20 on a meal at delicious restaurants. Now, add in wine and beer, and that's a different story.
Ho Chi Minh City also has some fantastic gourmet restaurants if you want to blow your budget. These usually have a river or rooftop view, craft cocktails, and English-speaking staff. You can expect to pay 350,000 - 500,000 VND per entrée. And 200,000+ VND for a glass of wine.
We fall in the mid-budget range in terms of dining. We never ever cook in Vietnam. Ever. Our apartment doesn't even have an oven. But one of the most amazing things about this city is that you can get pretty much anything delivered for next to nothing. So we order delivery food at least once a day and the delivery fee is about a dollar. We are food snobs lately and find that Mexican cuisine and poke bowls are usually our dinner of choice. The bill for the two of us is 250,000 VND - 500,000 VND ($10-20 USD) for our entire meal (that feeds two people and sometimes our small baby). Rarely would we ever spend more than $20 on a meal at delicious restaurants. Now, add in wine and beer, and that's a different story.
How Much Should I Budget For Entertainment?
We love Saigon's craft beer scene, but you can expect to pay the same for a brew here that you would in the US.
Entertainment and Sports
Our Ho Chi Minh City social life was far more impressive before having a child. We loved checking out all the craft breweries around town, listening to live music, seeing comedy shows, and visiting the city's top tourist destinations. Now our lives mostly revolve around play dates and baby cafes.
The cost of activities around Ho Chi Minh City varies wildly depending on just how boujee of an experience you want.
INSIDER TIP : Most of the amazing things to see and do in Ho Chi Minh City involve food and/or beer! Saigon has dive bars where you can get a "Saigon Special" (the local beer) for ~20,000-30,000 VND (that's about $1 - $1.50), super swanky rooftop bars where a cocktail will run you 200,000 VND ($8 USD) or more, and everything in between.
What Does Transportation Cost?
Driving yourself on the streets on Saigon is not for the weak of heart. Transportation is cheap here- use it.
I would never ever in a million years drive a car in Ho Chi Minh City. Ever. You'd have to hold a gun to my head, and even then, I'd probably have to take a few minutes to consider my options. And while we've rented a motorbike in some of the smaller towns around Vietnam (~$10-20/day depending on the bike's quality), I would find it terrifying to drive a motorbike in the city.
INSIDER TIP : Motorbike License- Let me get this out of the way first. If you don't know how to ride a motorbike, Vietnam is NOT the place foreigners want to learn. Drivers crowd the road, only loosely follow the traffic rules, and chaos reigns in the streets. If you don't have a valid motorbike license, your medical insurance will not cover you for any accidents.
The only method of transportation we use in Saigon is Grab (the Uber of SE Asia). When we're going somewhere on our own, we'll usually opt for Grab Bike's motorbike taxis and ride on the back of someone's moto. Riding double can get a bit awkward; I wouldn't recommend putting your arms around your driver's waist. Grab Bike rides rarely cost more than a dollar or two.
And when we're traveling as a family, we take Grab cars. We usually pay 50,000 - 100,000 VND per trip, depending on where we're going in the city.
One of the downsides to living in Ho Chi Minh City is that it's not remotely walkable. The sidewalks are terrible, motorbikes use sidewalks for parking, which leaves little room to walk, it's always a million degrees outside, and crossing the street is terrifying. Cars and motorbikes only stop for you if they absolutely have to, so you're best off just going for it. If you wait for a break in traffic or for someone to stop for you, you'll be waiting for an eternity.
Traffic is so horrendous that motorbikes often drive on the sidewalk to avoid it. Walking on the sidewalk means you're dodging street restaurants, parked motorbikes, stray dogs, dead rats, and inpatient motorbike drivers all at the same time. Also, the air pollution in Saigon is often quite unhealthy. Yesterday it was rated 163 (very bad) as opposed to my hometown of Portland, Oregon, which had a rating of 9 (good).
Unfortunately, Saigon doesn't have great options for public transportation. The government has been putting in a light rail, but they've made very little progress during the time we've lived here. We expect it to take at least another 1-2 years.
Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) airport is located right in the city. A taxi from the city center to the airport is 20 minutes without traffic. Note, however, that rush hour can stretch this drive to an hour.
A taxi from the airport to District 1 would cost roughly $6-$8. Using Grab will cut that price down to $3 to $4.
The cheapest international airports from HCMC are Singapore, the Philippines, and Thailand. You can find airline tickets from those countries for $50 one-way. The cheapest US airport is usually LAX.
The Ho Chi Minh City airport is a hub for low-cost Vietnamese airlines: Vietnam Airlines, VietJet Air, and Jetstar Pacific making HCMC an ideal hub for quick domestic getaways. As an example, a 2-day trip to Hoi An is a 1.5-hour flight away.
Other Miscellaneous Costs
The Vietnamese Dong is loosely pegged to the US Dollar helping avoid wild currency fluctuations.
There are a few standard living costs in Vietnam that are exceptionally cheap, and we are going to have a difficult time adjusting when we move back to the US.
Not Everything Is Cheap In Vietnam
Other living expenses vary depending on your expectations. I have blonde hair and always choose to get it done at a salon specializing in Western hair. And for that, I pay a premium. It's usually around $80-100 USD for a cut and color. On the other hand, my husband gets a simple trim at the local barbershop for 80,000 VND.
There are plenty of things that cost significantly more here than what you're probably used to back home. Any electronics will be more expensive because of the import taxes (I'm eyeing a laptop now that's $100 more than it would be if I bought it back home). Furniture, bedding, and kitchen appliances are also way more expensive than you might expect.
INSIDER TIP : Since this is Vietnam, you can get knockoffs of anything and everything for a fraction of the cost. And if you can't find what you're looking for, you can get pretty much anything made.
Additional Tips for Expats Living In HCMC
If you are looking for a sense of community, there is a lively, thriving expat scene in Ho Chi Minh City, and it's relatively easy to make friends fast. Not only will you meet lots of foreigners in the bars, restaurants, and coffee shops around Thao Dien, but there are plenty of meetups, markets, events, shows, and other opportunities to connect with people.
There are also countless Facebook groups where you can find information on anything and everything expat-related. Here are a few of the groups that we've found helpful during our time in Saigon:
Fexpats – specifically for female expats
Vegetarians and Vegans in Saigon – get vegan/vegetarian food recommendations and connect with like-minded friends
Buy and Sell Cheap Things in Saigon – for buying and selling cheap secondhand goods
Saigon International Families – for parenting discussions and to buy and sell kid stuff
Don't think expats are your only option. Some Vietnamese people (especially the younger generations) speak at least conversational English, but many do not. And Vietnamese is a tonal language and not an easy language to master. We took six months and can barely order an iced coffee.
How Much Is Health Care?
Healthcare will be an adjustment when we move back to the US. We paid cash to give birth in Vietnam. Our baby was born via c-section and spent a few days in the NICU. Our total bill was around $3,000 USD with no insurance. In the US, we would've probably paid 20 times that.
EDITOR'S NOTE : $100 per month is for Travel Health Insurance. Expats working in Vietnam usually get insurance through their employer. However, if you are moving here on your own, you have three options for medical care.
- Travel Health Insurance- this may make sense if you are only in Vietnam for a few months. My travel health insurance covers me everywhere in the world, except the US for roughly $50 per month.
- Vietnam Health Insurance- there are several companies with coverage for expats. Prices will depend on the coverage, but I was quoted a decent local plan for roughly $79 per month.
Though medical costs in Vietnam are crazy cheap in comparison to the US, it is not free. I would never recommend going without at least some level of catastrophic insurance. All it takes is one accident or unplanned major complication and your savings can be devastated.
It is common practice in many SE Asian countries that you pay for treatment yourself, then claim against your insurance. For peace of mind, make sure you have some cash to cover emergencies.
Will I Have To Pay Taxes Living In Vietnam?
The government considers you a tax resident if either:
- You have lived in Vietnam for over 183 days or more in either the calendar year or prior 12 consecutive months from your last date of arrival.
- You have permanent residence in Vietnam (including a registered residence that is recorded on the permanent or temporary residence card)
- Rented real estate (house, hotel, guest house, etc.) in Vietnam with a lease term of 183 days or more in a tax year and you are unable to prove you are a tax residence in another country.
Tax residents are subject to personal income tax on their worldwide income. Employment income is taxed on a progressive tax rates basis. Non-employment income (capital gains, business income, interest, etc.) is taxed at a variety of different rates.
Get A Free Tax Consultation and $25 off your US Expat Tax return
What Is Not Included In The Monthly Budget? Taxes!
The US has signed a double-taxation treaty with Vietnam, BUT it is not currently in effect. You may be subject to taxes in both the US and Vietnam. Expat taxes are complicated, but the IRS has options to reduce your tax liability, including the exclusion of foreign income, and the tax credit. Speak with a tax accountant for details. Nomadic FIRE has partnered with Expat Tax Specialists offering a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Full Disclosure, this is an affiliate link. If you use the link, I earn a commission from the company at no additional cost to you. You get the benefit of $25 off your return and a FREE 30-minute consultation with a Tax Advisor.
What Are The Visa Requirements For Vietnam?
The visa situation in Vietnam is not always straightforward.
Vietnam does not have a visa-on-arrival option; you'll need to plan in advance. There are several options for tourist visas - 1-month single or multiple entry or 3-month single or multiple entry. The prices range from $25 - $50 for the stamp plus $6 - $20 for a pre-approval letter.
Americans have the option of a 6-month or 1-year multiple entry visa, which is what we have. The only issue is that you must stamp out of the country and back in every three months. Border runs or trips to neighboring countries weren't a problem pre-COVID, but now that borders are closed, we pay an exorbitant amount for a service to handle it for us. Our last extension was $380 per person for three months, and it seems to be going up every month.
When borders reopen, it's relatively easy to cross into Cambodia and right back into Vietnam for a small stamp fee (plus your Cambodian visa fee).
The closest country countries for a visa run from HCMC is:
- By Land- Moc Bai, Cambodia is roughly a 3-hour bus ride for $20-$30
- By Air: Scoot or Jet Star have 2-hour flights to Singapore for ~$50
- By Air: Air Asia has 2-hour flights to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for ~$60
EDITOR'S NOTE : What about a Vietnam Retirement Visa? - COVID has put all "normal" visa processes in flux, but if you are looking at long-term stay options, you can read about Vietnam's retirement visa options in my "Retire In Vietnam" post.
What countries offer a retirement visa?
Still researching the best cities for retirement? Check out our extensive Cost of Living collection for the best expat destinations. Get insider information and real examples of expat life from people who have spent years living abroad. I've compiled all the information you need: cost breakdowns, insider tips to save money, and detailed examples of the quality of lifestyle you can enjoy.
Final Thoughts: Expat Life In Ho Chi Minh City
I hope this article has given you a clear picture of the monthly cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We've lived here for a year and a half and absolutely love it! Our monthly budget is low, the locals are amazing, the food is delicious, and it's pretty easy to get any of your creature comforts from home.
My recommendations for future Saigon expats would be to take Vietnamese lessons (locals love it when you know at least a little) and expect to pay more than you would at home for furniture, bedding, and other home gadgets. Find a good tailor and hit the fabric markets to get some one-of-a-kind pieces. Splurge a bit to get an apartment with amenities like a pool and some greenspace (Ho Chi Minh City is HOT).
Embrace the cultural differences that might seem challenging at first. Cars and motorbikes rarely stop for pedestrians, motorbikes drive on sidewalks, people rarely hold the door for you, people smoke everywhere, and public displays of spitting and snotting are common culture shocks. Learn to live with some of the city's frustrations, and there's no doubt you'll fall in love with Ho Chi Minh City!
I have traveled to over 40 countries to give you the best ways to save, invest, and live overseas for less cost than in the US. After five years of traveling, my list of places to live keeps getting longer. To give you more information on the best places to live abroad, I partner with experts from the expat community.
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EXPAT CONTRIBUTION BY: Nick and Val Wheatley
Nick and Val Wheatley (aka “The Wandering Wheatleys”) left the USA in 2016 to travel the world together. They started in Europe, made their way to Turkey, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt, camped in a tent in Namibia, lived in a motorhome in Iceland, toured around Uzbekistan, and finally flew back to their favorite area in the entire world - SE Asia.
The Wandering Wheatleys stopped wandering (temporarily) in 2019 when they settled in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to have their baby boy. Read more about their adventures here at WanderingWheatleys.com.