Vietnam has transitioned from a budget backpacker mecca to attracting expats, digital nomads, and early retirees. With its unique culture, affordable living, and world-renowned cuisine, it's easy to see why people are considering moving to Vietnam to solve the rising costs of living in the US.
Early retirees are eyeballing established beach hotspot Da Nang, cultural capital Hanoi, bustling Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), or ancient historical cities like Hoi An as potential retirement destinations. But there are significant hurdles to overcome if you want to retire in Vietnam. The lack of a proper retirement visa is a critical disadvantage. This post breaks down the pros and cons of retiring to Vietnam to give you the information you need to make an informed decision.
Expat Retirement In Vietnam- Cost of Living Update 2022
To answer if something is worth the money, first we find out what it cost. Vietnam is high on my list of favorite affordable retirement destinations.
For context, a professional white-collar worker's average wage in Vietnam is ~$450 per month.
- General Accountant - $557
- Java Developer - $1123
- Marketing Executive - $614
- US English Teacher: $1500-$2500 (depending on company, experience, and qualifications)
Source: Vietnam Works
Compared to the US, those are some ridiculously low salaries. Before you get too excited at the thought of retiring to Vietnam on a $500 a month budget, know that most Westerners would not be comfortable living "local": smaller housing, street food, and fewer creature comforts than in their home country.
At the same time, most retirees could not expect to live on a typical corporate expat income level. Western companies usually pay housing, car, schooling, tax benefits, and a $180,000 executive-level salary. Total compensation packages of over $250,000 are not unusual for a corporate expat. With the stark extremes of living like local Vietnamese people or living like a company executive, what expectations should an expat retiree realistically have in a low cost developing country?
HOW DOES THE EXPAT COST OF LIVING IN HOI AN COMPARE TO OTHER VIETNAMESE CITIES?
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How much does it cost to retire To Vietnam?
|Total Monthly Expense||$1350|
|COST PER MONTH|
|Rent- 1-bedroom Apartment Furnished Cham Chau Area||343|
|Weekly Maid Cleaning Service||47|
|Cell Phone 10 GB Data||6|
|Total Housing Expense||437|
|Home Cooked Meals 5 times per week||54|
|Budget Meal- Street Food 13 times per Week||121|
|Mid-Range Restaurant 3 times per Week||84|
|Splurge Meal 2 time per Month||26|
|Total Food Expense||283|
|Coffee Date 6 times per Week||12|
|Movie Night With Friends - Once Per Month||5|
|Fitness Club/Gym Membership||18|
|Boxing Gym Membershhip||30|
|Yoga Studio Membership||15|
|Weekly At Home Massages||26|
|Gas for Motorbike||11|
|50cc Motorbike Rental Per Month||86|
|Total Transportation Expense||97|
|Travel Health Insurance||60|
|Health Care Expense||60|
|Personal Care (Shampoo, etc.) & Household Items (Soap, etc.)||20|
|Visa Fees and Visa Run Travel Costs||300|
|Total Personal Care and Misc Expense||369|
|Exchange Rate to $1 USD to Dong (VND)||23383|
My budget living in Hoi An, Vietnam in 2022 is roughly $1350 per month for a single person. For roughly $16,000 per year, I can hit the gym, eat out everyday, and enjoy beers on the beach. This retirement budget also includes $300 per month to cover visa fees and visa run expenses that will may not be necessary in the future.
What kind of lifestyle can An Export Afford on $1350 per month In Vietnam?
I worked with several expats and digital nomads for estimates to retire in Vietnam on a modest monthly income. The range of "required" income varied between $1000-$2000. The unknown is always what the definition of a "comfortable" standard of living would be.
The good news is Vietnam's low living costs rank it in the Top 10 Best Countries To Retire. My $1350 monthly budget goes well beyond a "comfortable lifestyle", as my expat life in Hoi An includes seafood buffets, yoga classes, weekly massages, a luxury western-style apartment, maid service, and an active social life.
If you plan to fund your retirement on only Social Security or a small pension, your monthly budget will go far here. Many expats live comfortably in Vietnam on less than $1200 per month. Regardless if your tastes are modest or luxury, your living costs are less than what you would spend in a MCOL city in the US.
How Does The Average Cost of Living in Vietnam Compare To US?
Let's dig into some real-life numbers and get some context to the spending. Let's compare expenses from a medium-cost city in the US (Portland) with a medium-cost city in Vietnam (Hoi An).
The Top 4 living expenses in the US are housing, food, transportation, and healthcare. These 4 expenses make up 68% of the average monthly spending in the US.
Key Living Costs
VN- Hoi An
Total Average Per Month
Save 70% on Monthly Expenses
By moving to Vietnam, you would save nearly $24,000 per year. In the US living, on $1350 per month is living near poverty level. In Vietnam, that money goes a long way. Let's look closer at the standard of living $1350 per month buys you.
Here is an example of my one-bedroom house less than 10 minutes from a gorgeous white-sand beach in Hoi An. This fully equipped and furnished house is located in between the Hoi An's Ancient Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and An Bang Beach.
★ 1 bedroom, 2 bathroom, 2 floors.
★ Modern home design, green garden in front and internal courtyard with a large koi pond.
★ There is a living room, a kitchen, and a balcony. Fully equipped facilities such as sofa, smart TV, air conditioning, washing machine, cooking stove, and spacious parking space.
★ Located in a quiet location, close to a large farmers market, less than 10 minutes to the city center.
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
Expat Food Budget
Vietnam is in my Top 5 favorite countries when it comes to food. Vietnam was a French colony for close to 65 years. The cuisine is a delicious fusion of French flavors with nearby Thailand, Cambodia, and China. Like Thai cooking, each Vietnamese dish has five foundational flavors: salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter.
Traditional food bought at a street stall costs $1 - $3 per meal. I eat out 2-3 times per day here. Going to the grocery to buy the ingredients to cook a meal will usually cost me more than heading to my favorite Bun Cha vendor down the street.
Ready for a splurge? The Square at the Novotel has an All-You-Can-Eat 5* seafood and steak buffet will run you $25 per person.
I'm not going to lie. Transportation is where comparisons are not apples to apples. Everyone here rides a motorbike. It's a culture shock when comparing against the United States' car culture; Even Grab, the Southeast Asian Uber, uses motorbikes.
You can buy a used motorbike for $300 / 7 million VND and sell it for the same price when you leave. If you're looking to buy a motorbike or other second-hand items, ChoTot is the country's equivalent to Craigslist. Buying also means you are responsible for maintenance. To make life easier, you can rent a Yamaha Mio for $55 per month, and the dealers handle any maintenance and repairs.
A liter of gas costs around 20,000 VND. Conversion for us US folks is equal to ~$3.2 a gallon. The average MPG for a scooter is about 100 MPG. If you drive around a bit, estimate gas and maintenance costs at $30 a month.
The safer transportation option is Grab. For those that don't know, Grab purchased Uber's Southeast Asian Operations back in 2018. For 12,000 VND initial fare and 3,400 VND per kilometer (less than .25 cents a mile), you can go about 4 miles for under $1 with Grab.
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.
I stick with my travel health insurance ~$60 per month. You can buy local insurance for roughly $79 per month. The critical difference between the two is that local insurance will not cover you outside the country, but will cover some in-patient check-ups.
My travel insurance covers me wherever I travel and has medical evacuation coverage if I need to get to another country for a serious medical procedure. But I pay for all my check-ups, x-rays, etc., out of pocket.
An example of Vietnamese healthcare costs in a private hospital with English speaking International staff:
- Health check-up (x-rays, blood work, labs, etc.) ~$110
- An ultrasound costs $90
- X-rays are $20.
The prices for health services at a public hospital are even cheaper, but you'll find less English speaking doctors and staff.
INSIDER TIP : Healthcare Coverage Abroad- Most health insurance will not cover you for any injuries sustained outside your home country. To get protection while living abroad, there are two options:
- Travel Health Insurance- This will cover you for unexpected medical issues while overseas. However, the coverage requires you maintain insurance in the United States or your respective home country. I pay roughly $50 per month for complete coverage with no deductible.
- Expat Medical Insurance- If you retire abroad, expat health insurance is a more complete option. Expat Medical Insurance is the "normal" insurance you are familiar with to from home. Coverage is built for people who live in a country versus traveling. While more expensive than Travel Medical Insurance, premiums are still cheaper than the US.
What Additional Spending Is Required To Retire In Vietnam?
Not included in most Vietnam retirement budgets is taxes and visa runs. My $1350 budget above includes $300 per month for visa fees and visa run expenses to travel to another country to renew my visa.
Additionally, you may need to account for Vietnamese taxes. The numbers above assume you will stay in the country for less than 183 days, thereby avoiding tax residency. Non-residents only pay taxes on income sourced in Vietnam. If you retirement savings, pension, or social security is from the US, no taxes are due. Taxes for expats get more complicated if you stay longer than 183 days.
How Should You Greet A Friend In Vietnam:
-Handshake -Deep Bow -Kiss on the Cheek -Big Hugs
To help first-time expats avoid embarrassment or, worse, potentially insulting your host country, I have compiled a FREE list of Cultural Etiquette and Customs for expats moving to Vietnam
Does an American need a Visa for Vietnam?
If you are from the US, you need a valid visa. Unless you plan on working or studying, you will be applying for a Tourist Visa. You have three options for a short-term visa:
- Visa from the Embassy or Consulate of Vietnam- Valid for 30-90 days and are single or multi entry. Can be extended.
- e-Visa- only valid 30 days and are single entry. Cannot be extended, only renewed. Renewals require local sponsorship.
- Visa on Arrival (VOA)- Require a pre-obtained Letter of Approval. Valid for 30-90 days and are single or multi entry. Can be extended.
Vietnam Tourist Visa Updates As Of July 2022
Vietnam Re-Opening Post Pandemic- As of May 15, 2022, Vietnam opened borders to foreign tourist under the following visa:
- E-VISA- Americans and citizens of 80 other countries can apply for evisas on the OFFICIAL Vietnam Immigration website. eVisas are only allow foreigners to stay 30-days in Vietnam.
- Visa on Arrival- UK citizens and passport holders of 25 other countries are the only foreigners who can arrive in Vietnam without a pre-arrange visa. .
- Tour Group Visa- (NOT RECOMMENDED)- An expensive and restrictive visa for citizens from countries not on either list above can apply for after purchasing an expensive group tour from an authorized tour agent.
Outside of the evisa, visa-on-arrival, and tour group visa, your only visa options as a foreigner are a spousal visa (if you are married to a Vietnamese national), an Investment Visa, or a Work Visa (if you have a formal employment contract with a Vietnamese company).
INSIDER TIP : Long-Term Visas- You may have heard about a longer 1-year tourist visa option. The Department of Immigration has stopped issuing long-term visas. For retirees, your visa options are the ones listed above, unless you have Vietnamese family or use the Visa By Investment process below.
American citizens can apply at an Embassy or Consulate responsible for your jurisdiction:
- Vietnamese Embassy in Washington DC
- Consulate General of Vietnam in San Francisco
- Consulate General of Vietnam in Houston – Texas
INSIDER TIP : Visa on Arrival- If you plan on flying in during the busy season (December to March or July to September), prepare to stand in line for the Department of Immigration stamp your visa. Especially at busy Tan Son Nhat Airport (HCMC), large tour groups can make this a long process after an already long flight.
How Much Does the Vietnam Tourist Visa Cost?
The visa fees for Vietnam are as follows:
- For an e-Visa: USD 25
- For a Visa On Arrival:
- Single-entry, one month: USD 25 stamping fee on arrival (plus the additional service fee for the Letter of Approval)
- Multiple-entry, one month USD 50 stamping fee on arrival (plus the additional service fee for the Letter of Approval)
- Single-entry, three months USD 25 stamping fee on arrival (plus the additional service fee for the Letter of Approval)
- Multiple-entry, three months USD 50 stamping fee on arrival (plus the additional service fee for the Letter of Approval)
INSIDER TIP : Visa on Arrival- Bring cash in US Dollars to pay your visa processing fees. Immigration does not accept credit or debit cards. Tan Son Nhat Airport (HCMC) installed an ATM adjacent to the visa counter you can use as a last resort. I still recommend bringing USD. The previously mentioned long lines apply to the ATM. Plus, foreign ATMs don't always accept your debit card, can breakdown, or run out of cash. Just bring USD and avoid the hassles.
Can I Extend A Tourist Visa?
As of July, 2022, Tourist Visas cannot be extended or renewed. The only way to stay longer in Vietnam than 30-days is doing a visa run. Most foreigners go to Laos or Cambodia visa land crossings or fly to Malaysia or Thailand for more convenient visa runs visa air.
I am leaving the old information on Extending A Tourist Visa for documentation purposes below
Yes, you can extend a one month visa for another month. The fee will be approximately US$60 – US$155, depending on your nationality.
Extensions of one or three months are only available for three-month visas. A three-month extension will cost you US$180 – US$310, depending on your nationality.
Plan to be without your passport for five to seven working days while your extension is processed.
You can manage the visa extension yourself, but many agencies can do this service for you. Shop around for the best price.
Watch out for the Vietnamese holidays. Your visa expires on the day it expires, regardless if that day is a National holiday. The Department of Immigration is known to close for multiple days during holidays. Paying for a holiday rush surcharge can double the price of your extension.
INSIDER TIP : Visa Extensions- Even if your first visa was a multiple entry visa, your extension is only a single entry. If your extension is for three months and you leave the country, the extension is canceled.
It is not unheard of for your extension to only be approved for one month, even if you applied for three months. There is sometimes no rhyme or reason given; it just is what it is. Don't get too frustrated, because there is nothing you can do about it. If it happens, pop over the border for a visa run (Malaysia or Thailand if you want to fly or Cambodia or Laos via land transportation).
Does Vietnam Have A Retirement Visa?
Here is the bad news. Vietnam doesn't have a simple retiree visa like the Philippines. Vietnam doesn't even have a stupid expensive retirement long-term visa option like Thailand. If you want to stay longer than 30-days, you need to either make a visa run every month, get a job with a local company, marry a Vietnamese citizen, or apply for a Temporary Residence Card with Visa by Investment (DT).
Did you know how you hold your chopsticks can be considered extremely rude in Vietnam?
To avoid embarrassment or, worse, potentially insulting your host country, download this FREE Etiquette and Customs Cheat Sheet for expats retiring to Vietnam
Can I Live in Vietnam With a Visa By Investment And A Residence Card?
Vietnam offers an investment visa for foreigners (DT) looking to establish a company in the country. I do not have all the details on the DT visa. But I also know that the capital investment required is substantial (between $130,000 to $4,300,000).
The investor visa is for genuine businesses looking to operate in Vietnam. This visa is not appropriate for side hustles, digital nomads, or freelancers. Opening up a company here is not a simple process; in addition to the substantial investment, it requires legal costs, fees, and hiring local staff. The Visa by Investment is not a simple visa scheme like in Montenegro or Estonia that you apply as a work-around for a long-term stay visa.
If you are looking to establish a business, drop me an email, and put you in touch with my local contacts. But given the complexity and cost, I am not considering residency through company establishment a reasonable way to retire in Vietnam.
How Reliable Is The Visa Policy?
It's a freaking mess. I am not going to lie. There are more than 20 different visa variations, and their requirements change frequently. Sometimes the changes are official; other times, an immigration officer seemingly makes up their own rules.
The government relies heavily on third-party agents to process applications and extensions. With so many different agents, the information you get will be contradictory. You will find three wrong answers for every question you have on how visas and renewals are processed. Prices for processing and fees will be inconsistent. Even the consulate website is not even an up-to-date resource of the latest rules and regulations.
Retiring in Vietnam Pros and Cons
Expat retirement in Vietnam isn't perfect. Foreign retirees have to balance the disadvantages with the advantages of living in an Asian country. Let's examine some of the significant Pros and Cons of Retiring In Vietnam.
PROS- Expat Retirement In Vietnam
CONS- Disadvantages Of Retirement In Vietnam For Foreigners
Key Takeaway: Is Retiring In Vietnam Worth The Money?
No. Retiring with the current Vietnamese visa options is too much hassle for retirement and is not recommended. Retiring in Vietnam without a retirement visa option or any reasonable long-term visa, requires monthly visa runs that will add several hundred dollars to your cost of living in Vietnam.
Americans retiring to Vietnam can stay 2-3 months with a couple visa runs and a United States passport. A few months is enough time to enjoy the affordable housing, delicious cheap street food, and stunning landscape. But, without a proper long-term stay visa process (the consulate literally advertises using visa runs as the "Best Way To Extend Your Stay"), retiring in Vietnam is too much of a hassle and not worth adding several hundred dollars to your retirement budget for visa runs.
If I don't recommend retiring in Vietnam, what countries do I recommend with a retirement visa?
FAQs: Retire In Vietnam
Not without marrying a Vietnamese citizen or applying for an investment visa. Under current visa rules, there is no retirement visa in Vietnam. Foreigners looking to retire to Vietnam can only stay here for 30-days without crossing the border and re-entering the country on a visa run.
Vietnam is almost an ideal place to retire. Retirees can enjoy a high standard of living for cheap. You'll be able to enjoy overseas retirement without worrying about living costs. Additionally, with a vibrant expat community, building a social circle to enjoy your retired life with friends is easy.
The mean disadvantage expats have in Vietnam is the lack of a legitimate retirement visa.
Expats can enjoy comfortable, upper-middle class retired life in Vietnam for $900 to $1,200 a month. Expats on social security or pension income can afford a luxury 1-bedroom apartment with maid service, utilities, meals, cell phone, transportation, and entertainment.
High demand by American retirees and the digital nomad crowd is driving up the cost of housing in some expat districts in HCMC and Hanoi. However, there are still loads of neighborhoods where renting an upper-middle class Western-style apartment costs less than $400 per month, including high-speed internet access and weekly maid cleaning. An average apartment outside the city center can be found for $200, but you sacrifice luxury and convenience for price.
With Vietnam's renowned cheap but delicious food, your total food bill, including frequent meals out, averages less than $10 per day. You can enjoy cold beer for .10 cents a glass or sip delicious fresh brewed Vietnamese coffee for .50 cents a cup.
The only significant expenses that expats need to be wary of are visa fees and visa run expenses, which can range from $100 to over $300 per month, depending on if you take a bus or fly to another country for a visa run.
An Thuong, near My Khe Beach in Da Nang, is where many expats consider the best place to retire in Vietnam. However, Vietnam has several great cities with an ideal combination of Western convenience, accessible healthcare, affordable rents, spectacular views, and a low cost of retirement.
The most popular larger cities in Vietnam are Hanoi, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, and Hoi An. Retirees who want to avoid the major cities can skip traffic and pollution in the metropolises of HCMC (8 million people) and Hanoi (population of 7 M).
Nha Trang and Da Nang are delightful beach towns with a slower pace of life, several tourist attractions, a dreamy landscape, and western amenities but far fewer people, making them excellent choices for expats looking to retire on the beach.
Americans retiring to Vietnam can stay 2-3 months with a 30-day evisa, a couple of visa runs, and their United States passport. There is no defined maximum number of visa runs set by the Vietnam government. However, more than 2 visa runs can increase the risk of being denied entry.
Don't plan on staying in Vietnam for more than a few months. Immigration officials get the final say on whether or not foreigners can enter the country. Expat Facebook groups are filled with posts by foreigners complaining about getting denied another evisa without explanation.
A few months is still enough time to enjoy the affordable housing, cheap and delicious street food, and stunning landscape. But, without a proper long-term retirement visa (the consulate literally advertises using visa runs as the "Best Way To Extend Your Stay"), expat retirement in Vietnam is too much of a hassle and not worth adding several hundred dollars to your retirement budget for visa runs.