KNOK STUDIOS is a team of experienced professionals based in Vietnam, with some of us having over 15 years of experience in the country. We often receive inquiries from young entrepreneurs and digital nomads interested in doing business in Vietnam and seeking guidance from those who have lived and worked there.
To assist them, we have compiled a comprehensive guide containing all the essential information that could be useful to digital nomads coming to Vietnam.
Why Vietnam is an overall good destination for remote worker
Before diving into the details of what can be the daily life of a digital nomad in Vietnam, it’s important to note that Vietnam is a fantastic country to both live and work in. This is precisely why our web agency was established here five years ago.
Here’s a brief overview of what makes Vietnam a great place to be:
Work from Vietnam’s Beautiful Beaches and Mountains
For those who desire to work from stunning locations, Vietnam is a dream destination.
The country boasts a coastline that stretches over 3,260 kilometers, offering a plethora of beaches and islands to discover. Popular beach destinations, such as Nha Trang, Da Nang, and Phu Quoc, offer white sand beaches and the needed infrastructures for those interested in extended stays that include both remote work and vacation.
Additionally, for those who aren’t beachgoers, Vietnam’s mountains area provides breathtaking views, rice terraces, and opportunities to trek and explore ethnic minority cultures.
Vietnam’s Youthful and Dynamic Culture
For digital nomads seeking an environment free from tourists and retirees, Vietnam is also an excellent choice. The country boasts a young population of 100 million people, with a median age of 32, making it one of the most youthful countries in the world.
Additionally, Vietnam has two bustling urban hubs – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – each with its own distinct identity. While Ho Chi Minh City is more business-oriented, Hanoi has a unique personality that cannot be matched. The urban population is highly educated, entrepreneurial, and tech-savvy, making it easy for digital nomads to network and establish local partnerships.
Living on a Budget in Vietnam is Possible
For many digital nomads, budget is a crucial factor when choosing a destination. If you fall into this category, Vietnam is a viable option. Accommodation, even in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, can be quite affordable if you’re not looking for an expat experience. It’s not uncommon to find one or two-bedroom apartments for as little as $400 per month or less. A meal at a local restaurant can cost as little as $2 to $5, and groceries and other necessities are generally cheap as long as you’re consuming local products.
It’s important to note that the minimum salary in Vietnam is approximately $200 per month in the main urban area.
Does it mean that can you live well in Vietnam on a budget strictly under $1000 per month? This is a more complicated question. We’ll provide an answer later in our section on the true cost of living in Vietnam as a foreigner.
The Visa Question: How Easy is it to Stay in Vietnam?
For digital nomads, one of the most pressing questions is whether they can obtain a visa to stay in a country. Unfortunately, this is even more of an issue for Vietnam. Spend a few minutes browsing the main expat Facebook group and you’ll quickly see that visas are the primary concern for the foreign community in Vietnam.
Here’s an overview of the current visa situation:
Easy Short-Term Stays (1 Month or Less) for Most Countries
Most short-term visitors to Vietnam use one of two options:
• 30-Day E-Visa: An electronic visa, allowing for a single entry, is currently granted to citizens from 80 countries. Digital nomads must apply online a few days before departure to obtain it. Western countries are included in this program, while most African countries are excluded.
• 15-Day Visa Exemption: A select number of countries enjoy a 15-day visa exemption. Currently, these countries include Belarus, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Russia, France, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Italy, and the United Kingdom, as well as South Korea and Japan.
A Far More Complex Situation for Longer Stays.
For Digital Nomads planning to stay in Vietnam for a longer period, the visa situation can be more complex. Vietnam used to offer a 90-day visa on arrival for many countries, which was easily obtainable online with a letter of approval.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these 90-day visas are no longer available, and there is an ongoing discussion about when they might be reintroduced. Many Digital Nomads are currently forced to do “visa runs” every month, which can be both time-consuming and expensive.
If you have a Vietnamese spouse or are employed and sponsored by a company or investor, you may have more options for obtaining a visa, but the process can be time-consuming and generally not suitable for Digital Nomads.
Read More: How to Start a Business in Vietnam
Visas: A worrying trend?
Vietnam used to allow Digital Nomads to stay for months and even years with various solutions facilitated by visa agents offering creative solutions for a fee.
While there are ongoing discussions to bring back the 3-month visas, there is a clear push for better control over the visa delivery process. The concern is that the post-Covid visa policies in Vietnam won’t consider the specific situations of Digital Nomads who do not have by definition strong ties to the country.
Thailand, on the other hand, has recognized the benefits of attracting long-term visitors and has implemented programs like the Long-Term Resident Visa and Elite Visa, which are great for high-net-worth Digital Nomads. Malaysia has even a specific “Digital Nomad Visa” that allows remote workers to stay in the country for up to 1 year with the possibility to apply for 1 extra year.
We hope that Vietnam will follow them.
Food in Vietnam: Everything Everywhere All at Once
Food is an important aspect of life in Vietnam, whether you are a digital nomad or not. Here are some key points to keep in mind about the local cuisine:
Fantastic Local Food Culture
Vietnamese food has a depth that is often underestimated. Each region has its own culinary identity with unique specialties. These differences are rooted in the climate and geography, as well as the different local cultures (50+ different ethnic groups in Vietnam).
Vietnamese cuisine is much more than just Pho and Banh Mi. There is an incredible variety of dishes that are waiting to be explored, and your expectations will likely be completely blown away.
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City also both have a great foodie scene with a wide range of affordable options for pretty much any kind of cuisine, whether it be Western or Asian. The Guide Michelin is coming to Vietnam this year, which will undoubtedly help the country develop its culinary scene.
More Complicated for People with Serious Dietary Restrictions
Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are available in most major cities in Vietnam, but it is important to note that even though Buddhism has a real influence in the country, the overwhelming majority of the population is not vegetarian.
For those with serious allergies, such as peanuts, it may also be challenging to find restaurants with properly trained staff who can handle these situations.
Hard to Find Organic Food
While local production of organic products is slowly developing, it remains marginal compared to overall production. This can make it difficult or VERY expensive to find organic food in Vietnam.
Pollution in Vietnam
Vietnam is not without its challenges, and pollution is one of the most unpleasant aspects of living there.
Air Pollution in Vietnam
In both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the air quality is compromised, with Hanoi facing an even more severe situation. Air pollution is caused by an increase in the number of cars and motorbikes on the roads, as well as by farmers burning rice crops after harvest.
The World Health Organization reported in 2018 that over 60,000 deaths in Vietnam in 2016 were linked to air pollution, including heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pneumonia. A survey in 2019 by the Hanoi University of Public Health and the University of Engineering and Technology found that air pollution accounted for 12% of deaths among Hanoians aged 25 and above, and it shortened the city’s life expectancy by 2.49 years.
While there is growing awareness of the gravity of the situation in Vietnamese society, the overall situation is not improving and is deteriorating.
Many digital nomads have heard that Vietnam can be a noisy place, but they may not realize how significant the issue can be. In reality, noise pollution is a common problem that can disrupt your sleep and work during your stay.
There are several factors that contribute to this issue, including poorly insulated homes and noisy establishments like karaoke bars and beer clubs located in the city center and of course the dense traffic.
We also must mention that there is a cultural difference in terms of acceptable noise levels, which can be hard to understand when you are new to the country.
The True Cost of Living in Vietnam as a Foreigner
If you’re considering moving to Ho Chi Minh City, our comprehensive guide, which we update regularly, can give you an idea of the cost of living essentials. You can find it here: Moving to Saigon: Guide and Costs.
Keep in mind that the cost of living in Hanoi is slightly higher, but the difference is insignificant. Living in the provinces can be significantly cheaper if you avoid tourist hubs.
The Myth of Living Well for Cheap
What we want to address is something that seems obvious, but we’ve seen too many digital nomads ignore it. Yes, you can live cheaply in Vietnam, but you get what you pay for. You can rent an apartment for an extremely low price but don’t expect it to be soundproof or well-located. Expats in Facebook groups often make fun of naïve digital nomads who expect to rent two or three-bedroom apartments in modern condos in premium districts for $300 per month.
Vietnam is indeed cheaper than most Western countries, but if you expect to live with one-third or even half of your budget at home, you will have to live like the Vietnamese middle class, not an expat.
Lifestyle Inflation: An Easy Trap to Fall Into in Vietnam
This brings us to our second point. Vietnam offers all the comfort you can imagine in terms of food, entertainment, and accommodation, especially in the main cities. The foreign business community and wealthy Vietnamese are driving a growing demand for premium experiences. As a digital nomad, you will be constantly tempted to spend if you have a busy social life. Even from a strictly professional point of view, many of the meaningful networking events are organized in upscale venues.
Also, as a foreigner living abroad, it’s always tempting to go for home comforts, including food, wine, and spirits. All these items are imported and heavily taxed. If you take that into account, it’s very easy to blow all the money you thought you were saving in just a few evenings.
Internet – What’s the Internet like in Vietnam?
Internet coverage in Vietnam has improved significantly in the past decade, including in rural areas. Setting up a connection is cheap and easy, with the option to purchase a SIM card with 4G capabilities for only $10-$20 a month. However, it’s important to note that as a foreigner, any SIM card you purchase must be registered under your name and associated with your passport. This was previously loosely enforced, but unregistered numbers are now canceled.
In Theory: a Decent Speed
According to the Speedtest Global Index, Vietnam’s internet speed typically ranks between the 40th and 50th country in the world, which should be sufficient for most digital nomads, unless you need to work with particularly heavy data flows.
For those who want the numbers, here’s what we tested while writing this article (fixed broadband – Hanoi).
Below the Vietnam Median Country Speed in March 2023 according to speedtest.net
Mobile: Download 43.32 Mbps / Upload 18.3 Mbps
Fixed Broadband: Download 91.24 Mbps / Upload 92.78 Mbps
In Practice: Did the Sharks Eat the Cables Again?
Unfortunately, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The five undersea cables that connect Vietnam to the rest of the world frequently break down, and as of early 2023, four out of five cables were malfunctioning or broken.
While the impact of these broken cables isn’t properly reflected in the upload/download data, it can significantly affect your connection speed when using web services hosted outside of Vietnam. However, this is a punctual issue, and you’re likely to be unaffected during your stay. Just keep in mind that it’s happened often enough for expats to joke about “sharks eating the internet cables again”.
Coffee and Co-Working Culture
Vietnam is a great destination for digital nomads looking for coffee shops and co-working spaces to work from. Here’s what you need to know:
Coffee House Paradise
Vietnam has a vibrant coffee scene, making it easy to find a coffee house to work and meet people, even in the evenings. It is very common to study and work from coffee shops, and you will rarely be pressured to purchase more than you need to keep your seat.
A Dynamic Co-Working Space Scene
If you require a more professional setting to be productive, the major Vietnamese cities offer numerous co-working spaces. Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City have plenty of options to choose from. Here are three examples to give you an idea of the services, events, and pricing offered:
- COGO Coworking Space (Hanoi)
- Toong (Hanoi, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City)
- Enouvo Space (Da Nang)
Banking for Digital Nomad
Visa Requirements for Opening a Bank Account
As a digital nomad in Vietnam, you may want to open a bank account if you plan to stay in the country for an extended period. However, it’s important to note that the rules surrounding bank accounts for foreigners in Vietnam have changed frequently, leading to a lot of conflicting information online.
Generally, if you do not hold a long-term visa, you won’t have access to banking services in Vietnam. Some banks may offer limited options for those holding 3-month visas, but the account will come with many restrictions, even if you only plan to use it domestically only.
Additionally, if you plan to send international wire transfers or convert Vietnam Dong to foreign currencies like USD, you will need to provide documentation proving the source of the funds.
Cryptocurrencies in Vietnam
If you’re considering using cryptocurrencies for payments in Vietnam, there are a few things you should know.
Firstly, the only currency that businesses are allowed to accept as payment in Vietnam is Vietnam Dong. Any business accepting other currencies, including cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or USDT, is breaking the law.
However, the good news is that cryptocurrency exchanges in Vietnam are well-developed and efficient, and you should have no problem converting your cryptos to VND and vice versa, even without a local bank account.