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Hoi An in Vietnam, the Paradise for a Western Expatriate

I think in Europe things have started becoming very hard. USA supposingly does better financially with Trump but this can very well be another bubble like many others. It’s easy to show growth when you receive good loans quickly. The vast majority of the countries are in deep crisis. The high numbers of unemployment don’t describe the whole truth as there are many people that work part-time and are counted as employed. However, this part-time employment can even be for a few hours every week and definitely isn’t enough to provide an income that can cover their basic needs.

At the same time there are too many people in the European Union that work full time with basic salaries. From what I have seen with my own eyes, the prices in many european union countries are in a level that someone with basic salary struggles to cover even their basic needs.

Another issue is that the countries that are doing a little better than the others are mostly on the north of Europe. So many human beings from the southern countries have moved to northern ones. While all countries are still European everyone recognises the differences in the climate that definitely influences the culture. So people like me that are from Italy, Greece, Portugal or Spain find very difficult to get used to the different kind of weather. While in the south there are beaches, people are used to go to the sea, they sit out very much, there is plenty of sun, not much rain in most places and higher temperatures, the northern you go the more on the opposite side things tend to be.

The South-East Asian difference

Simultaneously, we can easily recognise a vast level of growth in Asian and especially south east asian countries together with China. I have been travelling for one month in many places in Vietnam from south to the north and I described in detail all my experiences at that time together with 350 photos in my latest ebook and I am impressed by the infrastructure of the country. There is a great network of railways that comfortably takes you to most places and runs very regularly. The internet is great and compared to what many people would think most cities are much cleaner than the majority of other countries around.

You can also see quality of services, helpful people in their jobs, buses with lying seats, efficient tourist system, easiness in the security checks because they don’t want to make your life hard, good roads, very very beautiful and modern bridges, very good wi-fi and mobile internet with excellent prices, plenty of airports with too many cheap flights and too many other issues that prove substantial growth. Definitely there is poverty but in my eyes Vietnam is NOT a 3rd world country.

Most places aren’t appropriate for living permanently

To be honest, the idea of being an expatriate in one of these fast developing countries of south east has been sounding like a very good idea for the last years. So when I travel in these countries, apart from tourism, understanding the culture and coming closer to people, I have my eyes open for places that would be appropriate for such a move. On the one hand when you see the photos of nice beaches and hotels with pools all looks perfect to an outsider. However, if you move in a place like this you won’t always be in the beach, there will be several other issues that a tourist doesn’t have to take into account.

For example there are many cities with a lot of traffic. Denpasar or Saigon for example. Would I like to leave London in order to go to a place with even more pollution and traffic? I don’t think so. Other cities are very dirty, how can you leave in a town with animals doing whatever they want all around town? You know what I mean… Many towns are very beautiful but are abandoned. Do I like to be a hermit? Seeing just a few people all the time?
I personally like the water but when there is a huge river there is a lot of air and humidity. I enjoy being close to the beach but what places are not abandoned but also have a beach that hasn’t become extremely dirty like Kuta of Bali? Many cities have also become very touristic and lost their culture, like Nha Trang of Vietnam. They have too many big hotels, thousands of tourists all the time. In that cases from my experience people also become corrupted and think more about money. I don’t like that at all.

You see it’s not easy to find the golden rule. At least when you don’t live there. There is also the choice to live in a central area in the beginning and after gathering information a few months later you can go where you find more appropriate. Many people have done that, too.

This dazzling jewel, Hoi An

I think however that during my trip to Vietnam I found the place that combines all the needful elements in the appropriate amount. This city is in the central Vietnam and is called Hoi An. After passing from several cities Ho Chi Minh city, Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, Nha Trang, and Da Nang I arrived there. After checking in my hotel and doing a small walk in the city I was already impressed. First of all I found it very picturesque. There were old preserved houses everywhere. A narrow river with boats doing relaxing trips. People throwing candles on the water. Their light together with the Chinese lambs all over the town were making my night walk outstanding. At the same time the many in number artistic shops were proving that this city still had maintained their cultural character.

The city didn’t look too big. You would need to walk no more than 4 km to go around the old town which is protected by Unesco. The next days I found that neither it is small. As Hoi An is gaining popularity the more the city is expanding. However you could nowhere see a tall building. I forgot also to mention that in the central areas no cars are allowed.

As well, although you could see plenty of tourists, there aren’t there that big night clubs or the huge resorts that sometimes ruin a city’s character. So the existence of foreign visitors in my eyes, unlike most times, looks as an advantage. Even though you are on the other side of the world you feel more at home because of them. At the same time the locals are used to tourists so they are very open while many speak English, unlike most areas of vietnam.

Generally in my experience Vietnamese people are very welcoming and that characteristic couldn’t be missing from Hoi An.

Around Hoi An there are innumerable hectares of rice fields and vegetable plantations. You can easily imagine the quality of food. Organically grown in front of your eyes. Think that you can consume daily natural products from mother earth with absolutely no fertilisers. Also Vietnam is definitely a country of fish. So in many local shops you can buy the fish while still alive. They also have very good quality of beef and pork. Again local. The Vietnamese don’t seem to have a much vegetarian tendencies so their inspiring local cuisine is full of incredible meat recipes.

While Hoi An has a population of 120 thousand people it’s about 29 km away from Da Nang which is Vietnam’s 4th largest city with approximately 1,5 million people. So if you need the taste of a bigger city with tall buildings and so on, Da Nang is just a couple of minutes away.

Hoi an has several easily accessible beaches. Others popular others unknown to most, when being there the choice is yours depending on what you prefer. At the same time even the touristic ones look quite clean. The area, as I mentioned, is in the central Vietnam. So the whole year is warm enough with similar temperatures however most of the time is not extremely hot, unlike Vietnam’s areas on the south. June is the hottest month in Hoi An with an average temperature of 31°C (88°F) and the coldest is January at 22°C (72°F). It is also very sunny.

In case you think of the typhoons everyone can confirm that with even an average house you aren’t going to face any issue at that time, in fact what they do is take videos from their balconies.

The vegetable villages and rice fields aren’t an advantage only because of the quality of food they can provide but they are also a fantastic scenery. Combined with the smaller and bigger rivers all around create an enjoyable environment even to gaze at. But for the ones that like exercise the place is better than appropriate. There are a lot of routes with excellent views and flat surface. My homestay lent me a bike and I roamed around the Cam Than area a few kilometres outside Hoi An. Not only I was astonished by the views but I also saw at least a dozen of white people having gone running, it seems that some have already thought of what I am discussing now.

But it’s not flat everywhere. On the way to Da Nang there are the marble mountains. These 5 limestone outcrops are topped with pagodas and hide caves containing Buddhist shrines of astonishing beauty! So plenty of opportunities for mountain trekking and magnificent landscape views.

As well between Da Nang and Hoi An a new airport is being built. This airport is less than 30 min away from Hoi An by car therefore is very accessible. I have seen at least 3 very cheap Vietnamese airlines (£10/flight) with very frequent trips all around Asia. And this is a move that I guess will grow the area much more as the closest airport now is 40km away from Da Nang.

I assume that up to now you have understood that there is no lack of very nice restaurants and bars. So Hoi An has a lot of cafes with the amazing iced Vietnamese coffee, the only country I have seen apart from Greece that constantly drinks cold coffee. Along the river opposite of the old city there are many bars that every day are full of people which is mix of locals and foreigners. Furthermore, the night life is even livelier than that since there are some bars that stay open even after 3am with beers costing 1-1.5 GBP

In terms of safety it looks extremely safe I walked at night several times in empty dark streets and there was never anything that could even imply a single danger. All the people that live there or have visited can confirm that.

Imagine then that you live in a wonderful natural area outside the centre, let’s say about 15-20 min drive at most. Everything is Vietnam is extremely cheap, think that 1 pound is about 30.000 Vietnam Dong. Buying a scooter can easily cost you about 150 USD and the petrol is very cheap. Thus it will be very simple for you to go to all the areas around and enjoy all the benefits I previously mentioned. An average rent could be about 200 USD per month and if you know where to buy food you can be spending no more than 3-4 dollars per day especially if you cook at home most of the times. I confirmed the latter with many locals.

Still you need income

In order to have all this, though, you still need to take money into account. Even if the expenses are low you still need some income. Of course this topic cannot be fully analysed in a post. Secondly every person is different and has to also think of their tendencies when they create a strategy. However, I am going to mention some general categories which can also be merged.

First of all Vietnam is in a vast need of English teachers, you can confirm that with a quick search on the internet. And you don’t need to have a university degree for that. I talked with several expatriates all around vietnam who live here by doing this job for about 20 hours per week. Could you imagine that for this job the payment is 20 USD per hour? Which means that by working part time for 20 hours a week you are making approximately 1700 USD per month, a salary that is very close to the basic full time salary in the UK! Native english speakers tend to be paid more but this is not a huge limitation as by providing certain certifications such as toefl you can easily be paid equally.

Of course knowing english is generally an advantage even if you aren’t a teacher. There exist many opportunities to find employment in several sectors. The tourist industry is so high and this increases the demand for english speakers directly and indirectly. Most Vietnamese hardly speak any English. Apart from a tourist office an english speaker is valuable in a hotel, in a cafe, in a bar and generally in any kind of shop and so many other sectors that are affected. Many of these jobs pay really well for the Vietnam level of salaries as they have to do with foreigners where generally the prices are high for the levels of vietnam even if for the tourist are still low.

As I mentioned Vietnam has a yearly average growth rate of more than 6 percent plus there is a booming tourism industry there. This means that it is full of business opportunities. Vietnam of course is very open to foreign investments and even if there are some different processes that the Western countries you still can find your way if you want to. As well, from my experience, a westerner in general has much more business expertise. Marketing, business planning, sales etc are in a very higher level in the west which means that by applying even the simplest methods you can easily be ahead from the competition. At the same time Vietnam offers one-year and three-year residency permits to foreigners looking to establish a company in Vietnam.

Another thing that I have seen many Australians doing is that they work in their country for a period of about 3-4 months in a demanding but well paid job. This is more than enough to cover their expenses for staying or even travelling inside asia for the rest of the year. Due to the not so good levels of employment in the west and the low salaries (compared to the life expenses demanded) this is not so common in europe. However as far as I know in London there are many contractors that can make good money in a few months contract.

I met Jay a half Australian half English who was doing that. During his stay in Vietnam he was also using his knowledge of english to work in the entrance of a bar and create rapport with tourists and customers. So he was making some extra money on the side doing something in fact very enjoyable for his personality as he seemed very extrovert.

However, the by far best and most efficient way to be an expatriate in Vietnam is by creating one or more location independent income streams. What I am saying is to utilise technology to sell products or services through a system that doesn’t demand your physical presence in a certain place. So if you live in Vietnam but have customers from europe paying you in euros you can easily understand that you don’t need too many of them in order to cover your expenses.

You can be a freelancer or have a limited company based in europe or usa. As far as I learnt many web designers live now around Hoi An and maybe some of them were the ones I saw jogging. They work from home and every business transaction, meeting etc are done online. At the same time there exist several platforms that offer you the opportunity to start. In e commerce is amazon, etsy and ebay. In freelancing is elance for example. In books is also amazon and scribd. Technology has reached a level where many traditional ways of doing business have given their place to others more efficient ones, why not flowing with that?

In the meantime you can also be making moves to make the system passive apart from location independent but that’s another great discussion that can’t be covered here and is not essential if you want to be an expatriate.

In terms of Visa requirements in order to remain in the country (in case you haven’t established a Vietnam Business or don’t have a sponsor employer) what most people do is that they keep renewing 3 month visas by visiting for a few days or only a few hours Cambodia or Laos which are only a few hours away. In Cambodia you don’t need visa so you just enter, after you have booked online and instantly a new 3 month visa for Vietnam. So you just reenter. This costs about 50 USD. As far as I know there also exist 5 year multiple entry visas but I haven’t checked thoroughly the exact requirements yet. What I know is that Vietnam has become a very open country compared to previous decades and apart from a place for expatriates is also becoming one of the best destinations for retirement in asia.

Of course all the above are just an idea and even if it makes sense to someone doesn’t mean that it applies to everyone. No One can know what everybody likes but what is important for me is to have our eyes open to both what our individual needs are and which circumstances seem most appropriate to satisfy those. This is how we are becoming creators of a life that I think wasn’t meant to be lived otherwise.

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