Reporting from: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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It must have been my lucky day. But I’m not a thief, so I left empty-handed.
Walking down one of the main streets in Ho Chi Minh City’s central District 1, I came upon a stash of Patek Philippe watches left right on top of a glass display case. With no one in sight. Nearly a dozen amazingly pricey watches could have been mine.
If, of course, they were real.
Like many developing countries, Vietnam has its share of knock-offs. But even setting the counterfeit goods aside, the cost of living in Vietnam is relatively cheap. While locals complain that inflation and a depreciating Vietnam dong is hurting their purchasing power, Westerners bringing dollars or Euros (or, as I recommend, simply taking money out of the local ATM) will be just fine.
Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur looking to start your location independent business on the cheap, a retiree looking to stretch your cash before the government taxes away your Social Security check, or just an adventure seeker, you can take advantage of the low cost of living here in Vietnam.
While it may take you a while to get used to all the extra zeroes at the end of the Vietnamese dong and you might lose a cent or two here or there due to locals who round the last three digits of all purchases to compensate for their country’s inflated currency, it is well worth the nuisance for the amount you can save on everyday expenses.
In fact, right after buying an iced green tea in a small restaurant for all of $0.14, I put together a list of prices of everyday goods for sale in Vietnam. Here are some examples:
The Cost of Living in Vietnam
Street Vendor Food and Drink (non-tourist areas)
Note: Food prices in Ho Chi Minh City are generally double what they are throughout the rest of the country. So, while these prices are already incredible cheap, if you are traveling outside of the city, your budget can stretch even further.
Large bowl of noodles with meat: $1.50-2
Chicken sandwich: $1.25
Pork spring roll: $0.25
Bag of local potato chips: $0.40
Bottle of water: $0.25
Fresh tea with lemon: $0.50
Can of soda: $0.40-0.50
Local Restaurant Food and Drink
Meat entree: $2-4
Fish entree: $3-5
Vegetarian entree: $1.75-3
Large meat or fruit pancake: $1
Large garlic bread in cafe: $1.25
Western-style breakfast: $2-4
Fresh fruit juice: $1-2.50
Fresh fruit milkshake: $1-2
Shot of name brand alcohol: $2
Local beer: $0.50
Import beer: $1.50-2
Cheap women’s shoes: $2
Cheap men’s or dress shoes: $5-6
Graphic T-shirt: $1.75
Decent looking tie: $2
Child’s outfit: $2-3
Custom made suit: $50+
(Suits here are so affordable that I’ve named one city in Vietnam the cheapest place in the world for custom suits.)
Shoe shine: $1-2
Laundry (fluff and fold): $0.50 per pound
Hair cut in western-style barber: $5-6
Hair cut on the street: $2
Shave on the street: $1
Walking: Free! HCMC is a very walkable city, but if you prefer other means of transportation, it won’t cost you too much out of pocket.
Daily bicycle rental: $1
Daily motorbike rental: $3
Monthly motorbike rental: $50
Daily fuel for motorbike: $0.50-1
Bus to historic site or beach in nearby province: $5
Taxi from the airport to downtown Ho Chi Minh City: $5-$7, plus a $0.45 airport departure fee added at the end. (If you want a pre-paid taxi, they cost around $12.)
Train: As part of a plan to avoid the severe congestion that has plagued other Asian cities, the Ho Chi Minh City Metro is still a work in progress and is scheduled to open in 2020.
Dorm bed: $5 a night
Guesthouse room: $15 a night
Ensuite (monthly rent): $200 – $400
1 bedroom apartment in the city center: $360
1 bedroom apartment outside the city center: $240
3 bedroom apartment in the city center: $870
3 bedroom apartment outside the city center: $530
Finally, any location independent businessman will be glad to hear that Vietnam is home to some of the best cafes for co-working in Southeast Asia where you can get a great (free) wifi connection for all your online work. Or, if you are planning on staying for a longer period of time and want to work from home, internet packages are less than $11 a month.
Obviously, some of these goods and services may appeal to you more than others. Personally, when it comes to transportation I’d rather spend $75 to fly from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to the beach than sit on a long train ride with dirty bathrooms.
However, the opportunity to live on a serious budget does exist here. As is the case everywhere, Western brands from Gap to Louis Vuitton will likely be more expensive than you’re used to in the United States. However, you can easily withdraw more money from an ATM than many retail or food service workers here earn in a month.
With that in mind, the cost of living in Vietnam can be quite low, especially if you’re willing to somewhat live like a local.
If that is the case and you are interested in starting a business in this emerging economy, we provide some important suggestions here, as well as some frank advice about venture capital in Vietnam here.
Have you ever lived in Vietnam? How do these prices compare to your experience? Let us know in the comments section.