Reporting from: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
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 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 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.
Fresh off of my 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:
Street Vendor Food and Drink (non-tourist areas)
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+
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
Daily bicycle rental: $1
Daily motorbike rental: $3
Daily fuel for motorbike: $0.50-1
Bus to historic site or beach in nearby province: $5
Obviously, some of these goods and services may appeal to you more than others. Personally, 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. And I have no plans to wear $7 jeans any time soon.
However, the opportunity to live on a serious budget here does exist. 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 if you’re willing to somewhat live like a local.
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