Advice on an expat assignment in Vietnam

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capitalG
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Joined: Tue Mar 18, 2014 8:02 pm

Advice on an expat assignment in Vietnam

Post by capitalG » Tue Dec 04, 2018 12:30 pm

On the verge of making a major professional and personal decision and wanted to get advice from any of you that have gone / are going down this path. I have been offered an expat assignment in Vietnam (HCMC) by the megacorp I work at. It is a strong career move with good compensation (includes all the trappings of a megacorp international move) and temporary in nature (minimum 2 years, maximum 5 years, after which I return to a job at home base). DW and I are discussing the move and the questions/concerns are personal in nature - as context, we have two young children and she would have to leave her job at the same megacorp to make this work. Appreciate if you have any insights to share on any of the items below or anything else that comes to your mind!

Air quality - DW is reading horror stories about the air in Vietnam and is worried about how much this will impact our lives and potential health of our young children. How does the air quality feels on the ground, how did it impact your daily lives, and what advice do you have on dealing with it?

Daycare - Our older child (and soon younger child) attends a high quality daycare/preschool right now and would likely be attending some sort of international/American daycare in HCMC - how did you find the quality of daycare / early schooling in HCMC?

Healthcare - Fortunately none of us currently have any chronic health issues. In the outside chance there is a health emergency, how did you find the quality of healthcare in HCMC?

Expat community - like most foreigners in the city, we will not have any friends/family in the country and will be "starting from scratch" - how did you find the opportunities to meet people, build community, etc while in the country/city?

Spouse wellbeing - DW has worked since finishing college and enjoys what she does - while we are seeking out opportunities for in HCMC, we are preparing for her to either work virtually in her current role or to take leave. If your spouse was not working, how did they fare / spend their time while in the country?

capG

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Cyclesafe
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Re: Advice on an expat assignment in Vietnam

Post by Cyclesafe » Tue Dec 04, 2018 2:10 pm

I've spent about a month in Vietnam. You could do worse than HCMC. You'll be able to see the rest of Vietnam (only gets better) and the rest of south east Asia at your leisure.

More to the point, I've been an expat in Singapore and Tokyo. Being away from headquarters takes one out of the loop for further promotions. After the "maximum" they scramble to find a position at home that they can force you into. In my experience, most expats do not transition back well and end up quitting only sometimes to a position that takes advantage of their expat experience.

Another downside is the tendency of expat children getting spoiled. If they are "out of country" too long they will not be able to fit in with their peers upon return. That can be a good thing, but usually it isn't.

Continue to ask questions and take seriously the answers. There are downsides to taking a foreign assignment.

Having said the above, I'd also say that living overseas was a great experience for my wife and I; one for which we have no regrets. We also saved so much money that we retired at age 45.

Skiandswim
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Re: Advice on an expat assignment in Vietnam

Post by Skiandswim » Tue Dec 04, 2018 4:40 pm

Our family has made several expat moves to developing countries. We have found the experience exceptionally valuable; learning new languages, adapting to other cultures, and making great friends. Some thoughts on your questions …

Air quality – If you have concerns, have your firm or personally invest in house / room air filtration systems (helped us a great deal in China). City streets in HCMC have higher particulate levels from all the motos, but manageable.

Daycare – The American / International Schools have daycare options available in most cases (Teachers with children will often have recommendations). If your firm will arrange for pre-visit to schools and homes even better.

Healthcare – most expats have a global medical coverage plan. Local medical care varies widely in Asia. For any serious concerns, I would recommend medical support in Singapore.

Spouse – expat communities have been very welcoming in our experience. Lots to do for working and non-working spouses. If your spouse is considering remote work back in USA, investigate work visa requirements that may still apply in Vietnam.

alaskantraveler
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Re: Advice on an expat assignment in Vietnam

Post by alaskantraveler » Wed Dec 05, 2018 6:10 pm

A few things come to mind. I have traveled a fair amount, and I spent time in HCMC.

Its hot! - Not sure what you like to do, but outdoor activities are restricted due to hot humid climate.

Traffic is terrible! I use to laugh at the sea of motor scooters everywhere, its almost mind blowing. If you are going to go for it, I highly recommend finding a flat as close to your work as you can get. I always say that the biggest risk that Americans expose themselves to when traveling to SE Asia is not disease, kidnapping, muggings, etc.... Its traffic related accidents. There is not good traffic enforcement, the infrastructure is overburdened and often under maintained. Automobiles including taxis do not have the same safety standards as in the USA. I spent one month in Vietnam and visually saw one traffic fatality. My friend visited for 2 weeks and also witnessed a traffic fatality involving a motorscooter and a bus.

Generally, cost of living is cheap in Vietnam, but have no idea how cost of living would be for someone in your position looking at two children in private international schools, large high end flat near downtown, automobile, etc.

Not sure if you speak Vietnamese or any other Asian languages, but Vietnamese is a very tough language especially for English speakers.

On the plus side, Vietnam and HCMC are exotic, the food is amazing, and you have relatively close access to amazing places to visit. Think Ankor Wat in Cambodia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Thailand Beaches, Vietnam cities like Hoi An, Danang, Sapa, etc...

RightGuard
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Re: Advice on an expat assignment in Vietnam

Post by RightGuard » Wed Dec 05, 2018 7:13 pm

Congratulations on an opportunity to experience Saigon, a well worn but still lovely pearl of the orient.

Particulate count in the air is high due to the extremely high number of motorbikes and other two-stroke vehicles in the city. Still quite a bit of open air cooking using charcoal as well. You've probably seen pictures of people wearing face masks (usually a washable cotton affair that doesn't do a whole lot).

The cost of living with the exception of housing is very low, even lower if you can speak the language or develop the knack for shopping where the locals go. With the exception of District 1 Saigon doesn't realllllyyy have a tourist district but you'll do even better once you can learn the swings and roundabouts of shopping at the various street markets. Interesting note about food as well, 1. Avoid inside markets at ape the supermarkets you've seen in the States. 2. Counter intuitively food quality actually DECREASES as you leave the city and enter the suburbs/countryside. The best produce, meat, and fish is typically sent to the city where it can command the best market price.

The black market, corruption, etc. are all present, you'll quickly learn to read the signs. Standard State Department warnings apply.

Also. If you have a need for local banking. And by that I mean going into a branch and using their services as opposed to an ATM that links to your US/EU domiciled account (or online banking) be careful and make sure that the local in country branch fully explains all the fine points of retail banking in VN before you transact business.

Corporate housing tends to be either high rise luxury developments or in SFH developments located away from the city center. Commuting in can take some getting used to. Going anywhere in the city by car will take much longer than by motorbike, sometimes with the added bonus of no parking.

Healthcare is a little spotty. There are some hospitals run by foreign charities. Like another poster said I would plan on any complex issues to require travelling out of country. I would say local hospitals are sound procedurally but lack funds for equipment and supplies.

AlohaJoe
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Location: Saigon, Vietnam

Re: Advice on an expat assignment in Vietnam

Post by AlohaJoe » Wed Dec 05, 2018 7:51 pm

capitalG wrote:
Tue Dec 04, 2018 12:30 pm
On the verge of making a major professional and personal decision and wanted to get advice from any of you that have gone / are going down this path.
I am a foreigner who moved to Vietnam on an expat assignment several years ago and ended up staying here, retiring here, buying a house here. Feel free to PM me and ask more detailed/personal questions.
Air quality - DW is reading horror stories about the air in Vietnam and is worried about how much this will impact our lives and potential health of our young children. How does the air quality feels on the ground, how did it impact your daily lives, and what advice do you have on dealing with it?
It doesn't feel like anything to me (people get used to lots of things), it doesn't impact my daily life in any way. The only time I ever notice it is when I'm driving my scooter during the daytime. I sometimes (but not always) wear an AQBlue facemask: http://www.aqbluemasks.com/en/. (RightGuard is correct that most people use something else, washable cotton, which doesn't really help with particulates.)
Daycare - Our older child (and soon younger child) attends a high quality daycare/preschool right now and would likely be attending some sort of international/American daycare in HCMC - how did you find the quality of daycare / early schooling in HCMC?
If your wife is leaving her job to follow you, why would you need day care? Anyway, there are lots of international daycares around. I can't speak to the quality, though.
Healthcare - Fortunately none of us currently have any chronic health issues. In the outside chance there is a health emergency, how did you find the quality of healthcare in HCMC?
It has been fine the few times I've needed it for (in the grand scheme of things) minor stuff. Most foreigners end up going to international clinics & hospitals like FV or Columbia.
Expat community - like most foreigners in the city, we will not have any friends/family in the country and will be "starting from scratch" - how did you find the opportunities to meet people, build community, etc while in the country/city?
It is easy to get into the expat community.
Spouse wellbeing - DW has worked since finishing college and enjoys what she does - while we are seeking out opportunities for in HCMC, we are preparing for her to either work virtually in her current role or to take leave. If your spouse was not working, how did they fare / spend their time while in the country?
This is the biggest issue I've seen with couples moving to Vietnam. It depends entirely how self-motivate the spouse is. If your spouse is more used to having a job and having that provide structure, goals, and motivation for her...then I've seen lots of people struggle. On the other hand, there are lots LOTS of spouses in a similar situation. The default is for the wife to be a stay-at-home mom/dilettante/trophy wife/whatever you want to call it. Especially if you have children, she will have no shortage of friends if she's willing to put in even a little effort. But they will all tend to be "mommy friends". If that's a problem for her -- e.g. if she's used to having friends who are all highly ambitious professionals -- then she'll need to work harder to find a social circle she's happy with.

I would have a hard time suggesting she work remotely. I've seen people do it and it usually leaves them even more socially isolated, since they lose out on all those daytime hours to meet other people who aren't in 9-5 jobs.

My thoughts on points other commenters have made:

I am less negative about the impact on children than Cyclesafe is :)

But he is right that a lot of expats don't transition back easily or at all. (I'm a case in point, I quit the company rather than transition back to HQ.)

Skiandswim recommended Singapore for major medical issues. I would strongly recommend against unless your employer shells out for the Ultra Platinum Healthcare package. (A lot of healthcare plans explicitly do not cover treatment in Singapore.) Singapore healthcare is insanely expensive and very (for lack of a better word) capitalistic. You will be referred for every test & scan they can think of and charged for every one. Many of my friends prefer to go to Japan for healthcare treatment and find the quality better and the prices better.

Skiandswim points out that technically working remotely requires having a work permit. Which is totally true. It would also require filing taxes in Vietnam, since she'll be working in Vietnam.

alaskantraveler said that automobiles don't have the same safety standards as in the US -- that is incorrect; after all most of the cars are imported and the rest are built with the same exact safety equipment they have elsewhere in the world.

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capitalG
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Re: Advice on an expat assignment in Vietnam

Post by capitalG » Fri Dec 07, 2018 6:29 pm

Thank you all for your very helpful advice - we've decided to take the plunge and will be moving early next year!

Air Quality - Thanks for the advice on [non-cotton] masks and air purifiers - we will make sure to invest in (or have our company invest in) air filtration and water filtration units for the house. Also good point on trying to avoid too long of a commute, will keep that in mind when comparing residence options.

Daycare - Thanks for advice on difficult re-acclimitizing kids, we will make an extra effort on keeping them grounded. May also opt for the American schools over others to make the transition back easier. Taking a look on the expat Facebook groups, the international/American daycares look very nice compared to our current daycare (which are already happy with) - relieved to see kids won't be worse off in the new country.

Healthcare - Thanks for tips on Singapore and Japan, makes sense.

Spouse - Will look at visa / tax issues with spouse working in Vietnam. Haven't yet decided whether she will leave work altogether and engage more fully in the spouse social scene, work remotely, or do a combo but good advice.

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