An expat blog about the cost of living in Saigon, District 1, Vietnam, 2017.
Lower your expectations
Living in emerging markets has its challenges, and you should lower your expectations and perhaps read the book “Happiness of Life” by Dalai Lama, before you decide to relocate to south east Asia & be mentality prepared for a very different "way of doing & viewing things" in SEA.
There are a lot of blogs talking about the "amazing low-cost life" (?) and how to survive on less than 1,000 USD per month in south East Asia (SEA). But surviving and living a convenient lifestyle are two different things. If I was about to live the same life here compared with at home (north Europe), what’s the point of being here - seriously? (unless you are starting of as a digital nomad in need of completely slashing your bills).
I hope below inputs help you to understand the cost of living in Saigon, and, if you ever wonder about the white collar salary, check this survey by Robert Walters.
Don’t expect to get a lot of paid holidays here (like 4 weeks in Europe), and don’t expect to get a decent pension from the government, which needs to be considered before moving to Vietnam. You need to plan your own future in terms of finances and your own pension.
About quality living areas for expats in Saigon; consider The Japan Town, District 7 (Korea town), District 2 (US/Europe), or D1, which is just what I heard from other expats. Avoid the backpacker area of Pham Ngu Lao, D1, unless you belong to the same category.
Living expenses in Saigon
(1 USD = 22,000 VND)
Renting a room in D1 normally costs +300 USD per month and a 1 bdr flat usually starts from 400 USD per month in D1. You can always find cheap flats but you would likely have to live far away from D1, and at a different standard or in a shabby area. I want to live in a safe area with amenities and gym at walking distance, so I am happy where I am right now (D1/zone 1). The traffic is horrible in Saigon, so make sure you can get to your office fairly quickly (as I do in less than 30 minutes).
A coffee latte at famous “Highland coffee”, or “coffee bean”, costs 60,000 VND.
1 banana costs 8,000 VND (district 1), and 1 litre milk 40,000 VND (fresh non-sugar milk from Dalat)
A Uber private motorbike ride to my office, which is a 25 min ride, costs 55,000 VND, single trip
A fast food lunch at the Vincom store, costs on average 60,000 VND
A simple Vietnamese coffee bought on the street costs 15,000 VND and a bowl of rice with some meat (mostly bone!) costs 25,000 VND (if bought on the street). However, I get hungry after 1 hour, so that size does not attract me at all. I was breast fed by a European mum (!) so I can’t just eat noodles and a bowl of rice every day, that would likely make me sick in the long run.
1 package of Alpen Musli non-sugar costs 163,000 VND (I use it for breakfast and it lasts for 6-7 meals so it is worth it) and I get the morning energy I need to kickstart my day.
The cost of petrol (full tank) for a bike costs on average 1.5 USD.
A Japanese meal (a large bowl of rice, beef, or quality chicken) goes for 68,000 VND per person (in district 1), in a fairly good restaurant (but not luxury), and if you seek western food, the meals usually start from +200k VND per person.
A full-body massage is offered at 300,000 VND per hour in D1 (district 1).
A haircut for foreigners starts from 100,000 VND. (that's a lot and bring your Vietnamese GF/BF and you may get a cheaper haircut!!)
3h bus trip from Saigon to Dong Thap, Mekong, costs on average 90,000 VND for a single trip.
Hair-wax costs 80,000 VND but I buy quality stuff for my hair and skin, so I am on a completely different level here.
A GP doctor visit at a well reputed and safe hospital would start from 200k VND per person.
2 boiled eggs in the super market cost 10,000 VND in D1 Le Thanh Ton (zone1).
1 Twister orange juice, and 1 Lipton tea cost 10,000 VND per bottle. You may get them for 6,000 VND each in a large super market outside city center).
Clinique face wash for men costs 650,000 VND, and a face scrub by the same brand costs 500,000 VND.
One-time face mask can be bought for 16,000 VND, and the more expensive alternatives cost 70,000 VND per bag.
Shower gel “Romano” costs on average 50,000 VND per bottle.
Dining out at Pho or Moon Hue cost on average 70,000 VND per person.
A coconut in a restaurant costs 30,000 VND.
Items from abroad tend to be expensive as they are heavily taxed (which I don’t really fancy at all, but is it a way to protect domestic produced items? But what are the alternatives? Sometimes nothing at all!), and buying a car is twice as expensive as it should be (TAXES)!
Flying from Saigon to Hanoi on a return ticket is actually fairly cheap, you can make it below 100 USD if booking in advance with a low-cost carrier, and hotels are generally cheap (5 nights stay in a quality hotel, but not luxury, cost on average 3Mn VND in Danang with breakfast included, centrally located, double bed).
It’s hard to find shoes and clothes that fit my European body (1.80 tall) and No 45 shoes, so you either make a trip to HK or Thai, or visit a tailor. My friendly and skilled tailor (Verona & Tricia, opposite to Sheraton hotel D1) charges 50 USD for a handmade quality shirt (Egyptian cotton) / trousers, and, approximately 120 USD for a handmade suite made of Australian wool.
A laundry service of 5 shirts costs at least 100k VND in D1.
A monthly Gym membership, costs 1.5Mn VND unless you wanna hang around with the locals, for half the price. My Gym is also 1 min away from my house, so I save time, and time is money right?
I hope I have helped you to understand more about the cost of living in Vietnam, Saigon, D1, and if you seek more information, ask a question on social media and I will reply as soon as possible.
-Antonios “Anthony” & Partners, in Saigon