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Peter's Field Guide To Living + Working In Hanoi


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Peter's Field Guide To Living + Working In Hanoi


Many of the guides on this site are focused on food, nightlife, and coffee. However, when you make the jump from traveler to expat you have a different set of needs. When people contact me with questions about moving to Hanoi, they usually ask the same things. I’m going to do my best to address all of those questions here. So here are my official cliff notes on how to get your feet on the ground in Hanoi.

I should note that this article is not the end-all be-all of Hanoi. There are always other places you can look, and it’s possible that many of them would be good options. BUT, if you choose to rely exclusively on my suggestions, everything will be fine. That’s a Peter Promise.


Index

What are your questions about? Click on the section you want to read & you'll zoom on down to it! 

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Housing In Hanoi


How to make Hanoi into your home.

Housing In Hanoi


How to make Hanoi into your home.

WHERE IN HANOI SHOULD I LIVE? 

Obviously you can live anywhere you want to (Hanoi really doesn’t have any dangerous areas) but if you want to be in a neighborhood that has a decent sized population of foreigners who are also long-term residents, you basically have 3 options:

 

 

1. TAY HO DISTRICT

This is white person central. As such, there is a lot of infrastructure for foreigners – western dining, gyms, medical practices, stores, bars, etc. In general it is the more expensive option but it is possible to make it more affordable if you do some bargain hunting.

 

 

2. BA DINH DISTRICT

Ba Dinh is much more authentically Vietnamese than Tay Ho. This is where I lived, and I was glad of that fact. The neighborhoods are almost entirely Vietnamese with some “token” foreigners here and there. It can be very cheap and everything you need is right there. However, it might not feel as ‘nice’ by Western standards.

 

 

3. DONG DA DISTRICT

This is the last neighborhood of Hanoi that I would recommend for a foreigner. It’s directly adjacent to Ba Dinh, so the 2 neighborhoods sort of phase into one another. I’ve known westerners who have lived here as well. Many of the schools I taught at during my time in Hanoi were in this neighborhood, so I spent a lot of time here. It’s nice, and almost 100% Vietnamese, but it’s still a solid choice. But I’d look at Tay Ho & Ba Dinh first.


HOW CAN I FIND A place to live in hanoi?

When you first arrive you should plan on staying in a hostel, hotel, or guesthouse for a few days. Don’t worry; you should be able to track down a good living situation in a couple days through one of the following 2 sites. It seriously doesn’t take long. I moved into my first house here 2 days after starting to respond to ads on here. When we got evicted from that house, we managed to find an additional roommate on like 5 hours notice. He was a cool dude, too.

 

 

1. HANOI MASSIVE

Hanoi Massive is like the Godfather or Yoda. It’s the answer to any question you don’t know. “What should I pack for vacation?” “What is this weird rash?” “Where can I _____?” “How can I ______?” The answer is always the same: “Ask Massive.”

Hanoi Massive is a Facebook group containing almost every English speaking person in Hanoi, past, present, and future. It’s always full of housing ads, along with every other thought that has ever crossed anyone’s mind.

EDIT: Something happened to the original Hanoi Massive (/pantsgatewillneverdie), and there are quite a few other groups that have popped up to fill the void. Here are a few of the more substantial groups, ordered from largest to smallest membership:

  1. Hanoi Massive 2.0
  2. Hanoi Massive 3.0
  3. Hanoi Massive 4.0
  4. Hanoi Massive 5.0 (Revenge of Pants Gate)

If you’re wondering, Pants Gate refers to a giant scandal that went down in the early days of expat life in Hanoi. At the center of the controversy, there was a picture of a pair of pants which was being used as evidence of somebody’s infidelity. This drama all played out via Hanoi Massive, and was henceforth known as “pants gate.”

 

 

2. TNH HANOI

This is just another helpful website. Many of the available rooms will be listed in both places. If you want to be thorough, check both.


WHAT DOES RENT COST IN HANOI?

As a general rule of thumb, if you pay more than 300 USD/month for your room, you are officially living in an expensive place. Both of the rooms that I lived in during my time in Hanoi were in the low 200s. However, I had lots of friends who lived in places that were just as nice as mine, and paid in the 170 USD/month ballpark. That’s pretty much the bottom of the range where you can still expect to be living in a nice place though.

As I said before, one big factor that affects the cost of rent is the neighborhood. Tay Ho will, generally, be the most expensive area to live. Ba Dinh would be the next step down. Dong Da should be on par with Ba Dinh, or a bit cheaper.

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Motorbikes In Hanoi


Spoiler alert: you need one.

Motorbikes In Hanoi


Spoiler alert: you need one.

SHOULD I GET A MOTORBIKE?

Oh Gawd, YES! Honestly, if you don’t think you’re up to the task, I would not recommend coming to Hanoi. This is the mode of transportation that the city was made for. If you don’t take the plunge it’s not likely that you’ll have a great time here. It might be intimidating at first, but if Vietnamese grandmothers can do it, so can you. I believe in you! Hanoi is a great place to learn.


DO I NEED TO BE LICENSED TO DRIVE A MOTORBIKE IN VIETNAM?

Technically yes… but I don’t know a single person who actually is. I’m certainly not, and I’ve never had any issues. I have almost never heard of a foreigner even being pulled over in Hanoi. The majority of traffic cops don’t speak English so most won’t bother with you. But on the off-chance that you ever do get pulled over, just play dumb. Just smile and shrug until they roll their eyes and send you on your way.

Note: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is a different story. It’s still a free-for-all, but foreigners are not exempt from consequences in the same way that they are in Hanoi. Most police officers speak English, and they will not hesitate to stop you if you are doing something wrong. If you get stopped, and you are in the wrong, you’ll likely have to bribe them. Don’t worry though! That is a pretty common experience in the developing world, and should not cause you any anxiety. You aren’t on Capitol Hill, you’re in freaking Vietnam. Lighten up.


WHERE SHOULD I BUY MY MOTORBIKE?

There’s plenty of places of course, but here’s what I think are your best 2 options:

 

 

QUANG MINH MOTORS 
ADDRESS: 82 CHUA HA STREET, CAU GIAY DISTRICT, HANOI

Mr. Minh is a decent guy and has good English – I used him during my entire time in Hanoi. You’ll want to know a little something about bikes before you go though, or else bring a friend that does, because if you walk in and ask for the cheapest one (like I have done multiple times), he’ll show you a piece of junk. It’ll be up to you to tell the difference between a piece of crap and a good bike. He’s good to be in business with, but he’ll sell you a broken down bike if he can. All that said, he’s one of the more reliable institutions in Hanoi. He’ll throw in the helmet for you and fix your bike for free forever if you buy from him. However, it is unlikely that you will be able to drive your bike all the way to his shop if it has a problem so people are able to cash in on that promise a lot less often than you’d think. If you can though, it’s nice.

 

 

HANOI MASSIVE / HANOI MARKETPLACE

We’re back to this again. Seriously – anything you need you can find on Massive. If you need to expand your search a bit check out a group called Hanoi Marketplace. You can find some good stuff there as well.


WHERE CAN I GET MY MOTORBIKE FIXED?

There are approximately a billion garages in Hanoi. Most often, if you bike has a serious issue, you will be forced to push your bike to the nearest garage and you are at the mercy of whatever self-proclaimed mechanic you broke down nearest to. In these scenarios, all I can say is keep an eye out. I have had friends who have had mechanics slash their tires when they thought they weren’t looking. They say one bad apple can ruin the bunch, so just be wary. If you have a choice in garages though, here is my garage:

“MUSTACHE MAN GARAGE” 
ADDRESS: 282 DOI CAN STREET, BA DINH DISTRICT, HANOI

This was my and my roommates’ garage in Hanoi. We named it this in honor of the owner’s impressive mustache. If you go there and there are no mustaches around, don’t worry. You’re in the right place. He’s not there very often. They are trustworthy and skilled mechanics who will not rip you off. However, they do not speak English, so if you can’t physically demonstrate what is wrong with your bike, be prepared with Google Translate or a friend you can call to translate.

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Teaching English In Hanoi


How to find a good job. 

Teaching English In Hanoi


How to find a good job. 

IS IT EASY TO FIND WORK?

Hell to the yes. It is very easy to find work in Hanoi. The amount of English centers in Hanoi is off the charts. Everybody needs to learn English if they want to have any sort of interaction with any foreigner, ever. It’s the world’s common language now.

How can you find all of this work? I’m, again, going to direct you to Hanoi Massive. Or, alternatively, you can check out English Teachers In HanoiHanoi Massive Jobs, or Hanoi Teachers. There are new jobs getting posted there every day. Between that and just talking to people, you will find work in no time. Just be proactive about it… although sometimes not even that is necessary – the other day the bank teller gave me an unsolicited job offer to teach at her friend’s English Center when I deposited my pay check.

When you first begin teaching, if you really want to play it fast and loose with freelancing (like I did), you will be building your schedule a few hours at a time. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a month or so to be working everyday. After 2 months, you’ll be so busy that you’ll begin to miss unemployment.


DO I NEED TO FIND A JOB BEFORE I ARRIVE?

NO YOU DON’T! Let me repeat that just in case you need extra reassurance: get yourself to Hanoi first, find a job second. I 100% understand that flying across the world to maybe get a job is a ballsier move than most of us are willing to make, but your chances are much better than you think. Most jobs won’t respond to your emails unless you are actually in the city anyway. After you start the job search, you’ll probably be working within a week. It will probably take you about a month to construct a full schedule. What should you do when you show up? Get a room in a hostel or something. If you like what you see, find a more permanent arrangement (I explained how at the top).

Of course, if you want you can always look for jobs before you show up, but unless you are realistically expecting to find work with a big international school (which requires solid qualifications and teaching experience) then your efforts are likely to be fruitless. And while we are on that subject…


WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED TO TEACH?

Realistically, all you need is white skin. East Asia in general is a pretty racist place, and parents who send their kids to learn English tend to be more concerned that their teacher “looks the part” than they are about anything else. That being said, I’ve had friends of nearly every ethnicity imaginable who taught in Hanoi and loved it, but their experiences were a bit more challenging than mine.

Anyway, being a native speaker gives you a leg up. Having a university degree gives you an additional leg up. Having a certification to teach English (like a TEFL or a CELTA) give you an even bigger leg up. However, the thing that gives you the most credibility is experience. If you don’t have any experience (like I didn’t when I came here) everything you do will inevitably be second-guessed, regardless of how highly qualified you are. However, after about 6 months, people will suddenly start listening to you, regardless of how ill-qualified for the job you were when you started. In the mean time though, if you don’t have any experience yet, you’ll still get plenty of work. So don’t worry!

You should know that, if you want to teach in Vietnamese public schools, it is an absolute must that you have a certification. That said, there are still plenty of other work opportunities in Hanoi for the certification-less teacher. Neither of my roommates in Hanoi (both of whom have thick French accents) had university degrees OR certifications, but they still lived comfortably as teachers. It’s really not hard to stay afloat here, which leads me to my next point…


WHAT IS A NORMAL SALARY FOR AN ENGLISH TEACHER IN HANOI?

There is a hierarchy of salaries here. Teaching normal 9 to 5 weekday classes should pay you the lowest. Night classes should pay more. Weekend classes (especially weekend nights) should be even more than that. In general I would recommend that you never accept anything below 20 USD/hour, unless there are other benefits to the job that are valuable to you. During normal work hours I work for 22 – 23 USD/hour, but my general asking price for nights & weekends was 25 USD/hour, and I considered that to be pretty reasonable.

If your salary is calculated by the month, you should know that all you really need to live as a foreigner in Hanoi is about 500 USD/month. The locals get by on half that, but things will be more expensive for you because the people you will have to buy things from know your wages are higher. In general, you shouldn’t accept a job that pays you anything less than 1,500 USD/month. Anything less than that probably means that your hourly rate is atrociously low and you are being taken advantage of. Of course, every situation is a little different, so you’ll have to evaluate the pros and cons for yourself. I won’t say ‘I told you so’.

All salaries here are counted in USD and then changed to Vietnam Dong (VND). If the dollar is strong, you’ll earn extra money. If the dollar is weak, the employers will get to keep more for themselves. It’s a double edged sword. You are always paid in cash though, so at least you’ll save on taxes. Having said that, you should know that I still filed with the U.S., but I think I might have been the only expat who bothered.


WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO ARRIVE IN HANOI IF I WANT TO LAND A TEACHING JOB? 

The biggest event in Vietnam that you need to think about is Tet. Tet is the Lunar New Year of Vietnam, and although the exact dates vary year to year, it will always last (approximately) from early February to the very beginning of March. The majority of Vietnam’s business, commerce, and education will come to a screeching halt during the 3 (ish) weeks that constitute Tet. For teachers that are already working in Vietnam, it’s time to jet off to a tropical island somewhere. For teachers planning to move to Vietnam, it’s NOT a good time to show up. The whole country is on holiday.

The 2 best time to get a job in Vietnam are August and March. August marks the start to the fall semester in Vietnamese schools, and March marks the start of the spring semester. During the summer the schools are out, but there are English centers that run year-round.

In my opinion, your best bet is to start your job search in early August. The fall semester is pretty intense, so you should be able to get pretty reliable teaching hours. Also, pretty much every educational institution will be bringing on new teachers. In my experience, schools tended to be a bit more flakey during the spring semester because there are other small holidays that break it up. On top of that, most teachers who were hired in August are still teaching, as to complete the school year, so there isn’t as much of a need for new people.

So, here’s a quick recap: The #1 best time to arrive is early August. The #2 best time is the first few days of March. The absolute worst time to arrive is early February because this is the start of Tet. Any other time would be okay too though, as long as it’s not Tet.


WHO NOT TO WORK FOR:

If you answer a bunch of job ads and take a bunch of interviews, chances are decent that you will brush elbows with a company called SET Vietnam. DO NOT TAKE THE JOB. Run fast, run far. You can read about my experience with them here (part 1)here (part 2) and here (part 3). If those articles don’t deter you then I don’t know what will.

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Medical Concerns Concerns In Hanoi


What to do + where to go if you get sick or hurt.

Medical Concerns Concerns In Hanoi


What to do + where to go if you get sick or hurt.

WHAT HOSPITAL SHOULD I GO TO?

Medical practices in Hanoi fall into essentially 1 of 3 categories. Ordered from cheapest to most expensive, the categories are (a) Vietnamese hospitals, (b) French hospitals and (c) American hospitals. If, god forbid, you are having a medical emergency in Vietnam, chances are you will be willing to pay a bit extra for a doctor that speaks your language. Don’t worry too much – they are all decent places… but here is the place I go to.

 

 

FAMILY MEDICAL PRACTICE (AMERICAN) 
ADDRESS: 298 KIM MA STREET, BA DINH DISTRICT, HANOI

This is where I go. It’s American, and I’m not going to lie: it’s pricey. It’s not crazy by Western standards, but it’s not cheap. But I’m a bit temperamental when it comes to this stuff, so I’m willing to pay extra to feel like I’m in a good place. I have heard too many “guy goes to hospital in the developing world” horror stories to mess around with this. It’s a good place, and they can perform just about anything you would ever (reasonably) need to have done to you. You will be safe here.

 

 

L’HÔPITAL FRANCAIS DE HANOI (FRENCH) 
ADDRESS: 1 PHUONG MAI STREET, DONG DA DISTRICT, HANOI)

As an alternative, this is the French hospital in Hanoi. I’ve actually never been to this hospital, because I lived right next to the American hospital, which is supposed to be better, but it’s a good second-round pick. They should speak English, so leave your French-English dictionary at home.


WHAT ABOUT PHARMACIES?

Seeing an actual doctor in Vietnam is a formality. If you feel confident enough to self-diagnose, then you can go to, literally, any pharmacy and buy the drugs you need. No prescription, no problem!

If you’re not sure what sort of drugs you need to get back on your feet, you can ask the pharmacist for a recommendation. They’ll probably “prescribe” you a pretty aggressive regiment of pills. In the few times I’ve done it, it’s never not made me feel better. Of course, you’ll need to either find a place that speaks English or figure something out to deal with the language barrier. The Google Translate app is great, but most of my trips to the pharmacy have been half-hearted games of charades.

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Bank Accounts & Money In Hanoi


Whether you're keeping your savings in a bank or a shoe box, this will help. 

Bank Accounts & Money In Hanoi


Whether you're keeping your savings in a bank or a shoe box, this will help. 

WHAT IS THE BEST INTERNATIONAL BANK ACCOUNT TO HAVE?

If you are from the U.S. the best banks for traveling in general are, hands down, Charles Schwab, and Capital One. Why? Because they have no fees and reimburse you for all of your ATM fees at the end of each month, which, let me tell you, would be nice. As soon as I get back to the U.S. for a little while, the first thing I’m going to do is switch from Chase.


SHOULD/CAN I OPEN A VIETNAMESE BANK ACCOUNT?

Yes, you should if you can. Vietnam is pretty anal when it comes to money though. As a foreigner you won’t be able to open an account without a labor contract and you won’t be able to make deposits without a ‘pay slip’ to verify the information of your payment. If you don’t have a contract, you won’t be able to open the account in the first place. If you don’t have the pay slip you’ll need to find an alternative way to get your money out of the country besides a simple wire transfer. In order to have these things, you’ll probably need to have a pretty stable job situation with a bigger English center or international school.

If you can’t swing this, or don’t want to be tied down in that way, don’t worry. Most expats in Hanoi conduct their business in less formal ways. They are paid in cash under the table and the save their money in a shoe box under the bed. That makes me a bit uncomfortable, but I’ve had to do it from time to time. From there, if you are saving for a plane ticket, you can pay in cash for a travel agent to make the booking for you. I recommend my friend Lai ( cozyhotel@gmail.com ). She’s the bomb dot com, so if you are in need of a booking done in cash (or getting a new visa), she is a good person to be in business with.


WHAT IS THE BEST VIETNAMESE BANK ACCOUNT TO HAVE?

I bank with HSBC Vietnam, but there are other good options. The bank that seems to be the other front-runner if everyone’s mind is called Techcom Bank. Either of these would be good, but HSBC is a bit more reliable internationally if you plan on making frequent trips out of Vietnam during your time there.


CAN I TRANSFER MY MONEY OUT OF THE COUNTRY WITHOUT A VIETNAMESE BANK ACCOUNT? 

Normally, no. If you have cash but nowhere to deposit it, then you can’t transfer it back to your bank account at home. That’s the problem with working “under the table.” Many expats who are doing this will just keep their savings as a wad of cash! It’s a surprisingly normal practice. HOWEVER, if you’re desperate to transfer money out of the country and you do not have a Vietnamese bank account, there is a way… but it’s sketchy.

Hà Trung Street (a.k.a. Gold Street) is full of shops that sell jewelry and (you guessed it) gold. Some of these shops also make substantial profits on commission for international wire transfers. I’d suggest starting with a shop called Thịnh QuangIn the back of the shop, behind closed doors, there are crowded rooms full of Vietnamese men counting money and yelling to each other. They are the key to you transferring your money. If you are going to try this, you NEED a Vietnamese friend to help you. You’re in extremely sketchy waters, even for Vietnam, so they won’t normally perform this service for foreigners. And they also don’t speak English. Swim at your own risk.


WHERE CAN I EXCHANGE MY MONEY IN HANOI? 

Pretty much any jewelry store or gold shop in Hanoi doubles as a money exchange. So if you have to change Vietnamese Dong with some other currency, just head to your neighborhood gold shop. If you’re not sure where that is, then head down to Hoan Kiem District/Old Quarter and go to Hà Trung Street. This street is where most of the city’s gold shops and located. Not every store on this street is going to have every currency, so you may have to poke your head into a few of them before you find one that can help you.

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Visas In Vietnam (+ Hanoi)


Vietnam is a little tricky.

Visas In Vietnam (+ Hanoi)


Vietnam is a little tricky.

CAN I WORK ON A TOURIST VISA? 

Yes, you can. It’s not technically legal, but you can do it. I’ve never heard of anyone every being caught either. It makes your life a bit easier if you have a more legitimate status in Vietnam, but by no stretch of the imagination is it “necessary.” Most teachers in Hanoi are part of the informal economy, and all of them are getting by just fine. The penalty for being caught is pretty un-intimidating anyways, so don’t worry.

However, if you want to do it right, and get a business visa and a work permit, you will probably need to find an employer first. Hanoi is a total cluster-fuck when it comes to information, so if your research feels like it’s hitting a dead end, just show up! Get a tourist visa and just come figure it out. If you find an employer who will give you the stability you are in search of, you can go on a ‘visa run‘ and come back a legal employee. However, jobs that can give you this usually require a teaching certificate, just FYI.


WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO RENEW MY VISA?

The rules on this matter have been changing a lot recently. But if you have an official business visa through your job, they should be able to take care of it. All that will be left for you to do is schedule your visa run. The cheapest options are (a) a flight to Bangkok ($130 ish) and (b) a bus to Laos ($20 ish). There’s a big trade-off here: the bus to Laos is going to SUCK. But it’s cheap.

If you are working on a tourist visa, you will need to take care of it yourself. The easiest way to do this is just to have somebody else do it. As I mentioned above, during my time in Hanoi, as a part of the informal economy (as mentioned above), I used a lady named Lai to renew my visa. You can email here at cozyhotel@gmail.com – she’s awesome. She’s by no means the only person who does this in Hanoi, but she was my person.

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SIM Cards & Phones In Hanoi


Don't resign yourself to being disconnected. This is an easy one!

SIM Cards & Phones In Hanoi


Don't resign yourself to being disconnected. This is an easy one!

WILL THE SIM CARD I HAVE NOW WORK IN HANOI?

No, stupid.


WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH GETTING A NEW SIM CARD IN HANOI?

Yes, you will need to get a new one. You should use Viettel. That is the best phone company in Vietnam. I don’t know why anybody uses anything else. You can find SIM cards all over the place on the streets; you will see big signs that say “SIM” on every other corner. Just make sure it is a Viettel card. If it’s not, keeping moving.

Once you have your SIM card, the procedure for putting money on your plan is to buy little cards with codes that credit your account. Walk into (almost) any corner store, hold out a 100,000 VND note and say “Viettel”. They’ll know what you need. Once you have the card, follow the instructions on the back. It’s easy.

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Other Questions?


I'm here to help!

Other Questions?


I'm here to help!

If you are reading this and you have any other questions, get in touch with me and ask! It takes me 5 minutes to respond to an email, so I’ll do what I can to help you out!

You also might be interested to read the other 2 guides about Hanoi featured on this site. These guides focus on coffee, food, and nightlife in Hanoi, as well as how to stay safe while navigating Hanoi's daily traffic apocalypse atop a rickety old motorbike. Interested? 

Hanoi is a great city to live in, but it can be a little intimidating at first. Hang in there. Don't let the fear shake you. Once you breach past the surface, Hanoi is one of the most amazing and genuinely peaceful cities on this planet. It's a great place to live once you get your feet on the ground. 

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