14 Insider Tips for Making the Most Out of Living and Doing Business in Vietnam

How many of us have ever thought “I wish I had known that before moving to Vietnam or starting a business here”? We have written many articles that share advice for living and doing business in Vietnam (for example, this one), however, this time we decided to reach out to various people to get their perspective on […]

How many of us have ever thought “I wish I had known that before moving to Vietnam or starting a business here”? We have written many articles that share advice for living and doing business in Vietnam (for example, this one), however, this time we decided to reach out to various people to get their perspective on the matter.

We asked 14 people to answer the question:

What is your one piece of advice for living and doing business in Vietnam?

And here are their top tips.

Table of contents

    #1 Find a reliable partner

    In the recent years, Vietnam has gained more and more popularity as an expat destination – and rightfully so. With its bustling cities, quiet villages, amazing coastal towns, and laid-back islands, Vietnam offers some of the most diverse landscapes in Southeast Asia for you to explore.

    Whether you decide to live or do business in Vietnam: be ready to hit the language barrier. Having a trustworthy Vietnamese partner or assistant with good English skills can save you a lot of headaches when dealing with everything from local suppliers to real estate agents.

    – Joanna Szreder is the author of The Blond Travels. She writes about living and traveling in Southeast Asia as well as making a living while being on the road.

    #2 Learn the language

    My advice for anyone doing business or living in Vietnam would be to learn Vietnamese. It’s not simply because of the leg-up that you will get when it comes to negotiation and managing people. It’s the sense of belonging that you get in order to enjoy living and working in Vietnam.

    You will move closer to becoming an insider rather than an outsider. The appreciation and acceptance from the local Vietnamese (when they laugh at you uncontrollably) will greatly increase your chance of success as well as enhance your overall happiness.

    And of course, learn to ride a motorbike and enjoy the freedom that it offers. I rode throughout Vietnam on an old Minsk and I am absolutely convinced that there’s no better way to experience this beautiful country than on a bike. So don’t miss out!

    – Thu Nguyen, CEO, and Co-Founder of Christina’s. Prior to founding Christina’s in 2014, Thu spent almost 10 years working in the financial services industry.

    #3 It’s all about networking

    Vietnam is the kind of place where the hustle is rewarded. In Vietnam, specifically Ho Chi Minh City, I’ve realized that the more you put yourself out there and try to make connections, the more you’ll be rewarded. Every single opportunity I’ve been presented is all from word of mouth.

    The expat community in HCMC is really small and sometimes that can get a bit political, but for the most part, you feel so incredibly supported because of how willing everyone is to help one another out. If you are planning to live in Ho Chi Minh City I short-term, living in District 1 is really convenient. If you’re going to be in it for the long haul, make yourself a home in District 2 or District 7.

    For someone as independent as I am, I really wish I was brave enough to have ridden on a motorbike but deciding to ride is a gamble for safety and if you aren’t up to the challenge, don’t try to force it.

    – A Bostonian by way of the Philippines, Izzy Pulido of The Next Somewhere is the current Managing Editor of the newly revamped official Vietnam Tourism website. She also contributes to the creative consortium Vietcetera.

    #4 Have an open mind

    The biggest piece of advice that we can offer to anyone thinking about working in Vietnam is to leave behind all preconceptions from you home environment – everything is going to be very different and resistance will make your transition much harder! Be ready to smile, laugh and be patient in any scenario.

    Any management structure in Vietnam is heavily influenced by the traditional idea that elders command the highest amount of respect; something to bear in mind, whether or not you’re dealing with someone in a senior position to you. Above all, just relax and enjoy the ride, because it’s going to something you’ll never forget!

    – Mr. and Mrs. Howe, Jonathan and his wife Kach are the founders of Two Monkeys Travel Group, a travel blog and website where they share their experience and knowledge of traveling the world since 2013.

    #5 Build relationships, show respect and keep smiling

    In Vietnam, it’s best to unlearn everything you know, drop expectations, and most importantly, go for a coffee with your colleagues. The Vietnamese are very playful. Once you open that door and build their confidence they feel comfortable to share and talk to you. This will lead to clarity, a more productive workplace, fewer misunderstandings, etc.

    Another good one is to admit when you make a mistake, no matter how big or small. This will save a lot of cover-ups and build a more trusting and open environment.

    In such a complex culture, it’s hard to give one piece of advice on living and doing business. Coming from a yoga background, my advice would be to be patient and understanding. Easier said than done, but best to find your way to managing unpredictable situations calmly and quietly.

    Keep smiling and treat people with respect. Don’t think of yourself as superior just because you are an expat. Humble yourself and learn from the Vietnamese.

    – Natalie Devoy is a certified nutritionist, lifestyle coach and the founder of Nomad Yoga Hoi An

    #6 Don’t forget about your little ones

    If you’re moving to Vietnam for work or business and bringing a young family with you, I highly recommend enrolling your child into a local day care facility.

    Our three-year-old son missed playing with other kids around his age. Vietnam was our first extended trip with him, so we didn’t realise how much he would miss interacting with his peers. We decided that for all future extended stays we would enrol him in a local daycare program so he could make friends with other little people.

    – Sandra Muller is an SEO copywriter, online content strategist, and sometime digital nomad. She loves working on content projects of all sizes, with large corporations, government departments through to small businesses. See more at www. sandralmuller.com

    #7 Be patient

    This is difficult to narrow down, but if I had to choose one piece of advice it would be to have patience. Certain processes can take a lot of time in Vietnam, and there is often a lot of paperwork to fill out, whether it is for signing a lease on an apartment or setting up a bank account.

    This applies to your personal life as well. Punctuality isn’t a common trait here, and it is common to have to wait well past the agreed-upon time when you are meeting someone for, say, a coffee, or perhaps for a business meeting. Time is a loose concept in Vietnam and many foreigners who live here pick up this trait as well. This can be very frustrating for anyone who is always on time, but generally, you learn to live with it.

    – Michael Tatarski of Along the Mekong is a journalist and editor who has lived in Saigon, Vietnam since late 2010.

    #8 Go with the flow

    The biggest advice I can give anyone when intended to live in Vietnam is to go with the flow. The expats here who have succeeded the most are the ones who have learned to adapt to this mentality. Vietnam in many areas is still developing in regard to systems and processes so do not expect the same efficient standards.

    There are plenty of networking events all over the city for business people and anyone wants to meet others. If you’re a sport fan there are countless city sport teams and many expats are involved in sport clubs in some way. There is dodgeball, softball, football, and rugby just to name a few!

    – Mitch is the Co-Founder of Adventure Factory. With his partner in crime Thuymi, they travel the world. Both Mitch and Thuymi have lived several years in Vietnam and still come back regularly.

    #9 Adapt and be flexible

    A few pieces of advice I would give to those interested in living and doing business in Vietnam is to adapt to the local environment, the culture and be extremely flexible. After 8 years of living and working in Vietnam, I still face challenges. I love this country and truly believe and promote the beauty of Vietnam on a daily basis. It’s definitely an emerging market and in a few years time when the metro is completed in Ho Chi Minh City it will be one of the top countries in Asia.

    Vietnam isn’t for everyone, however, if you are looking at a city or country that is booming and you want to be part of something awesome – whether for business or personal reasons, Vietnam is definitely the place to be. There are some challenges of course but it is truly one of the best start up countries in Asia and the cost of living is quite cheap. Then you have the lifestyle, tons of new and improved F&B establishments plus some of the most beautiful landscapes around, Vietnam will really impact you.

    Vietnam is my home and I really try to help people see the awesomeness that this country has to offer. In the next 3-5 years, this country will really take off. So now is the time to get involved and try new things.

    – Philip Veinott has been living and working in Vietnam for over 8 years. He is also the founder of Vietnam is Awesome which is the premier expat and tourist group in Vietnam – connecting both foreigners and locals together with positive stories, photos, and videos. See also his Facebook page.

    #10 Embrace the street culture

    Vietnam is changing at a rapid pace and it’s an exciting time to be here. If you are living here I would embrace the street culture as much as possible. Find out about the best street food stalls, and meet people at the little drink vendors on the side of the road. It’s a good way to explore the rest of the city beyond your living and working area.

    Vietnam has a world-famous street food culture, but it may be a thing of the past as the country drives towards modernisation. To have lived here and be able to say you ate amazing street food while sitting on little plastic chairs will soon be a thing of the past, just like it is in Singapore.

    –  James Clark is a travel writer and publisher at Nomadic Notes. James has been location independent since 2003 and is currently based in Vietnam.

    #11 Enjoy what Vietnam has to offer

    Vietnam is a wonderful place to live and work on your business. I compare Vietnam to the wild wild west. Some parts that have amazing potential have not been explored yet. Most digital nomads are taking notice of Vietnam as a place to live and build a business.

    I specifically love spending my time on Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam. There is so much to do on this island and living standards are reasonable as well. The wifi itself is pretty stable there which is great for working.

    My biggest advice after spending time in Vietnam is that you have to make time to enjoy what Vietnam has to offer, the culture, the people, the wonderful sceneries. It’s quite easy to get caught up in building your business in Vietnam but you know what they say, work hard, and play harder!

    I hope you explore what Vietnam has to offer, in the upcoming years it’ll continue to grow.

    – Paul Lam is a podcast host of the Path Hunters Podcast. He is an entrepreneur, author, mentor, and motivational speaker. Listen to Paul’s podcasts here.

    #12 Provide offline payment methods

    I’m in the online travel business industry. In Vietnam, you may not have the entire service delivered online but you also should provide offline payment methods and 24/7 call centers. Online booking is new to consumers but the market is growing very fast.

    – Kim Loan Nguyen (Ms.) is the Marketing Executive of AloTrip Limited Co., Vietnam

    #13 Discover the country

    Get to know the country and its people by going around the city, immersing yourself in their culture and food. But most importantly, discover the amazing places this country has to offer. Vietnam is a lovely country with beautiful provinces and beaches. It’s home to several
    recognized UNESCO World Heritage Sites all testaments to the Vietnamese rich and proud history.

    – Lyra Dacio moved to Ho Chi Minh City from Manila 8 years ago with her husband and 2 boys. When she is not working part time for an international law firm, she is busy exploring the streets of Saigon and keeping her readers updated through her blog Hello Saigon.

    #14 Seize the opportunities

    Expats can reinvent themselves in Vietnam. Lawyers become successful fashion designers. Stay-at-home moms become entrepreneurs. Backpackers start travel companies. Because Vietnam’s still developing so fast, there are lots of opportunities. You don’t need a fortune to start a small business. And you don’t need any capital to learn new skills. Roles are less rigid here. Say you want to learn about organic farming or spa management – if you’re eager, personable, hardworking and responsible, employers will give you a chance.

    Just beware. As well as reinventing themselves professionally, expats can reinvent their personas. Shy types become partiers. The guy who never got a date is a ladies man. Some of these reinventions are good – free of the old roles imposed on you, you become self-reliant and confident. You can change for the better. Unfortunately, some people don’t. They do dodgy stuff they’d never try back home. They start drinking too much. They become lazy, justifying half-rate work as “good enough”. They lose their moral compass.

    Vietnam is a great place to become who you want to be – just be sure to remember who that is.

    – Elka Ray is the author of two novels, a book of short crime stories and three kids’ books – all set in Vietnam, where she’s lived for two decades. After long stints in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Elka now lives near Hoi An. Visit www.elkaray.com for more details.

    Final thoughts

    For further questions about doing business in Vietnam, do not hesitate to contact us for a consultation via [email protected] or leave your details in the form below. Emerhub can be your partner in Vietnam, help you arrange business meetings or connect you with the necessary contacts.

     

    Cover photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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