19 months in Ho Chi Minh City – Lifestyle and affordability

So a year and a half later, I’ve decided to post an update on my life here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. At this point it’s the country I’ve lived in the longest! I am genuinely surprised at this fact, and I’m even more surprised that I’ve just signed on to complete another year at my job. When I first arrived I did not expect to live here longer than six months, but here I am! I can explain the reasons behind this decision in another post as it’s more personal, but this one will mostly be about my lifestyle and the cost of living.

So let’s catch up on my day-to-day life.

My Job

I had been working part-time up until October when I was asked to go full-time. I had no health insurance prior to that and now I’m covered for a few emergencies. Adding supplementary insurance doesn’t seem expensive to do, so I should arrange that soon. With the new contract I’m also required to work a minimum of 80 hours per month in order to receive a bonus at the end of 12 months. I already averaged more than 80 hours per month so nothing has really changed other than additional benefits. I’m still working on paying off debt, saving money, and planning for my future, so staying another year fit perfectly into my plan. I enjoy going to work and I feel appreciated at my job. Obviously there are stressful moments when working with children and teens, especially in a foreign country, but overall I have more good moments than bad. Out of all the countries that I’ve taught in, I feel most appreciated here, I’m paid well enough to live comfortably and save money, and the curriculum is established yet flexible enough to allow creativity. Additionally, I have ample free time to explore my own interests, and I’m able to take time off for traveling when I please. Another year of this will be easy to enjoy!

My Apartment

Currently I live in a small, private apartment in Phu Nhuan district. I pay $320 USD (7.5 million VND) per month excluding water and electricity use, which rounds up to about 8 million VND per month. It’s a modern, cozy and smart space. I found it within a week of searching through multiple Facebook groups dedicated to housing for expats in Ho Chi Minh City. While this price pleasantly astounds me as a former San Francisco-Bay Area resident, I feel like I’m splurging a bit compared to other housing I came across, but those options were mostly shared housing and I enjoy living alone. With this price, I get a private apartment, 24/7 security, parking for my motorbike, weekly cleaning, good WiFi, a TV with cable (though I don’t use it much), and a balcony where I can hang my laundry and enjoy the view. I’ve enjoyed my stay here so far 🙂

Food

Out here I’ve noticed that many westerners are choosing to go vegetarian and/or vegan. It seems pretty doable given the amount of vegetarian options there are at restaurants as well as fully vegetarian restaurants. I am not vegan or vegetarian but I do enjoy eating meals in this category. I don’t cook much, mostly because I don’t have access to the same selection of items I prefer to cook back home. I’m used to having supermarkets with a ridiculous amount of choice and if it’s a struggle to find the right ingredients when I want to prepare a specific dish, I’d rather not endure the hassle. Therefore, I eat out, order in, and I also pay for a meal delivery plan. For about $25 USD (600k VND) per week, I get 2 meals per day, Monday through Friday from a set menu. I choose the vegetarian option for the meal plan mostly because I want to make sure I eat my veggies but also because I have more peace of mind eating a vegetarian meal if I’ve left it in the fridge for 3 days versus a meal with meat. Local meals are cheap, averaging around $1-5 USD (20-110k) for a dish. Meals I eat in this range vary from chicken with rice, pork chop with rice, pho and various soups, vegetarian, noodle dishes, and some western dishes.

Fitness

I recently joined a new gym that’s within walking distance of my school. I signed up for 6 months to get a small discount on the monthly rate, and the total price was $90 USD (2.1 mill VND). The facilities are new, with plenty of equipment and free weights as well as classes like body pump and yoga. The staff have been very friendly and a few speak enough English to offer advice when I work out. At times I still go to a yoga studio for yoga classes given in English and Vietnamese. Drop-in prices for these classes range from $2-5 USD (50-100k) per class. There are several additional options for staying fit and being active. I have co-workers who do kickboxing, Muay Thai, crossfit, HIIT, etc. For a few months I practiced samba dancing, pole fitness, and I went to zumba classes. There are also a few dance studios that offer a variety of styles and I’m hoping to join a weekly course to learn some new moves and choreography because I love to dance! 

Free Time

Working only 20-30 hours per week leaves me with a lot of free time, especially during the weekdays. At my job I only work evenings and weekends since the English classes are like extracurricular classes that students enroll in, so students arrive after they’ve finished at their public schools or on the weekends when they don’t have school. This leaves me with mornings and early afternoons to leisurely go about my day. I often spend my mornings in my apartment, either catching up with friends and family or planning out my lessons for the week. Then I head out to cafes where I can change my surroundings but still work on my computer. When I’m not lesson planning, I’m studying a variety of subjects. I love to learn and I’ve been using the plethora of free online resources to teach myself new things like website design, how to code, beginner Japanese, advanced Spanish, Philosophy, Algebra and Statistics, etc. If I’m not studying, I’m either reading or drawing to improve my art skills. And of course, I also have time for watching shows on Netflix! So my mornings are mostly full of personal development and self-indulgence.

Recently I have been working on my first mural and after receiving a lot of positive feedback and encouragement, I’d like to see if I can continue to create murals and wall designs for businesses and offices in HCMC!

My free time is highly significant to me at this point in time, and I’m using it to build skills for the next chapter in my life. So the work-life balance I have in Vietnam is one of the biggest factors that influenced my decision to stay. In a future post, I will dip into the ways in which I feel I’ve changed and what I’ve learned about people throughout my time here. As always, people fascinate me the most, and self-reflection is a big part of my life. Once I figure out a way to word it, I’d like to share. Until then, thanks for checking in. 🙂

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