How much does it cost to live in Vietnam

So the last post we already revealed our location, also the key to our plan – Vietnam. This might or might not make it clear to you why we can live with such a low level of income, depending on how familiar you are with the standards of living in the area.
And to be clear we never consider ourselves to be frugal by any means,  at least not until we start to embark on this debt-clearing journey. We live a comfortable life. Including frequent shopping trip, traveling abroad (within Southeast Asia) at least once a year, dining out perhaps 3 to 4 times a week, etc. We also have random craving for American or Western things, which are usually imported and more expensive here. If we have lived truly like a local, we could have saved a lot more money. Well, we didn’t.
Although that might not give you an idea of how much living in Vietnam costs. So let me break it down for you, these are what we paid to live here, also what expats can expect to pay:

1. Rental – $300/ month

With me speaking Vietnamese and knowing the geographic of the cities, we tend to live away from typical expat areas, where rents are inflated like crazy. I also asked for the rent over the phone first before introducing my American supposedly-rich husband, because once he shows his face, all my bargaining power, little as it is, just evaporates into thin air.
There are still cheaper places that local couples can get though, but $300-$400 is what we are expected to pay once a foreigner is involved. It’s simply because the landlord will have to work out a deal with the local policeman to register the foreign person.
Now for those of you who is from New York or Boston, this rent of course is cheap enough to impress you. People from Michigan, or Iowa, or wherever rent is cheaper, yes, you can find such rent in the US.
But let me tell you that we paid $300 for a two bed-room apartment, and 98 meter square large (that is over 1000 square ft). Also it is in a nice neighborhood, has a balcony, has a grocery store on first floor, and within 5 mins drive to a major mall. Not too shabby huh?

2. Grocery for two – $25-50 per week

For two people, that is how much we spend, consistently for the past 2 years. And we still could have saved more. We chose to shop once a week in one of the major grocery stores here. Most people will buy food from a wet market, which can be significantly cheaper and fresher. What can I say, we are lazy.
But like I said, this is just because we usually have a sudden crave for American and Western taste, which will be the same price as in the US if not more. Things like a $6 tiny bottle of paprika, or a $8 bag of Dorritos, or $10 block of cream cheese, they just adds up.

3. Utilities – ~ $100

Electrics, water, service fees, etc: we paid $40 last month, and this is the most we paid so far.
Internet – $10 per month
Cell phone (prepaid, with unlimited 3G data) – $10-20 for both phones

4. Transportation – Varied

One of the thing that makes living in Vietnam so cheap is transportation. Most people get around on a motorbike/scooter here. So to start with you will probably spend about $300 to $500 for an used bike, or between $2000-$5000 for a new one. (We have done both, purchasing two old bikes for about $250 each, and then retire them for a new one, about $2,500 a year later).
Gas price is about a dollar a liter right now, or around $3.7 per gallon, which is the same, if not more expensive than in the US. However, the distance traveling is shorter for most people (most live in the city), and the bikes sip on gas, so it’s still cheap.
The husband said he filled up our bike once a week, and each time it usually cost around 80,000 VND or $4. So in a month, he would spend less than $16 in gas. (He works about 5km from home, which is normal distance in the cities here)
Then there’s also public transportation, which I won’t even mention because it’s terrible. But if people don’t drive (I can’t imagine why, it’s half the fun here!), taxi and motorbike taxi are quite cheap too. Taxi rate is about 50 cent per kilometer.
On a motorbike taxi, $10 would probably take you across the city. I know some expats who doesn’t like driving but can’t afford to take a taxi everyday. These guys would hire a motorbike taxi guy to pick them up and drop them off for work. Not sure what the rate are but shouldn’t be too expensive either, since after the usual pick up/drop off, the motorbike taxi guy is free to go driving other customers.
So adding things up,  $600 is quite enough for two, or $300 for each, if you live by bare minimum and are not afraid of bargaining/researching for the best deals.
Now since we are not disciplined enough to live like that, at least not yet, here are some extra’s if you’re wondering:1. Cup of coffee (Starbucks and the like) –  $5

Cup of coffee (on the street or local places) – 50 cent to $1

2. Beer: Corona is imported and super expensive, we have seen places selling them for $7-8. Heineken starts out at a dollar a can/bottle in store and on the street, and up to $3-5 at upscale bars. Bia Hoi, or Hanoi’s famous draft beer can be as cheap as 50 cent on the street.

3. Eating out: Generally at nice places we spend about $20- $30 for two. If a dinner cost $40 or upward (still for two!), it either means we either celebrating something big, or we didn’t check the price before hands 🙂

4. Traveling: $50 will probably get you a train ticket to anywhere in the country. $100 for flights. Depending on the location, usually $40 to $50 a night get you nice 3 to 4 star hotel room. Cheaper options, such as $20 a night at a guest house is not hard to find and be quite decent.

5. Clothing: There are authentic Gucci and Prada stores here, and then there are discounted super market that sell clothes by weight (Super Sale! 1 kg of cloths for $5!).

Of course you get what you pay for, so it all depends. Bad news though, if you don’t wear Vietnamese size, things can get pretty expensive pretty quickly, provided that you can find it.

For example, my husband wears shoe size 10.5-11 in the US. And not a single mall here carries his size. So we had to settle for $40 to $50 pairs of knockoff/ custom made shoes, with just ok quality. So every time we travel abroad to Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia, we stock up.

6. Gym membership:

We are quite picky when it comes to selecting gyms here, and you should be too unless you want to be working out shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of sweaty, half naked college kids.

Decent gym with nice equipment usually have a daily rate of about $2 to $5 a day, monthly rate about $30-$50. We were lucky to find a tiny but clean and well-equipped gym in Saigon for $20/ month but haven’t had such luck in Hanoi.

7. Massage and spa:

Again, something we should be picky about (and we are!). For a decent 60-75 minutes massage at a decent place in Hanoi or Saigon, we usually spent about $15 to 20 for each person.

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