Vietnam

Why We Decided Not To Live in Vietnam as Expats

Last Updated May, 2020

If you have been following us for a while you know that last year we set off to Southeast Asia with a goal to settle down there for a bit, work online and explore the region at the same time. In the beginning, we were not sure what country to choose, so decided to travel a bit through a few countries and see which one we liked more. Eventually, we came to the decision that we wanted to live in Vietnam.

Vietnam is a wonderful country rich with history and culture. It has kindhearted people and stunning nature. We absolutely fell in love with this place and enjoyed our every single day there.

There are many reasons why we wanted to move to Vietnam (and why we think you should.) Yet in the end, we concluded that this Southeastern country was not meant to happen for us in the long term. We will always want to go back there for shorter periods of time. For instance to spend a winter or even just a few weeks. 

Nonetheless, below are the reasons why living in Vietnam during a long time period is not for us. You may find them silly and they may not be bothering you at all. But we wanted to get a bit personal and share our feelings and thoughts.

live in Vietnam

Living in Vietnam When There is a Language Barrier

For some expats who live in Vietnam not being able to speak a local language may not be a problem. For us, it was a big deal.

Not knowing any local language set barriers and obstacles for us to grow, and most importantly live our daily life.

In the beginning, it was fun and some sort of exotic. But with time we started to feel disconnected from the entire world. For the most part, Vietnamese don’t speak any English. Using gestures, facial expressions, and google translator all the time became tiring at some point. Also, it meant that we were not able to go to a cinema, church, theater or any other event because we didn’t understand a word. Actually, we picked up a few words really quickly but obviously it was never enough, even for such a simple activity as a trip to a supermarket.

Potentially we could start learning Vietnamese right from the first days. But realistically assessing our abilities we realized that we wouldn’t become fluent in it in the nearest future. Also, we have never really planned to live in Vietnam long-term, meaning years and years. So even if we ended up learning some of this language, I doubt it would come in handy outside the country.

Another thing, since we have been working independently, making any friends among Vietnamese people turned into an impracticable mission. Meeting other expats somehow was difficult too. That’s why we felt that not knowing any local language have us bound hand and foot on many levels.

Lack of Social Life

live in vietnam
At every opportunity, we were trying to get closer to nature but we wished to share these moments with our friends or family

I can’t imagine how solo travelers who choose to live in Vietnam and are not part of any community manage not to feel lonely. We felt desolate not having any friends, even though we had each other as a company. Perhaps a lack of social life was resulted by not speaking any Vietnamese language but we were not really able to meet any English speakers where we lived too.

Everybody needs other people in his life as well as social support and friendship. Being alone for some time turns into loneliness, and then loneliness starts to affect our emotional and physical wellbeing. And with time, it even becomes difficult to stay positive.

The time has come when Mark and I started to feel lonely. At the end of our third month in Vietnam, we became desperate for communication and friendship with other people.

But there was none. There was no one to meet with for a cup of coffee or invite over to our apartment.

Trash and Pollution in Vietnam

live in vietnam
Do you know why the water is of this yellow color? Because it is extremely dirty. Still, it was very beautiful there. Lam Dong Province

We didn’t expect to get so blown away by the amounts of waste in Vietnam. And, it wasn’t really about the trash on the streets. City streets were actually clean.

Thanks to the socialist approach workers pick up rubbish at the end of the day around the cities and smaller towns in Vietnam, so cities, for the most part, look great. But the entire country regularly keeps generating tons of waste polluting the environment.

Poor urban planning, no vehicle emission standards, air, and water pollution and other environmental issues keep lowering the quality of life, causing severe health problems for the citizens and residents until this day.

After spending some time in the country we realized it was difficult for us to stay there on a long-term basis. We could feel it in the air, could see how dirty rivers and lakes were. Honestly, it even became somewhat tough to remain positive over the trash matter. 

I think we just got too sensitive after observing for some time how the quality of life in Vietnam suffered because of the trash and pollution. And there was no way for us to change any of that. We either had to accept that fact and live with it or move along. To be honest, it was really challenging to come to terms with so polluted environment. So we chose the latter.

Living in Vietnam Will Never Make Us Locals

No matter how many amazing places are there to visit in Vietnam or for how long you plan to live in the country, you will be always seen as a tourist there. We were treated like tourists everywhere we went until the last day before the departure. It was not really a bad thing, but it was not also a good thing too. It was a bit weird.

Even if you start speaking some basic Vietnamese, it won’t help you change the looks and the accent will be right there. Even though you lived there for ages, rented an apartment and rode a bike, Vietnamese people still will assume you are a tourist. That means you will be always approached in a touristy way.

In some situations, you may be ending up paying more for a product or service than locals do. Some other times, when going to the store or for a stroll you will be offered again and again the same tour or excursion. A salesperson doesn’t know you have seen and done it all, and he doesn’t know you are living and working in Vietnam. You don’t look like Vietnamese person which automatically puts you in a category with tourists.

If you are riding a bike or a car and get into an accident, for instance, you will be always guilty. There is one rule in Vietnam regarding traffic that a tourist driver is always wrong, even if an accident was not his fault. No one bothers to look into what happened. Very often this rule applies to other issues too.

In one word, you will never become a local. Every visitor (who cares that you have been already living in Vietnam for 10 years) will be always seen as a guest.

And if you are a guest, you are never at home.

Our Desire to Explore Other Countries

There are plenty of fun things to do in Vietnam. But in the end, we realized we were craving to see and experience more before making any commitment to settle somewhere indefinitely. Our desire was to visit more countries, compare those places and only then choose for ourselves where to return and stay longer.

Vietnam was great. Living there during three months period helped us understand how much we loved this country. And we do miss it. Both of us are curious to come back to explore what we haven’t explored yet. But at the same time, we feel it would be a bit challenging for us to try to live in Vietnam on a long-term basis.


Have you been or lived in Vietnam? What are your thoughts?

If you are looking for more articles about Vietnam, you can find them below: 

live in Vietnam

Anya is originally from Ukraine but in heart she is a citizen of the world. She is working online and that’s why has an opportunity to travel slowly and live in different countries around the world. On this blog, her main goal is to inspire others to travel to under-the-radar-places and discover the world through life and work abroad.

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