Living In Hanoi
Hanoi is a city of over seven million people, including a population of approximately 50,000 expatriates, located in the north of Vietnam. Vietnam is consistently ranked among the fastest-growing countries in the world. While it is a developing country, Vietnam is not an underdeveloped country. Infrastructure, in terms of roads, telecommunications, and electricity, is well developed and reliable.
Everything you will need for living, from household use to school items, is becoming more readily available, and there continues to be a rise in the number of leisure opportunities, such as fitness clubs and sporting facilities, restaurants, bars, and cultural events. There has been an increase in the availability of consumer goods and imported foods over the last few years, with a number of new supermarkets, shopping malls, and cinemas that show English language films. Many services are not only inexpensive but easy to access – nearly everything can be delivered to your front door.
Like many Asian cities, Hanoi is a study in contrast; a vibrant and charming place where life is lived out on the streets. Living in Hanoi is interesting, challenging, exciting, and different in so many ways from living in the West. Do not expect that things will function in the same way as in your home country or the country you are leaving. Vietnam has its own way of doing things, some of which will be a blessing to you and some of which will cause frustration. A sense of humor, patience, and awareness that you are here as a guest in this country is definitely all required.
Remember that all of your colleagues and many of the expatriates you will meet during your stay here have been through the same experience of settling into life in Hanoi. They are your best resource in trying to not only cope with the transition to a new job but to make the many day-to-day decisions that must be resolved during the settling in process. The expatriate community is also an active one, with many opportunities for socializing, playing sports, becoming involved in community work, or even joining a drama group or a band.
Northern Vietnam has four seasons. July and August are two of the hottest months, with temperatures up to 35 degrees C (100 degrees F) and high levels of humidity (over 95%). These are also rainy months, with occasional typhoons on the coast that affect the weather inland in Hanoi.
Late September to November is more pleasant. As the heat and humidity start to decrease, there is less rain and autumn days become mild.
A cool but humid winter usually begins in December, with an average temperature of 15 degrees C (45 degrees F). The drops in temperature can be quite sudden and the chilly wind warrants warm coats. The skies can be very gray right up to March when the temperature rises throughout April.
High temperatures, heavy rains, flooding, and typhoons once again characterize the summer weather from late April up to the end of the school year in June. In Southern Vietnam, the climate provides a relatively constant temperature and two seasons: a rainy season from May to October and a dry season from November to April.
Cost of Living
The cost of locally produced food and goods is inexpensive compared to costs in Western developed countries. Eating out can be inexpensive, although high-end restaurants are in abundance with a moderate to high price tag. Many items are sold at higher prices to expatriates, so negotiation is a fact of life. It is possible to avoid the extra cost by asking your household helper or another local person to shop for or with you. Air travel into and out of Vietnam can be expensive, but costs are reducing and internal flights are not prohibitive. There are now budget airlines that fly into Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
While credit cards are becoming more standard, Vietnam is still a cash society. You will need to pay cash for your transport, small purchases, and most food. You are advised to carry enough cash to pay for most transactions, including small denominations as many taxi drivers and small merchants often do not have change for larger notes. You are advised to keep cash in your home in order to pay for bills and services, as payment is collected for utilities at your door and also for many services and deliveries.
Vietnamese is a challenging language, as the six distinct tones (which are hard to distinguish for most Westerners) significantly change the meaning of a word. The word “cam,” for example, can mean orange, give, don’t, flirt, nice, hold, feel, or sick, depending on the tone. Vietnamese people appreciate any attempts to learn their language and will engage easily in simple conversations. Many are interested in learning English and some will prefer to practice their English words and phrases with you. However, it should be noted that many of the Vietnamese you will deal with, especially on the street and in taxis, do not speak English beyond a few basic words. When all else fails, Vietnamese are adept at non-verbal communication, and this can be very helpful in difficult situations.
It is worth considering taking some Vietnamese lessons in order to learn some simple vocabulary that will help you to greet people, get to where you want to go, negotiate in shops, and as a courtesy to your host country.