For foreigners living in Vietnam, the concept of expat personal finance won’t necessarily be at the top of mind – especially when there’s so much else going on. It’s vague, murky, and for people in their 20s, it might not even be relevant. Still, having gone through several ups and downs myself, it’s important to think about your finances and make sure that you’re prepared for any eventuality, especially when you’re living abroad.
There will be a lot of money related day to day frustrations, in Vietnam (and in South East Asia in general). For one thing, the banking system and financial infrastructure here isn’t necessarily the most sophisticated or user-friendly. Damn, you might not even have a long term visa or work permit, so there’s another problem.
Thankfully, if you’re like most people who have actively chosen to live abroad, your cashflow is probably fairly strong – or at least stronger than it would otherwise be back home. You’ve got a good job that pays you enough to live comfortably in Vietnam; the cost of living is relatively low, after all. We’ve all got to remember though that this rosy expat lifestyle could very easily change at any time.
If you’ve got a partner, you should also talk with them about financesInternational Relationships 101: Money Conversations for Expat Couples in Vietnam
Here are 5 key questions about personal finance you needs to start asking yourself, while the going is good:
Cost of Living – How much money do I actually need in Vietnam?
Vietnam is an incredibly affordable place to live, which is one of the reasons why so many people are drawn to moving here. It’s important to get a handle on your actual cost of living, so that you know how much you need to save and what kind of lifestyle you can realistically afford.
The idea of dollar beers is great, but let’s not forget that things like rent, food and transportation can quickly add up. If you don’t have a budget, it will be very easy to overspend and find yourself in financial difficulty. I know a bunch of people who basically live month to month and are one bad event away from being in serious trouble – don’t let that be you!
- TIP: Start a budget. Don’t just think about it. Write it down. If you’re in the financial position to do so, try to follow the 50/30/20 rule:
- 50% of your monthly pay for necessities (rent, food, bills)
- 30 for discretionary items (going out, entertainment)
- 20 for savings/debt repayment
Savings – Do I have enough saved up for a rainy day?
This is an important one, especially if you’re living in Vietnam long term. It’s always a good idea to have at least 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses saved up, in case of job loss, illness or any other unexpected event. This may seem like a lot of money, but it will be a lifesaver if you ever find yourself in a difficult situation.
One key consideration would be “liquidity” – how easily could you access your savings if you need to? For example, if you have all your savings tied up in property or investments, it could take a while to sell those assets and access the cash. Whereas, if you have the money in a savings account or cash, you can access it much more quickly and easily.
- TIP: Before you start “investing”, make sure you have enough accessible cash saved up to cover any unexpected eventualities.
Insurance – Am I sufficiently covered for illness, injury or death?
From my day job, I know for a fact that this is way too often overlooked by expats. When you’re living abroad, it’s even more important to have adequate health insurance coverage.
If you have a partner, or family, you should 100% get life and disability insurance if you can afford it.
If you’re employed, your company may provide some form of health insurance, but it’s always going to be linked to your employment status with that company. If you’re ever in a position where you’re not working (even for medical reasons), your employer might cut you off.
Moreover, most health policies issued by employers are comically inadequate, leaving you with large out of pocket expenses. If something bad happens and you don’t have proper insurance, you could easily find yourself bankrupt.
If you’ve already sorted out your cost of living, and you’re saving enough, it would be a very good idea for you to consider getting some sort of personal medical policy.
- TIP: Good international private medical insurance isn’t expensive. Make sure to talk with a professional to properly compare options.
Investments – How many types of eggs do I have, and am I putting them all in one basket?
Though this is a long term consideration, it’s isn’t necessarily tied to retirement or old age. Your 20s and 30s are generally considered to be the best years for investing, as you have a longer time horizon and can afford to take on more risk.
The most important thing here is to diversify – don’t put all your eggs in one basket. For that matter, don’t have just one type of egg!
If you have all of your funds saved in a back in VND, but what happens if the dong devalues? What would you do if the situation for expats in Vietnam turns sour like it has in China?
- TIP: Invest in a mix of assets (crypto, whiskey, art, stocks, bonds, real estate, cash, etc), but you should also diversify in terms of currency, and country.
Not sure how to do this? Drop me a note.
Documents – Where are all my documents located?
This isn’t just about keeping track of your spending. If you’re living abroad, it’s important to make sure that all of your financial documents are in order and up to date. This includes things like your will, insurance policy documents, birth certificate, marriage certificate, tax returns, etc.
If something happens to you and your family doesn’t have access to these documents, it could be a huge headache (and expense) for them to try and track everything down.
Keep multiple copies of your financial documents in a few safe and secure places, and make sure that your family knows where to find them. It’s also a good idea to keep digital copies in a safe place (like a secure cloud storage account), in case of fire or theft.
- TIP: Have at least one trusted person know your password for that cloud storage. If you have a family, get life insurance. Some will have include services for writing a Last Will.
Answering these questions isn’t always easy, but it’s important to start thinking about them early on. The sooner you get a handle on your finances, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
Yes, dollar beers are cheap and Vietnam is an amazing country to live in – but again, winds change and things can happen. It’s always better to be prepared.
As they say, “make hay while the sun shines”.
If you have any questions about financial planning for expats, feel free to drop me a note. I’m happy to help where I can.