Moving to a new country can be exciting, but it’s important to be prepared for the potential “dangers” that come with living in a foreign place. Scams and petty crimes happen everywhere, same with having to pay the “foreign tax”. So no – we’re not going to talk about that type of no-good, very bad thing. This won’t necessarily be purely about “slight inconveniences” either, so we’re not going to talk about bikes and crazy drivers (or at least, we’re only going to list one traffic related item – the rest of them have already been discussed else where). No, this is going to be about specific annoyances – those things that just don’t make a lot of sense outside the context of living in Vietnam. Some of this might hit close to home, so make sure to let me know if I’m missing a particular pet peeve. At any rate, here’s a short (and admittedly, incomplete!) list of things to look out for. Is Vietnam safe to live? Is it an easy place to live? You be the judge.
Rove Beetles – aka the Nairobi Fly
These little shits aren’t supposed to be dangerous, except when you try to slap them off and accidently crush them, releasing their toxin on to your skin, leaving a really nasty chemical burn that could potentially get infected and, in extreme cases, even kill you. Imagine that, death by rove beetle. But then even “normal” cases can still be pretty nasty. Try a gentle sweep, according to experts. Yeah, never gonna happen. They usually come out mid year, during the rainy season. Best to keep doors and windows closed and check your bed before jumping in.
Banks and their Bloody Signatures
It’s the year 2022. You’re probably reading this off an electronic device so small that it fits into the palm of your hand, yet so powerful that you can literally access the sum total of human knowledge with just a few, swift taps. Yet, there you are, in a Vietnamese bank, trying to write your signature the EXACT SAME WAY that they have on file. And you can’t even make the new one look anything remotely similar to the one you just signed 2 seconds ago. You can’t access your money if you can’t make the exact same signature. The bank has your details, the bank can look up your passport of their electronic device. They have all your government certificates. They know everything about you… But no, you still can’t access your money, because your signature doesn’t have the same exact swoosh. Thankfully though, some banks like TIMO are finally living in the future.
Transferring Money Overseas
This can also be a bit mind-numbing – though, understandable from the government’s point of view. They want to make sure that capital outflow is done in a controlled manner. Not saying anything is wrong with that, what I’m saying is, can you please make the process standardized? I mean, at this point, I’d much rather give blood samples than hunt down all of the different documents that banks require. And to make it even more interesting, each branch of each bank seems to have different rules depending on the time of day, or mood of whoever it is you’re lucky to have at the counter.
Anything Related to Visas
As far as quality of life is concerned, dollar for dollar, Vietnam arguably has it better than any other country in South East Asia. It’s a big mystery then why Vietnam doesn’t have a more streamlined way of getting paperwork sorted for foreigners who wish to make a home in this amazing country. A lot of people were (prior to Covid) forced to work on questionable visas, processed by even more questionable visa agents. Even those working with the right permits had to jump through several hoops that constantly change, making it basically impossible to know what’s what. On top of that, most of the other “big” ASEAN countries have retirement visas, so it’s a big surprise that Vietnam hasn’t gotten onboard yet, so those who wish to retire here are forced to set up somewhat bogus shell companies. Is it a strategy to keep the riffraff out? Maybe, but based on some comments on the Expat FB groups, that approach wasn’t working well to begin with.
I dare you to make a post on any of the expat sites, asking for information about apartments. If you receive messages from a fewer than 20 random salespeople, consider yourself lucky. It’s basically an invitation to get spammed. To be fair, amongst these messages, you’ll also get some very good options from professional real estate brokers, but the vast majority of these will be from “agents” who are trying to flog what they have rather than matching your requirements. Suffice to say, it’s a very fragmented market, which is not all too surprising for a country that’s in the midst of an “economic miracle”, construction and all. Business idea? A professional apartment listings site.
Water That Can Kill You… Eventually
To put it simply, tap water isn’t safe to drink. It’s not poisonous or anything, but there’s an awful lot of clay, rust, sediment, microbes, and heavy metals in the water. Again, there’s a reason why you see those big 20L jugs of filtered water being transported around on motorbikes. If you’re living in an apartment, you can install a water filtration system, it will be cheaper in the long run. However, if absolutely necessary, you can also boil tap water before drinking it. You won’t have to worry about the microbes, or the microplastics, and yeah, the heavy metals won’t kill you… immediately.
Water That Can Kill Your Car/Bike
It’s brown, it smells bad, and there’s a good chance that there are dead animals floating in it. You’re thinking, “What the hell is this guy talking about? I live in Thao Dien, it’s nice here.” Wrong. Rainy season turns Thao Dien into a charmless Venice. Sometimes, even if it doesn’t rain but there’s a full moon, you’ll still enjoy minor flooding. If it storms really bad, and your car or bike happens to stall out in the middle of this “water,” be prepared to say goodbye. You’d be better off leaving your vehicle in a proper parking lot rather than attempting to drive it through knee deep slop. Trust me, I know this. Don’t ask how I know this. I just do.
The 100 Day Cough
Air quality is one thing you’re going to miss really quickly. This might be more relevant for HCMC and Hanoi, but odds are, your first port of call will be one of those big cities. The AQI here can get apocalyptic, and it’s quite common to catch the 100 day cough. But don’t worry, it goes away eventually. Make sure you have a good filter system in your apartment, or at least a proper mask designed to filter out oil particles.
Karaoke at Stupid O Clock (or Construction at Stupid O Clock)
Yes, it is really loud here. No, you won’t get used to it. Karaoke can go on until the early morning hours, and construction starts up at the crack of dawn. Or if you’re really lucky, they just work through the night. There’s supposed to be a law banning karaoke from 9pm to 6am, but it’s not exactly well enforced. Before signing for a new apartment, scout the area, and make sure there aren’t any overly happy neighbors, or construction sites too close for comfort.
Romantic Stops on Busy Bridges
For the sake of full disclosure, I need to admit that I too have done this. It wasn’t very romantic though, literally just stopped at the top of this smaller bridge to take a picture of the changing lights. I was walking, no traffic, no road hazard. But I’ve seen couples do it, and it’s always an amusing sight. Especially when their bike is halfway into the road, blocking oncoming cars and bikes. It’s a road hazard, and potentially deadly. You’re probably gonna end up doing this as well… but hey, it’s Vietnam, and you’re going to see some weird things, some nice things, and some things that are both weird and nice. Just be careful.
Is Vietnam safe to live? Well, in a word, yes. I just like to complain. Petty dangers and day-to-day annoyances notwithstanding, it’s a great place to call home. Just be prepared for some of the unique challenges that come with living in this wonderful (and sometimes quirky) country.
And yes, don’t worry, we’ll have a positive post up soon.