Expat life is awesome. No other way to put it. You get to travel, experience new cultures, meet new people and explore new places. What was previously “exotic” food is now just “breakfast”, and what was previously just “breakfast” is now “foreign food”. Living overseas just makes day to day life more interesting.
Having said that, the expat lifestyle can can also be expensive if you’re not careful. You’ll be earning a lot more compared to most locals, and your quality of life will most probably be better than what your friends would otherwise have back home – but sooner or later, the honeymoon phase will draw to a close, and you’ll come face to face with an issue that pretty much everyone faces: money.
Or more specifically, how to save up for a rainy day.
You might get sick, you might get some sort of permanent disability, there might be another lockdown… or, gasp! You might have to move back home. Very few younger expats even think about this, and sadly even with the older crowd, saving up is just starting to be a key life responsibility. If you’re looking for different ways to put some cash aside, this post is for you.
You’re probably wondering what this article has to do with investments – and that’s a fair question. After all, investments are basically about buying something in order to sell it at a higher price later on… And aren’t most expats looking to earn money doing more fun things than sitting in front of a computer screen all day?
The answer, my friend, is that investments don’t have to be about buying and selling stocks. In fact, there are plenty of other types of investments you can make without even having to leave Vietnam!
Personal Finance isn’t that difficult. Here’s a quick guide:Expat Personal Finance 101: Can you answer these 5 Important Questions?
Now let’s take a look at some options that are readily available for those of us who want to start off small.
Investment Option #1: Local Bank Account
A local bank account is a convenient (and some might say necessary) way for expats in Vietnam to keep their cash. It’s also a pretty direct way to invest:
The interest rates are usually higher than what you would get from a foreign bank account. Some banks might even offer a high-interest time deposit. It’s going for about 7% at the time of this writing, but previously it was as high as 15% per year! Liquidity is important, as far as day-to-day spending is concerned. Doubly so for investments, especially if you’re looking at the short term. With local bank accounts, you can easily access your money whenever you need it
There will be some layer of admin required to get your cash out of Vietnam. Your funds are essentially just tracking inflation, and exchange rate fluctuations. You’re stuck with local customer service.
Have a regular source of income, and the right papers to open an account
Investment Option #2: International Bank Account
An international bank account is a great option for expats who want to keep their money in a more stable currency, or simply want to keep their eggs in different baskets. There are a few different types of investments you can make with an international bank account:
Similar to local bank accounts, you can keep your cash in the account and earn interest on it. This is the simplest option, thought most international banks will offer a relatively low interest rate. However, the main benefit is that you have some cash outside of Vietnam (something you can use in case you need to leave the country permanently).
Keep multiple currencies within the same account. As international accounts were made with expats in mind, you’ll be able to save GBP, USD, EUR, and most other major currencies all in the same account.
We can talk about setting up a UOB account. It’s got some weird requirements, but some pretty good perks.
Cons: The interest rates are usually lower than what you would get from a local bank account. You might have to pay higher banking fees. It will take additional time to transfer to and from the international account.
As low as 500USD
Investment Option #3: Regular Contribution Account
Think of this as a savings account that’s linked to an ETF, or exchange-traded fund – a type of investment that allows you to invest in a basket of assets. This can be as low as 100USD per month that you set aside to buy stocks, bonds, commodities, and even other ETFs. There are a few benefits to Regular Contributions:
- Historically, stock returns are significantly higher than interest on bank accounts. Your assets will build up much faster than if you just “save”.
- Diversification is automatically built in. You’re able to invest in different types of assets all at once. Professionally managed, so you don’t have to play the role of day trader (and believe me, researching stocks isn’t an easy task).
- Very low entry requirements, as mentioned, some funds can be started for as low as 100USD a month. That’s basically your drinking budget for one weekend. Can you stop drinking for one Friday and one Saturday each month?
There’s a longer time horizon two establish the fund, so you need to commit to a period of time. As this is a managed account, there will of course be management fees involved.
100USD per month (though we recommend starting at 250USD per month)
Investment Option #4: Lump-Sum Investment Account
Similar to the previous account, a lump-sum investment is simply an account where you can invest in multiple assets at once. The main difference here is that instead of having monthly investments, we’re talking about one big initial deposit. Most people actually start off with a Regular Contribution account, and then once their savings grow large enough, they move to a Lump Sum account. Benefits include:
- Wider range of investment options – with a bigger pot, you can start investing in structured notes (these will often have guaranteed returns), or start choosing specific stocks and ETFs that have higher buy-in requirements.
- Lower Management fees – as this is a one time deposit, there’s significantly less admin to do, and this translates to lower fees.
The lump sum amount to be deposited is significantly higher than with Regular Contributions (though still well within reach).
1000USD for lump sum – though, a wider range of options will be available from 5000USD and up. Recommend about 10,000USD to access fixed return investment options.
Investment Option #5: Non-Traditional Assets (Whiskey, Agriculture, etc.)
There’s a whole range of investments that don’t quite fit into the “traditional” category. These can include anything from investing in whiskey (aged for at least three years), to purchasing farmland, to buying and holding art pieces. Some benefits of non traditional assets include:
- Unique payoffs that you can’t find with traditional investments. For example, you can drink your own whiskey, or perhaps bottle it and then give it to a friend on their wedding day. Can you eat an ETF?
- It’s a great way to diversify. Whiskey and agriculture are two sectors that aren’t often correlated with the stock market, so if one takes a hit, you’re not likely to see it in your other investments.
- Insurance is already included in the product. If anything happens to the underlying assets (like a fire, or an earthquake), you’re still fully covered for the base value.
- Returns have historically outperformed common stocks. Agriculture for example has repeatedly given better returns than the SP500 over the last 50 years.
- You can often get started with relatively small investments.
Not a scalable investment. You’re limited to whatever is available within a specific supply chain. There’s only so much whiskey, or livestock available at any given time. Liquidity is a key item to consider. Whiskey for example requires at least 3 years of maturity.
Varies, but typically more expensive investments will require larger initial investments. For example, whiskey investments usually start at 3000USD minimum purchase, and agriculture investments begin around 1000USD per project.
Investment Option #6: Crypto Currencies
Crypto currencies are digital or virtual tokens that use cryptography to secure their transactions and to control the creation of new units. The most famous crypto currency is Bitcoin, but there are now thousands of different types. We won’t pretend to be crypto experts, but we do know a few things that are absolutely true about this asset class:
They’re global! You can send bitcoins (or any other type of crypto currency) to anyone, anywhere in the world, and they’ll be able to use it immediately.
They can potentially be linked to assets in real life. Some coins available within Vietnam are linked directly to physical real estate, and you can earn “rental” income just by holding the coin.
They’re volatile! They’re not regulated! There are fees! All of these are true. As it’s relatively new, you will have to do more research on this asset class. And, as we’re in Vietnam, it’s currently not so straightforward to purchase coins. You can’t use a local Vietnamese card, and the direct purchases will often have an immediate fee – so off the bat, you’ll lose abut 3 to 5%.
Varies, but typically investments start around $100.
Investment Option #7: Education
When it comes to investments, education is definitely one of the most important. It’s an investment in yourself that will pay off for years to come. And, as the old saying goes, you can’t put a price on knowledge. The good thing is you don’t even have to sign up for a full degree that potentially takes you out of the work force for a couple of years, and could involve debt. Here are a few other good things about investing in yourself:
It doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything! You might be able to get some of it from free online resources, and short courses in person or online. Small group language course, for example can start as low at 5USD. So why not start learning Vietnamese? You live here anyway.
It’s scalable. You can pick up new capabilities as you go, and take advantage of specific courses that are offered at your employer or local schools to learn more about the job you want in the future.
You get direct returns from a salary increase.
It takes time – so this option isn’t necessarily best for those who have limited resources available right now (or don’t mind waiting longer before seeing additional income come through).
Your time, and a little motivation.
Investment Option #8: Life Insurance
This is an option that many expats in Vietnam choose, as it can be a relatively low-cost way to ensure your family is taken care of financially if something happens to you. There are two main types of life insurance: Annually Renewable and Term.
Annual policies are just that – life insurance that you buy per year. After the current year, the price goes up. Term policies last for a specific number of years, typically from five to thirty years, during which the price is fixed. Here are some pros of life insurance:
- You know exactly what you’re getting – there are no hidden fees or costs with life insurance policies. They’re usually quite straightforward.
- They’re scalable – if you have dependents that might need more money in the future, or wish to leave a bigger legacy for your family, it’s possible to increase your coverage over time as needed.
- You can use your own savings now (say, for travel or leisure), without worrying about your family’s financial security after you pass away.
- Some policies will cover critical illness, and permanent disability, so you don’t even have to worry about this sort of unexpected expenses.
Life insurance can be costly if you’re already over 40 (so it might be ideal to start while you’re young). It’s a long term commitment, and if you live past the term, there’s to “payout”, so you also have to plan ahead.
Can be as low as 50USD a year.
Money is one of the biggest things couples argue about. Have a guided conversation with your partner:International Relationships 101: Money Conversations for Expat Couples in Vietnam
Hope this guide was useful.
I’ve personally done all of these things, so if you want to have a chat and compare notes, would be happy to touch base. Would also love to hear your comments!