Expats find the good life in Vietnam

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An Australian chef in a restaurant in Hanoi

Radhakrishnan from Sri Lanka has been a businessman for a long time. Of the several countries where he has worked, he finds it easiest to make money and live comfortably in Vietnam, and this is where he intends to stay.

"Compared to my home country, it is much easier to live in Vietnam. In the developing economy with new businesses, you could obtain jobs that you want, instead of hoping employers would choose you," he says.

He says many Sri Lankans are leaving their homeland because the prolonged civil war has crippled the economy and destabilized society.

Radhakrishnan and some friends came to Vietnam nearly 10 years ago. He got a job as manager of a garment firm in Bac Giang, while his friends taught English in a school or worked in a hotel in Hanoi.

He says the job pays him around US$5,000 per month. "New businesses are opening up every day, and excellent staff are always treated well. Salaries for expats are very high, and I can actually save more money here than other countries I have worked in," he says.

"Here I am among the rich, but in others I am a pauper."

Radhakrishnan, who married a Vietnamese colleague two years ago, says he wants to settle in Vietnam.

He is just one of many foreigners who like to work and live in Vietnam, where they find it easy to make money.

Elena Dakaeva from Russia came here to live with her husband eight years ago. Nowadays she works for the Russian Cultural Center, and says she could find extra jobs to increase her income.

Thanks to her fluent Vietnamese, Dakaeva has played foreign brides in the local films Phia cuoi cau vong, Trai tim kieu hanh and Buoc nhay xi tin and others.

She was invited to take her first role by a Vietnamese friend who is a film director. This brought her to the attention of other directors, and offers to appear in their films followed.

"The work is very interesting. In addition to helping to raise my income, it brings me opportunities to work with famous actresses, and get to know their lives," she says.

Not only foreign experts and businesspeople can make lots of money working in Vietnam; students too can earn thousands of dollars per month from part-time employment.

Kasia Tomazsewska from Poland, who is studying the Vietnamese language at the National University in Hanoi, says the work that foreign students like her often get is teaching foreign languages.

Without any interview or examination, she was offered a job teaching English at a foreign language center in Hanoi.

Tomazsewska says it's not hard to make $2,000 per month in Vietnam, as many parents are willing to pay $20-30 per hour for her to teach their children English. She couldn't do that in Poland as so many people can speak English and students learn the language in school.

She says students in Poland commonly rely on their parents to get by, whereas foreign students in Vietnam can easily afford the cost of living from working part-time, such as teachers, translators, tour guides or actors.

Since she makes plenty of money, Tomazsewska rents a room near West Lake instead of sharing a university dormitory.

"I like to live in Vietnam. Here is easier to earn money, and things are cheaper," she said.

Good social life

To many foreigners, the low cost of living and the level of safety in Vietnam are definite influencing factors to stay.

Teo Jingwei, an IT expert from Malaysia, says live entertainment in his country is expensive, and a good night out can set you back $100-200.

He says life in Malaysia, where his main entertainment was drinking with his co-workers, is characterized by long working hours, long train rides and saving up enough for a couple of vacations a year.

In Vietnam, Jingwei can take a trip to the beach or spa every month, and a plane ticket from Hanoi to Da Nang and back costs less than $150.

He also finds Vietnam safer than Malaysia. Here he can go out with friends and not return home until two or three in the morning with no problem, whereas in Malaysia nobody dares walk the streets at night for fear of being mugged, so taking a taxi is a must. 

What fascinates Dakaeva about Vietnam is the street life and seeing people go about their daily business. She often eats breakfast in a side-street restaurant or chats with friends at a sidewalk café.

It's so different from her country, where people in the streets are always rushing to go somewhere and whatever they do is done inside buildings.

The downside

Most first-time visitors are staggered by the sheer number of motorbikes in the cities and the skill of the riders as they dodge and weave their way through the traffic. Vietnam seems to be a land of motorcycles.

Jingwei thinks the roads are dangerous because most motorcyclists flout the law. He used to ride to work every day, but gave it up when he had an accident that left him with sore legs for several weeks.

He says that the 90 percent of the foreign employees in his company that ride motorcycles have come to grief and fallen off their bikes.

For Tomazsewska, the downside of Vietnam is the hot and sticky weather. The heat is bad enough, especially in summer, and the high humidity only makes it worse.

Even so, Vietnam remains a great place for them to live and work, so much so that Jingwei is planning to wed a Vietnamese woman in the next two months, and stay on.

Some 74,000 foreigners are working in Vietnam, well up on the 55,428 in 2009 and 56,929 in 2010, according to the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs. They come from over 60 countries and territories, with 58 percent coming from elsewhere in Asia and 28.5 percent from Europe.

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