Once an economically isolated country, Vietnam is rapidly growing into one of Southeast Asia’s most vibrant and interesting destinations. Attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, along with a large amount of foreign retirees and expatriates, this incredible country offers a great mix of natural surroundings, gorgeous colonial architecture, and modern living.
Ask any traveler what they think of Vietnam, and they’ll tell you that if feels as if the entire country has been lost in time for the last generation. Despite the prevalence of modern cellphones and high-tech equipment, Vietnam feels significantly older than its neighbors. Whether it’s a product of long-term colonial occupation or the Vietnam War is debatable, but it’s undeniable that Vietnam has a unique and highly distinct atmosphere in Southeast Asia.
Largely closed to the outside world for over two decades, Vietnam has rapidly turned itself into one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Booming industries and rapid construction have changed the nation’s business capital – Ho Chi Minh City, known to some as Saigon – into a sea of buildings and skyscraper office complexes.
In the north, Hanoi has transformed itself in a relaxed and historical yet surprisingly modern center for politics and administration. From the city’s beautiful lakes to its unique social atmosphere, it’s a great taste of the unique lifestyle that Vietnam offers for retirees seeking an affordable, fun, and interesting place to live.
Despite its formerly xenophobic economic policies, Vietnam is now a relatively easy country for those looking to manage their finances and assets. Banks such as HSBC are located in centers such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, with smaller branches spread throughout the country. Australian banks have played a major role in setting up Vietnam’s economy, and ATM machines for ANZ and other banks can be found in small towns and major cities alike.
All of these banks allow foreign residents and non-residents to easily open an account, provided they can offer a passport or identity card for identification. Other options include Vietcombank or Asia Commercial Bank, both of which are ideal for foreign expatriates that would prefer to keep their finances in a domestic bank.
Transferring cash to and from a Vietnamese bank account is relatively simple. Wire transfers are an inexpensive and convenient way to keep your finances in order, and relatively few countries place any restrictions on transfers to and from Vietnam. For emergency finance issues, Western Union is found in several major banks, as well as currency exchange operators and major shopping malls.
Vietnam can be split into three regions – north, south, and central. Each of these regions offers a distinct experience for expatriates and retirees. The north, home of the country’s political culture and much of its domestic policy, is relatively cool and mountainous. The nation’s capital, Hanoi, is quiet and beautiful, with tree-lined boulevards and inner-city lakes spread around the city.
In the central region, Vietnam transforms into a true tropical country, with scenery similar to that found in nearby Thailand and Laos. Pure white beaches and limestone rock formations dot around the countryside, and small towns and second-tier cities offer a mixture of rural living and modern convenience.
The major cities of central Vietnam are Da Nang – a modern city that’s the largest in the region – as well as Hoi An, a small tourist town that’s popular with retirees, and Hue, a historically significant town that attracts thousands of visitors every month. All offer a quieter lifestyle than Hanoi, with the incredible atmosphere of central Vietnam’s countryside and a range of modern conveniences.
Further south is Ho Chi Minh City, known as Saigon to locals and foreigners alike. The country’s biggest city by population and economic output, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s business center, its entertainment capital, and its fastest growing major center. Fast-moving and exciting, Ho Chi Minh City offers the ideal lifestyle for those seeking a big, rapidly developing city to live in.
Accommodation is inexpensive and widely available throughout the country, although the cost of living in major centers such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City far exceeds that of the smaller towns and rural settlements. Large, modern apartments, with two bedrooms and a large living space, can be found for as little as $500 monthly in major cities, and substantially less in the countryside.
Despite the presence of anti-capitalist propaganda posters and years of economic isolation, most Vietnamese people are outgoing and interested in meeting foreigners. English is widely spoken in major cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, as well as smaller central and coastal towns that are popular with the foreign community, such as Hoi An or Nha Trang.
Vietnam’s infrastructure is developing rapidly, with bridges and power plants popping up around the country on a stunningly fast schedule. Internet access has grown from a collection of modems and a slow line service into a nationwide necessity, with internet cafes and high-speed broadband found in almost every home in the country.
As a result, Vietnam is well connected to the outside world, both physically and virtually. Flights on regional air carriers such as Thai Airways, Air Asia, and JetStar depart from both major cities, small towns, and other regional centers. With frequent flights to nearby cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok, Vietnam is a surprisingly easy country for visitors to access.
Vietnam is a predominantly Buddhist country, with monks and young students a frequent sight in both temples and modern shopping malls. Despite the country’s overwhelming adherence to this religion, visitors are relatively free to practice their own religious beliefs. Censorship of websites and books occurs on a political basis, although religious texts are generally left alone.
With a booming economy, a surprising amount of Western comforts, and a cost of living that beats out any other country in the region, Vietnam is turning into a popular retirement destination for an awful lot of reasons. If you’re considering retiring in this beautiful country, take a tip to experience it for yourself – you might just realize that you never want to leave.