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Living in Ho Chi Minh City for Digital Nomads: The MEGA Guide

Living in Ho Chi Minh City for Digital Nomads: The MEGA Guide

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This guest post was written by Markus Kampl, a digital nomad living in Ho Chi Minh City for several years (see bio below).

Ho Chi Minh City (AKA Saigon) is an exciting and vibrant place to live as a digital nomad. 

There’s always something to do, whether exploring the city’s rich history and culture or enjoying its delicious food.

I’ve been based in Ho Chi Minh City for a few years and have been coming to Vietnam for over a decade. For the foreseeable future, this city is my home.

The people are friendly and welcoming, and there are plenty of options for digital nomads to craft their working environment.

While the city can be chaotic, it’s also full of energy and life. 

Here’s everything you need to know to make Ho Chi Minh City your next digital nomad base. 

My Ho Chi Minh City digital nomad experience

Despite being the most populous city in Vietnam (8 million people), Ho Chi Minh City has a laid-back feel compared to other Southeast Asian metropolises like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.

With plenty of places to work from, good internet speeds, and affordable accommodation, Ho Chi Minh City has the basics to set yourself up to be productive.

Regarding internet connectivity, Saigon has come a long way in recent years and is now on par with other Southeast Asian capitals.

There are plenty of cafes and coworking spaces throughout the city where you can get a strong and reliable connection, and many hotels and hostels offer free wifi to guests.

I work from a cafe called Paper and I in central Saigon (District 1). The Internet is strong, as is the coffee, the seats are comfortable, the A/C is always on, and the service is friendly. 

In terms of the cost of living, Saigon is also very affordable, especially by Western standards. 

You can easily find furnished apartments for rent for under $500 per month, and a meal at a mid-range restaurant will set you back around $5-10.

Regarding nightlife and entertainment, there’s no shortage of options in Saigon. From lively rooftop bars with live music to secluded speakeasies hidden down tucked-away alleyways, there’s something for everyone in this city that never sleeps.

Getting around the city is pretty straightforward. Hiring (or buying) a motorbike will allow for the most flexibility. I ride a Honda Win 115cc that set me back $400 and is reliable and cheap to run. 

There is no shortage of motorbike taxis (whether through Grab or local Xe Om), car taxis, or Grab taxis, and the local bus system is surprisingly efficient, comfortable, and cheap. There is no train or subway network.

TL;DR Living in Ho Chi Minh City pros and cons

Pros

  • Work spaces. There are plenty of places to work from, whether comfortable coffee shops with good internet or coworking spaces with additional facilities and networking opportunities.
  • Rent. Accommodation is affordable and plentiful. From centrally located fully furnished 1-bedroom apartments for $500 per month to 3- or 4-bedroom houses in upmarket residential areas, you will find what you need with little fuss.
  • Internet. Internet is solid and reliable at all coffee shops, and 4G is cheap to purchase for your smartphone (I pay $4 per month through MobiFone).
  • Fun. There is a wide variety of nightlife options.
  • Tasty. The food culture is second-to-none, with cheap and tasty street food everywhere, many mid-priced restaurant options, and access to all western style cuisines.

Cons

I’m not here to sugarcoat things. I want to help you make the most informed decision possible, and if we’re being honest, there are some downsides to Ho Chi Minh City. No city is perfect, after all!

  • Pollution. Air pollution can be high. This may take some adjustment for some, but riding a motorbike with a mask on helps reduce the impact.
  • Garbage. The streets can be dirty. While street cleaning and rubbish collection occur daily, there are few bins on the streets, so some locals discard wrappers and containers without hesitation.
  • Noisy. The city is “always open,” and noise can be a problem depending on where you live. Late-night karaoke or building constructions during the day can have an impact. This can be mitigated by being a little more choosy where you live. 

What type of nomads will like Ho Chi Minh City: 

Saigon will appeal to a digital nomad that likes to have a little action to combine with their working day. The city never sleeps, so it’s perfect for those connecting with different time zones. 

What type of nomads should avoid Ho Chi Minh City:

Saigon will not appeal to digital nomads looking to replicate a western-style environment. 

Very little English (or other languages) is spoken outside of leading tourist attractions, the streets are busy and dirty, and the environment can be hectic. 

Also, the weather is always hot and humid, so those looking for ‘seasonal’ weather will be disappointed. 

Living in Ho Chi Minh City for a month: How much does it cost?

First, let’s cover the “official” cost of living data from Numbeo. Depending on your lifestyle, this data can be hit and miss, so I’ll also share my numbers. 

Prices are in Vietnamese dong (VND), and since exchange rates are constantly changing, it’s best to use Google to convert into your currency using today’s rates. 

Monthly Ho Chi Minh City cost of living (Numbeo)

Rent for 1-bedroom apartment in city center:8,765,892.11 VND
Basic monthly utilities (heating, cooling, etc.):1,661,955.91 VND
Internet:253,017.24 VND
Meal at inexpensive restaurant:50,000.00 VND
Domestic beer (0.5 L):18,917.78 VND
Public transport ticket:7,000.00 VND
Gym membership: 573,762.37 VND

How much our life in Ho Chi Minh City costs

market ho chi minh city

We keep our daily expenses within reason. We live in a local area, eat local food, and sometimes cook for ourselves. Our more expensive activities include Western meals and buying the odd bottle of wine (which isn’t cheap unless you buy the local stuff).

Rent: I live in a 3-bedroom house with my partner, and we pay $550 USD per month. The home is located outside of the center of Saigon. For reference, it is on the border of districts 7 and 8, near Rach Ong Market, and is a very local area. 

Internet/data: We have the internet at the house and pay around 250,000 VND per month (Viettel). I pay 100,000 VND monthly for a number and 4G on my phone (MobiFone). The internet is always included in coffee shops and, of course, coworking spaces. All are very reliable.  

Food: Eating local food is our way of life. There are so many options, all cooked to order and often healthy. Most of the local meals are from 30,000 VND to 80,000 VND for a dish that includes crab. 

We tend to have our favorite places for pho, bun bo hue, hu tieu, com tam, and other local dishes, and it’s been a fun process trying different places to find them. 

Saigon is also home to many western-style restaurants, and a filling meal will set us back around 500,000 VND for two. Our favorites are Mexican and Italian.

Transportation: Getting around the city is generally very easy. I ride a motorbike which offers the most flexibility. I bought the motorbike for $400, which costs 50,000 VND (~$2) to fill the tank. 

However, taxis, whether motorbike or car, and ridesharing apps, again, whether motorbike or car, are plentiful. A 15-minute taxi ride should only run you around 90,000 VND (~$3.50)

If you are based in the city center, walking is possible although it is always hot, so it depends on what you’re comfortable with.

Health: Modern gyms are more expensive and need a membership (oftentimes 12 months), which is around $40 per month. 

There are local gyms that are cheaper and some which offer more flexibility, such as daily visits and short-term memberships. Most high-rise apartment blocks will have a gym, and access to parks is possible depending on where you live.

Unfortunately, many roads and streets throughout the city are not conducive to exercise. Pavements, especially along busier streets, are used for business, and often you will be running around tables and chairs or food carts that spill out onto the street. 

So, finding a place for a jog or even a long walk can be pretty tricky unless you are staying in one of the quiet areas located a little further out. 

One pleasing aspect for health is that pharmacies offer most medication over the counter, saving a need for a prescription and a trip to the doctor. 

If a trip to the doctor is required, there are many English-speaking doctors, as well as access to quality dentists and eye specialists that have received international training and have modern equipment.

It’s always a good idea to have travel insurance to cover more serious health emergencies, which you can get for $42 per month. That said, if you plan to do any extreme sports or have any special medical conditions, you may want to check out this digital nomad insurance comparison first. 

Entertainment: All the usual entertainment options are available. We often go out to the movie theatre, have dinner with friends, or meet at a bar — all of which is affordable. We usually leave the higher-end establishments for special occasions.

When Vietnam plays football, the bars and streets are packed, and it is a lot of fun to pull up a plastic chair and enjoy the game’s atmosphere with the locals. The beer can be as little as 50 cents a glass.

This should give you a good idea of what it costs to live in HCMC, but if you need even more help planning out a budget, grab this free downloadable worksheet:

Best time to visit Ho Chi Minh City

There are two seasons in southern Vietnam — the dry season (December to April) and the wet season (May to November).

During the wet season, most of the rain comes during the afternoon. Although the rain can be heavy, it generally lasts for short periods before the skies clear up, and life returns to normal. 

The dry season is, well, dry. Not much rain. The earlier parts of the dry season, December to February, have the nicest days and best temperatures. It gets pretty hot in March and April.

I wouldn’t avoid Ho Chi Minh City during any time of the year because the weather, heat or rain, isn’t extreme enough to make living here too uncomfortable. 

Best places to live in Ho Chi Minh City for digital nomads

Given the size of the city, there is a lot to offer in terms of affordable accommodation and cafés/working spaces that are perfect for getting work done.

District 1 is the heart of Ho Chi Minh City and is in the middle of most of the action. This is where most museums, temples, large parks, and other tourist attractions are located, and it’s always busy.

District 3 has a more relaxed vibe and is known for its tree-lined streets and French colonial architecture. This is a great area to stay if you want to be close to all the action but prefer a quieter neighborhood.

District 2 is located across the Saigon River and is home to the largest expat community with western-style facilities, restaurants, cafes, international schools, western-style supermarkets, etc.

District 2 is kind of like an expat bubble and the “least Vietnam” location in Vietnam. While I wouldn’t personally live there, I can see the appeal of a lifestyle similar to back home.

If you are looking to experience the culture and busy lifestyle of Ho Chi Minh City, stick to the center. 

How to find digital nomad accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City

There is a wide variety of accommodations to suit the needs of every digital nomad, from serviced apartments, furnished apartments, long-term hotels, hostels, and everything in between. 

The best bet would be to use a service like jhouse.vn. They offer a wide range of apartments in all price ranges and areas. 

The best part of using a service like this is that they are the “middleman”. This saves you the hassle of dealing with a landlord directly and gives you access to English-speaking staff to handle maintenance issues.

There are also numerous Facebook groups where you can find accommodation. Just search for “Apartments for rent Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City”.

Airbnb offers plenty of options for shorter-term stays with good discounts for a month or longer.

And for even more tips on choosing digital nomad accommodation, check out this video:

Best places to work remotely from Ho Chi Minh City

I work in a modern cafe with A/C, comfortable seating, great coffee, and reliable internet. 

The cafe I use is called Paper and I and is located in a building near the Reunification Palace. The facility includes a library (for those that require quiet) and another cafe for a more casual experience. 

Many locals come here with laptops during the day, which is conducive to work but not too quiet.

Many cafes throughout the city fit this bill, so finding a cafe to suit your needs is easy.

Coworking spaces are also available if you are looking for more facilities (printers, copiers, etc.) and networking options. 

Best Ho Chi Minh City co-working spaces

Dreamplex Nguyen Trung Ngan

Located in District 1, Dreamplex has open spaces and quiet areas, a creative and collaborative community, a kitchen, and even a lounge area to sleep. Memberships are 2,800,000 VND per month.

CirCo Coworking Space

Located in District 3, right near District 1, CirCo has flexible seating arrangements, private offices, conference rooms, and a lounge. Close to restaurants, cafes, a gym, a yoga center, apartments, and even a Mcdonald’s. Daily passes are available at 150,000 VND per day. 

Saigon – Coworking

Starting at 2,600,000 per month, you get 24/7 access to all modern conveniences, tea and coffee, storage, and high-speed internet. They have three spaces in the city center.

Best Ho Chi Minh City cafes for work

The Workshop Coffee

This coffee shop is often mentioned as one of the best cafes in Saigon to get work done. With excellent food and drinks, it is a café where the customers go to work, and even when it is busy, it is still quiet.

Ca Phe Saigon Oi

Another commonly-recommended café for working. It offers a beautiful space with good coffee and cake and comfortable seating.

The Vintage Emporium Da Kao

Lots of great food with a great working atmosphere.

Ho Chi Minh City digital nomad community

Ho Chi Minh City has always been a popular spot for digital nomads, although the numbers are still reduced since the pandemic and stricter visa arrangements.

It is possible to meet other international visitors at coworking spaces where there are meetups and a community, in expat areas such as Thao Dien or Phu My Hung, or socializing at cafes and bars.

There are regular language exchange meetups throughout the city, and other social groups where meeting other nomads or locals is easy.

Ho Chi Minh City nightlife

The nightlife scene in Saigon is bustling and vibrant, with something to suit every taste. 

For me, the rooftop bar scene is the most interesting, but you also have laidback bars, those with loud music (and louder clientele), and everything in between.

And although nightlife options are plentiful, the most densely populated nightlife scene is in the Pham Ngu Lau area of District 1, home to the famous Bui Vien Street. 

For special occasions, I like to go to one of the many rooftop bars with Chanh Bistro offering an excellent bistro-style menu, reasonably priced drinks, and a fantastic view.

Things to do in the Ho Chi Minh City

Saigon is a metropolis full of culture, history, and delicious food. From exploring the many temples and museums to cruising down the Mekong Delta, there is no shortage of things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. Here are just a few of the many activities that visitors can enjoy:

Visit the War Remnants Museum: This museum is a moving and eye-opening experience, giving visitors an insight into the Vietnam War through artifacts and first-hand accounts.

Experience a traditional water puppet show: Water puppetry is a distinctive Vietnamese art form, and Ho Chi Minh City is the perfect place to see it in action.

Tour the Reunification Palace: This former presidential palace was the site of some of the most important events in Vietnamese history.

Shop at Ben Thanh Market: This market is one of the city’s most famous landmarks, and it’s a great place to pick up souvenirs and local handicrafts.

Visit Notre Dame Cathedral: This beautiful cathedral was built in the 19th century by French colonists, and it remains an integral part of Ho Chi Minh City’s heritage.

See the Central Post Office: Another colonial-era building, the Central Post Office, is an impressive example of Vietnam’s architectural history.

Take a walk through Chinatown: Chinatown is one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods, and it’s well worth exploring on foot.

Stop by Emperor Jade Pagoda: This atmospheric pagoda is dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine, and it’s said to be lucky to rub his belly for good health. 

Admire the view from a rooftop bar: For panoramic views of Ho Chi Minh City, head to one of the many rooftop bars in District 1.

Sample some street food: Ho Chi Minh City is renowned for its street food, so be sure to try some while in town.

How to get to Ho Chi Minh City

Because of its popular hub location, most people will arrive in Ho Chi Minh City through the Tan Son Nhat International and Domestic Airport. 

This video will help you hunt for cheap flights:

Getting around Ho Chi Minh City

Getting around Ho Chi Minh City is easy and cheap.

The most flexible option is to hire or buy a motorbike. Renting a motorbike is easy – either through the hotel you stay at initially or through one of the many motorbike rental shops – I have used DC Motorbikes before, and they can deliver the motorbike to your accommodation.

If riding a motorbike on the roads of Saigon isn’t your thing (it is not a good place to learn), then catching a motorbike taxi is your next best option. 

The easiest way is to use the Grab app and book a motorbike to your location. It will arrive in minutes. The other way is to use the local Xe Om, motorbike riders that usually hang around on street corners wearing blue shirts.

Taxis are plentiful. The best choices are Vinasun and Mai Linh. Both these companies use meters and have an excellent service hotline in case of issues.

Grab Car is also available, but I’ve found the service a bit hit-and-miss.

The cheapest option is the local bus system. The buses are clean, and the system is efficient. 

There is no subway in the city. 

Other handy tips for Ho Chi Minh City digital nomads

Essential words

The Vietnamese language is challenging to learn, and sometimes the locals have difficulty understanding what you’re saying even if it sounds exactly like what you’ve learned using a language app. 

Remember, Vietnamese is a tonal language, which means the tone you use with your voice affects which words you are saying. That means it’s important to listen to and imitate the words, paying close attention to the tone. 

If you try to say the words below and use the wrong tone, people might not understand you.

Having Google Translate on your phone will help, but here are a few key words to get you started:

Hello: Xin chao
How are you?: Ban khoe khong
Thank you: Cam on
Goodbye: Tam biet
Bathroom: Phong ve sinh
How much?: Bao nhieu
Yes: Vang
No: Khong

Yummy foods

Pho is a noodle soup made with beef broth, cuts of beef, rice noodles, and various herbs and spices. It is typically garnished with green onions, cilantro, bean sprouts, and lime. Pho is often considered Vietnam’s national dish and is not to be missed.

Com Tam is a traditional southern Vietnamese dish made with broken rice. The rice is usually served with grilled pork, egg, and pickled vegetables, with fish sauce on the side.

Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich typically made with various types of meat, pate, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and chili peppers on a crusty baguette. 

Xoi Man is a type of sticky rice that is popular in Vietnam. It is often served with a savory topping, such as shredded pork or grilled chicken, and is typically eaten for breakfast or as a snack. 

Hu Tieu is a rice noodle soup typically made with pork, chicken, shrimp, and vegetables. The broth is usually clear or somewhat brown in color. Hu Tieu is generally served with a side of fresh herbs and chili peppers, and it can be enjoyed either hot or cold.

Everything else! If you find a place serving interesting food that is busy, grab a plastic chair and give it a go.

Staying safe

Ho Chi Minh City is a busy city, so it is essential to be aware of your surroundings.

The main danger is petty theft. Pickpockets operate in busy areas, and phone and bag snatching occurs. It is best to keep your valuables secure and not flash them around in public. 

Physical altercations are rare, and I have never seen one or been subjected to any harm in the years I have lived here. 

I have heard of drunk tourists being accosted late at night while walking alone, but this is usually an attempt to lift their phone or wallet rather than cause physical harm. 

If you’re approached by someone who seems overly friendly or offers you a deal that sounds too good to be true, they’re likely trying to scam you. Trust your instincts and walk away if something doesn’t feel right.

To give an example of how tricky the phone and bag snatchers can be, I was once sitting on a bench in a park having a coffee and flicking through my phone. Suddenly, a motorbike rode up on the walking path, and the man sitting on the back tried to snatch my phone. He missed, and the motorbike sped away.

I use this story as an example because even though there was a motorbike riding through a park, it didn’t click that it could be unusual. This is Ho Chi Minh City, after all, and the more time you spend here, these things become normal. I had become a little complacent, and it almost cost me my phone.

It’s also a good idea to follow these five universal travel safety tips:

Helpful apps

  • Google Translate. Essential for tricky conversations when miming won’t do. 
  • Grab. I use Grab to order a motorbike for short rides or a car for a trip to the airport, deliver packages, and order home-delivered food.
  • Lazada. The main shopping app with English available
  • Tiki. Another shopping app with fast delivery

Other Ho Chi Minh City tips

Ho Chi Minh City is a melting pot of nationalities with activities to suit every visitor. There are many ways to meet other travelers, whether the cafe culture, language exchange groups, sporting clubs, or coworking spaces.

If food is your thing, cooking classes and food tours are operating daily, which are fun and an excellent way to meet locals and fellow travelers.

Living in Ho Chi Minh City as an expat

Since the pandemic, there have been fewer options for long-term visas in Vietnam. 

Currently, most digital nomads arrive on a one-month e-visa and do a border run to Cambodia, which can be completed in a day. 

I’ve heard of people completing border runs for six months (since the country opened in March), so a medium-term stay is possible. 

Unfortunately, there is no digital nomad visa at this time.

Longer-term visas include working visas, investor visas, and marriage visas, although they are harder to obtain than before the pandemic.

If you’re looking to stay longer, I recommend joining these Facebook groups:

Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).

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