Retiring in Vietnam for a better lifestyle: An expat's story

Expat interviews
  • expat in Vietnam
Published on 2023-01-09 at 14:00
Bob moved to Da Nang, Vietnam, four months ago. He left America to spend his retirement days in Vietnam. He enjoys spending his free time meeting people and talking to his family back in the States. Bob shares his experience with

Please tell us about your background: Where are you from, what did you do prior to retirement, and what made you want to move to Vietnam?

Hi, I'm Robert (Bob) from the United States, more specifically, Michigan. I'm 76, and I used to live there with my kids. I am divorced, and they all have kids of their own now. I've had heaps of varied jobs throughout my life, including a spell in the Navy back in the 60s. Now I'm retired, and with only Social Security benefits to live on, it was impossible to maintain a positive lifestyle in the US.

My daughter-in-law is from Da Nang, Vietnam. I believed that I could achieve a positive lifestyle in Vietnam, with the cost difference and my US security benefits going much further in supporting a better lifestyle for me, so after waiting out the COVID pandemic, I moved.

What was the move like?

I basically just brought personal stuff, clothing, my laptop, my phone, and as much as I could get in the suitcase, boarded the plane, and off I went.

I arrived in Da Nang in August 2022, met by my daughter-in-law's family, so it was a soft landing in Vietnam for me.

How hard was it to get used to a new country?

With my daughter-in-law's family not speaking English, most of the time was spent on google translate. It was interesting and new to me to learn how things worked in Vietnam. I spent a lot of time exploring the beach town of Da Nang, which is in the central part of Vietnam, halfway between Hanoi (the Capital in the north) & Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in the south.

The language, for me, is very hard, with it having "tones" and me needing hearing aids, so I find it difficult. I'm having to use my phone's translation app, keeping it simple with one word or short phrases I consider best.

Shopping is a mix of fun and frustration, not knowing some of the items but learning new vegetables and fruits to try. It takes longer for me to translate the names of things I've not seen before.

Major shopping chain stores here are pretty easy to navigate, having heaps of well-known items, even if the name is different, like shampoo, soap, detergent, bread, milk, coffee, etc. They have a wide selection, just like most places in big cities.

The small side road shops, or "shop houses" as they are called, are convenience stores out of the people's houses, rented by someone or done by the actual owner of the house. They are in every street and alley and have a smaller variety. Intended for the locals, they sell brands that are not familiar until you have been here a while.

To be able to use my phone, it was easy to buy a SIM card at the airport and swap it out, then use the local apps to get around like "Grab" (similar to Uber), "Agoda" (booking), "Traveloka" for hotels and flights, etc. They are pretty user-friendly.

What are your views on the cost of living in Vietnam in terms of rent, bills, food, transportation, etc.?

I have found the cost of living here in Vietnam to be a match for my financial means if you drop the Western-style hotels, restaurants, bars, etc. Vietnam is much easier on my budget. For example, food or beer can be 3-5 times more expensive in a Western-style place, so I avoid them and use the local places.

I'm getting used to the Vietnam coffee over the American coffee I used to drink, and it's only around 18,000VND if from a local coffee shop (about 23-24,000VND to a dollar) a can of beer costs about the same at a local restaurant.

Having a go at the local food is the real secret as soon as I stepped away from the Western-style places and tried eating what the locals do. My budget fell into place. I also moved from a bustling expat area to the outskirts of the city, where the rent is 50% of what they charge in the expat areas.

I've tried the local frog, chicken, fish, pork, beef, seafood, BBQ, and hot pot, just about every which way. Some I think are ok, some I like very much, and some I won't order again.

Have you been able to make new friends locally?

It has taken a while, but I've made several acquaintances and a couple of great friends. I moved down from Da Nang to HCMC (Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon) to renew my visa and moved into an expat area which was a huge mistake on my budget. Since I was not working, I had next to nothing to do. The local area was very busy and noisy, and all the food/drink places were aimed at expats who earn their living.

So I reached out for help and looked around for a place on the outskirts of the city, which, as I mentioned earlier, was a lot better suited to my budget and lifestyle. So with the help of someone I met on's Vietnam forum, I made the move.

The place where I am now has many areas for families, with parks and exercise spaces, so heaps of people to wave at, along with coffee shops to meet people in. So my network of friends is growing, and I have even been taken out to local restaurants to try the local food, which is great. I've been to a couple of birthday parties and even Christmas supper with a mix of Vietnamese and western food.

What do you do during your free time in HCMC?

Being retired and not allowed to work on my visa, I have more free time than I ever had thought. So free time is spent walking around different areas as often as possible, on bus rides, and having conversations with locals with the help of a translation app.

In the area where I live now, there are heaps of things to see and to do, so I bought an electric bike and explored the area, looking at temples and trying different restaurants, visiting markets for my groceries, enjoying the lake we have near us, visiting coffee shops and friends I have met, etc. I am so much more active now, which is great!

Do you have any positive comments about moving to Vietnam?

Well, the positive thing is I can afford to live on my own in a very nice environment. I have some independence to get around and make new friends and an environment to explore. It's a nice country with many cities to go to and many things to do. The big picture is I am very happy and excited to be living in Vietnam.

Do you have any negative thoughts about living in Vietnam?

I find it hard to talk with family; the time difference is challenging, the language is hard to learn, and being alone is not great. Make sure you pick the right place for you, or else things can get quite complicated.

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