Explore the city
This is the first step in the quest for the perfect pad. Get out on foot or on a motorbike and discover the nooks, crannies and hidden quirks of your new hometown. No two districts or wards are quite the same. Discover what you want and what you love. If that means action, look for bars and markets; if it means quiet, find some place green. Explore authentic areas and expat districts. Consider dining, nightlife and anything else that matters to you.
Travel takes time
The majority of expats wind up in Vietnam’s largest metro areas; for those individuals, this is of particular importance. Getting anywhere in this country takes time. A mile doesn’t necessarily mean a five -or 10-minute ride, it could be a half hour in traffic. When exploring different areas, wards, or districts it’s essential to consider the distance from your place of work. Don’t take the best deal that turns out being an hour ride. The commute will make life miserable. Instead, think carefully about daily life and which areas will be most beneficial to where you need to go day in, day out.
One of the best ways to find a house or apartment is by exploring on foot as the majority of accommodations are not listed online. Get up early while it’s still relatively cool and walk through any neighborhood you’ve decided could be a good fit. Keep an eye out for signs that read “Cho Thuê” or “Nhà Cho Thuê.” This translates to “for rent” and “house for rent,” respectively. If you’ve got a Vietnamese friend or acquaintance, have them help calling the number listed on the sign. Otherwise your best bet is Google Translate.
Join expat Facebook pages
There are a number of different home and apartment rental sites that can be found for any Vietnamese city. Unfortunately, most of these end up being dead ends full of contacts that won’t respond, unreliable agents, or homes and apartments that are no longer available. The best way to find a place online is by joining local expat Facebook groups. If you message the group about what you’re looking for, you’ll have a dozen places to view in a day. Keep an eye on the timeline and be prepared to respond as other expats will often list great rentals.
Meet other expats
After exploring on foot and joining local expat pages, this is the best way to find accommodation. Even in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, cities with large expat communities, everyone seems to know everyone else. Take advantage of this network, visit expat bars, talk with anyone and everyone you can.
House or apartment
In most Vietnamese cities there are two distinct types of accommodations available: traditional homes or Western apartments. Houses are usually between two to four floors and any number of bedrooms. The first floor is most often a mudroom for shoes and motorbikes and the living space upstairs. Houses are almost always larger and more often a better deal. However, the downside for some is that they often lack the comforts of home. For those seeking modern appliances and a Western kitchen, an apartment is usually a better bet. Oftentimes these are in expat districts and come with that added safety net.
Find somewhere furnished
Most homes and apartments will come furnished. Take one of these. Even the absolute nicest rental in the perfect location isn’t worth it if it’s not furnished. It’s going to take a significant amount of time and money to find couches, chairs, tables and everything else you need to fill it.
Airbnb before you decide
The perfect house or apartment will not be found on day one. It’s going to take time and whether that means a week or a month is really up to you and how much effort you put in. It’s a good idea to find an Airbnb that you can use as a home base while you explore and discover what you want. Luckily, in Vietnam, great places can be found for 10 or 15 USD a night.
Set your budget
Like anywhere else, accommodation can be dirt cheap or sky high, so it’s important to have a set budget going in. In Ho Chi Minh a nice shared house for three people can usually be found for under $750. Western-style apartments tend to run a bit higher and are generally in the $300-$400 range per person.
Utilities and a maid?
Maids who clean once twice or even three times a week can be shockingly cheap in Vietnam and most expats eventually decide the nominal cost is worth it. Sometimes accommodation comes with this added bonus at no extra charge. Sometimes utilities are built into the contract as well. Make sure that you ask about this before you sign for anything. In Vietnam, everything is negotiable.
Meet the landlord
Don’t sign away without meeting the landlord. If a real estate agent has replied on a Facebook page he or she will often try to get you to do just that. It’s important to understand that in any house or apartment things will go wrong. Not all landlords will be as responsive or helpful. Make sure to ask questions and if at all possible speak with previous tenants as well.
Time of day matters
Everywhere is quiet and peaceful between 11am and 1pm, it’s nap time. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this means it’s always going to be quiet, it won’t be. If you have the chance, check out the area you want to live in at morning, noon and night. The market may open at 4am, the neighbor may sharpen knives at 5, and the woman in the alley may fry fish all night long.