I have just noticed that I write more guides for other countries than for my own country, Vietnam… although I’m in the best position to give you some good local tips. My bad my bad! So we start today with THE guide for digital nomads who wish to settle in Hanoi, my native life.
In general, Vietnamese people love foreigners. Even the most unpleasant waiters become smiling at the sight of a foreigner, because we are very happy that tourists come to discover our country.
Vietnam gives long term visas (1 year renewable) to those who work, or do business with Vietnam. If you work only for clients in France, or for your own company that has nothing to do with Vietnam, the easiest way is to apply for a 3 months visa.
To apply for this visa, you can :
- Either enter Vietnam with a 15-day visa waiver, then you apply to one of the many visa extension agencies which will apply for you a 3-month visa. The delay for obtaining a visa is 5 days. This option is a bit risky.
- Either you apply immediately for a 3 month tourist visa (multiple entry or not, it depends if you plan to leave the territory for tourism) in a Vietnamese embassy. Be careful, the rates aren’t the same whether you ask for a visa in France or in Cambodia/Thailand/Laos (cheaper in Asia, of course). I recommend this option.
Then, every 3 months, you will need to leave Vietnam (to go to Thailand/Hong Kong/Korea/Singapore… for example) to re-enter with another 3 months visa (that your visa agency will apply for you). There are many low cost airlines, you can get out of Vietnam for 40€ round trip without checked luggage.
Another less clean method is to enroll in a class to learn Vietnamese and get a one-year visa. Likewise, the visa agencies can take care of this for you. Enter any travel agency in Hanoi’s old quarter, they will be able to guide you.
Where to find accommodation?
Several real estate agencies put digital nomads in touch with the owners. To do this, you just have to do a small search on Google “apartment for rent hanoi”.
Otherwise, Facebook is widely used in Vietnam for renting and even selling apartments. You can search for publications on Facebook by typing “apartment for rent hanoi” or go to the group Hanoi Massive – a new era where there are a lot of bilingual expats and locals.
Beware, there are also a lot of frustrated people in this group who only criticize Vietnam when nobody forces them to stay there.
What type of accommodation to choose?
Hanoians live either in private homes (3-4 storeys high) or in apartments within residences (serviced or not). I advise you not to rent a house, because security level isn’t ideal (many burglars). This is why all the windows in the houses have bars on all floors.
You can be in homestay too, i.e. renting a room with a Vietnamese family, but I advise against this option too because Vietnamese people go to bed very early (11pm) and your life as a late sleeper will disturb them a lot.
You can simply stay at the hotel for 300€/400€ per month for a small double room. With breakfast and cleaning.
Remember to register with the local police, all foreigners must declare their residence in Vietnam (if you do not stay in a hotel). Even go to the local police and show them your passport and visa, telling them that you live at such and such an address, the procedure is free and takes only 10 minutes.
You probably haven’t heard of it because usually it’s your hotel that does it for you, now if you rent an apartment, and if the landlord has never heard of it, it’s not the right apartment for you.
Vietnamese aren’t allowed to host a foreigner without permission. Apartments that can be rented to foreigners must meet certain standards, be declared to the police and pay taxes. A Vietnamese cannot share a hotel room with a foreigner without being married to avoid the possibility of prostitution (which is illegal in Vietnam).
Which neighborhood to choose?
Hanoi has become a huge city as a result of the merging of the old Hanoi with the suburban areas.
So I show you the 6 main districts (click on the image to zoom)
- HOAN KIEM neighborhood (Quận Hoàn Kiếm) : the central district of Hanoi, with the old quarter, the restored sword lake, a lot of street food, very expensive, not many residences. I don’t advise because there is a lot of traffic and rats.
- HAI BA TRUNG neighborhood (Quận Hai Bà Trưng) : very nice with luxury residences like Vincom, very well located, local, not touristic, a lot of street food, less expensive than HOAN KIEM but more expensive than other neighborhoods
- BA DINH neighborhood (Quận Ba Đình): close to the West lake, local area, lots of street food, not many luxury residences, but there are a lot of expats here
- DONG DA district (Quận Đống Đa): super local district, with nice corners and green spaces.
- CAU GIAY neighborhood (Quận Cầu Giấy) : A lot of residences, but not a lot of street food, far from everything
- TAY HO neighborhood (Quận Tây Hồ): Too many expats, too many residences, there are even supermarkets that only sell imported products. Not a lot of street food, the presence of expats makes the price go up. Moreover, it’s far from everything. Positive points: proximity to the West Lake (to go jogging or to breathe almost pure air) + little noise + the road leading to it is lined with trees, very pleasant. A friend of mine has an apartment with 2 bedrooms (Airbnb link), you can rent the whole apartment or just one bedroom.
In short, I advise you the districts 2 (Hai Ba Trung), 3 (Ba Dinh) and 4 (Dong Da ), not too far from the city center, while being very local, lively and especially full of good and cheap street food. But often, the housing that respects the law is rather in neighborhood 6 (Tay Ho)
Renting an apartment
In general, you will be asked for 1 month’s deposit (in cash). There is usually no inventory of fixtures. The monthly payment is made by bank transfer. If you can’t do this, ask the landlord to pick up money every month. For long term rentals, you have to pay for electricity, water and possibly Internet. To pay for electricity and water, there is usually someone knocking at your door and handing you a bill, to be paid in cash. Or your landlord will pay for you (by bank transfer) and bill you later. I would say that an F2 with the air conditioning on all the time should cost you about 2,000,000 VND per month of electricity.
Cost of living
Inflation is in double digits in Vietnam, so I’ll wait until I get back there to update you on prices.
In the meantime, you can check the updated prices on this site (in English) and in VND
Ha Noi is cheaper than Ho Chi Minh City, but still more expensive than the rest of the country.
Internet & Coworking
Be careful, ask your landlord if the Internet connection they offer you is unlimited or not. Unlimited Internet costs only 300 000VND and some buildings have fiber optics.
At worst, buy a SIM card, the 4G does not cost anything in Vietnam, they always have crazy offers and it is more interesting to have a new SIM card than to reload a card. For example, we could pay 60 000VND (less than 3€) for 5GB, to be used in one month. Viettel offers cheap prepaid packages, 20GB for 7€, but the procedure to recharge the 20GB is painful. The easiest way is to find a saleswoman who speaks English and who will do all this for you. More info about SIM cards here
Coworking spaces exist (4-5€/day). I haven’t tested these co-working spaces yet but if you look strictly at the postal addresses, you have to opt for the spaces on the map below. The others are a bit too far from the historical center (well, it also depends on where you live, but if you followed my advice above, the Moonwork – Coworking Space should be the closest to your home – and easily accessible by scooter or bike) and located in a less polluted area than the others.
The cafés are also adapted for teleworking, wifi is often very fast. Here is a selection of the most beautiful cafes in Ha Noi.
Withdrawal is free of charge at
Vietcombank VPBank, TP Bank, Eximbank, BaoViet, BBVA, Saigon Bank, Vietbank Pay. For the others, I believe you have to pay VND 20,000 per transaction.
You can open a bank account and have a withdrawal card if your visa is more than 6 months old. It isn’t mandatory because we still work a lot in cash.
Buy on line
Vietnamese people make a lot of purchases online, on sites like Lazada or Shopee, or even Facebook. You just have to place an order on these sites or on Facebook’s instant messenger, a courier called “shipper” will deliver the goods to your address, between such or such hour. I have already placed orders by SMS (usually the merchant leaves his cell phone number on Facebook), even for large amounts (> 200€). And you will pay directly to the shipper. The courier fees are to be paid in addition (you will be told how much at the time of purchase, depending on the location of your apartment, whether the seller is in the same city or not), between 0 and 30000VND
The food in North Vietnam is much more refined than in Ho Chi Minh City. Choosing Hanoi is choosing high gastronomy. There is everything here, from traditional cuisine to Japanese/Korean/French/Thai restaurants.
Hanoian cuisine isn’t very fatty (unlike southern Vietnam) or spicy (unlike central Vietnam), and we eat a lot of aromatic herbs. JB is shocked to see that Vietnamese people eat all the time: breakfast, snacks, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. But beware, the shops close early, around 10:30 pm. At 11pm, there is almost nobody in the street, because schools start early (7:30-8am) and work starts early too (8am).
Breakfast is always salty (soups, Phở, sandwiches and sticky rice are popular choices for breakfast), only afternoon snacks or snacks before noon can be sweetened. Some dishes are only sold in the morning, or only at noon.
There is a website that lists all street food and restaurants in major Vietnamese cities, it’s Foody.vn Use Google Translate if you don’t speak Vietnamese. There is another equivalent Facebook page that shares the best addresses in Ha Noi for the most greedy among you.
You can also use home delivery services likedeliverynow.vn They deliver from a single dish, you pay the courier for the order.
In Ha Noi, drop by the local markets like Chợ.At noon, on the first floor, they sell cheap food, each stand sells one or two dishes. Look at the locals and show the dish you are interested in, it should not cost more than 40 000VND/ dish.
An incredible all-you-can-eat restaurant that I recommend to everyone is Quan Sen, there are two addresses in Ha Noi. It costs about 330 000VND/person.
It is advisable to use a mosquito net, even if you are in residence, it will protect you from mosquitoes, lizards (which can fall from the ceiling like that), huge cockroaches and sometimes… rats too.
There are a lot of ants too, put everything in the fridge. Don’t leave your jar of sugar or honey lying around.
Instead, pets are bought to fulfill a specific mission: cats to hunt mice and rats, dogs to protect the house. Therefore, forget dog training, if you see a dog, don’t pet it! Rabies isn’t to be feared, because every year, the government vaccinates all dogs for free, but hey, avoid them!
Yes, the Vietnamese continue to eat dog, especially on the big visit to the Tây district Hồ. There’s no risk that you’ll fall on it in a normal restaurant because dog meat is more expensive than others and it smells very strong. But if you have a dog, a cat, protect it like the apple of your eye, there are burglars who specialize in stealing pets to supply restaurants. These burglars, if caught, can be beaten or even killed mercilessly by neighbors.
In short, don’t steal a dog!
Vietnamese people use
either Uber or Grab ( more info on Grab + discount code here)With these two applications, you can choose to take a car, or a scooter. The scooter option is cheaper but only if you are alone. The advantage is that you can discover the traffic of Hanoi behind an experienced driver, but the disadvantage is that it scares you to be surrounded by scooters, in a very dense traffic, and if this is the case, prefer the car!
Cabs are a little bit more expensive than Uber/Grab, but the locals don’t take them anymore because the meter works anyhow. If you still have to take a cab, never take a cab at the stop but hail a cab on the street (if possible with a phone number displayed on it). If you ever take a cab and the fare is less than 20 000VND, be nice, give them 20 000VND.
The local buses exist but I don’t advise you, even I don’t take them, they aren’t air-conditioned, they are always crowded, there are pickpockets, hand wandering, and you often have to stand. The bus never really stops, it slows down and then you have to jump off the bus. No !
You often see cab scooters, nothing is written on them or there is a “xe ôm” sign. But usually you will see two motorcycles side by side with a man sitting on it, it is a motorcycle cab. The rates are negotiated, hard, and they don’t speak English. In general, they cost more than Uber too.
You can rent a scooter, for 5 to 7USD/day. I don’t know the price of a monthly rental. One address I recommend is Phung Motorbike Rental & Sale. I advise you not to buy a scooter because many tourists have not managed to get it out of Vietnam to go to neighboring countries.
Many tourists ask me if I recommend renting a motorcycle to cross Vietnam from North to South. My answer is NO. Of course, you won’t like it, but the roads are horrible, there are people running on the highway, whole markets on it… and a lot of dust. Why put yourself through all this when you can take an air-conditioned bus and pay for scooter rentals in every city? The Vietnamese who cross the country by motorcycle are real bikers, super well equipped (leather jacket, protections). Because an accident in Vietnam, believe me, it is unforgivable! You may get away with scratches, but the worst case is to end up at the bottom of the cliff because the roads aren’t all protected as they should be.
If you still want to cross the country by motorcycle, opt for a life insurance, a health insurance with repatriation to France (see this article on a young French man in a coma in Vietnam, and the call for donations to repatriate him)
Scooter Driver’s License
Please note that you need a driver’s license (A or A1) to drive in Vietnam. I know many tourists don’t have one and will tell you “I don’t have one, nothing happened to me, I’ve never been arrested“.
It’s like heavy smokers who don’t have lung cancer yet, nothing has happened to them (yet).
The day something happens to you (a car accident), be aware that insurance will not cover you because you are driving illegally.
Do you find it normal to drive without a license in France? It isn’t normal in Vietnam either. In general, the Vietnamese police is nice, as long as you respect the driving rules (put the turn signal, don’t run red lights, respect the speed, turn on the light from 5pm…) they close their eyes and let you pass. But did you know that driving without a license is normally punished by immobilizing the scooter? They will keep it, and you will later pay a heavy fine to the police to get your scooter back.
So if the police stop you, instead of shouting and arguing that your international car driving license is enough, that it’s a scandal, don’t say anything! Hand out a 200,000VND bill, and thank the Vietnamese policeman from the bottom of your heart who did not keep your scooter.
I know that we drove scooters illegally in Thailand and Cambodia, but we never tried to argue with the police, knowing full well that we were at fault. And we just apologized and paid.
The only exception applies to motorcycles equal to or less than 50cc. You can drive them without a license, but these types of motorcycles are becoming increasingly rare.
Be aware that you can take the Vietnamese driver’s license even if you don’t speak Vietnamese. It is enough to have a visa for more than 3 months. And there are plenty of agencies that will be happy to register you for the exam, guide you, lend you a semi-manual motorcycle for the practical test, for 100 to 150USD. Depending on the agency, you will have to pass the code or not. If you pass it, you will be given the answers because the code to pass is in Vietnamese. The big advantage is that you can then exchange this license into an international license.
The not so nice sides
In Vietnam, people tend to stare at you out of curiosity. Don’t be embarrassed because most of the time, Vietnamese people find foreigners very beautiful, very tall, very this very that. So it’s more a look of admiration than a look of judgment.
Vietnamese may seem colder than people in other countries and I wrote an article about this. Think of it as related to their culture and history. They imitate their Parisian settlers, that’s all 😀 The best way to make friends is to invite them to eat (for lunch, for a snack), because all Vietnamese are greedy. Vietnamese and especially Vietnamese women have very heavy family obligations so avoid asking a girlfriend with children to go out for the weekend or for dinner.
The noise! They honk their horns all the time. But you get used to it quickly.
Bargaining is cultural here. If the price isn’t displayed, then Vietnamese or foreigners have to negotiate. Even I hate it, that’s why I rather buy fruit in the supermarket instead of haggling in the street. On the other hand, the little boo-boos will never lie. If you don’t know the price, offer them a ticket of 50 000VND per person (for a soup) or 100 000VND to 200 000VND for seafood or a dish with a lot of meat. In the worst case, talk to one of the customers. English is compulsory at school, the young people know at least how to count and hold a basic conversation in English.
Avoid going to the market in the morning. The Vietnamese consider that the first customer of the day will bring luck… or not. So if you stroll to the market and then haggle too much, they will be very unhappy and yell at you. Even I don’t go there in the morning.
It isn’t uncommon to pay the “tourist price” everywhere in Vietnam. Everywhere in Asia anyway, people consider that a white person is necessarily rich. But these little scams rarely exceed 1€.
Pollution in Hanoi is horrible because everyone has a scooter, avoid staying there in summer, it is very hot in addition (40°C several days in a row). As everywhere in Asia, the air conditioning is always on full blast. The best months to go to Hanoi are from March to May, and October/November. The winter in Hanoi is also horrible because it is wet and super cold. Apartments and houses aren’t well insulated, no apartment has heating.
Burglaries and robberies are commonplace, even if the violence of the thefts is far from equal to that of Ho Chi Minh City, Manila or the United States. To avoid tempting thieves, hide your bags in the trunk of the scooter WHEN YOU DRIVE. Always leave your scooter with a guardian. If there is paid parking, pay! Do not leave the scooter unattended on the street when there is a paid parking lot nearby.
When there is no goalie, block the front wheel (ask to be shown how to do this). Pay attention to the distributor, do not help ANYONE at the distributor. Don’t invite anyone into your home, for example the girl who hands you the electricity bill, you can give her money through the bars of your door, without opening it. This is perfectly acceptable. Vietnamese people do not invite just anyone into their homes, and children have learned as soon as they are born that you should not talk to strangers or open the door to strangers . Again, foreigners are less concerned with crimes of any kind, but you never know. If you look a little too Vietnamese, or if you are small like the Vietnamese, they don’t know that you are a foreigner and you can be robbed like all the others.
I put below my Google Maps of Hanoi, with museums, places to visit as well as my best addresses for food, massage etc…