Vietnam has proven to be a great place for foreign retirees to enjoy life after the rat race.
For the first time, Vietnam has been listed among the Top 25 retirement destinations in 2015 by International Living, a well-known publishing group for overseas living, retirement and investment. The annual Global Retirement Index was compiled using input from correspondents all over the world, combining real-world insights about climate, healthcare, cost of living, and other factors to draw up a comprehensive list of the so-called “best bang-for-your buck” retirement destinations on the planet.
Vietnam has become home to an increasing number of expats in recent years thanks to its rapid growth and more open policies to welcome foreign investors. More people have also come to Vietnam to enjoy what it offers in retired life.
In Hanoi for seven years, Mr. Jon Anderholm from the US usually goes for a walk around his apartment on West Lake every morning before taking up a chair at his favorite lakeside café to start a new day. “In not only this area but also in other parts in Hanoi are many green trees, lakes and rivers, which provide a fresh atmosphere and a nice view, particularly for walking,” he smiled. “That is why my friends call me Johnnie Walker.”
Like Jon, Mr. Michael Buscombe from Australia also loves walking around the streets of Hanoi to enjoy its beautiful and peaceful scenery, with people fishing by the lake or taking exercise under the shade of trees. “I’ve been to many countries in Europe and Asia for my work in international marketing but I’ve never felt as safe as I do here,” he said, “I can’t walk in Melbourne at night like here, because it may be dangerous.” Another reason he likes walking around town is the friendly smiles from local people, even they are strangers. “It’s unusual in my country so I find it interesting.”
Vietnam is also more appealing to expats because of its cheap living costs. All retirees VET spoke to agreed that rent and food prices are pretty reasonable. And there are many delicious healthy dishes to choose from, including street food such as pho, bun cha, nem, hot pot and fresh fruit and vegetables. Michael said that in his country, fruit and vegetables at the market may have been on the shelves for a few weeks already and their price is eight to ten times higher than here. Along with its nice food, Vietnam’s beer, especially fresh beer (bia hoi), is also appreciated. There are many places to drink, starting at just VND7,000 (32 cents) a glass or from VND25,000 to 50,000 ($1.2 to 2.3) for a bottle. The quality is also getting better, thanks to cooperation between Vietnam and famous beer partners from Denmark, Germany and the Czech Republic.
There are also 101 things to do for relaxation and entertainment in Vietnam and many things for retirees to be involved in, according to Ms. Linh Ratia, an overseas Vietnamese who spends half her retired life in Vung Tau and half in Australia, her husband’s homeland. She joins in a group that enables women of all ages to meet regularly on an informal basis for various leisure pursuits like golf and swimming or just visiting each other. “With members from many different backgrounds, it can be extremely informative and entertaining,” she said. “In many ways it’s a ‘networking’ or support group. Similar groups exist in other countries, of course, but the different language and customs of Vietnam make such peer support very worthwhile, useful and interesting.”
Another favorite way for expats and the more active retirees among them to “network” in foreign countries, she added, is to join the local Hash House Harriers, a weekly running and walking group with a presence in many countries. The group also holds charity activities for those who want to “give back to society” for the fortunate lives they’ve enjoyed in their own country. Linh and her husband have been involved with helping poor children at Khai Sang School. “Being able to bring a little sunshine into other people’s lives is perhaps one of the greatest driving forces for many retirees, who usually get just as much of a thrill out of it as those they’re helping.”
With a rich culture and diverse arts scene, Vietnam is also a good place to discover. There are a lot of pagodas, temples, traditional trade villages, and art exhibitions and events, so it’s ideal for artists as they can do their work here, according to Jon.
Travel is also attractive, with Vietnam’s varied beauty in different regions and reasonably cheap cost compared to more developed countries. Linh said she enjoyed the natural setting and countryside of Vietnam, which is not easy to get to elsewhere.
Also a lover of travel, Jon has a positive view of the country’s transport. While ticket prices have gone up the service has also improved. And there always seems to be someone on board who is willing to help elderly or disabled people get on and off. Linh agrees, saying travel by train between cities is so easy. “We’re looking forward to riding the underground railway in Ho Chi Minh City when it’s finished,” she said. “It’s sure to make a huge difference to the lives of everyone in the city.”
One thing that is very important to retirees is healthcare services, the quality of which is up for debate in Vietnam. But there are more and more good private medical centers that expats highly recommend. Michael and his wife were very happy with the treatment provided at the Viet-French Hospital after she broke her leg. “It has clean facilities, helpful and caring nurses, and professional local doctors who speak good English,” he said. “If you have insurance you can choose a good hospital here.”
He added that dentists in Vietnam have advanced technology and facilities. “It’s even more modern than in my country,” he said. “They have a screen where I can see my teeth clearly. And the price is amazingly cheap. It costs only $15 to have a tooth pulled out and $1,200 for permanent implant, compared to $200 and $6,500 in Australia.” He knows many people who come to Vietnam just for a dental check-up. “If I ever open a business here, it’ll be in dental tourism,” he said.
A reason foreign retirees hesitate to invest in Vietnam is the complexity of the country’s visa regime. Linh said that a lot of her foreign friends believe the recent changes in Vietnam’s visa rules, such as the 400 per cent increase in cost for a three-month tourist visa (from $40 to $160-$180), which came into effect in January, plus the fact they can now only be extended by leaving the country, suggest they are no longer welcome in Vietnam. Many retirees stay here on tourist visas because they don’t have jobs and are not married to a local citizen. They may have been planning to invest money in Vietnam (in property, etc.) but have now decided against it because there’s no certainty.
Such sudden and unexplained changes are driving some of them to consider retirement in other parts of Southeast Asia instead, as countries like Thailand and Malaysia offer special concessions to attract retirees who can show they have a reasonable income and won’t be a burden on the local economy.
Agreeing with Linh, Michael said that in his country, after a foreigner buys a property at a regulated price, he or she receives a permanent resident card and does not have to worry about a visa. “It’s a good way, as money comes into the country,” he believes. “I think Vietnam should consider this if it wants to attract more foreign investment and also give more opportunities for us to experience the beautiful life here.”