Here are 7 useful things that you should know before you head to this amazing country. Take this honest advice from a TEFL Heaven’er who is currently experiencing life as an EFL teacher in Vietnam itself.
1.People in Vietnam are extremely kind, helpful, friendly and nice
I better write it this way – EXTREMELY kind, helpful, friendly and nice.
I have had cases when people I met for the first time spent 3 hours looking for a rental house for me, or taking a
detour from their way to drive me somewhere (and not taking any money for the ride), or getting out of their way to
help in any other way they could
You should not expect many people to understand you as very few people speak English especially outside of the larger
cities, but even with no English be confident that you will almost always be able to find any help you need when
traveling as local people are very friendly and nice towards foreigners, even when they cannot communicate at all.
2.Formalities: respect and hierarchy are very important!
Highly respectful attitude towards people of older age, or people of a higher rank in any hierarchy (e.g. in a work environment)
is very important in the local culture. Being a foreign teacher automatically makes you a very respectful person,
especially if you live in a smaller town – so be prepared to people treating you with an almost exaggerated respect.
When I just moved to work in a small town, it really took me some time to get used to being treated like a VIP celebrity:)
3.Non-verbal communication: mind your gestures!
It is considered extremely rude to point your feet at someone, e.g. when sitting on the ground. And it is not acceptable at
all to point your feet at any sacred symbols or objects. In many houses (and even in many restaurants and coffee shops)
people have small altars, so you should mind your feet when taking a sit.
It is also not acceptable to touch people on the head. A common gesture of care or praise in many countries – patting a
kid on the head – is not acceptable here. When you work with kids and from your own culture are used to patting kids on
the head, it takes some time to get rid of the habit.
4.Shopping: size matters!
Be prepared to extremely small sizes for clothes and especially shoes. European size 38 for clothes (UK size 10) is XL here–
and you will have difficulties buying clothes, especially trousers if you are above this size.
Women’s shoes mostly finish at European size 37 (UK size 4) and shoes are so narrow you can hardly squeeze two toes into
them. While you will be able to find informal clothing like t-shirts of larger sizes, for more formal outfits it is better
to bring some clothes and shoes with you if you are wearing larger sizes. Mind that teachers are expected to dress business
in most of the schools and learning centers.
Very few Western brands for clothes and other everyday items (e.g. personal hygiene, skin care, beauty products, etc) are
available, and those are mostly in larger cities. Most of the skin care products are with whitening components – even the
famous Western brands make their products for the Asian market with whitening effect. It is every difficult to find any
lotions, creams or other skin care products without whitening components, so you better take some supply of your skincare
items with you if you are planning to travel for a long term.
5.Motorbikes: the most accessible means of transport
If you want to go anywhere further than walking distance having a motorbike becomes a must. You can easily rent a motorbike
both for short and long term, and no one will bother to ask you for a license.
You should mind, however, that riding a bike without a license (which should be an international one) is still illegal. While most of the time no one will care about driving without a license, sometimes police do stop foreigners (if they can spot one), in which case you should be prepared
to pay a fine in the range of up to 10$.
There are also different bus companies that provide transportation between the main cities in very nice and convenient buses
(air-conditioned and with WiFi) at quite acceptable prices. If you are up to some adrenaline, you can also take local
mini-vans commuting between cities to experience the most insane driving you can imagine – seems like those minivan
drivers not only don’t care about their own lives, but don’t feel they should care about their passengers’ lives either
It is not possible to rent a car if you want to drive yourself, and even if it were possible, I am not sure it would be
sensible to try driving on your own as the traffic on the highways is absolutely crazy. You can rent a car with a driver
which will be quite expensive. So motorbikes and buses would be your main means of transportation when travelling.
6.Visas; who said life should be all nice and easy?!
Visa regulations are quite complex, in many cases due to very limited information in English and varying approaches to
visas and work permits depending on where you will end up living and working. For long term stay you will need a business
visa and a work permit to work.
The one-year business visa will cost you in the range of 400$ and the work permit in the range of 150$ plus quite a lot of
paperwork and bureaucracy involved. In larger cities many foreigners tend to work on short term or even tourist visas
periodically doing “border runs” to renew their visas. However, in smaller places the regulations are treated with a much
stricter approach and proper set of paperwork is required to be able to work.
If you are considering a long term stay, you should mind the visa process and costs and negotiate funding or cost-share
for the visa with your employer.
7.Taking foreign currency out of the country
If you are planning to transfer your savings out of the country, you should mind that the regulations for foreign currency
outflows are very strict. If you are a foreigner and have a proper visa and a legal employment contract you will be able
to open a bank account and get your salary transferred to that account. In this case you will be able to make international
money transfers in from your account to your home country – only up to the amount of your salary mentioned in your contract.
If you receive your salary in cash, you will most likely have trouble converting it to USD (or other international currencies)
in a bank and transferring it outside of the country. You can buy cash foreign currency at gold shops but this contains risks
as you can never know what you are buying. So if you plan to transfer your savings abroad, the best way would be to open a
proper bank account (very easy if you have a proper visa and an employment contract) and get your employer to transfer your
salary to the account.
Written by Gayane Tonoyan, EFL Teacher and Traveler in Vietnam.