Updated April 10, 2019

Quirks of Renting in Vietnam

Renting an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City can be complicated. We explain how moving to Vietnam works differently than what you’re used to.

Renting an apartment in Saigon is not as easy as it is in the West. Vietnam loves its regulations and paperwork. For an expat new to the city the complexity along with the language barrier can be overwhelming initially. This article will cover how renting in Vietnam works a little bit differently.

Quirks of Renting in Vietnam

Cash is King

Unlike America and Europe where chip and pin have become the norm, transactional card services are still being rolled out across Vietnam. While a lot of the major high street do accept card, it is always best to carry cash.

This is the same for paying rent. While landlords do accept bank transfer, it is simpler to be prepared. Setting up a local bank account is an option, but it can be complicated for someone who has just arrived in the country. Check out this article for more details on setting up a bank account here.

Like most places in the world, you are expected to put down a deposit before renting. This is usually equal to one or two months rent. On top of this, you’ll probably have to bring along your first-month payment as well. If you’re new to Vietnam, it’s best to be prepared and have all of this ready in cash.

Remember that ATMs have withdrawal limits, both transactional and daily. If you’ve reached your max withdrawal, you may be able to put your card in again a withdraw some more until you hit your daily limit. Either way, have a plan in place for these down payments and speak to a real estate agent if you have any questions.   

Culture

In general things in Vietnam tend to be a lot less organized and done at a slower pace. This means that, while it can be a good place to find deals, don’t expect an immediate response when messaging landlords on Facebook.

Always consider the area an apartment is in, particularly when you are at the viewing. Saigon is a noisy city in general, but it tends to be quieter at noon because everyone is napping. However, be aware that construction and local markets can open as early as 4am.

Something to note is that that names Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon are used interchangeably, and because the city is so large it has been split up into Districts. Don’t be surprised if people refer to District 2  (Quan 2) or District 7 a lot. There’s no physical walls or anything separating the districts, it’s just how the city’s categorized. Quan 2 and 7, in particular, are the relatively newer districts with modern apartments where a lot of the expats choose to live.

Quirks of Renting in Vietnam

Language barrier

Everything is going to be in Vietnamese, but that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Translations will be available, but these will most likely come from Google Translate. To get past the language barrier many expats use third-party agents like Move in Saigon instead of Facebook.

With a third party working between you and the landlord, you have someone with experience translating and explaining things for you in English. Using a real estate agent is free and an easy way to see a selection of different apartments.

To communicate, Vietnamese prefer calling over the phone above all else. Don’t be surprised by someone talking to you over the phone in Vietnamese and then hanging up, while also getting a slow response on email and text – unfortunately that’s typical here.

A tip to remember is that most landlords have WhatsApp. If they call you – then you know they’re looking at their phone, so can text them immediately after to arrange a viewing. Hopefully, you should get a response.

Contract

When you meet your landlord to pay the deposit, is also when you will sign the contract. At least one copy for both you and the landlord, and another if you’re using a real-estate agent. Fortunately, the contract will be in both Vietnamese and English. Make sure to read this carefully. If the local Vietnamese owner wrote the contract mistranslations are common. Clarify anything you are unsure about.

It’s also important to understand what you’re getting into with some of the terminology used.

If something reads ‘serviced apartment,’ it means a Vietnamese style apartment usually with a weekly cleaner included handling washing. Regular expats apartments, especially in District 1, 2 and 7 are more like resorts with pools, gyms, and shops on site.

When renting in Vietnam a standard lease is usually for 12 months, which can be renewed annually. However, there are ways around this if you are unsure how long you are staying. First, you can explain your situations and try to negotiate a shorter contract or have an agent negotiate on your behalf. However, many landlords won’t accept anything shorter than 6 months.

Another option is to include a clause in your contract that allows you to pass the contract onto a new tenant, which you can find through Facebook groups, who will pick up your lease.

However, if you are staying in Vietnam for the short to medium term your best bet is Airbnb. You can always negotiate with the owner especially if you are staying more than a few days. Medium-term Airbnbs can be a very affordable option.

When you go to sign a rental contract make sure you bring all your documentation. You’ll need your passport, visa and sometimes someone to sign as a guarantor. It’s a good idea to make copies of all these documents in Vietnam, but always make sure to bring the originals for comparison. 

Additionally, you need proof that you’re staying in Vietnam for a period of time longer than 3 months. You can use your visa or a work contract – if you have one, as evidence.  Finally, note that if you’re paying by bank transfer, it’s always best to bring some proof of the transaction, a screenshot will usually do.

Quirks of Renting in Vietnam

Foreigner markup

A significant part of Vietnam’s economy is based on expats and tourism. Anticipating desperate expats, landlords have learned many tricks and shady practices to get foreigners to pay just a little bit more.

It is not uncommon for travelers to get quoted a higher price because locals know or assume that they can afford it. Be wary of this and make sure you establish price early. Even better if you can pull the price directly off of a post or property website and hold the owner to it.

Foreigners also face a trick called ‘floating rent’ where a landlord will try to get you to pay in dollars against the dong which regularly depreciates. So while the dong is losing value you’re stuck paying for rent at higher western prices. This is especially a problem if you are working and your salary is depreciating while in relative terms your rent is rising,

For a full description of how this scam works, we recommend this eBook which explains a lot of the issues in the Vietnamese property market.

Another common quirk when renting in Vietnam is that a lot of services will straight up be more expensive for people born outside of Vietnam. Typically foreigners will face a higher price for internet services. A common way to get around this is to get your real estate agent to sign up on your behalf.  

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the most significant challenges expats typically face when moving to Vietnam is overcoming the language barrier and the complicated regulations. Without an understanding of one or the other, it can be difficult to understand what is going on.

Nevertheless, the rewards are worth it. Long term luxury standard of living in Saigon is affordable for all ages for people from all walks of life.

By Tyler Wood

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