Saving money is not easy anywhere in the world and Vietnam is not an exception. The amount of money you can save depends on your lifestyle and of course it depends on your salary.
As I have said, a native English teacher can make easily $1500/month working 25 hours a week. I know teachers who can make better and teachers who don’t have money to buy a beer. Anyway, knowing the cost of living can give you an idea about how much you can save (if you can save).
Most teachers come here with only one thought, to save money.
First of all you need a place to live. Renting a room/apartment/house can be a difficult task. Out there are plenty of them but they are not cheap. I suggest you to chose a hotel at the beginning and then according to the job location (and other factors) start searching for an apartment or a room. In the area where most of tourists live a hotel room costs from $10 to $17 per night (you get air conditioner, TV, Wi-Fi, private bathroom, refrigerator).
Once you have found a teaching job you should start looking for your own place. A cheaper alternative will be single rooms (very similar to hotel rooms). I have seen one last year; it was $300 (all included – electricity, cable TV, Wi-Fi etc). It has a shared kitchen on the ground floor but if you are single it should be more than enough.
For couples, there are apartments in District 7 (Phu My Hung area) that cost $450 to $600 per month (fully furnished, very nice, in a very clean area). Everything else in District 1, 3, 10, Binh Thanh etc is more expensive.
Definitely, $300/month/person will get you a nice place to live (if you are single maybe a little more; again, it depends on the location).
Ho Chi Minh City is a special city when it comes to traffic. In one word I can say TERRIBLE. Going out is a real adventure and walking is almost impossible. Personally I hate everything means traffic in Vietnam.
Most people use a motorbike to move around (I suggest you to do the same). Honda is the most popular brand, among Yamaha, and Suzuki. You can’t buy a motorbike on your name; you need a Vietnamese, someone who you trust to do that for you. You can buy a second hand one, cheaper, and just good to get the job done. You can get a good motorbike for $400 to $600 (second hand of course). If riding a motorbike is a difficult task for you then you have a problem.
Going to work by bus is time consumption. Buses get stuck in traffic especially after 5 pm, believe me, the bus is not a good choice although they are clean and most of them have air conditioner.
There is one more alternative: motorbike taxi (xe om – as they are called in Vietnamese). They are pretty cheap and you can arrange a monthly cost for their service. Most of the “xe om” riders speak basic English so you can communicate relatively easy. Taxi can be a good choice if there is a group that goes in the same location and the cost can be shared.
To be honest, I don’t go shopping very often, my wife takes care of this part. She is Vietnamese and she knows better where to find all the necessary things. I can’t say if food in Ho Chi Minh City is expensive or cheap, it depends on how much you earn. I am Romanian and I compare all prices with prices in Romania.
When it comes to food and drinks you have two options: at home or at restaurant.
I mostly eat at home; I don’t eat out very often. My wife is a good cook and eating at home is definitely cheaper than eating out. Most of the necessary food comes from supermarket and local market.
Fish – $3.5/kg
Pork – $6/kg
Beef – $10/kg
Bread (French baguette – 300 gr) – 6000 VND – $0.3
Cooking oil – $2/litter
Potatoes – $1/kg
Salami (a good one imported from Russia; you can find it at Maximark on “3 thang 2” street) – $8/0.5 kg (you can find different Vietnamese kinds of salami which are not bad at all and are much cheaper).
Ham (there are many kinds of ham and their price is similar) – $2/200gr
Cheese (actually is cream cheese imported from New Zealand, 3 kg/pack) – $10/kg
Tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and many other kind of vegetables are all $0.5 to $1 per kilo.
There are many kinds of sausages (made in Vietnam and imported). Imported products are always much more expensive. Vietnamese sausage have different taste than the sausage in Europe. Above I presented what I usually buy. You may want to try different kinds of food.
As I said, I don’t eat out very often but when I do it I usually choose a restaurant that offers buffet. There are plenty of them in Ho Chi Minh City and choosing one is a matter of taste. I will tell you what I have tried.
My favorite one is Bong Sen Hotel on Dong Khoi Street. It has a wonderful buffet with lots of food (lemon juice and tea as well) at an affordable price, $10/person.
Kichi-Kichi is a Japanese restaurant that offers buffet (hot pot only). It used to be my favorite but now it is more expensive. More than that, last time I tried it the food wasn’t as good as before; so I have stopped going there. The price is somewhere around 150,000 VND ($7; lunch and dinner have different prices and drinks are not included). You can check out their website kichi.com.vn.
At the second floor of Maximark supermarket (I am talking about the one on 3/2 street) there is a fast food (I really don’t remember the name but it is next to the Pizza Hut) that offers buffet for $5/person. It is not as great as the two mentioned above but you can give it a try. It is my first choice now because it is near my house (just 3 minutes on foot), good price and decent food.
Probably you would like to try traditional Vietnamese noodle soup (called Pho in Vietnamese). I recommend you Pho Hung and Pho 24 restaurants. They are between $2 and $3.
Eating Vietnamese food is not cheaper than buffet. Not long time ago I had some spring rolls with rice and vegetables in a middle class restaurant and I had to pay almost 150.000 VND ($7). I don’t remember the name of the restaurant but it is located at the crossroad of CMT8 and Vo Van Tan streets.
Other Vietnamese kinds of food I don’t really enjoy.
A beer (0.3 ml) at restaurant (Vietnamese middle class restaurant) is 13.000 to 20.000 VND for Saigon beer and 23.000 VND for Heineken. A pack of cigarettes (I smoke Marlboro light) is 22.000 VND ($1) (Update 2016: 25.000 VND/pack).
For sure you can find cheaper food on one of the many restaurant located on the sidewalk (yes, sit on a plastic chair in the middle of the sidewalk and breathe motorcycle’s smoke). There is one near my house where you can have a big meal (fry chicken, rice, vegetables) for a little bit over a dollar. I definitely don’t recommend this kind of restaurants.