FROM BEIJING TO HO CHI MINH CITY
▶ Expats share their thoughts of working in developing Vietnam with mixed feelings of familiarity in China
Beijing is in the heart of its winter season. Sitting beside a window complete with twinkling lights and Christmas decorations in his restaurant, Crazy Town, 40-yearold US citizen Doron Reshen looks out onto the frozen Liangmahe River.
“I really hope that I can live on a beach [in Vietnam], I miss the beach,” he said.
Reshen says he has been interested in Vietnam’s history since he was a child and wants to enjoy a lifestyle different from China’s.
Unlike Reshen, other people are attracted to Vietnam because of the economic factors. Cecile, a 37-year-old French national, has been looking for jobs simultaneously in China and Vietnam.
“Some western companies which have offices there are offering positions, and I don’t think there are many job opportunities in other countries,” she said.
According to data from the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), Vietnam, amid the most desirable locations for expat career opportunities, has overtaken Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Thailand and some other Asian countries and regions.
In 1986, the government first introduced “ĐÔi MÓi” or “renovation” in Vietnamese language, which came after China’s reform and opening-up that was launched in 1978.
The US-based news website voanews.com said, “Vietnam, like China a decade ago, depends largely on [the] production of low-tech exports such as garments, furniture and car parts.” Vietnam’s economy has expanded at more than six percent annually since 2015.
Living in Vietnam
Metropolitan recently solicited expats’opinions on moving to work in Vietnam and got some responses. Brett Minor, who moved to Vietnam about six months ago, is one of them.
“Look at the sky! It is very blue and clean,” he said through a WeChat video call, turning his laptop to ensure that we can see outside the window of his apartment. He lives in the beachside city of Hoi An.
“Look, there is no pollution, I don’t need to check the PM2.5 level on my phone every day,” he said with a smile. In addition to the agreeable environment, he has also witnessed the fast development of Vietnam.
“What I’ve seen here is that they are encouraging expats to come here so they make the process of doing so very easy. Because there are so many expats coming into the area, there are new business districts developing everywhere,” he said. “They are trying very hard to be as friendly as possible for all the new people who are coming in to Vietnam,” Minor added.
John Tobin said the Vietnamese people are friendly. “Actually, I did the opposite. I left Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and then returned to Beijing,” reads a post from the American citizen Tobin, 50. Thinking back on his Vietnam life three years ago, one of his most vivid memories was the passion of the Vietnamese and their colorful festivals. “Although they have spring festival like China does, the way they celebrate it is different from the Chinese people, which makes me feel like I’m part of them,” Tobin said.
Reasons for Vietnam
Minor says that the reasons he left China for Vietnam are complex, but in terms of English teaching, he has seen some changes in Beijing, with an emphasis on quality over quantity.
“15 or 20 years ago in China, they would welcome anybody coming in to help teach English, but now there are many new regulations which make it difficult for some people to do tutoring jobs,” he said.
The Global Times reported that China launched a new work permit policy in 2016 by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA), which classifies foreign workers into
three categories, ranking them as an A, B, or C expat. Under this new policy, qualified foreign English teachers should be native English speakers with a bachelor’s degree from their home country, in addition to having two years of teaching experience.
Vietnam is becoming an open economy, which is continuing to attract rising foreign investment and more tourists. This also means there will be a greater demand for local people to use English, hence the need for more English teachers. “After searching online, I found that Vietnam ranks the first among Asian countries in urgent need of English teachers,” said Minor.
When it came down to choosing Vietnam over other Asian countries, Minor says that he and his wife made this decision after considering English teaching opportunities and the natural environment.
For others, life expenses could also be a factor for moving to Vietnam. Cecile lived in Beijing from 2014 to 2017 and then moved to an unidentified country for a year. When she came back again this August, she found that life is not as easy as it was four years ago.
“At that time, I rented in Beiluogux-iang in Dongcheng district. I rented an apartment with one bathroom, one living room, one bedroom and one kitchen for 4,200 yuan ($609) a month. Now, the same price won’t allow me to have that kind of an apartment anymore,” Cecile said. According to a Voice of China report, the average rent in Beijing is now 5,000 yuan per month.
Like Cecile, Minor and his wife also felt the pressures of rising renting costs in Beijing. By contrast, rent in Vietnam is much lower.
“We paid over $800 a month for a very small apartment in Beijing, while we now have a huge three-story house for only $500 a month,” he noted.
“I’m looking forward to an easier lifestyle, less work and a better work-life balance,” he said.
Although some statistics show that Vietnam is growing fast, the interviewees all found that Beijing still has higher salaries and more job opportunities.
The salary for an English teacher in Beijing, is much higher than in Vietnam, Minor noted. He used to work in a public school in Beijing with a salary of 15,000 yuan and a 4,000 yuan housing allowance per month, while in Hoi An, the payment for public school teachers in only half.
“The salary is varied for different places in Vietnam. In HCMC, English teachers can get better ones,” he said.
According to the career counseling and job service website careerchina. com, across China, the average salary for expat tutors could range from 10,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan. Movetovietnam.com has published salaries for English teachers in Vietnam, which range from $1,200 to $2,000.
Cecile eventually made her decision – staying in China for a more competitive pay. When asked what she would do if she had received an equally good job offer from China and Vietnam, Cecile says she would make the same decision, citing her familiarity with the way of life in the country. “My friends are here and it’s not an easy thing to start a new social life.”
Reshen agrees. “I came to China as a teenager and have spent half of my life here. All the memories here make it difficult for me to leave,” he said. To find out whether Vietnam will be a new place for him to settle, Reshen is planning to visit the country first. “If I can integrate into that society, I’ll take the next step.”
Many expats are moving to Vietnam to grasp job oppotunities or to live a balanced life.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam