Today in the digital marketing business, on a tiny 12 collaborators empire, the sun never sets. From San Francisco or Mexico City to Sydney, via London and Ho Chi Minh City, a computer is always switched on to answer clients and deal with emergencies. Today a company doesn’t have to be big to be truly global.
I’m Mathieu, I’m 30, I’m French and I’m an Operation Manager at a Sydney based digital marketing agency from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Have you ever thought about working from a fun developing country, or about hiring someone living 10 000 miles away from your head office ? Here is how I work remotely from Saïgon and what my professional life looks like.
A start-up nest
As a freelancer or remote worker, it’s always good to be surrounded by start-ups and other freelancers in your business in order to feel the vibration of the city in your chosen field. Being truly isolated in a farm deep in the countryside or on an island is ok if you are 100% sure you will never feel alone, never need help, if you enjoy hiking and playing cards with your cat. If you think you could enjoy meeting people in your field, exchange best practices and tools, use some help on specific projects, or if your cat cheats when he plays cards, you’d better find yourself a place like Saïgon.
Networking events every week, business associations, co-working spaces, whatever you do you can always find someone to share with.
The coolest places in town to make new business friends:
- WorkSaïgon co-working space
- M2 Marketing and media network
- The CanCham Breakfasts
- La French Tech Viet
In the middle of everywhere
If you need to be in New York twice a week, Saïgon is probably not the best choice but if Asia is a region of interest, you will be less than a 3 hour flight away from all the major cities in South East Asia:
Hong Kong: 2h30
Kuala Lumpur: 1h50
The other good news is regional flights are relatively cheap in Asia, with a few exceptions. Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City is served by all regional low cost airlines: Asia Airlines, VietjetAir, JetStar Pacific, Tiger Air… You can easily find a return ticket for less than $150 USD for Singapore or Bangkok, and for any of those destinations for less than $300 USD.
On a larger scale, Ho Chi Minh is 9 hours away from Sydney, 12 hours from London or Paris, 5h30 from Tokyo and… about 20 hours from New York.
Yes, you can live in a place where the temperature never goes below 20°C. Of course, raining season is not fun every day, neither are temperatures over 35° but it’s still living in a permanent summer in Saïgon. Don’t expect the whole of Vietnam to be the same: there are 4 seasons in Hanoi, and winter is rather cold and humid!
The best time of the year for South Vietnam is from December to February, with temperatures between 22 and 28°C and no rain. Remember that if you expect to enjoy a cruise in Halong bay, this is 1700km North of Saïgon; prepare for 10° temperature and rain. In the mountains near Sapa it is not rare to see some snowfalls!
Don’t forget that January-February is also the Lunar New year period. During 1 week, everything will close in the country, it will even become difficult to find a place to eat. You will certainly be able to see a few fireworks and parades, but Vietnamese are celebrating New Year mostly with their family.
Working with Vietnamese
Work relationships are not always easy between people with very different cultural backgrounds. This is also what makes the experience of living in Asia so exciting! To avoid major misunderstandings, keep in mind these issues you will have to deal with in Vietnam:
- In any developing country, quality and precision standards do not match European or American standards. Vietnamese people will generally consider something good enough if it looks roughly like the plan.
- Deadlines are like road signs, they’re more like indications rather than firm rules.
- Payment terms are… like deadlines.
- If you have a dispute, an open conflict is the last thing you want for 2 reasons: if you force Asian people to admit their failure they will “lose face” making it extremely difficult to achieve any further negotiation. Always offer an honourable exit, where nothing is their fault. The second reason is law does not protect foreigners here in Vietnam, don’t expect to obtain anything in a justice court.
If you hire a Vietnamese assistant, developer, designer, etc.:
Salaries: the minimum salary in Saïgon is about $100 USD/month, but if you need someone who speaks English and knows how to use a computer it starts around USD $300/month. A junior marketer/designer/developer with qualifications and 2 years’ experience will ask you $500-800 USD/month. When it comes to hiring fully operational seniors, prices are going to go up very fast to reach international standards.
A few tips to keep in mind:
- Vietnamese workers switch their current job to another without notice very easily. Every company settled in Vietnam knows many of their employees won’t come back after Têt holidays (New Year), especially for low paid jobs. You need to patiently build trust and long term relationships if you want to keep your employees.
- Almost everyone in Vietnam gets a 13 month salary for New Year (which is why so many of them quit at that time)
- The legal maximum working time is 48h – 6 days a week. Many low paid jobs in construction or catering require over 60 hours, but regular employee jobs are 40 hours a week over 5 days.
Visa and working permits
Rules and prices to get a visa change every two weeks in Vietnam. At the moment, single entry visas for less than 2 weeks are free, and 3 month visas cost approximately $45 USD. The first visa is pretty easy to obtain but it becomes more difficult and expensive to renew it: only 1 renewal for 3 months is allowed, costing up to $180 USD. To stay longer without a working permit you will need to go abroad and enter again in Vietnam (most people in this situation take this visa run occasion to visit Phnom Penh, Bangkok or Singapore).
You can obtain a working permit only from a company legally implanted in Vietnam, or if you are married with someone benefiting from a working permit.
Here are a few good articles on how to settle in Vietnam:
Eating in Saïgon
Some of you might be worried about eating safe or known food here. If you’re not a food adventurer, rest assured, you can spend a lifetime in Saïgon far from chicken feet, roasted dog and all sorts of exotic dishes. Trying every foreign restaurant in Saïgon would take you 2 or 3 months! Food safety is much better here than in China and other surrounding countries and I can’t recommend experimenting with at least some street food here enough.
My personal favourites:
Here are the best blogs to find your street restaurant:
Partying in Saïgon
After work… Party time! Beers are among the cheapest in the world here, you can find “Bia Ha noi” (homemade beer) in remote Vietnamese places for less than $0.30 USD! In the cheap bars in Saïgon, the local beer starts around half a dollar. Of course it’s always possible to spend 8 dollars for a beer on a classy hotel rooftop.
Bars are like restaurants in Saïgon: everywhere, of every sort, and you can find some open all night. The main spots to find your favourite bar are Pham Ngu Lao ward, the backpackers area to find cheap beers and good ambiance, Da Kao for classy bars and lounge, Thao Dien in District 2 for some “expats” bars and pubs…
You can find the best spots here:
How to travel around Saïgon:
The first subway line is under construction, but won’t be ready for another 5 years. There are some bus lines, but taxis are so cheap that foreigners usually prefer that means of transportation. Companies often hire drivers to get their employees to the office, as they usually don’t like to see them on bikes in the crazy traffic. Which brings us to the most common transport: the motorbike. Saïgon is probably the city in the world with the greatest number of motorbikes. If you are not afraid to face this, it’s probably the fastest and most convenient way.