Thailand has been one of the world’s top countries for expats for some time, attracting everyone from digital nomads to backpackers. However, recent changes to visa rules and the rising economies of other countries in Southeast Asia have dulled Thailand’s shine somewhat, at least when it comes to potential destinations for expats.
One of these rising countries is Vietnam. Home to one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Vietnam has emerged as one of Southeast Asia’s most popular destinations for expats over the last few years.
Recently, Vietnam even ranked in the top 10 countries for expats according to an HSBC survey — a first for the country.
One of the most important factors in a potential country for expats is the cost of living. Below, we’ve compared the cost of living for expats looking to move to Thailand or Vietnam using a variety of different data points.
To provide a fair comparison, we’ve compared the cost of living in Bangkok (Thailand’s largest city) to the cost of living in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam’s largest and most economically important city). Our comparison uses data from international indexes and local businesses to provide a more realistic, accurate snapshot of how much you can expect to spend in either city.
Apartments and Housing
Apartments in Ho Chi Minh City are cheaper than those in Bangkok on a like-for-like basis. However, factors such as public transportation access mean that a top-of-the-line apartment in HCMC may not be as convenient as a similar property in Bangkok.
For example, this Grade A apartment in Sukhumvit (a popular expat area close to the center of Bangkok) is priced at 85,000 baht, or $2,800 USD, per month. Comparable apartments in Ho Chi Minh City’s Thao Dien area — a popular expat hub — are significantly less expensive, such as Masteri Thao Dien (three bedrooms available from approximately $1,100 USD per month) and The Vista An Phu (from $1,200 per month). Larger developments outside Thao Dien are also comparatively more affordable. For example, Vinhomes Central Park apartments range in price from $750 to $800 all the way up to $2,000+ for family units.
At the lower end of the price scale, both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City offer a range of affordable apartments. In fact, Bangkok’s larger supply of cheap, expat-friendly apartments in the sub-$250 range may make it a better city for expats on a strict budget.
Food and Groceries
Both Thailand and Vietnam offer affordable food and groceries. These costs can be accurately compared using the Cost of Living Index, as we’ve done below:
- Thailand’s current cost of living index is 49.86, a moderate score.
- Vietnam’s current cost of living index is 38.17, indicating that most goods and services are slightly less expensive than they are in Thailand.
As Thailand is a more internationalized country than Vietnam, many goods and services that may be of interest to expats, including imported goods, may cost more in Vietnam than in Thailand due to limited availability.
In addition to food and housing, prices in Vietnam are also lower for most immigration expenses. For example, expats with an American passport can apply for a one-year visa at a cost of $60 plus $135 stamping fee, providing a total of up to one year in Vietnam at a cost of under $200.
For other nationalities, visa pricing can vary, although most expats can stay in Vietnam while spending less than $500 per year on visa-related expenses.
In Thailand, visas, transit and immigration fees can be significantly more expensive. For example, although Thailand tourist visas currently only cost approximately $35, visa holders are required to either apply for a new visa (required leaving the country) or purchase an extension every 60 days. This can add up to a significant amount over the course of one year or longer.
Overall, the cost of living in Vietnam is lower than Thailand, even in a major city such as Ho Chi Minh City. As an expat, you can expect to pay about 20 to 30% less than you would in Thailand, although not everything will be more affordable.