Why Choose the Philippines
I had not intended to write about Vietnam in this Why Choose the Philippines series, mainly because I couldn’t find enough up to date information … and then came my good friend John Miele. John is one of those people that so many of you guys sitting on the outside looking in call a lucky guy. He lives in the Philippines but he has a “real job” and earns Western-style income. Of course it isn’t really luck … he dig around, found a company he could make money for to help their business, and they hired him and he works at bringing in the bucks.
If that’s luck, well then, John made his own luck. By the way, for those of you who don’t know John well, yet, you should read his articles about Living in the Philippines and also catch up on Philippine Fairy tales as well … an interesting writer.
Without further ado, here’s John along with my comments in blue.
Why Choose the Philippines — Why Not Vietnam?
I’ve been there (Vietnam) about ten times in the last three years (Ho Chi Minh / Saigon, Hanoi, Vung Tau, Da Nang, and Haiphong). Most of my colleagues there are Germans on employment visas, all affiliated with Western-owned businesses operating in the country, but some married to Vietnamese.
Yes, it is exotic, and developing rapidly (at one point, around 23% per YEAR… Astounding!).
Wages and local employment are largely on par with the Philippines (More people than jobs).
Language is a VERY big issue… English is NOT generally pervasive and understood. SKILLED expats with SE Asian experience will have a much easier time finding work at Western wages, due to the rapid growth. By SKILLED, I mean degreed and with skills in demand, like engineering (most of my colleagues). I know there is big demand for English teachers, but I’m not certain how many expats make a living doing that… I think it is regulated pretty stringently, but out of my industry / knowledge. I am positive that shipbuilding and oil / gas are in big demand.
Visas are an issue… Unless married to a Vietnamese national, you are returning Vietnamese, or with an employment contract, you enter on a tourist visa (extendable, but unsure of how long…I think I got 30 days. Most just go to Thailand or Cambodia for visa runs).
Interestingly enough, Vietnam has by far the easiest and best ON LINE visa application.approval service. No need for mailing passports, using travel agents, etc. … a model that countries interested in tourism … are you listening, Philippines, really ought to follow.
Also, it seems this is the most authoritative info on extensions I have found, so far:
“ …. Generally, it is relatively easy to extend the visa for your longer stay in Vietnam at present through a travel agency. Renewal for the first time may cost you about 25-30$ (including a handling fee) and takes 03 working days to process (Monday to Friday).
The maximum period you can ask for is 30 days and it costs the same whether you ask for 1 day or 30 days. A second 10-day extension is possible at a cost of around $35-40.
For this second extension you will be asked to show an air ticket dated after the expiry of your visa. …”
1. Tourist visas
- Available 1 month single entry and 1 month multiple entry.
- Maximum stay in Vietnam of 30 days.
- One-time extension of 30 days after your arrival in Vietnam.
2. Business visas
- Applicants should obtain the approval through their sponsor in Vietnam.
- Multiple entry and stay of three or six months is available.
3. Diplomatic and official Visas
- No fees unless otherwise agreed upon between Vietnam and applicant’ s country.
- On applying this visa, the applicant must submit an official letter from the concerned agencies of local government, foreign embassies or consulates accredited to the applicant’s country, international organizations, or other accredited organizations based in that country. …”
“… Vietnamese people that hold foreign passports and foreigners who are their wives, husbands and children are allowed to enter Vietnam without visa for less than 90 days. In order to be granted visa exemption certificates at Vietnamese representative offices abroad, overseas Vietnamese need conditions: …”
This is the basic equivalent of the Philippine Balikbayan program, valid only for foreigners married to Vietnamese citizens, although much less flexible and more expensive.
One little tidbit I found during research on this is that there is a deputy minister of foreign affairs specifically for overseas Vietnamese. Another concept the Philippines could learn from and emulate.
NO retirement visas, but there are investor visas that require substantial investment. Westerners can get Visa on arrival, if sponsored by a Vietnamese travel agency (They normally charge about $50 to do it… otherwise, you go to the Embassy in advance). Multi-entry, one year may be possible if you can show enough reason to go)
Big restrictions on land ownership (Judging by the Philippines gripes from Americans, some people will have an issue with this. In Vietnam, ain’t gonna happen).
Big restrictions on business ownership unless in specific categories (Think technology and development and employment and big money … Starting an Internet cafe or little shop won’t cut it), and always require Vietnamese partners (If not the government, then ancillary government… Communist, remember?)
Big restrictions on where foreigners can live (Though, to be fair, most of the restricted areas are not where most people who lived in the West would WANT to live). The nicer areas can get pricey, and many foreigners live in tower blocks (though usually pretty nice).
I never experienced any anti-American / war hatred, etc.… On the contrary, the Vietnamese whom I met were intensely proud of their country, wanting to practice English, and very friendly. Food was, in my opinion, some of the best in the world, especially if you stick to Vietnamese (Try Maxim’s in HCMC or the Furama Resort in DaNang).
Traffic in every Vietnamese city is chaotic, at best. Official bureaucracy is pervasive, and I have personally experienced very expensive corruption in relation to government contracts there (Think seven figures, US$). That said, low-level corruption seemed to be less pervasive than the RP.
Medical care is available at Western standards, but very expensive. Go into the sticks, and it gets spotty. Infrastructure is decent, and getting better every day (Especially in Hanoi, in my opinion… The new Ford campus is mighty impressive).
Costs were higher than the RP and Thailand, in my opinion, but cheaper than the US or Europe. There was, most definitely, a foreigner “skin tax” just about everywhere except department stores or malls. As to vices, beer was cheap, tobacco cheap (and smoking EVERYWHERE), and nightlife with young ladies beautiful and probably much like it was during the war (Though illegal now, I don’t think it is enforced very much).
Overall, my colleagues normally like living there, though education for kids is an issue (International schools… Local schools are full… MANY Vietnamese parents are forced to send their kids overseas to get educated beyond high school… Not enough slots for everyone domestically).
In my opinion, it would be a wonderful vacation (Especially DaNang), but I’m not certain that I would want to live there unless under an employment contract. I can also say with absolute certainty that it would be much greater culture shock and difficulty adapting if living there.
I also want to add that personal income tax in Vietnam ranges from 20% – 40%, depending on income. Corporate taxes are, however, low in order to encourage investment by the big players. Western wages would definitely be near the top end. Overseas remittances are also taxed locally, but I don’t know at what rate… It is a definite issue for those who wish to live there. My Western colleagues live and work there, and they tell me that the tax rate approaches European levels in their circumstances. As a retiree, I don’t know.
Additionally, as to costs, inflation is definitely an issue with the rapid growth. My friends tell me (and I have noticed), that things have been getting really expensive, especially rents in Western areas. Something to consider
Why Choose the Philippines — Vietnam Bottom Line
Thanks so much, again, John, for all that great information. One personal observation on the personal taxes, and even on the business taxes both in Vietnam and here in the Philippines.
We Americans enjoy some of the absolute lowest tax rates of any country in the world … although to hear the Tea Party folks scream bloody murder, one would never think so. Those who insist they want to work in the Philippines or to open businesses here in the Philippines had better do their homework … because if April 15th back in the USA gets your blood pressure up into the red zone, you will definitely be in for a huge shock when you find out what you have to pay to stay legal here. That’s why I mention every chance I get that living in the Philippines can really be great, but make your money from other sources … then you have the best of both worlds. That’s why Choose the Philippines.