Securing a job as an expat in Ho Chi Minh City is totally different than finding a job in your home country. Whether you are a prospective expat, a new expat who has not found a job yet, or a more seasoned expat who is looking for a more serious professional position, the following overview of several career types available to expats will probably be helpful to you.
If you would like to find out more about living in Saigon then check out our free 7000+ word guide here.
By far the most common type of job available to expats in Vietnam is English teaching, otherwise known as ESL. Vietnam is, compared to most other Asian countries, very modern and globally-minded in how it fits into the world ecosystem. Western ideals are often (and sometimes unwisely) put on a pedestal, and the country has a very young population who is more than willing to latch onto concepts exported from “developed countries.” Because of this, English teachers — especially native speakers — are in high demand.
Even non-native English speakers, though, will have little trouble securing an ESL teaching job as long as they are not from Vietnam. In other words, simply being a foreigner will get you a long way, and, perhaps unfortunately, some expats take advantage of this fact to secure jobs they are not fit to do. There are of course a good number of English teachers in Saigon who love their jobs, love their students, and do their due dilligence to make sure they earn their paycheck, but there is also a contingent that skates by on its “foreignness.”
Another issue with ESL teaching jobs is that they have limited upward mobility. As mentioned, the pay is not bad, but there aren’t usually promotions at English centers. There is one big upside to ESL jobs, however: they permit travel. English language skills are in demand nearly all over the world, so being good at teaching English (or simply being able to speak a bit of the language yourself) will allow you to travel far and wide and be able to get work wherever you go.
Non-Teaching English Language Jobs
A second type of job available to expats are all the English language jobs other than teaching. A Westerner who enjoyed writing in college, for example, would probably have little trouble finding a job as a corporate blogger or a copywriter in Saigon, because the “supply” of English language writers who are skilled (even only moderately so) in their craft is so much lower than it would be in an English-speaking country.
These practical English language jobs are sometimes offered by local companies, although that is extremely rare and the pay tends to be pretty low compared to that to which expats are accustomed. More common, and certainly more lucrative, are the jobs offered by international companies with a branch in Ho Chi Minh City. The companies will pay more and will often provide workplace atmospheres more comfortable to expats.
“Foreign Sensibility” Jobs
A third type of Expat jobs are those that don’t call on English language skills in specific so much as “foreign sensibility.” A design studio, for example, may prefer to hire a foreigner, even if all of his or her work correspondences need to be translated to Vietnamese in order to be understood by the rest of the office. This is because, whether or not it is strictly accurate, there is a perception that Westerners have better eyes for aesthetics. Another example is quality control jobs. Factories in Vietnam that cater to Western companies or to the upscale Vietnamese market often want a western quality control manager to make sure all products are satisfactorally made before they are shipped to market. The Vietnamese preference towards Westerners for positions like design and quality control can be attributed to the heavier value most Western firms place on those areas. While Western products are known throughout Vietnam as being well-designed and technically flawless, the same cannot be said for most Vietnamese goods. Although attributing these things to the nationality of the man in charge rather than workplace expectations or regulations may be narrow-sighted, it is the rationale behind these hiring choices.
Local Executive Jobs
A fourth category of job available to expats, and the rarest of the four options on this list, is the “traditional job.” This type of position is equally available to a qualified Vietnamese applicant as a qualified expat applicant, although there might be a bit of discrimination that leans toward the latter.
Understand that almost all traditional jobs are filled by locals, who can speak Vietnamese fluently and often work for much lower pay. It’s only the highest-level positions that pay the big bucks, and the huge salaries being paid out to these execs make it feasible for the company to hire a personal translator if needed.
These last jobs are certainly out there — they are easy to locate on job sites — but they usually require many years (often 8 or more) of experience at a similar company, a proven track record, and relevant educational qualifications. In short, they are reserved for the cream of the crop.
Luckily, being an expat in Expat in Ho Chi Minh City provides you with a tremendous amount of career flexibility. It is not as if you have to choose one profession and you’re stuck there for better or for worse. So do not hesitate to take the plunge into the city’s job market and accept the first job you can find as a jumping-off point–you’re very likely to find your own way sooner or later.
To aid you in your hunt for Ho Chi Minh City jobs, here are a few of the more popular job sites for Vietnam. Keep in mind that most of the jobs on these sites are the local, high-level ones we were discussing or ESL jobs, and more specialized jobs like copywriting gigs would likely be relegated to more specialized sites.
If you would like to find out more about living in Vietnam then check out Vietnam’s most up-to-date blog which is written by expats who have lived here for many years.