One of the biggest concerns I had prior to moving to Vietnam was what to bring with me. I’d never been to Asia before so I had only a limited idea of what I’d need. I also ended up bringing a fair amount of stuff that I later discovered to be unnecessary. Gleaning info from various online forums and threads was time-consuming and stressful, so I decided to make a travel checklist for potential new expats in ‘Nam. Obviously, everybody’s needs are different and this won’t be an exhaustive list, but hopefully it might point you in the right direction.
MUST BRING: Shoes
This one may seem obvious, but Vietnamese people tend to have smaller feet than us overlarge westerners, so buying shoes, particularly closed-toe shoes, can be a bit of a challenge. I’d recommend bringing several pairs with you.
MUST BRING: Adapters*
*Depending on where you’re from…
Again, a given, but I had no idea what kind of adapter to bring to Vietnam and the advice I found online was conflicting and confusing.
Basically, type A American plugs and European plugs will work, so if you come from a county that uses either of these, you don’t need an adapter. If you don’t use these plugs in your country, then bring some adapters of either type with you.
MUST BRING: Tampons
If you wear tampons, be sure to pack plenty of ’em. They’re not generally used by Vietnamese women and are, therefore, very difficult to get ahold of (in a year of living here, I have only seen them in two shops, and even then, there was only one size). I brought about a six-month supply with me and then asked visiting friends to bring more.
MUST BRING: Bras
Again, if you wear ’em, bring ’em with ya (at least, if you’re anything above a B-cup). Even ‘big size’ bra stores here don’t seem to know that a C-cup exists, so use this advice as an excuse to go nice-bra shopping, because it’s the last chance you’ll probably have for a while.
MUST BRING: Suncream
The Vietnam sun is strong, my friends, and Vietnamese sunscreen isn’t always up to the job. Whilst you might not be using it every single day here, for trips, pool days and out-and-about days, it’s a must. A lot of the bottles declare themselves to contain SPF 80 (dubious in itself since the FDA have declared that anything above 50 is pretty much bull) and contain whitening agents which are clearly NOT good for your skin. Facial suncreams have the same issue and can be very harsh on the skin, too.
Whilst higher quality brands (such as The Face Shop) are available here, they’re often more expensive and a matter of personal preference. I recommend bringing your own with you to get you started and worrying about it later on when you’re more settled.
MUST BRING: Make-up
Whilst most of the big brands are widely available in the major cities, the high-end stuff is around 10% more expensive, so it’s worth bringing it with you. However, the product range is very similar to what you would find at home.
The cheaper brands cost pretty much the same Vietnam as they do in the UK, but the product availability is a little different. I’ve also found that there are fewer foundations and BB creams that match my pinker skin tone. Some contain whitening agents too, so be careful!
MUST BRING: Books/e-Reader
If, like me, you’re a book lover, you should definitely bring some reading material with you. English books are available in Vietnam, but in many bookstores the range is limited to classics and blockbuster novels. If you’re moving to Saigon, Fahasa at 40 Nguyen Hue street has the best range of English books I’ve found so far- although the layout is an absolute shambles.
Kindles and e-Readers are a great idea to save you the trouble of bookshop hunting, plus they’re great for packing light.
MUST BRING: A Good Toothbrush
This may sound strange, but toothbrushes here are generally very soft-bristled and not good for your teeth. When I bought a harder one in Malaysia, my gums actually bled the first few times I used it, despite it being your standard Colgate- not a good sign. The best move is to bring an electric toothbrush and plenty of heads, although mine broke not long after I got here, so maybe bring a backup just in case!
MUST BRING: Marmite
I am not a Marmite-lover, nor will I ever be, but my bestie is and this is high on her Vietnam checklist. Marmite is available from some import shops here, but it is horrendously expensive, so if you’re a fan, bring your own!* (Don’t bother with other condiments such as nutella, peanut butter or jam, though, as they’re widely available.)
*This also applies to other delicacies such as the humble Cadbury’s creme egg, Lindt chocolate, Percy Pigs and Jaffa Cakes. (Feel free to message me and ask about the availability of your favourite treats, this stuff is important.)
DON’T BOTHER: Toiletries
You can buy all the same major brands here as you can back home- Pantene, Nivea, Dove, L’Oréal etc.- and they’re all available in convenience stores on pretty much every street, so don’t waste precious kgs of your luggage allowance with hefty bottles of shampoo, deodorant and body wash!
DON’T BOTHER: Spotify Subscription
Okay, okay, I know this isn’t something you can physically ‘bring’ with you, but once you get a Vietnamese bank account set up, cancel your old Spotify and make a Vietnamese account instead. Spotify recently launched in Vietnam, and it is cheap as. The music availability is the same, but it only costs 59,000đ (£1.90/$2.60) per month, compared to the tenner a month I was spending back home. Cha-ching!
DON’T BOTHER: Insect repellant
It wasn’t until I arrived here that I realised it wasn’t strictly necessary to coat myself head-to-toe in Deet every single day. It’s terrible for your skin and not a realistic way to live. Unless you’re planning on some jungle-trekking immediately after you get here, I recommend ditching the Deet and buying some local insect repellent: Soffell and Remos are the two most popular brands. I was VERY skeptical about how well it would work, but was converted after a colleague lent me some Soffell lotion. It’s only ₫30,000 (£1/$1.30) per bottle and I find it to be equally effective. I don’t use it every day, but if it’s damp outside, I’m going to be sitting near water or I’m heading to the beach then I always make sure to bring some with me.
DON’T BOTHER: Police check
I am planning to write a more in-depth entry on which documents you should bring with you to Vietnam, but for now I will just say that getting a police check from your home country is a waste of time and money. Once you’re here, you can get a local police check for just ₫200,000 (£6.50/$8.80) by taking proof of residence from your landlord and a copy of your passport and visa to the police HQ (141-143 Pasteur Street if you live in Saigon). Not only is the initial certificate cheap, the fact it comes from the local police means that you don’t need to get it notarised- an increasingly lengthy and costly process.
Do you live in Vietnam? Is there anything you would add to this list?
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me a message privately!