I was very worried when my husband and I first decided that we were going to move to Hanoi for a few months. I had read all the (mostly bad) things about it, but we decided to try it out anyway and I’m SO glad we did. Looking back on our time there, I know I probably couldn’t have stayed forever, but it was one of my favorite places in Asia and I can’t wait to go back. So here’s my list of the pros and cons of living in crazy, amazing Hanoi.
Living in Hanoi: The Pros
In the short term, I would definitely say that there are more pros than cons in my opinion. If you are planning to move to Hanoi on a more permanent basis, then you should pay much more attention to the cons list.
Incredible & Cheap Local Vietnamese Food
THE FOOD. I absolutely fell in love with the food in Hanoi. And it’s so cheap that you can eat it every day if you want to! Hanoi is famous for Bun Cha, a dish that Obama himself even tried when he visited Hanoi!
Bun Cha is grilled pork in a sweet broth, which they serve with noodles and greens on the side. You use your chopsticks to grab some of the greens & noodles, dip them into the broth and grab a slice of grilled pork for the perfect bite.
Plus, there are so many different Pho restaurants, you’ll probably never have two Phos that taste exactly the same. There are plenty of other Vietnamese dishes to try as well, but Jake and I got so addicted to these two that we usually just gravitated to these!
Cheap Food Delivery
Not feeling like going out into chaotic Hanoi to get your favorite Bun Cha or Pho? No need! For around 50-75 cents you can have it delivered straight to your apartment. Seriously, it’s that cheap!
Use the Grab App to order the food you want just like you would use UberEats! But like 10x cheaper!
Modern & Spacious Apartments for a Low Price
Hanoi has incredible value for the amount of space that you get in an apartment. I have to say, Hanoi has some of the best Airbnbs that we’ve ever stayed at. It only cost us about $420 per month to stay at this awesome 2-bedroom apartment with amazing internet!
We also stayed at the top of a skyscraper in Hanoi for a birthday trip and it only cost us about $80 for a night. That’s way more than we would normally spend, but it had incredible views of the city that would cost you hundreds anywhere else!
Western Food/ Groceries
Thanks to grocery stores like L’s Place, you don’t have to go without much when you live in Hanoi. We were able to buy tortilla chips, salsa, Macaroni & Cheese, Dr. Pepper, root beer, etc. All things that you wouldn’t be able to find in a normal grocery store.
Right now, we live in France and can’t find those things anywhere!
Of course, buying those things is going to cost a bit more than they would back at home, but sometimes you are just craving those familiar tastes from the USA and it’s worth a splurge.
Cheap Scooter Rental & Repair
In Hanoi, you have to use a scooter to get around. Luckily, it is super affordable AND easy to repair if anything goes wrong. I wrote out a whole blog post about where to rent a cheap scooter in Hanoi.
With this rental place, it only cost us $43 a month for our motorbike (about 1,000,000 VND).
As far as repairs go, we even got a flat while driving around in Hanoi! We just walked our bike to the nearest repair shop (they have them everywhere so it was only 5 minutes!) and got it repaired for just a few bucks.
If you plan on living in Hanoi and riding a motorbike, I highly recommend getting health insurance before you go, in case of emergency.
General healthcare in Vietnam is generally very cheap even without insurance, but if you need major surgery, you’ll need medical insurance.
Low Cost of Living
With all the things I’ve mentioned so far, you can probably guess that a huge pro of Vietnam is a great quality of life with a low cost of living. Rent, scooters, and groceries (even Western food) are all very cheap.
Traveling around Hanoi is incredibly cheap as well! We stayed in Ha Long Bay for only $13 USD.
Hanoi is Never Boring
When people would ask me why I keep moving back to Vietnam, I would almost always tell them this reason. Every single day I would go outside and see something I had never EVER seen before in my whole life.
Sometimes they weren’t “great” things, like dogs on skewers with a line of people ready to eat or a group of men cutting open a full-sized cow on the sidewalk in the middle of the city. But I never looked at those things as “bad”, instead, they were crazy reminders that I was living in a place so different from my home country.
I would always have my phone ready to catch the craziest things that I would spot on motorbikes. Full crates of hundreds of baby ducks, 5-6 people on one motorbike, a man on a child’s plastic using his legs to peddle in the middle of a busy street…
I seriously should put together an album of all the insane things I captured during my time in Vietnam. But I LOVED it!
Being somewhere where all you need to do is step outside in order to have an adventure or to experience something new is such a thrill and I think about how much I miss Hanoi every day.
Cheap Gym Membership
Kind of a random one, but we stayed in Hanoi for long enough that we actually got a gym membership! Of course, there are still tons of overpriced gyms in Hanoi just like anywhere else, but the one we found only cost us $11 per month per person!
We were there for 3 months, so paying for the full 3 months together was a bit cheaper.
Hanoi is Huge
In some cities, if you don’t live right in the center, you feel totally unconnected to the city. A city that comes to mind is Chiang Mai, Thailand where we lived only 20 minutes away from the center and felt like we were so far from everything.
Hanoi is not like that. We lived 20-30 away from the main center (or the downtown) and we were still in the bustling part of the city. We could walk outside and find great Pho restaurants, local markets, and just a lot of life!
What does this mean for you? You can save quite a bit of money by just living a bit further from downtown. It won’t feel like you’re isolated from the action, but you can find a cheaper Airbnb or rent for a bigger space!
Close to a Lot of Beautiful Destinations in Vietnam
Some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen were in Northern Vietnam, just a few hours from Hanoi. We didn’t even hit all of them in our 3 months there!
A few other things we are planning to go back to visit are Sapa Valley and the Ha Giang Loop.
Hanoi Has an International Airport
Although we only used it to get to Hanoi and then leave after the three months were up, if we had wanted to stay longer this would have been a huge pro for living in Hanoi.
When we lived in Da Nang, we would have to either bus or fly to Ho Chi Minh City(Saigon) or Hanoi in order to get a cheaper flight out of the country.
In Hanoi, you wouldn’t have to worry about that. You can get cheap flights all over the world from its airport. Especially around Southeast Asia, where you can fly for pretty cheap. In fact, we flew straight to Japan from there! (You can find our 1-week Japan Itinerary here!)
There’s a Large Expat Community
Although Hanoi isn’t the capital of Vietnam, it used to be, so it’s still a major city. Because of that, there are tons of tourists, expats, and digital nomads alike who are trying to find a community to be a part of.
There are plenty of Facebook Groups with people with all kinds of interests. Just type “Hanoi” into the Facebook search bar and then go down to the “Groups” filter.
There’s everything from LGBTQ+, English Teachers, Digital Nomads, Nature, Musicians, and even Circus! So it’s one city as an expat where you won’t need to worry about making friends.
Vietnamese Coffee & Cafes
I need to head back to Hanoi just to find try Vietnamese coffee which is world-famous. There are cafes all over Hanoi, even some cafes where you can base yourself for the day to get some work done.
If you’re looking for a city with incredible and cheap street food, Hanoi is definitely on that list. Bahn Mi (a baguette sandwich) can be found all over the city, no matter the hour.
Did you catch that I said baguette? Yes, because of the French rule over Vietnam, baguettes are a staple food all over the country and they’re delicious.
Hanoi Has Great Internet
Unlike Bali or Thailand, where the internet can be spotty and if it rains, you may be out of luck, Hanoi has really great internet throughout the city.
When we lived there, we were online English teachers (I got my TEFL certificate in college), and having good internet was ESSENTIAL to this job.
If you’re looking for a city where you can teach online or stream without any problems, Hanoi is perfect for you.
Living in Hanoi: The Cons & Downsides
Although for me there aren’t too many cons for Hanoi, the ones I have listed are pretty big ones. For us, Hanoi probably could never be a “forever” home because of some of these reasons.
But I’m so glad we decided to live there despite the following problems.
The Craziest Driving / Traffic in the World
If you have never ridden a motorbike/scooter before, I don’t recommend learning in Hanoi. Jake and I had already been riding scooters for over 1.5 years at that point and definitely felt like all of that experience had finally prepared us for the ultimate challenge of tackling Hanoi traffic.
It’s actually super fun once you get the hang of the basic rules of the road! For example, just because the light is red doesn’t mean you can’t go! It’s so freeing lol.
Basically, if there are more of you (meaning more scooters next to you) and fewer of them (the ones with the actual green light) then you can go!
Too much traffic? Hop up on the sidewalk and you’ll get there way faster! Wondering if you can carry that much on a scooter? Just go ahead and try! Those things can handle more than you’d think!
Just stay with the main crowd and do what you see others doing and you’ll learn soon enough!
Strong Language Barrier & Hard to Make Friends with Locals
This is probably the hardest part about living in Vietnam as a foreigner in general. Normally I could use Google Translate and a bit of charades to ask a local for help, but time after time in Vietnam I realized that this just doesn’t work.
They never understand what I’m trying to say. So, unfortunately, we were limited to mostly just observing the Vietnamese people instead of interacting a lot with them.
At church, we were able to interact a bit more but it was still very difficult.
Of course, this gives you the opportunity to learn some Vietnamese! We only learned a little, but if we had decided to stay for longer we definitely would have learned. It uses letters so it’s a lot easier than Thai or Mandarin.
Pollution / Bad Air Quality
My husband is a runner. Like a serious runner, who loves to do races that are longer than a marathon. So for us, the pollution of Hanoi was something we could handle for a few months at a time, but not something we could live with forever.
When we lived in Chiang Mai, we were there during the start of the burning season (when they burn the rice fields to “reset” them for the next season of growing) and Jake ran outside a lot. He ended up getting a pretty bad cough which lasted months.
So when we moved to Hanoi, we knew that we would need to stay inside most of the time and work out inside in order to minimize the damage.
Normally, this could be difficult, but we had just finished trekking to Everest Base Camp and felt pretty ready to stay inside for a while.
By doing this, Jake avoided getting sick from the pollution of the city and at the same time avoided getting hit by a scooter while on a run.
If you plan to live in Hanoi long-term, pollution is definitely something you should seriously consider. A few months might not be a big deal, but over time it could cause health problems.
Busy Streets / Hard to Go Outside
Hanoi isn’t really a place where you go out for a walk. You definitely could if you lived closer to the center where there’s a giant park and a walkway that goes all the way around a lake.
However, we lived about 20-30 minutes away from the center.
We definitely walked around our area to explore, but it wasn’t very relaxing! We were having a lot of fun, but also constantly dodging scooters and trying to be as small as possible so we didn’t get hit.
I wouldn’t say that Hanoi is a very walkable city if you choose to live outside of the center. However, getting around with a scooter is so easy and cheap that it never feels like a big deal to just ride somewhere.
Pros & Cons of Living in Hanoi
As you can probably tell by now, I think there are way more pros to living in Hanoi than cons. Especially if you are a digital nomad and are traveling long-term, I definitely recommend trying out Hanoi!
Let me know if you’ve lived in Hanoi and what you thought about it in the comments!