As I prepare to leave Hanoi after two and a half years, I’ve decided to write a post to help others who were in the same vote I once was.
I arrived in September 2014 with no job, no home and no idea about the city. But somehow, it magically worked. Within two months of me landing, I got an apartment, two part-time jobs and a motorbike!
Here’s how I did it:
Finding a job in Hanoi
One thing to note about the ESL (English as a second language) market in Vietnam is that appearances matter. If you look the part of a foreigner, you can easily get a job as an English teacher.
For example, I am a native American English speaker with 8+ years of overseas teaching experience and a TESOL/TEFL certificate from a university. I am also of Asian descent. I struggled getting interviews with schools because many believed there was no way I could be a native speaker based on my black hair and almond-shaped eyes.
On the other hand, my Dutch boyfriend who just got his TEFL certification and had no job experience in teaching landed several interviews in a short span of time.
For higher paying salaries, you’ll need a university diploma (any degree) and a TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certification. Experience is negligible depending on the school.
I was fortunate enough to be hired by ILA, an English language school with a heavy presence in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and has grown significantly in Hanoi. A few times during my tenure I had some issues with parents and adult students who questioned my ability because of my Asian heritage. But ILA management always had my back and defended me.
I’ve worked for all sorts of organizations during my teaching career. I basically stick with well-known schools with deep pockets and an identifiable name. Here are some well-known schools in Hanoi:
- ACET: More geared towards adult learners and IELTS exam takers.
- APAX: The newest English language center in Vietnam. It’s owned by a Korean company. Salaries are quite high. However, a few ex-colleagues who now work for APAX have said it’s “mind-numbingly boring” because lessons are planned and you’re there to press buttons on the electronic whiteboard. Schools are mostly focused on teaching children. Full-time contracts only.
- Apollo: This school used to be king in Hanoi. Now, the company is going through a lot of reorganization. Salaries tend to be lower compared to other language schools in Hanoi. Schools are mostly focused on teaching children. Full-time and part-time contracts available.
- British Council: Only apply to BC if you have over five years of teaching experience. Extremely selective. The application also included two essays! But salaries are very high. And once you’re in BC, you can easily transfer to other centers around the world.
- GLN: A small but steady language center with two branches. They usually want teachers who have experience teaching both IELTS and children. Full-time and part-time contracts available.
- ILA: Rapid expansion in Hanoi has created a need for more teachers. The company has now changed its teaching methodology to more project-based learning (PBL) which they call “21st century learning.” Tech-savvy people would love this. Lots of support for new teachers. Schools are mostly focused on teaching children. Full-time and part-time contracts available.
- Language Link: They have both language center positions, as well as a public school addition called Schools Link where you can have weekends off. A friend who jumped ship and did Schools Link hated her experience because she had a class size of 30+ students and TAs who didn’t really care. But I also met another teacher at Schools Link who loves it. So, it all depends on the luck of the draw. Schools are mostly focused on teaching children. Full-time and part-time contracts available.
- RES: A few ex-colleagues went here afterwards. More focused on adult learners and IELTS exam takers. High salaries, usually paid in cash. Full-time and part-time contracts available.
A good website to look for job postings is The New Hanoian. They also list non-teaching jobs, but don’t expect the pay to be the same as being a teacher. More than likely, you’ll be paid what a Vietnamese person makes.
Finding an apartment in Hanoi
One key question many ask when finding a place to live in Hanoi is where’s the best place to live?
Here’s my breakdown of Hanoi districts:
- Hoan Kiem: This is basically Old Quarter (OQ) area where all tourists stay. Traffic in the area is crazy, especially during the weekend when the pedestrian free area is open to the public. Rent is quite high and apartments tend to be scarce.
- Ba Dinh: This is where I lived for most of my time in Hanoi. It’s central to all areas of the city. It feels local, yet you’ll find some Western stuff to fill your cravings. Specifically, Doi Can street is a busy street that everyone knows. You can really find everything there (markets, gyms, bars) and Truc Bach island, a quiet, secluded area that is foreigner-friendly. Rent is reasonable and lots of availability.
- Cau Giay: This area is definitely where the locals live (or at least used to). But it’s also going under major construction with a skytrain being erected on Cau Giay street and giant, luxury skyscrapers filling up empty lands that once housed my favorite rice lady! Rent is cheaper here but traffic is a nightmare during rush hour.
- Ha Bai Trung: This is more of a university area. Lots of good and cheap eating here. Rent is cheap and lots of Vietnamese live here. It’s close to OQ.
- Tay Ho: This is where most expats end up. Lots of restaurants and services cater to foreigners here. While rent is cheap, this place is like a little bubble of non-Vietnamese people. Tay Ho is north of the city center, so generally, you need to add 30+ minutes to your commute to anywhere in the city.
Generally, I go to The New Hanoian or Hanoi Massive Housing for apartments. You’ll run into housing agents with good English skills who will have a list of apartments for you to look at. These agents generally do not ask for a fee from you because they’ll get a commission from the landlord you pick from. A studio apartment will run abut $300 USD.
All rental prices are quoted in USD, but you’ll pay in VND. In general, you’ll pay a deposit of one month’s rent plus three months rent to start. Make sure to negotiate a standard USD-VND exchange rate beforehand. Also, make sure your landlord can register you at the local police station.
Getting around Hanoi
Hanoi is a crazy place. Cars, motorbikes, e-bikes, bicycles, buses and pedestrians all use the streets with no apparent rules. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
I started off in Hanoi taking public transportation. Each ride is 7,000 VND (unless it’s really far away from the city). Give the money to a guy working on the bus and get a ticket. The Google Maps app can do public transport searches with very good accuracy.
For those who are bit braver, xe oms (motorbike taxis) are the way to go. A popular app called GrabBike will make your life easier because rates are already negotiated on the app, so no need to haggle. You just need a VN phone number and data. Just set your location and accept the agreed price. Wait for the driver to call you. You speak in English and the guy in Vietnamese and hope you understand each other. If successful, a guy with a green GrabBike jacket will show up. There’s also a Vietnamese Uber, although they don’t have as many drivers compared to Grab. There’s also GrabTaxi and GrabCar for those who likes more enclosed spaces.
If you want to be like everyone else, get a motorbike. I’ve gone to Style Motorbikes in OQ for a motorbike rental and repairs. They cater towards travelers trying to bike it from Hanoi to HCMC. Minh Motorbike in Cau Giay has rentals for long-term expats. Minh used to fix my motorbike, no questions asked even though I didn’t get my bike from him. But he’s gotten very busy and a bit particular. I actually bought my motorbike from Phung Motorbikes in Hoan Kiem area. His shop is tiny, but he has an army of guys who can help you out, no matter where you’re at in the city. Expect to pay $200-250 USD for a 10 year old Yamaha Nuovo (automatic) with a blue card. Only foreigners buy these bikes.
When renting a bike, rental places sometimes ask for your passport as collateral. I just gave my US driver’s licence. And no, you don’t need a valid driver’s licence to rent a vehicle in Vietnam. At one point in time, once you’re settled in, you’ll need to convert your home country’s licence to a Vietnamese one, but that’s for another time.