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  • All that goodness in a pumpkin shell.

    The pumpkin ( Cucurbita pepo ) has the singular distinction of being one of the world’s oldest cultivated vegetables. Although it originated in North America, it’s now widely grown here in Vietnam, where it’s known as bí ngô , bí đỏ or bí rợ – and there are two main varieties. The first variety, vàm răng , is heavy and rounded, and it’s grown in Kien Giang, Can Tho, and Soc Trang. These pumpkins look a little like a slightly-squashed football with a thick, green-grey skin and chunky orange flesh, weighing in at around 3-5 kg each. The other one is called the Ban Mê Thuột pumpkin, which has an oblong shape and is lighter at around 1-2 kg each. The skins can be greenish-yellow or fresh yellow, and either smooth or rough with light yellow flesh. Although the tastes of these varieties are very similar, the first has a softer flesh and is more popular. In addition to these two, there is a third variety that’s imported from Japan and has since been grown in Vietnam for the past several years, referred to casually as the Japanese pumpkin. To most Vietnamese people, eating ground pork and pumpkin soup is a part of their childhood. The rich nutrition inside pumpkins is the main reason why parents often try to feed it to their kids – a single pumpkin contains 85-91% water, 0.8-2 grams of protein, 0.1-0.5 g fat, 3.3-11 g of carbs, and many other vitamins and minerals such as calcium, carotene, and phosphorus. Vitamin A is good for the vision, maintaining integrity of the skin, and as an anti-oxidant. In the United States, pumpkins are synonymous with Halloween. Here in Vietnam, beyond cooking, pumpkins are only used in traditional medicines. Its role in cuisine, however, is paramount. It can be said that Vietnamese people are good at taking advantage of many parts of a vegetable for different purposes – in this case, not only is the pumpkin’s flesh used, but also the seeds, skins, and even flowers have their own roles. Flowers are usually wrapped or stir-fried with pork, or made into soup with pork ribs. During summer, sweet pumpkin soup and cakes are one of the more common snacks enjoyed to beat the heat.

  • The goliath of Southeast Asian exotic fruit.

    Vietnamese people may put on an expression of mild confusion if you start to ask questions about lemons and limes. Ask for a lemon here, and you’ll be handed something smaller and greener than you might expect – the reason being that in the Vietnamese language, the two fruits are just different species of the same thing, known collectively as chanh. All varieties of chanh are usually translated using the English term “lemon”. That being said, most Vietnamese lemons are invariably limes, and they’ve worked their way deep into the interior of the local cuisine. They’re usually used to lend their distinctive citric acidity to certain dishes, but are even more commonly seen juiced as a favourite drink to kick away the heat of summer. There’s no season as such for limes here, and you can see them all year round in this tropical country, although they’re planted in spring and fall in the North, and between dry and rainy season in the Central and the South. Another variety, red flesh limes (chanh đào) are planted in the northern areas and Dalat, and are available in October and November. Limes are one of the easiest fruits to find in Ho Chi Minh City, and you’ll see them on sale whether you’re looking for them or not. In general, it’s easiest to select limes by examining the skin. The bottom line is to choose limes with a thin, smooth rind, since these will be the juiciest. Also, press the fruit gently to make sure it’s not bruised. It shouldn’t be too hard and should allow a gentle squeeze. Normally, squeezing fruit while you shop is not recommended – but when it comes to picking the best limes, sometimes you have to bend the rules. The juiciest limes are those that give a little – these softer limes will have less pith, and therefore more juice. They're also much easier to juice and use in cooking or baking.

  • Long-term Expats – like anyone else – may need to face the necessity of taking out a mortgage.

    Ironically, it’s often the very people who first arrive in Vietnam trying to escape things like mortgages and real jobs who end up with both of these things here. It’s an old story – wide-eyed young idealist finds something in Saigon that resonates with him ; he casts aside his backpack, sets himself about learning Vietnamese, and eventually marries a charming local beauty. Reality finds him again like the Grim Reaper; he finds a job to support the new family – and then before too long, it’s time to buy a property. Fortunately, experimental law article 19/2008/ QH12 (it expired in 2014, but the bill to replace it is still under debate, with a tentative release date of 1 July 2015) allows our coming-of-age ex-backpacker – and any other foreigner living in Vietnam of sufficient means – to take out a mortgage from a Vietnamese bank. The intent of this law is to establish the conditions under which a non-Vietnamese national can purchase property (limited for the time being to a single apartment) and clause 5.5 of this article explicitly allows foreigners to take out a mortgage: 5. To mortgage their residential houses at credit institutions licensed to operate in Vietnam There are a few mundane conditions - you’re only allowed to mortgage your property with one bank or credit agency, and you need to use a standard mortgage contract – and of course, you’ll need to belong to one of the categories of foreigners allowed to buy properties in the first place – but besides that, all you’ll need to do is head down to your preferred bank and sit down for one of those talks. Many locally-operating banks now publish details about their mortgage products in English in order to attract wealthy foreign borrowers. Typical Mortgage Details You’re likely to be required to produce the following:

  • Procedures for the adoption of Vietnamese children by foreigners are now well-defined in law.

    International adoption from Vietnam has been a minefield in recent years, since allegations arose that the system was being abused to allow profiteering from selling children into adoption. Since Vietnam formally accepted the principles of the Hague convention and issued a new adoption law that came into effect in January 2011, tensions have eased. However, the reopening of Vietnamese international adoption has been slow, and at present only a handful of countries have a valid bilateral adoption treaty with Vietnam, the United States being a notable omission from the list. In late 2012, Ireland signed an historic agreement in this regard. Other nations are currently France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark and Canada. Prospective parents from countries allowing adoption from Vietnam still have to satisfy the following standards: Single parents are eligible to adopt, although couples in same-sex relationships are still excluded by law. In order to do this, the adopting party will need to prepare a dossier with two sets of documents ready to be submitted to the Vietnamese adoption authority as follows: These documents must be translated by an authorised organisation and notarised. Preference in adoption cases is always given to Vietnamese residents or overseas Vietnamese families if no local adopting family can be identified. As the Vietnamese government intends to ensure the best future life for the Vietnamese adoptee, adopting families who can demonstrate more favourable conditions for the well-being of the child are more likely to be successful. Direct contact with an authorised support organisation to assist in the application process is highly advised. The dossier must be handed in to the Adoption Authority belonging to the Judiciary Dept. Meanwhile, the legal organisation introducing the adoptee must also present the corresponding papers about the child to the local Judiciary Dept. The adoption office will consider and transfer these eligible documents to the national Judiciary, which will in turn present the case to the State/Provincial People’s Committee for investigation within 15 working days.

  • It can get much worse than a pink slip.

    Whether you’re a bigwig at a multinational corporation or a fresh graduate working your first gig as an English teacher, getting the pink slip is one of the least pleasant things that can happen. This is especially true in the case of Vietnam: since the work permits are issued for a specific workplace, losing your job will also mean losing your right to legally remain in the country on a temporary residence card. It is, therefore, important to familiarise yourself with the local laws governing contract termination and dismissals to make sure that your (now ex-) employer followed the appropriate procedures. If that’s not the case, you just might have some leverage to negotiate a softer landing. There are two relevant sets of regulations covering contract termination and dismissals. Regulation #102/2013/NĐ-CP outlines the procedures for foreigners working in Vietnam, while Regulation #10/2012/QH13 is the most recent version of the Vietnamese labour code that applies to everyone working in Vietnam. For a foreigner facing contract termination, there are two scenarios: bad and worse. The former is a simple contract termination, while the latter involves such terms as “work permit revocation” and “expulsion from the country”. Articles 36 and 125 of the labour code clearly outline the lawful conditions where the employer can terminate a work contract with the employee. For those allergic to large quantities of legalese, here is a condensed list of the common conditions that must be met for a labour contract to be terminated: For those who want to read the articles themselves, here are the two relevant articles from the 2013 Labour Code of Vietnam. The complete labour code in English can also be found here . Even if neither the employer nor employee terminate the work contract, it is still possible for the State to revoke the employee’s work permit. Articles 17 and 18 of regulation #102/2013/NĐ-CP list the causes that will lead to such an outcome. Here is a summary in plain English of the common reasons for having the work permit revoked:

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