What if I told you that, with a couple of top tips, you could rent a great room in Saigon for $150 US per month all inclusive?
Maybe you wouldn’t believe me. Right? You’re shaking your head right now. But with my 3 million per month accommodation slap bang in the center of District 1, complete with private bathroom, TV, air conditioner, fridge and a nice big window, I am living proof that my claim is absolutely legitimate. The question is, how?
Renting in Ho Chi Minh City is like leaping into a jungle. The possibilities are almost endless, but unless you know exactly what you’re looking for and how to find it, chances are you’ll never get past those first, very obvious obstacles.
I’m talking about the share-houses on the first few pages of Expatblog and Craigslist, the agent who inboxes you as soon as you post on the Ho Chi Minh City Facebook page, or that room your colleague told you about that used to house your other colleague and is in a house with four other colleagues. I mean those options that slap you in the face, almost before you get a chance to breath the Saigon air and hint that you’re looking to rent!
The reality is that the best deals in Ho Chi Minh City often require a bit of digging. But how do you start?
Top Tip 1: Know your Goals
If you’re honest with yourself you know the kind of place you’d be happy to live in, the kind of budget you can afford and the kind of area you’d like to call your neighbourhood. So write it all down.
Too many people come to Saigon and sort of want to rent a room, sort of don’t really know how or what, and sort of just end up somewhere… They don’t take the time to consider what it is they actually want! And they tend to settle, rather than fix a clear goal in their head and aim for it.
And then there’s the question of money. People usually think about their budget first, but it’s actually better to put it last. You can mold a budget to a dream, but if you mold a dream to a budget you’re bound to be dissatisfied! Line up a list of the things you need in a home, be brutally honest, and then figure out if you can pay for them. Prioritize things, cut some non-essential features out, and figure out your budget based on your requirements.
To start this whole process, ask yourself these questions:
Do I like people? Sounds strange, but if like me you are a bit of a hermit, a quiet house where you’re not required to socialize can mean the difference between homeliness and a life of constant stress. And vice versa! Socialites need friends, and share-houses are good.
Do I want to cook? Will you eat outside or inside? What sort of cooking facilities do you require? I have one friend who just orders in every night and has no kitchen, but another friend of mine cooks up oven-baked bonanzas every night! I myself have a portable stove and a rice-cooker in my room, and I cook simple Vietnamese food.
What sort of curfew can I work to? When I first came here I lived a few months in a place where you had to be inside by 11 p.m. or get locked out. And oh my I spent a lot of nights cursing on my doorstep! I now live in the most flexible place ever, and whether I stagger home roaring drunk at 3 a.m. or tuck myself into bed with hot milk before eight, my landlords don’t bat an eyelid.
What kind of facilities will I prioritize? From experience I will always prioritise a private bathroom and fast, reliable Wi-Fi. Other friends need air conditioning, a TV, a fridge, etc… It all depends on your lifestyle.
Do I need light? If my room didn’t have two windows I would feel like a clam, stuck inside my shell all day. Are you a light person? If so, rent a light room because believe me this will bug you endlessly.
Where is most convenient for me to live? Where do you work? How do you get to work? And where is the best place to live to make that “getting to work” process easiest?
Do I want to rent long-term or short-term? Often if you rent longer term your monthly payments will be less. Landlords often offer 12 month, 6 month and 3 month deals. See if you can bargain! That’s always fun.
Also consider these factors:
– Will you need parking/security for your vehicle? What will you drive?
– Do you want a private bathroom? (Yes you do trust me)
– How much of a clean freak are you?
– Is the landlord friendly and do they live there?
– Do you need furniture, or will you bring your own?
– Do you smoke? Have a pet?
– Is there a contract? I live without a contract which is great because I can leave when I want, but some people like the security of having a deal.
And now, only now can you think about money. How can you mold your budget to your dream home?
Top Tip 2: Make some local friends
Make friends with people who speak the local language, know the city well and are willing to help you network. Make friends with them anyway because they’re more than likely great people! But don’t forget to use them shamelessly as your “in” to the rental sector. Go to 23/9 Park in District 1 to hang out with local students, chat with people at your workplace, relax at some of the city’s popular bars like Broma or Blanchy’s Tash, and get talking!
I rent my current room from a good friend of mine who owns a restaurant here. We met almost a year ago, and the rate for my room is very much due to his kindness and the trust we have as long-term chums.
Top Tip 3: Drop your agent and get on the internet
Let me give you a nice, tangible example for this one.
I rented a room through an agent in the first 6 months of being here. I paid VND 7,000,000 per month for a nice little pad, with bathroom, fridge and cooking facilities included. The usual! He was an English bloke and he treated us very fairly. I paid a bond, and I held a contract through his agency. It was all very easy and nice. But in the same building, in a room with exactly the same facilities as me, exactly the same layout and even the same owners, a Vietnamese friend of mine lived for VND 3,500,000 per month. Simply because he had gone straight to the owner!
So how do you bypass the agents and successfully navigate an owner to renter agreement, in Vietnam, in a language you don’t understand?
Step 1, websites. Check out Batdongsan, Expatblog and Craigslist and make sure you browse past the first few pages! Get one of your newly captured local friends to help out, and make as many calls, emails and house visits as you need. Make sure you buy them a beer after…
Top Tip 4: Walk the streets
Have you ever wandered around Ho Chi Minh City and looked at the walls? I mean the walls of houses, telegraph poles, things like that. Have you? I would recommend it anyway because some of those walls are pretty darn interesting, but apart from anything else they often have signs on them with rooms to rent.
Not that you would know it without knowing Vietnamese! These signs are often on A4 white pieces of paper, and they usually have a big “phòng cho thuê” or “cho thuê phòng” slapped across the middle. These three words mean “room for rent,” and they are typically big fat advertisements for the kind of room you pay $150 US per month for, no strings attached. That’s how I found my last room, a VND 2,700,000 per month beauty at the top of an ancient Vietnamese town-house in District 1. So stare at walls, people!
Top Tip 5: Learn some Vietnamese will help you find a cheap room in Saigon
This one is a bit difficult and, as mentioned above, you could also very easily just invest in a Vietnamese chum. But the idea of using the local language is that you can then access the local real estate market.
With Vietnamese you can search the local version of Batdongsan, where prices are lower and the range is wider. With Vietnamese you can chat with landlords, negotiate prices, and fully understand things like registration, bond and the rate for electricity. With Vietnamese the price will also always be lower. Because I am a foreigner, a room that goes for VND 3 million to my Vietnamese friend Trang will be rented to me for VND 5,000,000. If I ask the landlord “why?” in Vietnamese he might drop a million, and if I physically turn up to view his room with Trang by my side he will likely quote me the “real” price! Vietnamese language or blood gets you Vietnamese prices. Fair enough I suppose.
Here are some useful words to get you started:
House – nhà (n-yaa)
Room – phòng (f-awm)
Rent – thuê (tt-u-ey)
Buy – mua (moo-ah)
Deposit – Tiền đặt cọc (teeng dat cop)
Contract – hợp đồng (herp dawm)
Water and electricity – Nước và điện (nurc va deeng)
Top Tip 6: Sign long-term contracts for your room
I bet you know this one, but I’m going to put it in this list anyway because let’s face it – it’s a top tip. If you can commit to a long-term contract then it is often a super good way to save money! As mentioned above, landlords often offer 12 month, 6 month and 3 month options and the longer you plan to stay the less you have to pay. Simple.
Top Tip 7: Live short-term in a hostel, deal
If contracts aren’t your thing and you’re a bit of a hipster at heart, why not consider renting a hostel bed for a month? I rented a bed in District 1’s Rou Hostel for one month, and at the end of the month I handed over a measly $110 US. The wifi was excellent, the bathrooms clean, the company was pleasant, the beds where huge and the location was prime!
I have also rented a room at the top of a guesthouse. This room was not part of the guesthouse itself, but an extra room that the owners like to rent out for more long-term visitors, and I paid USD $180 a month. I was literally right on the strip, in an alleyway off Bui Vien. For that little stipend my roommate and I got a TV, a big comfy bed, a private bathroom, a fan, a fridge and a balcony for washing clothes. Sweet! Have a wander through Pham Ngu Lao’s back-alleys and do a bit of wall-watching to find gems like this one.
Top Tip 8: Ask around if they know about affordable rooms for rent
I will never forget the time I sat down to wontons and hủ tiếu khô, and got back up again with a new landlord and a room viewing the next day. I had just started nibbling at my noodles when a man plonked himself down next to me and asked in startlingly good English how long I’d been in the city and what I did. He’d seen me around often, and he wanted to know what the deal was!
We got talking and the topic of rooms popped up – I needed a cheap, nice room in town. He asked our street vendor about rooms, they chatted a bit, someone called someone else and everyone spoke in very fast very serious Vietnamese. And, at the end of it all, he offered me a room with a local woman just two streets over.
Now, I am not stupid. I did not give this man my full name or any contact details other than a phone number, and I did not intend on visiting the room alone with him – I would bring a friend. Safety first guys.
In the end I didn’t even get the room because someone else rented it first! But the point I’m trying to make is this – talk. Ask people. Ask street vendors if they know anything, ask salon workers, ask that man who tried to clean your shoes even though your ancient sneakers are obviously well beyond the clean-able stage! Ask, and ye shall find.
Top Tip 9: Make sure you’re registered
Did you know that the dwelling for every foreigner here in Vietnam has to be registered with the government? And if you’re a foreigner your landlord must also have a special permit to rent to you!
Ok, so I’m pretty sure the owners of my last room had no permit and just paid someone to be quiet because they never took my passport, but legally speaking it is an absolute must! Just make sure that’s dealt with when you rent, whether legally or not…
Top Tip 10: Tips to make it cheaper
And finally, some sneaky rent-saving tips straight from a professional budgetter to you.
– Live above a restaurant – If he is doing it right, the owner already earns enough to pay his rent and more, so he can charge you less for your room. Be firm, bargain hard and stand your ground. You’d be surprised!
– How much for electricity? – Some places charge you as much as VND 5,000/KW which is absolute daylight robbery! The best rate I have found is VND 3,000/KW but the standard is somewhere between VND 3,500/KW and VND 4,000/KW.
– Rent for work – reduce your rent in exchange for English tutoring, help with renovations, cleaning, whatever takes your fancy! Work part-time for your landlord in exchange for lower rates.
– Rent without furniture – Sounds scary but it is totally feasible. Actually, a lot of my Vietnamese friends do this, and in my last room I did it too. You rent a bare room, and then you buy a mattress and some coat-hangers. The rent is lower and your mattress will cost you a one time fee of up to VND 1,000,000. Mine was VND 110,000, but it’s a very poor excuse for a mattress. I also purchased a stove and a rice-cooker! It’s like camping but in a room.
– Don’t use your air-con or TV! – Read a book instead of watching that mindless box, and use a fan rather than the air conditioner. It dries your skin out anyway!
This guide to renting cheap rooms in Saigon can also be used for those looking for affordable studio or apartments. Please share your own tips about finding the perfect place to stay by commenting below.