How to Study in Vietnam on a Budget (& Still Have Fun)

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Why Vietnam is a Great Budget Destination for International Students

There is no denying that studying abroad does wonders for college students, not only boosting personal growth but enriching cultural experience incomparably. But, not all college students are armed with steady finances (or an appropriate mindset for that matter) sufficient enough for an adventure abroad. Luckily for all you wanderlust-itching students ready to hop on a plane to a foreign country and gain international experience on a budget, study abroad in Vietnam may be just what you are looking for.

Vietnam is a fairly cheap destination for travelling, studying, and living compared to most other countries in Asia. It is also filled with friendly people, affordable accommodation, cheap, healthy, and tasty food, and beautiful landscapes that make it a standout choice among Southeast Asian study abroad destinations. In fact, Forbes ranked Vietnam as the cheapest place to travel in 2017, among affordable study abroad destinations like Bali, Indonesia, Cambodia, Portugal, and Barcelona, Spain. But affordability isn’t all Vietnam has to offer.

Vietnam is also not short of prospective educational and career opportunities, thanks to its recent economic growth. As one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia and home to two of the most dynamic cities in the world, according to the World Economic Forum, Vietnam has some of the most extraordinary opportunities for student learning, from studying small-scale agricultural production processes to understanding its overloaded healthcare system to exploring cultural heritage preservation techniques and examining unique business ventures in tourism, hospitality, and information technology. 

There is an abundance of study fields and opportunities opening up in Vietnam

There is an abundance of study fields and opportunities opening up in Vietnam

4 Tips to Study in Vietnam on a Budget

With all this in mind, it should be obvious that you can set yourself up for an exciting, budget-friendly, and valuable learning experience by choosing to study in Vietnam. However, here are some tips to ensure you can study in Vietnam on a budget, and not miss out on a single ounce of fun!

1. Fly local (whenever possible)

A big chunk of your study abroad budget will certainly go to the cost of flight tickets. Luckily, there are plenty of tips on how to get the most reasonable price to minimize your expenditure; arm yourself with these tricks next time you’re searching for flights: 

  • The closer you book to the date of departure, the more you’ll pay, and prices also often go up when you book from Friday to Sunday, so try to plan your trip way ahead of time and check out prices on a weekday and you’ll be more likely to find the cheaper fares.
  • Use different search engines like Kayak, Cheapflights, or Expedia to find the cheapest fares. Once you find out the cheapest airline and the dates that have the cheapest fares, go straight to the airline’s official website and book your tickets.
  • If you are travelling within Vietnam to nearby countries such as Thailand, Singapore or Cambodia by plane, VietJet Air and Jetstar Pacific are two of the most popular budget airlines. AirAsia is also another good budget airline that offers affordable tickets for many destinations within Asia.
  • Finally, do not hesitate to enroll in an airline loyalty program while travelling abroad. Using a miles-friendly credit card can help you score complimentary flights for later trips and even better; enjoy the luxury of airline lounges around the world.

KEEP READING: How To Find Cheap Flights

Rice and side soup are very popular in Vietnam meals.

Rice and side soup are very popular in Vietnam meals.

2. Eat like a local

A typical meal in Vietnam costs around $3 - $4, and that includes plenty of components, like rice, a protein dish (pork, beef, fish, egg…), your choice of vegetables or a bowl of soup, and occasionally a refreshing cup of Vietnamese iced tea (ta da!). There are also a variety of choices for meals other than rice, including Vietnamese noodles like pho, bun rieu (noodles with crab paste broth), and hu tieu (noodles with pork chop), which often cost the same amount of money or less for a serving.

Once you start getting tired of Vietnamese food, there is an abundance of internationally known fast food chains around, like Pizza Hut, Domino Pizza, KFC, Cowboy Jack, and Alfresco (Italian dishes), that will cost you around $5 per serving. Some local restaurants also sell Indian, Thai, Italian, Singaporean, and Korean dishes with affordable prices. You may consider installing on your phone Foody or DeliveryNow, two of the most popular food apps in Vietnam, in case you want to look for good local restaurants or trendy foods to try. These apps are all available in English too!

What if the above suggestions still do not work out for you? Just ask a local that you know, friends, teachers, local supporters, flat-mates, landlord, anyone – Vietnamese people are world-known friendly and they would not miss a chance to introduce you to their amazing cuisine. 

Make your Study Abroad trip happen

Make your Study Abroad trip happen

3. Live like a local

Although renting rooms while studying in Vietnam (usually around $300-$400 per month for a serviced apartment) doesn’t cost as much as it does in many other Asian countries, it is worth exploring the opportunity to see how you can minimize the cost of accommodation. You can choose to share a room with other expats or students, whom you find through your own network or through websites for expat communities in Vietnam. However, sharing space with a complete stranger is sometimes more bane than boon. Understanding the concern that many students on a budget have, universities and schools do offer the choice of living in a dormitory with other international students, and the cost for dormitory rooms is often very cheap – around $100- $150 per month. Moreover, some organizations, like Student Exchange Vietnam, even offer homestay options that normally cost around $200-$250, but include the joy, fun, and security of staying with a local family (Remember, we said you don’t have to miss out on the fun!).

KEEP READING: 10 Ways to Full Experience Vietnam

4. Commute like a local (Or not!?)

The majority of Vietnamese ride a scooter or a motorbike to commute. It may sound very tempting to try this unique once you are in the country. But in all seriousness, we advise you against doing so for plenty of reasons. First of all, it is illegal for travelers to drive motorbikes in Vietnam without a temporary Vietnamese motorcycle license. On top of that, travel insurance providers will not insure you in case you get in an accident while riding a motorbike, since they simply cannot insure you for illegal activities (in this case unlicensed driving).

But, why go through all of these troubles to commute if you have cheaper and much safer ways to move anyway? Here are some other ways to commute like a local (on a budget!) when you study in Vietnam:

Home staying allows you to get to know Vietnamese traditions and family structure even more

Home staying allows you to get to know Vietnamese traditions and family structure even more

Public Transportation

In Vietnam’s major cities (Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi), using public buses is a plausible choice for affordable and safe rides. You can travel as far as 30 kilometers with only 25 – 50 cents (6.000-9.000 VND). However, using public transportation in Vietnam usually takes time and some patience. The buses do not always come on time and the travelling time might vary greatly due to rush hours so you need to make sure to plan out a generous amount of time on travelling.

In addition, most buses do not have announcement for stops in English, and the drivers and conductor cannot speak English; therefore, it can be tricky to navigate your way around with buses unless you are familiar with the area and know where your stops are. If you have a Vietnamese friend, try asking them to ride the bus with you a couple times while you get used to Vietnam’s public transportation!

Ride-Hailing Apps

Another cheap and faster option is to use ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Grab. Ride-hailing apps have become more and more popular in Vietnam’s major cities within the past few years. It is an affordable, secure, and convenient way to get you around cities. There are a wide range of services for you to choose from, from basic motorbike rides and car rides to luxury cars and share car rides, and both Grab and Uber offer insurance for the driver and their passengers during every drive. This option is becoming more and more attractive to users as the travelling fees are usually cheaper than traditional taxis and for those who own a credit card; it eliminates the stress and hassle of using cash, thus allowing for safer travels. 

Always wear a helmet and hang on tight when you ride on the back of a motorbike

Always wear a helmet and hang on tight when you ride on the back of a motorbike

What to avoid on public transportation in Vietnam

Having been in existence way before the advent of app-based ride providers (Uber and Grab) is the traditional ‘xe om’ (motorbike taxis). If you are looking for affordable and hassle-free rides, we advise against using these. The traditional ‘xe om’ is a common source of scams, especially with foreigners in big cities. Most drivers do not speak English and they calculate the fees according to their rough estimations, which is not always correct and to your favor and even when you both agreed on an set price drivers could always ask for more at the end of the drive. 

Final word of advice: When it comes to travelling late at night; we suggest you take rides from taxis by credited taxi companies like Mai Linh, Vinasun, or Grab and Uber. Avoid walking home or travelling by motorbike late at night and refuse anyone’s offer to ride you home for free.

Now you’re ready to study in Vietnam!

Remember: college is the best time to travel and experience the world, since you may never be young enough and curious enough to learn about the world in the same way ever again. So, go ahead, arm yourself with the useful tips above, grab your friends, make a study abroad budget, and turn studying in Vietnam into the best budget-friendly travel experience you’ll want to keep bragging about long after you return home.  

A delicious hot bowl of Pho like this cost around $2-$3

A delicious hot bowl of Pho like this cost around $2-$3

No budget-study-abroad trip can happen if you don’t actively seek out the best opportunities, so here are our top picks to help you study in Vietnam:

1. Student Exchange Vietnam

Experience the dynamic cities and lifestyle of Vietnam through this well-rounded study abroad experience. No matter where you choose, Student Exchange Vietnam will be sure you’re trip is jam-packed with new experiences!

2. CISabroad

Spend summer in Ho Chi Minh City and get to know Vietnamese culture, food, and everything else that makes it a growing tourist destination in Southeast Asia. Not to mention, you’ll get to study at a local university alongside local students!

3. The Education Abroad Network (TEAN)

Travel to Vietnam AND Thailand in one semester -- what could be better really? TEAN gives students the chance to compare these distinct Southeast Asian countries to better understand the region.

4. Loyola University Chicago Global Centers

Take classes at Loyola’s Vietnam Center and get the comfort of studying at an American university while being fully immersed in the beauty of Vietnam. Loyola even offers students service learning opportunities to help them get to know the locals too!

5. Center for Study Abroad (CSA)

Attend Vietnam National University and study not only Vietnamese culture, but also the language. Bet you don’t have any friends that know Vietnamese, so take a leap out of the box! And don’t forget, Center for Study Abroad is one of the top budget study abroad program providers.

Vietjet Air is one of the budget airlines in Vietnam that also has cheap flights to neighboring countries like Thailand Singapore Indonesia Cambodia Photo credit VietJetAir

Vietjet Air is one of the budget airlines in Vietnam that also has cheap flights to neighboring countries like Thailand Singapore Indonesia Cambodia Photo credit VietJetAir

Not what you’re looking for? Find more opportunities to study in Vietnam

This article was contributed by Student Exchange Vietnam, a startup company providing international students with unique opportunities to study abroad and intern in Vietnam.